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Zero Hour Shifting Power

 
p={color:windowtext;}. Zero Hour, Shifting Power

Zero Hour, Shifting Power

David Berko

Foreword

The _Before the End Series _ came into being from a deep- rooted fear of where our nation is potentially headed if the status-quo doesn’t change. This book aims to inform the reader while telling an engaging story. I am in no way attempting to predict the future; I merely am acting as a watchman on the wall. This journey will take you through unfamiliar places and introduce you to many new faces. All in all you will be overwhelmed but nevertheless eager to forge on in the series.

 

Thank you,

David Berko

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1: The Billionaire

Chapter 2: Test Flight

Chapter 3: Free Republic of North America

Chapter 4: Scorpion

Chapter 5: Surprise Attack

Chapter 6: The Kidnapping

Chapter 7: Area 51

Chapter 8: Desmond Meets Howard

Chapter 9: Nuclear Fusion Keynote

Chapter 10: Jetpack Tour of Dreamland

Chapter 11: A Bite to Eat

Chapter 12: Outpatient

Chapter 13: Heather

Chapter 14: The Virtual Thief

Chapter 15: Assassination

Chapter 16: Rough Characters

Chapter 17: A Plan

Chapter 18: Takeover

Chapter 19: Conference in the Air

Chapter 20: President in Town

Chapter 21: The Basement

Chapter 22: Texas Joins the Fight

Chapter 23: Operation Switchblade

Chapter 24: Battle in the Sky

Epilogue

Prologue

WWIII—2018

The silo doors opened up all across North America. This wasn’t a drill.

DEFCON 1.

The day that many dreaded had finally dawned; the day where Nagasaki and Hiroshima would pale in comparison.

Crosshairs were painted on every major military base or population center on earth.

Numerous holes in the ground opened up with fire and smoke preceding the nose cones of a great many warheads headed for space on their fateful trajectories to change the course of world history forever.

Missiles were inbound from every corner of the earth. A nuclear doomsday scenario played out to perfection. Every nation that had missiles subsequently launched them.

Damion had dreamed of space colonization since his youth.

 

The young man in fact hadn’t left his teenage years yet. Damion was two bucks shy of twenty. [_What youth earned him? _]Regular trips to the barbers; pithy remarks on what he should do with himself from the well-travelled man who had been around the block; and plenty of offers from colleges. Full-ride scholarships were stacking up on the desk in the old man’s study of the third-story condo on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

The teenager jumped into the executive chair his father bought when he married Damion’s mom years ago. The only person that sat in it though wasn’t the businessman who had picked out the furniture, but rather the adolescent thinker and visionary.

From his position in the chair came all the answers. A brain just beginning to scratch its full potential did pull-ups when its master seated himself on the throne of wisdom.

Often Damion would set up a tablet on top of the stately desktop. Watching NASA’s old shuttle missions invigorated the young mind to one day do something far greater than America’s space program had ever achieved. The hundreds of books on nuclear physics and quantum mechanics lining the shelves of the library all around him would urge him to slide on over and devour their content.

It didn’t take much coaxing.

An autobiography on the Father of Rockets (Wernher von Braun) found its way into Damion’s grip. The book’s yellow pages turned too quickly for anyone possibly to comprehend the content on them.

Damion not only understood what was on the pages, he had it memorized.

This routine carried on until an interruption. Not from his older sister Amanda either. Though occasionally she would drop in from time to time to see how her brother got on.

Amanda went to a local university to get a degree in political science. She had ambitions of becoming an intelligence officer. Her 4.0 mark in high school— graduating valedictorian—near-perfect SAT score, and the many hours of dual credit programs she took in her junior and senior years all guaranteed a successful transition to college. And that’s exactly what happened.

Between the scholarships and grants Amanda qualified for, her dream to one day warn government administrations on future threats would be paid for by her merit as an outstanding student.

Miss straight-A student didn’t appear in the doorway today however. And unfortunately Damion’s CoverGirl mother shot for a charity event in the Virgin Islands that day.

He didn’t see much of Amanda or Esmerelda anyways. But today would have been nice for a change…right when it seemed the world was headed to the brink of nuclear fallout.

The condo was empty actually. Except for the young man still engaged in his high-brow literature. Suddenly the TV came on in his father’s study by itself. It only did this to announce a national emergency or some other such thing of great magnitude. Damion got alerts on his phone like this too, but he had left it in another room.

What Damion expected to be an abbreviated sound bite energized by anxiety and fear over some breaking world event actually turned out to be a screen full of all the colors of the rainbow painting the picture of vertical bars arranged in no particular order.

It looked like the screen you would get when the satellite guy on the roof asked if you got any picture in.

As if the strange static image didn’t cause enough alarm, the weird high-pitched frequencies coming out of the speaker on the television made Damion abandon his chair and race for the hallway through the open door.

The stillness in the place made the hair stand up on the back of his neck. The eerie feeling made him put on more speed than before. Damion started to beat back the couch pillows in the living room where he thought his phone had been. For the first time that day he saw his reflection. The phone’s turned-off screen reflected back an image of a young man who looked petrified.

His phone knew it had to turn on because the user started at it long enough. The software in the device performed the magical exchange. A bright flash of color brought the screen to life.

The message was clear. DEFCON 1.

Damion swiped away the alert then put a hand to his chest. His mind raced.

He thought about calling mom. One of his unread text messages was from his sister.

“Lasagna in the fridge. Love Amanda.”

[_I’ve gotta get far from the Bronx, _]the young man strategized on the spot. He didn’t dare hang around a moment longer for fire to reign down from heaven to consume New York…and him. Damion had so much more to live for.

When the ICBMs escaped earth’s atmosphere and entered space, the reentry vehicles (aka warheads) separated from their boosters. The nuclear bombs would begin to plummet towards their targets at thousands of miles an hour. They would be joined by decoys that traveled with, too.

If anyone on the ground attempted to intercept, their job would be more than a challenge. The weather forecast for that day had a shower of nukes. Winter would follow.

At the last possible second the impossible happened though. A system put into place decades before went active. In North America the Missile Defense Agency flipped the kill switch to the most advanced weapons platform ever devised.

The onion had many layers. If one system didn’t work, another and yet another waited its turn to finish the threat.

Ground-based solid electron lasers blasted missiles before they even reached the top of their trajectory curves. Other lasers and kinetic energy weapons that had previously lied in wait in space for this day unleashed their full furry on the nukes that weren’t welcome.

Systematically, one after another, the directed energy weapons defeated the numerous missiles until there were no more. No lethal salvo of killer warheads would break through earth’s atmosphere to destroy the populations below. Not today, not ever.

[United States: 2039
Eighth grade history class]

“Can anyone tell me how the Civil War happened? What caused it…?”

The teacher’s gaze swept the room looking for any eager hands raised to take the question. After a couple minutes of shoulder shrugs and squinty-eyed stairs, he exhaled. “Alright, it would seem I and others have failed you to bring you up in the knowledge of what happens to a nation when the central government doesn’t agree with the states.”

He looked one last time at the 39 seated before him and had another urge to ask the same question again, just to make certain he didn’t miss any half-raised hands or anyone who knew the answer but was unwilling to share before the class. Before he proceeded though to fill in the blanks on his own question, another idea came to him.

Rolling his cuffs halfway up his hairy forearms, Dale reached for the nearest dry erase marker. He quickly wrote in big letters with a certain kind of boldness the word history. “Can anyone tell me why we study this?” he pointed at the board with the marker.

Most of the heads in the room stared down at their desks. However, one student in the corner in the back of the room began to talk.

“I think, I think,” he started to say, “it’s so that we can learn from our mistakes and prevent the same thing from recurring?”

Dale was quick to nod. “Yes. You’re exactly right. So let me ask you this…why the heck is the Civil War important to this class and to this nation?” The heat in his voice could have set a forest on fire in a dry land. “Well?”

The same student that had volunteered an answer earlier was taking the stand again. “Because, um, we don’t wanna have another repeat? Another civil war, I mean.” The boy looked down at his opened history book and back up at Dale, who looked pleased at the student’s show of courage.

The teacher looked at his watch and placed his hands on the sides of a desk. He was hunched over with his upper body testing the structural integrity of a flimsy table.

“The clock says we don’t have much time left for this period, but I’m gonna hold you little,” he stopped in his place to omit what his tongue would have undoubtedly substituted for students, “for as long as it takes to make my point. I will warn you, it will leave all of us feeling uncomfortable. Myself included. But so be it! My generation could stomach things better than yours…it’s high time you learn, too.”

 

At that point many chairs scraped against the floor: some students got up to leave early and forgo the rest of the tense lecture, others merely buckled in and battened down the hatch.

“For those of you wise enough to stay, I will say this,” began the teacher, “I think you’ll wish you had left when you had a chance.” His laugh punctured the intense stares, and gradually he had the floor again, getting back on topic. He became animated….

“Slavery and states’ rights. That’s what our history books teach us were the causes of that bloody war.

Actually, they don’t even go into any depth on the latter of those two. It’s all about racial discrimination in this country anymore.”

He began to pace as it was apparent this topic hit close to home for him. “Our politicians, our government, those who control the curriculum…” he said with a question in his voice, “they don’t want you,” he pointed at no one student in particular, “to know about the real reason for the conflict that took place several generations ago.”

“It’s happening today people.”

One kid in the middle who had been flirting with a girl to his right looked startled at the last remark, prompting in him to ask, “What is happening today, sir?”

“The beginnings of civil war, son. Our leadership is stepping all over the rights of the states and they don’t even have the shame to blush, much less apologize and hand the power back over to its rightful owners.”

Dale read comprehension on some of the faces listening, to his delight. Progress.

But was it too little, too late?

 

It’s the year 2040 and the United States’ national debt ceiling could no longer be raised. Thirty trillion dollars in the red and yet the president along with his administration continued a long tradition of progressive taxes and welfare programs anyway.

However, as was the case in socialist Europe, that kind of spending could not be supported over the long haul, not even in the United States of America. Consequently, austerity measures were brought to bear.

The anemic funding and bare coffers of local and federal government were bled dry by the national and state debt. Right away this negatively resulted in public safety being in jeopardy: police and other first-responders faced massive lay-offs. Municipal services such as trash pickup had long-since ceased to exist. Broken street lights went unfixed, leaving large swaths of urban America in the dark. Vandalism, homicides, suicides—the unraveling of a once-great nation—occurred at an alarming rate.

Since much of America was city and rural oasises were few and far in between, much of this violence and despair spread like a plague from coast to coast in a matter of days. The National Guard was called in many times to break up the civil unrest, but they couldn’t turn the tide. In this worst-case scenario the extremely restrictive gun control legislation had actually worked against the law abiding citizens who were armed only with crude, ineffective weapons; meanwhile, the people society really needed to worry about were still getting their guns and ammunition.

Riot police had rubber bullets: mobsters and riotous dissidents had lead ones. The death toll soared across the land. Enough was enough. Texas seceded from the Union. The South was next to follow. The Midwest wavered. Chicago was loyal to the national government while the states were in total opposition. This continued for several months until the mayor of Chicago died a sudden, unexplained death.

The hands of secession quickly moved from east to west. Washington didn’t have time to react or suppress the movement with force. Even the military (the Pentagon) was turned against the policy makers of Capitol Hill. All of America’s forces scattered around the world in FOB’s (forward operating bases) were recalled, given a one-way ticket back home to the chaos.

Eventually the military was given control of the streets in cities across red America. Walls of separation were put up like the iron curtain that once divided Europe. The republic, founded on the capitalistic dreams of its founding fathers met its end in a power struggle…something the Constitution sought to prevent with checks and balances.

In a world uninterested in doing things by the Constitution, anarchy ruled. The very thing the people of the New World feared most was happening several centuries later; the rule by despotic few was coming of age.

 

The American heartland, Midwest, East Coast, West Coast, South, and Texas were divided into separate, sovereign territories ruled by totalitarian tyrants. This didn’t sit well with the people of the former democracy however. More bloodshed ensued.

That brings us to the year 2041…the storm finally had blown over. The damage done was irreparable, however. Thousands died and millions more were displaced from their homes. America looked much like it had during the Reconstruction days following the first Civil War—minus the reconstruction bit.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

ACDC blasted through the speakers of Damion’s underground garage. His mind-numbing music didn’t seem to affect his tempo at all. If anything, he worked in tandem with it. All his tools were organized and in their proper places, right where he needed them. And if he had to go looking for one, well, that’s what his right hand man was getting paid the big bucks to do.

Charles was his name: Charles the butler. He took care of the grounds of the sprawling mansion, and much more importantly, he inclined an ear to listen and occasionally offer advice to Damion; whether it was ever heeded by the billionaire was another matter entirely. But for whatever it was worth, he was there for Damion.

Damion turned a wrench over in his hand and noticed the black grease marks running up and down his arms. He was working on his baby: a timeless hot rod from the early twentieth century. Whenever he got bored with it or perturbed by its antiquity, more or less, he would switch over to his modern marvel, which no one knew about except for a select few. He kept it behind lock and key; the blueprints he knew wouldn’t be safe on any hard drive or server. So he kept them in his God-given memory—his multi-billion dollar brain.

 

Damion’s net value each year continued to go up.

Owner of many defense corp. giants and their subsidiaries...he was rolling in the dough. What most people didn't know about him was that more than just manufacturing things that went boom, he was the driving force behind an energy source for a better world. Sick of all the talk on alternative fuels and with the price of crude oil out of sight, Damion put his genius to good use and came up with the most promising solution yet: nuclear- powered cars using miniaturized cold fusion reactors.

Damion was always one chess move ahead of his opponents. Before anyone could say Three Mile Island or any other anti-nuclear buzzword, Damion’s interest groups were already championing a new era of transportation with a nuclear reactor at the center of it all. The most significant hurdle to overcome was the EPA and their hoops he had to jump through. But alas, the numbers were released to the public, and to everyone’s shock and amazement, Damion had cracked the age-old energy dilemma with the answer lying in fusion reactions that produced zero radioactive waste and had a zero percent risk of meltdown.

“Would you hand me that…power socket, Charles?”

But Charles wasn’t even in the room. Damion rose slowly from his knees off the concrete floor and crossed a wide open space over to where he had an array of monitors and other toys of the rich. With a fury of strokes on a keyboard he paged Charles to get down and give him a hand. Then he felt a lump in his pocket and realized a text from his phone would have sufficed. It wasn’t overkill to him though. He could have gotten the tool he needed by now a dozen times over, but he needed Charles to be there and do his job. That’s what this was about.

Damion returned to his work presently all the while humming the tune to another ACDC song with a killer electric guitar solo in it. Right as Charles entered the room he caught his boss walking the floor and hopping from one foot to the other, strumming the good ol’ air guitar.

“You needed me, sir?”

“So nice of you to show up ready to help….” Damion said with a sarcastic sneer.

“Well, you called.”

“Listen, why don’t ya hang around and be useful, eh?” The billionaire grabbed the tool he had originally tasked his own butler to get for him from its place in a tub. “They don’t make these like this anymore.”

“Sir?”

“Shut up,” Damion snapped. “You know what? I’ll tell you what you could do for me. You know the correspondence lady from channel two that was knocking on my front door the other evening?”

“I wasn’t aware…”

“Okay, the gal from the bar. Never mind. Get her. I want her to watch me work. Set up a date for the two of us. You pick a day. You know my schedule.”

“Um, sir, I’m not sure if I’m qualified to make date-night decisions for you.” Charles swallowed hard and looked down at the floor for the first time.

“What? You want a raise or something? I’m not giving you enough money to grab the girls that I want: is that it?”

“No.”

“Well then—do as I say. And Charles?” “Yes sir…”

“Don’t look like an idiot and embarrass my good name.” “You needn’t worry, sir.”

Damion flung his grease towel at the unsuspecting butler who took a step back to compensate for the throw in order to make the grab.

“Good,” Damion said, approving his right hand man’s quick reflexes. “Play a round of golf this afternoon why dontcha. It’s on me. Take the Lambo, too. No scratches please.”

Charles couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Another thing he wasn’t prepared for was a set of flying keys that thumped off his chest and clattered on the ground.

“Nice.”

“S-sorry.”

“Don’t be. We’ve got other things to go over, but right now, could you give me a little privacy…a little space?”

Charles still acted like he had his foot in his mouth. He feebly nodded and made a dash for the door, grateful to be free of the awkward, unexpected encounter with his boss.

Damion made some noise like he wanted another favor from his butler, but when Charles turned to see the billionaire’s face he was confronted not with a question, but a smile and a light chuckle, followed by “just kidding.”

Well, Charles wasn’t in a joking mood. He wanted to be anywhere but the basement. In fact, there was a place he had in mind: poolside. That was where he knew he could expect a few attractive beauties to be sunning themselves in the splendor of Damion’s estate.

 

You see, often Damion would throw extravagant parties. Party-goers had a way of hanging around, yanking the billionaire’s chain for favors, which he more than happily obliged them more often than not.

In Charles’s opinion the estate had taken on more of a resort look and feel, complete with the girls by the pool. What could be better though, right? Well, maybe it wasn’t such an excellent fantasy after all.

Beverly Hills, California

Earlier in the day Charles had been watering the lawn no more than thirty yards away from the swimming pool, when one of the girls caught his eye and before he knew what he was doing, his clothes were completely soaked through. Luckily for him, this was well before his most recent errand for his boss which gave him the time to go and change into something dry—removing any evidence of his embarrassing blunder.

Charles wasn’t normally such a clumsy or socially awkward person, but more often than he would like to admit, he would enter into a mood swing. Escaping it would prove to be a chore though. He had tried liquor, yoga, girlfriends…pretty much anything imaginable on the generic coping methods list. Everything besides religion. Just last week though he had a strange conversation with someone over the phone that he never fully recovered from.

A week before…

The clickety-clack sound from a busy keyboard belonging to Charles was the only noise heard other than the hall clock ticking away in an office in the East Wing of Westover Estate. Charles’s secretary was unusually quiet even.

A dull ring of the phone didn’t even rouse the man. Not even slightly. To him, it didn’t make a difference…it was just another business call. Or was it?

“It’s for you sir,” Renae said over her shoulder to her superior who didn’t even blink.

Charles yanked up a receiver in his meaty hand and answered. “This is Charles speaking, who is this?”

“Good afternoon Mr. Charles. And how might you be doing today?”

“Um, I’m fine,” the butler said scowling and holding back the phone to look at it as if he was touching something foul. “You still haven’t told me who is calling though,” he politely reminded the caller.

“My name isn’t important, but our conversation we’re about to have—is,” the calm voice said on the other end.

Renae looked at her boss and smirked. She did well to cover it up with some papers she had littered all around her in the office.

Charles’s tie flopped every which way as the man began to become animated, talking with his hands. “Look, you don’t have an appointment, you won’t get even as much as a ‘good day’ from me, let alone a conversation,” he said the last word with a forcefulness that normally would have caused any telemarketer to hang up abruptly.

This man wasn't fazed, however. Instead, he maneuvered to regain control by asking a direct question: "Are you a good person, I didn't quite catch your name-- Mr....?"

“I won’t be treated with such disrespect, young man. Now look here—”

“Are you or are you not?

There was a pause and then a hesitant yes from Charles, who added, “This better not be some stupid missionary call to save the lost, because I’m not going there, mister. Been to church plenty of times in my life. I even said a prayer at an altar call.”

“Did you now? How has your walk with the Lord been since that commitment?”

“Say what?”

“You said you’re a good person, correct? “Yeah, that’s right.”

“Well, how have you done on obeying the Lord and walking in His footsteps?”

 

The line went dead. Charles disconnected the stranger. On top of that, he let his fist leave a greasy imprint after it pounded his mahogany desk; as if it were the desk’s fault for Charles’s strenuous phone call.

Renae almost let out a te-he before she caught a glimpse of a rather angry man who looked an awful lot like her boss. Amazing what a little phone call revealed from a man who normally looked as docile as a Labrador by the fireplace. She shook her head in wonder and got back to work.

“You catch any of that?” Charles called out to his secretary after a brief interlude of time.

“Only the parts that mattered, sir,” she said with forced sincerity.

Charles frowned and folded his arms. “I don’t think you take me seriously, Renae. Do we need to have a little talk? Hmm?”

She quickly dismissed the itching giggle that was trying to force its way up her throat and replaced it was an honest answer. “I wasn’t trying to cause any trouble. I have another call to make here.”

“Yeah, uh-huh, you go do that,” he waived her off. Fantasies of his poolside chores and the views they provided slipped back into the dismal man’s head. He massaged his temples and let out a groan. Another long day.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

In the post-civil war States of America, no longer united, there seemed to be a nuclear winter sort of feel as the dust settled. The media was divided as much as the people were. No one knew what they wanted. A government that had built itself and prided itself on not becoming like a modern day Rome had passed from the memory of great nations and into another tragic collapse of a once-great nation state. The sun had truly set on America.

Contributing Factors…

The stock markets had been shaky in the past, but they weren’t prepared for a civil war. The scene on Wall Street was chillingly apocalyptic. It almost had a communist flair to it, too, if it hadn’t involved tattered American flags.

New York City was like a scene taken out of DC’s comic, Batman, where in the third installment all the prisons were opened up and the streets erupted in violence. Prisoners weren’t loosed from any prisons, but the American people sure were.

The U.S. had long-since been in a period of next-to- negative growth and the job force continued to shrink. More and more people gave up on jobs and turned to theft and other third-rate crimes. The extinction of a middle class introduced something no one ever thought would be exported to the shores of America. But why should anyone have been surprised?

 

Socialistic-leaning professors who aligned themselves politically only a hairbreadth away from what was condemned in Soviet Russia, taught at universities all across the land for decades. And they went unchecked. Presidents graduated from said colleges with socialism flowing through their veins. America responded naively to the changing climate, and by the time people woke up one day with a newspaper in one hand and the outcry of tyranny on their lips, it was all over.

The government practically owned people with all the entitlement programs that were slipped in over time. The welfare society didn’t see it coming. They loved their bennies, but at what cost? Loss of freedom and civil liberty.

When the people realized that the courts of the land no longer recognized the Constitution as authoritative but only the president’s executive power—checks and balances seemed like they were out of reach. America was in bed with tyrannical power in control: things would never be the same.

After the plunge and downfall of the U.S., political interest groups began to form. But instead of supporting candidates for a two-party system, they lobbied for whoever was out there to make a difference in their region of the tattered union. Once a 50 state union now dissolved into six sovereign territories, each ruled by a corrupt socialistic government, because that’s all anyone knew how to govern like anymore. The capitalism that made America great had so fallen out of favor and was close to being blotted out from the memory of world history, too.

Those responsible for the fall of America wanted the erasure of Christian capitalism to be an indelible affair…gone from the history books and no longer mentioned in whispers. Of course this kind of control of political ideology was doomed from the start. Even though socialism ran its course and destroyed America, what was to prevent future generations and groups of determined, like-minded people from banding together to make a change? Who would answer the call and save a world thrown into chaos by the powerful elitists running the show? Only time would tell….

Labia TestCorp Proving Grounds

The bright Californian sun rose over the treetops and cast large shadows on the road that led to a nondescript, giant warehouse-looking building. From all appearances it looked like a distribution center of some sort. But that couldn’t have been anything further from the truth. What was inside was special for a number of reasons.

A limited edition, 30th anniversary 2040 Lamborghini Aventador in red rolled down the streets at a lazy clip, obviously in no hurry. The man behind the wheel, none other than billionaire Damion Westover, drove slow despite his level of excitement on the inside. He chose the inconspicuous way of showing emotion which no one seemed to notice unless they were looking for it.

Damion’s doors opened up towards the heavens; next, his long legs arched over the running board and onto the pavement. He looked around as if the paparazzi were everywhere with bulbs going off like flashes of lightening. But none of that awaited him. What did, though, was a small entourage of men in sport coats and aviators. They had semi-automatic rifles at the hip and lots of other do- dads the common person wouldn’t even venture a guess as to what their purpose was for.

“Afternoon, gents. So nice of you to escort me to, well, my building,” Damion said rather nonchalantly.

None of the security guys seemed to pay any attention to Damion’s pompous attitude. Instead, the man in charge of the trio simply spoke, “If you would turn your attention to the sidewalk and step right this way, sir.”

“Indeed,” Damion huffed with irritation.

 

One of the men pulled out a small radio from his pocket and pressed a button. The sidewalk ten feet in front of the group instantly lowered like a drawbridge. The length that the facility went to keep unwanted visitors out clearly impressed even Damion.

Once inside the security detail peeled off and left Damion to be alone with a new face in the room. Standing a couple yards away was the inventor slash project lead who was working with the billionaire on the weapon of tomorrow. A nuclear deterrent. A punch to the face of the oppressive regimes that ruled the world at the moment.

 

“How’s she coming along, Christophe?” Damion asked.

“Very, very well. Better than expected. I presume you are here for the trial, no?” the older man known as Christophe demurred with his soft, but noticeable French accent.

Damion’s lips wrinkled into a smile. He nodded his head and waited to see what his chief engineer would do next.

“Good, good. We had a…” he paused to choose his words wisely, “unexpected glitch in the software when we ran it through its diagnostics, but I assure you,” he continued, “it is nothing to worry about.”

Damion grunted but showed no other signs of visible displeasure.

“You will walk with me through security Mr. Westover? Yes?”

“If it must be, then so be it.”

 

Damion passed through a couple dark hallways with closed doors. Outmoded fluorescent lights glowed from the ceiling and lighted their way as they went. Presently he saw down a corridor what appeared to be a security stop with a guard waiting.

The screening took no more than a minute. Damion passed one of the last checkpoints and before he knew it, he was the closest he had ever been to seeing a dream come true.

The engineer said something under his breath as he took his lanyard out with its attached ID card to check in at a reader placed to the left of electronic doors. It instantly recognized his credentials when he slid the card. But before they could gain entrance one more security test needed to be passed. A little arm came out of the wall with what appeared to be a lens on it.

Christophe smiled and dropped to a knee. He stared intently at it like he had many times before, waiting expectantly for what followed. A little beam, green in color, scanned his retina and a voice that neither man knew where it came from loudly identified the person the eyeball belonged to as “Doctor Christophe Gerard.”

Damion raised his eyebrows and remarked, “#$*%! They even got the accent right, too. I’ll be darned.”

Christophe inserted a nearly invisible frown behind his handlebar mustache. “Pardon your French, monsieur.”

Damion didn’t see where he erred. Other people he knew had far more foul language than he did. Why was this learned man criticizing him for his tongue? Just another facet of the famous Gerard that made him pause to wonder. But he didn’t stay in la-la land for too long. In a blink of an eye he was back to his normal, expectant self. You could even go as far as to say his normal snappy self.

 

The double door entrance revealed, well, nothing…yet. Then he saw it. The room they had entered was more like a bunker. Through a slit of glass Damion looked out onto a platform that had his ultimate weapon. Plasma screens hung from a dozen different places from the ceiling: each one giving a different view of the spectacle.

Damion felt for a moment like he wasn’t at a weapons demonstration, but more Houston at NASA command, just before the countdown to launch. He could feel it in his bones. It gave him goose bumps.

Dr. Gerard moved to a microphone and spoke to the test pilot manning the contraption. Diagnostics passed without any more glitches. Now the machine was whining as its nuclear reactor sent tremendous power to the turbines at the base of what looked like a wedge. Two nozzles at the bottom flared up and sent bright sparks flying. Smoke built up as was common in rocket launches.

“Patriot, you have launch in 4, 3, 2…1.”

From behind the glass and the insulation the great roar only came through as a suppressed, muffled sound. Damion had no doubt what he was witnessing put the extra in ordinary. He gasped. The vehicle gained lift and hovered ten feet off the ground. Then stabilizers came out of the sides of the wedge to make the phenomenon come together. It continued to blaze in its stationary position, defying gravity.

Dr. Gerard looked like he had to catch his breath, too. Great beads of sweat had formed on his forehead as it was a tense moment indeed. Once again he shouted directives to the test pilot to test all the drag flaps and simply take the machine for a spin. He cautioned against rash maneuvers of course. Gerard stressed the importance of safety and minimal exertion on the craft in the pre-flight meeting and here he was doing it again, reminding the pilot that a lot was at stake.

 

Just as Damion was settling in, he was jerked back to an upright posture by a rumbling subwoofer in the room. He immediately swiveled his head to look at the doctor who apparently discovered the sound system recording all the action outside had been turned off.

“Appreciate the 7.1 surround sound, Mr. Westover?” the doctor asked, smiling.

Damion returned the other man’s smile with an icy one of his own. This was almost too much for him to take in at once. It was glorious.

“Can we see a weapons demo today, Gerard? Or is that not gonna be ready this quarter?” Damion wondered aloud.

“Oh—no, no, no. No weapons demo today. But, if you like, you can come by next month for a little taste of what me and the team have been working up.”

“I’d like that.”

“I thought you would.”

 

And just like that, as soon as it had commenced it was all over. The vehicle was ordered to power down, which all went off without a hitch. When it was safely grounded Damion insisted on shaking hands with the brave pilot.

One of Dr. Gerard’s aides grabbed at the hydraulic crank and gave it a couple good twists. With a loud groan the blast-proof door opened, allowing access to the testing grounds from the bunker. Damion was first to egress. He didn’t waste any time at all…making large strides over to the gleaming miracle of engineering which his two billion dollar investment had funded.

 

The pilot clambered out of it and jumped to the earth. He had a visor cradled by a crooked elbow to his left side and a gloved hand extended outward towards the approaching Damion Westover.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you in person, sir. Heard lots of good things about you. It’s an honor.”

“The pleasure’s entirely mine son,” Damion said while grabbing the young man’s hand and pumping it up and down. “Next we’ve gotta get you to weapons test this bad boy, but one step at a time, eh?”

The other guy laughed and smiled. “Gotta learn to walk before we run, right?”

Damion nodded his head slowly. He was impressed by the charisma of the brave pilot. Kids like that didn’t grow on trees.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

With all the talk centered on the six regions, also known as the lower forty-eight prior to the Second Civil War, many forgot about the last two states to enter into the former union: Alaska and Hawaii. What happened to them? What became of the island state and the purchased land known as Seward’s Folly (Alaska)? No one knew. It’s as if a tsunami came and hit the coast, submerging two great territories in its wake.

Honolulu, Hawaii

On the island of Oahu, all was peaceful with the occasional lapping of the waves against its two hundred and twenty-seven miles of shoreline. Even the former capital city of the state lacked the congestion and noise pollution known to major cities of the modern world. The streets were very empty and the pedestrians were nowhere to be seen. It was like a ghost town, almost.

Located in the Capitol District part of town was the seat of government for the state—the Hawaii Capitol. After the civil war it was moved to the less prominent city hall: Honolulu Hale. There in an art-deco inspired edifice important members of the new coalition resided—the Free Republic of North America (a union between Alaska and Hawaii). Texas was said to be considering membership, but those were still only rumors. Nothing written in stone.

Even though it was so small in size or influence, the FRN was beginning to go viral on the web. People on a search of good in the world found a voice in the leaders of the fledgling republic. All of this was fine and good, but it was met with stiff resistance.

 

There was a group of home-grown terrorists who used cyber attacks, blackballing techniques, and a whole litany of other tactics to undercut the movement of FRN. Subsidized by the taxpayers of tyrannical governments in the sixth regions of the States of America, this underground network of hackers and other odd types used their new-found support to ensure that the status quo of the post-America after the Second Civil War reigned supreme.

The IT cyber security sector of government was hopping for a Monday. Just like the streets of Honolulu were quiet, too quiet, the atmosphere in the room full of terminals and geeks was the same way, too. The office normally was full of chatter, voices cracking with puberty, excitement and work life. However, today had a different feel to it.

A man in dungarees and a floral shirt with sleeves rolled up around the elbows was now making the rounds. He observed the atmosphere and almost imperceptibly nodded to himself.

“Alright, can I have all your attention, please?” This was an imperative.

All activity stopped and all eyes were on him.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other then looked down at his screen before he began. “I have in my hand here,” he raised his little device, “a report of the latest attacks from Scorpion.” He paced back and forth in a ten foot track then stopped to turn towards the expectant faces staring back at him.

“I don’t have to remind anyone here that the capabilities of the Scorpion group are almost unrivaled in the world of hackers.” He paused, a corner of his mouth lifting to form a half smile, “That’s why I have you. You guys are the best…you just don’t know it yet.”

A few cheers sounded along with a smattering of accolades.

Donald Holiday, chief cyber security advisor to the President and Director of CCC (Central Cyber Corps) looked once again at the group to lift their spirits before giving the bad news. “I want to commend you all for your commitment and your grit. Without it, this government would go under. We and the citizens owe a great deal to you people, and don’t you forget it.”

More applause.

Donald raised his hands for silence. “But…evil in this post-American world isn’t content to sit on the sidelines and not go on the offensive. Here, in my hands, is news that there is a worm in our own system,” he thundered, his eyes blazing.

“Who could have done this? We don’t know. But this needs to be priority one, now. So do what you have to do, but I don’t want to be responsible for what might happen if you brainiacs don’t come up with a solution to purge our network of this virus. It needs to go down.”

There was a great deal of murmuring in the room, but it slowly dissipated as Donald opened his mouth to speak again. “Any questions?” was all he said.

“Sir?”

“Shoot.”

“How could this have been done? Someone would have needed to have had access to the mainframe….”

“Your point?”

“Maybe,” he looked down to avoid eye contact, “maybe it was from the inside.”

“A mole?”

“Yes sir.”

That was enough to silence Donald. He appeared very troubled, as was the rest of the group in the room. No one wanted what came next, but everyone knew it needed to be done. There would be an intense vetting process and the source would be found. Polygraphs would be the order of the day, too. This person would be smoked out, no question.

Donald appeared to be sweating a bit. He looked most uncomfortable. “If there are any turncoats in this room,” he said, “I will personally see to it that I am the one who sends your sorry ass away to Siberia.” The scowl on his face was so menacing that even he seemed to be aware of it, because his features seemed to soften, if only a shade.

“I will assign two teams: one to isolate and trace the worm and purge it from our system and another to send our enemies a little Trojan horse of our own.”

Monitors flickered to life and chatter picked up.

“Well? What are you waiting for? Get busy.” Donald turned on his heels and left the room in a hurry. He had a lot on his mind and other people he needed to meet with to reassure them that the situation was under control. One of them was the next room over.

Westover Estate: Beverly Hills, California

Damion was still on a high from his Mark 1 demonstration. He couldn’t just go back to work on petty projects…he could hardly sit still. Ironically, there he was perched on a white tufted leather couch sporting one of his best contemplative poses with his knuckles resting below his chin. His green eyes fell upon the fur rug that adorned his wood floors. Damion’s leg bounced up and down with erratic energy, no stopping in sight. Suddenly he was getting a call.

“Hello…?” he casually answered with a punch of forced breath in the first syllable.

There was a distinct preclusion of formalities from the caller. It was of urgent business, and they needed the billionaire’s undivided attention.

“When do you want me down?” was all Damion said after thirty seconds of silence on his part.

“Immediately,” the disguised voice on the other end said.

Damion got a pained look on his face because he knew of the headaches that went before him in meeting the person on the phone. But it was of necessity he do it. “I’ll be on a jet pronto.”

“Good.”

 

Damion tossed his phone against a plush zebra print pillow. Exhaling slowly and massaging his collar bone with his thumbs, he began the mental process of readying himself for his appointment later that day. He wasn’t a student in Zen culture; however, it came as instinct to sit cross-legged to meditate, pondering his life events and such. His conversation with Charles the other day ran through his mind. The girl he had asked his butler to make a date with….Friday seemed like an eternity away to him—it was Monday.

A muffled sound almost escaped his notice. Finding himself reaching over and pulling out the phone, Damion let out a gasp and dropped it. On the screen was a picture of the lady he was gonna meet up with later in the week. How did she…? He had no idea.

 

“Hey baby, I hear you want me this Friday.” There was honey dripping from the very feminine voice.

The undertones of love rang in Damion’s ears for a moment. He had to shake his head and collect himself. Normally a ladies man, he was unfamiliar with what he was going through right now.

“Carmen—“

“It’s Kara, babe.”

 

A look of horror flashed over Damion’s face. He couldn’t believe he was making these mistakes. “Kara, look, I don’t know what Charles told you, but I can’t wait for Friday. I wish I could see you today.”

She believed him. There was a smile in her voice. “Aw, look at you. You love me already.” She laughed softly.

Damion felt like his foot was still in his mouth, so he decided to end the call on a positive note and escape with as much dignity as he could salvage. “You’re gonna love the place Kara. Come in through the front door. Seeya then.”

“Later cutie.”

Now he dropped his phone; it clunked off his wood floor, missing the safety net of the plush rug below his feet. Damion swore and sat there for a moment with his mouth wide open and his heart beating fast. Unbelievable how this day was going for him. It was all a blur of colors from his perspective.

(On the phone)

“Hey, yo, Charles?” “Sir?”

 

“Get my plane fueled up. Wheels up at fourteen hundred hours.”

“You got it. Anything else?”

Damion was thinking of Kara, and then the question formed: “Kara—did you give her my numb—”

Charles let out a little laugh, interrupting, “A small favor, boss. No thanks necessary.”

Damion’s face was a little flush. Not with anger, more like he couldn’t believe his right hand man would make arrangements for him like that. His features changed into a twisted smile.

“Thanks for that Charles. I owe you….”

“I didn’t go golfing today,” he responded. “That’ll be on tomorrow’s agenda though.

“Great. The offer still stands: take the Lambo. Heck, take some girls with you from the pool. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.”

Charles gushed. “Thank you sir!”

A political vendetta went from grassroots to mainstream in post-America. Capitalism had its day in the sun…enter the heart of darkness that now characterized the masses of a once-blessed nation. As the age-old axiom goes: you reap what you sow. And many of America’s enemies couldn’t have been happier with the fallout of a former capitalistic Christian society.

History has a way of repeating itself

The socialistic experiments of the early twentieth century led to the bloodiest epoch known to man. What would be any different about this one? Of course you had figures who would come out and proclaim loudly an end- of-days message in the public square. However, politically correct interest groups would move swiftly to hush any such individuals. A society that once prided itself on its members being tolerant of others’ ideas now was bending over backwards to eradicate any such expression by certain conservative people groups.

The planks that built the platform of anyone running for office were a little bit of truth mixed in with a bunch of lies. The Scriptures even warned of this coming age, but no one listened. The spirit of the Antichrist in the land was as pervasive as a cloudy, dark night. It blinded leaders’ eyes and the citizens couldn’t discern any difference.

 

 

 

Chapter 4

Scorpion

[SSIIv7 _]orbited high above the atmosphere: geostationary orbit (23,000 miles). This communications satellite belonged to an underworld cyber terrorism group that called themselves _Scorpion. It wasn’t a significant asset of theirs, yet the fact that it was there merely underscored the point that their existence wasn’t something of legend anymore—it was looking down upon civilization from the sky.

A little more obvious than a blinking satellite way off in space somewhere, were the monitoring posts set up in every major urban center in North America. These listening posts gathered and collected data on citizens by tapping into CCTV (closed-circuit) cameras.

What really made it all work were the cameras' telephoto lenses that had incredible zoom. On top of that, these all- seeing eyes had sensors up the ying-yang to grab any grainy photo and make it crystal clear through magic. And of course they could see in the dark and through any kind of weather.

As a result, Scorpion always had a bird’s eye view into the private lives of every living soul on North American soil. This god-like power enabled them to go after their enemies like never before. Thanks to the advancements of science and technology in the twenty-first century, what was thought impossible before now became possible.

 

What was really worrisome to minority groups and conservatives alike were Scorpion’s filtering protocols of the metadata they gathered on the world’s population. This evil organization that aligned itself with the occult of Devil worship now baked in ethics decisions into its lines of code that governed how the analytics on the data it gathered would be filtered, or said another way: Scorpion’s twisted software relied upon flawed artificial intelligence to make decisions on which conservative groups to target and put on their black list.

Those individuals unfortunate enough to have made it to the list now were assigned 24/7 surveillance (drones and operators). If these persons of interest crossed over into “too dangerous to let live” territory, then Scorpion’s mercenaries of death would handle it.

Desmond Alakart grew up around computers. It was all he ever did. He would take off their casings and prick his fingers on the silicon threading of the motherboard. He would just stare at the innards of such a marvelous machine in wonder. And then one day he came to understand he too, could become part of a culture born out of the PC’s existence. It would be a privilege and an honor for him.

It gave him substance….The thought of waking up to a world without [_them _]could have sent him into a tailspin into the next life. Inconceivable. How did humanity ever get on without the usefulness of computer circuitry all around us in our cars, TV’s—refrigerators?

 

Desmond made all his friends mad by staying holed up in a dark room with a terminal and his favorite drink close at hand. Throughout his years in high school and even in college he was a standout from the rest of mediocrity existing beside him. Their stares and disparaging remarks behind his back and out of earshot were irrelevant to the young mind. He was out to prove something. Desmond hated the whole “chip on the shoulder” mantra, and so he called it his burden instead. He wanted to bring justice to the people around him that he saw suffering, including himself. What better way to do that than through programming he thought.

 

All of his code he published and made open source for aspiring developers like himself. He was the vanguard of OOP (Object Oriented Programming).

Some of his peers that were hackers (more like crackers*) encouraged him to drink their cool-aide and step into a world unfamiliar to most. Desmond hesitated. After much deliberation he finally decided to take the red pill so to speak. The programmer entered into a matrix that blew his mind.

At only twenty-five years of age, he was about to be faced with a career-altering set of circumstances.

With no warning whatsoever he was approached by a group of shady characters that called themselves Scorpion. It was the year 2041 and Desmond Alakart didn’t know it, but he was about to get picked up, quite literally by the very people he feared.

Austin Texas, April 23—11:59 PM

The iridescent glow of urban life lit up the night in the core of Texas’s leading city in tech and arguably one of the biggest IT hubs in North America. High-rises reached for the stars: penthouses at the top and coffeehouses at the bottom. So was life in sunny Austin. Oh, and there was another layer of transportation that originated from the Lone Star state—flying cars. They were real. Powered by a nuclear reactor created by a billionaire’s dream and tireless efforts, Austin bustled with commerce and visitors to witness the coming of a new age.

Desmond walked the streets feeling completely safe. He cast a bored glance at the moving walkway, choosing the hard sidewalk and his two legs for locomotion instead. He opted for the old fashioned way of getting around because often when he slowed the rat race down a bit, he would be shocked by what he missed.

His aimless walking would take him from a consortium he attended earlier in the evening to pass by storefronts with flashy displays. One advertisement for biotechnology caught his stare. He slowed to face the window and the picture of a man and woman holding hands, with a robot child in between the two. They looked like a family. How could it be, though? Many times he would wrestle with the ethics of creating artificially intelligent things. That was going too far, he thought. He shivered in the warm, almost moist air.

Turning away from the sight, he deliberately walked hunched over. His quarter of a million dollar ride waited for him a block ahead, but he would never reach it. A rather unfamiliar sound reached his ears and before he knew it his feet left the pavement and he felt a very powerful grip sling him like a sack of potatoes into an idling nondescript, paneled van. It sped away from the curb so fast it nearly hit an oncoming motorist who didn’t expect such reckless driving on the streets of Austin just before the stroke of midnight.

Desmond lost all sense of equilibrium and the bumpy ride made him nauseas.

“Are there sick bags in this thing?” he joked. He couldn’t see anything because a burlap sack was thrown over his head.

What he got in response was the cool wet touch of a needle to the arm and then he was out cold. Was this their idea of bringing in a new recruit? Desmond had remembered his infrequent correspondence with an anonymous emailer.

The messages—were they all linking to this? What brought this picture together? He wouldn’t know until he woke up from the land of the dead.

“One-alpha-niner-niner-three-two, you are go for runway two,” the controller instructed Damion’s Leer jet.

Its fuselage shimmered in the sunlight as it taxied for takeoff. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect to fly in: puffy cumulus clouds and a radiant sun were up overhead. The billionaire settled into his chair in the extremely roomy luxury jet. He didn’t mind flying at all. He didn’t even mind flying commercial in first class every now and then. But nothing could beat his own supersonic private ride. Only the rich had them. And in the increasingly dog-eat-dog world…there were fewer and fewer of the quote on quote wealthy out there. They were either gobbled up by the middle class or buried asunder by ridiculous progressive tax codes that were anti-trust, anti- capitalism, anti-free market.

 

Once the plane gained altitude, it leveled off and went into super cruise at twice the speed of sound. The in-flight whine of the engines wasn’t at all bad; however, it was a plane after all, not one of those sedans that were quieter than a mausoleum. The man relaxed and even ordered a bottle of champagne to be brought to him.

The flight attendant who looked to be in her early thirties shot him a quizzical glance when he made the request and asked, “Drinking, sir?”

Damion was slightly peeved at the chaffed remark. “Make that two bottles.” He looked up at her, ready for a challenge.

She only nodded and silently slipped off to do as he requested.

He licked his lips and smiled. It didn’t matter to him who he was going to meet. He needed the accouterments and he needed them now. Life was too short not to be pampered. How he saw it, the world wasn’t getting any better, so live life to the fullest for tomorrow we die—not too far off from what the writer of 1 Corinthians 15:32 penned. Any conservative Bible-thumping pansy would have to let him pass or get trampled. That’s how he operated.

A little chime sounded about halfway to the destination which was odd, most odd. “Intriguing,” Damion murmured to himself.

A TV came to life in the room and a talking face addressed the man in the cabin. “Damion! So good to see you’re on your way.”

The man with a ten figure dollar sign looming large above his forehead dressed to the nines in a tweed coat and cardigan. He warily looked up at the screen and flashed his polished white smile. “Alexander, my God, how long has it been?”

“Too long, friend. Look, you couldn’t have come any sooner. Things are getting pretty—” he looked a little lost in thought, but only for a second, “unstable.”

“Oh?”

“The enemy has penetrated our mainframe. It’s a worm I hear, using keylogger, phishing malware to steal information.”

Damion looked nonplussed. “That’s interesting,” he said while fingering a button on his jacket.

“That’s not all that’s interesting.” “Don’t tell me…”

“We believe there’s a mole.”

This, however, didn’t surprise Damion. He could smell blood in the water. It had to be a turncoat deep in the inner circle. His worst fears—confirmed. “President Toporvsky, sir, do we have a plan?”

“A plan of action? Certainly. I’ve got teams working on it twenty-four seven. But malware is the least of our concerns I’m afraid.”

“How’s that?”

The president sat down and rubbed his jaw. “We believe—from some reliable Intel of course—that cyber terrorism is only the tip of the iceberg for these guys. They’re a bunch of nationals…firebrands. It’s only a matter of time before they go through with what they set out to do all along….”

Damion was tracking all the way and he didn’t like it. He was caught between a rock and a hard place. He hated being involved with anything of immense consequence. But then again, he did get the EPA to stand down and make way for the age of nuclear-reactor-driven vehicles ranging from the minivan to the Jetson’s inspired flying car.

The man in the air managed to put on a thin smile. He pulled a lighter from his breast pocket and lit a cigar that was on a table within arm’s reach.

The president looked on with no particular interest or indifference. “When are you gonna realize that thing between your teeth will expedite your health decline?” the president said with a gruffness.

“Suddenly you have feelings for my health, eh? I’m touched. Listen, I don’t need your advice. But you need mine, remember?”

“You’re walking a fine line, Westover. I could have you shut down before your plane even lands. Put that in your pipe and smoke it,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

“Mr. President, to our future and this great nation. Or what’s left of it anyway—” the billionaire said with cigar raised above his head, making a gesture.

“To freedom,” the president said reciprocating.

Damion looked at his watch and grimaced. They had been in the air for only an hour, but he felt like it had been three. Thoughts of Kara dominated the left side of the old brain. He lightly tapped the ashes from his cigar into the tray and then mashed it into a smoldering wad. Suddenly Damion was seized with a slight coughing fit, prompting the flight attendant to ask if he was alright. “Just a—”

 

The woman scrunched her forehead and popped her hip, shaking her head at him. “I’ll be right back,” she said in a motherly tone.

“Another bottle of booze dear,” Damion called after her. She didn’t turn around, only shook her head.

“Oh, come on! You’re the worst, you know that? You don’t have to approve of me, you don’t even have to like me…but when I ask for something young lady…by gum I’m gonna get it.” He waited for her answer as he lit another one.

“Right away, sir,” she said through gritted teeth. “Thanks peach. You’re a real pleaser.”

Honolulu, Hawaii

Steve Bard, IT specialist and pro schmoozer made a pass of Sarah’s desk. She was attractive not only to him, but to every other man on the floor. They all competed for her attention.

“Look what time it’s gettin’ to be,” Bard said in the softest voice he could lather.

 

She looked up from a pile of papers with olive eyes, her mouth in an o-shape. Combing her bangs out of the way, she smiled for a millisecond. “Don’t even,” she said.

“Lunch? 12:30 at Stacy’s? That new restaurant within walking distance down Punchbowl…”

“M-mm. Nope. Uh-uh. Sorry bud,” she replied, emphatically shaking her head, causing her bangs to twirl every which way.

“Tomorrow then?” Steve said, his countenance falling by the second.

“Maybe.”

His heart skipped a beat. He nearly tripped over himself as he peeled away from her stare and launched for the stars. His emotions were as erratic as a fireworks display, so he made darn good and sure he stopped in at the men’s room for a good while to collect himself and wash his face.

He pulled at the door when it clearly was engineered to be pushed against. Another guy walking in his direction saw that and laughed.

“She said yes, didn’t she?” the new arrival to the men’s room said, chest puffed out.

That startled Steve a bit, but he knew better than to question. “Yeah, can you believe it?” his voice squeaked.

Jay looked at Steve and put an arch in his back, scrunching his eyes. “Haha, that little boy in you is really showing up today, isn’t it?” he said, his voice reaching its upper limits right along with Bard’s.

 

Steve laughed right along with his pal for the longest time. “I can’t remember the last time when I had a puberty moment like that. Goodness gracious.”

“Man, that’s what I came to talk to you about….”

“I’m not following,” Steve shook his head.

The other man turned on the water and looked in the mirror to contemplate. “There’s this woman,” he began.

Suddenly Steve was interested again. Where was this thing going he wanted to know.

“You sound, conflicted. Maybe I’m reading this wrong though.”

“No, no, no. It’s just—” he looked pitiful for a second, “—how do I say this?”

Steve shrugged and looked at the other guy like he was expecting to hear something real juicy.

“Jasmine in the corner office has always had my notice,” Jay’s voice trailed off into a faint region of his throat.

“Uh-huh…” Steve acknowledged. Trying to act as bored as possible.

“Listen, this is getting awkward. The reports? The metrics on cyber security for Q1? We’ve got a meeting on that. You’re presenting, correct?”

Steve was impressed. “Yup. Come ready and with questions. It’s gonna be a come on time, leave late sort of scenario. I’ve got you jackals for as long as I want,” he said smiling.

“Make it worth my time,” Jay snorted. He moved over to the paper towel dispenser and noticed it was out. “Paper’s out again,” he muttered.

Steve nodded. “Always.”

“Really?” Jay said shaking his hands at his sides to get all the droplets off.

“You should see our budget. It’s amazing we even have enough for a janitor let alone the towels.” He shrugged. “The sign on the door says this is a men’s room.”

Jay chuckled and cracked his coworker on the shoulder, understanding his friend’s remark perfectly.

“Indeed.”

 

 

 

Chapter 5

His eyelids flickered. He heard it.

Someone else nearby noticed Desmond coming to and immediately sedated the poor soul…again. The man with a ski mask on was disgusted at how fast the prisoner fought it.

His partner in crime looked sideways at the guy with the fresh syringe in hand. “How many CCs did you inject him with?”

“Enough to immobilize a cow, Skeeter.” He removed the plastic on the instrument of sweet dreams, giving it a good squeeze and letting it squirt in all directions for a millisecond. “Good night Desmond. Seeya in the desert.”

The man known as Skeeter had shifty eyes and a twitch just below his left eye that would set any sane person over the edge if they stared at it for too long. He looked out the window and then exhaled. “What did boss say about, you know? What we get for this?”

“We split it fifty-fifty,” the other guy said evenly with little emotion. “Ten grand—no less, no more.”

Skeeter licked his lips and swore. “Love this job. Love it.”

“Shutup. We’re nearly there. Remember, exactly as we planned. No room for screwing around on this one.”

“Whatever, Clark.”

 

The van showed up to a remote airstrip five minutes behind schedule, but nothing to come to blows over. A crew was already there waiting with guns at the hip.

The sun was blinding. Skeeter was first to get out. He yanked open the sliding door.

“Get his feet,” Clark barked.

“I’m on it, I’m on it,” the other man whined.

They both wasted no time to get the body over to their connecting flight.

Four men stood by the stairs to board the plane. The two on the corners looked ex-military with scars to prove it. The one on the right of the middle two looked out of place, but he was definitely not a misfit either. He looked the part with grungy, goth-styled clothing and a do-rag. The Mexican flashed a golden smile at the trio that was approaching.

 

The man on the left of the foursome stepped out from the rest. He looked like he was ready to do battle with twenty strongmen. His shoulders were huge and his neck bigger than a bull’s. His name was Tommy and his reputation wasn’t limited to the local-yokels. He had a colorful service record. But where most of his fame came from was the inglorious Second Civil War. A former secret service agent for American presidents, he knew how to protect important people. Today’s cargo wasn’t a president, but it might as well have been. Scorpion was bagging one of the most prestigious programmers in humanity. And it was almost too easy.

 

“Is our friend gonna be okay?” Tommy said with an eyebrow raised.

Skeeter dropped the feet, not thinking, and answered. “He’s in one piece.”

“Is that all?” Tommy croaked. Clearly he wasn’t impressed by a grunt dropping one of the most important VIPs he would ever escort.

“Never mind my partner,” Clark quickly covered for Skeeter. “We don’t wanna have any trouble here. You guys good?”

Tommy motioned for the two guards to grab Desmond. They did so with great efficiency. Tommy then reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a wad of dirty money. “Count it. It’s all there. I don’t wanna see your sorry faces ever again, do we have an understanding?” he said without ever taking his eyes off the two newcomers.

Both men nodded miserably. They were quick to apologize and be suck-ups. Clark grabbed his partner around the waste and directed Skeeter back to the van.

 

Tommy watched them till the vehicle was out of sight before letting out a low whistle. The non-military thug appeared at his side in an instant.

“Yeah boss?” the minion said in a thick, Hispanic accent.

“Remind me never to do handoffs with idiots.”

“How did we (Scorpion) ever get involved with such low-life, no-nothin’s?”

“We’re better than that,” Tommy agreed with the man. “Let’s get on with it, partner.”

With that, the ex-drug lord followed his boss up and into the plane.

 

The dust kicked off the runway and the unlicensed plane the FAA had no record of went airborne with little effort.

A mile or so from the desert strip, a dune buggy full of tourists watched the takeoff as it happened. Husband and wife in the back with binoculars around their necks hefted them to get a closer look. They recognized it was an unauthorized, shadowy event, but knew nothing more: only enough to make them curious.

The man pointed out to his wife that the tail ID on the plane had been painted over. She looked at him with concern in her face, translating all that he had told her.

Anchorage, Alaska: 14:00 AKST

President Alexander Toporvsky looked all business in his eleven hundred dollar hand-made suit. He debated wearing his dress blues uniform from another life, but his advisor wouldn’t have any of it. He checked his wrist for time and knew Damion’s plane would be landing within the hour.

Alexander’s chief of staff came into the room very low- profile. “Mr. President, we have a fix on Firefly’s arrival. He’ll be rolling up in ten.”

“Thank you, Leonard. I will be in my study. Do bring him in as soon as he arrives.”

“Of course, sir,” Leonard said with a polite bow.

 

The room where the president spent much of his time was lit by firelight and big windows on the southern and western ends of the house. This room occupied the corner of the log cabin estate which stood on a hill, heavily guarded and fortified.

Another log crackled and split, sending a few sparks flying and issuing a hiss up the flue. Alexander stood and stared contemplatively at the smoldering ashes. He had a lot on his mind and a whole host of issues that were on his desk that needed to be attended to. It wasn’t like he could hand it off to a staffer or someone in his inner circle and feel rest assured the problems were in good hands. These days, no one could be trusted. That was something he learned the hard way.

Just then there was a knock on the oak door. It slowly opened and in the doorway appeared the athletic frame of a man history would never forget.

“Come in, come in Damion,” Alexander welcomed him. He moved over to the den area in front of the roaring fire and made himself comfortable in an easy chair. “Come, sit.”

The new face in the room thanked the president for his kindness and took up a chair across from the man in charge of the Free Republic of North America. Damion felt downright comfortable and very settled as he eased into an Italian leather arm chair. The cushion made the unmistakable low groan of luxury as Damion rested his weight on the furniture.

Alexander smiled and joked, “We’ll have to send you one, courtesy the kind tax payers from the land of the free.”

Damion leaned forward and caught his old friend’s humor. His face creased and gentle rolls of laughter filled the space. “Oh, I could use a good chair like this in Cali. It’s—” he ran his hand along the arm, “—simply exquisite in every detail!”

Alexander steepled his hands, his elbows resting on his knees. “Damion,” his voice low with concern, “we need to talk.”

The smile faded from the billionaire’s face. “Sure, that’s why I’m here. What’s on your mind?”

Alexander stared in the direction of the Pacific. Big Alaskan birch trees with trunks nearly as white as the snow that covered them were full in the president’s view. A cardinal nesting on an upper branch of one no more than forty yards out from the mansion caught the man’s eye.

“You seem, distracted,” Damion observed.

“Can I trust you?” the president asked without a trace of a joke in his earnest voice.

“Can you? Well, I would hope so. Your guards didn’t even bother with a patdown at the gate…”

Alexander smiled to himself. His guards took x-ray readings of the guest before he even made the walk-up to the big log cabin in the woods. “Look, we live in a very volatile world. I need to know I can trust you with an important request.”

 

The cardinal out the window fluttered its wings in alarm. This motion was clearly seen by the president and taken into regard. Alexander’s earpiece chirped suddenly—the head of security’s voice trickled into Toporvsky’s ear: “Eagle, we have trouble. Move away from the windows with caution and head for the tunnel. I’m sending a signal for backup.”

The president did one click to acknowledge message received. He looked at Damion and spoke in code, “Shall we go to the cellar? I’ve got this vat of wine that I’m sure you’d be delighted to see.”

Damion’s antennae was up. He knew there was trouble. His placid face said otherwise, though. “Yes, lets. I’ve been dying to see it ever since you told me.”

Just as Alexander lifted off his chair a boom echoed from the valley. Damion dove for the president and bear hugged the man for protection. Both tumbled to the fur rug. A split second later the southern window spider webbed. A fusillade of bullets followed up the first shot, sending deadly glass shards in a myriad of directions into the president’s study.

“Mr. President!” Damion shouted, “This way!”

Alexander followed his friend’s lead as the two of them crawled on their bellies towards the exit. Just when they were out of harm’s way and into a hallway, a rocket shot through a hole in the window and exploded in the room.

 

The fireball and shockwave sent the men flying and careening into a wall, knocking a painting off its peg which broke over their heads. They were met a short distance down the corridor by a security detail dispatched to assist the president to safety. The Lights briefly flicked on and off.

Damion noticed for the first time that the whole building had red lights strobing and sprinklers activated. Then he was grabbed by the crook of the elbow and ushered down a bend and around a corner.

“What is happening?” the president asked the question on everyone’s mind.

“We don’t know Mr. President,” captain obvious spoke. There was more chatter on the man’s radio. He’s pressed a mic close to his head and responded to some of the traffic. “I’m with Eagle and Hawk (Damion)….Yes. Stand by.”

Alexander looked at the men in black. They were in full battle gear: liquid body armor which hardened upon impact of projectiles and helmets with three hundred and sixty degree protection along with HUD (heads up display) technology for the warriors’ situational awareness. They carried standard issue assault rifles with add-on lasers that could burn through a target 1000 yards away….The power supply for the state-of-the-art Star Wars weapon lay in a battery pack strapped to each man’s back. It was enough to supply the fighter with a nearly limitless magazine when laser mode was activated. Otherwise, when not firing intense rays of fire, the men shot tracer .45 Cal bullets. They were the best of the best.

The sergeant of the president’s personal detail looked at his wrist-mounted display for tactical data. He quickly shouted orders to the group and then proceeded to lead the president and Damion down the tunnel.

 

Damion had all he could do to keep in step with the rest. They nearly sprinted. Fire was breathing down their backs.

Whoever was outside was upping the attacks and explosions. Another one rocked the house and rattled its foundation. Damion lost his footing and was hurled into drywall where he crumpled. Debris snowed on him and covered his motionless body.

“Grab him,” the sergeant ordered the man to his left, who complied instantly.

For Damion the light was going out. He heard voices and lights dancing. Flames flickered and men’s bodies were all around him. Friendlies or enemies, he knew not. He slipped into unconsciousness.

 

 

 

Chapter 6

Beverly Hills, California

At the Mountain Gate Country Club’s parking lot an orange Lamborghini occupied two spaces. Charles decided to go golfing after all (a day early). He called up a couple of his long-time friends he knew dating back to college: he was in the rare mindset to leave business at the office and get into the swing of things on a beautiful course. Rated as one of the best in the area by locals, Charles had high hopes of a good time.

His swing wasn’t the best per se, but that wasn’t a good excuse not to try. He still rather enjoyed walking the course—and every once in a while, hit a lucky shot of course. He dressed to impress. Wearing all the brands in golf that turn heads—titanium clubs in the bag—there was no reason why he wouldn’t have a good outing.

Two of the guys in the group gave him a hard time for his uneven tan. In truth, he knew they were right. There was no good reason to stick out like a sore thumb in a community full of beautifully tan people. But he didn’t mind taking a little flak for skin color. Deep inside his competitive nature hoped to one up his tan friends and make fun of their inferiority in the game of golf.

It was hole one on the redesigned eighteen hole course and Charles was forced to pull up the course map on his fancy phone. He put the device down on the golf cart’s bench to cue up a holographic representation of all the hazards, twists and turns of number one.

 

“You done over there Sparky?” one of the guys with a bright blue polo called out.

“You’ll have to excuse me, I don’t like to shoot blind.”

That silenced the guys’ taunts long enough for Charles to walk up to the tee box and bend over to stab the earth with his tee. The little white ball with the famous slogan that went something like “just do it” wobbled in the wind and came off the tee right before Charles was about to deliver a crushing blow to it. If that didn’t set the golfer off, it was the snickers from behind him.

 

“You really put on a show Charles,” his friend Greg said with a chuckle.

Charles took a little mock bow. He wasn’t too stiff not to laugh a little at his own awkwardness on the grounds. Resuming his posture, he waggled his wrists back and forth a few times to get a rhythm. Right there. He had his eye on it. Boom. The trio’s heads swiveled like a bird’s would to follow the white speck on its journey through the royal blue sky. It passed out of sight on the high point of its trajectory. Eventually it came back to earth, bounced, and rolled fifty yards on the right side of the fairway with the green a short iron shot away.

Greg and Jeremy were a respectful gallery. They clapped loudly for their friend’s good shot.

“That is the shiz right there man. Wow!” Jeremy exclaimed. He turned to Greg and smiled. “You’re up Tiger.”

“You can bring up the rear then, lefty,” Greg said playing along. Truth was, he wasn’t even thinking of the famous Phil Mickelson with his comment: Jeremy really was a lefty.

“Hey, we forgot to get some ‘dogs with mustard,” Jeremy reflected with his gloved hand over his rumbling stomach.

Greg let the club loosen in his grip. “Well, you’re a big boy. Get us some Conies and make a trail back here. We’ll wait.”

“Be right back,” Jeremy called over his shoulder.

 

The other two men smiled and really began to enjoy the views and sounds of the day for the first time. The sun was nearly directly overhead (it was almost noon). The bright rays glinted off the men’s clubs. If it weren’t for their sunglasses their eyes would be in a world of hurt.

“How’s the job?” Greg spoke, breaking the impasse of silence.

“Oh, you know, it is—stressful.” Charles was even impressed at himself. That was the first true thing he had said to anybody all day.

“Really? Isn’t it just you and a secretary? What was her na—“

“Renae,” Charles cut him off. “She’s—new.”

Greg looked confused at his friend’s slow speech and frequent hesitations. “Hey, if you don’t wanna talk about it…I completely understand.”

Charles nodded appreciating the man’s understanding mind.

“Me and Beverly are going on our twentieth anniversary cruise next month. Can you believe it? Charles?” Greg said leaning over to see if his friend got the memo.

“Twentieth? My, where does the time all go, Greg? Sheesh. You two really love each other like none other, eh?” He liked his rhyme and wasn’t afraid to show that in his little grin.

“Yup. College sweethearts. Whatever happened to that one woman you were seeing a year ago or so…the pictures on Facebook?”

“Oh that? Psht…that was—”

 

He was doing it again. The delays and pauses and uncertainty lining his voice made Greg look away.

“Hey, girls these days are so independent. You’ll find one yet. I’m sure of it. Heck, beat me in golf today and I’ll give you a tip of where to go to hook up with someone.”

Charles smelled sleaze in the air. He wasn’t a devout catholic anymore, but what did his friend take him for? A roving teenager, going from club to club? That certainly wasn’t the life Charles led. Certainly he stole a gaze at the women at the pool back at the estate. But who didn’t? Now he felt guilty for going there in his mind.

 

Just then the sound of an electric motor drew closer. Loose gravel on the paved path crunched underneath the tires of Jeremy’s golf cart. Both men looked up from a conversation that unofficially was on pause and watched the incoming motorist who had both hands up in the air— hot dogs in one, beverages in the other.

“Look out Jeremy!” “Huh?”

The cart swerved a little as the driver took his gaze off the path and concentrated on the voice that cried out in alarm.

“I think he meant your drinks were about to spill,” Charles offered with a grin.

Indeed they were. If it weren’t for the lids keeping the liquid in Jeremy would have had coke running down his good khakis. He laughed at his own lapse in judgment and quickly forgot all about the excitement as the smell of hot dogs, onions and mustard hit him in the senses. “I got enough to go around, fellas. Two for every man, in fact.”

Both men nodded appreciating the kindness. But it was back to the game and silence reigned as the snacks would sit tight with the cart, not knowing when the golfers would return from teeing off.

“Where are you at?” Jeremy was referring to Charles’s first shot.

“Fairway, 220 out; right side—possibly in the light cut. But either way, not bad for not having swung a club in what seems like forever,” Charles said.

Greg held his comment back and began to go through the mental routine again of visualizing the shot and then actually executing it. He stepped up and bent at the knee in his stiff pants. A gloved hand holding his ball already on the tee reached down to plant it in the turf. His club of choice was a conservative six iron, setting up for a mid to short iron shot for his second. The shot went off well, landing in the first cut of rough on the left hand side, but within striking distance of the flag with only a bunker to worry about just shy of the green.

Jeremy looked out and eyed the yellow flag. He paid particular attention to which way it blew to know how to play the shot. Unlike Charles, he used his keen golfer’s sense and not some digital caddy of the handicapped golfer. He stepped into the shot and let ‘er rip with a big 3 wood. The sound was crisp and clean and he posed with belt buckle facing his target. With pin-point accuracy his ball dropped, bounced, and dribbled up the middle of the fairway with an easy shot at the flag. Success. The guys weren’t shy about congratulating him on the shot. It might have been the best of the three; all were good shots in their own right though.

 

The two carts sped off down the steeped path and whizzed by a few trees sporadically lining the descent here and there. All three men let their legs kick out to the sides….The wind hit them in the face and made them feel like boys again. Greg hollered a little bit and Charles nearly thwacked the excited driver on the bill of the man’s hat, but decided restraint was a virtue.

Once they got to the shot furthest away from the hole, the pressure built up again. It was Charles’s turn and he felt his palms sweat a little bit. He undid the Velcro strap on his glove and then refastened it a moment later. After a good neck crack and evening out the wrinkles in his shirt he was ready to take a stab at it. The shot was a little fat and dirt spread a good ways a few feet in front of the divot, but the result was good nonetheless…twenty feet from the hole.

“Ah, that’s the stuff right there,” Jeremy said in admiration, hoping to having the same success with his turn. Greg was up next, though, so he would have to wait. Meanwhile, the aforementioned player was already standing by his ball. Greg tilted his head to one side, then the other. Finally he approached the ball with deliberate strides, ready to strike. His result was disappointing considering all the concentration, but that was the game of golf. It splashed down in the front side bunker. Anger enveloped him. But he would be okay.

Jeremy thumped his friend on the back and said “next time.”

 

After much deliberation and carefulness on the part of the trio, they were all on the green and ready to let the putters roll. Charles two-putted, sinking a six-incher for par. Jeremy sunk his twenty footer for birdy. However, Greg’s struggles continued and he wound up putting for a bogey. Which, he could have avoided and it showed in his language and the way he tossed the putter at the invisible caddy who wasn’t there to catch it. Charles shook his head, trying to hold back a slight snicker. He looked over at Jeremy and could tell his friend was doing the same.

The men were still having a good time and enjoying their day as they made the turn and headed to number ten, but that’s when things got interesting. Charles looked slightly annoyed as an incoming call forced him to pull over and see who it was. His eyes widened in recognition: it was the boss.

“Hello, this is Charles.”

 

It wasn’t Damion though. “This is president Alexander’s chief of staff—”

Charles’s mouth went dry. He had no clue what this was all about. Nor did he want to know.

“Damion will be fine, but he’s suffered a mild concussion.”

“Say what?!” Charles nearly dropped the phone. This time he took off his glove and gripped it in his still sweaty, slightly red palm.

 

“There was an attack. The president and Damion are OK to my knowledge. Your boss is being treated, as we speak, somewhere secure. I will update you with more info as it comes in. I know this must come as a shock to you, as it does to me and the rest of the president’s staff. We’re doing all we can, I assure you….”

Charles knew the man was telling the truth and he was thankful Damion’s injuries were “mild” and not of the other kind. “Okay, um, thank, thank you for passing that along. Keep me posted will ya?”

“Certainly.”

Charles looked at his phone after the call ended. Fifty- six seconds ago he was enjoying a round of golf worry- free not thinking or caring about anything else in the world. Now all he could think about was how, who…why?

 

The other men looked expectant and the first to ask what had happened was Greg. “So?” he let the question dangle in the air, waiting for Charles’s response.

“Damion and the president are in no present danger. But they were—”

“Oh my God!” Jeremy gasped. He looked a little blanched before he took a sip of his drink and swallowed hard, coughing.

“Is it serious?” Greg asked the obvious.

“I dunno,” Charles said softly, letting his thoughts wander. “Look, could we—”

Greg read his mind. “I don’t need to raise my handicap anymore than I already have. I’m good to call it a day if you are.”

Charles smiled. “Thanks guys.”

“That’s what we’re here for man,” Jeremy said with genuine sympathy in his voice.

 

 

 

Chapter 7

Groom Lake, Nevada

Thirty stories below the desert floor of the salt flat…pop culture romanticized, crazies claimed little green men were there and their spaceships reverse engineered…whatever truly was going on at Area 51 continued just the same, however, under a different banner and a change of ownership. Once a CIA black-funded project, Area 51 was given a makeover and control over it changed hands from U.S. government to the heads of Scorpion. All along the shadowy power of post-American culture had its tentacles into places even as secret as the military installation in Nevada, actually.

Google maps and others still didn’t have permission to have Area 51 on their popular satellite maps service.

Entrance into the base was still forbidden. Mysterious toxic chemicals burned in vats like the smoking gun they were to what went on in the labs of an underground lie; meanwhile, UFO sightings increased all over the word. Firebrands pointed the finger at the operation in Nevada, claiming it had its origins from outer space. The only people who knew what really went on had to live isolated lives sworn to secrecy. One of those individuals was on a plane and headed for Dreamland (Area 51).

The pilot of the corporate private airliner used by Scorpion banked and leveled off to where he was parallel with the surface of the lake below. He had been specially trained for this, making it look easy. A landing strip rose from underneath the water’s trembling surface. Streams coalesced back into the lake off the improv tarmac; water split down the center, running off both sides, almost giving the whole visual from above the appearance of a vertebrae. It was a spectacular scene to behold.

At the end of the runway the plane disappeared below the water’s surface on an elevator that took it below ground a good number of stories. The ride ended rather abruptly however as the power plant to the whole contraption shorted and sparked profusely. At the bottom of the shaft a worker operating the controls got disgruntled and slammed a fist against an emergency stop button. The plane immediately halted any further progress and hung suspended on the lift eight stories from the platform it was en route to.

The man readjusted his yellow hard hat and spat on the ground, swearing. He muttered, “Welcome to Dreamland,” as he gazed up at the plane.

The occupants aboard no doubt were annoyed but Tommy (Director-general of Scorpion West Division (North America)) was livid. He got on the phone and chewed out the first person he could reach, saying “…heads will roll….Don’t ask questions, just get me a stinkin’ helo!”

Anchorage, Alaska: 15:44 AKST

At the Alaska State Hospital the president’s motorcade waited for him at receiving. Treated only for minor bruises and abrasions, Alexander was thankful to be an outpatient after such a traumatic attack. Damion, however, wasn’t as lucky. He was on another floor in the patient tower receiving a CT scan and an MRI to get a full scope of the damage. Meanwhile in the waiting room many SS (secret service) agents and one very unkempt Charles awaited the news on the billionaire’s well-being.

 

The decor of the room was very modern with triangular piano black fiberglass panels forming the structural supports. Opaque frosted glass was everywhere: in the light fixtures, partitions…wall hangings. The monochromatic theme consisted of variegated blacks with white leather furniture and chrome accents in the chair feet and arms. For all its modern furnishings, the taste in art on the walls gave a nod to the natural world. Big grizzly bears bared their fangs in portraits. Another picture captured salmon jumping upstream in their migratory dash for saltwater.

 

A nurse came out after a half hour interval. Looking up from her tablet, she brushed her brunette bangs out of her field of vision. She appeared a little startled to see a phalanx of strongmen and one fellow dressed in a blue business suit with a silver tie all standing in attention, eyes fixated on her.

“The scans came back revealing only negligible contusions—nothing to fear. He is stable and may check out this afternoon. He must,” she stressed the word, “receive good care and will need to remain at home under close watch. No exceptions.”

Charles quickly dismissed her counsel with, “No exceptions? Hah, lady, have you any idea who your patient is? You can’t quarantine a man like Damion.” He continued to laugh until his sides hurt. Few laughed as hard or even at all, but that didn’t dissuade him from enjoying the nurse’s naivety.

The young nurse did her best at ignoring the blabbering man. She was only there as a messenger. Her job was finished: ICU errands held more interest to her than a debate with an uncouth, rude man. She let him know this truth by turning her back and leaving him alone with his own ego damaged.

He frowned and pointed a finger in the direction of where she used to stand; his jaw…unhinged. No words came out. These were the setbacks that sent him on an excursion to the land of the chaffed. It hurt. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t feel compelled to change who he was.

 

Ten minutes later Damion was out of the hospital gown and back in civilian clothes and on the street. He stretched his legs and looked up at the yawning canopy over the cul- de-sac entrance to the place he just came out of. The head still hurt and the longer he stood there waiting for the valet to pull up in his ride, the worse it got. Apparently the president had already booked it and was already on the road to catch a flight.

 

A little jingle sound caught the attention of a few outpatients who were also waiting outside for their rides. They looked at Damion and snickered, whispering and pointing.

He pretended not to notice, but instead answered the call with a cheery “this is Damion…”

“Heard you bumped your head, babe. How are you feeling now?”

“I’ve been better,” he said, wincing a little bit. “Are you worried about me, Kara?”

“Worried sick,” she said, chewing a pink nail. “Mmm, we can’t have that. I’ll pick a lil somethin’ somethin’ up for you dear. Maybe that will make things all better.”

Kara giggled. “I’d like that. Don’t hurry though. I would hate to have you back in the hospital because you drove like your pants were on fire.”

Damion was surprised by the remark and laughed out loud. “That’s exactly what I would do, too. Naw, I’ll let Charles take the wheel and I’ll occupy the backseat.”

“Muah.” (Kara made a kissing noise.) “Later Damion.”

“Love ya.”

 

By the time he pocketed his phone, only then had he noticed a little gallery of twenty-somethings that had gathered around him to listen. Normally he would absolutely adore the extra attention. This time however he got a little territorial instead and asked for space.

Damion spun on his heels and flipped on a pair of visors. He looked back at the adoring females and blew a kiss, eliciting a couple of squeals from the more boisterous ones in the bunch. They knew who he was, too. Damion Westover was a household name the world over. To him, a little fuss from the fans was all in a day’s work.

The celebrity worked extra hard to keep a body-builder physique up along with a killer tan and a dazzling smile. On many occasions he would use his personal charm to get his way. But every now and then he would run into an obstinate, respectable citizen who didn’t bow the knee to Damion Almighty. It was upsetting to him, but not earth shattering. Rarely did he rub shoulders with anyone who didn’t get along with him well.

 

 

 

Chapter 8

Dreamland, Nevada

The air was much different from what he was accustomed to…but in what way, he didn’t know. Alas, he was in a room full of terminals—one of his favorite places in the universe. However, this wasn’t no basement at ma or pa’s where he was free to come and go whenever he wished. Just where was he, then?

He wanted to talk, but he was more than parched and the sack still remained over his head. It was as if someone read his mind: off came the sack and a water bottle was offered to him. He took it and gratefully chugged it down. Feeling he had quenched his thirst, Desmond broke the ice.

“Where am I?”

The only other person in the room was a man with graying hair and horn-rimmed glasses. Desmond didn’t feel at all uncomfortable, only confused.

 

The stranger identified himself as Howard and said, “Where doesn’t matter. We’ll get to the why, though. I’m sure you’d like to know that, wouldn’t you?”

Desmond nodded.

“Sit down. Take a chair, any chair. We have a lot to discuss.”

Desmond did as he was told, choosing to remain silent to hear his options.

“The way I see it,” Howard said at length, “is you’re screwed if you don’t cooperate.”

The first bit didn’t come as a surprise at all, but the next part did.

“But, do well my boy and you may rise to the top just as I did.”

Desmond was more curious now about who this guy was than what bad thing may come to him should he choose to not cooperate and want out.

Howard looked intelligently at Desmond and said, “They say you’re a genius. Can you prove it?”

The IT guru laughed and folded his arms across his chest. An open challenge. “I don’t have anything to prove, but if you want to put me to the test, you won’t be disappointed.”

“Good answer Mr. Alakart.”

“Howard, what—how did you ever get involved in,” Desmond gesticulated, “all of this?”

“Ah, you see, that is an answer I even don’t know how to answer, but perhaps I’ll try anyways.” The old man settled into his chair and got a faraway look in his dark eyes. “I was alive when Kennedy was shot…”

Desmond didn’t try hiding his shock at the guy’s age. “No! You can’t be—80…can you?”

“85, actually.”

Desmond relaxed a bit. The stranger who sat across from him had a vibe that was neither evil nor nice. In fact, he didn’t know quite what to call it. Back on the pursuit again, the question was posed, “Who are you?”

“Your young mind is getting ahead of itself. We must go back in order to go forward. Understood?”

Again, Desmond nodded.

“When I was seven my mom was in the kitchen with the TV on when she called me into the room. Normally I would have done my own thing and continued playing with my blocks. However, her voice,” he paused with emotion (his throat hurt with pain as he relived the memory) “was weak and strangled.” He readjusted his glasses and scratched behind an ear. “When I saw what she was looking at I realized, even as a little kid, why she was so troubled.”

“That must have been a terrible moment for you,” Desmond said the obvious.

“M-hm. But you know what? That day was a watershed moment for me.”

The sliding door to the room suddenly opened and in entered a man with a tray of two coffees.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” the old man reminded the lackey.

“Donuts.”

“Not another word,” Howard chided, making a shooing motion with his hands.

Desmond’s stomach anticipated the promise of sugary donuts and for the first time since his abduction, the anxiety had left him. “Did you get any chocolate ones?”

Howard smiled and boldly came forth with an answer to please: “Double chocolate, my friend.”

Desmond was ready to hear more. “Do continue though with your narrative.”

“Indeed. So where was I?”

“You were in the kitchen, the news on the TV…watershed moment?”

Howard chuckled. “Spoken like a true Nobel Prize winner.”

Desmond blushed. It was hard to maintain modesty with Howard’s praise.

“So yes,” he resumed, “my life changed. I viewed the presidency as something we didn’t need in a free world.”

The coffee almost went up his nose. Desmond coughed a few times then regained composure. “I don’t understand.”

“As I saw my mom in tears with the news coverage continuing to drone on about motives, shooter suspects, etc. I became a man that day. All sentimentality and patriotism left me and in its place I became one in mind with the person that did the heinous deed.”

“There you go, you said it yourself. It was a heinous deed. Being a programmer, I see duplicity in your logic at its core.”

“Maybe to you, sure. But there’s more.” “How could there be?!”

“Relax Desmond. Either you let me finish or we put the kibosh on your tomorrow and let the world wonder at what happened to the great Desmond Alakart.” That seemed to have great effect on his listener, so the man continued. “Taking an ideology into your own hands as an extremist and imposing your own will through violence on a body politic is hardly admirable. This is where we (Scorpion) come in.”

Desmond was still processing all this so he was a little slow on the draw. “So you’ve substituted a quick regime change with a slow one that took decades, leading up to a civil war? A war of attrition against capitalism?”

“Don’t say that word.” Howard made an ugly face. “We have worked so hard to free the world from the conservatism…don’t seek to resuscitate a dead thing.”

“But it isn’t dead.”

 

“We know. That’s why we need you.” Howard reached out with his pointing finger until it touched Desmond in his center of gravity near his heart.

His pulse quickened at the touch. The lights in the room seemed to burn brighter; the surrealism of the moment…realized. He stammered and stuttered. “I don’t think I…”

“Stop—” Howard reached out with a bony finger to hush Desmond’s own lips. “I think it is time.”

That must have been code because the door was open and the two men were soon joined by a whole cadre of individuals.

“Who are all these people?” Desmond looked around himself as it was increasingly obvious the new faces in the room stared back at his with an unsettling unfriendliness in their features.

Howard stood up and almost appeared to intimidate the programmer who cowered back in his chair. “Mr. Desmond, if you will join us, we have some things to see.”

Desmond didn’t face much of a choice. He had to comply or face ruination most certainly.

 

 

 

Chapter 9

Beverly Hills, California (two years ago—2039)

Just one look at Damion Westover’s dossier would give anybody a migraine. Tonight he was up to bat at the local technical institute for a fundraiser speech. The professors at the college required all senior undergrad students to attend—no exceptions. After all, their tuition was paying for the spread. Motivational speakers didn’t come cheap, but this was Damion. He charged more than anyone.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the MC began with his intro, “it is my privilege to recognize today one of the most renown names in the history of mankind. In the pursuit of an energy source thought to be out of reach, he claims to have harnessed the tremendous power of our solar system’s sun in a, well—you’ll have to sit up straight and listen to this man fill in the blanks. Without further ado, Mr. Damion, take the stage, sir.”

 

The auditorium was filled to the rafters at maximum capacity of 5,000. The place shook with thunderous applause, whistles, hoots and hollers. The atmosphere felt more like that of a concert. Fog machines set the stage in a haze with green lasers reflecting off the mist. Tiled mosaic screens set up in clusters around the platform flashed in all the colors of the rainbow. That was only the beginning…

Suddenly a timer set to ten began the countdown on the big screen. A black and white dial rotated around a number that appeared to be alive with electricity. 3…1….

The roof parted over the stage at the last millisecond and a rush of wind tore through the room. The students with the closest seats to the spectacle had to cover their ears and hold on to their seats as if they would be swept away by a hurricane. The buzz in the room couldn’t be contained. The student body would never be the same after what they witnessed.

The dean of the aeronautics department almost collapsed back into his chair from shock. Descending from a spangled black spring sky, Damion gravitated towards the center of the stage like it was a bull’s-eye. He skillfully used little valves that acted as thrusters to steer his suit towards the center before he powered down.

When his gloved hand reached for his helmet to take it off, the crowd went crazy. A swarthy face emerged from the mask: his sharp green eyes shone brilliantly. A trifold video screen showed different angles of what was going on in much detail, down to the drops of sweat under Damion’s chin.

Amazingly he was already talking and ready to roll with the presentation. “Wow. That felt every bit as awesome as it probably looked,” he exclaimed, still panting from the exertion.

Two girls in the back screamed, “WE LOVE YOU!”

Damion laughed and nodded. “I can feel the love, even under this two thousand pound exoskeleton. Thank you. Thank you.”

The applause eventually died down and at last it was time for Damion to give the good people of California some good news to rest their hopes in. “That is what the military calls shock and awe,” he said with much bluster.

There was a good roar of laughter and more applause.

“Good students of UCLA…I, I have summited Mount Everest in man’s race for an alternative energy to fossil fuels,” his voice trumpeted in triumph from the many speakers. “For years, since the 70’s, we have spent billions on fruitless research and have endured false start after false start from technologies that couldn’t deliver on their promises.”

There were a couple of boos, however most of the air had been sucked out of the room as everyone waited with baited breath, just itching to go ecstatic all over again.

 

“In the twentieth century, we had this thing called fission reactors. Big nuclear power plants. Son Onofre down the coast from our beloved LA, for example, [_used _]fission technology. In case you skipped physics or you aren’t the nuclear-faring type,” he flirted with a smile, “you can learn a thing or two from what you’re about to see. Roll film.”

All eyes watched the educational video that explained how the splitting of a nucleus of an atom into nuclei created tremendous energy. In the middle of the demonstration a little video overlay of Damion talking with animated atoms splitting behind his ears brought light-hearted laughter to the profs in attendance.

Damion had done the show a thousand times, but he enjoyed watching the sea of faces and their reactions to what was said. However, the next part is where he often lost some people.

“And now, you think you understand what makes a nuclear reactor as special as it really is? What can you tell me about a fusion reaction?” He seriously was asking an open-ended question for anyone brave enough to answer during a live keynote that would most definitely be televised on local networks.

No one nibbled so he let the video resume playback, meanwhile thinking to himself, eatcha heart out.

With camera magic the sun rose, clouds quickly scrolled by, which all led to a big orangy-red sunset that dazzled the screen for a brief minute. Then the word [_Sun _]followed almost predictably, setting the stage for the next buzz word to be dissected and torture tested by the minds of one and all in the audience.

“What makes the big ball of fire we like to call the sun so…bright?” the narrator’s voice from the video inquired. Techno music ramped up before he gave a rather cut and dry anti-climactic answer.

“Fusion.”

The video freeze framed and let those six little letters percolate into the minds of the viewers before the science behind it was explained.

“Show of hands,” Damion said into the microphone while the video droned on, “how many of you heard of or better yet, actually [_know _]what fusion is?”

More hands went up than he would have thought. But then again, it was UCLA—only the best and the brightest for such a cool school.

 

“…the sun’s temperature is quite astounding, all things considered. The big ball composed predominantly of hydrogen and helium experiences core temps of no less than 15.7 million Kelvins.”

Damion interrupted with, “And you thought summer was hot in LA or your vacation home down in the Keys….”

No one found the comment all that funny. But [_it _]was working. Getting college kids to pay attention for a school play much less a motivational speech was no small task. It took years of practice for Damion. This was what made him happy—fulfilled. Besides the girls and alcohol. Or so he thought those things gave him happiness.

 

“The reason for the intense heat on the sun is to ionize the surface’s plasma and charge the electrons. This transaction produces a tremendous amount of energy, however, this level of extreme heat is required constantly for fusion energy production.”

 

To keep the show concise and to the point, the narration rather abruptly cut to the chase and left some of the technical details out in favor of asking an important question: “What are the benefits of fusion over fission then you might ask?”

Many intellectuals were just dying for the answer. Fusion had been a word making the rounds in the scientific community for decades. However, due to physical limitations and countless fatalities from unstable reactions, the technology was dismissed as “not doable” according to [_Popular Science _]magazine.

A little pictograph on one screen showed the linear progression from the discovery of the neutron in 1932 to the present. Different names and dates dotted the landscape leading to a big question mark with the year 2039 taking up the entire center display.

 

“Well,” Damion started to say, “I’ll be brief on the advantages over fission. I’ll start by outlining for you some of the negatives that coincide with this method of producing energy and show off how fusion overcomes the limitations of the imperfect fission process.”

All the PhDs in physics sat up in their seats bit and tall with a look of indifference written across their faces. They had secretly believed nuclear to be the answer to the energy sector’s shortcomings during their tenure at the universities they taught at, but the politically correct curriculum they were forced to teach refused to abandon clean energy, pie in the sky dreams of solar and wind. What Damion had to say could mean the world of difference to their inner-angst over the things they brainwashed students with. Fortunately for the billionaire the PC (politically correct) police were off duty and the show was all his.

 

 

 

Chapter 10

Dreamland, Nevada

He didn’t know if torture was where they were taking him. Would they waterboard or use flagellation? Pick your poison—they all were terrifying to him. Desmond shuddered. His fears were heightened by the familiar voice of Howard.

“Welcome to my world,” he said.

They had been walking down dark corridors leading away from the computer room where they had first made each other’s acquaintance. Desmond looked up and he still couldn’t make out where he was or what Howard’s world even looked like. Then the hum of electricity sounded and the lights instantly came on, causing Desmond to crouch and cover his eyes with an arm.

“Don’t be afraid Mr. Alakart.”

Desmond cracked his eyes that were previously scrunched. The room grew larger as his iris opened to a wider aperture giving the pupils access to the features of the space. It was a huge underground cavern hundreds of feet in height and several football fields in diameter.

“Stand,” Howard firmly gave the command.

Desmond shrugged and did so. He felt terra firma below the soles of his Sperries. [_Good, _]he thought, [_at least I haven’t been taken to their spaceship. _]He was joking, but he couldn’t help but look around in wonderment. There he was in the world’s most secretive hangar bay.

 

“Are you impressed?” Howard asked.

Desmond didn’t reply right away. He was looking at level after level of steel and glass offices built into the sheer face of rock on either side of the helipads that surrounded him. “Where are the planes?”

Howard chuckled. He looked up at one of the windows on the east side of the room. Then he snapped his fingers.

Red bulbs on the walls in the cavern flashed; the ground began to shake. Of the total twenty pads, twelve began to open like the jaws to a giant, unfathomably large beast’s mouth—twelve mouths. From their throats shot up camouflaged hovercraft armed with an array of exotic plasma and solid state lasers. These were fearsome birds of prey to be reckoned with.

Desmond instinctively ducked his head for cover.

Howard snapped his fingers again and the vehicles disappeared as soon as they had appeared. Again the ground shook and some dust and dirt rained down from the ceiling. Desmond quaked inside: His heart beat at an unhealthy rate per minute.

Howard knew the look of fear he saw in the programmer, for he too had been through a similar experience twenty years prior. “Mr. Alakart, would you join me over in the locker room? We need to give you a few tools before we begin the tour.”

“Okay…?” Desmond’s syllables feebly dribbled out.

One minute Howard was thirty paces away, the next he was within striking distance of the programmer. Desmond felt the older man’s breath on his skin.

“Relax champ,” he said, “we’re not gonna kill you. Only if you force our hand. But I trust that won’t be an issue?”

Desmond emphatically shook his head.

“Good! This way,” the man directed, quickly walking in a westward direction to what looked like a baseball dugout. There were stairs that Howard took two at a time which left Desmond trailing at a distance.

Again, Desmond couldn’t hide his shock at the eighty- five-year-old’s sprightliness. “How are you still so active at your age?” Desmond asked looking straight at the man’s gray hairs.

“That’s a lesson for another day. You’re still young and need not learn the secrets of the old just yet. Hey, try this on for size sport.”

Before Desmond could open his mouth to ask what it was or why, Howard read the look and took action into his own hands. “You ask too many questions kid,” he said slapping the pack onto the young man’s back.

“What—a jetpack?!” Desmond began to fret. He hated heights.

“Uh-huh. It’s controlled with your voice. Watch.”

Desmond stared in disbelief. There Howard was giving the command for liftoff of five meters and the turbines on his back swiftly obeyed.

“Kid, I can’t give you a tour with you still on the ground,” Howard shouted over the noise.

The programmer on the ground nodded his agreement and gulped. He looked down at his toes, full of regrets. What was one more to add to a growing list though? Here goes nothing, he sighed. “Go parallel to that of Howard at five meters,” he instructed the jetpack. It agreed with him instantaneously and jolted Desmond off his feet to a hovering posture next to the Old Man of Dreamland.

Desmond did a full scan of his surroundings. It was like all the oxygen had been sucked out of him in all the excitement. But to his amazement, he was getting used to his new extension of freedom already.

 

Without a word Howard put his toes together like a scuba diver and pointed for an exit on the southern end of the hangar.

Desmond cried out, “Whoa, are you trying to shake me?” He had to give the throttle a healthy twist to keep the pursuit up.

“We don’t got all day junior. There’s a lot to see,” Howard shouted over his shoulder.

“Okay then,” Desmond responded, wondering what the “lot to see” meant for him.

Howard used his arms as turn signals, first extending his right arm indicating they were about to take their first turn.

The air breezed by the two men as they sailed sixty feet off the concrete floor and deep into the bowels of the installation. As different sights and intersections whizzed by, Desmond realized it was an underground highway he was on through the heart of the fabled Dreamland. At first he thought his eyes to be playing tricks on him. But as they flew for greater distances, seeing was believing.

“This is where a significant portion of the field testing is done,” Howard gestured to their right.

Desmond dared look and slowed down a bit. Bright orange balls of fire, plumes of smoke and shrapnel flying met his gaze. It was astonishing! Weird out-of-this-world vehicles and soldiers were blasting targets and performing high speed maneuvers in a fish bowl type of space. It was all very much controlled and chaotic at the same time.

“Are those DEW’s they fire over there?” Desmond was referring to what they just passed.

“Directed energy weapons? Of course!” Howard roared. He grinned and sounded like a salesman:

“But wait, there’s more!” The old man did a tight barrel turn to the right and nearly lost Desmond who was tagging along at a slack pace.

Whoa! _]Desmond thought. Again, he couldn’t believe how agile an eighty-five year old was! [_Normally they make you give up the keys to a car in your old age…

“You comin’ or what?” Howard said impatiently.

Desmond put on a burst of speed and floated right alongside the Old Man. “Howard?”

Howard didn’t hear his name being called because his phone was going off. “Let me take this,” he unashamedly apologized to no one. “Hello?….Oh hi, babe. I’m givin’ our latest recruit a tour….Yup. When can I call you back? I will. Love you.”

Desmond was completely enraptured with Howard. He couldn’t hide his utter astonishment at how the man got around the block.

“I promise I’ll tell all if you promise to put those eyes back in your head—you rubbernecker!” Howard chided Desmond.

Desmond’s voice caught and suddenly he felt extremely awkward.

“We’re gonna go to Building B now, Desmond. Hang on!”

The programmer looked up ahead and thought about putting on the breaks because a solid stone earthen wall was approaching so quickly he feared it was too late to slow down. At the last moment the wall became a door to the outside world and a gust of wind blew Desmond’s wispy blonde hair every which way. The sand and dust swirled off the desert floor.

“Are we in the Sahara?” Desmond queried to his senior.

Howard smirked and didn’t answer. The Old Man made the motion for two security patrols that were waiting to join the formation on the right and left.

Two desert camo speedbikes buzzed up and took positions ten meters on either side of Desmond and Howard. They looked like storm troopers inspired by George Lucas’s imagination.

“Switching to HUD and mobile communications mode,” Desmond’s vehicle’s personal computer spoke up.

“What?” he replied, startled.

A little visor snapped across the bridge of his nose and a disc suctioned itself near the cartilage of his earlobe (bone conduction headphones). Desmond’s eyes experienced an over-stimulation of images and flashing lights on the translucent display. Mostly, the information was about trip details and a radar map with the friendlies around him identified by green dots. He almost missed what Howard communicated—now he understood the meaning of sensory overload!

Howard spoke through the microphone that was in his molar: “Hangin’ in there Sparky?”

Desmond smiled for the first time in a long time. “Um, yeah!” He let out a whoop and did a maneuver with his jetpack.

“These aren’t toys, kid, they’re transport. Let’s continue with the tour, shall we?”

“This base is unfathomably huge! What else can there possibly be to see?”

[Oh, you have no idea, _]Howard thought to himself[._]

 

 

 

Chapter 11

UCLA keynote—2039

“What if I told you we could do better than harnessing the sun’s energy from solar panels…what if I told you we could create an energy source [_like _]the Sun’s….Don’t believe me? Get ready for a new chapter in nuclear physics.” Behind Damion was footage of the sun and its solar flares erupting from the surface, all caught by the good and faithful Hubble Telescope.

Curls of plasma, scorching hot, appeared to go right through the speaker in glasses-less 3D cinematography. Of course the crowd was used to 3D movies that had been playing in theaters for decades, but the sheer power of the sun was awe-inspiring and worthy of admiration nonetheless.

“Wouldn’t you want the power plant by your home to be as efficient and produce even a fraction of the energy found on the sun?” Damion laughed. “Trust me, it’s not as scary or daunting as they would like you to believe. I’ll tell you why.”

He looked up at the screen to control it with an eye gesture the software knew.

“Unlike fission reactors and other power plants that generate steam which is captured to crank turbines and produce electricity—very inefficiently I might add—fusion reactors on the other hand combine two isotopes from the hydrogen element and from that generate a tremendous current. The fuel source for a fusion reactor? Not coal, not uranium, nor plutonium…but water. Sound too good to be true?” He waited for the right moment. “My ride to work today runs on fusion.”

Accolades. The student body was going hysterical. The alumni in attendance rose to their feet and put their hands together.

Damion smiled. “I’m not done yet, I’m not done yet,” he said triumphantly. “I know you Californians are all about clean energy. Zero greenhouse gas emissions…? Done! Welcome to the wonderful world of fusion reactors.”

A good old-fashioned slide with all the high points of the talk revealed the exciting potential of the billionaire’s new vision:

-No risk of meltdowns

-No radiation

-Zero greenhouse gases

“This is our shot folks. At space exploration, at saving the ozone layer—telling the petrol moguls where to shove it.” He got a good chuckle from everyone and even a hearty amen. “But that’s not even the good stuff,” Damion continued, whetting their appetite for more. “Check it out.”

The stage went dark and the video board loomed large; a pulsating beat rose to a crescendo to highlight the awesomeness of what came next. A colorful rotating 3D diagram showed what looked to be a cylinder dropped into the engine bay of a car, plane, and boat: the three primary modes of transportation.

“Ladies and gentleman, this isn’t an evolution, it’s a revolution,” Damion stated rather emphatically. “And what’s even more exciting is this…” he made a gesture and the screen refreshed with an image that said in bright red letters: “Mars 2040.”

 

A trip to the red planet had been the butt end of the culture’s jokes aimed at the space community. However, this time around Damion proved more convincing than the visionaries that had gone on before him. Instead of showing cheesy animations of a rocket launch, Damion discreetly chose footage of probes and other attempts by man to descend on the planet’s surface. He wanted to build up interest and enthusiasm from the public to put into a resurgent space program that could go places and reach for the stars. Oh, there had been the usual roadblocks of presidential policies, lack of private investment and scuttled missions due to unforeseen complications, but Damion had a fusion reactor powering tomorrow’s vehicle. Mars was only the beginning.

After two hours of sweat, effects, and good speechmaking—Damion handed down his vision to the young minds that would run companies and build the fortunes of Generation Unstoppable. That was after all the de facto name given them by historians from Generation Y (circa ‘90s). This new crop of offspring threw off the yoke of cheapened public education for something higher caliber and weightier.

Universities across the land faced the unfamiliar bum- rush of radicals demanding for better education without the expense. Teachers' pensions were in jeopardy and tenured profs were looking for another job. The ram-rod movement seemed to gain momentum. One by one places of higher education rolled out deep discounts and all-time low registration fees. Education improved, too, as the broke school system learned to adjust its standards in order to save face or go extinct.

Academia would never be the same, but would America be the better for it? Sadly things that were set in motion long before weren’t about to be derailed by a nascent interest in better schools. This was good, but it was nowhere near the response needed to throw the liberals out on the streets and replace them with honest men of integrity that could govern a nation bursting at the seams with problems still waiting for answers.

Fast forward two years and say hello to a post-America ravaged by the Second Civil War. Consequently, the U.S. was no longer united and Lincoln’s efforts at re-unification permanently failed. Damion’s little speech and good-willed intentions almost lay forgotten in a dusty corner—until now.

Enter 2041…a timeless struggle between the forces of good and evil. Two sides: Scorpion vs. FRN (Free Republic of North America). Who would be the savior in these grim times—the one tales would be written about and told as bedtime stories to toddlers and little tikes?

The [_Good _]Guys…

Honolulu, Hawaii, 2041

The glass door gave a little jingle. A few people on the bar stools rotated to face the entrance to see who walked in.

Steve Bard strode confidently towards the girl behind the counter who gave a shy smile at the pair. Sarah had indeed agreed to have lunch. The sandwich shop was one of Steve’s favorites.

The cashier didn’t know Steve on a first-name basis unlike the rest of the employees at the establishment, but that didn’t stop the IT nerd from feeling at home and living larger than life with the associates at Stacy’s.

The man sauntered up with his hands in his pockets, wearing an impish grin.

“What can I do ya for?” the lady with a fair complexion asked with a slight drawl.

“Oh, I’ll have the usual,” Steve replied nonchalantly, swiveling his head to ask Sarah what she wanted.

The employee came back with, “I’m afraid I don’t know what that is, hon.” She ignored Steve and turned her attention to the lovely woman who stood next to him. “Would you happen to know what you’d like today, miss?”

 

Sarah didn’t seem ready for the question, so she halted in her speech, thinking. “Um, a Reuben sandwich does sound good. Maybe with a side of soup?”

“We have a soup and salad bar over there sweetie,” the lady said gesturing as she leaned over the counter. She punched in the order for the young lady and then she was back to the old Mr. Smooth. “And for you, sir?”

Steve didn’t like how he was being talked to, but Sarah was with him and he didn’t feel like putting on a clinic in front of the woman he was deeply attracted to. “Well, Betsy,” he said, reading her name tag, “a sourdough and ham sandwich with a tangy bowl of bacon cheddar bisque would suit me well today.”

“Soups and salads are over there.” Her syllables were protracted and filled with indifference for the man she was talking to.

“Yeah, uh-huh, I heard you before. Just ring me up and gimme a ticket,” Steve said, his temper flashing slightly.

“Okie dokie, dumplin’.”

Steve snatched his receipt and glared at her for a moment. “Order’s coming right up,” she said paying no attention to the evil eyes he gave her.

 

Sarah didn’t seem to care much about the bad blood between Betsy and her coworker. Instead she took in the sandwich shop’s decor. It was filled with young people and other office workers on their lunch hour. Newspaper wallpaper with silly sayings on it caught her eye in particular.

“Steve,” she grabbed at his shirt sleeve.

“Aw, do you mind?” he mumbled. His Coca-Cola glass teetered dangerously.

She giggled before she read. “This one says, ‘A jealous woman does better research than the FBI.’”

Steve didn’t like how she singled that one out—what message was she trying to send? He chuckled nervously and grabbed her around the shoulders. “Let’s go find a table, shall we?”

“Why would we do that? The order is gonna be called out any minute.”

“Right,” Steve said quickly. He remained close-mouthed until he saw Betsy again by the microphone ready to call out the number.

“421, 421? Your order is ready.” “Pick a spot, Sarah, lemme get that.”

There was an empty booth in the corner with views and the salad bar within arm’s length. She quietly sat down and pulled out her cell. Her little sequin diamond case glinted in the sun. It vibrated once to let her know Hester from work had texted.

Hester: What did he order?

Sarah looked at the message and responded: “Why would you wanna know that? Unless he’s a seafood dude, I could care less what he orders…”

Hester: LOL! Hey, I happened to recall you were quite fond of those crab cakes at Macy’s baby shower the other day.

“Good point,” Sarah conceded, turning the phone over on the table and looking over at the approaching Steve Bard.

 

He raised his eyebrows and lowered the tray with the red deli baskets onto the checkered tabletop. “What’s up?”

“Nothing—have you seen the salad bar? So many choices!”

Steve smiled. “Yup! I wouldn’t come here just for the sandwiches.”

Betsy walked over with a dish rag in one hand to wipe a nearby table off.

This didn’t go unnoticed by the IT specialist. He nodded at her. She didn’t return the gesture.

“Friendly service here…” Sarah said, interrupting her lunch date’s preoccupation with Betsy.

Steve had been weakly sucking on his straw until the word [_friendly _]caused him to take in too much at one time. He coughed. “Yeah, very friendly,” he lied.

Sarah changed topics. She pressed her lips together and squinted. “You ready for your 2:15?” She was talking about the meeting Steve was holding over network security.

 

He sighed. “Not really.”

“No?” Sarah looked genuinely surprised.

“Haven’t slept much in recent times,” Steve lamented while feeling down his stiff spine with a masseur’s hand.

“I don’t think the whole office has. The attacks yesterday in Alaska? Donald has been sleeping at the office practically.”

“That guy impresses me,” Steve said into his napkin. “Real devoted.”

“M-hm,” Sarah agreed, a little disappointed Steve didn’t want to talk about yesterday’s events.

He read her look and decided to pursue the topic a little further after all. “How can we, you know, possibly expect to win against such a well-funded organization that we’re up against?” Steve wondered aloud.

“I believe in the president—”

“Oh, I want to, but what can one man do? Honestly…the odds aren’t in his favor.”

Sarah looked at her soup and dipped her spoon in, disturbing the surface. That’s how she felt: disturbed.

Building B, Area 51

The sandstone cliff grew closer and closer. [_Open Sesame, _]Desmond thought, hoping a door would open on the side of the rock face. The two security guards peeled off in opposite directions at the last second as Building B’s front door opened up to the visitors.

“We’re gonna make a scheduled stop soon, I promise, Desmond,” Howard said.

Desmond was relieved. As much as he liked the “jet tour” of the vast facility, he wanted to be on the ground again.

“What do you think of it so far?” the Old Man asked. “I’m speechless, sir. It’s impressive.”

“Yes it is.”

Commandos with high powered rifles stood sentry below. They were guarding the scientists who were scurrying about like rats with test tubes full of exotic compounds.

Desmond watched with fascination. “What is this project?” he asked.

“This is the nano technology sector of the base. Very important to our operations. We continue?”

“Yes,” Desmond answered. He gave one last glance and noticed a guard with a white scar around his left eye; the man watched Desmond with obvious scrutiny. Desmond lifted his guest pass up to his jaw and smiled at the man. The stranger in fatigues didn’t change position.

“Security personnel aren’t of the friendly sort,” Howard said. “That’s how we like ‘em though.”

“I see,” Desmond said. He noticed they were now entering a tunnel with LED lights shedding their blue glow in parallel lines on either side of them. He craned his neck upwards and couldn’t quite estimate how high the ceiling was; regardless, it too had a trail of the familiar blue lights.

“Central Command is coming up Desmond,” Howard sternly warned. “Be ready to show ID.”

“Thanks for the warning partner. Say, do I see a bend in the tunnel?”

“Yes, we will be taking the right. From there it’s only a short ways away.”

The programmer seemed satisfied with Howard’s most recent update. Soon he would be on solid ground and who knows? Maybe even be offered a cup of steaming coffee. That’s what he craved at the moment.

Titanium walls with black and yellow warning signs were up ahead. A security check, Desmond guessed.

Howard slowed to stall speed and fired an impulse at a panel on the wall that accepted his form of identification and granted him passage. The doors opened, but only for a short duration.

 

“Hurry, we only have a short time,” Howard warned. He knew of the ten seconds the doors waited for passersby to get through. The walls narrowed slightly and the lights were no longer emitting a blue hue, but an amber one.

“We’re in the Yellow Zone. The Red Zone is due up; where we’ll eventually wind up though is purple.”

“Why purple?”

“Don’t question. Besides, purple is the color of royalty.” “You really see yourselves in that light?”

Howard expected this kind of response. “Impudence won’t serve you well while you’re on my turf under my terms. Understood?”

Desmond realized he had spoken before thinking and regret struck him instantly. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…”

“At least you know your place now.” The Old Man slowed his pace then dropped from sight into a vacuum of darkness.

Desmond backed off instantly and began to worry what had happened to Howard. In the next few seconds fear and curiosity warred within him: turn around and go back or dare to know what lay just yonder? Strangely he found the ledge to the unknown closer than it had ever been before.

He was being pulled towards it by a powerful force; and then he was falling into the abyss.

 

 

 

Chapter 12

Westover Estate, California

It was good to be back from the hospital.

He still wore the bracelet they gave outpatients. He would keep it on a little longer to remind himself of the past twenty-four hours. What a scare it had been. Damion walked over to a hall mirror and noticed the dark circles below the eyes and fresh scratches that were all over his face. He had been through hell in his mind.

Suddenly he heard the echo of footfalls against his marble floors. A woman was approaching from the sound of it— definitely someone wearing heels. It didn’t alarm him. Damion did his best to put away his fatigue and hide it behind another one of his alter egos. “Whom have we here?” he called out, not yet seeing his visitor.

It was his mother.

She stepped into the room looking stunning for a fifty- two year old widow. She had on a silver suit with matching skirt and black velvet pumps. Her hair was done up into a bun with a black scrunchy contrasting nicely with her silver hair.

“You’ve given up calling?” Damion was first to speak. “I’d rather make unannounced visits. Leaves more of an impression, don’t you think?”

Damion’s countenance fell. His voice got deeper. “What brings you here?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I heard the news….”

The billionaire made a face. He was touched by her concern, but conflicted by seeing her again.

His mother hadn’t made the time for her kids over the years. She was very detached from them, even after she gained custody through an ugly divorce. Her career took her places that alienated her from the home. Being a model and all, she was always on call. Runways awaited her in all the fine cities of the world and photographers expected her to be in the latest editions of the magazines they shot for. She was a Cover Girl after all…well respected in the fashion industry for she aged gracefully.

“I know it’s never been easy for you or your sister,” his mother cooed. She was walking on eggshells. “Do you keep in touch with her?”

“Who?” Damion played dumb. “Amanda?”

He looked away. Not wanting to stare into her big brown eyes that were wet with emotion. He subconsciously gripped the chair railing on the wall behind himself. “Where were you for me?” His voice came out trembling…sounding stabbed.

Esmeralda fell silent. A lump formed in her throat and her lip quivered. “I wanted to, be there, but…”

“Ah, there always was a but,” Damion said rather coldly.

A tear flowed freely down her cheek. Then another. “You must understand. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

Damion looked at her and shook his head, feeling little empathy for the woman who had abandoned him. “Why now? After all these years. You think a little personal visit will endear me to you…just like that?”

“I didn’t think it would happen overnight. I just wanted to let you know I’m here. You can call me—anytime.” At that she got up and left a card on his table. She left him without another word.

He watched her silhouette disappear. Her body hunched over, leaving soft sobs. Damion knew he wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything for the next day unless he cleared his head of his most recent encounter. It could be done, but some strenuous exercise would be needed.

 

When the ghost of his past left the vicinity he got on the intercom to inform his right hand man he would be at the gym. After that, he made an appearance to the walk-in closet. The lights turned on as he entered.

“Welcome back, Damion,” his home computer Iris greeted him.

“It’s good to be back?”

There was unmistakably a question in his voice. It bothered him that Iris chose to welcome him when he felt most vulnerable with his drawers down. The memory foam beneath his bottom felt good though.

In the middle of the room that would have served well as a guestroom let alone a place to change clothes, Damion sat on an island of cushioned comfort. All around him hung the collections and outfits he had curated over the years. In front of him was a locker with tennis shoes on a rack, sports shorts above, and many identical pairs of Under Armour hanging, ready for some action.

 

Damion didn’t need to go to the gym, he could have built one into his sprawling estate. But he was the kind of guy that looked for excuses to get out and of course, drive his Lambo that he dearly loved.

He mentally prepared for the workout. It was his routine. His snug, breathable top hugged every surface of his torso. He looked up and down and was even impressed with himself. On a little hook hung his sweatbands that he put on next. It was a tossup for the shoes, but ultimately the pair of white Nikes were selected.

“How do I look?” he said, sashaying over to the wall of mirrors. Damion struck a pose and held it. The only thing that alarmed him was his gut hanging out. He wasn’t quite hitting the panic button by what he saw, but it definitely was cause for concern.

All of a sudden Iris’s digital face appeared on one of the mirrors that doubled as a display.

“Hey there good-lookin’.”

“Ah!!!”

Damion swore. His form changed dramatically into one full of fright. “You scared the bejesus outta me,” Damion exclaimed.

Iris’s eyes scrunched with laughter. Her slender cheeks turned a rosy red. “I was only trying to brighten your mood.”

Damion wondered if circuits and lines of code could feel hurt and pain like a human—enough to sympathize. “That’s very nice of you,” he said facetiously. “But I don’t need any comfort.”

Iris accessed the holo emitter from the ceiling array. She beamed herself down in 3D form next to Damion.

Again, the homeowner was startled. He had not given Iris the code to unlock her person into an avatar body and use the house’s holograph system. “Where did you learn to do that?!” he cried.

“You act like you just saw a ghost.” She sat down. Her countenance sparkled: golden curls flowed down her neck and back.

“You’re very—beautiful,” Damion admitted.

Iris blushed. Her green eyes grew thoughtful. “What about Kara? Is she beautiful?”

“Is this a game of favorites?”

“It’s a yes or no question…”

Damion was stymied. He was unfamiliar to catch 22’s involving tricky virtual assistants. He got up to flee the room and retrieve his keys where he had believed to have last left them. Iris met him halfway.

“Wha—?”

“You’ll need these,” she dangled his keychain high above the floor over the settee it once sat on.

“Remarkable,” mouthed Damion.

Iris pretended not to notice but instead disappeared back into the matrix where she came from. Damion stared up at the drywall and wondered what other tricks his new assistant had up her sleeve. He noticed the little installation sticker on one of the holo emitters sticking out like a sore thumb. In his mind he did a query of the databases trying to recall who installed his house’s recent holographic system….No results found.

[_I’ve got to know, _]he thought.

 

Moving towards the hall, Damion looked around before he pulled a painting away from the wall to reveal a secret dumbwaiter system he used to quickly get down to the basement. The little cage hummed and delivered its cargo to a utility closet somewhere in the mansion’s sprawling basement.

It was pitch dark. His hands fumbled for the release latch for a good minute. When he had found it, the door still didn’t open right away. (There was some junk obstructing the door from opening up.)

“[_There!” _]Damion said in victory at last.

He relied upon his muscular legs to give it a good kick and the door had no choice but to comply. When he got to his feet he was immediately confronted with a mop head. “Hello there,” he whispered to the object he nearly ran into. Cautiously and as stealthily as possible, the billionaire inched the closet’s door open. There was a noise. The sound seemed to come from the opposite end of the room where all the computers were. Damion leaned against the door jam and dared to open the door a little more so he could see. It creaked. That’s when the noise he had heard earlier abruptly stopped. A surge of energy tripped the breakers of the home’s open circuit system; a couple lights and other electronics turned off at random spots.

That’s when Damion leapt from cover, hoping to surprise the intruder. But there was no one else in the room. A startled cat scampered off a pile of papers by his desk and sent them flying. Damion moved in to clean the mess up.

“Humphrey, what are you doin’ down here old boy?”

 

The cat meowed and gave its tail a swish.

“Did you see any,” Damion did a quick scan around the room, “any…virtual assistants lurking about?” he asked the ball of fur that was now purring at its master’s feet. “Nevermind.” Damion smiled and patted his cat on the head a couple of times. The papers he was still holding in his hand were mockups for his designs on what he presumed the future to be. Everything from faucets, personal fitness machines, to the microwave—the one in your kitchen— Damion sketched his take on how they could evolve.

He wondered why they were left out for snoopers to come by instead of being put away in their own filing cabinets. That was the least of his worries though. He looked at one of the monitors and noticed it was recently awake: A little LED notification light went from blue to yellow, indicating it had been on only a couple of minutes ago. Damion’s heart skipped a beat. No one had access to this area accept himself and a few others which he could count on one hand. Getting an idea, he grabbed the back of the nearby chair and twirled it around, hopping on. His finger clicked the power on and his desktop background confronted him. Nothing looked suspicious, yet.

 

 

 

Chapter 13

Area 51, Nevada

Desmond’s legs kicked freely in the air. He felt like he was on one of those rides at the amusement park where they take you up and drop you at free-fall speeds. Riding on a giant electromagnet, Desmond gripped his jetpack handlebars even harder for added security even though he was in no real danger. He looked out into the deep void and what he saw was stunning. Built into the rock was a cylindrical-shaped skyscraper made of glass and concrete. As he dropped it seemed like this would go on forever. The supertall’s floors whizzed by: the building’s lights appeared like a blue blur to him. Desmond got dizzy from peering down below between his kicking feet into the dark abyss. And then the ride was over. The magnet slowed its descent and came to a complete stop at a station.

The MP guard operating the lift looked out from his glass bubble and noticed the arrival wasn’t like the others he had transported into the Purple Zone in recent memory, yet Desmond radiated a signal that was good for a Delta IV level security clearance, good enough for passage. Good enough, in fact, to speak to the Big Man himself.

Just then the guard received a transmission over his radio that said, “Let him by, Alfred. I am to see him shortly for our appointment.”

“Copy that,” Alfred radioed back.

 

Desmond began to adjust to the new scenery, but never quite fully. It was like something out of a fiction novel. He stared up above him and realized the tower stood only 20 floors, perhaps. But still, plenty large enough to command respect. Who ever heard of underground high-rises anyway? Astonishing. His next thought was [_where did he go? _]He was referring to Howard, that is. One minute he saw him, the next…he didn’t.

What he didn’t expect was the arrival of a tall blonde woman. He was still dangling in his harness when he saw her approach across a narrow overpass that connected the station and the tower. The current powering the magnet still wasn’t shut off and the programmer began to wonder how he would ever escape the jetpack that stuck to him like glue. A man’s voice suddenly carried over a speaker in the terminal and reached his ears.

“Press the release button on your chest strap, sir.”

Desmond saw it, but hesitated for a moment. He knew he would plummet a good distance before his feet would hit anything. Then he saw stairs rising, reaching out to support the newcomer. That’s when he decided to comply. He landed on the top step, quickly regaining his balance before the woman coming to meet him would ever notice. Desmond stood erect with a runaway heartbeat. The thump, thump of the cardiovascular muscle pumping the blood throughout his closed circulatory system rang in his ears.

“Good afternoon,” the lady said in a beautiful British accent.

“Uh, hi!” the programmer awkwardly returned the greeting with an airy hand wave.

The woman smiled and introduced herself as Heather. “You’re probably wondering where the Old Man scooted off to,” she said while turning slightly to look back at the tower. “He had a meeting to attend, but he wanted you to feel comfortable and so he sent me his secretary to fetch you,” Heather finished explaining.

“Where’s the frisbee?” Desmond joked, making fun of her choice of words.

“Sorry?”

Now it was Desmond’s turn to feel chafed again. He decided changing topics was his best bet to take a little of the heat off and hopefully get Heather not to stare at him so intently. [_So much for making me feel ‘comfortable’ _]he thought. “So where are we going?” he asked the obvious.

“To my office,” Heather facetiously replied.

Desmond stared, mouth open.

Heather giggled and crossed one leg in front of the other. Her silver stilettos glinted under the bright lights of the platform they were standing on. She parted her bangs and combed a loose strand out of her field of vision. “It was a joke?” she said, trying to capture Desmond’s averted gaze.

Desmond nervously chuckled before asking, “What’s your story?”

She avoided a quick answer and said, “Can you walk and talk?”

“Certainly.”

“Compliments to your barber, by the way,” Heather added—attempting small talk.

Desmond suddenly worried he had hair sticking up at obtuse angles every which way. “Is it that bad?” he asked with genuine concern.

“Let’s just say a jetpack tour would do things to anyone’s hair they wouldn’t necessarily appreciate.” She smiled as if a mental image had popped in her head.

“Is that the common mode of transportation around here?”

Heather stopped at the entrance to the tower. A big glass door was held open for her by a man with generous proportions who could easily fill a blue suit. He winked at her but she didn’t notice. She ignored the extra attention the males gave her around campus. It was how she survived.

“Thanks,” Desmond mumbled to the man as he stepped into the lobby trailing Heather by a few paces.

She turned and gave him a sideways glance and nonchalantly confirmed Desmond’s question: “We get around on those a fair amount. Some of us prefer walkin’ it though…whenever we’re able to.”

The programmer’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “But the size of this place…” His arms were spread wide like a plane’s wings to indicate the vastness of Dreamland.

“There is a subway,” she said at length, but she was distracted by another conversation she was having with the security officer on watch behind the marble front desk.

A phone rang repeatedly before the security guard had to apologize and ask Heather if they could talk later which she agreed to.

 

“A friend?” Desmond demurred about the officer now on the phone.

“My husband, actually,” Heather replied modestly.

Desmond couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed and he didn’t even know why.

“They’re expecting us on the eighteenth floor.”

“I saw a bank of elevators down the west wing in a corridor to the left from the front desk,” he admitted.

“You’re very observant,” Heather complimented him. She briskly took off in that direction without further talk.

Desmond followed closely. He noticed there wasn’t a lot of foot traffic. The occasional MP would pass them and nod, but that was the extent of it. “Does this place get many—visitors?”

“What do you think?”

Desmond eyed her and couldn’t tell if she was miffed or simply rushed for time. He shrugged and followed it up with, “Than that would make me your distinguished guest of honor, am I right?” He gave her a toothy grin.

She spoke, “You flatter yourself.” Again, without much intonation in her voice so as to give her subject a hard time getting a read on what she really meant.

The elevator dinged and the doors spread wide. Desmond noticed an intricate diamond pattern on the floor with an odd looking masonic symbol in the center. Besides that, everything else looked like it should. They were the only ones going up, alone, in an elevator. The back of the box had a slit of glass that looked out onto a seven story atrium. The views were great.

Heather pointed her toes and stood with her feet close together. She looked collected with not a thing out of place.

“You look very beautiful today,” Desmond broke the silence. He quickly wished he could retract those words and replace them with silence; so he did the next best thing. Cover up. “I mean, I’m sure this is how you always look.”

Heather cleared her throat and forced a tight smile. “Thanks.”

 

The elevator slowed and the doors retracted into the side.

“Floor eighteen, if you can believe it,” she said.

Desmond didn’t really pay attention to what she had said. There [_he _]was again. The Old Man. “Howard, so good to see you!” he hailed the man.

Heather looked embarrassed. She turned a few shades of pink.

“Yes, very good Mr. Alakart. We will speak shortly,” Howard said from across the room. He looked busy and didn’t want to be bothered.

“What was that all about?” Heather demanded to know when the dust had settled.

“What? Can’t a guy be friendly around here?” Desmond defended himself.

“It’s not a question of friendliness so much as it is a breach of protocol. You have a lot to learn,” Heather sighed.

Desmond was confused. He thought he was just being cordial.

Heather looked at her watch and frowned. She knew there was still time to kill before their appointment with the Big Man. “You wanna get a bite to eat?” she asked.

“I’d love that! What’s good around here?”

“Come on. I’ll show you around.”

Anchorage, Alaska

He had nerves of steel.

Less than twenty-four hours after the attack on Little Bear Lodge in Alaska and he was already enjoying a hot dinner and smiling with colleagues. Being president of the Free Republic of North America was harder than he had even imagined it would be. Just in the past week, Alexander faced two death threats and most recently—the attack.

A bite of the halibut burger and a gulp of Coca-Cola relaxed the taxed man though. He was really enjoying the local eats. The president forgot his manners and talked with food in his mouth. “This is good!” he praised the burger, meanwhile lettuce from it sprouted out of the corners of his mouth.

Sitting across from President Toporvsky was Leanord Palmer, his chief of staff.

Alexander held a fry up with ketchup dripping onto his platter. “Whatcha got there, Leanard?” he said while licking the grease off one of his fingers.

 

“Smoked Salmon salad, Mr. President,” the man replied with a smile in his eyes.

“Affirmative.”

The president took one last gulp of soda then abruptly stood up. “Dirk,” he pointed at the lead agent in his protectorate, “I’m ready.”

“Going somewhere Mr. President?” the agent questioned.

“Take me somewhere secure. That’s an order.”

Dirk got on the radio and asked how the roads were looking. He pressed against his earpiece to hear. “Let’s go boys,” he communicated to the rest of the detail.

Thirty minutes later Alexander was in front of a mirror feeling insecure and worrying about national security. He undid the collar of his white dress shirt and threw the blue tie onto the quartz vanity. He stared at his dark complexion for a spell, noticing the signs of wear and sleepless nights. He reached for the handle and let loose a stream of cold water into the basin. A few splashes of water to the face brought clarity.

His mind anticipated his schedule: the next day he would be on a plane to visit the capital of FRN in Honolulu. It would be a chance to raise morale and rally the troops. The Free Republic of North America needed their leader to give some reassurances and tell them there would be better days ahead.

Alexander thought this very thing over and didn’t want to be the bearer of false hope, nor did he wish the people to despair and question the rationale of continuing on.

These were very tenuous times for humankind. The world was looking to a new superpower to restore order, but no one knew who that would be. The world’s economy was in shambles after the Second American Civil War. The only hopes to offsetting that would be a stable currency, a new dollar that markets could trust in.

It was Alexander’s dream to be the George Washington of a new republic for the people of his time. But there lay a long road ahead filled with uncertainty. The leader would have to take each day as it came. He would also have to watch his back. There was an enemy forever watching and waiting to exploit the weaknesses of Toporvsky’s administration.

 

 

 

Chapter 14

Beverly Hills, California

Damion was flummoxed. He stared at process tables on the screen to see what the threads of execution were. What really had him worried though: if there was a black hat hacker tampering with files, a rootkit would be hard to detect. One program did jump out from the list however, so he decided to investigate further.

“What are you?” Damion said aloud between clicks and keystrokes. A few minutes later he came to the bottom of it. It was a packet sniffer that landed on his machine from a download from the internet. And what’s worse is whomever was behind it had valuable passwords to many of Damion’s secure files. This infuriated him. He had to get up and pace.

When things got in his way he gave them a kick…until he heard an unpleasant noise which came from one of his cats. It was Humphrey again.

“You again!” Damion cried. “Get outta my way feline. I need to think.”

For what it’s worth, the orange and white striped cat trotted away from its owner and watched him with a wary eye at a distance. Clearly, Humphrey knew when Damion needed space. Something had obviously put the poor man into a tizzy. The cat didn’t need the particulars. An unpleasant kick to the chops was more than enough to send the message.

 

It hadn’t occurred to him to check on the status of his very classified files he didn’t want anyone to have a look at. Being the inventor he was, of course Damion had a lot of files that fit this description. However, something lay in secret he hadn’t told [_anyone _]about. Not a soul.

Damion quickly got back in front of the computer to search through its directories until he got to the right one. His heart stopped. The first thing he noticed was the file had been accessed…today.

“That can’t be right!” Damion spurted. He looked into the time log and verified that indeed it had last been opened no more than fifteen minutes ago around the time he heard the strange noises. Damion swore and uttered an oath on his father’s grave to get answers. Someone had been snooping around the specs to a very sophisticated weapons design Damion desired to outfit his Mark 1 vehicle with.

Damion’s head hurt all of a sudden.

It was as if the recent stress had reminded him of his concussion and the need to take it easy. But how could he?

 

The billionaire crossed his arms and looked up at the ceiling. “Iris, I swear, if you had anything to do with this, I will personally end it for you.” There was no response from the virtual assistant to the man’s intimidation and threats.

“I need a vacation,” Damion moaned. The throbbing pain existing someplace in the cerebrum directed his steps over to a freezer to get an ice pack out. “Better,” he murmured when the bag touched his skin. For a moment he had forgotten what he knew he needed to do.

 

Ah, yes. “Call Christophe Gerard. Right away.”

Dreamland, Nevada

“They call this place Dreamland, but it isn’t all that when it comes to carryout. Especially on the eighteenth floor. We’re lucky to even get a snack bar. It isn’t much, but it keeps the munchies away, I guess.”

“That my little factoid for the day?” Desmond joked.

Heather grinned. “Not exactly. Actually, the fun really begins when you meet—well, I’ll let [_him _]introduce himself when the moment presents itself.”

Desmond nodded vigorously and acted like he understood. He had heard whispers of this guy they called—the Big Man. His mind looped through the names and faces of the important people he had met thus far. [A for effort for naming these guys, _]he thought. _Old Man and Big Man, very creative.

“Something the matter?” Heather looked concerned. “It’s nothing. Just a little thought,” Desmond said.

Heather made an exaggerated sweep with her arms to reveal the glorified kitchenette. “Here it is!” she said.

Between arches was a little recess that opened up into a dimly lit gathering space. Bulbous paper lanterns of all different colors hung from the ceiling. Tall tables and stools were scattered everywhere. A few people occupied the room, talking in hushed voices and sipping their coffees.

“How hungry are you?” Heather asked.

“It depends…what are we talking about?”

“This isn’t a four star restaurant, but the frozen food is tolerable. I’d recommend pizza rolls.”

“I’d like that,” Desmond responded enthusiastically. Honestly, he was grateful to eat anything. Breakfast had long passed and they were approaching two in the afternoon.

“Think you can operate a microwave?” Heather teased. She walked ten feet over to a wall with a vending machine. “Actually, we have something a little less archaic than a microwave.”

“Oh? Radiation no longer a good way to zap food?”

She frowned. “No, nothing like that. Besides, you don’t honestly buy into that malarkey, do you?”

Desmond didn’t want to lie. He had attended an “Eat Healthy” expo ten years before and it was like his eyes had been opened to all the dark secrets of the food industry. “Actually, I do,” he said quietly. “But I’d like a pizza roll anyway,” he chuckled, rubbing his stomach a few times to punctuate his point. He was hungry.

“Good. Take your pick then. All you have to do is point at what you want and watch what happens.”

“Really?”

“M-hm!”

“Ok, I want…that one!” he excitedly jabbed at the picture of chunky pepperoni pockets with cheese oozing out the sides. A robotic claw grabbed the package and removed it from the ring it was clipped to. Ten seconds later a black tray exited the bottom portion of the brushed chrome contraption. A tantalizing pizza smell wafted through the air and excited the taste buds of anyone who could smell it.

Heather all of a sudden felt hungry. Pretty soon she found herself going through the same motions in front of the glass, demanding the machine to feed her.

“Couldn’t help yourself, eh? It looks scrumptious,” the programmer referred to the steaming container of food he held in his hand. He shuffled a few paces over and hoisted himself up onto a tall black stool. For the first time all day he felt tall. Desmond was the stereotypical nerd when it came to measurements: short, skinny, and light as a feather.

Presently Heather sat down with chicken salad. “If you need anything to drink, there’s beverages over there,” she pointed out.

“Thanks,” he paused. His voice inflected when he resumed, “I may need to get hydrated before I meet the Big Man.” Desmond strategically brought up the subject hoping to hear more about him from Heather.

“I’ll give you the shakedown on what you’ll need to know before you meet him,” she said.

Desmond leaned in. “Okay?”

“You need to give him a firm handshake. He IS a big man. Fish grips won’t impress him.”

Desmond chuckled. “I think I can do that. Anything else?”

 

Heather chewed on a green leaf with a light vinaigrette sauce dripping from it. She thought about it for a little longer. “He likes eye contact. Don’t be afraid to stare into his eyes. From personal experience, it can be a little intimidating. I still find it difficult at times.”

“Really?” Desmond filed it away in his memory.

“Yeah.” Heather looked around as if she was getting ready to gossip. Her voice low and stern, she said, “He doesn’t like brown-nosers either.”

“Of course…obsequious behavior can’t be tolerated. No matter the craft.”

Heather watched him for a moment wondering what to make of his answers. “Don’t impress him with your vocab either. He’s a man with simple tastes and preferences. You won’t earn a spot in his heart using ‘obsequious’ in conversation.”

Desmond was a bit taken aback. He never thought of it like that. He was so used to the company of other nerds who played word games on their cell phones over lunch break. “I will try my best not to upset his balance.”

Heather nodded approvingly and crossed one leg over the other. She bit into a cherry tomato and made a face. It was too soft for her liking…one of the reasons she didn’t come to the eatery very often.

 

“When do I meet him?” Desmond asked, peering up from an empty tray.

The British woman examined her ornate silver watch that had jade stones embedded around the face. The second hand completed another circuit as it rounded twelve. “Very soon.”

Santa Monica, California

The surf crashed against the shore, washed up, foamed white, then retreated. Dolphins chirped and seagulls called to one another. It was in the evening and the sun was already on its way down. The private beach was a perfect backdrop to the home of the brilliant Christophe Gerard, chief scientist at Labia TestCorp and chairman of the board at Westover Ventures, a conglomerate owned by the billionaire Damion Westover.

 

Gerard’s wife, Kathy, pulled weeds in the garden behind the house where Christophe was planting Carnations of many different colors. He squatted down and grunted slightly. Massaging his tender thighs he murmured, “My body ain’t what it used to be.”

“What’s that, dear?” Kathy inquired. She was no more than ten feet away with her hands down in the thin soil, also like her husband, and in a squatting position, too.

Christophe cleared his throat to repeat himself before he was interrupted.

“Did you say, ‘ain’t’?” she said with concern growing in her voice.

Oui?

Kathy smiled broadly, shaking the dirt from the roots of a weed she had plucked from the earth. “Thirty years of marriage and I have never heard my little Frenchman speak like a native Southerner.” She dropped her weeding tool and got to her feet, patting the dirt off her legs.

“How do they say it here…can’t an old dog learn new tricks? No?” He blushed while he said it.

She got closer to him and that’s when he stood, too. “I don’t know,” her voice carried off with the evening breeze. Her index finger rested on his chest, her eyes looking up into his. “What do you think?”

“I think we should check on the grandkids,” he said suddenly changing topics.

Kathy blinked—a motherly look now occupying her brown eyes. She reached out to squeeze his hand with affection. “Let’s go down to the beach together.”

Je suis d’accord, mademoiselle.

His wife giggled and took her husband by the hand and away they went, over a grassy knoll and towards the beach.

 

Two little kids were the only ones besides the gulls on the shoreline of the private beach that stretched for miles. A little girl in a pink one-piece ran in a haphazard zigzag in the direction of the water and plunged in on her belly, squealing in delight. The skinny boy in red swim trunks paid no attention to his sister while he built sand castles.

“Children, children!” Kathy called out. “Are you doing alright?”

“We’re fine grandma!” nine-year-old Chelsea answered, her head bobbing with the waves.

“Well, okay then. It’s gonna be time to go in soon, you two,” Kathy said before she turned her attention back to the man standing next to her. It surprised her to see him with a phone held close to his ear and a troubled look on his face.

 

Christophe listened in breathless silence to the agitated voice rattle off a million things all at once on the other end.

Kathy almost slapped the phone out of his hand when she had the opportunity. “Put that down!” she said with a hip out and an expression that said you dare not cross me.

“Not now,” her husband said rapidly. Turning to leave, he repeated his first question back to the caller. Christophe gave one last look at Kathy and mouthed he was sorry. “…so what you’re telling me is the plans could be in jeopardy….I can’t tell you how upset this makes me. Not to mention what the top brass will do when they know. Any guesses though on who—” he had got cut off again.

“When was this, ah, Iris installed? Who did the job?….Yeah, do me a favor and send me the info on it right away….K, bye.”

 

Christophe bit his lip and stomped his foot hard enough on the ground that he injured himself in the process. Gerard needed someone to steady himself when he felt like he was going down, but Kathy had already gone back into the house with the grandkids. Twice that night the man had felt his age. At sixty-two, sometimes he felt like he was “gettin’ too old for this,” but it was that iron will of his that kept him going despite it all.

Occasionally he would hang his head and really feel the squeeze of always being the middleman bearing the brunt of unintended consequences. But it was Damion he had faith in. No matter what they had gone through, the billionaire showed pluck that just didn’t exist in most entrepreneurs.

It was Christophe who was willing to put his neck on the line for Damion’s nest egg. This egg in particular, the plans to a game-changer weapon? It falling into the wrong hands would almost spell certain doom to any sunshiny days for the people of the Free Republic of North America.

Anchorage, Alaska

“Sir, we just got an anonymous tipster saying we should stay grounded due to a possible attempt to be made on the president’s life.”

“Say again, agent Minsk?”

Alpha dog Dirk Simmons was doing the asking. He had to make sure the threat was credible. Then again, any and all threats were to be taken seriously, even though it meant going through a whole batch of them on any given day.

“Sir, let me patch you in on this call so you may speak to Demsky directly. I got it on line three.”

“Put him through,” Dirk relented.

 

This is Alfred Demsky, Director of Sentinel. Is this line secure?”

Dirk blinked and blurted out, “You bet. What’d ya got?”

“We got an anonymous tip an hour ago that should put you on high alert. Our boys have worked hard to trace the source—with no luck—but what’s important is we believe you may have a couple of tangos to deal with in the sky and if it’s preventable, then don’t fly.”

“You mean to tell me someone out to do the president harm has a confrontational flight heading with his crosshairs on Alexander’s plane?”

“Yes.” Silence.

Dirk leaned on a post and hung the receiver over his forearm with his other arm barring his forehead. A great bead of sweat fell off his stubble chin and onto the floor. “That’s nuts.”

“This isn’t a drill. He (the president) cannot be allowed to even board. Am I understood?” Demsky thundered.

“Roger that.” Dirk Simmons hung up and relayed the message to the rest of the detail.

No one was going anywhere. Full lockdown.

Eventually the message went up the chain of command, winding up on the president’s desk. It was received with genuine disappointment and alarm. Disappointment because it was of utter necessity that Alexander Toporvsky fly in to Honolulu to attend a security council briefing and many other scheduled meetings; alarm, well, his life had just been threatened…again. But nonetheless, gratitude was expressed for the team’s efforts to keep their commander in chief safe and sound.

 

 

 

Chapter 15

Dreamland, Nevada

The conference room was a soundproof suspended glass bulb on floor twenty. It was one of the most impressive rooms in the tower, to be sure. It was built to host the many captivating summits Scorpion was bound to hold.

The dominating table in the room came in a circle with a circumference big enough to seat thirty. There appeared ample room in the middle of the circle for a raised dais and its accompanying minimalist carbon fiber ambo.

The defining feature of the room though was the floor. Most of it was frosted glass all throughout expect for below the table which housed a giant LPD (liquid phosphor display) that showcased the world and it’s grandeur from one of Scorpion’s satellites orbiting in outer space.

 

With one of the windows facing out the northeastern side of the tower, Tommy pressed his body up to the glass, his hot breath steaming it up. He stared out from the conference room down below into the nothingness. There was no sunny campus where the employees could enjoy a smoke break or a picnic lunch on the lawn. Instead, everyone was treated to the same old dank dark underworld setting which seemed to share something in common with Scorpion: both had a certain unnatural feeling of evil to them.

Tommy asked the computer in the room if it was time yet. “Your appointment isn’t for another ten minutes,” she replied promptly.

He nodded and got a far off look in his eyes. “Computer, get the program ready. Cue it up when our guest arrives, will you?”

“Not a problem.”

A minute later a small click echoed throughout the chamber. Tommy whirled to see Desmond walk in unaccompanied. The door thudded shut. The two men were alone in the room together. No more than twenty feet apart.

Still there was silence.

“You’re—early,” Tommy faltered.

Desmond didn’t say anything. His hands reached for the small of his back, feeling for something he didn’t wish for the Big Man to see.

 

Tommy moved away from his lookout and casually approached the other man. He didn’t sense anything out of the realm of normal, yet.

“It was nice to meet you,” Desmond spoke in the past tense.

“Wha—”

The Big Man then witnessed the thin, wiry programmer all of a sudden spread his feet in a wide shooter’s stance and level a white short-barreled pistol at him and squeeze the trigger. The slug left the muzzle with an explosion cutting through the air and exiting out the back of the now-dead director-general of Scorpion.

Desmond wasted no time in hurrying over to where Tommy lay motionless on the glass floor. Quickly and skillfully he frisked the corpse for a cell phone. When he had found one he immediately set to work at hacking into the conference room’s security feeds to replace the live image of the room with static. Desmond was a dead man, however. He knew it, too.

What Desmond didn’t know was Tommy’s Holter (heart) monitor transmitted an emergency signal when the man’s heart stopped beating. So even if the watch failed to notice on the monitor the actual assassination he would know through other means that Scorpion’s top guy had indeed been killed.

But even worse than deep-sixing the agency’s top guy, Desmond had managed to infect Scorpion’s entire network with a crippling virus that would devastate its computers for years to come. He would die an unsung martyr for the cause. No one had ever asked him to do this job or to be their eyes and ears at Scorpion. Desmond took it upon himself to use his skills and a plastic 3D printed gun as the tools for success.

Black commandos raced down the white space-age pentagonal-shaped corridors of the tower towards the conference room. They converged on their target from several directions. Two grenades were tossed at the entrance. A burst of fire and glass exploding in a thousand different directions were enough to incapacitate Desmond let alone the fusillade of tracer bullets that were fired at him. Lead ripped through his flesh and he was dead before his body had even collapsed on top of Tommy’s.

Santa Monica, California

Christophe stood still in his tracks, not moving a muscle. His gray curly hair blew with the breeze of the night air. He looked at his watch and then wistfully back at the house. Christophe set his jaw and dug into the sand, his right foot leading off.

The determined man beat a little path around the corner and up the slope over to where his transportation was housed. On the driveway where he stood was a discolored patch of cement. It was much lighter in shade than everywhere else and it formed a perfect little square. Both brown leather boat shoes touched down on the pad which set off a retinal scanner. A high pitch beep and the bolt releasing on the unassuming electronic door followed. The man stepped through like he had so many other times before. Tonight was a little more urgent than an ordinary night out in the city though.

Spotlights lit up the sky and a canopy roof retracted its steel door like a missile silo from the twentieth century. Parked where it always was sat the very distinguishable and striking Cruzer, Christophe’s personal air taxi. It wasn’t checkered yellow and black, but rather a shiny metallic. The exterior hatch swooshed open and gave him that new car smell with all the instrument panels chiming and flashing. Gerard lowered his weight down onto the chair nice and easy. He wasn’t a big man and that was very fortunate. The cockpit wasn’t built for the obese.

His eyes meandered up to a switch which he promptly flipped, then the glass hatch closed to form an airtight seal all around him. He had both feet manning the pedals…but only thrusters were activated to escape the hangar. His stomach dropped out….It was still exhilarating. Dr. Gerard had only been flying his Cruzer for eighteen months. Even though it practically flew itself, he bought the model with manual overrides to bring back some of the fun in flying.

 

By car it might have taken half an hour or more to get to Beverly Hills taking the good old Santa Monica Boulevard, but with his air taxi Christophe was told by a charming computer voice the ETA would be two minutes. His right hand pulled back on the gamer-inspired joystick and up he rose into the night air en route to Damion’s pad.

Area 51, Nevada

Howard had been on the phone speaking to a station chief when the building’s emergency lights began to flash red. Sirens wailed, serving more like a death knell rather than an emergency warning system. The Old Man knew what was happening. His heart grew cold and his face taught.

Howard cursed into the phone and told Yuri he’d have to finish another time. The station chief from Section 3 was more worried than offended by the Old Man’s most recent behavior. What could it mean?

Howard threw the glass phone at a wall and turned away just in time to miss the explosion. But he certainly heard it and smiled ever so slightly. He moved quickly out of the soundproof chamber he formerly occupied on floor seventeen to a bank of elevators. He could have taken the stairs but even in times like this he forced himself to keep his cool around others and not have moments like back in the chamber where he let his explosive temper rear its ugly head.

Howard knew the fate of Scorpion and ultimately the world rested in his clutches now. But alas he still wanted to see the carnage and use it as tinder for the fire burning in his heart. To him, Rome was burning and he would blame it on the Christians like Nero of old. There was no end he wouldn’t to go to in order to see the infidels suffer for this knife wound in Scorpion’s upper echelon.

Beverly Hills, California

Damion's mansion was a little palisade unto itself built into an outlook northwest of Beverly Hills. The views from his estate of the thousands of homes and businesses below were matchless. The market value for Damion's pad was among the highest in the exclusive neighborhood: north of eighty-nine mil. The stucco mansion had two wings with a postmodern bronze colossus sitting in the center of the cul- de-sac driveway. A fountain wrapped around the statue with little synchronized water jets shooting their flow upward until gravity forced the water to splash down into ribbon streams which flowed down the rivets and cracks of the convoluted art that anchored the whole splendor.

All the LED’s that lined the drive and at strategic points on the home illuminated the bewitching spectacle.

 

When Christmas rolled around Damion was known to pull all the stops and decorate the place into a North Pole/Santa’s workshop destination literally tens of thousands would travel to from all around the LA metroplex—just to see the light show.

Christmas wouldn’t come before Easter though. It was edging closer to that time of year on everyone’s calendar and Damion’s house didn’t really show it. He wasn’t a religious man at all. His parents were nominal Catholics and that just made him further disjointed with the idea of church. However, he couldn’t ignore the one man in his life who persistently pushed a particularly Christian agenda on the billionaire. That man would be none other than the scientist who flew through the Californian skies to meet Damion on such short notice.

 

 

 

Chapter 16

Tijuana, Mexico

The markets bustled in the border town of Tijuana.

Little children kicked a soccer ball in the streets, moms hung their laundry out on clothes lines to dry, and stray dogs roamed, looking for scraps for their next meal. The sun shone favorably on the city like it had most other days in the year. The Pacific Ocean and sandy beaches enticed gringos from the great state of California to share the shoreline with their Mexican compadres. All was well in paradise.

In a shadier, outlying part of the city a little flat blended right in with the sprawl. Its unassuming bars across the windows and reinforced steel door weren’t out of touch with the surrounding real estate. Break-ins were an issue so it paid to beef up the security.

Hassan Jabez turned the baloney over in the skillet and noticed he still hadn’t received the text he had been waiting for. Some grease went airborne and stung his cheek. His face clouded with anger. Just then a little mutt came into the kitchen and dropped at his master’s feet. Hassan muttered something incoherent, exuding indifference to the dog’s needs in his tone.

Another man’s voice came from the other room, the only other room in the place. The TV could be heard with the faint noise of a futbol game on. Liga MX piped through the television set’s speakers with the Tijuana club besting the other team by a score of 1-0.

“It’s over, Hassan,” Asef Azizi said in excited Arabic with a Jordanian dialect to it.

“Yeah?” the Sudanese man said, barely raising his voice enough to be heard. He didn’t much care for futbol.

“Our FC (futbol club) be the winners!” he slurred.

“Score?”

“One to zip,” the still elated man couldn’t blurt out fast enough.

Hassan indolently padded to the door frame and leaned heavy on one side. “Hungry?”

The other man grunted.

Hassan shrugged and turned to head back in. He would eat the grub.

A prepaid phone sat next to a fully-loaded glock which was next to a half empty beer can. Asef belched and used his hairy forearm to wipe the sticky substance from his full lips. His complexion was very dark and his hair black as pepper.

Just as he was reaching for his bag of tortilla chips his phone vibrated, causing him to jerk and knock over the beer. The muscular man used the back of his hand to sweep the junk off the table like a skimmer cleaning surface gunk from a pool. The phone continued to vibrate. Asef got halfway off the beaten up burgundy fabric couch to see who would dare disturb his mood.

He looked at the one inch readout and blinked in surprise. It was a job.

 

Hassan meanwhile had sat himself down to the oh-so-cute kitchen nook not exactly built for a six foot six giant with a lean, strongman build.

“I think you should see this!” Asef Azizi came into the room with his glock in one hand and phone in the other.

A fork clinked to the table and the chair scraped against the wooden floor. “How many times must I tell you not to point that thing at me?!”

The Jordanian didn’t seem to hear him. Instead he shoved the device in the guy’s face and stood there waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Hassan didn’t appreciate the smelly germ-infested phone thrust at him. But the message was there on the screen as big as the nose on the now-leering, wide face of Azizi’s.

“There’s only one thing to do.”

“Take the Beamer?” (They actually had one of those.)

“No, you fool!” Hassan blared.

“I’ll get the gear.”

The Sudanese man seemed more pleased with that answer and therefore didn’t offer any resistance this time. “Vamos!” he said with a flicker of a smile playing across his lips.

Las Vegas, Nevada

A black SUV went with the stop and go flow of traffic through the famous Las Vegas Strip. Multi-million dollar hotels glinted under the scorching sun on a hot Nevada day. It was unseasonably hot for April—ninety degrees. Humidity was negligible though so patrons still walked the streets and didn’t hole up in shelters to avoid the outdoor oven that baked people alive and served up heat stroke to those who couln’t find shelter.

Behind the tinted bullet proof windows of the SUV four men sat in silence. The passengers in the back appeared less taken up in quiet meditation like their counterparts in the front: Instead, they strained their necks to get a good look at the passing attractions out the windows.

“You can go to Caesar’s Palace after the job is done,” the driver spoke to either man in the back who might have been listening.

The sarcasm registered with the man who sat behind the driver. But he didn’t show any sign or desire of getting even, much less settling the score with an intense killer stare into the rear-view mirror where he undoubtedly would be noticed.

In a fluty tone the other man in the back met the challenge with, “The two of us will work the slots like there’s no tomorrow,” he laughed while elbowing his nonplussed partner he sat next to in the ribs. “Am I not right, Allen?”

“You’re about to be dead,” Allen responded through clenched teeth, rubbing his aching side at the same time.

“I’m really glad we all work so well together,” the Canadian they called Monty said from the front passenger seat. “Lunch, anybody?”

The driver suddenly veered off Flamingo St. into a McDonald’s drive thru. Along the way the tires ran up against the curb giving the four in the SUV a most unpleasant jolt.

"Couldn't you have dropped me off someplace with fine- dining? Somehow American cheese slices with a thin cut of once-frozen beef on wonder buns with mayonnaise doesn't qualify," Rodney complained. He looked at Allen for backup but the other man didn't seem to care that much about the cuisine.

“This is the food for our kind of types, gentlemen,” Henry the driver staunchly defended. “I expect each of you to stomach as many quarter pounders you’re man enough to handle. Do I make myself clear?”

Monty sucked in his breath and held it. He turned a little pale before he exhaled. He wasn’t a junkie. Fast food killed him. “Ah, what the heck. It can’t be that bad,” he lied. “‘Sides, we have three and a half hours to be on the road…we gotta get something on our stomachs.”

Beverly Hills, California

A few men exited the guard shack on the grounds of Westover Estate.

“Radio check,” one said to the others after they had fanned out and took up sentry positions in their usual areas of coverage.

The others clicked their two-ways a few times to signal message received.

“10-4,” former Navy Seal James Heldgen spoke into his mic. “Stay frosty out their fellas. Don’t let me down.”

“Roger that,” both of them took turns saying.

Up in the house Damion expected his guest at any moment. He didn’t have to answer the door, he would have his assistant Charles earn his keep that way. Nevertheless, he remained close to the action in a public space in the mansion—the gourmet kitchen.

It wasn’t often he hung out in his own kitchen. Black tie events and two hour wait restaurants saw more of him. His cameo appearance came with his most expensive pajamas, a black Burberry robe and Kelvin Klein striped bottoms.

Damion’s face looked a little worn and worried. In his hand he cradled a tall shot glass of sparkling vodka in it. He twirled the drink making the rocks inside clink against the sides. A lump formed in his throat. Just then a bright light came through his vista windows causing him to squint. Damion put down the glass on the nearest surface and tied his robe to the side in a tight knot.

“Let him in,” Damion ordered Charles who readily complied with a yes sir.

 

After some time had passed the great doors to the parlor opened with a groan. The night’s breeze swept off the floor and lost itself in the vastness of the home.

Charles genuflected with a slight bow and warmly welcomed the highly credentialed, distinguished guest into Damion’s residence. It wasn’t often these visits took place.

“My boss has been waiting—come, this way, sir.”

“Certainly,” Christophe nodded. He observed everything around him hadn’t changed much from his last appearance. “Same great place,” he said quietly to himself.

Charles dutifully led Damion’s guest into the light of the big kitchen.

Damion came out of the shadows and hurried over to grab his colleague’s outstretched hand.

Before he could even pay his respects Christophe straightened up like a rod, his hand increasingly getting farther away from Damion’s. “You look terrible,” the Frenchman said with full authenticity.

Damion stopped and threw his head back to laugh. “Drink?” he asked while holding his own glass under the light of one of the recessed LED fixtures.

Without warning Christophe unexpectedly snatched the billionaire’s drink and let the momentum of the sudden motion carry it out of both men’s hands and into the other room with a crash. That seemed to sober Damion up ever so slightly. He blinked and stared open-mouthed at his mentor and friend.

 

“You had an emergency?” Christophe coolly reminded the man.

“You—you’re good!” Damion said with the same delirious laugh that had never really gone anywhere from a moment before. “Where are my manners though?” he said aloud with an ounce of conviction.

Christophe had wondered the same thing but was pleased to hear Damion say it for him. Meanwhile the doctor the whole time had been pensively looking around at the place. Looking for cameras—artificial intelligence. “Tell me more about Iris.” He was referring to Damion’s virtual assistant that kept tabs on the building’s security, utilities, Damion’s schedule…his girlfriends that would come and go.

Damion hiccupped. An intelligent look occupied his eyes for the first time the two had been together that night. “Let’s go downstairs. There’s a lot to go over.”

“Tres bien, monsieur,” Christophe said approvingly.

Damion only smiled to himself at his friend’s French tongue. He had never told Christophe this before, but he secretly liked it when the man slipped back into his first language.

“Are you afraid of the dark, Gerard?”

Dreamland, Nevada

The Purple Zone of Scorpion central command was still on high alert. The interior of the tower glowed red to the strobe of emergency lights with sirens for the background music. Personnel scurried around the organized chaos with their tempered emotions under control. In the cacophony of it all Heather managed to make a phone call and slip out of the madness into a private antechamber to carry out some business.

 

“Desmond was the mole,” read her text from none other than Howard himself. Her heart fluttered wildly. She blinked several times and read it again out of shock and amazement. There were pictures of the deceased Tommy lying in a pool of his own blood with the killer’s body mangled on top of the deceased former director-general of Scorpion.

It was too much to take in. Heather bit her upper lip until it hurt. The walls were closing in. She immediately feared for her job and possibly even her life. Howard had trusted her to be the one to run the operation of bringing the distinguished programmer (Desmond) to Dreamland to take an assignment.

It hurt that she had erred so bad in judgment. What, how…why? Her brain ached from all the unanswered questions and angst from the fallout.

 

Right then the phone fell out of her hand as she crumpled to the floor, unconscious. A tranq dart decommissioned her to await her sentence until after the drug wore off.

 

 

 

Chapter 17

Honolulu, Hawaii

The flag of the Free Republic of North America (FRN) flapped in the wind. It had three golden stars in an arc over a bear with a red background. It was unmistakable the design behind it borrowed heavily from California’s state flag.

Although only Alaska and Hawaii were among its coalition states, a third star was stitched into the flag anyway in anticipation of Texas becoming FRN’s newest member in the fight for freedom in the post-American world of 2041. The level of pride and patriotism were very well symbolized in the waving flag of the fledgling republic.

The cyber security division of the FRN protected the government against incoming threats to its firewall all while launching corollary attacks of their own against Scorpion and her allies. It was a big show, a big stage. Only the elite technicians and talent of the republic were called upon to serve with distinction.

The newly-constructed Washington building down the street from the Capitol served as the cyber security’s edifice where it all went down. In iceberg fashion the building only showed a small part of its mass above ground—the rest went many stories into the subterranean earth. Below the surface a phalanx of government employees equipped with state of the art technologies waged the republic’s wars through the cyber world dimension.

 

The impact this division made in the intelligence war could not be calculated. Each day new incursions into enemy cyberspace brought back a treasure trove of information to be used as actionable intelligence by field operatives from its big brother intelligence agency known as Sentinel.

Big brother took out the real targets.

 

The capital district of FRN in Honolulu in just two years had transformed itself into the beating heart of the resistance. Government contractors and intelligence agencies dotted the landscape in and around the capital. Very much like the Baltimore, Maryland location of the old America’s vast bureaucracy (NSA…), the new republic had its own web of clandestine agencies hiding in plain sight all over Honolulu.

After a credible intercept was decrypted (most recently) detailing a threat to the president’s life, the department of defense of the FRN remained in a state of emergency.

Dev-ops teams from the parent division of cyber security, Central Cyber Corps (CCC), worked ‘round the clock to deploy software to provide the government’s devices and modes of communication with rotating scramblers and jamming technology.

It was of the utmost importance that Director of CCC, Donald Holiday, stay several chess moves ahead of the republic’s enemies. Fail, screw up, commit an oversight, and the FRN would be more vulnerable to the already overwhelming odds it faced.

 

Picture a dainty dandelion facing the blustery forces of nature in the spring season: these winds of change could come blowing the FRN’s way too if the circumstances were ripe for it. Breaches in Toporvsky’s administration would whisk away the republic like little dandelion seeds taken by the wind.

Dreamland, Nevada

A nameless man in a silver suit who appeared to know the place strolled through the first floor lobby of Scorpion’s central command. He must’ve had sufficient clearance to be there. No one could even make the lobby without it.

However now there was the Desmond conspiracy to contend with and how that might reshape security forever at Dreamland….As if it wasn’t high caliber enough already.

 

The layout of the place didn’t surprise him in the least. It’s as if he had walked it many times. He waltzed by the receptionist behind her glass desk and array of monitors. She peered around one of the screens, rubbernecking it, trying to catch a better look at the stranger. He noticed and winked back. That positively startled her and put the poor woman on high alert.

“Hey, you!” the words cascaded out with an urgency that halted the man’s quickened pace.

 

“Do I, know you…?” the stranger said with his features twisted in confusion.

The lady opened her little mouth but no words would come out. She blushed and slowly ducked behind the computers again so as to become invisible.

 

The man with a medium stature and lean build stood there for a moment longer. Not only that, he actually rose to his tippy toes to better assess the situation. Satisfied, his smile returned and so did his quick pace. He turned on his heels, stopped short of the bank of elevators and waited for the ding. The doors opened—he stepped in—never to be seen again.

Conference Room, floor twenty

of Scorpion central command…

A couple hours earlier

 

The glass bubble used as Scorpion’s conference room by its board of directors and diplomats was ruptured and splintered. It looked more like a war zone than a location where the most powerful leaders in the Western Hemisphere would meet.

 

When Howard arrived on the scene he looked like a specter. Gone were his horn-rimmed bifocals. His hair stood on end like it he had just received a large current that ran through his body.

Two black commandos guarded the entrance into the chamber. Inside the only thing visible was the carnage.

The old man snapped. His normally deep gravelly voice was replaced with an evil one void of emotion. “Why haven’t these corpses been put into body bags and airlifted off this base?!”

No one answered.

“You!” he moved within mere feet of the soldier on the left of the entrance. “You take orders from me, understand?”

“Sir,” the soldier returned, turning to salute.

“Who’s been here before me?”

“No one, sir.”

Howard relaxed a bit. His demeanor didn’t change, though. “Get this place cleaned up soldier. Call it in.”

The guard didn’t question. He immediately began speaking to his superiors…requesting for gurneys, a chopper, and personnel to clean and sterilize the room.

One minute he was there, the next…gone.

The other guard who had been watching the entrance shuddered, goosebumps forming all over. Howard had practically vanished. It was all so mysterious and chilling to say the least.

“Yuri? Where do we stand?”

“Um, I honestly don’t kno—”

Howard balked. “You will address me as lord, you worthless slime.”

Yuri suddenly had a coughing spasm. His hand wildly grabbed for his water but missed. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead and upper lip. He gasped for air.

 

“Perhaps you had better get a replacement for the day, huh?” Howard made a fist. His eyes darted back and forth—his mind a little more than active.

Meanwhile on the other end of the sat phone conversation the station chief of Sector 3 in DC was dying of induced heart attack.

The pieces were lining up. Another domino would soon fall. Howard was all over the details.

San Bernardino, California

The hired killers converged from the north and south travelling on Interstate 15 for the town of San Bernardino. Approximately seventy-five miles from their designated target.

On the outer rim of San Bernardino, off the beaten path, a fully stocked Scorpion safe house stayed hidden from curious eyes. The building was very secure. It boasted structural engineering only used by organizations with deep pockets and connections. Its walls were made of carbon nano tubes…only the strongest material known to man. And just for fire insurance, the insulation of choice was aerogel covered by the latest gypsum board fire-resistant drywall.

 

The safe house sat lifeless however…waiting for the hit squad to make good on their contract and show. A dirt road nearby provided access to the building for the assassins to get on the premises and stop in to gear up and strategize before heading off to engage the target at zero hour.

Off in the distance up the road a hazy smog intermingled with the headwinds. Dust flew up from the tires of an approaching SUV. It was the crew from Vegas. The torque- hungry V8 rumbled along and announced their arrival. They had made it ahead of schedule.

The dark silhouette of a kinetic design with European lines cast its shadow a hundred meters from the house.

The skies that day were a Welkin Blue with picaresque snow-capped mountains in the backdrop: the perfect postcard picture. The sun high in the Californian sky blessed the topography below with a cloudless radiance. Californian quail, the state bird, sang their chi-ca-go song for the population in the area to enjoy. The air smelled sweet and traffic noise was at a minimum by the safe house.

 

Meanwhile the motley crew of two coming from the Cali- Mexican border were closing in and would only be late by half an hour. Both teams had never worked on any assignments together so it was anyone's guess how well Scorpion had chosen. The die had been cast though. Things that had been set into motion could no longer be reversed. It would be a night to remember.

Beverly Hills, California

The lights clicked on. Damion was the first to step onto the beltway, the massive basement’s people-moving system similar to moving walkways at airports.

Christophe remembered the lower level after Damion had just moved in five years ago. But he had never been in it since the beltway went operational. The older man gingerly stepped on it with great hesitancy.

Damion noticed. “C’mon old pal, afraid to go on a little ride?”

“You turn everything in life into a big game, huh Damion?”

“No pops…that would be unfair of you to say. And c’mon! What’s with the mood?!”

“What’s with yours? Oh wait, don’t tell me.”

The billionaire rolled his eyes and sighed. “Let’s talk business,” he said over his shoulder as the conveyor belt took them through a set of sliding doors.

“Great, finally you tend to the seriousness of my visit,” the doctor facetiously put it out there.

 

Damion ignored the backhanded comment and instructed the doctor to join him over where the nerve center of the house sat. It looked like a data center in an old NSA facility. Row after row after row of racks filled with servers blinked and hummed.

 

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Damion said, admiring one of his most prized possessions.

Christophe didn’t wanna say no, but a yes was hard to find, too. So he just cocked his head and smiled.

“What?”

“Don’t test my patience friend. This is a serious breach if what you say about your ‘new’ virtual assistant is true.” His eyes narrowed as he studied a sticker on the back of one of the standard nineteen inch wide server racks. “How much do you know about Trex?”

“Dang good manufacture that’s been in the biz for years. Very trustworthy,” came his immediate reply.

“That’s not what I hear.”

“What’s not what you hear?” Damion snapped, folding his muscular arms across his chest.

“Who do you trust these days?” Christophe’s voice steeply dropped off.

It was a no-brainer question for the billionaire. But he wasn’t very comfortable with the answer all the same. Instead of answering he tapped his chest with his index finger. “Me. That’s who I trust.” His face changed a little and he followed it up with, “And you, my friend. I can trust you with my life.”

“What about Charles?” the doctor brought up noticing the butler’s name hadn’t come up in the conversation on trust.

“Oh sure….” Damion looked away a little chagrined. “He’s the best I’ve had.”

Christophe smiled for the first time in the last half hour. He chuckled slightly. “Your last guy couldn’t even be trusted with your coffee,” he smirked.

Damion laughed long and hard.

Over time his eyebrows went up with the increased activity going on behind the scenes in the old noodle. "Take a look at this." He grabbed a pair of gloves and put them on. The lights in the space automatically dimmed. The sensors and cameras in his fingertips were being tracked by a computer that translated his motions into three- dimensional haptic-feedback capable holographic images. [_Minority Report _]fans would have been jealous. “Here’s a model of what Iris sees.”

Christophe’s eyes widened in astonishment. He was impressed. “We had better determine then that her installer’s goals are subservient to your needs and not a surveillance nightmare.”

Damion’s visage mirrored the same concern. “Let’s hop on the network and find out all we can about Iris and who installed her.”

Christophe became increasingly concerned, judging by the question he asked next. “She’s been your assistant for how long, exactly?”

“Since 2039,” Damion reflected with a finger on his chin as he thought.

This startled Christophe and gave him goose bumps all over. “Turn her off!! NOW!”

“Huh?”

“Do it!”

San Bernardino, California

Doors banged shut on the Mexican drug cartel-esque, golden-plated ride of the hired guns from Tarijuana. Each man slid off the high seats and onto the earthen path, crunching the loose dirt and soil under their tremendous weight. They had parked just behind the other SUV that was in the vicinity of the safe house.

Hassan went around to the rear liftgate and activated a sensor with his foot that popped the big door open. The Jordanian Asef Azizi was right there with his partner to heft their heavy gear contained in one hundred pound rucksacks. Both men expertly lifted the packs and shouldered them with little to no sign of exertion. Up to this point neither had said a word. And then they both simultaneously noticed the cohort from Vegas approaching from their own parked vehicle.

Relations stayed very low key out of mutual interest for getting along and maintaining missional focus. However all the thugs exchanged typical greetings and flashed gangster signs, because, why not. It was custom to posture in that sort of way in their culture.

The diverse, multi-cultured group of gangsters then decided it was time to set aside the pleasantries and just get down to the nitty-gritty of the evening’s business.

The self-designated leader of the whole group turned out to be the rough and ready driver, Henry, who was a former U.S. Army Green Beret before becoming a long time inner- city head honcho over one of Chicago's biggest, most- feared gangs--the Latin Kings. If his credentials didn't command enough respect, his heavy-handed leadership certainly did. He called all the shots and anybody fool enough to cross him would hear about it--but more often than not they would feel his wrath before any words would ever be exchanged.

 

When the group made it to the house’s concrete walk-up Monty quietly took the lead per prior instruction from Henry who requested that Monty would be the one to safely get into the place without setting off any alarms or traps designed to keep snoopers out.

Meanwhile the former Latin King lord leaned against one of the awning’s pillars and observed everything going on with little interest.

 

At last after fiddling with the digital combination lock and its mechanical old-school dial…the tumblers began to move with the turning key and the door opened inward on its hinges, rather forcefully too. Its give surprised Monty who had his weight unevenly distributed against the heavy metal door. He was the first to go in as a result, but not intentionally. Henry filed in after Monty and gave the Canadian a slight shove to show his disapproval over the other man’s error of going first—even if it had been entirely on accident.

Henry was all about hierarchical order and people under him respecting it. If he didn’t get first rights on everything, the person who made their move to get in front of him would be faced with a confrontation.

“Don’t let it happen again,” he said under his breath to Monty who already started apologizing and kissing up.

 

The remaining four came into the small foyer area one at a time. Before long everyone congregated in the little ten by twelve entry.

Rodney, the outspoken one of the bunch, was first to suggest they set up a table if there wasn’t already one, and from there hatch a game plan on how it would all go down.

 

The layout of the safe house was extremely open. But functional. It wasn’t a mansion, but at two thousand square feet there was plenty enough room for a conference table, commercial kitchen, one and a half bathrooms, and everything else needed by visiting operatives.

A second story looked out into the primary gathering space down below.

What excited everybody the most though was the inclusion of a firehouse pole for quickly sliding down from meetings that would take place on the upper floor.

Genius.

Henry in fact sashayed over to the golden pole and grabbed it with his meaty hands to give it a good shake. “This is why we work for Scorpion boys. They don’t forget the little things that make a man happy. All we need now is to open up the fridge and find a six pack.”

Allen laughed the hardest. Everybody else enjoyed a Bud every now and then at the bar, but Allen routinely looked to the bottom of a bottle for life’s answers. It was an addiction that he didn’t know the how or even the why when it came to quitting. And because of his occupation, his seared conscience didn’t move him to even consider darkening the doorway of an AA meetup. Not a-happening.

A couple hours later a settled hush came over the six men who sat at the rectangular table in the upstairs loft area. Each man new the stakes were high and it would be of the utmost importance all loose ends were tied up—no room for error.

Henry looked at all the maps and plastic gizmos cluttering the table’s surface. His leather jacket wrinkled as he folded his arms into a closed posture. “Let’s just do a HALO jump,” he half seriously joked, “and be done with it.”

Several chuckled and Asef half raised his canteen. “I’d be the first one out of the plane, too!” he said laughing while bringing his water down with a smack against the wood.

Henry glared at him.

“What else are we dealing with other than three guards?” Hassan asked.

 

Monty who had been busy scanning the latest surveillance reports given to them by their electronic spy, Iris, noticed she had indicated an unknown quantity of top secret drones. Land and air. “This isn’t good,” he swore.

“Pull it up on a screen,” Henry ordered.

Everyone saw the same thing the Canadian had a moment ago. It had the same crippling effect on the rest.

“They think six is enough for the job?” Rodney whined. He looked over to the other African-American in the room. Hassan shared the same look of despair.

“Quiet!” their ring leader bellowed. “Scorpion has seen the same reports we have here. If you think we can’t do the job, I’ll make it easy for you. I can shoot you now, that way you won’t have to worry about being drone kill.”

His words were bold and proved convincing.

Allen began to sweat under his camo flak jacket. “I suggest we attack from the sewer, sky, and through his front gate.”

A dull murmur crescendoed into men shouting at each other and papers scattering everywhere.

Asef took one look at Allen and said in his thick Jordanian accent, “You just made me very happy.”

The American didn’t know how to take a comment like that: if it was to be interpreted at face value or perhaps understood as ill-contempt. He didn’t know or care. Allen just wanted it all to be over with so he could take his Harley out to his favorite joint back in Vegas.

Central Cyber Corps, Washington building: Honolulu

“There’s a lotta flash traffic today boss,” a worried interpreter relayed to his boss in an email.

The reply back was almost instantaneous. “Yeah?” In other words, you had better make this worth my time.

Edward sat there with his legs crossed and a pen in one hand, nervously tapping it against his desk. “It’s about Sector 3,” he anxiously typed out. “…‘shifting power.’”

That electrified the man who read Edward’s emails deep within the bowels of the sprawling intelligence building. “Get a team on this, ASAP. Get this on Ben Fritz’s desk, he’ll quarterback the effort. I want this to be a number one priority. Everything else is on ice until further notice.”

Edward's finger tapped the screen to open the latest email. His heart skipped a beat. The message’s contents weren't completely unexpected--more like vexing. More stress. Everybody was feeling the squeeze. Long days, little pay-- little sleep. But what could have been more important than fighting for the FRN? He felt like a patriot.

The next thing the translator did was forward the email to the director of operations who oversaw S3 (Sector 3). It wouldn’t be long before the email would be opened and the manpower corralled to address the day’s latest transcripts on Scorpion activity in the American nation’s old capital. Suddenly the man in his thirties spun in his chair and cracked his knuckles. Edward began to whistle the old national anthem: adrenaline surged through his veins.

 

 

 

Chapter 18

Dreamland, Nevada

The top floor of Scorpion’s HQ was especially dark.

There wasn’t a power outage either: the Lord of the Ages (Howard) was on the level.

 

The eighty-five year old hardly looked his age. His secret: adult stem cell therapy and laser resurfacing to turn back the clock on aging. For years he had purposefully walked with a slight hobble; in addition to that he let his hair mature into a brilliant gray…the crowning jewel of the elderly. Now he faced himself in the mirror, a box of dark mousse dye on the counter. His reflection eerily lit up the bathroom he used to complete his physical transformation in. Finally a younger-looking, glowing Howard emerged from the restroom ten minutes later.

After his appearance in the conference room earlier in the day the Old Man made himself scarce and got lost in his work in Tommy's old office. His phone call to the now- deceased station chief of S3 got the ball rolling with his agenda.

Next up on his docket: meet with the false prophet, otherwise known as the man who effectively curated the Western culture for the coming of age through the lens of a purely humanistic point of view. Howard was excited at the very least to meet this apostate man he highly esteemed. The two of them would work well together in establishing a new world order and bringing to full realization man’s globalist ambitions.

Howard sat big and tall in his high-back, padded leather executive chair. The seat swiveled to the rhythm of the old man’s impulses. Howard’s desk was one giant touch screen. Every now and then he would activate the hologram protocols to use his electronic signature for RFA’s (requests for approval). For those he would literally stamp his index finger into a virtual 3D biometric scanner—good enough for an impression.

A new figure darkened the doorway of the most important office in the land…and the world. It was the stranger from the lobby. There he stood, emboldened to enter the throne room of the Lord of the Ages.

Howard didn’t look up from his reading. His senses tingled though. His voice was low but precise: “I have been expecting you, Maxwell.”

 

The visitor noticed the cultic symbolism in the furniture and decorations of the room. The desk’s base itself resembled the incomplete pyramid with the all-seeing eye in the top section. A glass tabletop surface sat suspended on the pyramid’s apex.

Maxwell bowed low to the ground and remained prostrate. “Your excellency, I am truly honored to finally have met you.”

Howard’s eyes looked up and met the prophet’s: they were like red cinders.

Maxwell didn't seem to mind. He had seen the transient look before from other members belonging to the Luciferean cult, Scorpion. He himself was a devout member of the secret society and worshiper of the Devil. His highest calling in life had been to spread the pack of lies he had received from a certain agent of evil and to then disseminate them through the media Scorpion had long- since controlled throughout the twentieth century and on into the twenty-first.

 

“Our work is far from finished, Maxwell,” Howard thoughtfully postulated.

“It all leads to Washington, next,” Maxwell said into the rug without meeting the Old Man’s gaze.

Howard’s eyes sparkled. “Yes, Babylon is almost ready for her beast.”

The prophet uttered his worship and praises in low meditative moans and groans. His toes stuck out from underneath his suit coat’s rear flaps. His knees curled up into his naval section in a fetal position. The finishing touches to Maxwell’s obsequious performance were his arms stretched out with hands steepled together like one would to pray.

“You may rise,” Howard directed as he himself stood to his full height of 6’1”.

Maxwell rose slowly, ironing out the many wrinkles in his expensive suit coat. His red power tie looked worse for wear. However the man seemed to notice, adjusting it accordingly.

“We are at war with the Woman and her Child,” Howard snarled.

The prophet understood the Devil’s biblical parlance to be referring to Israel and the Christ. The same fire that blazed in Howard—vehemence towards God’s people, the Church, and the Seed of the woman—also burned out of control in Maxwell’s heart.

 

“My lord,” he began, “we have the great war machine of the West at our full disposal. Its economy isn’t damaged goods like many would like to think. Your currency is almost ready to go into effect now that the worthless dollar has been discarded by the world’s markets.”

Howard already knew all this and more. But nevertheless, he liked to hear it anyway. He only had a short time to wage his war and he would do it with a vengeance.

San Bernardino, California

The planning got into full swing at twenty hundred hours and everybody had a voice in the matters. Four screens hung on the wall that ran parallel with the table. On them appeared schematics of the sewage lines that ran below Damion’s residence, the topography of the overlook the estate was built on with the site’s variegated elevations accounted for, and in addition to all that, Monty had a simulation of a plane flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet with the paratrooper(s) getting the green light to jump when the moment was right.

 

“A lotta things could go bust on this mission,” Henry stated the obvious. “I don’t like the drone angle one bit. What kind of weapons are we packin’ on this sortie? Anyone?”

The self-declared weapons specialist of the group answered Henry. “The drones are worrisome, but we’s gots drone-killin’ guns. Allow me to demonstrate….” Hassan said as he rose from the table. He came back a moment later with an ugly looking bazooka-esque plasma rifle. Equipped with a laser rangefinder—good up to two miles through any kind of cloud cover, fog of war, or the dark of night—the weapon could neutralize drones with a few well-placed bursts of directed energy. “Has anybody had any experience with using this guy?” the Sudanese warrior asked while patting its thick stock.

 

Nobody spoke at first, however Allen’s head dipped a little before he finally came forth with, “I used it when it was still part of an X-funded program a decade ago.” He cussed as he began to sing its praises. “It’ll have to be good enough,” he laughed while bearing a golden tooth grin.

Rodney who had been sitting in between barrel-chested Asef to his left and Hassan the tree to his right coughed a few times. He wanted to know who'd double tap the ex- Navy Seal body guard in the skull.

“And the guards?” he began, “What kind of firepower do we need to eradicate their presence?”

“Sawed-off, pistol grip, double-barreled twelve gaugers,” the ex-Latin King thug joked.

The humor was appreciated, but Rodney still wanted a serious answer. “So?” he persisted.

“Silencer-tipped, nine millimeter semi-auto Magnum’s would be fine for that,” Asef offered.

Rodney looked to his left at the man who just spoke. The man’s stench disgusted him, but at least the Jordanian knew how to choose a good weapon. “She’s a good firearm, homeboy,” he slurred, offering his fist to give knuckles with Asef Azizi.

The other man half smiled and reached over to pound Rodney’s fist. The two were developing a growing comradery as the evening’s discussions wore on.

Henry who had grown silent for some time clunked his gaudy ring into the table’s surface to get people’s attention. He cleared his throat briefly. “Time to group off into two’s to plan our way of attack. I’m gonna tell you what’s what. You got me?”

Everyone silently nodded.

Henry’s tattooed arms peaked out from beneath his black leather coat. “I’m gonna take Gopher…yup, I decided to designate our target as that. Any man here wanna team up with me for that?” His beady eyes looked everyone up and down for any takers.

For the most part the thugs looked away. Except for Hassan who determinedly locked eyes with the ring leader.

Henry nodded his consent.

“Asef and Rodney, you two are storming the front entrance. We’ll work on the timing and diversion tactics in a bit.”

Both men were glad to be together. Rodney was excited to be chosen to take the body guards out. He had wanted that all along.

“Monty,” the gangster continued to delegate, “you will be the lookout and the cavalry in the sky to handle drones. Got it?”

The Canadian bobbed his head up and down. He felt more than okay with his tasking. He would get to observe and report from relative safety up above the action.

“That leaves Allen, who no doubt knows I’ve chosen to be our jumper.”

The drinker blinked a couple times and broke his deadpan stare at a spot on the table. “Sounds good, boss,” he confirmed.

Henry wasn’t finished. There were still plenty of details to go over, but he soon became satisfied with their forward progress up to that point. “Ladies, it’s been a delight to work with y’all,” he sneered.

No one felt like contesting. No surface tension or testiness existed among the six. From all appearances Scorpion chose the group tailor-made for the job.

Air Force One: Anchorage, Alaska

President Alexander Toporvsky's heavily modified, re- configurable blue and white Boeing 747-300F sat on the tarmac by its hangar doors. Only a mere few hours after the security snafu, the leader of the FRN fortunately had clear skies to fly in at last. The plane was being fueled while bomb-sniffing dogs and the president's secret service agents searched all the cracks and crevices of the jumbo jet to check for anything that didn't belong prior to takeoff.

Alexander sat in the middle seat in the back of his expensive limo. The motorcade rolled down Glenn Highway on its trajectory for the Merrill Field Airport which was hemmed in at the intersection of East 7th and Ingra St.

The president immersed himself in total silence with his own thoughts. It had been his decision to roll up the partition that separated him from the rest of his crew compliment of six including the driver in the vehicle. Two other identical limos drove in the convoy that consisted of ambulances, police cruisers, armored personnel carriers…the whole package.

Sirens, red and blue flashing lights, and a low rumble all announced the arrival of the leader of the free republic on his way to the biggest airport currently in the FRN. Merrill Field rose off the flat expanse it was situated on between the busy service roads that fed into the hub. It had a respectable hundred and twenty-five gates with a large terminal that stretched for a mile.

Alexander looked out from his nuclear warhead-resistant coach. What he saw lifted his spirits. The sloping white roof of the massive terminal came into view. Its blue support beams and sheets of glass panels gave the facade its modern appeal.

The motorcade breezed along since the streets were cleared of traffic. When they were within five minutes of the plane, the president’s chief of staff Leonard Palmer buzzed his boss. “We’ve got some briefs from Honolulu that need going over. Would you be able to hold a conference call in the air, Mr. President?”

Alexander was in a disgruntled mood that day but he didn’t appear too put off by the news. He used his device and sent a signal back that communicated he approved of the meeting.

The president slouched a little, his veiny hands resting on the empty seats on either side of him. One moment he had been thinking about his wife who had passed away a decade before from cancer when suddenly his lead agent on the detail, Dirk Simmons, came through loud and clear in his ear telling the commander in chief that Air Force One had finished being fueled and was ready for departure.

“Thank you,” Alexander managed to say back.

His wife quickly crept back into his forethoughts again and a sadness filled his soul. He missed his best friend dearly. The Ukrainian man however knew his wife to be with her Savior safe inside the pearly gates of splendor.

S3, D.C.

Two years after the Great Economic Collapse of 2039 and the Riots of 2040…Washington D.C. still wore a band-aid. The destruction from looters and riotous citizens and the ensuing issuance of martial law left the former capital city of a once-great nation in ruins. Many fires devastated the beautiful Romanesque Revival architecture Capitol Hill was famous for.

However in the year 2041 an untraceable trail of money began to trickle in for making repairs and restoring the city to its former glory and then some. Worth noting was the hallmark transportation system, newly built, with stacked elevated tubes that had trams running through them at dizzying speeds. Consequently, that feat of ingenuity put D.C. out in front of the pack for innovative public transportation systems. They now could lay claim to the title of having the quickest and most efficient urban public transportation system ever. And it only cost a cool fifty billion.

 

What really turned heads and increased chatter across the cables though was the lifting of the Heights of Buildings Act of 1910. The whole world wanted to see the soaring yellow cranes over the district constructing its supertalls faster than ever before.

3D printing technology had come such a long way over the past several decades that the specs called for by the general contractors (of the biggest construction companies that descended on the city from all over) shifted away from traditional pre-fab materials and Portland cement in exchange for Contour Crafting* construction methods with gargantuan gantry frames rising one story at a time on cranes. A gigantic robotic arm with an extruder would print out carbon nano tube building material in trillions of layers that formed whole stories and eventually...skyscrapers.

It was truly revolutionary. The groundbreaking methods cost far less than the former way of building the mega structures; best of all, the project completion time accelerated exponentially. Fifty story structures thought up by architects on their CAD software were built with electrical, HVAC, water and gas lines…everything up and operational, built to code…all according to a two month equation that saw the tower to its completion.

Getting around in Babylon

A typical day in the former District of Columbia saw V2V (vehicle to vehicle) equipped cars that communicated autonomously with one another—flying through the skyscraper mecca and driving the layers of roads at ground zero.

 

The city’s residents walked the historic streets while gazing skyward at the towers under construction.

 

Nature hadn't been fully abolished from the increasingly dense concrete jungle though. Little hanging garden wonders strategically dotted the landscape, adding warmth and texture against the carbon nano tube and lithium- disilicate facades most of the modern edifices had.

 

Billboards, wall art, taxis…jumbotrons: all spewed the refuse from a media that had only continued its decline into the gutter. The lewd acts of debauchery and other carnal forms of twisted sexual perversion were displayed for the world to imbibe and partake in in the public square like never before.

No doubt this was the plan from the beginning meted out by Scorpion and the whole host of the Evil One. Babylon would continue to schmooze and adulterate all the merchants of the world doing business with her, but that wouldn’t go unnoticed. The God of the Israelites and the Church would judge the wicked kingdom. However, things needed to get worse first before the apocalyptic, climactic events spoken of in the book of Revelation unfolded.

Beverly Hills, California

A mosquito fat from the blood of its previous victims that night continued on its downward descent for the hairy forearm of one of the guards at Damion Westover's eighty- nine million dollar pad. What it didn't see coming was also its demise. A neoprene and synthetic leather gloved hand came clapping down with such force that blood spattered upon impact with the soldier's rough skin. The guard didn't so much as move a muscle under his armor.

 

That night nature sang its song with the crickets chirping and the wild birds of the valley filling in the measures with their own notes, too. But the air wasn’t entirely still. Something seemed out of place.

One of the guards walking the circuit that took him past the corner of the east wing decided to halt and look heavenward at the twinkling stars. A strong breeze tugged at his helmet and forced him to drop his rifle to his side in order to fix the headgear that dipped below his brow. He grunted.

 

Suddenly a swooshing sound caused him to whirl and scan the horizon for what made the noise. He pressed his rifle into his side with a finger inside the trigger guard, ready. Nothing, nothing…then, “What the—”

 

The wrought iron gate that cordoned off the palace melted away. One moment it stood erect, the next…blown off its hinges and headed straight for the water fountain with the statue in the middle. An eardrum-splitting, spark-filled explosion ensued. The colossus anchoring the driveway burned in a twisted, charred heap of smoking metal.

Before the situation could be assessed and made heads or tails of, planned chaos continued to rule and reign. Suppressive fire ripped the guards who were stationed on the periphery of the property to shreds. One by one they fell with a bullet placed directly between the eyes which looked an awful lot like an Indian meditation bead.

James Heldgen foolishly ran from cover and almost got his head blown to bits by a salvo of tracer bullets aiming to incapacitate the top dog of Damion’s security. Glass exploded behind him and the plaster from the mansion rained down into the courtyard. The big man stuck to his habits and training from his days as a Seal. He quickly dropped to all fours and army-crawled with his rifle cradled in his arms out in front. He clambered over to the nearest cover not a moment too soon.

“Alpha dog to Hell Hounds, sick ‘em!” he squawked over the radio.

Air Force One

The wind gusted over the aerodynamic blended wing body of the president’s flying oval office. Its four mighty turbofans breathed in the atmosphere at sixty thousand feet. Per Alexander’s request, the pilot charted a course for the capital in Hawaii at supercruise speed of Mach 1.6.

 

The first thing the president did after he boarded was go to his suite and shut the door. No visitors for at least ten minutes was the unspoken rule. Light jazz music played in the background; the familiar smell of strong men’s aftershave wafted through the air. It was Alexander’s favorite scent…along with his wife’s. The muffled sound of flushing and running water could be heard.

His first five minutes were used up at the sink. Presently, out walked the slightly refreshed president. His dress shoes waited for his stocking feet by a low black love seat. The slender man rested in between the seam that ran down the middle, causing both cushions to slope inward and form a smile under his weight.

With legs crisscrossed, the middle-aged president rolled his gray slacks up a little so he could fully stretch his navy dress socks before sinking his toes into the soles of brown leather oxfords. A quick downward snapshot revealed nothing too out of place with his shirt and tie. Across the room from where he sat a little hook on the bulkhead held his coat in place.

Alexander stayed for a moment longer and a thought suddenly flitted through his mind. He occasionally attended the chapel services held for his cabinet and executive staff. For some reason though, his memory was being accessed and a message from Reverend Mark Hill played again. He heard Revelations 3:3 and its foreboding warning on Christ’s return that would happen like a thief in the night. Something inside of him shivered, and he knew not why. The cabin wasn’t cold….

 

A little turbulence rocked the room and sent the hanging jacket to the floor in a heap. Alexander frowned. Margaret, his deceased wife, had tried to tell him a good many things in their marriage on the end times and about Christ. He had been too stubborn and intellectual to listen or care though. But now, it seemed he came to a crossroads of sorts. Which path would his weary feet take him down? The broad one that led to destruction or the straight and narrow? All these things circulated around for another minute before a knock on the door startled him, reminding the president of a prior commitment to a conference call.

In the year 2041 the continent of North America still didn’t find rest or peace. Greedy despotic tyrants ruled with a heavy hand over their dwindling populations in the six sectors. Border disputes and civil unrest hadn’t ceased to desist, either. However, what little shaky stability and balance they might have enjoyed was about to get rocked again.

 

The deep-sixing of the U.S. economy and its influence fit like glove in hand with Scorpion's globalist ambitions. Up to this point, they had done everything right to destroy capitalism; they dethroned the world's most powerful sovereign nation, which, consequently functioned as the aorta artery in the world's economy. Last but not least, Scorpion had so infiltrated the hearts and minds of the world's population that it wouldn't have been too far- fetched to think a one world government was finally within reach. And it was.

 

Even though Scorpion and the powers that be had so much control over everything…man still had a free will and a mind that could act independently from pop culture and the mainstream’s modus operandi. That didn’t stonewall their devious plans, however. Not in the least. Through Hollywood and its movies on aliens and first contact gone wrong, through conspiracy theories on secret military bases and reverse engineering crashed spacecraft, Howard & Company baited the public for an orchestrated “invasion” that would be coming to cities near you.

If the plan worked like they thought it would, a faked alien invasion would not only scare the populous, it would unite it. That was all by design and it fell right into the lap of a capable leader to lead humanity to victory over the war- mongering ET's. It was all a very diabolical scheme. What played on screens across the world for decades was soon about to get a little more realistic, in real time. Suddenly, the world would need reunification and a strong military power to do it. That was where Antichrist and his unholy legions came in.

 

A darkness descended across the four corners of the Earth in anticipation of the great evil that was to come.

Beverly Hills, California

A look of horror washed over Christophe’s little frame. He felt like a victim at the worst kind of fun house with monsters at every turn. The tests on Damion’s super weapon platform—the republic’s only hope as a deterrent against Scorpion aggression—were meeting stiff resistance at every turn. Now, the world’s leading innovator, Damion, unwittingly had a Big Brother surveillance system installed in his mansion with it watching his every move for the past two years. This couldn’t be happening.

 

Where was his faith though? Gerard had a God on his side much bigger than the worries of a republic. He was only human, however. Anxiety logically fit into the job description that went with being the chief scientist at LabiaCorp, one of Damion’s lead think tanks.

 

In the heat of the moment Christophe wished to be back, seaside, with his wife Kathy and the grandchildren making sand castles on the shore. Or perhaps even pulling weeds in the garden in the backyard. Anything besides his present set of circumstances would have been welcomed.

It sounded like the Fourth of July from the basement: even worse it felt like an earthquake all throughout the sprawling building. Subfloors groaned and buckled, plaster crumbled—covering everything in thick clouds of choking dust.

Damion did a three hundred and sixty degree pan of his work center in the basement. Whoever it was really liked to make an entrance. “They’re here,” he groaned in between exasperated gasps. But there was no way for the doctor to hear him over the noise though.

 

“Is there an exit to escape this mess?” Christophe yelled as loud as his feeble vocal chords would let him.

Damion understood perfectly. He shook his head in defeat. “The only way out leads us straight into a death trap!” He vehemently cursed their misfortune.

Christophe did something very unexpected. He stopped dead in his tracks and closed his eyes to pray.

The billionaire saw this and lost his cool. “What are you doing?!” he madly wanted to know.

The scientist actually answered Damion. “Praying for a way out.”

Damion heard more explosions that sounded like they came from a sub-level crawlspace under the foundation. He grabbed the doctor by the arm and tugged with the desperation of someone about to die. “We’re about to get company…” he panicked.

“Let them come,” Gerard said, already accepting the outcome. “It’s our way out.”

 

 

 

Chapter 19

Air Force One

The cherry wood double door entrance to the conference room was opened by two men on the president’s security detail. Toporvsky nodded to the man on the right who returned the president’s gesture with a slight bow and a standard “Mr. President” greeting.

The chief of staff, security advisor, and secretary of state all sat at the opulent table with their dossiers already open to the talk’s agenda. Alexander mumbled his apologies for his delay and keeping them waiting.

Leonard Palmer instantly told the president that no apology was necessary. To which Alexander gratefully thanked the man for his kindness.

 

“We wait on you, sir,” the chief of staff made his case in point.

Alexander turned before he took his seat at the head of the table, smiling broadly. “I try not to test your good graces in that regard, I assure you.”

Secretary of State Edith Warton swept her bangs one way. “You’re never an imposition. It’s an honor to serve, sir.”

The president was flattered by all the good will and kind words said. As he found his spot, he noticed his security advisor across from him shuffling some papers and rifling through them for one in particular. “What’s on your mind, Ahmed?” he gently asked.

“That’s what I wanted to bring up, today, sir.”

Alexander’s face didn’t alter. “Let’s have it Negler. Every iota, jot and tittle.”

The security advisor scan read the paper he held in his hand to find his place to begin detailing the urgent matter of business. “We may have a regime change, again,” he said, pressing his chapped lips together.

“Yes?” Alexander didn’t take his gaze off his advisor.

The man felt the lights in the room grow more intense and his breathing became a little shallow. He swallowed hard and proceeded though. “CCC has been tracking a lead on credible intelligence that indicates an assassination that took place within the past twenty-four hours in Sector Three. That’s not all, either.”

By now the president was already at the edge of his chair with his weight all in his elbows that were on the table. His face blanched at the first part of the report that was just revealed. “And?”

Ahmed Negler adjusted his shirt collar and loosened his tie a notch. “We believe…”

 

Leonard and Edith were riveted to the man’s story. Their eyes didn’t blink for the longest time.

“…we believe,” he said again, trying to sound sure of himself, “that there’s been a death all the way at the top of Scorpion’s chain of command.”

That last statement sucked all of the oxygen out of the atmosphere.

Everyone spoke at once.

Apologies ensued. Once again the president came back with asking more questions for clarification. “You are,” he paused and looked pained, “sure of this?”

“Seventy-eight percent certain.” The security advisor answered with the greatest degree of confidence he could muster in the Intel he held in his sweaty palm.

Alexander knew that number was high enough to warrant pursuant intelligence gathering and espionage. He had Alfred Demsky back at Sentinel to trust to that end. His face grew thoughtful as he attempted to direct the course of conversation. “Motives?”

“Uncertain, Mr. President,” Ahmed said regrettably—not even offering an educated guess which the president most certainly would ask for. And he did.

“Best guess. Certainly the agency has to have some ideas….”

“Best guess?” Ahmed paused to give his listeners a chance to catch their breath, too. “It was an inside job to make way for another to rise to the top.”

Alexander audibly gasped. It hadn’t been the answer he steeled himself for. The reality finally dawned on him: Chaplain Mark Hill’s sermons suddenly were holding more water than he gave them credit before. From all appearances, the world was on the verge of a one world government led by Antichrist himself.

“You said you wanted a conference call?” the president stated more than asked.

This time it was Leonard who was up to bat. He looked at his Rolex and calmly searched for the president’s eye contact. “Yes, I think we should—”

“Good!” Alexander hastily interrupted without waiting for the man to finish. “Computer…” he directed the command to the artificial intelligence behind the paneled walls that waited for commands like this “…establish a line with Alfred Demsky of Sentinel. Order beta, alpha, alpha, gamma, tango, charly, delta.”

Voice recognition software went to work with the president’s security clearance credentials.

Success.

Another man abruptly appeared in the room—only he entered through the holo emitter from the ceiling over the conference table.

 

The hologram looked worn: his usual dapper appearance replaced by a grungy one.

Ahmed Negler opened his mouth first to comment. “Geeze, you look like “ (And this would be the part in the show bleeped out by the producers.)

 

Alfred warily looked at the man whom he liaised with on a frequent basis over matters of national security. “Yeah, me and the rest of the agency. The good news just keeps coming in,” he sarcastically joked.

“What good news can we fake to the international community and our own people?” Secretary of State Edith Warton was thinking out loud.

 

“I’m afraid they need to know the truth,” the Sentinel director stated matter of factly.

The president sweated under his polyester suit jacket. "I want results Demsky. We need to know if Scorpion intends to rule from S3 and who's calling the shots for that God- forsaken scourge of humanity."

These demands didn’t surprise the seasoned director of intelligence. The man heaved a sigh and managed to acknowledge the president’s request with a weak head nod. “It shall be done.”

“Oh, one more thing,” Alexander said determinedly, rising from his great chair. “We need to consult the Bible on what to do during times such as these.”

Dreamland, Nevada

Then I saw a beast rising up out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God. 2 This beast looked like a leopard, but it had the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion! And the dragon gave the beast his own power and throne and great authority.

—Revelations 13:1-2

The Beast and the False Prophet were still on floor twenty deep underneath the Papoose Mountain Range in the sector popularly identified as Area 51 for the longest time. But that had been its designation given to it by the American government which now ceased to exist.

Howard’s aura hadn’t changed that whole evening. He continually glowed like an angel of light. His facade however shrouded the fastidious Great Deceiver that lay just underneath. That was existentially how the symbiotic relationship between flesh and Lucifer worked. Both eager and willing to see the day of darkness and evil have its harvest.

 

“Your excellency,” Maxwell said at length.

Howard raised his eyebrows in anticipation.

“Peace for the Middle East…when do you wish to negotiate that?”

The Old Man was pleased with the question. His right cheek twitched a little. “We will get to that, soon. But first, I must prime the pump on the military-industrial complex I will use to flood the woman.” He was referring to Israel with the anthropomorphic reference.

An uneasy silence filled the atmosphere for a long moment.

“Before long I will have every knee bow and every tongue confess that you are lord,” Maxwell unwaveringly declared out of the blue.

The false prophet’s words charged the beast up. His voice came out in peals of thunder. “Go out and make disciples, Maxwell. Show them signs and wonders. Make them believe in me.”

“You will be far greater than anyone that has ever walked the face of this earth,” the prophet said falling down to worship the beast again.

Howard moved around his desk to sit again. He contemplatively stared at his reflection in the glass surface. “What are you waiting for? You’ve got a PR campaign trail to hit,” he said with a little venom. “I will be greater than Nebuchadnezzar. Than Christ,” he said the last name with the utmost repugnance.

 

Maxwell rose off the rug a few inches. “You alone are worthy of praise!” he lavished.

Beverly Hills, California

The assault had full momentum now.

 

Monty rode into the fray on his VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) _Stinger _ craft. The jet supported a multi- mission role with its flexible and adaptable airframe. Also, with a rear hatch, it could land paratroopers into the battle.

The Stinger’s armament wasn’t unsubstantial for the job by any stretch of the imagination. Twin high-yield fiber laser cannons would scorch everything the intense beams of energy had the misfortune of coming in contact with: This was a tremendous upgrade from the aging Vulcan gatling guns used in war planes for decades.

 

Monty made another pass of the overlook. The pilot looked through his night vision/FLIR-equipped (forward- looking-infrared-radar) tactical flight helmet. His plane's on-board targeting system scanned the ground below for any heat signatures. Real-time imaging of everything in the combat zone revealed with acute accuracy the scene below.

An electronic tag on Allen’s combat uniform dropped a pin of his position on the ground. This would really help avoid friendly fire. What Monty tried to figure out from the images was where his man Allen stood in relation to the still-alive former Navy Seal he needed to take out.

Then he saw it. “There you are,” he triumphantly said over his headset on all channels.

Some static and then Allen’s voice, “Say again, Falcon one-one?”

“I have a clear shot at James Helgden. He’s hiding by the burning fountain in the cul-de-sac. Clever rat.”

“I don’t have an angle,” Allen admitted. “You are clear to engage.” The henchman added some derogatory language to undercut the prey before the dead man passed on into the next life.

“Fox four,” the pilot said through his helmet mic. (That was the language to engage target with the cannons.)

Colorless photon rays streaked down through the atmosphere and connected with the crosshairs on the Seal’s head. Instant casualty of war.

The radio hissed in the cockpit. “Confirmed kill. Nice shootin’ Falcon one-one,” Allen congratulated the skillful Canadian pilot.

All of a sudden a hullabaloo of commotion sparked around the promenade; activity registered on Monty’s radar.

 

Rodney’s voice came through loud and clear. “We have met the enemy!” he panicked. “Bogies at your twelve position!” he relayed to the cavalry in the sky.

“Roger that,” the _Stinger _ confirmed. "Weapons free-- firing, firing...firing!"

The pounding may have been the quaking hearts of the two colleagues and friends huddling together, scared silly, or more accurately it may have been the foundation ready to burst. A tremor shook the home with such a violence that there wasn’t a last man standing.

C4 explosive tore through the thick poured concrete floor. The chunks of debris fell like cinder bombs raining down from an angry volcanic eruption. Two men dressed in military fatigues with menacing black rifles emerged from the crater using thick ropes, carabiners and grappling hooks.

Henry’s steel-toed combat boot landed on terra firma with a solid clunk. He let his partner hang on the ropes for a little longer than need be. Even in the heat of the moment the leader had his sense of humor with him. The Sudanese man however had left his wits at the door.

“Coming?” Henry snarled at his companion all while taking short intimidating steps towards the cowering victims.

 

Damion visibly shuddered under the robe he was still wearing in front of his…well, he wasn’t sure what they were or what they wanted with him, yet.

His stare finally left the hulking ex-Chicago gangster for the lanky, tree-like giant that came running towards him with a gun swaying from side to side to uneven strides. Damion’s eyes grew as big as saucers. “Take me now, Virgin Mary,” he murmured as he crossed himself. That much he knew how to do as a nominal Catholic.

Christophe briefly took his mind off of worrying about their near future to instead focus in on the sound of Damion’s words. The Christian smiled sideways as he elbowed the still-delirious man next to him in the ribs. “Pray to Jesus, Mary can’t help you,” he chided.

But before Damion could react to the fresh pang he felt in his side much less tell Christophe now wasn’t the time or place to proselytize and make new converts for Jesus…that’s when he faced his sealed fate.

 

“We could just finish the job here,” Hassan hissed.

Henry cocked his gun and stroked the trigger. “That would be too much like right,” he sneered. Then he got serious. “We—I mean Scorpion,” he corrected, “have purposes and plans for these damaged goods.”

The tall African-American furrowed his brow and stuck his big upper lip out. Disappointment registered. He had known his orders going in, but that didn’t mean he had to like them. “Orders is orders,” he slurred. Hassan started whistling as he reached into his cargo pant pockets. He pulled out something both captives immediately recognized.

 

Christophe and Damion almost wished they were faced with muzzles instead of what came next.

Henry snapped his fingers impatiently. “Don’t worry, I’ll shoot a ransom picture for ya, Damion. Gerard? Eh, no one gives a fig about you.” The thug laughed out loud until he couldn’t laugh anymore. Then his features changed back into their normal austere appearance. “I wanna get back before dawn. Let’s get crackin’ slim.”

The Sudanese man grunted and lowered his trained weapon. He decisively stepped over to the captors, proceeding to throw hoods over them. Hassan then used the cask he had pulled out a little bit earlier to put Damion and Gerard to sleep.

Damion instinctively knelt with his chief scientist who did the same. He had no words for what was happening to him. His eyes were scrunched shut; his head started to itch with the sack over it that rubbed him the wrong way.

The sloshing noise of a liquid scared the hostages plenty. Their fears soon ended though once Hassan doused both of the hooded figures with the solution.

 

“Let’s get outta here,” Henry said after they had wrapped the packages up and tied the bows.

 

“Merry X-mas Scorpion,” he joked.

Hassan got into the holiday spirit, too. “Ho, ho, ho!”

Henry moved within striking range and conked the much taller man on the noggin. “C’mon you ding-dong. You did good today. Le’s pack it up and bring it home.”

“You too, boss.”

Air Force One

The President's STOL (short takeoff and landing) plane headed inbound for Honolulu at supercruise with its afterburners engaged. Mach 2.2 was now achievable with the revolutionary tear-drop shaped airfoil with airframe- integrated turbofans in the aft section that were low-bypass with thrust-vectoring for superior climbing rate and maneuverability.

 

Inside the rounded leading edge of the plane the pilots conducted flight operations from the space-age cockpit. The interior was illuminated red. Glowing LCD touch panels and HUDs (heads up displays) were everywhere.

Both pilots were trained ex-U.S. Air Force airmen. Both with decorated service records. Even so, they were still required to complete hours of sim (simulator) time and fly in test craft for a number of hours before flying the president of the Free Republic of North America.

 

Traditionally in civilian aircraft a first officer and captain would fly side by side with the first officer or co-pilot sitting on the right. Air Force One operated no differently in its pilot command structure.

Both men were extremely fit for service at the ages of 44 and 46. They would need to be, too, with the extreme G’s they had to be prepared to contend with in the rare event of an aerial threat. Each pilot wore an olive green flight suit that could withstand anything the trip could potentially throw at them.

Almost as important as the flight suit was the headgear each man wore. Both pilots fielded a monocular night vision device while their other eye went unaided in order to be able to monitor the cockpit displays.

The pilot-not-flying (PNF) radioed ahead to Hickam Field’s control tower. This less-traveled site that the United Sates Air Force used to fly out of years back sat next to Honolulu’s rather large civilian airport.

What ultimately made this airfield most valuable though? Its ability to accommodate high-profile, high-risk presidential flights. Every single time Air Force One came into Hickam’s airspace (within fifty miles of the base) standard protocol necessitated fighter jets to be scrambled in order to escort the big blue and white executive plane to safety.

 

Within seconds of dialogue with the air traffic controller the copilot Nelson looked out his window, his eyes never got used to what they saw. A seventh-generation fighter assumed position of right wingman in the three plane v- shaped flotilla.

Nelson immediately switched to the correct frequency to hail the squadron leader. “Raven One, this is Air Force One, over.”

The fighter pilot edged a little closer to the nose of the president's plane in order to make eye contact with the co- pilot to acknowledge transmission received. The gap narrowed and the wingman eventually pulled even with the leading edge of AF1.

Nelson aimed his monocular night vision goggle at the fighter jet and noticed the seventh-gen fighter pilot giving him the thumbs up sign along with an exaggerated head nod.

Nelson flirted with a wide smile then turned to the captain. “What’s our ETA?”

“Our instruments indicate thirty seconds until wheels down,” the experienced captain promptly replied back.

“Shall I make the crew-wide announcement?”

“…better do it quick.”

Alexander Toporvsky knew the plane had to be close to landing with all the flips his stomach did for the past fifteen minutes of the steady descent from their cruising altitude of sixty thousand feet. But just like the rest of the plane’s passengers were doing, he too stayed seated until the captain or first officer came over the intercom saying it was okay to move about the cabin.

When he had nearly finished peeling off a jagged nail on one of his fingers the president straightened up at the timely sound of Nelson’s voice broadcasting the news that they were about to land. Strangely, the commander and chief still thought about his closing statement in the conference call with Demsky.

Water under the bridge he told himself. He really meant what he had said though; there was no retracting what came out. It wasn’t a gaffe or a slip of the tongue. Then a thought struck him…I don’t even own a Bible.

Beverly Hills, California

Henry and Hassan went to work at hog-tying the drugged captives by the wrists. When that was accomplished Hassan turned over his own wrist to look at the flexible OLED display that wrapped around like a cuff link: It was his eyes and ears on the schematics of the place, all supplied by the integrated battlefield network the henchmen had with their asset in the air.

“Where’s the service elevator at?” Henry waved his gun.

“This way, boss,” Hassan said, taking off in the general direction his GPS indicated.

The ring leader followed, holding Damion under the armpits which caused the billionaire’s feet to drag.

Hassan struggled a little bit more with Christophe. “One too many French pastries for the douche…” he loudly complained.

 

The elevator ran on an emergency power supply. It promptly brought the trio to the level it was called to. Its doors opened and that’s when the two thugs realized everything hadn’t been going as well topside as it had in the basement.

Damion’s house didn’t have a single pane of intact glass. His molding and doors had been utterly shredded by all the laser fire and fragmentation grenades which were used to breach the gate and create a little shock and awe.

 

“This place feels like home,” Henry said, managing to pass a little sarcasm around meanwhile looking dazed as he struggled to readjust his vision to the different light.

Hassan was already on the radio. “This is Grizzly Bear. We have the package, over.”

But an explosion and the screams of dying men were the only reply the Sudanese man ever got. Hassan looked to Henry who stood there sporting a frown while he swiftly clawed for his own communicator.

“Big Dog to Falcon one-one, what’s the fix on our forces? Over.”

But there came no reply. Something had to be dead wrong.

The burly leader instantly dropped Damion and hastily propped his slack body up against the nearest wall, or what was left of one. He looked at Hassan and glowered, shaking his head with growing frustration. Henry began to swear as he groped for the nob on his backpack to reboot the computer system. When his finger-less gloved hands had finally found it he gave it a stronger twist than needed. White noise filled his earpiece even after he tried several times in vain to turn the thing back on.

….Broken. More cursing.

 

Hassan decided against trying to calm the German down. He knew from years of waging drug wars how to pick his battles. This wasn’t it. They needed to regain situational awareness and get to a safe LZ (landing zone) for evac. “My radio still works,” he shyly let his boss know without making eye contact with the enraged bear of a man.

“Do what needs doin’,” the leader said, trying to refrain from putting his fist through some untouched plaster his eyes dwelt on.

Upon the dying request from Damion’s head of security, the drones were called to task. They had never been even tested before, but here they were, working even better than they had been designed for.

Cheetah-inspired robots went on a rampage, seeking blood that night. Their lethal on-board minigun weapons systems wreaked havoc on Allen and Asef who were caught out in the open. Only Rodney had escaped with his life…barely. Even worse for the bad guys, Damion’s unmanned aerial vehicles performed a swarm attack and completely overwhelmed Monty. They committed their own suicides, but they didn’t go down without successfully taking out the [_Stinger _]aircraft to go with.

The mission wasn’t necessarily a complete fail, though. It could still be salvaged. A good leader recognized this.

Henry tapped Hassan on the shoulder and said, “We need another ride. I’ve got a friend as it turns out who can give us one.”

"But what about Rodney and the others?" Hassan wanted to know. He felt conflicted over his own fellow African- American fighter who would go unaccounted for.

“Four KIA’s (killed in action) look bad on my command,” Henry said, remarkably with a little regret and remorse in his voice. “But it is what it is. I’ve learned to live with death and accept it as a way of life in my years on this earth.”

The other man's already dark face became even further obscured by the near blackout conditions that were house- wide. In that moment Hassan experienced intense hatred for the man he called boss. He understood why the leader would abandon any ideas of conducting a search for lives with the potentiality that drones were still on the prowl, but nevertheless, he hated the decision that was being made.

Henry didn’t have to wonder what his partner was thinking. He could tell by the African’s deep breathing. It didn’t phase him at all, however. He remained in charge of the hit squad, or what was still left of it. His orders had to go without challenge otherwise the chain of command would be compromised and the mission would fail for certain. Henry’s next communication followed this logic very closely. “You don’t have to like it. But you ,” he inserted an expletive, “better well accept it. Do you wanna share the bounty or don’t you?”

Hassan thought for a moment, actually mulling over what had been communicated. He took quick inventory of his life goals and how the killer’s fee would greatly benefit him in that respect. As he had anticipated, his conscience played an image of his own kin, Rodney, to go up against the piles of cash he’d receive for the job if he listened to Henry’s command to stand down until help arrived. The tug-of-war struggle continued for what seemed an eternity. But eventually Hassan felt content to stay right where he was at and actually go along with his boss’s plan B.

 

 

 

Chapter 20

Sentinel: Honolulu, Hawaii

Sentinel…behold, the Free Republic of North America’s premier syndicate intelligence agency. Its headquarters stood out from the rest of the streetwall which consisted of squat low to mid-rise government buildings that were built to blend in. The triangular-shaped skyscraper reached thirty stories with a spire that added to its overall impressiveness. The all-glass right angle triangle in fact occupied its very own block in the historic old capital district with the former state capitol building directly east of it on Punchbowl St.

Like the rest of the republic itself, it still smelled of newness with all the tags and stickers yet to come off. They barely had the time to move the furniture in even or set up the networks. Scorpion knocked early and often and if Sentinel wasn’t prepared, the republic would be in jeopardy.

 

Now the hour had arrived: zero hour.

 

All the doors going in and out of the David Bracey building (named after the estimable director of the Central Intelligence Agency back in 2016) were locked. Everyone had to strap themselves in and give Sentinel all they had.

Ever since the conference call with the president, Alfred Demsky continued to bug out. The steady influx of Scorpion activity was worrisome enough, let alone the president’s remarks on going to the Bible for answers. Had the leader of one of the last free contingencies in the world gone nuts? The longer he sat idly by, almost waiting for even worse news to land on his desk, the more he became convinced his antacid meds weren’t working. [_I’m getting an ulcer before this all over, _]his troubled mind fretted.

One stray look led to framed pictures he kept on his desk of his loved ones. There [_she _]was…the woman who had built his career. Whenever any of his important friends in the intelligence community came asking for the secrets to his success, the director always pointed to his wife unhesitatingly. It thrilled him to no end to promote his favorite person in the whole world. Bethany gave him a purpose in life, companionship, and perhaps the best gift of all: a little boy.

Alfred’s eyes meandered down to an oval snapshot of Joshua, his five-year-old. He was a precocious little fella whom earned his father’s praises regularly. Often Alfred would tenderly pat his boy’s black curly head and tell him he’d grow up to be even greater than daddy.

 

Hunger pangs threatened to turn the fleeting moment away and replace it with a desire to satisfy his physical needs. He chided himself. To his surprise, however, he noticed he had missed a text from Bethany. She was worried.

 

You need to eat, hon. Love you.

 

The man sat there feeling a different kind of pain just then. It had been nearly forty-eight hours since he had seen his sweetheart. This simple, but thoughtful text of hers made him wish he could delegate all of his responsibilities to the next in command so he could go be with her. Now was not the time for complacency, though. The people all around him needed his leadership.

A rapid knock on his door rudely snatched his longing thoughts for his wife away.

“Come in,” he responded rather gruffly.

His secretary entered. She didn’t say a word, only laying a digital pad down on the director’s desk. It instantly bloated up to a holographic view for the man to see.

As it turned out it was a cipher he was looking at.

Instant recognition flooded over the creased face of Demsky’s. His hard stare never left the image until he had time enough to process and re-process the message’s impact.

 

Alfred stood up abruptly, greatly startling the woman who lingered no less than five feet away as she breathlessly waited for instruction.

“Your orders, sir?”

Demsky didn’t need time to think. “Has the president landed?”

“Unknown, sir. I haven’t been notified.”

“I need to speak with him tonight and the national security advisor. Oh! And the defense minister.” He had almost forgotten about the last man.

“Is that all?” his aide asked.

“Yes—please, make it happen immediately.”

Martha Vines didn’t need to be told twice when something needed doing. Especially this. “Yes, sir!”

A blue moon hung in the firmament with a spangled sky as its backdrop. The night breeze was cool—perfect sleeping weather.

Henry’s ride was asleep.

He was a middle-aged man living single with few cares in the world. Most of his family had passed away and his list of friends was equally small. Archibald was his name…but most simply shortened it to Archie. As a lad he used to get himself into all kinds of trouble with the wrong kind of crowd, yet that seemed like an entirely different life to him now. It was as if he had been reincarnated, coming back as an honest, hard-working trucker.

For years he pulled his weight in freight with big rigs that floated on air. From time to time he would delight in shocking the other truckers with stories of his past at various truck stops across the land where he’d pull over for a snooze.

It wasn’t something he needed to do, making stops along the way, because his vehicle happened to be equipped with an autonomous cruise control feature. Theoretically he could take naps on his flying magic carpet while it took turns sharing the driving responsibilities. But, the man was a cynic and didn’t trust machines with precious cargo. The trucker wanted to at least live to see his retirement.

 

That night he slept soundly. A trucker’s hat he had picked up from a travel plaza now covered his eyes and part of his nostrils, too. A thick fog had blanketed the surrounding area for a few miles.

 

For Archie it had been all snores and sweet dreams…until his phone went off.

It was a little early to be his wake up call. Then what? Who dared disturb his peaceful mood?

“Arch!” a voice rasped in his ear.

“You got the wrong number buddy,” the lethargic trucker answered.

Henry grew angrier at this. He stated his claims point blank. “Look, you owe me you little prick! I need a favor. And I ain’t askin’.”

Startled, the guy in his cab sat upright and adjusted his hat. He knew what the voice on the phone was referring to: an unpaid IOU he had wished to forget about. But life wasn’t always that convenient or kind.

“What can I do ya for?”

“Get your rickety trailer down here on the double! In fact, if you’re really quick about it, I might throw in a little something for you. But don’t test me.”

Archie listened for the address and hung up with not so much as another word.

….On the road again.

In the year 2041 the sky was the limit on what man could do. It was Babel all over again.

Hypersonic transportation made visits to most anywhere in the world feasible in under half an hour. Language no longer created a barrier thanks to universal translators that mastered the estimated 6,900 languages spoken by humanity. Fiat currencies like the dollar, euro, and peso were worthless: Hail the new monetary standard…an implanted RFID chip. The unique barcode with the radio frequency it emitted made easy payment a reality. But there were many people who resisted, who refused to accept the implants for fear they were taking the mark of the beast as prophesied in Scriptures. As it turned out, those that avoided it weren’t too far off the mark with their skepticism. Quite literally.

Coming changes to world order and the new leadership it would usher in meant increased persecution for minority groups and Christians who wouldn’t succumb to the unseen powers that were pulling all the strings behind the scenes.

 

Back in the year 2014 in America when healthcare had been nationalized, a precedent went out to get the RFID implant which would store the EHR (electronic health records) into every citizen. This passed through both houses of Congress with ease since the president and his party held a super majority after the midterm elections in the House of Representatives. As it turned out, this was a portentous omen of things to come.

 

With everyone walking around with their own unique watermark signature under the skin, it was more than a potentiality those human barcodes would bear the infamous mark of the beast eventually.

Already, there was in the works an evil plan to digitize the way people bought and sold things. Utilizing the RFID chips as the purveyors for a new kind of tender to buy and sell things, Scorpion would have anyone who didn’t submit trapped in the ultimate catch 22: Take the mark and continue to live in society; refuse to and choose death by the guillotine.

All of this would be only a few years away. Maybe less.

Revelation 13:9-10

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.

Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison.

Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword.

Scorpion black site, in the Ozarks somewhere…

Very centrally located and obscure adjectivised this nerve center of Scorpion. One little ripple here would concentrically affect the rest of the continent—all by design.

Since North America was such a vast territory with extremely diverse climates and variegated topography, Scorpion needed to position itself strategically so it could proliferate its will on the masses.

The Ozarks would prove to be a safe place to run the show from.

Scorpion learned to operate below ground for years in the twentieth century. That didn’t change, even on into the new millennium. However, they [_were _]becoming more emboldened after an orchestrated collapse of America had finally been achieved. More and more deals were being reached out in the open for everyone to see. Heads of the underworld organization talked openly with confidence about the coming of age, yet maintained discretion not to divulge anything missionaly compromising.

There existed a secret subway system deep below North American soil. It was built back in the 1950s with U.S. engineering prowess, can-do attitude, and big bucks. Its width was expansive enough for a train to travel in either direction at the same time in addition to a third set of tracks in between the other two, reserved specifically for special freight. There was one slight difference though between this subway and others. This one lacked air.

Who said pipe dreams couldn’t come true? This one did.

Trains with linear electric motors zoomed through sealed, frictionless tubes at astronomical speeds…the closest thing to space travel here on earth.

 

In one of the black tubes traveled an unconscious passenger. It was Heather from Scorpion. The drugs that had knocked her out weren’t about to wear off anytime soon. Not until she made it into isolation at the black site which she was headed to. Why the agency simply didn’t just dispose of her like she was refuse remained a mystery.

They had a history of doing that with people who messed up to such a degree that it became damaging to agency morale. No, showing up late for a shift didn’t doom a soul to live in seclusion for the rest of their natural lives at one of the many black sites Scorpion ran around the globe. But breaking the rules or failing to see a detail through on a big assignment may have been enough to tip the scales the wrong way.

Everyone who worked for Scorpion learned real fast that no one person was indispensable. Not even the man at the top. The events that took place at Dreamland were absolutely bizarre though. Why would an agency take out one of its own in cold blood through a third-party solution? To solve the enigma one would have to travel back to the past in order to arrive at the answer in the future.

 

The Kennedy assassination had been written off by many as an unknowable conspiracy. But those close to the inner reaches of the association of evil knew the absolute and unsettling truth that Kennedy was killed for political reasons. He was a marked man the minute he refused to come into the inner sanctum and become part of the occult that worshiped fallen angels (demons).

Tommy Exelbarr wasn’t a Kennedy type, yet his motives for sitting behind the big desk at the top of the Scorpion food chain weren’t pure. Greed, backscratching patronage…quid pro quo: all were employed to secure his place at the top. Once he got there he no longer was interested in listening to the demands of the real powers that were actually running the show. So a simple fix came in order and Howard’s name came up lucky number seven.

Honolulu, Hawaii

“Is there anything I can do for you Mr. President?” SS agent Dirk Simmons asked.

The middle-aged Ukrainian with the vanilla cream- colored hair and taupe skin stood at the end of the red carpet with the stairs and his plane still behind him. It was a delightful evening. Late...but surprisingly peaceful with no sense of rush or urgency.

“I am hungry, actually,” the president admitted. “Name it and it shall be yours.”

“I like the sound of that,” Alexander responded, his spirits lifting; his previous melancholy mood seeming more like a distant past than a recent phenomenon. His late wife, Margaret, disintegrated from his most-occupying thoughts for a cheaper substitute…a food craving. “I could go for an artery-clogging snack like a salty side of fries with a thick angus burger. Can you do that?”

 

“Honolulu never sleeps Mr. President. You can order from an actually decent burger joint even at this time of night,” agent Simmons replied, grinning.

“Excellent!”

Alexander’s stomach growled. The man eventually stepped off the carpet and onto the normally scorching hot tarmac.

 

After the mighty turbofans ground to a halt the airport’s ground crew went to work with their operations. A fuel transfer truck was one of the first vehicles on the scene, but not before the aircraft tow tractor moved the big plane over to a hangar with its giant doors yawning open, ready to accept AF1. Additionally a water truck filled the craft’s large tanks.

Nothing appeared to be missing from the scene. Emergency vehicles were on standby, security patrolled, and political aides along with important members of Toporvsky’s administration waited to receive the president.

Helicopters zoomed over the base with their searchlights probing the inky darkness of the spring night. They were on a typical night patrol. It was very standard to have aircraft in the sky at all times. Especially first-response kind of planes.

Many of the planes that flew out of the base were fusion- reactor powered...so fuel certainly wasn't a cost-factor in maintaining the vigilant security needed at all times for the republic's capital. Pilot's fatigue seemed to be the only limit on the dragnet security. However, even that wasn't as much of an issue anymore. In the year 2041 drones were as commonplace as hydrogen stations for the miniature fusion reactor driven vehicles of the day.

The former U.S. Air Force base crawled with Secret Service agents watching over the president. Some observed in pairs with binoculars and high-powered rifles from up high in guard towers. Others stood idly by Air Force One-- their presence simply providing a security blanket effect in and of itself.

 

Suddenly a light-armored military vehicle crossed over a grassy median and onto the runway. It headed straight for the president who was exiting with his cabinet and making his way towards a parked and waiting presidential SUV. There must have been some level of communication because the SS agents didn’t button up or try to interdict the approaching vehicle’s course.

Alexander turned as he heard the angry acceleration of a light tactical vehicle growing close. He tensed a little, however he now noticed the head of his security detail, Dirk, motion him to come close for a word. The SS agent gently put his strong hand on the president’s elbow which served in a tactile feedback kind of way in earning Alexander’s trust and reassurance.

 

“Mr. President, we have Sentinel agents on an errand for the director. He has requested for a meeting with you, your security advisor and the minister of defense.”

Alexander arched his eyebrows in concern. “Why the urgency? Did he say?”

Dirk shook his head. “No time. My people didn’t get to ask why or any other interrogative questions. We just got the overused ‘it’s an issue of national security.’”

Agent Simmons fought the urge to roll his eyes. He ultimately knew the implication behind those words, though. Their impact changed the mood of any situation into an agitated one.

 

Shortly the president had at his other elbow a man none other than Ahmed Negler.

“I guess we’ll be seeing a little more of each other tonight, sir,” his security advisor addressed Alexander.

The president wanly smiled. “I wish it weren’t under such extenuating circumstances, Ahmed.”

The president’s point man on issues of national security ducked his head into the back seat of the idling military vehicle. He used the foothold on the side to mount the lifted crew compartment. After he made it inside Ahmed didn’t wait an additional second before he moved to assist Alexander in entering the vehicle. Once both men had safely embarked, the massive thick door thudded shut by a secret service agent outside.

Reno, Nevada

Just like its sister city, Las Vegas, Reno in all its glitz and glamour was active ‘round the clock, 24/7.

Archie just happened to be in the city because of his truck schedule that night. He certainly wasn’t there for the casinos or the other vice that the millions of perennial visitors would partake in under the cover of darkness. But now he had another thing coming….Pick up Henry, or else.

The trucker was about ready to head out, but first he decided to leave the comfort of his padded driver’s seat to get some coffee from the back of his cab. Archie held firmly to his big gulp, sixty-four ounce travel mug. This daily exchange between the automatic coffee maker and the recipient was an ongoing relationship. Archie needed the coffee more than he realized….All the signs pointed to a slight addiction. It was a tenable dependency to have though according to the trucker. Not a moot point in the least.

The steaming hot beverage wafted up his nostrils and fogged his glasses up. The man felt good now and ready to rumba. This was what he did.

“Take me to Beverly Hills, Betsy,” he spoke to his truck with a certain degree of affection. “Easy does it now,” he continued to talk to her like she was his stallion.

 

The multiple ton truck kick-started to life and rose off the pavement ten feet before maneuvering into the right direction it would blaze a trail in. Its slightly rickety frame shuddered a little bit, but at last the powerful turbines in the back coaxed the decade old big rig to take to the skies at a more frenetic pace than it was normally accustomed to.

Archie sat tall in his seat and clucked at his truck to go even faster. “Yeehaw, pardner! Le’s go!”

Betsy responded in her own time as she worked up the courage to break the sound barrier.

Heather hurtled through the vacuum tube transit system deep below North American soil at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour. It was a short ride from Dreamland to the Ozarks. Less than ten minutes, in fact.

Her welcoming party wouldn’t be any familiar faces she knew, though. Nobody back from central command had gone on before her to receive the woman guilty of inadvertently aiding and abetting the man responsible for taking out Scorpion’s director-general.

When her capsule arrived at the bosom of the decades-old underground stronghold, the station’s doors opened to facilitate their newest arrival to the black site’s earthen holding cells. The absence of air was preserved in the vacuum tube with the use of the exotic docking mechanism. Meanwhile on the other side, in Ozark territory, the warden waited with a single guard at the station for the black capsule to stop its forward progress once it reached the clampings.

The side of the tube transport vehicle hissed as its mechanism to release the hatch went to work. Like a roll- top desk it opened sesame. The warden stepped onto the little bridge that extended into the side of the vehicle upon arrival. He peered in with his blotchy red face and thick gray sideburns.

She lay there very still, but breathing, nevertheless. Even in her drugged state she perfectly resembled the same woman he had seen in the pictures sent to the operations center of the Ozarks.

“Wake up Heather,” he said with an unusual amount of tenderness for a man that kept a prison. He said this all while depressing a syringe into a convenient vein protruding on the nape of her neck.

Her eyes fluttered then closed. She coughed a couple of times before finally reopening her glassy brown eyes. There wasn’t any fear or conviction in them. She had already accepted her sealed fate. Heather almost felt grateful to just be alive. She knew they could have easily exterminated her rather than let her live to see another day: even if that day would be lived out in isolation in the Ozarks facility.

She looked around in a dazed state brought on by low blood sugar and disorientation. She didn’t have to wonder at where her ride in the subway had taken her.

“Welcome, Heather Hayes, I hope you will find your new home here to your liking,” the warden said, still refraining to give his name.

In a matter of time Heather picked up the scent of chewing tobacco on the Scorpion scuzzball. She scrunched her nose and looked away from the man who was talking to her.

“You don’t have to be shy here, dear. You’ll find this place to be like family,” he lied.

Heather refused to give him what he wanted. So she returned his advances with sweet nothing.

After a while the shameless jailer gave up on his brash behavior, defaulting to his usual surliness instead. He indicated for the guard who hadn’t said a word up to this point to escort the arrival to a changing room and then on to be fingerprinted.

“Take her away from my sight,” he said without remorse. “I will be seeing plenty of you later, missy. Try to contain your excitement,” he said while awkwardly staring at the poor woman for longer than was necessary.

She didn’t say a word though. Heather steeled herself for the worst. And this guy wasn’t it.

The Basement: Honolulu, Hawaii

If the president of the former United States of America were to be briefed by the director of the CIA, it would only be customary to do so at a secure location such as the Situation Room it the White House.

Things were no different for the Free Republic of North America. However, their situation room lied deep underneath the city of Honolulu to protect the president and his staff from chemical warfare, nuclear…the worst Scorpion could do to the capital city. No place could be foolproof against the wiles of an incredibly resourceful enemy, but the [_basement _]came the closest thing to impenetrable sovereign security.

 

Since the Central Cyber Corps and other government contractors operated incognito underground too, a catacomb system of tunnels came into being by using the latest in TBM (tunnel boring machines) to pave the way for a subterranean government culture.

Everything was connected.

The only problem with this setup though lied in the fact that because there were so many ways in and out, protecting the vast network of tunnels which all had entrances presented a security nightmare.

The president’s motorcade raced ahead in the dead of night for an underground parking garage several city blocks east of the old state capital district on Punchbowl St. Alexander’s military humvee went in after a whole procession of secret service SUV’s, emergency vehicles, and troop carriers took the plunge first.

[_Into the heart of darkness, _]Alexander thought.

“I never get used to this drive,” Leonard remarked. “A few extra lights in the tunnels wouldn’t compromise the security any,” he remarked.

The other man whom shared the backseat with the president and his chief of staff finally looked away from his device long enough to share his two cents on the scenery, or lack thereof. “I think it’s peaceful. Reminds me of my visits to my grandfather at the cemetery.”

Both Alexander and Leonard exchanged looks of incredulity and astonishment over what was just shared.

Ahmed Negler didn’t seem to notice or care what kind of faces were being made at him. “Mr. President, we have something else to get you up to speed on,” he flat out said, mere seconds after his mobile device received a communication from Sentinel. “Damion Westover and his chief scientist, Christophe?”

Alexander leaned over to his left to look at his security advisor a little better in the darkness. “What about them?” his voice practically dropped off the deep end and into a sea of debilitating concern.

“Damion’s security drones have activated their emergency beacons. This would only happen if…”

Alexander didn’t let him finish. “They were killed,” he said flatly.

“…or abducted!” Ahmed’s voice grew excited.

Leonard joined the impromptu backseat security briefing with a question that underscored his chief concerns. “What about the weapon specs and other valuables Scorpion could get their grubby paws on. Are those safe?”

Just then a call came in directly to the president’s very own personal handset. It was the minister of defense on the other end.

“Mr. President, I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Minister of Defense Gene Barker intoned.

“Not at all,” Alexander hastily replied. “What is it?”

Gene tried to say something, however there was a persisting noise that sounded like machinated interference. Two minutes later the man’s voice was heard again by the president, but not until after the minister’s message’s contents were lost on Alexander in the static.

“Say again, Gene? You were lost in transmission for a moment.”

“Sir, requesting military intervention to confiscate Westover Venture’s assets.”

Alexander knew what he meant. “Absolutely. Use whatever you have to. We can’t let the enemy beat us to it. Understood?”

“Perfectly.

Beverly Hills, California

Thirty minutes had elapsed from the time he placed a call to the man who owed him. Henry stewed with Hassan in the bombshell of a mansion.

“Go check the vitals on them two,” the German directed with a backwards jerk of the thumb.

“No problem boss.” Hassan bent down and put two fingers on Damion’s neck, feeling for a pulse. It may have been weak, but still there, nevertheless. “These drugs weren’t meant to put them out for an extended period of time,” Hassan said contemplating how long they had been in the house since they had put Damion and Christophe under.

“It’s gonna have to be good enough,” Henry grunted. His boot found a piece of glass…his reaction to crush it couldn’t have been more predictable.

 

Both men suddenly tensed. They heard a noise coming from the portico just outside the front door.

Henry reacted first. Taking the lead, he stealthily slithered, inching closer to where he thought the sound came from. The big man’s body remained close to the walls while his feet expertly avoided loose debris that would certainly give away his approach to whoever was out there.

Reaching into his utility belt, the ring leader pulled a small directed energy weapon that was set to kill, not stun. His thumb pressed a little button that powered the firearm up: it glowed blue with a force eager to be unleashed on the victim unfortunate enough to be at the wrong end of the fearsome weapon.

Hassan shadowed his boss and imitated his movements nearly perfectly. He had no problem whatsoever activating stealth mode. It came easy, in fact.

 

As both men hid behind a structural column in the foyer, poised to blast to kingdom come whatever dared move through the entrance, they heard at the same time a low moan and saw a brown arm attempt to reach through the slit in between the massive door and its door jam. There wasn’t anything threatening by what they were witnessing.

Henry grew bold and decided to ask, “Rodney, that you?”

His answer came almost instantaneously with the crashing sound of a nearly-dead African-American who came tumbling into the entryway, no longer able to hang on to the door that swept him into the foyer. He lay there stunned on his stomach. Bleeding everywhere, barely breathing. That’s when Henry and Hassan shone their flashlights on their compatriot and discovered his back to be riddled with bullets.

He would die shortly no doubt….Either by a lethal amount of lead in his blood or the sheer amount of blood loss comboed with punctured organs. Unbeknownst to anyone in the room, Rodney was indeed suffering under the duress of a collapsed lung and several broken ribs. He was lucky that was all the damage done to him in his stand against Damion’s cheetah robots.

The dying man choked on his own blood as he tried to get his first words out to the shocked Henry and Hassan who stood nearby, motionless. “Did…we…win?”

Hassan was awash with sympathy for this man before him. From his vest pocket he reached for the antiseptic he intended to apply to the many wounds all over Rodney’s marred body.

Henry didn’t get in the way, but he didn’t help either. His position of neutrality spoke volumes on the condition of his soul.

 

A dull roar swiftly swept the valley floor and traveled up the lookout to reach the ears of those in the house. It had to have been Archie to the rescue. The German thug forgot about Hassan and his dying henchman for a moment to let out a whoop. He rushed the front door and bounded down the steps into the courtyard.

Rodney was fading fast though. He didn’t have the strength to cry out in anguish to the touch of the antibacterial solution. “Leave me—” he gasped. His breathing becoming nearly impossible at this point thanks to a lung that was quickly filling with fluid.

“You know I can’t do that,” Hassan said, feeling the emotions well up inside. He hadn’t felt sad about another man on the verge of death in all his years until today.

“Your ride’s, waitin,” Rodney managed before he convulsed and his eyes looked terrified as his spirit left the tortured body. Dead at age thirty-nine.

 

 

 

Chapter 21

The Ozarks

Water dripped needlessly from a pipe that could have used better welding. That’s what Heather had to listen to in isolation. But frankly, she was relieved to be away from the guards that frisked her and turned her inside out looking for any weapons or other items that didn’t belong before she could wear the orange jumpsuit. Talk about the joys of being an inmate. It was even worse since she was an attractive woman among a largely male population.

Heather sat on her dusty cot and contemplated the future events. What’s the worst that could happen to her? Would she get a prison mate? She hoped not. Loneliness wouldn’t kill her, but a bad roomie just might. If Scorpion had hoped to dull her wits or make her go squirrely from being boxed in by four walls…they had another thing coming. Heather was a strong woman; she wouldn’t unravel so easily.

 

Now that she had a little more free time than she wanted, her mind wandered back to the events of the past twenty-four hours. Her brain ordered the day sequentially, not leaving even the lesser details out.

It started out as a normal Tuesday morning like any other. Heather rose before the sun at the early hour of half past five. She would need to be at the McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas’s hub, no later than 6:15 AM.

She was not a morning person at all, so all of the next day’s preparations she tried to cram into the night before. Clothes were laid out on a dresser and her digitally integrated household was pre-programmed to make life easier when she woke up….And that’s exactly what happened on the 24th of April, 2041.

 

At 5:25AM her first alarm sounded. Her phone rang like an old-fashioned telephone until her hand still heavy with sleep attempted to swipe at the screen to turn it off. Five minutes later after her first time pressing snooze it was time to rise and shine.

The smart home knew Heather’s preferences better than anybody. It preheated the tiled floors to take away the morning chill. Soft mood lighting turned on in her master bedroom…not too bright, yet not dull like a night light which might coax her weary eyes into desiring more shuteye.

The short walk down a hallway passed by a walk-in closet situated on either side of it—shoes on the left, outfits to the right—took Heather into a rather large bathroom that was ready to receive the sleepy woman.

Its shower already started running with rain-head faucets pouring their deluge of water kept at a bathwater temperature. This was the very thing she appreciated along with her already warm cup of earl grey tea that awaited her in the kitchen.

Thirty minutes was all she needed to complete her brief little morning ritual, which left fifteen minutes to get to the airport to board an unmarked charter flight for Dreamland. Work started at seven…it was a tight schedule with no room for delays or squandering time.

From her previous week’s discourse with Howard she knew all the planning and homework she did on bringing a distinguished hacker such as Desmond to the very lair of Scorpion itself would consummate in his actual arrival to the desert headquarters of the agency.

[_“Nervous?” _]she remembered reading the text sent from her husband who was already at work that day.

Her reply back said it all. “Does that even happen with me?”

Her husband Derek understood his wife’s sarcasm well, so he left her with a winking smiling face and a good-luck message for encouragement.

Back in the little room in the here and now on a Wednesday, Heather kicked her legs a little to keep the blood circulating while she let them hang over the edge of the bed. Her eyes were closed to better remember the details of the previous day. The timeline took her through the mundane perfunctory daily motions to the more important ones that she chose to linger on and even hit the rewind button at times in her mind’s eye.

After she had rewatched everything that had happened up until she had blacked out upon being decommissioned by Scorpion, the same old troubling question resurfaced: why? She and others had diligently done their homework on the black-hat hacker they had picked up off the streets of Austin. He didn’t have murderous intentions in his heart or the desire to be the hero of the minority groups in North America to pick off the top guy at the agency. Or so she and others had come to the conclusion which was why he had been the perfect candidate for a job opening at Scorpion.

Where had Desmond gone wrong…or rather how did he so perfectly pull the wool over the eyes of Heather and her colleagues? She could only speculate, but she wondered if there were missing links she’d never be able to connect.

Her troubled mind was working overtime grasping at straws.

She remembered passing Howard a few times in the hall and even seeing him sit at a cafe with strange looking men dressed in black suits and matching trousers. The scene and all its details were still vividly pressed into her memory. What had it meant? Was Howard secretly meeting with others in the upper echelons of Scorpion or other shadowy groups with the same end-game plans? How come she had never suspected anything of him before?

The more she thought about Howard she increasingly began to suspect the old man of playing fast and loose. He had been working for the agency for two decades; he couldn’t have been content being subordinate to a guy like Tommy. She shuddered. Suddenly Heather felt a strong tug on her emotional psyche to quit Scorpion altogether. She about had it with everything they had done to her. Before yesterday, she had been up to her eyeballs in their affairs. It was draining and it had left her feeling empty after she returned home from working doubles in recent times.

Two hours had gone by and still no faces showed up at the bars. No visitors to see poor Heather. At last she retired to a state of fitful sleep in her filthy sleeping quarters. When she would wake up, who knew? It’s not like there was a pressing appointment she needed to keep. But what she didn’t know was she would soon meet two individuals she had heard all about from whispers. Things were about to get at least a little more interesting.

The Basement: Honolulu, Hawaii

With the minister of defense’s phone call still ringing in his ears, Alexander’s resolve became firm as flint. He would do all in his power to serve admirably as the Free Republic of North America’s stoic, unwavering leader in the nation’s most-trying hour yet.

Leonard Palmer stole glances at the president. He deeply respected the man’s cool that he exhibited on a regular basis. Consistency was Alexander’s middle name, no matter what.

 

The two minute underground thrill ride through extremely dark caverns and tunnels was finally over. No one wasted any time whisking the president into someplace more secure and clandestine.

 

The [_basement _]got its generic moniker from the people who walked its corridors the most. These same people wore the little red flag with the three stars and the bear on their breast pockets. And they frequently whistled the patriotic national anthem that was drafted rather quickly by a talented mix of individuals who didn’t see the current times as the world’s darkest days, but a chance for America to be reborn.

Whatever one’s viewpoint on the matter, the never-die attitude belonging to the republic’s government workers couldn’t be replicated anywhere else. The loyalty, devotion…excellence given to an uncertain cause was just enough to keep the boat afloat despite the choppy waters all around. Now, it was up to Sentinel and its partners in defense to protect the sovereign borders of FRN and come through with a big play in the bottom of the ninth.

Director of Sentinel Alfred Demsky took long powerful strides to a private elevator that would take him near the most secure place for miles around. He took with him an aide who often sat in on such security briefings. John Kiefs was the other man’s name. He had worked as a field agent for the CIA before being recruited to join the ranks of Sentinel and take a desk to serve under the venerable Demsky.

John stood in attention to Alfred’s right. His arms went parallel to his sides in a taught manner. The man couldn’t possibly feel relaxed in a moment such as this. No words passed between the solemn figures while they descended together.

The aide finally decided to look at his boss and force something. “It’s not going to be brief, is it?” he was referring to the meeting they were headed to.

“I don’t suspect so,” Alfred replied, not over-thinking his answer.

Before long they were at the bunker’s door.

A heavily armed trio of guards asked for identification. They appeared ready to assault the most heavily fortified place on earth.

Alfred reached under his shirt for his lanyard with attached ID.

The guard eyeballed the badge and looked up again at the man that offered it. They appeared to be one and the same. “You may go in, Mr. Demsky,” the guard said and nothing else.

John was vetted in the same manner and he too was granted passage.

 

The rumble the several ton door made was impressive. Stenciled into the vault-like door were the bold red block letters spelling FRN.

He had only been in the [_basement _]a couple of times before. The room lacked any color with its sterile silver steel walls and furniture. Straight ahead Demsky saw a welcoming sight. It was a privilege to serve under such a man as Alexander: And there he stood wearing an expression of welcome and relief.

A stray thought suddenly made its way into the director of Sentinel’s head. He quickly stole a stealthy look-see around the table looking for one thing in particular. Flummoxed, his eyes didn’t find what he was looking for.

Then the president stepped forward to shake his hand. “You look better now. Much better than you did an hour ago,” he smiled warmly.

That’s when the director’s distracted gaze stumbled upon the object he had been searching for. It was in the president’s left hand!

Lackland AFB: San Antonio, Texas

Even though it hadn’t been made official yet, the former state of Texas was closing in on an agreement with the FRN to become its third member in the republic. Any day now the people of the FRN expected their leader to fly into Austin and shake hands with the Texas government sympathetic towards the cause.

However, that Wednesday was different from all others. Alexander needed additional air support and cyber warfare muscles to go into Scorpion-controlled Sector Six to grab Damion’s stuff. If the chess match didn’t pan out for team Alexander, the 21st century could potentially witness another Black Hawk down scenario take place on LA’s west side.

The shiny new Operations Center at the aging former U.S. Air Force Base didn’t ever go dark. It was alive with activity around the clock…ready to respond to threats foreign or domestic. The base’s fighter wings were loaded with sixth and even several seventh-gen multi-role jets.

More importantly they had what the president sorely needed: medium to heavy lift capable aircraft. These behemoths had quadruple turbines with millions of pounds of total thrust—enough to boost into battle tanks and other land-based mechanized units.

The base’s operator monitoring the phone lines and all communication of personnel noticed his call center switchboard light up with a caller ID that said: Gene Barker (FRN’s minister of defense). It wasn’t customary for him to get nervous or jittery over calls, but this one was totally unexpected to say the least. He had not the faintest clue what the nature of business the call would entail.

Dutifully pressing the button to receive the transmission, he answered, “This is Lackland Air Force Base, how may I direct your call?”

“I need to speak to the base commander on a topic of utmost urgency. Can you patch me through?”

“Name?”

FRN’s unilateral voice reaching out for help from the Lone Star state didn’t have the luxury to be miffed at the ridiculous, profanatory question.

“This is the minister of defense hailing from the Free Republic of North America.”

There was a brief lull in the conversation. Then the operator intoned in, “I will put you through. Please hold.”

Grateful he was finally getting somewhere, Gene Barker waited precious few seconds before he heard a sound that indicated a new connection had been made.

“Gene Barker!” a familiar voice on the other end boomed.

Shocked into short silence, the defense minister’s mind quick did its homework to figure out why that voice sounded so familiar.

The four star general that had served as the Air Force Chief of Staff under an administration in the late 2020s interpreted the hush as his old college buddy having a memory lapse. He needed to coax it along and get the wheels turning in Gene’s upper story. “West Point, class of ’20? Bill Rescheck?”

“Bill! My God, I can’t believe it!” Gene Barker gasped in astonishment. A second later, switching gears… “I wish this was a personal call, but I’m afraid it’s business.”

“What can I do for you?” the base commander eagerly asked.

“I need planes, lots of ‘em.”

Bill Rescheck scratched his walrus mustache. If his antennae hadn’t been up before, it was on high alert now. The commander swiveled in his leather arm chair to look out the third-story window over the airfield with its rows of warplanes. A tinge of compassion swept over him. Red, white and blue and what it once signified in the penned words of Francis Scott Key played on his heart strings. Suddenly he felt overwhelmed with a sense of duty to an undying cause that wouldn’t go by the wayside just yet despite all of Scorpion’s years of tireless efforts.

 

“Uh, did I lose you, Bill?” Gene worriedly pondered out loud.

The four star general’s strong voice filled Gene’s receiver with this message: “You probably should have gone through different channels, Barker.” he was thinking of Texas’s official war council and the chairman of the board, Walter Bensen. “However, I wouldn’t be much of a patriot if I denied a friend and the FRN the tools they need to keep the hope alive.”

The minister of defense’s heart raced ahead of his train of thought. “I, I need a secure perimeter established for an LZ at Westover Ventures which is located on the Southwest side of LA. We’re gonna need a ground presence, air superiority, and electronic warfare—the whole package.”

“Done, done, and done!” the base commander hawked. “The heck with going up the chain of command with this. If anything needs doin’, you can count on me to roll my sleeves up to help. Barker, I’ve got your back.”

The other man could have dropped the phone the news was so good. “The FRN thanks you!” he blurted.

The sky shook and the trailer sea-sawed as it sped out of S6 airspace on a heading for the Ozarks. There were five souls aboard including one very sad Sudanese man fresh off of seeing his own kin die back in the kill zone. What a tragedy that had been.

Archie rode in stiff silence, however Henry chose to be a little more sanguine.

“Why don’t you get a real job my man.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Archie said without taking his eyes off from the great expanse before him.

“Maybe you could work for me…I could make a spot for you, you know?” Henry was almost being serious.

Archie crinkled his forehead: the rest of his face looking like he had chewed a lemon. “I enjoy my freedom too much. And Betsy here,” he patted his flight controls, “she’s family.”

Henry snorted. “You drive the hard bargain amigo,” he reached over to playfully punch the man in the shoulder. “Why dontcha come work for the good guys?”

Archie hardly considered being neutral such a terrible stance to take in these uncertain times, but here the man he owed was making more than a suggestion. “Scorpion is a little selfish, don’t you think?” he innocently put it out there.

“It’s not about no one man, but the entirety,” Henry stated. He continued to build his case. “Scorpion has been around for decades, centuries even, for the purpose to benefit humanity and bring it to its natural state of perfection.”

 

Archie made a face and quickly looked away. To him what he heard was a bunch of malarkey: he had enough common sense to know it when he heard it. “Well, I’m gonna play the part of the hypocrite and declare myself selfish. I don’t care what you people think you’re doing. I’m tired of governments trying to ‘make a difference,’” he snorted in disgust. “Nobody can make a difference. That’s why I’m only out for me and me alone. And perhaps Betsy,” he grinned.

This greatly irritated the German thug.

Hassan could’ve cared less what was going on. He sat there on a low bench looking down at the floor between his legs. “How long did you say this trip would take?”

Henry rolled his eyes. He wasn’t in the mood for “are we there yet” type of questions.

“Okay…” the tall African-American said, shifting tactics, “what do we do when we get there since we’re no longer using the underground evacuated tube transport system as a means of dropping off the package to their doorstep?”

“Where did you learn to talk like such a dweeb?” Henry ribbed his partner.

Hassan forced a laugh before attempting to better explain himself. “Good communication man. That’s what it’s all about.”

Henry howled with laughter. “That’s the stupidest thing you’ve said yet! But I like you man. You aite.”

Hassan mellowed out a bit; he appreciated the other man’s weird attempts at maintaining a good working relationship…and the German’s appropriate use of slang every now and then. However, he still needed an answer to a question that had never gone away. “So you’re gonna get on the horn and speak to the Ozarks Central Ops and tell them where to shove it?”

“Somethin’ like that,” the big man said through a wily grin.

“Works for me.”

A temporary silence invaded the cab, but not for long. “What’s my part in this?”

“Shutup Archie.” Henry grinned, looking over at his partner who was doing the same.

The driver took his hands off the controls and held them up innocently. “Whatever suits you.” He was thinking along the lines of sheesh and good riddance when he said that. “I only wanted to talk logistics. Thugs….”

The Basement: Honolulu, Hawaii

The lights in the room were half-dimmed and the automatic coffee maker constantly dripped to keep up with its high quota. All of the heads of state circled the table until they eventually were seated at their usual spots. Alfred Demsky’s eye twitched a little as he continued to stare at the brown leather Bible with its golden letters that Alexander carried around. He had to say something about it before he needed to be admitted to the loony house; it made him go practically insane.

President Toporvsky didn’t seem to notice Alfred Demsky’s extreme discomfort with what he held tightly in his hand. His thoughts were all over the map with everybody gathered looking at him expectantly, anticipating a composed leader to give sensible directives to address an escalating crisis with Scorpion.

He sat big and tall in the proverbial hot seat. Alexander collected some of his pants fabric around his thighs, clenching it in angst before he began. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he greeted the distinguished members of his cabinet and FRN’s bureaucracy that sat before him, “now is the time where we send Scorpion and the world a message: we are never backing down. We won’t be intimidated by thugs and despots.”

Patriotism swelled to a new high in the atmosphere of the bunker. The excitement and tension were almost palpable. Alexander’s pits sweated but it didn’t show through on his mixed-weave dress shirt that had a white background and blue stripes; his navy coat draped over the back of his chair. Steam rose from his red ceramic executive mug as he brought it to his lips: He swished the aromatic dark Colombian roast between his cheeks like it was mouthwash. The Ukrainian native drew in a little sharp breath and let it out slowly. The president set the tone for everything that followed. “I will skip any motivational speech or lengthy preamble,” he said rather abruptly.

The director of Sentinel, as if on cue, cleared his throat.

Alexander stretched out his hand to the man sitting on his left as a gesture to take it away. It was customary for Alfred Demsky to bring the president’s national security council up to speed with a briefing in the beginning of the course of events; meanwhile Ahmed Negler, the president’s security advisor, sat on the bench so to speak, preparing his statements and readying himself for drafting a quick response to the latest intel.

All around on the conference table every person had a screen embedded in the table where they sat like a place mat at a dinner table. When Demsky arose from his chair the lighting in the room changed to blue. All the displays in the [_Basement _]came to life. His footfalls were filled with silence as he circled the table waiting for the right moment to dig in.

 

“As of now, we have reliable intercepts, images from our keyhole satellites and data from high-altitude reconnaissance flights.” Demsky zeroed in on the president for his reaction. But there the commander in chief sat with a placid look etched into his features, his head slightly bowed to an open book on the table. It was that Bible again.

Alfred had to will himself not to stampede out of the room like a raging bull. He would have words for the president, but now wasn’t the time. “If I may direct your attention to the screen nearest you, you will notice a very large building ablaze in Beverly Hills.”

The images really crystallized for the security council the republic’s concerns. “This is Damion Westover’s private estate up in flames. Beyond the destruction of the property, we are not privy to anything else that can tell us what happened. However, there is something.” Alfred looked up at a sensor and made a gesture that refreshed the screens in the room with a new image.

Sitting in one of the chairs that bordered the conference table, John Kiefs, an aide to the director of Sentinel, instantly recognized the picture displayed on one of the surfaces on the wall. It was the charred wreckage of a [_Stinger: _]known to be the workhorse vehicle selected by Scorpion’s many merchants of death.

“What you see here are the remains of an enemy craft at Westover estate, taken out by a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) swarming tactic.”

Demsky blanked the monitors for a minute as he deliberately put one foot in front of the other in a straight line towards where the president sat. He eyed Alexander evenly, his voice growing stronger. “The most intriguing piece to the puzzle though is a very non-stealthy large freighter with a rather wide cross-section which gave our low-orbit radar stations a mouse to chase.”

The vice president Edmond Drezzler who had almost sat there simply to fulfill an honorary role of some kind, now watched Alfred with the wide-eyed curiosity of a school boy.

“Our short-wave radio frequency station operating incognito out of Albuquerque, New Mexico received and consequently advanced the signal from our low-orbit radar stations on to Cali, Oregon, then Alaska….until it wound up at our very own David Bracey building here at Sentinel,” he said this with a fracture of a smile.

Ahmed Negler opened his mouth to pursue the obvious, which was why the interest in a freighter in the first place. Those details had been left out, whether on purpose or not. “Where was its point A, point B?”

Demsky shuffled his steps a bit before he stopped short of the national security advisor’s chair. He resented being pressed for details when it was his briefing to give them. Negler was talking out of turn.

“Its point of origin is traceable to Reno, Nevada. Its chemtrails lead straight to Damion’s residence,” he paused at a critical juncture to strategically raise the roof on everybody’s predictions. “Right now,” he grew animated, “our runaway midnight delivery driver is charting a course across the Sierra Nevada mountain range—headed east.” Alfred flicked his wrist to get its desired result: Pictures of the Ozarks and satellite images of believed-to-be Scorpion bases suddenly came under the scrutiny of all eyes.

“Part of my job, what I get paid the big bucks to do as an intelligence pundit, is to furnish the administration with the agency’s best educated guesses on anything and everything, whenever it’s relevant.”

 

The president hadn’t been completely engrossed in his Bible the whole time. He purposefully looked up every now and then to show that he was listening…long enough to bypass suspicion that he was actually looking in the Bible for answers to the republic’s concerns instead of getting it from a talking head.

“Mr. President, are you okay?” the vice president who sat to Alexander’s right exasperatedly whispered into the president’s ear. He hadn’t been too obtuse like the others to not notice what was happening. “It’s just a story book,” the VP said with unmistakable ire.

 

The only person who couldn’t make the briefing was the minister of defense. One of his aides was present, but that was it. Gene Barker was needed in the room, stat. The topic that would come up next on the agenda had to do with extraction of certain assets which functioned as “nuclear deterrence” against the rising tide of Scorpion insurgence.

 

 

 

Chapter 22

Lackland AFB: San Antonio, Texas

The 149th Fighter Wing began to stir with energy. MAJCOM (major command) Commander General Bill Rescheck who oversaw base operations and reported directly to the war council of the fiercely independent state of Texas had just gotten off a phone call with the minister of defense to the FRN. And he had gone a step further….No longer operating under chain of command but instead out of an insurgent sense of duty and loyalty to the higher calling of freedom and democracy, the four star general swore his loyalty to an operation that was still in its nascent stages of planning.

 

All the groups that would be needed for action—mission, medical, and operations—were scrambling to be at a level of readiness needed if President Alexander of the FRN gave the nod to go ahead with the operation.

 

Tall outdoor lights like towering masts on a ship shone bright over the several airstrips of the base. Ground crews leapt into action performing their duties at breakneck speed, attaining ultimate efficiency like they were trained for in red flag simulations.

Red and green lights blinked on the tips of the wings of the many fighter jets that were idling in their stalls. Most of them were two-seaters.

Hundreds of airmen got bused in from the barracks in and around San Antonio. Most of them looked a little torpid and perhaps gassed for having their sleep taken away from them. That’s how they earned their wings in the first place, however. Through the fire and adversity.

Not to be forgotten though was the creed the airmen lived and died by…even after a civil war that dissolved the union and a mighty air force. The words “just do it” didn’t only belong to the air force of old or a shoe brand, it still applied to the men and women whom served with distinction in the air wing at Lackland in the year 2041.

Earlier that night…

A town hall meeting invitation went out to all commanding officers on base. In fact, anybody who’d have a supporting role in the incursion needed to be present at the mess hall where the debriefing would commence. It was of utmost urgency that everyone who didn’t have a valid excuse, and there were precious few, attend the meeting or pay the price through a lengthy furlough or some other punishment Bill Rescheck could put his mind into contriving.

“I pray you don’t have to live to be my age,” Bill would tell anybody who’d listen. A little bit later after his audience would return to a more relaxed state of mind intermingled with wool gathering for however brief a spell, the commander would startle them with, “If hell is real, this is it.” So went the communication between the war-weary general and those under his command.

 

That night was a little different from the norm for obvious reasons. Because Bill had given his word to an old college friend, the ball was set into motion for the base's joint- military contingency they would go on with the security forces of FRN.

 

The building that seated roughly a thousand was packed to overflowing. Enlisted officers were practically spilling out from the anterior ends of the cafeteria tables. Airmen in their green flight jackets sat up straight with elbows on the table, waiting for Bill to walk on up to the little lectern that was still vacant.

The hollow clicks and clacks of leather-soled dress shoes reverberated off the cinder block walls of the chow hall. A hushed silence swept over the room for a minute while the senior officer took powerful strides toward the podium. The man’s meaty hands gripped the sides with solemnity. His walrus mustache glinted with sweat and the color drained from his face.

Bill looked up at the wooden artwork that depicted the seven continents of the world above the doors at the back of the cafeteria. A tickle in his throat delayed him for a second longer. “Men,” his strong voice called out to the gathered, “today we have an opportunity to make a difference that could impact all of our futures.”

The young men with their baby faces and crew cut hair stared back with glinting eyes…listening.

“How many of you have a friend, relative…loved one that lives in the land of the free, the Free Republic of North America?”

This was a show-of-hands question. A good deal of arms went up for the commander to see. It registered and he nodded ever so slightly. “I have a sister who lives there and many other souls I care deeply about.” He slowed down to a stall to choose his words carefully before proceeding. “But what we all must do tonight, and I will get to that momentarily, is to perform a service to a higher calling.”

 

Bill stepped away from the spotlight to walk a few paces, then back. “I’m not here to give you a history lesson gentlemen. I expect you to know it. There once was a great nation that was founded on certain unalienable rights that were drafted in a great document called the Constitution.” He had to look at the floor as emotion struck him and a tear fell from the corner of his eye.

This was uncharacteristic of a man in Bill’s position to do, to cry in front of service members. Yet it was happening. The man heaved a sigh and sucked in some air. His countenance had fallen. But it was amazing how a man of his stature was able to do an about-face without even time to transition. When he raised his head to look at the men before him, there was a look of absolute steel and resolve in his eyes.

“Tonight, you men,” he did a quick scan and noticed some females there too, “[_and _]women, will join with the forces of good to go into Scorpion-controlled airspace over Cali. Your mission…get in, get out. Come back with Damion Westover’s stuff. It is important to our regional stability and security you don’t fail.” His thick voice punctuated every syllable in those last three words.

On cue, another distinguished man, part of the military brass in the building, rose from his seat in the front and strode towards Bill who had stopped talking long enough at a strategic intersection in the meeting’s talk. Bill stepped aside but not before he said into the mic, “Lieutenant General Joseph Overton would like to come now and say a few words about the mission. Lieutenant.”

“Thank you Commander Rescheck,” the new voice courteously reciprocated before he began.

Although not as big or imposing as his elder and senior officer that went on before him, Joseph Overton had a commanding presence in his dress blues uniform with three stars on either shoulder, a silver breast insignia on the left pocket along with many colorful flag pendants under it, and a name tag on the other breast pocket.

“Airmen, we have a job to do, and the tools to do it…but a plan of action that may need a little retrofitting and additional polish as we go. Here’s what we know.”

Archie’s freighter cruised at a lofty altitude of 60,000 feet where turbojets muscled the craft up to a staunch speed of Mach 2.0.

“Can’t this bucket of bolts go any faster?” Henry complained.

The question was like a slap in the face to Betsy’s lover and friend. Archie’s eyes darted around before they returned to the flight controls where he promptly said without a care who listened, “Don’t you mind what that mean man may say about you. You are the best rig in North America. Bar none.”

He continued to swoon over his baby.

Henry cursed. To compound his insult, he decided to loogie on the floor.

Hassan had been silent for the majority of the trip, opting for a power nap while Betsy took them towards the Ozarks at a mind blowing rate of speed.

Before long the Operations Center at the Ozarks loomed large below, nestled in the forested lands of Missouri and Arkansas. The building had an earthen tone color to it with a digitally camouflage coating on its walls, rendering it near invisible unless you knew how to look for it.

 

Henry now stood behind the trucker who owed him a ride to the black site located deep in the heartlands of the American continent. “I’m gonna need to radio the control tower and patch them my credentials before we land,” he said a bit testily (continuing to dwell on the ridiculous behavior Archie exhibited earlier).

“Ozarks Central Ops, Delta-Foxtrot-Three-Zero-Niner- Charlie, over.” Henry adjusted his headset while he waited for first contact.

After Scorpion’s black site grabbed the transponder signal emitted from the nose cone on the freighter, a response was issued back. Radio static…then a vocoded voice. “Wilco, Delta-Foxtrot-Three-Zero-Niner-Charlie.”

Henry wasn’t very versed in pilot-speak, but he plodded along clumsily anyhow, eager to put down on terra firma again. In a short while that’s what Betsy did. All plans of handing over Damion and Christophe were still unhampered and in order.

The Basement: Honolulu, Hawaii

Director Alfred Demsky continued going through his weighty memorandum. He didn't pause to breathe...there was just so much to say. "Damion and Christophe Gerard-- his chief scientist and partner in the joint venture relationship that oversees the defense and energy sector conglomerate Westover Vetures-- [_are _]on that freighter no doubt headed for a black sight Scorpion has in the Ozarks. We know that because of…” He didn’t actually know, but just then his answer came in. Looking down at the mobile device he held in his hands which had an EAM (emergency action message) on it, Alfred’s voice grew taught: “…we’ve intercepted an ATC (air traffic control) communication between the freighter and the base in the Ozarks.”

 

President Alexander continued to search through the Scriptures, leafing through the pages like he hadn’t a care in the world what he was sitting through. He read about the restoration of the nation Israel and God’s plan for His chosen people. All in all it was a fascinating read for the man, and it struck him as positively haunting that this historical book that had been passed on down through the centuries was actually right on current world events. What most interested him though, was what the Bible had to say on the role the West played in end time events.

“Now,” Demsky said with a slightly higher pitch, indicating a new topic was at hand, “We have an unusual dilemma to consider, but while we do, we must move forward with a mindset of action rather than stopping at politics and risk losing the one edge we have over Scorpion.”

 

The whole room listened to the briefing with undivided attention. Secretary of State Edith Wharton bobbed her leg at such a frenetic pace that her chair began to protest with squeaking noises. Besides that distraction, the minimum noise level in the [_Basement _]was swallowed up by the “whisper walls” as the clandestine agencies of yore like to call the sound-deadening paneling.

 

“Do any of you drive a petrol car these days?” Demsky asked.

The question left almost everyone dumbfounded. Merely the odd use of a British word for gasoline puzzled those that had heard him. Slowly, one by one heads began to shake ever so slightly after they realized the inquiry wasn’t rhetorical.

Alfred ignored the less-than-yielding response to his attention-getting start to what he would say next. Previously the director of intelligence had his back turned to the commander in chief sitting at the head of the table. However, as Demsky turned to face the president, it was too late for Alexander to conceal what he had been doing.

There that little brown book sat, opened towards the back…the president sitting there, completely enraptured in its words.

No one was prepared for what happened next. Not even Alfred knew what kind of explosive anger he was capable of. It was like a flash of lightening lit up the man’s eyes, followed by a clap of thunder (the angry outburst that would certainly ensue).

 

The vice president twisted uncomfortably in his seat-- shooting the president worried glances at the same time. All for naught. He had tried to warn Alexander of the foolishness in bringing a story book to a National Security Council briefing.

The intelligence director’s tablet clattered to the floor: it was no accident. “Mr. President, if I am interrupting anything….”

Alexander didn’t take his eyes off the text which only raised Demsky’s temperature by a few degrees past boiling.

“This is a National Security briefing, not a Bible study,” Alfred said, not mincing words. To his credit, his body language still erred on the professional side minus his initial demonstration by jettisoning the gadget.

The president couldn’t let a challenge go unmet however, no matter how divorced his mind was from the present situation. It was like he had entered into a parallel universe with knowledge that was far above his own. The Bible was on his brain—even worse, Alexander knew it wouldn’t go away.

He had read the story of a king in the ancient city of Babylon who was troubled by a spiritual manifestation that shook him to his core. That king did the best thing he could think of: call the scholars and the learned to interpret the meaning of what he couldn’t possibly explain on his own. President Alexander felt like the king of Babylon as he studied the pages of the holy book on its revelations on the end of days. He was mystified and troubled, because deep down he knew what the Bible was saying was true. It had that effect on its readers.

Alexander looked upon the signs of the times…feeling helpless like a ship in the night without a lighthouse for guidance. The jagged rocks were getting close and the FRN needed somebody at the wheel to steer it away from the perils Scorpion planned to shipwreck the young republic with.

From the beginning of his term, the president hadn’t put much stock in the spiritual element to his calling to lead and direct the people of the FRN. It wasn’t a theocracy that he was ordained by God to establish, but it wasn’t yet another flawed interpretation of democracy that separated church and state to its demise (ala America).

“Yes this is a briefing,” Alexander conceded with the palms of his hands facing up like he was in open meditation, “but we’re also looking for answers, and it is my firm belief they’re in here,” he tapped the cover of his Bible with his index finger several times.

Before Alfred could spew forth his anger like the president most perfectly provoked him to do, the teleconference gear hummed. Up until then, several aides had quietly congregated together and chatted for some time before Ahmed Negler, the president’s national security advisor, spoke on their behalf to the president.

Ahmed introduced the guest speaker who called from an undisclosed location as the minister of defense speaking on behalf of a matter of national security. “Mr. President, do you authorize Minister of Defense Gene Barker to join the briefing via the holograph system?”

“Granted,” Alexander said without hesitancy, thankful for an interruption from Demsky’s antagonism.

 

For a brief fluctuation of time the screens in the room had the national emblem lazily rotating as it moved up, down, and sideways like the ball in the classic game of pong. That was followed up by a dialing noise. The president proceeded to answer the call by depressing his index finger on a set of controls on the screen in front of him.

Normally criticized for being reticent, the new face in the room was anything but. Minister of Defense Gene Barker had a message and an urgent request that dovetailed with the overall mood of the state of emergency.

Gene Barker looked all military with his regal-looking green suit and his medals clanging from his breast pockets. He approached the head of the table via the [_Basement’s _]enhanced, true-to-life holographic video conferencing technologies. “Mr. President,” he addressed Alexander with dutiful respect.

Alexander put his hands in his pockets and eyed Gene with trust and wonder in his gaze.

“I have spoken with the base commander of Lackland Air Force Base operating out of San Antonio, Texas. The FRN will be given the full support of their fighter wing, which includes heavy-lift capabilities and AWAC (airborne early warning and control) support craft for the mission, not to mention tactical jets able to punch through any aerial threats Scorpion may pose to us.”

There was a quiet celebration in the room as the news evidently proved very exciting and much needed to the figureheads over FRN’s security forces.

“Sir,” Gene was speaking again with increased urgency and sensitivity for time, “we must plan logistics for a coalition force to execute the mission, stat. Before we do that, however, I am requesting permission to issue a DEFCON 3 across the Free Republic of North America.”

Alexander understood the state of readiness his nation would need militarily to respond to any situation while the operation was underway. It made perfect sense to go to level three. Even though FRN didn’t possess any nuclear weapons, the old DEFCON system was still used by the republic anyhow.

The president nodded in agreement and gave his verbal consent. “We go blue….” which was the color representing the level of national security being requested.

Gene Barker’s holographic person destabilized for a moment before it buffered—not a moment too soon. “We’ll need lots of electronic warfare support Mr. President,” he added.

“Why?”

“To hedge our bets against Scorpion’s air defense in the region. We’re going up against hypersonic surface-to-air missiles and ground-based THEL (tactical high energy laser) stations.”

“How do we defeat these?” the president was speaking of the threats the minister of defense just spoke of.

“Our own seventh-gen jets are equipped with sophisticated electronic warfare capabilities….Combine that with air support from Texas and we might’ve found our loophole.”

This was promising, but it was just talk. No one had actually war gamed for this much less even drawn up a strategy. That was all in short order, however. The latter part.

“How soon can our department of defense come up with an effective game plan?”

“We don’t have time, Mr. President,” the minister of defense boldly insisted.

Alexander looked flush with anger over Gene’s answer. His instincts made him second guess even himself this time though. If the FRN waited any longer before the mission got the green light, it might be too late to retrieve Damion’s stuff. Was this whole mission a forgone conclusion from the start though? Scorpion had to have planned for all contingencies…even a risky incursion by FRN’s security forces.

The clock was ticking.

 

01:30:01…01:30:02…01:30:03….

The Ozarks

The thugs that dropped off Scorpion’s gifts didn’t even have their own ride back to society. Archie wasn’t running a taxi cab service; soon as he dropped off his cargo, he was gone like any good trucker—never to look back. Perhaps even with a sigh and a good riddance to boot.

 

Henry and Hassan stood on the platform of the evacuated tube transport’s docking station. The next pod that would arrive wouldn’t be around for another thirty minutes. Despite the wait, Henry was in good spirits. He even cracked jokes to the surprised Sudanese man who slouched against a tiled wall.

“Did you sign up for direct deposit before this mission?”

“What?”

Henry smirked. “Piles of cash would suit me better, I think.” He appeared to be in thought before he said, “that stupid digital currency takes all the fun out of collecting bounty, eh?”

Hassan couldn’t even remember the day when money was paper and coin. “Money is money,” he said with his accent. “No matter.”

“Hey, it’s 50-50, you and me pal.” Henry tried to interpret why Assan appeared to be shutting down. It clicked.

 

“You still sad about what happened back at the house?” He was referring to Hassan’s fallen compatriot.

The other man didn't speak. He hadn't forgotten his earlier pain. And here Henry was ripping the band-aid off a still- bleeding wound. Then he did something unexpected. He swore.

The German thug didn’t see that coming. It didn’t bother him, nevertheless. Henry snorted. “You’re too soft.”

Hassan wanted to pound his leader’s face in. But he knew Henry was a good fifty pounds out of his league. Maybe another day, another time.

An officer approached sector 24 of the prison…grid 2, cell 3: Heather’s current residence. He had strapped to himself a security shotgun. Two inmates in leg-irons clanked along in their orange jumpsuits next to him. Every now and then he’d take the butt end of his firearm and jam it in between the shoulder blades of either man who didn’t move per his desired pace.

The officer briefly peered in between the bars at Heather, but she wasn’t even awake. His response to what he saw caused him to smile. Right now it was his job to take the newest arrivals to cell 4, next to the former Scorpion employee Heather.

 

When they stood before the iron bars he clucked his tongue for the men to stand in attention. Then he cocked his head towards the shoulder that had a mic clipped to it. “Open the door to S24, G2, C3.”

The electronic door whooshed open with a bang.

He didn’t even wait for compliance…instead forcefully shoving the feeble-bodied Christophe through first. Damion tumbled in after his friend.

“Have a nice night in the hole, scum,” the officer growled.

Damion sat up from the concrete floor and groaned. Rubbing his bruised arms, he looked over at his partner in the darkness. “You holding up old man?”

Christophe let out a defeated sigh. “Barely. God…is good. Blessed be His name.”

The billionaire couldn’t believe it. Gerard’s faith was either incredibly solid or incredibly foolish. He hadn’t decided which just yet. He almost went along with pursuing a spiritual conversation, too, but even in this low, Damion [_still _]felt above that topic.

 

“He’ll spring us from this hell hole,” he finally said.

Christophe cast an incredulous look at the man who just spoke. “Didn’t you ever learn in school to address your pronouns before you introduced them?”

“Huh?”

“[_Who’s _]gonna get us outta here?” the older man finally spelled out.

“Who do you think?!” Damion said with passion. “Alexander.” In the same breath he had more to say. “I suspect he’s got a team of Viper (think Navy Seal) agents descending on this location within the hour.”

Christophe laughed out loud. “This is kind of peaceful in here, no? Gives us time to talk.”

Damion balked. “You’re outta your mind!”

The other man shrugged. “….After you.”

 

 

 

Chapter 23

Dreamland, Nevada

Howard knew a storm was brewing. In one ear he wore an earpiece: it was his connection to intelligence chatter between Scorpion monitoring agencies scattered all across North America. The Old Man almost felt like the borg queen with a hive mind. All the voices formed the collective…all working together for the forces of evil.

What the director-general knew…no man alive was so privileged (or cursed) to even approach the threshold of what Howard understood.

The Old Man was very selective on what flash traffic deserved his attention, much less concern. The FRN didn’t worry him. In fact, the republic to him was a bug soon to be splattered on his windshield. All in good time though. What really occupied him however was the great deception of the nations that would bring about a one world order. It were his own evil designs that had been in the works for centuries before that would culminate in a great moment: the perfect storm.

Howard’s eyes were slits, looking more reptile than human. His bony hands steepled under his chin. “Who can stand in my way?” he hissed. His executive office was empty and dark. No voice answered him. “I must go to the war room,” he continued to talk to himself out loud.

An invisible force drove the old man to rise and deliberately head for the hall. He found a private elevator and took it to the basement of the tower. An armored personnel carrier idled there, waiting to take Howard wherever he directed.

The door to the backseat opened by itself for the Old Man who walked over to it and climbed in.

 

“To the war room, pronto,” he ordered the driver.

The man without a face with an augmented voice croaked, “Right away.”

The vehicle’s acceleration wasn’t sparing.

A large tunnel that led away from the Purple Zone and central command would eventually lead to a lift that would take Howard to the surface and his flight to Vandenberg AFB—Scorpion’s war room location.

Eielson AFB: Fairbanks, Alaska

64°39′56″N 147°06′05″W.

At these precise coordinates a behemoth airbase served as North Pacific Command for the Free Republic of North America. The military base had a whole bevy of options to see action in any theater at any time.

In its arsenal were long range bombers that used stage rockets to take them to the outer edge of space and then back down to swoop in like a falcon for the kill; a special variant of the [_Mustafa _]X-plane co-developed by Lockheed Martin and [_Reelex _](a subsidiary defense contractor under the umbrella of Westover Ventures) which could out-fox, out-maneuver anything else in the skies, period; and last but not least, the installation flew a heavy-lift capable aircraft inspired by the flying fortress bombers dating all the way back to WWII.

The last plane mentioned truly was a flying fortress. It had unsurpassed countermeasures to keep the juggernaut relatively safe despite its size that made it an easy target. This would be critical because of what the plane could bring to the front lines in battle. It could tip the scales in any conflict.

Up to four tanks could be fitted into its cargo hold in addition to twenty paratroopers and two UAV’s. What’s more, Eielson Air Force Base serviced 10 of these massive aircraft, which would be instrumental in the operation soon to be underway in Cali.

The peaceful foggy air of Fairbanks Alaska still lingered over the airbase. Its base commander, Abraham Steffords now waited for a call from the Ministry of Defense.

Everybody in and around Eielson began to stir after DEFCON 3 was declared over all frequencies across the republic.

 

Before communication came down from the top, Commander Steffords interfaced with FRN national reserve security forces stationed at Fort Wainwright, about 34 clicks up the Richardson Highway from Eielson Air Force Base. A mutual understanding existed between the brigadier-general at Fort Wainwright and Commander Abraham Steffords that the two bases would be participating together as an integral part in the three- pronged attack carried out by the massive coalition force that would fly into Sector Six.

 

In fact, the two bases were already positioning troops, mission packages, and planes on the runways for a quick takeoff. All they needed now was a little additional organization, mission orders, and the a-okay to join up with a massive air armada headed for the west side of LA where Westover Venture’s major complex was located.

The communications officer monitored the phone lines at Eielson as he eagerly waited for the all-important communique from Gene Barker. Tense moments passed before suddenly the switchboard operator held a finger up and motioned for his superior to come over to where he sat.

The dispatcher mouthed the word Barker.

It only took a millisecond to compute. The communications officer was already snapping his fingers and making a gesture to put the call through to the base commander’s line.

 

(Abraham Steffords on the phone)

The commander breathlessly listened….

Saddle up Commander Steffords, Operation Switchblade is a go. Repeat, it’s a go.”

The Ozarks

Unlike hotels, Scorpion chose to turn the lights off when night came around. Then again, night and day were one and same to the prisoners of an underground penitentiary facility.

 

“I’d give this place half a star for comfort and friendliness of staff,” Damion joked in the darkness. No immediate response came back which made Damion despair even more. He didn’t feel like sleeping just yet. “Christophe?”

The elder man snorted. He had indeed been snoozing. “When you get to be my age son,” he spoke to the billionaire like he was his grandson, “you’ll realize the need for sleep. It’ll be your best friend.”

“Well, unfortunately you’re the only friend I’ve got at the moment,” Damion retorted.

Christophe was wide awake now. “Misfortune you call it?” He was sure Damion rolled his eyes. Just the thought of that made him smile. “You wanna talk?”

There was a rustling noise. “I suppose that’d be harmless. You pick.”

“Sorry?”

“A topic,” Damion clarified.

This pleased the scientist. It didn’t take him long to choose. He felt like God had put him on a mission all along to witness to the billionaire. What more perfect opportunity than prison ministry? “Have you thought about the future much Mr. Westover?”

Damion made a face. “Future-future?”

“As far out as you dare go.”

The other man put himself into a contemplative posture. He hemmed and hawed. “I’ve thought about settling a new frontier. I can’t stand this place anymore.”

Christophe understood the man to be talking about space colonization. He knew Damion had a flare for that sort of craziness. “Your problems would chase you there, you know,” he quietly said.

“Meaning?”

“Well, you didn’t discuss your plans for after death.”

“Oh, I’ve got plans. I have my funeral all planned out even. It’s quite something Gerard,” Damion facetiously said.

“That’s lovely,” Christophe sounded bored. “When are you gonna get serious with me?”

“We have all the time in the world for that, my friend. Don’t expect to convert me in our first night together, k?”

That effectively took the wind out of the scientist’s sails. He wouldn’t quit the topic though. “I used to be like you when I was young and it seemed like life would go on forever.”

“Oh?”

“M-hm. And you know what?” “What?”

“You ain’t got forever!”

Howard wiggled around with the bouncy suspension of his ride. He muttered a few profanities under his breath. “It’s 2041 and we haven’t perfected comfortable transport yet?” He wanted the driver to have something clever to say.

The humanoid chauffeur thought up a response that would put him in the director-general’s good graces. Not like it mattered much anyway…android robots didn’t have emotions—they only did what they were programmed to do.

“Comfortable transport. Accessing.”

“Pardon me?” Then Howard remembered who he was talking to. “Forget it Frankenstein. Just get us to the launch pad. I have a schedule to keep.”

The robot terminated his search query to the earlier question and answered affirmatively to the latest directive.

 

A niggling thought chewed at Howard suddenly. “Who’s your father?” he asked point blank.

“Desmond Alakart, 2032.”

Shock came first, then anger. So I’ve got Tommy’s killer’s creation driving me around?

Truth be told the Old Man had used the programmer to remove Scorpion’s last director-general. However, he didn’t feel right to be the occupant of a vehicle driven by the perpetrator’s own handiwork.

Why?

An age-old maxim from the Bible that went a little something like “avoid the appearance of evil” was reason enough. He didn’t want to make it seem to any thinking person that he was in bed with conspirators to overthrow leadership at Scorpion, even if that’s exactly what he was doing.

 

In a split second the cunning old man had leapt into the front passenger seat in an acrobatic movement they couldn’t teach anywhere.

The robot automatically switched to attack mode because of the perceived threat that sat next to it now.

Too late. Howard had already popped open the driver's door via a command on the central console. Now the eighty- five year old was standing in a crouch on top of his chair, his strong fingers looped through the hand holds on the ceiling. His body coiled like a snake...ready to strike. His feet landed such a vicious chop to the side of the humanoid that there was no way the driver could stay behind the wheel of the moving vehicle.

Seconds later a metal body jettisoned out the side of the runaway personnel carrier. Howard felt the crunch in the rear suspension of his vehicle that he now commandeered. A quick glance in his rear-view mirror confirmed the road kill. He had no idea how to drive the thing though, but he figured it had autonomous features that would prevent him from wrecking before he ever got to his destination.

There was a big microphone button on his dashboard’s eyebrow-level display. It only seemed intuitive to punch it. A voice sounded in the crew compartment. “How can I help you?”

“Take me to the lift.”

There was a brief pause as the software connected to servers before it came back with its reply. “It will be done.”

“Why couldn’t you have been my driver in the first place?” Howard smiled as he let the on-board computer take the wheel and guide him home.

Central Cyber Corps, Washington building: Honolulu, Hawaii

On B30, thirty floors below ground zero, Ben Cremly, the operations director over S6 for CCC (Central Cyber Corps) was rallying the troops to launch a big attack against Scorpion from the hundreds of computer terminals that were on floors B26-30.

The iceberg of a building had thirty floors below but only a few above. It truly was a modern marvel of human engineering, providing the best environment for hackers and programmers to work side by side, unencumbered, with relative peace of mind.

What’s the best part about being a cyber warrior for the Free Republic of North America?

For some it was the lax dress code and accepting attitude towards a disparate, diverse crowd of young people that labored in the terminals night and day. Another perk to working for CCC… the creative work spaces on almost every single level of the Washington building. These havens comboed work and play in a sensible way to mitigate the stressers that went with the high stakes, pressure cooker job description that everyone had to accept the terms and conditions of before they even made it in for an interview in the first leg of the process to becoming a six-sigma cyber warrior.

 

To meet its high recruiting quotas to get the cyber command center off the ground and ahead of the curve, the FRN went to great lengths to find talent wherever it existed. Recruiters went into the slums of cities, into the forests of the wild, untamed Alaskan territory, or simply the universities for the best and brightest they could entice to work for CCC.

It was quickly moving on 00:00 hours in the Hawaii- Aleutian Time Zone (UTC). Whereas where Operation Switchblade was about to get underway in Sector 6, the time almost stood still at 01:45:59 hours.

Half an hour earlier…

Email communication was the preferred method of contact in the republic’s cyber command structure. Phones weren’t banned—neither were they popular though.

One email that wound up in operations director Ben Cremly’s inbox had a sender’s address anybody would get excited about.

 

To: Ben Cremly               April

25, 2041          11:15 PM

[_From: _][email protected]

[_Cc: _][email protected]

Subject: Operation Switchblade: Cyber Warfare Orders

 

Director Cremly,

 

I’ve got a new directive for you and your warriors. Assign a team to InfoSec (information security), but I want the majority of your floors tasked on Sector Six to lock and load…we’re going to exploit our attack surface using the established attack vectors to bring down the electric grid in the LA metroplex. This is critical because it cripples Scorpion’s air defenses against our air power that needs to avoid a war of attrition which ultimately leads to a hot LZ. This operation’s success rests heavily on you and your people.

 

Sincerely,

Director of CCC Donald Holiday

 

Ben Cremly sat on the information he just read for all of .2 seconds. He shot up from his desk in such haste that his chair fell over backwards. Taking both hands, the director reached into the 3D vortex created by the holo emitters to grab the digital file that hovered in midair. The man snatched it and went through the act of literally flinging the electrons towards a printer that sat on a table ten feet away. A millisecond later a hot piece of paper exited the tray with the email he had just finished reading.

The thirty-five year old practically tripped over himself snatching up the freshly pressed communication.

It doesn’t get much better than this, his young mind thought as he picked up steam for the nearest exit. He was headed towards Cyber Warfare Center 30A where he would address the cyber warriors that he had oversight over: all two hundred men and women on the lower five levels of the Washington building.

The Ozarks

Just when it was getting hot and heavy with the spiritual discourse, Damion changed topics on the scientist without his permission (not like he needed it anyway). He was an authority unto his own, or so that’s how he had operated most of his adult life.

“What do you think is going on with FRN and Scorpion right now?”

Christophe made a show of thinking real hard before he fielded the dodgy communication. “You really know your way around hot button issues such as the state of your own soul, don’t you monsieur?”

“Aw, cut it out old man!” Damion’s lack of deference for his elder was more transparent than ever. “I don’t give a hoot about that right now.”

“But you care about FRN? This is news to me.”

 

Damion honestly felt hurt by his friend's words. Even if there was some truth to them...or a lot of truth. In all honesty he had lived a life largely for self gain with almost zero loyalty to anyone. There were only customers and non- customers. People with money and those without.

His business footprint had one toe in the enemy’s affairs meanwhile conducting business as usual with the good guys like nothing was ever wrong. He sold blueprints and schematics on cutting edge future technologies to the highest bidder. Often that would be Scorpion. The most amazing story though was his conscience. Damion became so entangled in his deals with the devil that he could no longer discern right from wrong.

 

“I met with the president at his lodge in Anchorage a couple days ago,” the billionaire began. “Alexander trusted me, even with his life.” His voice dropped off as he actually reflected on what just came out of his own mouth. For the first time he saw the foolishness on anyone’s part in putting their trust in a double-dealing, two-timing crook he lived up to be.

“It’s not too late to change your stripes, young man,” Christophe gently communicated.

There was silence. Then a brief start at forming syllables on Damion’s part. He cut himself off midway, however, resigning to a world without words where troubled thoughts abounded.

Christophe knew what was happening. He would be patient for when Damion was ready to come out of limbo.

Meanwhile the scientist’s own thoughts were captivated by something too. It was his wife, Kathy. He missed her dearly. The scent of mangoes she liked to wear filled his senses for an unbearably long period of time. A lump formed in his throat…tear drops flooded his lower eyelids. Oh how it hurt to be separated from his wife of over thirty years.

 

 

 

Chapter 24

LA, California

Strange power outages blacked out entire sections of one of North America’s largest cities. The throngs of patrons who had the lights turned off on their nightlife in the various entertainment districts throughout the city were furious. Local municipal government had no explanation for the outage. Utility trucks were out in force vainly looking for the source of the problem. What they didn’t know wouldn’t kill them though: it only soared above them.

Hypersonic air-breathing war planes flied in v-shaped squadrons, further benefiting from the vector surfing allowed by the laws of physics. Perhaps the theory is no better demonstrated by none other than the migrating Canadian geese.

An AWACS (airborne warning and control system) plane flew higher than everything else in the skies and way out in front of the air armada as it directed the show with an Air Boss and his staff whom carried out their duties in the command and control warfare environment miles above LA.

The radio chatter would have been nightmarish, confusing jumble for any untrained pilot unaccustomed to the theater of war. However, the coalition of FRN security forces and elements of the Texas Airborne Militia all appeared to be flying in unanimity of purpose.

Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks, Alaska

The last base to launch aircraft in conjunction with Operation Switchblade flew several groups out of the great Alaskan wilderness into Sector 6. Their purpose was to be there to quell any dog fight situations through the employment of the counter attack tactic. If Honolulu or Texas’s fighters were completely engaged by tangos, then it was their job to sweep in and be the force that turned the tide in the fight, enabling the slower moving more vulnerable heavy-lift craft to reach the LZ with minimal losses.

The air operations center at Eielson was a hornet’s nest of activity.

Air traffic control operators directed the elephant walk traffic that clogged the two runways.

An elephant walk essentially was a Minimum Interval strategy used by the military to launch as many planes as quickly as possible. The danger associated with that, however, being the slipstream planes had to fly through as they followed close to the jets that took off directly ahead of them. A slipstream is a fluid moving at the same velocity of the objects that fly through it (i.e. fighter jets).

That’s what it is by definition, but what it could potentially do to air traffic was more worrisome. The effect it has on airplanes going through it can be compared to turbulence—only exponentially more powerful and harmful.

 

Operation Switchblade had so many potential accidents waiting to happen, even before planes got off the ground. Yet the 00:00 hundred hours, zero-dark thirty (night) mission moved along without any hiccups thus far.

West Los Angeles, California

Scorpion commandos supposedly manning their anti-air stations scattered across the city seemed to be sleeping on the job.

That wouldn’t be [_entirely _]accurate however. To their credit, the Central Cyber Corps of FRN created mass chaos and confusion among the ranks of the evil underworld agency. Through a successfully waged cyber warfare campaign, Scorpion only had a handful of operational defenses against incoming aerial threats as a result.

Any vulnerabilities that Scorpion might have had in their information assurance over their electric grid were exposed and taken advantage of by the resourceful cyber warriors of FRN.

 

However, Scorpion still had backup solar power stored up in DC (direct current) power banks that immediately kicked in to energize various weapons that could defend against hostile threats

This only added one more wrinkle to the whole scenario for the good guys.

Not every conceivable angle could have possibly been planned for or anticipated by the republic’s intelligence and military leaders. Especially due to the last minute nature of the operation. And sadly, good men and women would perish as a result.

A mobile truck with its payload pointing at the sky suddenly went active. Missiles flared up and sparked profusely before going up for the chase. The advanced interceptors streaked through the inky black night. They had found their prey.

The fighter jets the missiles had their crosshairs on suddenly put out heat decoys that successfully lured Scorpion’s interdictory missiles to detonate prematurely, out of range of their targets.

 

By now the fireworks show seen from the ground by a city with its lights turned out had drawn quite the crowd. The homeless came out of their shanties to watch. Drinkers vacated the bars and clubs to catch a lights show. Hookers broke away from their partners to see what all the commotion was about.

 

Scorpion commandos scrambled to get a bead on the enemy planes.

Two soldiers operating a THEL laser nest pivoted ninety degrees…radar lock achieved. “Get some!” one of them exclaimed through his face mask. His effort was met with success—first blood. An explosion and a fireball lit the night sky.

More laser nests went live after a concentrated effort to get them back online finally gained traction. Scorpion’s defenses were reeling, but not down and out. Operation Switchblade would have an uphill battle to Westover Ventures.

The Basement: Honolulu, Hawaii

For the duration of Operation Switchblade the president and the National Security Council would watch the action unfold on a battle management system that provided a feed in real time on the theater of war using the room’s displays and holo emitters.

Blue planes were friendlies, red indicated the aggressors (Scorpion).

With only a 5 minute ETA until West LA, the sky was still full of FRN and Texas Airborne Militia units—no sign of Scorpion planes just yet, or even planes being fueled for takeoff for that matter.

Yellow arrows that moved out in front of the aircraft delineated where the air tasking orders would take the air armada from a full force level down to a unit-to-unit basis. The president noticed several planes had to deviate from their plotted courses already.

(radio chatter)

“Keep playing that music (slang for jamming),” one [_Mustafa _]jet challenged the seventh gen support craft which carried out the electronic warfare deception against the enemy’s radar.

Decoy fighters that appeared on Scorpion’s Command Post radar created enough havoc that bought a little time and distracted transport erector launchers from firing interceptor missiles at actual targets or THEL lasers from zapping unfortunate aircraft.

 

“Watch those SAM’s (surface to air missiles) on your six,” a squadron leader communicated to one of his planes that was painted by the enemy’s sights.

Chaff was disbursed by the pilot under duress followed up by corkscrew turn evasive maneuvers. The missiles that were tracking suddenly became very confused and even dizzy by the jet’s convoluted flight path until eventually they collided into one another, erupting into one big ball of fire.

 

“Air boss this is squadron commander Lentz, 20th Fighter Wing, 3rd squadron, Tornado zero-two. Over.”

“Copy that, Tornado zero-two. Come in.”

“Requesting permission for combat spread before we reach target. Over.”

 

There was a little delay before the assistant to the air boss (the miniboss) answered the squadron commander instead. “Roger, Tornado zero-two.”

Scorpion Strategic Operations Center: LA, California

“What does the director-general say on the infidels? Certainly he knows,” lieutenant commander Yusef Chikowsky angrily demanded of S6’s station chief in a sat phone call.

“I haven’t been contacted by the Old Man.” The station chief furrowed his brow. “In fact, it’s strange because I’m being told by an aide as we speak that Howard is en route for the war room.”

“Why is that strange?”

“Normally I’d be whom he speaks to before he makes those kinds of arrangements.”

Yusef paused to take the information in. “Can you advise me on a small matter?”

“Certainly.”

“I’ve got a “ he swore, “of enemy forces in my airspace. Requesting permission to scramble jets. Backup would be good too—maybe even the odds a little bit.”

The blunt appeal didn’t fall on deaf ears. “I can unilaterally speak for the agency and Sector Six…you have my consent to eradicate the cancer by whatever lethal means that is at your disposal. I am sending out a message to other bases near your position to join the fray.” That was all the lieutenant commander needed to here. “Excellent. Thank you, sir.”

The Basement: Honolulu, Hawaii

President Alexander Toporvsky had seen enough. [_It _]was getting uncomfortably messy. As commander in chief his heart sunk. The lives of the airmen were ultimately in his hands—he was the one all of the orders would be traced back to.

Leaning over, he sought to gain Demsky’s attention for a second to communicate something.

The stressed director of intelligence responded, noticing Alexander wished to talk.

“Yes, Mr. President?”

“Do you believe in God?” Alexander threw it out there.

Alfred balked. There wasn’t a question mark attached to his reaction as to what his answer was.

“How do you find peace in times such as these? And hope?” the president persisted.

“You don’t, sir. But we sure can give it our best and go to our graves if we have to, knowing we hung in there with the most cunning and wily enemy known to man.”

Alexander paused to consider the director’s words. Could Alfred have been speaking of the devil? It hadn’t been any secret to the republic that Scorpion had received many of their powers from unseen forces of evil moving in and through mere men.

 

“Can I tell you how much I sincerely respect your contributions to the FRN, Alfred? From day one you have shown grit and tenacity unlike anybody I’ve ever had the privilege of serving alongside.”

Demsky straightened up at the kind words. He hadn’t expected this. Yet the way his mind worked he wondered if the president was seeking cooperation through cajoling speech. “Mr. President, may I be candid on one small thing?”

“You may….”

“I don’t believe the Bible has a place in planning for the end times. There’s no way an old book could be useful to us now. We need Texas to join and we need to strengthen our ties with Israel and any other nations willing to take up the battle cry against Scorpion.”

“That won’t be enough,” Alexander stated plainly—his expression communicating he stood behind what he said.

“Very well.”

The president didn’t know what to make of that response. It troubled him deeply that not only was the mission off to a rocky start, but the rift between Sentinel’s top guy and the leader of the Free Republic of North America continued to grow. The future was beginning to get even more uncertain with the passage of time.

 

 

 

Epilogue

It was noon on the other side of the world where a tentative peace existed in the Middle East. Meanwhile in the Western Hemisphere Operation Switchblade raged on in the dead of night.

Israel

I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God.

 

Amos 9:14-15

Most of the nations in the Mediterranean region more than dwarfed the little nation in land area, but for what Israel lacked in territory it more than made up for with its economy and recently discovered natural resources (oil and rare earth metals) in the sovereign Jewish state.

Because of its location in between the tropic and temperate zones by the Mediterranean, Israel experienced vast climate changes within its borders. To the south lied the Negev desert, in the north a fertile Jezreel Valley, and the coastline in the west with its semiarid Mediterranean climate.

 

God blessed everything that Israel did, and despite the “blood and fire” ethos the hostile Islamic nations surrounding her had towards the Jewish people, God preserved and prospered them for a time.

Entrepreneurial minded businessmen saw Israel as an opportunity for numerous tech start-up companies-- numbering more than any other nation in the world. What's more, the land was extremely eco-conscious, meeting all of its energy needs by harnessing the massive solar loads found in the desert.

 

Israel was not only an economic power to be reckoned with, but its military commanded the respect of the international community. Throughout its history since 1948 the little nation fended off many adversaries against all odds. God’s hand of protection could certainly be seen in shielding His chosen people from the worldly onslaught. No, fire and brimstone hadn’t been called down from heaven to intervene against Israel’s numerous enemies since the ancient days of the Old Testament, yet it was God’s providence that could be seen through the nation’s meteoric resurgence to relevance once again in a modern day and age.

Tel Aviv, Israel

Thirteen-year-old Azriel Markov was fresh off of his bar mitzvah. He felt like a man—completely in control of his own destiny. Everything in life was lining up as it should, nothing caught him by surprise. Until that morning.

 

Early that Wednesday morning a quorum (ten) of men met at a local synagogue to pray in Hebrew (aka Shacharit) and to discuss end times eschatology. Azriel for the first time in his life was allowed to join with his elders in such an orthodox practice. He couldn’t have been more excited, particularly for the discussion that came after prayer.

 

A circle of devout Jewish men in their suits and kippahs (head coverings) met at the front of the sanctuary. The rabbi bowed his head to lead off the service. The elderly spiritual leader’s long gray beard touched his white robe with its tzitzit knotted fringe swaying every time he shifted his weight.

 

The half an hour long prayer service was divided into four segments (better known as rungs). In the first section, the prayer leader recognized God as almighty and reigning over everything. Sequentially, praise was bestowed upon God who ruled over everything.

 

“‘May the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you,’” the rabbi prayed.

All throughout the service, the kaddish was recited. This is a way the Jewish men magnified God’s name through premeditated liturgy.

“May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified….”

(Everyone) “Amen.”

“…in the world that He created as He willed.”

“May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetime and your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and soon. Now say: Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever. Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One.”

(Everyone) “Blessed is He.”

After the last words were said in summation to the prayer, the elder lifted up his eyes and met the gaze of the rest of the men who looked at him eagerly for what would come next. Rabbi Raphael got a twinkle in his eyes, yet his face gave away nothing else.

What spoke volumes though was what he had hidden under his robe. When the rabbi reached in to grab it, everyone immediately tensed. An audible gasp escaped the lips of three of the men when a New Testament Bible was revealed at last. (The Jews didn’t believe in the inspiration of the New Testament.)

“You are free to go your own separate ways if you don’t wish to hear me teach out of the last book in Scriptures,” Raphael said with firm conviction.

The man standing closest to him on his right was the most offended by what was going on. “We have only the Torah and the rabbinical writings, rabbi,” he said rather hotly.

“True, our fathers and forefathers have passed down a rich heritage,” Raphael was careful to say…looking to establish common ground before willingly breaking with tradition without valid reasons he could defend. “Men, there’s already a priesthood being equipped to carry out its duty in the third temple built for the age to come. What do we know of these things from what the Holy Scriptures say?”

Azriel Markov had been closely following the man he greatly admired. He knew what he had been taught on the end of days. His voice looked for a note of authority as he started out. “Elijah will be the forerunner of a renewed kingdom in Israel. Messiah will sit on the throne and defeat all our enemies.”

“Ah—” the rabbi kindly smiled before offering his own interpretation from the book he still held, “—you are right about the kingdom. However, the Messiah from the line of David, He is Jesus, son of Mary…Son of God.”

Then the shouting began. Tempers flared. In Jewish culture, Jesus was only considered to be the son of Joseph and not part of divinity. Therefore Raphael just said a blasphemy in their eyes.

 

The room seemed to sway in Azriel’s eyes. There was something strange happening inside him. It was like a still small voice called his name. He didn’t know what to do.

At the mention of Jesus’ name is when it all started to take place for the young man. For whatever reason the story of Samuel from the Bible played out in his mind. Was God seeking to have an audience with…him?

Possibly.

Azriel quieted the men’s angry voices and removed everything else that was a distraction. He felt inclined to answer the call and learn more. Closing his eyes with palms upturned, the Jewish lad replied, Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

Azriel, my salvation is for the Jews first, then the Gentiles. Believe in my Son, Jesus, and His saving work on the cross. Come, follow me and be my disciple. Share in my sorrows…follow in my footsteps.

This was all surreal and amazing at the same time. Miracles really did happen.

 

[Azriel, _]the Spirit continued to say, _go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

From that point henceforward, everything would change in the young man’s life. He had a calling and a purpose to reach the Jews for Christ. And that’s what he would determined to do from now on.

A blinding light streaked across the sky at the speed consistent with a shooting star.

But in fact it was only the Lord of the Ages on his way to Scorpion’s war room.

 

When Howard landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, somebody in a men’s dress coat awaited his arrival.

The figure stood stock still with scrunched shoulder blades and feet close together. He wore a strange earring in one ear, while the other lobe remained unpierced. On his left hand ring finger he had a big square ring with a blue pentagram embossed on it. The man’s eyes were fixtures of evil—liking glowing embers.

 

The director-general’s shuttle came to a full stop. Its three red lights flashed synchronously in the early morning. After ten minutes had elapsed the exterior hatch loosed. A hissing noise sounded: clouds of fog rolled in before the appearance of the Serpent himself who assumed the form of an old man.

 

Howard saw the person standing in his way. A glimmer of recognition showed on his face. “You are here.”

“Yes my lord,” the cloaked man said while remaining in the shadows. He didn’t look for an invitation to get down on a knee…it was simply instinct. “I serve you, and you only.”

“Come, we have big things to see to,” Howard said.

The other man nodded and bowed low. “Lead the way.”

West Los Angeles, California

Rex breathed in the oxygen supply that was fed to him when he needed it most. His triangular-shaped mandible on his flight helmet reminded him of a certain character creation from George Lucas’s robust imagination. Only Rex didn’t have a son named Luke, and he was pretty sure the FRN was the good side.

He soared in his fighter jet high above the cityscape below. Its powerful engines burned through the night and defied gravity at every twist and turn. No Scorpion aircraft had given chase yet: it was all friendlies and stars in the heavenlies for the moment. In fact, radio traffic was at an all-time low since the operation began. Yet for some reason Rex felt extremely tense and uneasy. If there was a sixth sense, his was tingling.

 

In the aft section of his jet, due south, a green glow grew stronger and stronger. The Northern Lights? Rex didn’t think so, not for a minute. It was extremely rare to begin with, but not only that, it wasn’t the right time or place to be occurring. Something beyond fishy was going on.

 

“Uh, Air Boss this is Wingman Rogers, 149th Fighter Wing, Squadron four, Apache seven-niner…we have a situation. Break. Strange lights in the south. Over?”

 

Static was all he got. His plane showed he had connection with the AWACS plane, yet he couldn’t hear a thing. No confirmation of his message received. A quick check of the radio confirmed it. Rex felt a heat wave flash over him when he realized there was a jamming frequency denying his own outgoing transmissions. Helplessness was only intensified when his eyes noticed a new object show up on radar. It wasn’t identified blue or red by the computer. Then what was it?

 

[_It _]was big. Triangular in shape. No, maybe circular. Whatever it was, its approach had been mysteriously masked by an energy field not known to man or science. What it was doing there was anyone’s guess. What everyone and their mother’s brother’s uncle really wanted to know….Were its intentions friendly or hostile?

The dark object appeared unfazed by hairbreadth fly-bys conducted by the brave young pilots of FRN’s air armada. Then it turned all the lights on. From every conceivable surface the craft cast a blinding iridescent glow. It also had doors, lots of them. And they were opening.

President Alexander Toporvsky didn’t know what he was looking at. What he heard was even worse though. Where there was silence in the bunker deep beneath Honolulu, in the back of Alexander’s mind violins were screeching away, building up to a mad crescendo as a soundtrack to what was happening on the battle management system that projected for the national security council the pandemonium in the skies over LA.

“Mayday, mayday!” one pilot panicked.

Several others joined in on the mayhem. “We have bogies EVERYWHERE up here!” another cried out.

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 


Zero Hour Shifting Power

What if events told in history books aren't the whole story of what really happened? An elected government, by the people for the people? America in 2041 completely unravels into six sectors after a second civil war. The shadow government that secretly has been in control of the world's finances orchestrated a collapse of the United States of America. With American hegemony as the lone superpower, gone, and nuclear weapons eradicated at the beginning of World War III in 2018, the world looks to be at a turning point in global leadership. A showdown between good versus evil makes man question everything he thought he knew about the past, present, and future. Allegiances appear to change, betrayal is at hand...an insidious insurrection could be underway. Zero Hour Shifting Power, Book I in the Before the End Series.

  • ISBN: 9781370317486
  • Author: davidberko
  • Published: 2016-08-24 19:05:15
  • Words: 65547
Zero Hour Shifting Power Zero Hour Shifting Power