This is your future and your present. This is the world of reaction after the storm. After any series of events occurs, there is always a reaction. There is usually a calm first, a chance for us to breathe and regroup. We make our plans anew, after the fallout has happened. We get ready to take the next step, to leap forward and cause more events to happen. Those events happen, and then—after the storm—we regroup again. It is an endless cycle. We will never escape it. Are we doomed to an eternal struggle, always watching fight after fight? Is life only a disgusting mesh of combats between fellow men?
Not always, some of my friends tell me. They say that one day, there will come a storm, and then a calm will come, one which does not fade into a new storm. I look at these days, and sometimes I wonder.
Are we going to experience a storm with no end, one which does not fade into a calm?
As the last of the four thugs fell to the ground, Bruce Blun blew at his cooling handgun. “Yeah, that’s why I was wondering about you, priest-man. You being in the city, alone. I know, I know you guys had protection of some sort back in the day. But you know, it doesn’t really work like that any more. They couldn’t care less about your white collar. It’s a different world.”
“Some things change,” the priest replied, “but some things stay completely the same. We still need love. We still give love. We still care about each other.”
“Right,” snorted the mercenary. “Only people I’ve seen care about ‘loving’ don’t really do what you’re talking about, I think. Maybe they care about each other, but it’s not really for the nice little Christian reasons that you talk about.”
“And perhaps you’re wrong. I still believe in something more. I believe that human beings can love each other, for no other reason than love. Certainly you’ve felt some sort of love, even with your life, whatever has happened to you.”
“Yeah, yeah. Go on and preach. It’s kinda hard to love people when they don’t really pay you to be anything more than a nice, self-working weapons system. You know, it’s like one of them gambling machines they used to have all over the place. Plug in some money, out comes bullets. The other guy gets shot full of holes. You get the money. You’re a big gun in their hand.”
“Well then, you still do it, even though you want to be treated like a human. Why?”
“Money’s good. I’ll be rich some day, then they’ll go and treat me like I’m something. They’ll give me some respectability. And I can get plenty of stuff with that money. Cars, clothes, a big house...all of it. I’ll be rich some day.”
“And what if none of that happens as you wish it to?”
“I don’t really care about that right now. I’m in it for the money, and it’s good money. You got any money to hire me? Because I’m a little short on cash right now. I could use some, I kinda need some right now. You hear me, yeah?”
“I hear you. And I must say that I don’t have enough money on hand at the moment. But, if you allow me to contact someone...”
“Right. I think I gotta go. For someone who actually has money. You’re a nice guy, but you don’t got any money on you. I don’t do charity work, priest-man. I’m in it for the goods.”
“God speed, sir,” Fr. Hill said, nodding and turning, slowly walking away, and slowly chanting. “Pater noster, qui es in caelis...”
Stupid guy, Bruce thought, watching the priest’s black-clothed figure gradually recede. Doesn’t know what he’s getting into. Gonna get himself killed, that guy. He’s not ready to head out there. He’s gonna die. He doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into...blast it.
“Wait up, priest-man!” he called. “Hold up, I’m coming along!
“I hate you,” hissed Adriann. “You filthy scumbag...I’m gonna get you after this. I told you so. I’m going to find you, and I’m going to kill you real slow. Do whatever you want with me right now. I’ll get even with you for it when I get out of here. And I will. You’re never going to find your dad. Or maybe you will. In that place with all the fire and brimstone, the one they used to have preachers talking about. You’re gonna learn that Adriann Paulson is not somebody to screw with. Go ahead, do your worst. I’m gonna get you back.”
Jim paused, and looked around. “Stop your tough talk, and listen up, Miss Adriann. I’m getting you out of here, that’s what I’m doing. You, and everyone around here, thinks that I want to take advantage of you, that I’m going to ‘have some fun’ with you. I can’t deny that it’s tempting. But I’m not here for that. I’m here to find my father...and it doesn’t look like I’m getting anything from these people.”
Adriann narrowed her eyes. “You got that right. Diorco is a dirty rat. And a lot of other things. So yeah, you go and get yourself outta here. What about me?”
“I want to get you out of here, too. I don’t want to leave you here in the clutches of the gang. I can’t leave you, you’re...”
“A woman? Thanks a lot. Like I can’t handle yourself.”
“Well, you’re...you’re...it’s just, I’ve always...”
“Yeah. We can’t do stuff like guys can. Heard it all. Preach on, man.”
“No, it’s not that...I just...was trying to be—courteous.”
“Nice, lovely. I’ve got news for you. Courteous doesn’t work here in the city. You beat them, or you die. Be a gentleman all you want. It’s not going to save you.”
“Well I really don’t care what you’re saying right now—I’m getting out of here, and I want to get you out of here too!” Jim half-shouted, clenching a fist. He stopped, and looked down at her, taking a deep breath.
“Well, then,” Adriann said, her lips curling into a half-smile, half-sneer, “let’s see you get us out of this. Any plans? Come on, let’s see you have at it.”
Jim did not answer, however, because he was busy looking around the room. At the most, it was four feet by five feet. Apparently, Diorco considered that amount of space to be sufficient for “alone time”. There was a single window, barred, about six feet up the back wall. And then there was the door, which looked like it had been tossed into the middle of the opposite wall. Mr. Eastman jumped up, and hung from the window, slowly pulling himself up. He set himself partway on the ledge up there, and looked down, out of the window. The cracked window, dirty and slightly cobwebbed. Beneath, people moved through their daily lives, knowing only their tiny worlds. Absorbed in their own bubbles of existence.
“Well, how’s the view from up there?” Adriann’s voice asked, cutting into the silence.
“About a twenty-foot, maybe thirty-foot, fall. No way we’re making it out of there.”
“Come on down, then. No good wasting your eyes on that.”
Sighing, Jim slid down, landing on the floor with a bounce. He looked down at Adriann, and the ropes that bound her. “Well, at least I can get you untied. Just give me a second.”
“Okay, you do that,” said Adriann, under her breath. “Like it’ll do us much good now. Considering that we’re still stuck, and that there’s not really a bright future headed my way out there. But yeah, go ahead and untie me. You got anything to cut the rope with?”
“Yeah...he gave me a knife to cut you free, if I wanted to do that...for more ‘enjoyment’.”
“The slimy rat. Go ahead, cut me free. We might as well both be able to move around as much as we can.”
“Right,” Jim said, sliding the blade beneath the ropes, just around the knot that had been jammed into the bonds. “I’m almost done, now. Just one bit—there!”
He took the knife away, as the ropes fell to the ground. That was the last thing that registered in his mind, besides a blur of movement, as Adriann’s fist connected with Jim’s jaw, and everything that he saw quickly faded to black.
“...authorities are at a loss to explain who is behind the assassination attempt, but investigators from the Department of Homeland Security say they have uncovered a number of leads to the would-be killer. No suspects have been named yet as of this morning. Senator Young is being kept under high security in Turner Memorial Hospital, until he has fully recovered from injuries sustained in the assassination attempt. His office released a statement...”
Senator Young clicked the television off. “So, that’s what the government satellite, the ‘official news’ says. What’s the word on the street?”
“They say it’s Sam Browning, famous hired assassin, it matches everything. The knife, the stealth, although...not the failure. They don’t know what to blame it on,” one of the Senator’s aides, standing behind him, said.
“And where do they think I am?”
“Can’t tell. I think some of them buy the hospital story, others do think you’re somewhere else. Ready to come out again and oppose Prowetts. An October surprise, if you will.”
“Well, it’s getting a bit late for an October surprise. But keep going. Anything else?”
“As the news claims, you have supposedly been hospitalized in the hospital recently funded into existence by Arthur Branning. Turner Memorial.”
“CEO of Neolabs, the holder of the contract that I’m fighting.”
“Precisely. It does not look the best for you. Propaganda on the satellite?”
“Unfortunately, not that simple. I was being taken there...however, I’m afraid that it points to something else. Branning wanted me at his hospital...and I have a few guesses why.”
“Those would be?”
“Since they’re guesses, I don’t feel at liberty to say anything about them at the moment. But no, it’s not that simple. It’s not propaganda. I think it’s worse. This isn’t a cheap campaign trick.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I’m not sure. They’ll debate the bill again eventually, but if I come back out, I might just be making myself a target. If they still think I’m in the hospital, I have the jump on them. And I can find out what they’re doing. I need to get into Neolabs, I need people to get into their system, to find out who they’re contacting, who they’re working with. Something about Neolabs doesn’t seem right. I’m going to find out what it is.”
“Senator, you are no longer who you used to be. Private investigation is over now.”
“My career was too short. I got into politics way too quickly. I’ve been itching to get back into that kind of work. I liked it, I figure I might as well get back into it. Too bad if somebody doesn’t like that.”
“I would still advise against this, Senator.”
“Well, tough. Get me some civilian clothes, sunglasses, and a hat. I’m heading out there. Oh, yeah, and get something to hide my hand, that knife gave me a nasty scratch.”
“Good evening, Senator Prowetts...to what do I owe this pleasant surprise?” said the man at the desk, glancing up. “I would not expect you to show up here. Nervous about your spending bill?”
“Somewhat, yes,” replied the older man. “Mr. Vice President, since the attempt on Senator Young’s life, this entire process has been unnecessarily delayed. We could be finished with it, and on to more important things, if we would only press for a vote. That is why I need you to help me. I need the vote forced, so we can be done with this, and then move on.”
“Senator Prowetts, you must be familiar with how the government operates. Forcing votes is not something we do unless we truly need it. Unless the need is urgent. We do not move quickly. You know that.”
“Urgent need...” mused Prowetts. “Do you think that having a nearly collapsed military, supergangs in every major city, a breakdown in law enforcement, and a general state of political instability might qualify for a change in government policy? Just perhaps? Or do you want to sit back and let this bill cool, clogging up the pipeline?”
“Why wouldn’t you just table the legislation? That would unclog the pipeline enough, and let other things get worked on.”
“We need to get things done, Mr. Vice President. We need to get this legislation passed. Our country needs this legislation. We need stability, Mr. Vice President.”
“You aren’t doing a good job of convincing me, Senator.”
“What about the fact that you need stability, Mr. Vice President? Elections are coming up, and I’ve seen the poll numbers. Your men don’t stand completely behind you, Mr. Vice President, or behind the President. The people can tell this. Now, if you needed support, I know people. I can help. But I need a little bit of a favor from that.”
“Support? What do you know of it, Senator Prowetts? Why do I need your support?”
“Well, now...you certainly wouldn’t want me to bring up a few pictures of one night in New York City...Central Park...ring a bell?”
The Vice President’s face paled. “You can’t...”
“Can...and will. Unless you can convince me otherwise, Mr. Vice President. The ball is in your court now.” Senator Thomas Prowetts stood, and turned away. “Don’t give me an answer now, Mr. Vice President. I’ll give you some time to sleep on it. And then I’ll watch and see whether or not the vote is pressed for.”