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Out in the Cold James Dailey I would like to dedicate this work to all those that have helped me throughout my life. Of course my mom, dad and such, but also the mothers, fathers and families of those men and women willing to take me in at my most vulnerable moment. Thank you to all, it means a lot, especially if I don’t tell you that it does. Again thank you, I will always remember. Acknowledgements Well you know who you are and which part of the book you inspired, but just in case, I will list you. First, Trista Bitterlich, I would like to thank you for carrying my thoughts into a conversation, weird indeed, but also very incredible. Mrs. Woelfel, still not sure how to spell your name, but thank you for allowing me to write that much more for every assignment that this book came out of…without it I probably would have given up a long time ago. Mrs. Graham, thank you for believing in me, and yes, I do know that you said I wouldn’t finish, but I did, and here it is, I hope you enjoy the deep dark bowels of my imagination, and no, I have not set off a fire alarm, yet. Bryan Dougherty, for the idea of what is to come. Alisha Zuidema, I’m surprised I still know how to spell your last name, and have forgotten your nickname; thank you for the idea of where they should fit in, it worked perfectly; and please I know it is lame to keep my hometown in the majority of the book, but don’t worry, the clans will travel, and spread their wings. To Debbie the people greeter, for always being so positive, no matter the tribulations in your life. And last but not least, to all those reading, thank you for your support. Including you Mike, and Michael, who work at Little Caesar’s. Prologue For the longest time, Mike Brehio had wanted an adventure. He had dreamt of going to faraway lands to pry apart the grip of Maus Bravado. Maus has had the small continent of Australia under the grip of his thumb; creating a massive military base. This iron-fisted tyrant had taken over the nearly peaceful place, and had plans to continue his conquest. Maus had personally devised a team to rename Australia, but Maus himself rejected all suggestions. It had taken fifteen years for Maus to finalize his dictatorship, and thirteen years for Mike, 37, to get a position that could do something about it. Belgium had been his family’s home for centuries, but his ancestors never made any great stamp on history, so Mike became Prime Minister of this seemingly insignificant country, and through his success, had gained favor of many superpowers. Three years of ministering had earned him respect and loyalty throughout the country, and he was going to use this loyalty to his advantage. Through the respect that Mike received, he would give it back, in a way no one expected. He thought nothing more of his fellow citizens than that of prisoners of war. He had practically invaded this unchanging country, and was going to treat its in habitants as if he were an invading dictator. Just as Suddam Hussein, Mike would make his followers be the ones to die; he saw them as pitiful, and so trusting in one person to take care of all of them when not even two decades ago, he was in the same position. Over the past few months, he had been pushing to gain more and more militaristic powers, and in turn, had gained several thousand devout soldiers. He knew that this small army would not suffice for his goals, and so, he had pressed for Supreme Chancellor, which would give him monumental power in desperate situations. His way-too- controversial connections had served him well, and had the effect that he needed to obtain Supreme Chancellor. With Chancellor under his belt, he could then move on to his original task: hire a mercenary to get inside Maus’ inner circle of trusted advisors, and to tell Mike what his next plans were. Risky mission indeed, but to Mike, any soldier was expendable for his sole purpose: to take over Maus’ country of now called Austria, and continue Maus’ conquest in a more democratic manner. Such a task could take years, but Mike had the patience. He had many ways to get through to his own conquest, but had decided to take the long path so that it did not seem as though he and Maus were in it together, to show that even when one evil fails, another will succeed. His spy had finally gotten to the inner circle when an informant, informed to keep a close eye on him, announced that a death squad had killed him. The suspicion arose from his almost weekly flights out of Austria, and greeted when landing in Austria with thirty guns pointed at his head. ‘Quite a necessary death,’ Mike thought, ‘could’ve been timelier though. He could have learned a great secret before he died on that chilly August morning, but of course he did not. I almost feel sorry for the family that he lied to; then again, I do not. That would show regret, and I plan things so I don’t regret them.’ After hiring yet another mercenary, he decided to start with the military action. A few weeks after this spy had made it close enough to Maus to get a good look at his pupils; Mike would deliver the command to his greatest general, Amand Fibromya, to advance to Japan. They supplied thirty-forty thousand Japanese troops, and with his own sixty thousand, he was looking at a formidable fighting force. Only two months later, Fibromya and his allying Japanese general were heading for the Great Barrier Reef. They would send in the Special Forces first, and once they had taken an airstrip or two; they would then move the remaining fighting force to Austria from neighboring Marshall Islands, which was from America only two years before. “This should be fun,” laughed Mike as he gave the forward command to Fibromya. Chapter One 130 miles northwest of Sydney, Austria 0630 local Private Airbase Heith knew what his mission was. The plane ride gave him time to think about what was next. He would meet with Maus himself to discuss Mike Brehio’s plan to attack Austria. Several times, Maus had threatened Heith with his life if he messed up once more. The once was when he told Mike that Maus not only had plans to change the name of Australia, but also that he planned to invade multiple countries in order to reap control of the Mediterranean Sea. Luckily, Maus had noticed that Heith only said, ‘Continue his conquest,’ and so, he had been relieved of the bone-splitting consequences. To take a mental break, Heith looked at the weather reports for Australia (still unchanged by the rest of the world) and found that for six a.m., it would be abnormally cold. He lived in Montana for a few years, but had grown quite accustomed to the almost constant heat of Australia. At the thought of Montana’s winters, he could feel a sudden chill go straight to his bones. He closed his laptop as the pilot announced the approaching runway, and suggested that seat belts put in place. As usual, he ignored this suggestion, instead packing up his laptop, and taking a short breathing exercise to wake himself up. Eighteen hours awake, and desperately wanting sleep, he finished his last breath and waited for touchdown and taxiing procedures. A few minutes later, the hatch was unlocked, and Heith got up to get out. His bodyguard stepped down first, and over his head, Heith could see what he had feared. He could see twenty plus barrels pointed at him and reached to his waist to take the safety off his fully loaded Magnum. He told Maus weeks ago that he would not walk a step into Belgium without it, and “why stop the caution there? There could be snipers pointed at my head right now.” “Agreed, me too,” Maus said simply as he glanced at his own waist. He walked down the steps a little slower than usual, but did not show the nervousness in his body language. Immediately spotting Maus, he walked toward him as he shook his head to someone and greeted Heith as an old friend. “Quite the welcome party,” whispered Heith as he saw the barrels lowered to about stomach level. “Well, I wanted you to feel at home. Of course, I only do this for my most trusted spies.” “Oh, so should I feel privileged? Or sheer terror?” Heith managed to say with a small chuckle. “Oh, don’t worry. The command is to shoot only when you shoot, so think about what you are going to do before you do it. “Walk with me,” instructed Maus as he redirected his attention toward an empty walkway. “What have you learned? What has it been? Two weeks?” As Heith caught up to him, the guards followed at a too-close-for-comfort ten feet. “Well, Mike is already coordinating a joint attack with Japan on the Great Barrier Reef. The force totals out around one hundred thousand, not including each army’s Special Forces. After a trip to Japan, they are going to moving to the Marshall Islands within three months. This guy is serious, Maus. I don’t want you to be misinformed about . . .,” he trailed off as he noticed the glint of a sniper scope a hundred feet behind Maus. Instantaneously, he pulled his magnum out. One, two, three shots rang out as he shoved Maus out of harm’s way. He knew the sniper was dead, but as the last round left the barrel, thirty simultaneous shots fired. Heith was dead before he hit the ground. Maus stood in disbelief. The man that lay at his feet killed his would be assassin, and by Maus’ orders, had been killed because of it. He took out his own magnum, and shot the nearest guard. Maus had specially designed each of their own magnums to each owner’s trigger-squeezing rate. Resorting to emptying his magazine into the sky, he cried out when he heard the click of an emptied barrel. He just lost his most valuable asset, and his best friend. “Now it’s personal,” Maus whispered to himself. Maus walked up the stairs of the plane, and sat in what he knew was Heith’s favorite chair. ‘You’ve done it now,’ Maus thought, ‘You kill my best friend. At first, I had really no reason to oppose you, but now, oh, now, I have several. What an idiot you must have been,’ he laughed, ‘to hire my closest friend, since kids, as someone to spy against me. I will show you what your stupidity can do to yourself.’ The engines whining to a start made it seem like they, too, were mourning Heith’s death. Maus heard the engines gently hum to their full intensity, and he knew he was in private with only his bodyguards so the tears and gentle sobs that came afterward were for only Heith to hear. Maus looked out the small window at his side and looked at the carnage that had just occurred. Several men were carrying a black bag that had to be Heith, for the only other dead body was being searched for ID. The sniper’s gun was lying beside him, the bolt open now, though ten minutes ago closed and the barrel pointed at Maus. Heith was a hero, but nobody would know it, nobody would know about Maus’ threatened life. Everything would move on as if nothing had happened today, and already, several men were begging for the sudden opening. Heith’s magnum lay on Maus’ lap, the only thing of his that Maus collected for himself. “Life goes on,” Maus forced himself to say aloud. “Life goes on.” Chapter Two Mike and Maus had ruled this cold-dismal world for nearly two decades now. The world had turned peaceful, very few technological advances or any otherwise spectacular events had occurred, but still, there was peace. Forty years ago, Maus began his all-too-triumphant conquest of the Outback, and had little to no opposition. One opponent had stopped when his attempts to halt Maus’ campaign in the Middle East had left him with nowhere to turn, and no one to send to fight. They merely joined forces, realizing they ultimately had the same goal: world peace. Achieved after the entire world became under one ruling body, called by most as the M&M Factory, since Mike and Maus ruled it. They allowed a few hundred scientists to discover a way to allow constant activity without sleep. The unexpected result, however, was all that did not sleep became mindless, and could be controlled with the simplest of command. In a sense, the had become robots, and were called by the WTF clan as Automatons because they no longer had any creativity or unusual thought, and as long as no one tampered with the system or decided to sleep; it would stay that way. Kevin, otherwise known as Hollis, had other plans. He slept everyday, despite constant warnings to stay awake and take the pill that would inevitably infect his brain to stay at a constant running state. His parents, Leon and Faizah Wizen, had started a clan twenty years ago with their best friends (Horace and Ingrid; Bear and Sandy; and Phil and Seiko) and fifteen years before their death. Hollis was only fourteen when both his parents died, but was ready to lead his parents’ clan to victories over the relentless M&M policing squads (a pun developed by WTF, a clan established by Leon and Faizah Wizen to overthrow Mike and Maus with whatever means necessary; WTF standing for “Where’s The Freedom?”). Hollis knew WTF would be skeptical at first about his leadership abilities, and so, had to demonstrate that he was indeed Leon’s son. He would soon get his chance. § § § After sixteen years of leading through Phil’s advice, Hollis was ready to take charge and so, embraced it very courageously. Now thirty, everything he had learned became a part of how he was going to lead. His chance finally came… For now, Hollis had only twenty total followers, all of whom were the children of the original eight, and knew that even though he would soon have thousands, this small handful was the best he could have imagined. His most loyal companion, Brok Gadiaz (son of Phil and Seiko), could be trusted with all their lives on the line, and was very good at getting out of tight spots. Hollis had thought it through, and saw an opportunity to knock out one of the Sleep Renewal Houses (SRH) that provided the pill to the general population. This one, of many, was actually run by robots, and so, had the lightest security because the robots ‘knew’ how to handle any threats. Weasel, son of Horace and Ingrid, had programmed the master computer for this region, and noted that it wouldn’t be too difficult to reprogram the robots to not only refuse delivery, but to also destroy any shipments of the yellow and orange pill named Artificial Dosage of Sleep (ADS) coming in. “Just in case, we should have a strike force assembled if it doesn’t work,” Weasel said. “Yeah, so we can just go in, destroy the ‘bots, rig the shipment with C-4, and blast those disease pills off the face of the earth!” Shadow exclaimed as he tossed a stick of dynamite between hands. “That could work,” Jackal joined in, “The only problem is they’ll send replacement ‘bots within the month, so you’ll have to work fast to convince the city that what M&M are doing is wrong.” “Yes, I know,” Hollis finally broke in, “I can convince them, I’m sure. Once I do, I might have gained enough trust from the rest of WTF, and so maybe we could attack the state’s main supply line of ADS. Living in Colorado had its advantages, doesn’t it? Let’s just hope we don’t have to use force, I need you, all of you,” looking at each of them, “for the attack on Denver. We’ll discuss that after we get Cañon City’s SRH out of our line of sight. Colorado isn’t what it used to be, and the world itself has changed dramatically in these past few decades, but that doesn’t mean we can’t travel does it? “We’ll have five vehicles, each outfitted with armor, four in each vehicle. If we do have to attack Cañon, we’ll go to Denver the day after that is done. If not, we can take off from here, and go straight to Denver via I-25, which is used primarily for ADS shipments, so it would be empty. Once in Denver, we’ll go to what used to be MEPS and set up base there, it will have all that we need because of its former use as a processing station. Everything from M-16’s to .50 caliber machine guns, from grenades to rocket launchers. We’ll sleep there over night, and begin the assault early the next day. Are there any questions?” “Yeah,” Squirrel replied, “You said something about armored vehicles. What type of vehicle?” “We’ll have five H3 Hummers. I’ll get the seating arrangement after Cañon goes down. Right now, the only guarantee is that Weasel’s vehicle will have an onboard computer,” Hollis directed, “Any other questions?” Hollis waited a minute before Jackal asked, “Ok, about tomorrow,” Hollis motioned for him to continue, “After Cañon goes down, who’s going to be here to keep this place safe? You know, from the M&M policing squads?” “Um, I believe Weasel has that taken care of, seeing that he has connections, friendly that is, to the other WTF members, right?” “Yep, some guy named Gasper, I think,” Weasel stated, “But for now, let’s hit the sack and enjoy what the good Lord has given us.” “Amen,” they all chimed in. Hollis’s mind, however, was buzzing about what could go wrong. He looked around, and could see the commitment in his comrades’ faces, even just before sleep. He let this thought sink in, and dozed off moments later. § § § Hollis woke to near silence, and nearly thought his home/mansion had been invaded, and he simply left alone because of the harmless look he must have had while sleeping. The truth, though, came when Jackal entered, and said, “Oh, good. Weasel is hacking into the system as we speak.” “That’s great! Where is everybody?” Hollis asked. “Ah, they’re all watching Weasel. He does some radical stuff; takes him about ten minutes to get past all the firewalls. “’The tough part,’ he told us, ‘is getting to the specific SRH.’ He’ll probably have it done in another thirty minutes.” “Well, I’ll be right in,” he said with his voice fading, ‘A lot will be happening in the coming months, and I have to make sure it doesn’t go to hell.’ Leon’s mansion had been turned into more of a base, and with its five floors, and fifty bedrooms, could house about seventy people comfortably. He left his room and followed the silent corridors, down three flights of stairs, to the hum of the office, which was equipped with three servers and twelve other computers, all top-of-the-line. All twenty looked up when he opened the door, and saw them start to rise, and rose his hand to motion for them to sit back down. Even though most of them looked comfortable, he could tell none of them was relaxed. Weasel was at the head of the table, though everybody was facing away from him. He was the only person with his hands on keys, typing as if speed was a factor in how fast the world became a better place, but suddenly stopped after a loading bar came up. He began to bite his nails and Hollis immediately looked where his gaze had turned. For the next five minutes, everybody watched, restlessly, the presentation screen that was opposite Weasel and Hollis; connected to Weasel’s computer. The screen had several thousand characters, all unreadable to Hollis, but only three words seemed of any interest to anyone, “Shutdown in Progress.” Every second, each feeling like minutes, another percent would be added, sometimes stopping for several seconds: “15% 20% 22% 30% 36% 50% 62% 63% 71% 83% 95% 97% 99% Ten – - Shutdown Complete.” At that moment, the room was in uproar, and Hollis felt a sense of relief flow over him. Weasel looked at him, nodded and began his victory dance, which included both arms thrust into the air multiple times, prancing around like a weasel (hence the name) and yelling, “Woot! Woot! Woot!” repeatedly. Hollis slowly shook his head and said softly, “What a strange man,” “Yeah, but he gets the work done, doesn’t he?” piped in Squirrel as he wrapped her arms around Hollis. “True. Very true,” he said, motioning toward Weasel as he made his second round, passing them. “So, what’s the plan for tonight?” Squirrel asked, turning toward the door. “Oh, you know, Lobster. The finest wine in my parents’ cellar. All next to a soothing fireplace, with a hundred candles all around; and maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a little desert,” Hollis whispered. Hollis left with Squirrel close at his side. They walked outside and talked all afternoon, and around six o’clock, they decided to head back inside. The walk to his bedroom seemed to take all night. One, because Squirrel was at his side every step of the way, and two, because it did actually take about ten minutes to get to his room when he wanted something done before he got there. He informed Candy of what he wanted before she left the office. She understood, and took great pleasure in doing so. She ordered the lobster from a local restaurant that made deliveries and all the candles were already at the house, so she just had to set them around the fireplace, which she lit before she left the room. Hollis had forgotten the splendor of his great-great-grandfather, Clavek Wizen’s home. All the business that needed to be taken care of distracted him from what he had grown to adore. As Hollis and Squirrel ascended the final staircase, they looked at each other, smiled and shared a long kiss up the final five steps of the now priceless marble. Squirrel leaned her head on his shoulder as they walked the long corridor to the master bedroom. The hall was lined with paintings and sculptures, all of famous people; consisting mainly, though, of American Revolutionary heroes. Clavek was a collector of all history, and each floor was dedicated to each of his favorite times in history. This one dedicated to the American Revolution, had assorted objects portraying George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. At the end of the hall, definitely out of place, was the infamous Patrick Henry who once said, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Hollis’ parents also loved history and had the top floor dedicated solely to the United States presidents’ paintings and sculptures, and details of each of their greatest accomplishments. Hollis stopped and looked at the last family portrait of him and his parents, which was the only family picture in this hallway. All three were smiling as big as they could muster, all of them wearing white button down shirts, with a pitch black background. Hollis looked over at Squirrel, who was still examining the photo. “They would’ve been so proud,” she almost whispered. “Yeah, they would’ve been. My father though, would’ve said, ‘Son, you’ve brought much honor to our family name. I couldn’t be more proud of you. Unless of course, you kill those dark M&M sons of guns yourself. Can you imagine? Chocolate flowing everywhere. Oh, I love M&M’s, haven’t had them for such a long time, though,’ and then I would’ve said, ‘Yeah. When we do overtake them let’s buy a butt-load of M&M’s, and disperse them about the clan, telling them to eat them as if each one was a piece of Mike of Maus.’ “’Sounds like a plan, son,’ he’d say, chuckling” Hollis’ eyes began to water as he spoke; his voice cracking with longing to see his father again. “Let’s go to bed. We both need our rest for tomorrow. Maybe then you could tell us some stories about your father,” Squirrel said, leading him into his room, which was lit brilliantly. Hollis lay down as Squirrel closed the door and lay beside him. “I was right,” he whispered, “The fire is soothing.” They sat up to eat, and he thought of his father and how his shocking hazel eyes had been passed down through generations as they ate the delicious lobster. He lay back down after finishing the wonderful meal. The thought of his dad’s warm, loving embrace put him to sleep. Sleep that was welcome and much needed. Chapter Three 15 March 2032 Denver, Colorado 1810 Local Denver Coliseum “I had a dream last night. Nothing special, just about my wife, but I know that this is spectacular to most since Mike and Maus have put the ban on sleeping. The same dream occurs, the same nightmare persists. It is of my own turmoil in the time that I thought Mike and Maus had the ultimate plan. When I was convinced that they would bring the world peace, prosperity, and unity. “I went for three years believing their words, and then began to think in my almost thoughtless state: ‘Life was better without them, life could be measured in successes and losses. Life was great.’ I then began to skip the ADS treatments, a week at a time, forgetting all that Mike and Maus had promised. My fair wife, Faizah, began to do the same when she saw how well, how exuberant I became. Life slowly regained its mystery, its awesomeness. Friends, and colleagues of mine soon followed suit, and we began protesting. “Mike and Maus had never made any laws against anything, for hope that none would ever need to be put into place, so our protests were ignored at best. “Then we began to brainstorm. ‘What if we were to make ADS shipments miss a few stops, what then would happen,’ we thought. So we hijacked one truck loaded with ADS and set it afire in an abandoned field, asking the driver to come to our side. The results were spectacular. “The driver was very pleased to do so, and a small town was reborn. This town’s inhabitants were grateful for the effort we had made, and volunteered to assist us in the revival, as we came to call it. “The results we saw became our motivation, and the incredible testimonies of changed lives made our efforts all worth while. One man told me that he had sent his twin daughters to college, only for them to return with glazed eyes, intent in their hearts, and hollow souls. ‘They only spoke of Mike and Maus and how great they were,’ he said. ‘My heart was torn, but their words spoke to my heart, and I began to take ADS treatments.’ “’Life became bleak and confusing, but I was with my daughters, my daughters were with me.’ He continued to tell me that he was happy for his twins’ return, and to be with them was more than he could’ve wished. He was happy, but his face bore no smile, his actions portrayed no joy. All emotions were internal, and never showed upon faces or behaviors. “Then he became teary eyed and told me, ‘When the ADS treatments were running short, my family was last to come to them, and my daughters returned to normal. I told them of the horrible things that were going on, and they begged to come to you. They were smiling, and having fun again, something that I remember from the last dream I had before ADS, to see them smile. This means more to me than any one thing in the world, to know they have freedom. Thank you, Leon,’ he murmured, ‘I will do all that I can to maintain their happiness, I owe you greatly.’ “I accepted this man’s offer, and established a clan whose only task was to bring down Mike and Maus, with whatever means possible. ‘Where’s the Freedom?’ became the clan’s name, WTF for short, and the clan grew with every house, every village, every town, and every city that our efforts touched. “And so, I stand here today, in front of you, in front of the world, and most importantly, in front of Mike and Maus. I come here to address our dictators, and our tyrants. To tell them they are not all powerful; they are not everything they think they are. “Mike and Maus, what you have done is unforgiveable, and unworthy. You have made every life on this earth very difficult, and families even more strained than any family could ever be. You have made love a word to be remembered and not something to be felt. Everything known to be good in this world has become a memory because of you. I know your history, and I have studied your past. You have no reason to make this as horrible as it is. Both of you have had a loving family, loving city, state, country. You have betrayed all of mankind, minus each other in that matter. “You took away my sleep, I was tired. You took away my thoughts, I was empty. You took away my family, I was mad. You made this very personal, and on behalf of the WTF Clan, I say, ‘Bring it on Mike. Bring it on Maus. This is war.’” Cheers came from every possible corner of the coliseum, and Leon felt support beyond measure, tremendously. Mike and Maus would soon see this event themselves. It was taped, and would be delivered to their Mansion in Europe the next week. Leon stepped down from the stage, and went to the floor, Faizah waiting for him with Kevin in her arms. He kissed Faizah on the lips, and gave a gracious kiss to Kevin on his small forehead. Kevin was only six months; Leon couldn’t wait to see his personality. The product of two incredible people. He took Kevin from Faizah and told his dear son little secrets that he would never remember. “I was going to name you Jonathan, or even James. Your mother would have nothing of it. She wanted a Kevin. Kevin Allen Wizen. K-A-W. I still don’t understand why. But I do know one thing: I love you little guy and you’re going to love the world you’re going to live in, I promise,” Leon whispered, Faizah clinging to his arm, her head resting on his shoulder. They arrived home nearly an hour later, to the awesome house that he’d inherited from his own father. They lay Kevin down, each kissed him on his little forehead, said ‘good night,’ and slipped into bed themselves. Faizah lay on her side, Leon on his back. Her arms across his chest, his around her shoulders. “I love you Leon,” Faizah whispered. Leon looked into her eyes, and smiled. “I love you too, Mrs. Wizen.” Both laughed softly, remembering an old joke, and quickly fell asleep, both in each other’s arms, looking forward to a bright future. Chapter Four 15 June 2056 Wizen Mansion 0700 Mountain Standard Time (U.S.) Master Bedroom “…Jenny…?” Hollis said slowly as he looked at his fingers after touching his lip. “…Jenny…?” He looked around and saw more blood on his sheets and blanket. He shook her awake. “Hey, Kevin,” Squirrel said and smiled, “What’s the matter?” “Did we…,” Hollis began. “No, babe. You fell asleep and I brought you to bed. You didn’t wake up for anything, so I went to sleep too.” “Then what is all this blood from?” “Hmm, well, it looks like you had a bloody nose. Are you feeling alright?” “Yeah, I just didn’t realize it,” he trailed off as he walked slowly to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, he could finally see the source of all of it and tried to clean it off and decided that he needed a shower. “I’m sorry about last night. I really wanted it to end differently but my brain shut down after our little talk in front of the picture,” he explained. “It’s ok babe,” she started as she looked into the bathroom as Hollis dabbed a wash cloth onto his upper lip several times, “but you better not call me Jenny in front of the clan, they won’t know who you’re talking about.” “Is that really necessary? I mean what would be the difference if they called you Jenny and I called you Squirrel? Would that mean you have a pet name from me?” Both laugh softly, and she replies, “I guess in a way. But that’s not why I ask everyone to call me Squirrel. I think it makes us all connected more if we all have nick names. Weasel is Thomas, Jackal is Oliver, you know. It makes us special. It makes our name special to whom we are, not to another somebody in Cambodia with the same name.” “Good point. Can you remake the bed and throw the set into the laundry while I shower? And then you can hop it after me.” “Sure, but why can’t I hop in with you? Feeling shy today?” “I don’t know. I just have a weird feeling right now. No offense, but I’d rather shower alone today.” “Ok babe. I’ll have it done when you’re out. Anything big happening today?” Door shuts and Kevin’s voice becomes muffled, “Well, we’re planned to attack Denver today, but hopefully Weasel will come through again and we don’t have to go too far. If he gets into the Denver grid, he can shut down all the SRH’s in the state, so this one is big.” “Yeah, Weasel really pulled through on us for Canon. That was awesome. Do you think we’ll have a good weekend? I mean is there any plans for this weekend?” “No, not so far at least.” “Ok, have fun in there, don’t scrub too hard, I want to see your skin when you get out.” “Yes ma’am,” he jokes. After remaking the bed and setting the bedding in the laundry basket, Squirrel sets out some clothes of her own and a suggestion for Hollis as she hears the water turn off. “I got some clothes for you.” “Oh, thanks. Didn’t even think about it, just hopped in,” he says as he walks out of the door, towel around his waist. “Thanks babe,” he kisses her on the forehead and starts to dress. Squirrel stops herself from staring and leaves her clothes out, knowing that he’ll be downstairs by the time she gets out. He starts to walk out of the room as he grabs his shirt, putting it on in the hallway. He’s greeted by Brok, who says, “It’s almost like he’s giving us what we go for. Weasel cracked into the system, disabled all the security measures in Denver’s grid, shut down all ADS shipment to and from all of Colorado, and told all of the robots to destroy any ADS in stock. All within three hours. Too easy.” “Wow, if you guys do all this while I sleep, I’m going to go back to bed. There’s a steamy girl waiting for…,” Hollis remarks. “Hollis, if you don’t mind… I’d like to go into a meeting for our next catch,” Weasel interrupts, “I’d like to go for the big cheese, metaphorically speaking.” Several people chime in their ‘me too’s’ and he nods his head, “Ok. Half hour. I want all of WTF notified and present at this meeting.” “Right away,” Brok says. Hollis quickly goes back upstairs to his room and walks in as Squirrel is slipping on her shirt, pants still lying on the bed. He hugs her and whispers in her ear, “We got Colorado!” She turns around in excitement, button up shirt half buttoned, and hugs him, “That’s great!” “I know! Everyone wants a meeting in a half hour,” he begins, “Weasel said something about going for the big cheese.” “The big cheese?” she says and looks concerned, “Already?” “Yeah, and I think we’re ready…” he cuts off to add suspense toward the meeting. “Hey babe, where’s my watch?” “Under your, sorry, my slippers, by the bed,” she says, “So you think we’re ready for the big cheese?” “Yeah, I mean we have Colorado. We need to get a broadcast out explaining what is happening and then I think we could go for the Capitol. Don’t you think it’s kinda funny that they used the same capitols for each country as the main interface for each country? Stupid, if you ask me.” “It is kinda funny. Hmm. I guess M&M’s aren’t as smart as we thought.” They both sneer and head down the hall, both always early for these meetings. Hollis sits down at the head with Squirrel at his side, each of the members milling about until they’ve found their seats. Brok sits at the opposite of Hollis and nods at him. “Ok. Half hour has passed. What’s on the board?” Hollis asks. Weasel speaks, “Well, in a matter of record time, four hours, I was able to take control of Colorado…” The team cheers and congratulates him. “I was thinking that since it was so easy, that we should try to get into D.C.’s mainframe and try to shut down all the SRH’s in what we know as the United States. Denver could have been so easy because M&M thought that no one would ever be sleeping and thus not put the necessary measures in the system to block out any intruders, like us. If this is true, we could get the United States back on its feet and have a full country behind us. That way, we can get to Europe and free them, then Africa and free them, and then South America and free them, or in a different order, I don’t care. I say we go for the big cheese! D.C.!” The room becomes full of side talk and Hollis watches them, to see the look on their faces, looking for any sign of a negative thought. He notices that Jackal and Candy are holding hands and quietly discussing the matter, and Weasel explaining further to Brok his plans. “Ok…” Hollis begins to quiet the room. “How long did you say it was until ADS victims recover?” “About two weeks. Most less, but some two weeks,” Brok states. “Alright. Next week we will broadcast on all TV’s, radios, and internet a report of our success and plans. We will explain to them that what has been done to them should be unforgiveable and joining our cause will allow others in our great country to enjoy their freedom. After that, we’ll talk about the big cheese. Any questions?” As everybody shook their heads or nodded in agreement, Hollis said, “Alright, sounds like time for a holiday. Everyone meet back here in a week. So next Tuesday, everyone will arrive, and Wednesday we’ll go out and check to see how many people have recovered. If the number is more than half of where we go, we will broadcast across the state two days later. Weasel, do we have the capabilities to do this?” “Yes, we do,” Weasel began, “We can have a camera for the news stations, one for the internet and a microphone for the radio. All will be cast simultaneously, so whoever is recovered will have the opportunity to hear our message. I’ll be back Monday to start setting up.” “Ok,” Hollis finished, “Have a nice holiday!” Everyone rose and left, Squirrel sticking behind for Hollis. She and Hollis joined each other at the door after asking Weasel if there were any new messages in the email. He said there was one, and from someone named LOL, so it was some kind of fan group or something. “There’s a new message Kevin,” she says, “Weasel says it’s from someone calling themselves LOL, so you should check it out when you get upstairs.” “…LOL… hmm. Ok babe, see you in a few,” answers Hollis. “Ok, I’m gonna go to Candy’s room, see what’s up with her. Get the latest on her life.” “Yeah, ok. Did you notice her and Jackal holding hands?” “Um, no. I guess that’s another thing to talk about. See you later hon.” “Alright.” He gets to his room, eagerly wanting to read this new message and quickly logs into his laptop. His email account is the first to pop up when he open the web explorer. ‘1 new message,’ it says. He opens it anxiously, the first message since Dad was congratulated for Kevin’s birth. “Good morning Mr. Wizen,” it begins. “I’d first like to congratulate you for your incredible success taking Colorado from Mike and Maus so quickly. Obviously, your team is thinking how this could have happened so easily. I have something to say, it would not have been possible had it not been for my team, LOL. Living out Liberation was started about four months ago, from the small town that you gave rebirth to. Thank you for your efforts and thank you for the life that we now enjoy. Our group is much like your own, and is offering our hands in friendship. To bring Mike and Maus to their knees together. Golden offer, if you ask me. “Kevin, we were trying to do the same thing earlier and was about to deliver the final blow when your infamous Weasel came in and finished the job. Together, we could recover all of America. Separate, we cannot. Together, the world is just on the horizon. Your father was honorable for starting WTF, and now it is your honor of commanding such a great team. “I am suggesting we join our forces and lead together, looking out for each other and using each other’s talents to complete huge jobs. Perhaps as big as Washington D.C. “LOL is very eager to join your team, and operate alongside your legendary members, highly regarded for their awesome abilities. “Please think about this for a few days, and let me know what your thoughts are on the matter. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Wizen. I hope to be in contact soon, Rocco Americk.” Hollis reread the message several times, finally retreating to his bed, laptop still on, screen still stuck on the message. He lay down and brought his hand to his forehead, “Looking For Redemption… “That is why that was so easy...” He thought about the mystery for several minutes, and then watched the ceiling fan circle round and round his room, slowly, putting him to sleep. Chapter Five 2 August 2030 130 miles west of Austria 0700 Local Indian Ocean The message was loud. The message was clear. Mike had stepped on too many of France’s toes, twisted too many noodles in Italy’s spaghetti. ‘Ah, spaghetti,’ Maus thought. ‘I miss spaghetti.’ Spain offered their military, ammo, and complete cooperation of all their forces, army, navy, air force, the whole shebang. Maus accepted cheerfully. Italy offered the same and the best luxuries available for Maus and all his soldiers. Maus couldn’t believe his luck and only asked for one thing. Well, several things, but all meshed into one. He asked for a spaghetti dinner for him and his closest bodyguards and friends. The dinner would be served the night he arrived in Rome. Thinking about the spaghetti made Maus drool a little bit, and when he noticed it, he quickly recovered, cleared his throat, and looked around as he adjusted his seat. He hadn’t had spaghetti since he was fourteen, the last time he’d seen his mother before she sent him to his grandfather’s in Australia. His mom died of cancer two years later. This would be the first time back in Europe since. He could hardly wait. He looked out the window at the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean below him. In the distance, he could see a tiny dot of land that must be Madagascar. Looking back into the cabin, all of his guards were sitting, with only one seat empty; the one that once would have occupied Heith. Heith and Maus made pizza together sometimes, but never attempted spaghetti, though both loved it equally. Putting the memories aside for now, Maus again looked out the window, the clouds streaming by almost dizzying, but calming at the same time. He saw a plane, a guitar, tiger, pencil, hand and a dragon with a fiery red eye; strange shapes whipping by with the miles. He watched the dragon form into a weird shaped lizard, but the red eye didn’t go away, it just stayed in the same spot, but now in a spot that looked like the lizard’s toe. “Hey, guys check this out,” he said to his guards. They all came to his side and looked. “See the red speck?” he asked, “it hasn’t moved.” “Yeah, yeah…” they all said. “Wait,” Malachi began, “is it getting bigger?” “No way,” Maus said as he heard alarms in the cockpit go off. He ran into the cockpit, and asked the two apparently calm pilots what was going on. They told him that it looks like a missile, but reassured him that they could handle it. They were the best pilots Maus could hire. Maus sat back in his seat as the seat belt icon came on again. He wouldn’t ignore it this time. “Buckle up boys, this could be a rough ride,” he said to his guards as he pulled out his only foreign coin from his pocket. It was a United States fifty cent piece, given to him by his father. He rubbed the rough surface with his thumb as he looked out at the missile. It was obvious, now, that it was getting bigger, so he just watched it for a few minutes. Gazing back at the coin, he put it on top of his hand and flicked it into the air. He watched it slowly turn and flip in the air, then, just as it reached its max height, the plane jerked up, gaining altitude rapidly. Forced against the back of his seat, he could feel the large coin press into his chest and could tell that though they were climbing, they were gaining speed also. They leveled out once they rose above the clouds and continued to gain speed. The missile wasn’t visible anymore, but the alarms were still sounding, louder now that the door to the cockpit was open. For no apparent reason, Maus tucked the coin into his shoe and hoped he had chosen the right pilots and the right plane. As the plane accelerated, the alarm seemed to slow down, but after a couple minutes, the steady beep began to quicken. Maus’ heart started to race and he could hear one of his guards begin to hyperventilate, making the situation all the more stressful for the rest of the passengers. The oxygen masks flopped down from the ceiling, and he could hear the pilots beginning to get nervous, which made Maus grip his arm rests even tighter. The plane went hard right, sending many objects toward the left, and again began to climb. He noticed the pilots putting on their O2 masks and followed suit, breathing deeply in a vain attempt to calm his chest pounding heart. Maus bought this plane exactly for this reason. Along with speed, maneuverability, and precision; this plane, with highly prepared pilots, made things a little easier, but the fact that the missile was aimed at him made his hair stand on end. Rolling into a barrel roll, and going into a dive, the plane’s frame creaked and groaned from the strain. Feeling weight less for less than a second was interesting and then the plunge of all his insides on the back of his ribcage, most like going over a steep hill and leveling out on the other side. Forty thousand feet swirled to nothing, still with the missile on their tail, gaining on them. Maus smiled and looked over his shoulder at Malachi, who was also smiling. They both laughed as the plane shuddered again, the pilot diving quickly and swirling round and round in tighter and tighter circles, hoping to confuse the missile. As close as anyone wanted to get to the water, the pilot leveled at two hundred feet and pushed to full throttle. The missile’s wide banking turns caused it to hit the water without any chance of pulling up in time. Everyone looked around at each other, waiting for confirmation of the success. With no alarms blaring, the copilot looked back, and said, “It’s all good. We’re clear!” Everyone clapped and cheered, each of them taking their seat belts off again. “Legendary pilots!” Ayron declared to all of his comrades’ approvals. “Very true,” Maus entered, “Let’s just try to get to Rome in one piece. We got a big dinner waiting for us. “You pilots want to join us?” “Yeah, that’d be great,” the pilot answers. “Alright, join us in the hotel dining hall at six. Dinner is served at seven.” “Will do, sir. We’re about an hour away from Cairo, and then off to Rome.” Patting his shoulder, Maus says, “Sounds like a plan. See ya in Cairo.” Maus goes back to his seat and looks out the window again. The clouds all disappeared, so the open ocean, endless cloudy sky and approaching land were all flawless. The simply beauty impressed Maus, and for a while he took it in and realized that he didn’t have a camera to capture the moment. The plane again rose to the heavens, making the picture shrink to just under the clouds, which was spectacular in itself; the clouds that seemed to be so flat on the bottom and huge monstrous forms above. Again wishing that he had a camera, Maus brought his focus back to the inside of the plane and closed his eyes, imagining the delicious spaghetti waiting for him. After a few minutes, he felt the plane level and accelerate a little. ‘The pilots must think we’re behind schedule,’ Maus thought and took out his iPhone to play a few games while waiting for dinner. Mario Kart Racing was his favorite and linked with Malachi to race. Everyone on this plane had and iPhone, but they were sleeping, watching movies, checking email, or just browsing the internet, but Malachi decided to race him. They chose the longest race available, just in case the plane ride took longer than expected. After a few minutes of throwing ice balls, fireballs, and bombs, Malachi won, and they both agreed to race another time. The shock of the missile coming for them was still in their minds and could possibly keep them all from sleep. Maus looked back out the window to ease his mind where he could barely see the sun setting in France, some thousand miles away. The colors looked incredible and with it came the longing for his homeland of Austria. Rome was two hours away and the taxiing procedures plus parking were another hour, so Maus started a movie that he’d seen a hundred times but always liked to watch. About halfway through the opening credits, Maus hears a low rumble. His laptop begins to shake and the lights around him dim. Everyone that was asleep wakes and just as soon as it came, it was gone. He looked out the window but didn’t see any aircraft or anything that could have made such a commotion. Maus shrugs it off and goes back to his business, just as everyone else did. The movie ends in what seems to be a few moments and the seat belt icon comes on again. ‘Finally,’ he thinks. ‘We should have been there ages ago…but considering the missile…we’re still behind schedule.’ He looks outside and sees nothing but desert. Curious, he asks the pilot what’s going on and he informs Maus that they’re in Egypt, refueling. “That missile did a number on our fuel,” the pilot begins, “we weren’t hit, but we used quite a bit getting away from it. We’ll be back in the air before long and in Italy in about an hour.” ‘Another delay,’ he thinks. Maus decides to check out what is worth of this small airport and finds it to be nothing more than a gas station with a landing strip. In fact, Maus doubted he was filling the plane with jet fuel at all. “Hey, does this place service jets often?” Maus asks. “Yes actually,” the pilot begins. “Look at the pump. Unleaded; premium; diesel; and special, they never tell anyone what the special fuel is but everyone knows its jet fuel. This is the only place for three thousand miles. Besides, I have been stopping her for ages. My instructor taught me to come here in emergencies…but only emergencies. We’re way below ‘E’ and so we had to stop somewhere. Look at the gauge.” Maus looks over at the plane and strangely, a fuel gauge saying ‘way below “e”’ is next to the cap to the tank. “Is that supposed to be there?” He says pointing at the gauge. “Yeah, of course,” the copilot answers, “The one in the cockpit can be off a little but this one is always right on. Or way off…” he continues chuckling. Maus takes a drink of water from an old spicket near the pump, and looks out onto the horizon and sees a thick black line, going from the foothills of what look like mountains of sand to another. “What’s that?” “Um, I don’t know. Never seen that here before,” the pilot says confused. Maus walks closer to the strange image and retrieves his binoculars. Near the middle of the ‘line’ is a huge vehicle, looking most like a military truck. “Does the military ever come to this part of nowhere?” “No, actually, no one ever comes here. I haven’t seen anyone here in ten years. That’s really odd.” “Well it looks like a force that this plane can’t handle by itself.” “Yeah, well, we still have twenty minutes before this bird is ready to get off the ground.” “We don’t have twenty minutes,” Maus says, handing the binoculars to the pilot. “Oh, wow, I guess not. I guess we should try to stand them off until it’s ready. The pump won’t let loose until the tank is full.” Maus runs into the plane and grabs both his and Heith’s magnums, stuffing them into his shoulder holsters. “Get ready, men. We’ve got company,” he says to his guards. One guard steps out to look and rushes back inside to grab his gear. The other guards follow suit, and stand at the ready a few feet behind Maus. Every weapon is loaded and safeties are off, each guard prepared for the worst. Maus notices that one vehicle is farther ahead than the rest and looks over his shoulder at Malachi. They both nod at each other and Malachi whispers and signals orders to the guards. ‘Shoot when Maus shoots.’ The mass of soldiers and vehicles stops while the one closest comes closer still. Maus tenses in the sweltering heat and just as he’s about to pull his magnums out, the vehicle slows, turns around and heads back to the line of soldiers. Maus looks at the guards and all of them are curious, and confused by the move. The vehicle stays at the line for a minute and again comes rushing toward them. Glancing at the gauge, Maus projects that he has about fifteen minutes for the tank to be full and for this bird to start flapping its wings. The vehicle comes within a hundred yards and the guards fix their aim. Maus raises his hand to tell them to relax, but they only bring the barrels down a few inches, eyes still on the sights. Once it gets within fifty feet it slows down, stops twenty feet away, and a single man gets out, seemingly unarmed. He comes up to Maus and shakes his hand, and speaks in a language he can’t understand. The only word he understands is Maus Bravado. “He says that they have been looking for you Maus Bravado,” the copilot says. “They heard of a missile attack and wanted to give some assistance to help us on our journey. “He says there is a giant bounty on your head, and if we cooperate, he will only use half of his force to take us on our journey….to the…the…I think he’s saying Pharaoh.” “Malachi, stand ground,” Maus says. “Ask him if he knows where the missile came from.” The copilot says a few short words, and the stranger smiles and chuckles. He begins speaking in loud and seemingly proud tones. “He says the missile came from the belly of the beast, where all of hell comes from in these parts. “He says it came from the belly of his beast. His army…” Maus’ anger flashes and tells the copilot to ask if he knows of any assassination attempt on Maus. “’Yes,’ he says. ‘The man that tried to shoot you was my brother.’” “Tell him that his brother killed my best friend,” he instructs. “But sir, the guards killed him, not his…” “Tell him!” A short phrase and again the man laughs. “He says that he didn’t kill his best friends, your own guards did. He says that he was there. He saw…” Maus pulls out his magnum and shoots the man square in the face, between his cheerful eyes. The shot echoes across the countless miles surrounding them and the vehicle races back to the army. “How much time do we have?” Maus asks the pilot. “Ten minutes.” Once the vehicle comes within meters of the army, they all rush forward, thirsty for vengeance. “Stand ground…” Maus whispers as the guards and pilots bring their weapons to bear. “Stand ground… “Stand ground…” he repeats as the army comes closer and closer. They come to three hundred yards, two hundred, and one hundred fifty yards away. “Stand ground… “Stand ground…” Maus says as they come within a hundred yards. He brings both magnums up and takes careful aim, each guard doing the same. They get to fifty yards away and Maus fires two simultaneous shots into two soldiers, and a volley of bullets comes from behind him. Automatic rifles’ barrels unleashing hell on their unlucky enemy, the guards step up to be next to Maus, every bullet finding its mark, each mark a kill. The pilots’ pistols run out of ammo first and the copilot goes down first. Few of the approaching soldiers are shooting, and Maus can see why. The aim they have is horrible. Bullets whizzing over their heads, most even missed the eighty-foot long plane behind them. “How much time?” Maus asks again. “Three minutes,” replies the pilot, who dies the next minute. The soldiers approaching very slowly, Maus notices something very odd. Most of the men don’t have weapons, and even fewer have arms or heads. Maus puts his hand up to signal cease-fire and signals for them to aim for the heart. Never having to reload, the stranded team fires relentlessly into the zombie army. He glances back at the gauge, which now says, “One minute until full.” He pulls behind the guards and gets the jet ready to fly. “Thirty seconds,” the gauge says audibly. The guards begin to climb back into the plane as the gauge announces ten seconds. A zombie comes too close to Maus, so he cuts its severely disfigured head off its body with an appearing machete. “Full!” the gauge says and spits out the nozzle, closing the cap, and allowing Maus to sprint into the cabin as the door is closing. He leaps to the controls and puts the plane into full throttle away from the zombies. Seconds later, they are in the air, with several creatures hanging onto the landing gear, but as they gain altitude, they all eventually fall off. Everyone cheers as the plane flies into the setting sun. The holes in the plane make it rock and teeter causing Maus to lose control and crash into the Mediterranean Sea, just miles from Italy. Blinking from the suns rays, Maus wakes in his plane and looks around, everyone looking at him curiously. His laptop still in his lap, he sees that the movie is still playing, and says mysteriously, “What a strange movie…” The guards laugh and go back to what they were doing, some of them whispering ‘headless zombies,’ and ‘infinite ammo,’ shaking their heads and smiling. Maus smiles too. ‘Strangest dream I’ve had in a while…’ he thinks. The plane ride last only a few minutes longer and when they finally land in Italy, Maus looks around to see fans; people that actually want him to be there. Banners, streamers, and posters all displaying Maus’ face, some also with Heith’s but all in Italian, unreadable to Maus, but he knew they were all praising him. The short walk to the limo seemed like forever and he almost felt like a rock star going to a concert. It may have been a joke, but a red carpet was in front of the limo where Maus and his closest guards got in. The other six got into the limo behind and they were off; stomachs grumbling in anticipation of the delicious spaghetti meal waiting for them. They arrived at a huge hotel, ornately designed and as tall as any skyscraper. The lobby had fans wall to wall, so Maus’ guards had to surround him to lead him in the proper direction of the dining hall, where the Italian President waited patiently. Dozens of the Italian Police were lining the walls, each carrying rifles and ready to shoot if the need ever arose. Maus and his guards bowed low when the President approached them, humbled in his presence. He graciously grabbed Maus’ hand and pulled him up from the floor. He said a few things in Italian, and an interpreter relayed, “Welcome! Welcome! No need to greet the floor,” and then the President himself continued in English, “Sorry if my English bad. I study weekends. Welcome, again. I’m sure you hungry, so eat let’s.” They all sat, Maus next to the head of the table, where the President sat. Salad came first, served in huge bowls compared to the ones he knew of. He and the guards applied very generous helpings of dressing onto their salads, and dug in, never forgetting to be polite in light of where they were. Maus, almost saying father; for feeling of a mob meeting; addressed the President with his concerns, “President Ayron, you say that you and your neighboring countries are willing to fight behind me with all forces available. What kind of numbers are we talking about?” “Ah yes, numbers!” Ayron replies, “Most call me Senor Presidente,” Maus tenses at his lack of manners, “but it ok. It ok. You special person. You welcome to call me bitch. Ok ok, numbers. I see thirty, forty thousand of Italia; twelve thousand of Spain; and seventy thousand of France. Si? This good?” “Yes, that will be great,” Maus says. The meal goes all but silent, but once the desert came out and was nearly finished, Maus asks, “When do you think they will be ready?” “They ready. Give them go, they go. You leader, all generals under you. You give the day, they go on the hour. They ready today. Now, they ready, if you wish.” “Ok, that should be good. We will rest and tomorrow we will prepare and plan for attack. Si?” “Si, senor Maus. Tomorrow will be ready.” Ayron rises and as he does, all the guests rise. “Tomorrow will be ready. Me need to preparations, preparations be made. Go, rest, and enjoy the rooms.” “Thank you, I will see you tomorrow,” Maus says as Ayron rushes out of the room. “Well,” Maus begins telling his guards, “let’s enjoy the rooms.” They all are lead to the top of the tall building, to what Maus assumes to be the suites, for VIP’s. The door opens and Maus’ room finally becomes visible. Lavishly decorated, he feels like he does not deserve such royalties, sending so many of this man’s men to die. ‘He offered,’ Maus reminds himself. For about an hour, Maus just lays on the bed looking around at all the statues and portraits across the room. The sweet smell of incense finally puts him to sleep, with no care of setting an alarm. Chapter Six 16 June 2056 Wizen Mansion 0830 Local Master Bedroom Hollis was unable to sleep the entire night, but still waited for Jenny to wake to start anything. She was still sleeping, her arm on his chest, body pressed against his side. He hears her breathe in quickly and exhale slowly as she opens her eyes and looks up at Hollis. “Good morning,” Hollis whispers. “Hmmm, good morning handsome,” Jenny moans, putting her head back on his chest, closing her eyes. “No, babe,” Hollis mumbles, “Time to get up.” He runs his fingers along her spine, feeling a small shock at the tip of his finger, and silently laughs to himself. “Ouch! You jerk! You meant to do that!” He laughs and says, “No, I swear I didn’t. Last time yes, but this time was an accident. But now that you’re up, we gotta get ready.” “Yeah, how convenient,” she scoffs. They dress and head for the garage, where they all agreed to meet. Most of the gang is already there, and Hollis whispers over his shoulder to Jenny, “See? We’re late.” She hits him and says shut up as Hollis greets a very sleepy Brok. “Alright, most of us are here…” Hollis begins as Weasel says barely under his breath, “so let’s begin. Today we are heading to the headquarters of said group L.O.L., otherwise known as Living out Liberation. We will go in with force, and use live weapons to bring them down. The trip itself will take about an hour, and once we’re there, no one is to speak, and only to use signals to direct and/or attack. Any questions?” Everyone is silent so Hollis starts to lay out the plan. “The man with the plan,” Jackal says. “Yes, indeed, this is how it should go,” Hollis continues as he points to a map. He reveals the plan and again asks for any questions, and then dismisses them into the five vehicles behind them. “Let’s get this party rollin’,” Brok says as he claps and rubs his hands together. They leave the mansion with all or most of the gang aboard, weapons in trunks and in a couple vans. During the trip, Jenny asks Hollis why it has to be so quickly and so early, and he simply says, ‘element of surprise.’ The bare interstate gives the lead driver temptation to floor it, but he keeps it at only 130 mph, just to be safe. Due to the speed, the trip is a lot shorter than expected, and Brok even stops at the lights which are surprisingly still functioning. They all laugh, and once the green light turns, he floors it, burning rubber and getting to speed in a hurry. “This is supposed to be a silent operation,” Weasel says, laughing at Brok. “Sorry, I have a lead foot,” he chuckles. Five minutes later, Hollis points at the single house that is not abandoned. It is halfway up a hill, so the team drives all the way up, eyes watching the house as they pass by. A dirt landing near the top looks like a good place to stop and gear up, so Brok eases into it and leaves room behind him for the others. Everyone silently gets out of the vehicles and head for the vans with all the equipment. Jackal stands at one door handing out weapons and ammo while Weasel stands at another throwing out body armor and other accessories. Hollis is first to gear up, and walks to the middle of the vehicles to await his team. They all gather around him for further instructions. “Ok, everyone geared up?” He asks as Weasel nods. “This should be fairly easy for us to take down, but we still don’t know how many floors are beneath the surface. The house is on a hill so the land slopes down in the rear, and slopes up in the front. Those in front will be first to approach; me, Jackal and Brok. Those in back will wait for the signal to drop from the bushes into the back yard, which may have a few places for cover: Weasel, Squirrel and Candy. You four stay back, ready to move the vehicles down the hill. The only communication is after the action and once the building is secure, understood?” They all nod and they split up at the road. Hollis’ team walks slowly down the road, and ducks onto the shoulder when a van comes up and drives into the driveway, music blaring. They continue down the small hill sloping away from the road until they think they are in front of the house. Hollis peeks over and sees the garage door closing, and once it is closed, he signals to Brok and Jackal to flank each side; Brok to go left and Jackal right. They all peek up again and slowly head toward the house. Brok positions himself against the garage, covering the door. Jackal finds a ledge on the right and lays prone, also covering the door. Hollis slowly approaches the door and sees the other three hiding in the bushes behind and slightly right of the house. Ditching the effort of cover, Hollis decides to act like police. He knocks on the door and yells, “Police! Open up!” He smiles and kinda laughs at himself, but quickly returns to being serious when he hears people talking inside. “Police? We killed those bastards years ago…” someone says almost jokingly. Hollis grits his teeth and again bangs on the door. “WTF mate, one minute,” the same man says again. Hollis kicks in the door and puts the man on the floor, barrel pointed at his head. “How do you know who we are?!” he yells as Brok and Jackal come in, safeties clicking off as they enter the door. Hollis hears the back door burst open and hears Weasel and Squirrel shouting for people to get to the front of the house. “How do you know who we are?!” he says again. “What do you mean? What the f are you talking about?” the man says, breathing hard. “You said WTF, right before I entered. How did you know that was the name of our group? How?” Hollis asks. “You gotta be kidding me, I was saying what the fuck, and I wasn’t naming you. God damn, learn some manners. Knock only once. Geez. And you said you were cops, where’s the uniforms?” he says as the others enter the room. “On your knees, hands on your head!” Squirrel directs the two others with her barrel pointed at them. “Clear!” “Clear!” Jackal and Weasel say as they come out of two rooms. “Garage is clear,” Candy says, standing next to the stairs. “Ground floor clear,” Brok says and returns to the front room. “On your feet, people!” Hollis commands, “Take us downstairs.” Squirrel and Brok follow Hollis down the stairs, each with a resident in front of them, barrels in their backs. “Say you’re home,” Hollis tells the first man. “Hola senors! I’m home!” “Sweet! The Chinese is here,” someone says, and comes out of a side room. He comes to them and sees the visitors, and asks, “Are you the delivery guys?” “Yes, we’ve come to deliver a message, shut down your operation or we will shut it down for you,” Hollis says. “Oh, so no Chinese? God Damn, been waiting for that all day…,” he says, retreating to the room. “Hey, Rocco, someone’s here for ya, no Chinese…God damn…,” the man says. The man Hollis assumes is Rocco comes out of the room and greets Hollis, “Oh hello Hollis. Nice to finally see you.” Hollis nods to Squirrel and Brok to release their captives and lets his own go, and says, “So you’re the one that emailed me?” “Yep, how’d you find us?” “That’d be Weasel; he’s the genius here, well, technical genius. I’m the real genius,” Hollis says and Squirrel hits his shoulder. “Alright, well, what’s with the weapons?” he asks, obviously impervious to the danger they actually pose. “Like I said, take down your operation or we will,” he says, slightly smiling, which looked more like a smirk. “Alright, then, lemme show you something,” he says calmly though Hollis already has his weapon raised to aim at Rocco’s chest. He leads them down more stairs and shows them a huge room that looks exactly like the office of the President. “Exact replica, if you really look at it; gotta convince America that we still have a working government.” “What do you mean? America is in the hands of Mike and Maus. It has been since 2010. America as we know…it is non existent.” Rocco laughs, and looks at Hollis as if he’s telling a joke. Hollis looks around to his comrades and says, “I’m not joking.” “Right, of course you aren’t. You don’t know. “I want to show you something.” He leads them to another room on the same floor, which only has seats and a white screen. He flips a switch, enters a code into a computer near the door and asks them to sit, and enjoy as much as they can. They sit, and Rocco stands behind them, reluctantly watching this video again. The video starts, and Rocco explains what’s going on. There’s what appears to be a three-inch layer of dust on everything, never goes away, never leaves what it’s stuck to. “This is one of the first trials of the ADS drug. They started out with airborne gases to distribute the stuff, to kinda force them to take it,” Rocco begins. “Now look at the people. They, too, have this sick layer of ‘dust.’ Those people will live forever. Nothing can penetrate their skin, and nothing can poison them. However, look, they can’t talk normally, and are forced to be this dirty the rest of their lives. Nothing they can do about it.” The movie goes into a house and shows the same thing for indoors as it is out doors. The whole screen is a gross shade of gray and black as the frames roll them upstairs and through a bedroom. He stops it at the bathtub. “This is where it is worst. Because these people bathe in this stuff, run in it, live out their lives in it, they find it to be calming a soothing. A perfect ingredient to their water. “But…. “…when it meets the water, the smell of it is kinda nice. Their noses are reprogrammed to like the horrible smells, so no one bathes. They’re blissful in their stench. “Ok, now look at the water: its not grey, it’s not blue, it’s not anything. Can’t see it. The dust covers it and no one knows when or where they’re gonna step in it. This bothers them since if they do step in it; they begin to smell horrible to their peers and themselves. Everyone stays away from the water; they don’t even touch containers of it to water plants.” Again outside, the video shows more people, basking in their dimmed out sun. Then Hollis sees something strange. One of the camera men go in front of the camera and stabs a man in the ear with his fingers several times. He shows the man a piece of paper, and stands in front of him for several minutes. “Why did he do that?” Squirrel asks. “He needed to talk to the man,” Rocco says, “With that stuff on you, in you, you can’t hear much, and most of your senses are shot to pretty much nothing. The only thing they can feel is their ears. If you tap them on the shoulder, they won’t turn or even flinch, just keep going about their business.” “What was the sign for?” Hollis asks. “He wrote down what he needed to say, jabbed his ear, and waited for an answer. This one was friendly and told him exactly what he needed to hear.” “How? I didn’t hear him speak…?” “They speak in very low tones and in drawn out words. To say hello, it might take them a full minute. It’s really hard to understand at first but you get used to it after a while…” Then he goes on to explain that one person can be vulnerable to the material and airborne gas ten times in their lifetime before they turn into those men, women, and children. “Everyone goes in with a number on their back, 1-10, the higher the number, the less time you can stay. Each exposure is around ten to fifteen minutes. After ten minutes, the stuff eats away at your skin, starts to replace it, then goes to your bloodstream and on. Ten times, and ten minutes each. Remember that. “Eleven exposures and the stuff does the same thing. It finds what is left of it in your skin and uses it to take over your body’s nerves and such.” He continues to say that M&M took three tries to make it right as it is today. First the airborne, then the powder in the water, and now the pill. Each with their own side effects, each with their benefits. The drug got better and the side effects were chosen purposely. Then he says, “There’s something else I need to show you. All of America is free. Every bit of it. We’re in control. All the laws are back in place, everything is normal, for us. The Presidency is back; which is why we have that duplicate of the office; every bit is back to the way it was in 2010. Quite literally, we have left you out in the cold for most of your life. Oh yeah, the President; he’s your father.” Hollis freezes and looks at him with confusion, then relaxes, starts laughing and heads for the door. “You know, you almost got me,” he says, “I thought all of this was true. I could believe the zombie men and America being free, but not my father being President. He’s been dead for over ten years. There’s no way.” “It’s true…” Rocco states, “If you stay here or meet us in Springs, we’ll take you to see him.” “Ha ha ha ha. No, it’s ok. I know where his grave is. I don’t need a reminder. I go there every year.” “We’re not going to anyone’s grave...especially your father’s. He and Faizah are still alive. She’s making out to be quite an asset.” “Ok stop right there! You have no idea what happened to them, or even who they are. I don’t believe any of this, me and WTF are in control now, and nothing, no one will stop us!” Squirrel, Weasel, Brok, Jackal, Candy and Hollis all bring their weapons to bare and point them at someone as they pass them, scooting backwards toward the stairs. A man come out from the shadows and Hollis thinks he recognizes him, but shakes it off and keeps moving toward the door. “Is it so hard for you to believe,” the man begins, “that I am still alive?” “Shut up! You’re not my father!” Hollis says, tears filling his eyes, “You’re NOT my father!” “Alright, Kevin, what do you want me to do?” “That is not my name! My name is Hollis! Everyone calls me that!” “Well, your name is Kevin, son.” Hollis’ lips purse and he speaks through his teeth, “Don’t you even. I am not your son.” “Alright, now calm down. Do you remember this?” Leon then begins tap dancing, each hard tap a beat of a song. Leon sings along with it and everyone hears a small click. Tears streaking down his face, Hollis takes the safety off his rifle and aims directly at Leon. “You…are not my father. He’s dead. Mom’s dead too. I saw you die…I watched you die!” “Ah, c’mon son, why are you ruining the fun?” “Ok, ok. Let’s see…if you’re my dad, you would know where my birthmark is and what it looks like.” “It’s below your belly button and it looks like a guitar…Happy?” “What about moms. Where is hers?” “You kidding? The same place, same thing. Now can we get this show on the road, I got a game to watch!” “Dad? “Dad? “Is that you? Is that really you?” “Yes, son. It is. Now come give your old man a hug.” Hollis drops his rifle to his side and the rest of the clan does the same. He walks slowly up to Leon and stops, only a foot away. He looks into his father’s eyes and smiles. “Damnit dad. You’re making me cry in front of my friends.” Leon then wraps him in a big hug and says, “Yeah, well, dry your eyes, its time for business.” Hollis pulls away from him and exclaims, “Where’s mom?!” “Right here, son,” Faizah says behind him. Hollis runs to her and hugs her, whispers in her ear, “You gotta stop dad from watching those games; he gets all tempered when he misses his games.” “Yeah, he always has, son. Always has.” She says and points a half-angry, half- laughing look at Leon. “What?” Leon says. “Come here babe,” Faizah says and wraps her two men in a hug. Hollis gets out and walks to stand next to Squirrel. “Mom, dad, this is Jenny,” he says. “Nice to meet you Jenny,” Faizah says, smiling. “Hollis, that’s not Jenny…her name is Squirrel,” Jackal interjects. Hollis and Squirrel laugh, and both say, “Its Jenny to me.” Jackal laughs and says, “Ok fine, Candy is…well, Candy is Candy to me…if you know what I mean…” Everyone laughs, and shuffle up the stairs to meet the others. Candy hits Jackal on the way up, saying ‘jerk’ under her breath. Once upstairs, Leon sits at the desk in the President’s office and Hollis stops at the door. ‘Wow, my dad, the President of the United States of America,’ he says to himself. “Come here son, I wanna show you something,” Leon says. “Coming dad,” he says smiling. Hollis stops in front of the desk and looks at his father. “Not there, come here, around,” Leon instructs. Hollis walks around and stares at the desk and the view from it. “See these scratches? Jimmy Carter made them. This desk’s been in the White House since Abe Lincoln. All of them have touched, worked and scratched it somewhere. This one,” he points to one on the far corner, “I made last week. I wasn’t sure if I should’ve been sad or glad that I did. Making my mark on history. That’s always been my dream. Now look, I got a mark on something historical. Close enough, you think?” “Yeah, close enough,” Hollis replies softly. They hear Weasel asking Rocco if he had done anything to free anyone from Mike and Maus, to which Rocco says, “Not really, you hacked into our system though. That’s why you thought it was you and so easy. You just changed the password pretty much. Sorry.” Weasel looks at him with his lips pursed, angry that his genius skills were of no accord in the matter. He leans his head on Hollis’ shoulder and says, “I’m sorry Kevin. I have failed us all. I will send my resignation in tomorrow. I…” “Whoa, wait. If not for you, we wouldn’t be here now or anywhere really. Just disobeying the law in that huge house. All alone, oblivious to what’s going on in the world. Nothing would have happened. If you resign, you’re hired again straight away. Might as well save the time and effort,” Hollis says almost jokingly. “Fine…” he says walking away. “You know Weasel, you can always come to work for the President,” Leon offers. “I can?” Weasel exclaims. Leon nods and winks at him. “You bet! Any day!” “Oh thanks dad,” Hollis says, “you took my geek.” “Not a problem son. In fact, bring all of WTF here, and they’ll all work for the President. Top advisors and all.” “I don’t know dad…Who’s gonna take care of the house?” “That’s what I was getting to next. That house is the new white house, and the capitol of our nation shall assemble around it. Executive order…Effective immediately.” Leon pulls a gavel out of the drawer and slams it on a circle pallet toward the edge of the desk. “Always wanted to do that…” Leon says, smiling. Chapter Seven 3 August 2030 Rome, Italy 0830 Local Suite 135, Local Hotel His eyes opened, but still couldn’t see anything. The blinds were closed, blocking all light. ‘I need those blinds in my place,’ he thought. He threw his feet onto the floor and quickly raised them, ‘wood floors are cold in the morning. Duh.’ He felt around for his shoes, which had his dirty socks in them and walked to the window to open the blinds. The light blinding his sensitive eyes, he held up his hands to shield them. Without even thinking, he turns away from it and looks around the bright room. He side steps to the right to open the rest of the blinds and to make his eyes scream even more. ‘This is what I get for asking for a dark room,’ he thinks and laughs at himself. He steps into the small kitchen and starts the coffee pot. Not coffee, he makes tea in coffee pots nowadays. Coffee puts him to sleep and Green Tea with Ginseng wakes him up. Dyslexic, he likes to think of it. Wackbards. He puts a cup under the coffee maker and waits for his cup to fill while he waits with the pot in his other hand. Preparing his coffee with a few heaping spoonfuls of sugar in he leans on the low wall in the kitchen looking out the window into downtown Rome. Smog dominated the blue sky, and as he wished to hear the noises of the city, he heard a loud gasp next door. He smiled and sat down for a few minutes, enjoying what could be his last cup of tea before going into Belgium. His cell phone rang loudly, so he moved his ears a little bit to try to block out the sound. “Hello!” Maus says. “God damn Maus!” Malachi exclaims, “Could they make the blinds any more impenetrable to light? I was blinded when I opened the blinds, fuck, that’s why they call them blinds. I always knew there was a reason. Always did. Anyway, when are we going to breakfast? I’m starved. That dinner was great, but no kidding, I shit it out three hours later. I’ve been hungry ever since. Dude, call breakfast soon, and let me know when you do.” “Will do Malachi, will do,” Maus replies, “Alright, I have a call coming through, peace man.” “Peace.” Maus switches to the next call and says, “Hello!” “Hey, Maus? We got a problem down here,” a deep voice says. “Oh, who is this? You came in while I was talking to Malachi, don’t know the number.” “This is Alex, from your north base, here in Austria.” “Ah, ok. What’s up Alex?” “Well, we had a little visitor last night. He doesn’t know you’re not here, but luckily the military was able to keep him at bay on an island about three miles offshore.” “Who was it?” “You won’t believe me if I told you.” “Try me.” “Mike Brehio. He even announced it. Said something about his army being in the near hundreds of thousands and demanding to see you. He tried to barge onto our soil, but his primary force failed. I think he’s getting ready for another attack in a few days, highly planned, all the good stuff, you know.” “Ok, you say he said his army was in the near hundreds of thousands?” “Yes sir.” “Well he only has about thirty thousand from Belgium, so even if he took his entire army, he would only have that much unless he teamed up with someone.” “You know, I think he did. Those Jap fellas. Weird short dudes with funky eyes?” Maus laughs, “Yep, that’s them. He could have much more if he teamed with them. So call it a bluff. He won’t have less; he’ll have more. Which means he abandoned Belgium of all forces…I’ll be there in two days. Keep them at bay. Don’t let them on our soil. Not a soul. Not even those Japs. Especially not the Japs. Understood?” “Yes, sir. We can do that,” Alex says as he thinks of all the weapons he can use with that order given. “Ok, give me a status report in twenty four hours. I’ll be waiting,” Maus says. “Will do sir, will do,” he says. Maus hears the phone drop to the floor and Alex say, “Hey George! Get out the ballistics! We’re keepin’ them bastards off our soil ‘til Maus gets back!” “Hell yeah! I know exactly what to use to blow their cocks off…” George says as Maus finally hangs up. ‘A walk in the park,’ Maus thinks as he thinks of a speech to give to the Belgian people when he walks into their capitol. ‘Your leader has abandoned you, and I am here to relieve you of his awesome tyranny…’ Yeah, this will be great. He calls down to the front desk and asks to reserve a table in the dining hall for breakfast, to which the clerk agrees and asks about what he would like for breakfast. He orders sausage, pancakes, eggs, bacon, all the good stuff, and ‘Oh yeah, throw some Belgian Waffles in there with Maple syrup and butter.’ He gets dressed and waits about five minutes to connect to Malachi’s room. “Malachi, get dressed, breakfast will be ready in half an hour. I got news. Spread the word. See ya down there,” Maus calls out. “Awesome, peace man,” Malachi says sleepily. “Peace,” Maus utters as he hangs up. ‘This shall be fun.’ He grabs another cup of tea and drinks it all in one gulp, forgetting the sugar. His face twists and chills go up and down his spine, shuddering from the shock. He quickly showers and calls Ayron to ask him to have all forces ready in three hours and agrees to the short notice as Maus promises that they will see no action today. No action at all. Possibly tomorrow, but not today. He says that if no action, he will only send his forces, numbered forty thousand themselves; they should fit the bill of what Maus wants. He’ll ask the other countries to have their forces at the ready for Maus’ word. Maus thanked him and rushed to the elevator, banging on every door on the way. He steps in, alone, and stands with feet shoulder-width apart and hand cupped in front of him. He looks up and listens to the music on the speakers. ‘Ugh elevator music,’ he thinks for a minute, then in his eccentricity, starts dancing to it, not noticing the doors opening to a few early twenties women. They cough and he instantly stands still and mumbles stupid excuses for his dancing. “The music is contagious…and so is your beauty…” He says without thinking. They giggle and turn away from him, he looks down at his hands only to notice their tight jeans, and instead of just staring, he again hears the music and continues dancing, not caring what the women think. “I hope I see you ladies again,” Maus says as he dances himself out of the elevator onto the second floor. He stops and turns to them and winks just as the doors close and he sees one of them bite her lip, only to be nudged by the other two women. He practically jumps into the dining hall, where his guards are waiting, Malachi looking over the dishes with covers over them. “We wanted to wait for you, sir.” One of the younger guards says. “Thank you Tommy. That was nice,” Maus begins, “Dig in! I’ll give you the good news when we finish!” All the covers come off at once, and the smells come drifting into their noses. Each man savoring the fumes for a second before diving their forks into at least one of everything. Their huge plates are filled quickly, though emptied much slower. Tommy paces himself, wanting to enjoy the flavors rolling around in his mouth. Twenty minutes later, Maus finishes last and stands up. “To our great country and our pursuit of world peace…not domination!” Maus exclaims, raising his glass of milk to the heavens. Glasses clang and Maus puts his own down. “Now, the news. Bad first,” he begins, “Mike Brehio has attacked our great homeland of Austria.” Moans and groans go around the table so Maus continues, “He took every soldier from Belgium to do so, in anticipation that we would be waiting for him, waiting to out flank him and kill him. Not only did he take his mere thirty thousand forces, he teamed up with Japan whose forces are seventy to extremely high numbers, and is planning his second attack at this moment! “He demands to see me and won’t stop his attack until he does.” “How is this making you so happy?” Malachi cries. “Well, young Padawan, he took all of his forces out of Belgium. Every man owning a weapon went with him…which means the military force that we have acquired from this generous country will be paraded through the streets, greeted as heroes to a nation abandoned by their leader. “We’re going to walk up to the front door of the palace and calmly ask for entrance. From there I will claim the country as mine, and then we go after Mike. “Oh yeah, that’s the good news,” Maus finishes smiling. Cheers go round the table and Maus looks at his watch, then at the clock on the wall. “Alright, men, get ready for a road trip. We leave in twenty minutes. Hope you packed your bags, because we’re not coming back.” Maus rushes into the lobby and is surprised to see all of their bags on trolleys, bellhops there to push them out to the awaiting cabs at the curb. He looks at the clerk, confused and she simply says, “Thank you for stopping in Rome! Hope to see you soon!” They quickly look over them to make sure they’re all there and then rush to the cabs. “We need to get to this base,” Maus says, handing the driver a piece of paper. The driver looks at him for a minute and then proclaims, “Ah! Maus Bravado! My hero. You go anywhere you want. No charge.” “Alright, I want to go to that base as quickly as possible…and if you could relay that message to the other drivers, I would appreciate it.” The driver rolls his window down and yells some Italian out the window toward the other drivers who all nod in agreement and then roll their windows back up. “Everything will flow like cold butter…,” he says. Hollis ignored the comment and waited for the others to settle in their cabs, and once they were, he told the driver to set off. Easily holding fifty on the side streets, the cab was pushing Maus’ breakfast back up slowly and within twenty minutes they arrived at the landing strip, where thousands of soldiers stood at ease, waiting for Maus. Maus greeted Senor Presidente and asked how soon they could be mobilized, to which Ayron said thirty minutes tops. “Alright, let’s do it. Thirty minutes,” Maus requested. “Consider done,” Ayron replied. Ayron boasted his loud voice and commanded the men to assemble into vehicles, most of which were Humvees. Within minutes, every soldier was inside some type of vehicle. Humvees, M1-Abrams, and other transport vehicles. Maus and his guards jumped into the lead vehicles and they were off, headed toward the great unprotected country of Belgium. Maus sat on the door with the window down, to display confidence to the other troops and to feel the wind in his face. They blocked all roads going to Belgium so that the mile-long convoy could get there as soon as possible. Easily clearing hundred plus speeds, they reached the border in a lot shorter time than expected. His Humvee driver tapped him on the leg when the came into Belgium, so Maus turned toward the rest of the convoy and whistled loud. They all understood and cheered as they passed the place that Maus had whistled. About an hour later, the smog of the Capitol loomed on the horizon. Malachi asked if that was the capitol, Maus said yes, yes it was. He got back into the vehicle and waited for the reaction of the Belgian people. He could see a few people look up as they passed, but none looked too frightened. Maus stuck his head out, whistled and twirled his hands, and the front third of the convoy stayed on the interstate while the next third took the next available exit and the last third the one after that, all going to the capitol, all in different directions to confuse any opposition. They never slowed for anyone already on the interstate. If they were in the way, they ran them over. ‘This was important by the way,’ Maus thought to himself. The convoy finally slowed and stopped in front of the capitol building, so Maus got out, but only him; no one else. A single man came out the door and down the stairs as the other two thirds of the convoy arrived, asking who he was and what his business was bringing such a force into a peaceful country. “My name is Maus Bravado, your leader has abandoned you, and I am here to relieve you of his awesome tyranny. Mike Brehio has committed crimes of war against this beautiful country and I am going to punish him, as he has punished you,” Maus offered. “If you are who you say you are, why must you come when Mike is not here? Mike is away trying to do you in, my dear sir. He has taken all of our military to do so, and have even joined forces with Japan in anticipation of your great military force. Why are you here?” the man asks. “I am here not only to punish Mike, but to establish myself as your new leader. I will treat you fairly, and no man shall go hungry.” The crowd gathering around them heard the quick translation from a loud speaker and cheered, happy to welcome Maus to the seat of leadership in their country. “Well, I believe the people have spoken. If you wish, we can have a vote for this, or we can take the country by force,” Maus states as a few rifles are loaded and aimed at the man. The man looks around nervously and says, “No need for vote. Belgium graciously accepts your offer. You are our new leader!” Again the crowd cheers and Maus says, “Well, I would love to stay, but I have other fish to fry. Can I get a flight to Australia? Just my guards and me. About twelve people.” “Yes! Yes of course,” the man yells, “There will be a plane waiting. Go down this street, and follow the airplane signs. You’ll be there in twenty minutes.” “Thank you, my dear sir, I trust you to initiate my new term, and to set up a democratic government, with a constitution similar to the U.S.A, yes?” “Yes! I will have the constitution ready for you to sign on your return! Now go, great leader, go conquer the man we all despise!” Maus smiled and directed the convoy toward the airport. The drive was short, about five minutes because the drivers like to speed. The plane was waiting as the man said, ‘I need to learn his name…,’ Maus thought. They boarded and were in the air in less than ten minutes, all of them eager to kill Mike. § § § Once in Australia, Maus rushed to the tower that had called him while on the plane. He asked the man to tell Mike that Maus was here and wanted to fight him, only him, not his troops. Mike agreed, and Maus was to wait at the beach for him. Maus walked slowly toward the beach, and left his empty shoulder holsters on, to show his willingness for a clean fight. Mike was there already, with a few of his own guards with him. Behind him, in the distance, the entire army that Mike brought with him, sat, poised for action. Maus’ own were behind the bunker overlooking the beach; his four most trusted guards behind him, just for security, to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. They are told only to shoot if Mike’s guards shot, so things should be smooth and fair. “I never actually thought you would be man enough to fight me face to face, no chess mind games,” Mike says smirking wide. “We both know who would win in a battle. Even with your Japanese allies, you would not stand a chance against Austria, or me. Surrender now if you wish to keep your pride intact,” Maus threatens. “Alright, alright. Let’s just settle this man to man. No armies, no guns, no knives; fist to fist.” “Fist to fist,” Maus says as he ‘throws up his dukes’. Mike rushes toward Maus angrily. Maus steps aside and hits Mike’s kidney as he passes. Mike quickly turns and starts throwing stupidly aimed punches. Maus grabs his hands and twists them outward, making Mike cringe in pain. He kicks Mike to the ground and kneels next to him. “You abandoned your country in their time of need. I walked in and assumed your position. Welcome to unemployment,” Maus tells Mike. “You what?!” Mike growls as he gets up and kicks Maus’ shin. “Oooh, ouch. That one hurt. One sec, I need to cry,” Maus teased. Mike didn’t like that and threw well-aimed punches at Maus’ stomach, pushing all the air out of his chest. Maus fell to his hands and knees, clutching his chest, gagging for air. Mike kicked him, again in the stomach, satisfied that he was gaining the upper hand. “Cheap shot,” Maus managed to pant out of his chest, “That’s all you’ve ever been. Always taking the opportunity to screw someone over. Never thinking of the harm that it may do; only thinking of your own ambition.” “You dirty dog,” Mike retorts, “it would be a shame to spit on you. I am disgraced to be in your presence. I am only here to wipe you off the map. To free this beautiful country of your horrid desires. The only thing you deserve is a swift kick in the ass. Speaking of which…” Mike kicks Maus in the ass, leans close to him and softly remarks, “What now asshole? I just kicked your ass.” Mike snickers as he stands up to face Maus’ men, “What do you think of your great leader now?” Maus looks up at him, blinks slowly and leans back on his feet, “Unable to hold his own breath in my presence,” Maus stands, hand still clutching his chest, one eye open. “Hardly able to speak.” Maus looks at Mike with all the hate he can muster, waiting for the right moment. “He is scum! Nothing great will ever become of him or his treacherous deeds.” Maus throws his hardest punch at Mike’s back, causing him to fall to the ground with a broken shoulder blade. “I am scum?” Maus questions, “Did I abandon my country? Leave them with no defense? No. I didn’t. You did. You left your own fellow citizens’ hearts empty, unable to decipher what they want, to die or to live in your macabre tyranny. Yes, your men came here to fight with you, but not for you. They came to protect their families from your penalty. Your people don’t respect you as mine respect me. They fear you. Do you remember Saddam Hussein? You rule just like him, with an iron fist and a steel toe. You kick and beat your people for monetary gain. I spit on you because you deserve it.” Maus gathered all the mucus he could and spit it square into Mike’s ear. Mike stood and nodded furiously, tears coming to his eyes. “Yes, I have done what you have said. All of it. Nothing I can do to fix it either. I would be honored for you to shoot me here, to end all that I have done. You alone are the one to be worthy of such greatness. You already have my country, take my life too,” Mike sobbed. Maus looks up to Malachi whose rifle is to his eye, and signals him to stand down. “I will not shoot you,” Maus begins, “But you will die. By my hand, by the law of justice.” Maus begins punching Mike, each punch coming slower than the next, Maus hardly believing Mike’s surrender. Twenty punches and Maus stops. “Have you no dignity man?” he asks Mike. “Yes,” Mike says, finally looking up, “All the dignity in the world.” Mike jumps up off his knees, pulling out a handgun that he aims at Maus and pulls the trigger. Maus’ reaction throws the shot into the air, and Maus realizes his plan all along. He fights for control of the gun, and several shots go into the air and sand. Maus counts the shots. Three; four; five; six. He grabs Mike’s hand and points the gun skywards. Seven. The casing comes out of the gun in almost slow motion and falls to the sand, making hardly any sound, but very loud to Mike and Maus. Mike manages to point the gun back at Maus, so Maus puts all his weight onto his arms and pushes the gun down. Eight. Mike screams as he sees the bullet wound in his leg. He drops the gun and Maus quickly picks it up holding it to Mike’s head. “Kill me,” Mike pleads. “Kill me now.” Maus looks at the man that is now on his knees, begging for death. Waiting, expecting death. Maus again looks back at Malachi, who is smiling, egging Maus to pull the trigger. He holds the gun away from him, still aimed at Mike’s head. -Click- Chapter Eight 16 June 2016 L.O.L. H.Q. 1350 Local L.O.L. Office “Ok, Maus began his conquest of the world with Australia, correct?” Rocco asks rhetorically. “Well, along with changing Australia’s name to Austria, he pissed off a lot of vampires,” he says slowly to let the fact sink into everyone’s ears. “Vampires?!” Weasel exclaims. “Yes, vampires; you see they lived in peace in the vast expanse of Australia’s wildlife refuges. When Maus went to conquer Australia, he had to go into those places to make sure no one was there. He only went into their territory with a few hundred soldiers but all but annihilated the vampires. Apparently, the clan was having a meeting of what to do about the invasion that Maus was sending, all gathered in one massive canyon. When Maus walked up there, he saw what was going on, and decided to put his own two cents in. He walked right up to the speaker and said, ‘Excuse me, may I?’ The speaker was so shocked, he was speechless, and so Maus just began speaking. “’My fellow Austrians,’ his mentioning of the change of their country’s name irked all that was gathered, even the speaker became alert of what was going on, but still allowed it to continue. ‘I have come to restore peace, prosperity, renew posterity, and give you what I have given to the most beautiful country in the world. I come to lead you all into what the world will know to be the greatest conquest of all of history. I hope to have your assistance in this conquest. The local legends speak of you as high as the gods of ancient Greece. Feared, revered, and most of all, respected. All you have to do is surrender to me. We will then forge an alliance that Zeus himself would be jealous of. I do not wish to harm you, or any of your citizens, but if I must forge this alliance with force, I will do so without regret.’ The whole crowd is seething from this statement, and a single vampire stands from amongst the crowd. Everyone looks at him in admiration; expecting this horrible threat to dissolve with just this man’s words. “’You come to my camp, my home and threaten me with annihilation if I do not succumb to your requests. I find that not only disrespectful, but also very dangerous on your part. We are vampires, if you have not noticed. Until now, neither I, nor anyone in this camp, have not talked to your kind for as long as we have lived, even though our lives last much longer than yours do. Though you will be able to kill us, it does not bring fear to us that you can; rather, it tells us that you are stupid enough to try. Not many times in our history on this island of Australia has any conqueror come here wanting to conquer; rather they leave in fear, for our superior fighting techniques, and our unchanging hearts. We have lived here since the first mammoth walked this great earth. Do not ask me how we came to be, we do not know either, all we know is that we are, and that should be enough for anyone. We remain peaceful until forced into battle, as a foreign country may also be. We do not have much technology, but what we do have is ingenuity, allowing us to advance in intelligence farther than most humans on earth. Einstein was a great, man, genius to you, equal to us. Without a doubt, what you require us to do for ‘our continued peace’ as you tell us is not only absurd but also impossible for any member of this vampire clan to do, let alone any other clan you may encounter. Now that is not the only difference between us and all other provinces of this great country you call Austria. We also are self-sufficient, able to supply food, water, and shelter to all of our people, along with our own medical facilities. With that said, you may think that we are very similar in our methods of leading our country. I say we are very different. I serve my people as one of them, not above them. I treat them as equals, just as they treat any of their neighbors.’ “Right then, a shot rings out, to which many vampires duck and scatter. Maus had fired into the air, tired of the long speech the old man was giving. “’That’s enough,’ Maus says, ‘I will not hear another word. Either you bow to me now, Lord of the Vampires, or you prepare yourself for battle. It is your choice.’ “All of the soldiers and vampires look at him in curiosity, the soldiers expecting surrender, and the vampires expecting battle, a few stronger men leaving and disappearing into tents in the distance. “’I will not subject my people to the tyranny of such a man as yourself, but I absolutely will not make them fight for me. Therefore, I must do it myself. I do not surrender, but my people will not participate in this scuffle between us. You said to prepare for battle, are you then prepared?’ He says as a few men come out of tents carrying battle gear. ‘Here you are, Thaddeus,’ the men say in unison. “’Thaddeus, is it?’ Maus repeats. ‘That sounds promising. It even sounds like a challenge. You must be from the Great Roman Times, where sword and shield dominated. Now, bullet and barrel are the standard. Do you really think you can stand a chance against this new technology?” “’No, I think you can’t stand a chance against my military might,’ Thaddeus replies, ‘Sword and shield has been the tradition of my camp for centuries, why should it stop?’ “They fight, very gruesome battle, and surprisingly, Thaddeus’ army holds up for quite some time considering their situation,” Rocco states. “How long did they last?” Weasel asks. “Oh about five or ten minutes, depends who tells you. Just enough time to get the others out of the camp. The young, old, women, and men not qualified for warrior.” “So what happens after that?” Jackal demands. “They move to America. Traveling through the country, starting at Ellis Island, the way any other European Immigrant came over. They finally settle in Colorado City, and establish a clan…called something other than L.O.L., which is top secret due to security breaches…and somehow conned Mr. Bishop to sell his castle, and renovate it to be their estate. The rest is history,” he chuckles, “Well, as far as it seems it is…M&M took over the world, and all the hope that was left remained in an old castle and a huge mansion…your fathers’ mansion and the vampires’ estate. You know the rest…except about your parents’ staged death…,” he says, looking at Leon and Faizah. “Perhaps I should tell him,” Leon declares. “Yeah, just maybe you could explain why you left your son to do all your dirty work while you went behind his back and did it for him,” Hollis says furiously. “Ok son, you definitely deserve an explanation,” Leon begins. “The world had become a really dark place and even though we were having much success, it seemed that no matter what we did, worse things came. We had many small towns across Colorado freed and eager to get back to their normal pace of life. When we freed Colorado City, where you met Jenny here,” several people whispering, ‘who’s Jenny?’, “we also met the vampires from Australia, who told us of how Maus overthrew their land as if it were rightfully his. They also told me of their epic journey across America going from town to town, trying to find work, and respect. The work they did not need, but respect was necessary. They had hundreds of millions of dollars in inheritance from the leaders slaughtered back home, but still needed something to do with their spare time. “When they came to Colorado City, they saw promise of a loving community and welcoming neighbors and friends. They visited Bishops Castle, and immediately contacted Mr. Bishop to buy it from him. They offered an amount no one could refuse, and soon afterwards, posted it as private property, meanwhile renovating it to become their home. “We arrived in here about two years after they settled into their rather large abode. I am sure you remember it; your eyes lighting up when you saw Jenny. That is the first time I had ever seen love at first sight, and was not surprised to learn that you two had indeed fallen deeply in love.” A few people say, “Oh, that’s who Jenny is…” as she wraps her arms around him and looking up into his deep brown eyes. “We staged the crash because one, we knew you would be able to handle it, and two, W.T.F. was no longer where I needed to be. Rocco and I developed the L.O.L. clan and decided that we would do what W.T.F. had been trying to do since its founding, and we did it better. Putting our own clan to shame was way beyond our imagining, and so I kept away, having our death faked. I could hardly look myself in the mirror for years. Nevertheless, I kept convincing myself that it was for the greater good. That what I did had to be done, and could not have been done any other way. I still regret making you believe us dead, and will not be able to forgive myself until you have forgiven me. “We have a higher purpose here, son; higher than you can wrap your arms around, higher than I can even fathom. “I will not ask for forgiveness, because I know I am not worthy of it for that action, let alone all the other sins I have committed against you. Nothing could justify that, especially if my son does not forgive me. Look around you, my boy. There are just as many people here that hate Mike and Maus as much as any one of those brave men and women in Where’s The Freedom?. Don’t give up son, if you do leave here without taking this offer…, continue what you have done, but know that if you do, you will have more than just Mike and Maus to worry about, you would also be against me, your mother, and vampires that now number in hundreds from just a handful. It would be foolish of you to leave here without joining L.O.L. America is in our hands, and you don’t want America against you,” he threatens. Hollis thinks about this fact for a few minutes and speaks softly, full of emotion, “I never thought I would see you while I was alive, dad. And now you spring this on me as if I can react so quickly from getting over your death?” He clears his throat, allowing his voice to get louder, “But it would be not only my honor but the honor of the entire W.T.F. clan to join L.O.L. in conquest of the persecutor that is Mike and Maus. But I’m sorry dad, I cannot draw my thoughts into long speeches as you can,” he shrugs his shoulders, “so all I’m gonna say is, let’s kick some M&M ass!” “Alright son, let’s get her done!” Leon says, and Hollis stares at him. “Never again, dad, never again,” he says. Chapter One: Furlough Looking into her eyes is the favorite part of my entire day. My dad had reappeared, yes, but the love I have for Jenny could not be any greater. She is my life. Two weeks after finding my father, in what I thought was to be the stronghold of a potential enemy, Leon had let Jenny and I take a little break. “Go do what kids do,” he said, smiling, and shooing us away from the offices of what is now Washington, D.C. in Colorado. He took me aside a little later, and asked about Jenny’s parents. When my eyes looked at the ground, he put his giant hand on my shoulder, and looked me in the eye; something I had missed during the years he was gone. “You and Jenny have gone through a lot; I can see it in each of your eyes,” he began, “I can also see that you two also have a love that nothing could vanquish. You two are so in love, sometimes you do not even see it. Nevertheless, everyone else does, trust me. I admire a couple that can have such a love during a time like this, especially with you trying to overtake such a great enemy.” “Dad…” I said, my cheeks turning red. He smiles and laughs, “Look, son, I won’t get into the nitty-gritty, but let me just say this: I do not want you to come back to this house from your vacation and not see a ring on that girl’s finger, you understand?” “Dad, that’s… wow. “But wait, I don’t have a…” He shakes my hand, but I feel a box clasped inside his giant palm. “Son, sometimes when you give, you get and when you do as great as you did, the world gives you a break. Go have fun son and ask that girl to marry you,” he says and winks at me, walking away silently. I go to my room and open the box; three larger diamonds in a row with three smaller diamonds on each side of the larger three on a pallet of white gold. By far the most beautiful thing I have seen in a long time. A soft knock at my door and I stow the box quickly, under my bed, to accompany the large dust bunnies multiplying down there. “Kevin? Is everything alright? I saw your dad talking to you,” Jenny says as she walks in. “Oh yeah, everything’s fine, honey. He was just telling me to let loose, go somewhere and be a kid, you know, something I haven’t been in a while,” I respond, my heart beating wildly. “Oh ok. Well, are you taking me? ‘Cuz I really want to go if you’re going somewhere.” I sigh slowly, and put my hands on my knees, “Actually, babe… He suggested I go alone…” “Oh,” she says, defeat written all over her face. “Yeah,” I say, smirking at her on purpose. “He didn’t say for you to go alone did he?” “No ma’am, he didn’t.” She throws a pillow at me and says, “Sometimes, Hollis; sometimes.” I laugh, say, “You know you like it,” and stick out my tongue at her. “Yeah, that’s the problem. So, where are we going?” “Um, not sure; haven’t decided.” “Well, I’ve always just wanted to take a road trip. Just get in the car and go somewhere, you know?” “I don’t know… I was thinking more of a stereo-typical vacation, you know, like Hawaii or something.” “But, we’re not the stereo-typical couple; we’re different from everyone else.” “You think? You mean, like we’re some superhero couple. ‘Here to save you from the evil Mike and Maus’ could be our slogan.” She laughs, “Shut up, you know what I mean.” Throws a pillow at me, and then asks, “So…where are we going, really?” “Just around Colorado; take a road trip, see things as they should be and just enjoy our time together,” I say with a huge smile on my face. She throws another pillow at me, but smiles. “You’re lucky I love you,” she says, glaring at me jokingly. “Indeed, I am lucky that you love me. I love you, Jenny.” “I love you too, Kevin.” I lay down on my bed, Jenny quickly lying next to me, her head on my chest. I run my fingers through her hair, and she traces circles on my chest. “Do you think the others will be mad that we’re leaving?” “No,” I say, “Dad said everyone thinks it’s best for us to go, because we’ve been through so much as a couple, you know. I think we would be fine even without a vacation, but I’m not going to say no to a free vacation to the place of my choice. That’d just be rude.” She looks up at me for a minute, and then we both laugh. “You know what I’ve been thinking, Jenny?” “What's that, baby?” “We need to take another family picture; with the family that we’ve grown into here. I mean, how diverse can a family get, when it has a dozen different people in it? No, we’re not all family, but when we work, we’re all like brothers and sisters, fighting one cause. I think that is deserving of the title ‘Family’.” “Yeah, definitely; that’s a good idea. When are we leaving for this road trip?” “Soon, I just have to pack up a few things, and then we’ll be off.” “Cool. I’ll be downstairs eating your mom’s delicious dinner. See you in a bit, love.” “Alright, babe.” She leaves the room, and I wait to hear her footsteps go down the stairs. I lunge underneath the bed, and pull out the box I had so hastily thrown under there. Already dusty, I open it carefully, hoping to make up for its mistreatment earlier. The room lights up as if a disco ball had been strung from the ceiling and lights shone all about it. “Wow,” I say aloud, and shove the ring into my jeans’ change pocket. I look around a bit, and spot my body spray. A quick spray across my chest and I hit the floor running, my classic Converse Chuck Taylors hugging my feet. I meet Candy on the way down, and just as she passes, the thought to get her opinion of the ring crosses my mind. “Hey, Candy,” I exclaim, hoping she’s not too busy. “Hello, Hollis. What’s up?” she replies gingerly. “I was hoping I could get your opinion on something. Something you might see on someone’s finger in the near future.” I wink, hoping to gain some interest in what I want to show her. “You’re going to ask her, aren’t you?! That’s too cute. Alright, let me see it.” “Wow, you catch on quickly.” “Yeah, anyways; where is it?” “Right here…” I say and pull it out; looking around to make sure Jenny isn’t anywhere near. “Wow! That’s absolutely gorgeous! How many diamonds are there? Like nine?? It seems simple, as in not super fancy like others I’ve seen, but still very special. It’s absolutely stunning. She’ll love it, I promise. Where could you get a ring like this?” “Dad, I mean, Leon gave it to me when he told me Jenny and I could take a few days off, and he’d pay for everything. He told me that he didn’t want to see Jenny come back without a ring on her finger. Just as I was about to tell him that it would be impossible to buy her a ring, he shoved this into my hand, and walked off.” “Huh,” she says, sighing as she hands the ring back to me. “What?” “Your dad has good taste. And yes, if she doesn’t have this ring on her finger when you two come back, well, I’m going to start charging for all the romantic crap you’ve had me do; and I’m going to give you a little taste of the rock candy on my fist,” she says, balling up her fists and “punching” my arms to demonstrate. I laugh and say, “Alright, Candy. I’ll do it so I don’t have to taste your ‘Rock Candy’. Thank you for the input.” I shove the ring back into the change pocket and head down the stairs to dinner. § § § My dream fades into view. I’m in an airplane, with everyone I know, Jenny only a few feet from me. ‘My dad the President,’ I think to myself. ‘What are the chances? My life is so incredible now! My clan is now the ruling body in the greatest country in the world, and they trust Jenny and me with this extremely important task. There’s nothing that could go wrong.’ Weasel walks over and sits beside me. “You look tired,” he says. “Yeah, I am; very tired,” I begin, “but I’m also so excited for this mission that I can’t even force myself to sleep, you know?” “Yeah. Hey, I have some sleeping pills if you’d like to give those a shot. We have at least ten hours ahead of us, so it’d be no problem to doze for a good eight hours. I was about to take some myself, but it seemed as though you needed them more, sir.” “Yeah, thanks. That’d be great.” Weasel rises and walks toward his seat, rummages through his sack for a few minutes, but seems to have found nothing. He sits back down, across from me, and looks up, defeated. “Sorry, man. I thought they were there.” “Ah, don’t worry about it; I’m sure I can make do, falling asleep on my own,” I say calmly. Closing my eyes, I find refuge in the backs of my eyelids, something I haven’t seen in almost three days. “Hey, take these,” my dad says, handing me a couple pills. “They will help you rest, and will make it easier to get used to the elevation. Wake Squirrel up so she can take hers.” He walks away silently, telling the flight attendant that she had pretty eyes as he walked to another part of first class. He had said that he always wanted to be in the cockpit while a plane was in flight, perhaps that’s where he was going? “Jenny,” I whisper to her, nudging her side. “Jenny, wake up.” I nudge her again. She mumbles something, smacks my hand, and goes back to sleep. I smile slightly, and nudge her again. “Jenny, you need to take this pill.” She opens one eye, looks at me and utters, “Are you serious?! You woke me up to take a stupid pill? What does this pill do anyway?” “It…helps you fall asleep, and get used to the altitude,” I say, realizing that it was senseless to have woken her up to take this pill. She laughs, finally waking up. “You’re joking, right? You woke me up to take a pill that will help me get to sleep? Who set you up to this little prank?” She laughs and looks around the room for another smiling face. I look at her with a serious face, “My father.” “Oh,” she replies. “Yeah, you don’t think I feel foolish waking you up for this? Well, I do.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t…” “Just take the damn pill,” I state, throwing my own pill into the back of my throat, swallowing hard. Jenny swallows hers, and cuddles up with me again, though my hesitation would’ve made anyone back off. I wrap my arms around her, finally feeling nervous about the whole situation. Pinching her arm, I declare, “Stop jumping to conclusions, brat.” We both smile, feeling the effects of the pill. “Good night, love,” she whispers to me, falling asleep on my shoulder. “Good night, Jenny,” I mumble to her, closing my eyes slowly. “Okay, they’re out. Get the ‘chutes,” I hear someone say as I drift off into sleep. I feel Jenny being pulled from me, and then I’m in a deep sleep. I dream of falling, weird in itself; falling through the sky; tumbling, tumbling, faster and faster toward the ground. Everyone I know is falling with me, Jenny to my right, Weasel, Jackal, and all the rest in a circle around us. Suddenly, my father starts to dissolve. His whole shape starts to fade away, like sand being brushed away by the wind. “Dad!!!” I scream out to him. My mother vanishes in the same manner, then Weasel, Jackal, everyone one by one. I turn over, and see them all waving at me; their hands the last thing to fade away in the wind. Jenny beside me looks me in the eye and says, “I love you Kevin, no matter what,” just as she too ebbs away…her hand waving back at me. I continue to fall, farther and farther, but somehow the earth doesn’t come too quickly. Rather, it comes rather slowly, like I’m drifting gently to the ground. I fall off my bed, wondering how my dream could have lasted that long if the fall itself was only but a quarter of a second. Jenny wakes when I hit the ground, and just laughs at me. This is the second time I’ve had this dream, and it’s starting to really scare me. "Stop being so clumsy and come warm me up," she says. I smile, gladly following these orders as she curls up next to me. Her head resting on my arm and her arms folded neatly in front of her, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect situation. Maybe when I marry her, gaze into those deep sky blue eyes as I recite the lyrics of vows I had practiced so many times before. I drape my arm over her frail body, and slide my hand in between hers, feeling her soft palms. “I love you, Jenny,” I say as I kiss her head. I don’t know what sparked this sudden romanticism. Perhaps it’s my father’s sudden admission that she and I should get married, or the dream I just had that could be predicting that I’m going to lose her. But in this moment, she is all I want, and holding her while her and I slowly drift to sleep is more like any dream I would ever have. She wakes to Kate crying happily at the foot of our bed. "I'm sorry," she begins, "It’s just so beautiful how much you love each other! And you're going off on vacation! Oh, how I'll miss you!" She jumps onto our bed and pulls Jenny and me into a hug. Jenny looks up at me; her face clearly saying, "This bitch is crazy... but I like it!" We smile and do all we can to hold ourselves back from laughing out loud. Our silent laughter mimicking gentle sobs and shakes from a sobbing body. "Anyway," Kate says, releasing us, "Mrs. Wizen sent me to tell you dinner is ready and you'll be leaving in few hours." "Aw, Mrs. Wizen should have woken me to help her with dinner," Jenny says as she sighs. "Babe, we're on vacation," I say as I jump out of bed to go downstairs for dinner. "C'mon; I can already taste the steak," I tell Jenny and peck her on the lips. "Kevin Wizen," she begins in a Russian accent, "you know how much I love your mother's cooking; don't tease me like that." We laugh, join hands and set out downstairs, ready for our delicious dinner. “That was a good nap,” Jenny says, greeting Mrs. Wizen, who was cooking everyone’s steaks. “Jennifer,” begins Faizah, “You’re always shining so bright when you wake up. Better than the old man, at least.” Everyone laughs as Leon enters the room, obviously curious of what everyone was laughing at. Instead of asking, though, he wraps his arms around Faizah’s waist, and whispers in her ear. Since she was facing everyone, we all see her blush and giggle like a little school girl. Seeing my mom’s giddiness, I look over at Jenny and think of the future her and I have, these moments of random romanticism making her blush and know how much I love her. Jenny looks over at me, seeming to have the same thoughts and blushes. “What?” we both say at the same time. We laugh and grasp each other’s hand, sending a cool rush of chills across my body. I catch her eyes and look away, smiling from embarrassment. I feel wave after wave of heat emanating from my cheeks. “You got something…” Jenny says as she tries to wipe them off the red in my cheeks. I smile again and say, “Yeah, no thanks to you.” I wink at her and she turns around to talk to Faizah. “Thank you for cooking us dinner, Mrs. Wizen.” “It’s no problem, dear,” Faizah says, smiling wide at her. “I wish I had woken up earlier, so I could have cooked with you. Is there anything you need any help with?” Jenny asks, standing at the counter in front of my mom, ready to be asked to do something. “Well…” she says, thinking of something she needed to do, “I’ve got just about everything ready. I think the only thing is the salad needing tossed.” Jenny immediately gets to it, and suddenly has a hundred things to do. I take this time to write a quick note for my dream journal: “Reoccurring Falling Dream.” My dad sits across from me and asks what I’m writing about. “I keep having this dream.” “What happens in this dream?” He asks me. “It starts out in a plane, and everyone here is there. Jenny is asleep right beside me, and you’re just a few rows up. I’m trying to get to sleep, but I can’t. So I ask Weasel for some sleeping pills. He says he knew he packed some, but couldn’t find them. So, I try again to get to sleep, and then I hear you give Weasel some sleeping pills, in case any of us need to get to sleep. “You then come to me, and give me two pills, one for me and one for Jenny. You tell me to wake her up so she can take it. So I wait until you leave, wake up Jenny with some difficulty, and we take the pill. “Next thing I know, I’m falling. I see everyone that I know falling with me, but they are all slowly fading away, like sand in the wind.” “That’s pretty interesting,” Dad says. “Yeah, what do you think it means?” “It could mean anything, son. It could mean you’re about to embark on a treacherous journey, and you have to sacrifice yourself for everyone you know. Or it could be a sort of premonition; that you’re actually going to experience this in the future. That’s a crazy thought, but who knows? Sometimes God does crazy things to show people that he loves them.” “Thanks, dad; I’ll keep that in mind.” § § § Jenny and I go up to our room, and find our favorite spot on our bed. The last night before we head out, Jenny and I decide to watch some old movies and game shows. The contestant walks up to the podium, her name, “Jennifer Wizen.” Jenny looks up at me from my chest, smiles and looks back down. “That’s really weird!” she exclaims. We both laugh, and I feel another cool rush of love, as I’ve grown accustomed to calling it. “Yeah, that is weird,” I say, holding her just a bit tighter. “Imagine if she had your middle name too,” I say, looking down at her. “Oh, man! That would be really weird!” “Do you think it has a sort of ring to it?” “Yes,” she says simply. I feel yet another cool rush of love run across my whole body, hoping that the goose bumps aren’t noticeable to her. I feel her heartbeat slow and steady, her head resting completely on my chest. “Jennifer Wizen,” I say quietly to myself. ‘It does have a ring to it…’ I think as I finally decide to sleep also. I kiss the top of Jenny’s head, and close my eyes; the smell of her hair almost an aphrodisiac to my nostrils. “Good night, my love,” I whisper just before slipping into that dream realm where anything can happen. Opening my eyes seemed really easy this morning, knowing that I will be leaving today, with the love of my life. I’m turned away from Jenny, the whole of the comforter on the floor, which is actually common for Jenny and me. I roll over to Jenny’s back toward me, her perfect skin almost screaming, “TOUCH ME!!!” The sheets pulled up to only her waist, and her arms resting in front of her naked body. She often sleeps without clothes, but if she falls asleep with clothes, she’ll wake up to use the bathroom and somehow crawl into bed with no knowledge of where her clothes went. I carefully reach across her to silence the approaching alarm, its chiming just minutes away. I carefully caress Jenny’s side with my fingertips, hoping this soft touch will wake her. I kiss her shoulder and brush the back of my fingers against her delicate cheeks. I see her smile as her eyes open a crack. “Good morning, beautiful,” I whisper in her ear. “Kevin, you make loving you easy. What time is it?” She asks. “It’s about a freckle past a hair,” I reply, smiling and kissing her cheek. “Well, what time do we have to wake up?” “In about a minute; I woke early and shut it off because I know how angry you get at the alarm. So I thought I would wake you this way… much less stressful for the both of us.” “Awe, you’re so thoughtful. When’s breakfast?” I smile and laugh softly, “In about twenty minutes; then we’re heading off on the road to our hotel room.” “Mmmm, can’t wait.” “Me either,” I say, kissing her lips and hearing a knock on our door. “Yes?” Jenny says, smiling at me. “Breakfast is almost ready…Faizah wanted you two to get a head start. Don’t worry, she already called ahead to the hotel, has sent your bags there, so everything is ready when you get there.” Jenny looks around, and seeing no bags, suddenly feels uncomfortable, bringing the sheets to her chest. “Ok…” Jenny begins, “Does that mean someone came in here while we were sleeping to fetch our bags?” Candy replies, “Don’t worry hon; I’m no lesbian, but Kevin, you are a lucky man to have such a fine looking woman as your wi-girlfriend.” “Thanks, Candy; we’ll be right down,” I say hoping Jenny didn’t catch Candy’s slip. “She says she’s not a lesbian… but just said I have a nice body…” Jenny ponders for a moment. “It’s nothing babe…” I interject, “as long as no other man sees you naked, I don’t care how many STRAIGHT women see you naked.” “Still, it’s a little perturbing.” I kiss her, and say, “Let’s get dressed babe, so we can eat breakfast and get out of here.” We both get dressed into the outfit that we laid out last night. I’m in jeans and a stylish button up plaid; Jenny in her favorite sundress. Breakfast goes smoothly, each person expressing that they’ll miss us and wish us luck, which I took as them telling me good luck with proposing. We smile and thank them… carefully eating fast enough to satisfy our impatience, but slow enough so as to not seem in a hurry. With breakfast over, Jenny helps Faizah clean up the kitchen while I get the last of our luggage into the car… Jenny packed another bag last minute, full of all our hygiene items. As I’m getting the last few things in the car, Jackal comes out to help me. “Man,” he begins, “It’s not going to be the same without you.” “I’ll be back in no time, Jackal,” I reply. “Yeah, well, I’ve been having my eyes on a certain someone here…and I think I’m going to take my chances while you two are gone.” “Yeah, who’s that?” “Candy,” he says proudly. “Yeah, she’s a cool gal.” “Yeah, she’s much better than your girl.” “Well, I wouldn’t think so…” I trail off as the girls come out of the house. “I would hope you wouldn’t think so; Jenny is my girlfriend.” “Now, now,” He says coolly. “Why do you think Candy is so much better than Jenny?” “She’s actually smart, pretty; she’s not a sissy girl that takes three hours to get ready.” “Hey, bud; watch what you’re saying.” “You’re right, pal…Jenny’s nothing compared to Candy.” Jenny and Candy walk up, so we act cool for the moment. “We ready?” Jenny says, pecking my lips. “Yep, thanks for the help, chief,” I say mockingly to Jackal. “No problem buddy,” he retorts. “Is something wrong?” Candy asks. “Nope, all is good, babe,” Jackal says to her. “Yeah, bullshit, Gaylord,” I counter, Jenny stepping in front of me. “What’s going on, Kevin?” Jenny asks me. “He was talking shit about you, babe.” “Don’t worry about it, just let it go.” “Pussy whipped,” Jackal says teasingly. Jenny turns to Jackal and says, “Hey, shut up. You’re not helping any of this.” “Whoa, Jenny… If I had wanted lip from you, I would’ve unzipped my pants,” Jackal says, mimicking unzipping his pants. Everyone loses it at this point. Jenny starts chasing after Jackal, who screams like a woman and runs for his life, Candy yelling, “Asshole!” as he darts away. I catch up to Jenny and tell her to chase him into the kitchen. She gives a quick, “Ok,” and continues chase. I make my way to the kitchen as quickly as possible and get there just in time to hear Jackal and Jenny storming through the house. I extend my arm just enough to…clothes-line Jackal in the face, breaking his nose, and flinging his feet in front of him. “Take that, bitch,” I say, spitting on his face. Jenny comes running in, and upon seeing Jackal on the floor, his nose bleeding profusely, she leans over him, and slaps him hard on the cheek. “Take that bitch!” She screams loudly, “Never say something like that to me again. Next time, you’ll end up in the hospital.” Jenny looks up at me, and I’m grinning ear to ear. She pushes her disheveled hair to the side, and says, “What? You ready? I need to lay down a minute.” I chuckle slightly. “I said, ‘Take that bitch!’ too,” I tell her. “Well, of course,” she begins, “We’re two peas in a pod. We know each other like the back of our hands.” I smile and wrap my arm around her waist, “Yes, we are. I’m ready, let’s go.” I lead her toward the awaiting car. “You are both fucking cunts!” We hear Jackal yell at our backs. We don’t turn, but we both raise our hands over our shoulders and flip him off. I look down at Jenny and smile wider as our eyes meet. I pull her a little closer and she holds me a little tighter. ‘Now would be perfect, but I’m going to wait a little bit,’ I think to myself. We get in the car and head off to the very welcoming hotel. I hold Jenny’s hand as I drive us both away. Chapter Two: Befuddlement Mike and I, Maus Bravado, stand comfortably in front of the entire world. Those that could not make it here, to the holy ground of the Vatican, would be watching this event in awe and inspiration from their homes in whatever corner of the world they lived. Billions of people staring blankly at a television come to mind, and I grin slightly; pity, for all those people to rely on something so primitive. All of these people came to see this speech. The papacy had been eliminated; no one needed religion when they took my genius drug, ADS, the pill known worldwide; everyone took it, and no one knew or cared why. Complete obedience; perfect. Mike gave his long, boring speech, and once he was finished, turned to me and nodded, knowing that I was paying attention to other things on my mind. When I approached the podium, the crowd gathered cheers wildly, so I raise my right hand slightly to calm them, which draws an almost immediate response. I stand there, holding each side of the wooden podium, and just look out at whom and how many people have gathered. What a beautiful portrait of my conquest. “Many people have been deceived about my intentions for this whole ordeal of taking over the world,” I begin, “Yes, it was to make a safer world, but not for me, not for Mike, not for anyone else in the world, but my own daughter, Sara Elizabeth Bravado, now seventeen years old, graduating high school next year. The world she was born into was cold, and no one tried to do anything drastic to change it. I met her mother when I became world conqueror, but once we had our child, I realized why I had done all of this; for this one child to be born; for my child to be born. Her mother, Elizabeth, died while giving birth to our second child. Unfortunately, my son died alongside his mother, a tragic end to his short life; and so my resolve became even stronger. No one but my daughter knew this, otherwise most people would question my intentions, but with the world at my feet now, I guess it doesn’t matter much, does it?” I laugh at my own joke and see that no one is even cracking a grin, so I continue, “The speech I want to give today tells of all my intentions, pure good, in all aspects. At first, yes, it was just to make the world a safer place for everyone, but now I guess this whole thing is kinda selfish in a way…but not for me, my daughter. Don’t forget that. “I requested, rather, demanded, that all the people in the world pay close attention to this speech, because in a week’s time, every single person will find out what it’s like to disobey me. “America set the example before, and you can guess what’s happening again; riots all over the world are coming up. Clearly, someone thinks that America always has the good intentions. Yes, the riots have been dissolved, and everything is as it should be, but how long until another riot breaks out; how long until another America decides I’m wrong. I have news for the world. I’m in control, I have the good intentions, and I’m right. “So just for a final thought, I believe that what I have found in the deserts of Israel should be brought to your attention. “Apparently, some priests had been hiding these texts so that no one could use them to their advantage or,” I smile widely and look at Mike, “ultimate demise. Only a few people can and ever will be able to read what the scriptures in these ancient scrolls say, though those very few have been warned, with high caution, to never read those words aloud. “Fortunately, with my very persuasive nature, I was able to obtain what the documents’ main subject is. “These scripts were written down so that if push ever came to shove; if the whole world was at war; the only way to save Israel, and the world itself, was to read these words. They say, in great detail, what will happen once the sacred words are read aloud. Evil beyond any measure will wreak havoc across the globe, and many will think that the Great Tribulations of the Book of Revelation are upon us, and indeed, that is the intent of the scrolls. For humanity to send up a plea to God that we need help; that the only way to better ourselves is to see the worst that can happen. These scrolls have been passed down from priest to priest, just in case; which date back to the time of Moses, when the Egyptians forced him and his people to flee Egypt. Fleeing Egypt lead them to the Promised Land, the land that was later called Israel. “Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why haven’t I released this evil upon the world? Why aren’t I even thinking about it, right? Well, I’m here to tell you, that I will-“ Sara came out from behind the curtain to hug me. I hug her and show her the crowd before us. “Well, little lady, what are you doing out here?” I ask her. She looks me dead in the eye and says, “I was,” she starts, looking in another direction, seemingly embarrassed, “in the courtyard behind the Vatican, and some men, military, I assume by their clothes, came running toward me, toward the buildings I was at. One man stopped in front of me, and so I asked them, ‘Are you here to take me to my…friends’ house?’ They said, ‘No, we’re here to kill that man talking. Do you know him?’ I looked at them and I didn’t know what to do, I was breathless. I ran here to tell you as soon as I could.” “How long ago was this?” I ask with curiosity running through my head. “It was ten minutes ago…I couldn’t get in, too many guards,” she says frantically. My heart stops and I look around furiously for something, someone in the crowd. “Daddy,” She looks at me with worry written all over her face. “Where were those men heading?” I beg out of my little girl. She points to a building across the courtyard. Thousands of people standing between us and that very building, which has a clear view of the podium I’m speaking at. “Daddy,” “Sara, you need to go inside, as quickly as possible. We don’t know who all these people are going to kill; the only thing we know is that this will happen soon.” I spit through my teeth as I turn to my body guard. I can see Mike in the corner of my eye just as his head explodes in front of me; two dark red spots appearing behind him. My eyes blink once, shock gripping me like a vice. Mikes eyes go blank in an instant as he slumps in his chair, dead immediately. Sara screams, “Mike! Mike! Mike!” trying to escape my grasp as we’re pulled from the stage into the office behind us. More shots bounce around our heads, several ricochets killing spectators and guards alike. Sara’s screaming is dulled by my absolute horror at the scene before me. I feel Sara being torn from me, and I yell at the top of my lungs, “You won’t get away with this Leon!!!” We’re seated on two very hard chairs that I assume were for Mike and I to rest on after my speech, but are now occupied by two very terrified people, Sara and I. ‘Why did they shoot two bullets into his head, and at the same time?’ I thought to myself. ‘Was one for me? Were they trying to get rid of both of us at the same time?’ Confusion written all over my face, I look over at Sara and see her face full of tears. I pull her closer, and hold her tightly, comforting her and myself at the same time. Sara being told this before it happened scares me to death. These men didn’t know who my daughter is, or even what she looks like. Though they have probably figured it out by now, it was good to keep her identity a secret. This was the obvious reason for such precautions. Mike is dead, and everything would change. I rock her back and forth, shushing her as much as telling my thoughts to go away. A few of my guards come rushing into the room with a man bound and gagged. A rifle carried by another guard must have been his. “We found this man,” my guard pronounces, “in the building across the courtyard, bearing a rifle case containing this .50 caliber sniper rifle. An identical weapon was found a few yards off. We believe these to be the weapons that killed Mr. Mike, sir.” I reply, “Take this man to the dungeon, where you will hold him until I arrive. The weapons and ammo you can put in the battery, they will be a healthy addition to the collection.” The man spits his gag out and I raise my hand when the guards try to put it back in. The man declares, “Dungeon?? What is this, some kind of medieval bullshit? By the way, I was not involved in ‘Mr. Mike’s’ death. Perhaps you should take fingerprints and whatever nonsense is needed to convict me. But of course, with that evidence, I won’t be convicted, so release me or suffer the consequences!!” I smile and look at him mockingly. “Despite what you may think, I could give a shit less to what evidence is found. In my rule, there is no such thing as evidence that is more dictating than catching a man red-handed. That applies to you. At the crime scene seconds after it taking place, and caught holding the weapon that killed Mike. Tell me, Mr.…?” “It’s Wright. Jonathan Wright,” he states. “Very well, Mr. Wright,” I continue. “Tell me Mr. Wright, how much more damning is that evidence than finding finger prints that are most likely yours on the weapon that you were holding? Why should I believe that it wasn’t you?” “You can believe what you want, but even you know the truth. It was that Irish bastard from America. His name is Leon Wizen. Yeah, I know him. Not only do I know him, I work…” His eyes instantly become wide and he quickly covers his mouth. “Take this man to the dungeon immediately! And let me know of any suspicious activity outside. As for now,” I say, looking at each of my guards individually, “I would like to go home, with my daughter, alone. Your men can post outside, but I don’t want anyone near me or Sara. Understood?” My guards agree, so I walk into the next room to gather my precious Sara, and look deep into her eyes. “Right now, we’re going to go home, and I’m going to cook your favorite meal. How does that sound?” “Ok, I guess. I don’t care what we eat though,” she says and looks at me. “Well, alright. We’ll just have some Chinese then. You still like that?” “Sure dad, but…what’s going to happen now? I mean with Mike gone. He was your right hand man.” “I am not sure sweetie. We can figure all of this out tomorrow. Sound good?” “Yeah,” she says, looking off into the distance, as if to look for answers of why this happened. “Sara, we’ll get through this, I promise,” I put my arm around her shoulders and lead her to the waiting car. She gets in and just sits, looking out the window and chewing at her nails. “What’s in the dungeon?” I laugh and look at her, “You know, I am not sure. But it is not pleasant I assume.” “Are you going to go back and talk to that man?” “No, of course not. It just means that my guards are going to have some fun tonight, without me.” “What do you mean by fun? Like play some foosball or billiards? Watch reruns of old shows that you won’t let the world see anymore?” “No, Sara. Not that kind of fun.” “You know, I don’t even watch TV. I read because some of the stuff in the books is actually interesting. I’ve already seen every episode of every show that ever made it to our collection, which is not that many. Good thing you like to read, I guess, or I would be bored out of my mind. I would actually think about finding a boyfriend if you didn’t have books. Wait, I have one, so I guess I just enjoy reading.” “You do?” “Yeah, but I don’t want you to meet him.” “Why not?” “Being the Ruler of the World’s daughter doesn’t have as much celebrity status as you would think.” “Oh. I’m sorry,” I say with a huge frog in my throat. “You’re not sorry, dad; I already know that. You did all of this for the safety of my mother and I; you’d be pretty damn successful if you didn’t kill her.” “Sara, I didn’t kill your mother.” “No, you had one of your henchmen to do it. Tell me dad, what did she do, what did I do to deserve that?” “She betrayed me. Not only was she cheating on me, she gave away everything she knew about us; everything I ever talked to her about.” “So that gives you the right to have her killed? What kind of justice is that?” “Yes,” I say and instantly regret it. “Yes? No, that is not the correct thing to do in that situation. What’s wrong with you?!” “What else could I have done? Divorced her and let even more secrets spill across the world? That would put everyone in jeopardy. She knew…” “She was the greatest woman I’ve ever known. I’m not saying that because she’s my mother. I’m saying that because it’s true. You have no idea what she went through to stay with you. She hated everything you’ve ever done, everything you’re doing. I don’t even know how you two got along. I even asked her if she liked what you were doing. You know what she said??” “Wha-” “She said that she doesn’t like a single thing you’re doing. But that you’re a great man. She said she loves you, and that was all that mattered. How could anyone love a man that has done so many evil things?” “I’m not-” “Of course you don’t know. You never loved mom. You only thought of yourself. Yeah, it’s sweet that you say that you’ve done all of this for her and I, but what’s the truth, dad? What is the real reason for all of this?” I wipe my forehead and look at Sara for a few seconds. She was right, but how on earth could I tell her that? How in the world am I supposed to tell my own daughter, in the midst of all this, that she would never understand my reasons, even if I was to sit down with her and explain? “Nothing. That’s what I thought. Grow up, dad; this isn’t high school anymore. I know you had a tough time in school, but to go to this extreme to conquer all the bullies that ever spit in your general direction? That’s as immature as it gets.” She looks out the window in disgust and starts biting her nails as I do the same. The very second she notices, she looks over at me and says, “Can I go to a hotel tonight? I need to cool off.” “Sara, I think you need to-” “Good. Driver, take me to the nearest hotel.” The car screeches to a halt. “We’re here!” The driver says with a smile as he looks back at us. Sara gets out and I yell back at her, “Sara, get back in the car!” She keeps walking without looking back. “Should I pursue her sir?” The driver asks. “No, she’ll be fine. Take me home.” The long drive to the hacienda finally allows me to think about everything. With Mike dead, I have to take control of this disgusting world on my own. Mike was once an obstacle, but became a partner in the conquest of the world; he would be dearly missed. Sitting in this limousine, an empty one at that, makes me feel empty, as though my own brother had been killed. The Vatican was supposed to be protected to the teeth, as the pope had spoken there since the papacy was created, nearly six hundred years ago. What had gone wrong? Why was Mike killed and not I? Did they miss me? Surely this was a sniper job; most likely the Americans that had somehow regained control of their pitiful country; reestablishing a constitution, military, government, the whole shebang. Alaska was the only remaining ‘state’ that they had not reacquired. Would I see Sara again? Or would she be ready to face me again in a few days? Was it the American Revolution all over again? No, rather American stupidity; they think they can do whatever they want, without any consideration of anyone else’s plan. The world had been peaceful for nearly forty years now, and they had to step in to create more destruction of life, liberty, and some other bullshit in their Declaration of Independence. Pursuit of happiness, yes, that’s what it is. Thomas Jefferson was quite a genius; all of the founding fathers of America were in the sense that they overcame the ‘tyranny’ of the British to create their own universe. Over their 260 years of existence, they expanded their territory, making whomever that was in their way to adopt their policies, or die. I laugh at that thought, it reminds me much of myself. But they were in pursuit of personal gain, to make their country the best, using any means necessary to gain land, and shut other countries up if they disagree. My goals, however, were to bring peace, and look, for forty years, I succeeded. They always brought trouble; to everyone they shake hands with. The UN, in my eyes, was created so that the entire world would have a chance to say something against America’s ambition. Yes, America was once the land of opportunity, giving ordinary people that special chance to become anyone they want to be, I’ll give them that, but now, they are ruining something perfect. Leaning on my knees, I think about the disgrace that has become America; apparently restored by a group of people that call themselves loaf, an acronym for something like “Liberating Our American Freedoms,” sources say. Would their soldiers be called slices off the big loaf, or are they all their own loaf, so we have loaves of bread running about…? Things that come to mind…most of them make me laugh. But today, no laughter shall be had. Mike was killed by a trained and very skillful sniper; one that could only originate from America and Sara ran away from me. I brought them peace, and all they want is war; so war is what they’ll get. Chapter Three: Engagement I look over to my right mirror, see nothing, and land my eyes on the love of my life. She has hers preoccupied with something out the window, perhaps the beautiful deep blue sky all around us. Her eyes move, as if she feels my gaze. I look back to the road to notice she’s looking at me. My hand slowly releases the gear shift and gently rests on her lap. “I love you Jenny,” I say tenderly. She grasps my hand and sighs happily, “I love you too, Kevin.” We sit just listening to the radio for a few minutes. “So…Where are we going?” “Just a place I like to go when I get stressed out. “I love driving through the mountains… She stands in the doorway… just looking at me. I lie naked under the single sheet we left on the bed. She has just a robe on, though not tied anywhere, just hanging loose over her beautiful, naked body. Her glass of wine with barely any remaining in the glass rests gently in her hands, waiting to be cascaded down her throat. Jenny sets the glass on the counter of the bathroom, and turns back to me. As seductive as she’s looking at me… she puts any actress to shame. “Kevin Wizen,” the words echo out of her mouth, putting me into a trance. “Jennifer Wizen,” I reply. “This is the part where you say something witty to make me blush and come to your side.” “It is...” I begin, “Where did you get that robe? Looks like you got it half off.” She laughs and says, “Kevin, you are so…stupid sometimes!” She slowly walks over to me and nudges my shoulder. I lift my chin to kiss her soft lips. The kiss seems to last minutes… our lips connecting and almost not wanting to tear apart. Her lip gloss dragging threads of my lips to hers; I gasp, my breath taken away by this simple kiss. We draw away, and look into each other’s eyes. Large grins on both of our faces as our lips meet again. She wraps her arms around my neck and pulls me closer. I gently pull her right side to my left and lay her next to me, pushing her long hair behind her ears. I feel her tongue caress my lips, ready for more. I take a deep breath in and readjust myself as I open my lips a bit more and draw my tongue into her mouth. She does the same, and I roll the robe off her beautiful skin. My fingertips glaze across her skin, meeting her breast and hard nipple. She gasps quickly and giggles, “That tickles!” I smile, “Oh yeah?” We kiss again, but this time only as a teaser of what’s to come. She rolls me onto my back and mounts me. She leans down to kiss me and I feel her larger breasts against my chest, a warm welcome feeling. Jenny pulls the sheet off of me and looks at my penis as it throbs with anticipation. “Somebody’s excited…” she says and winks at me. She kneels to the side of me and starts stroking me slowly. I sit up and lean her on her back, spreading her legs open. Leaning forward, I guide my penis into her with my hand slowly. I place my penis on her clit and slide it down to the opening of her vagina. Slowly, I push my penis into her. Her eyes close gradually as I push all the way in. I pull my penis back, to the point where my head is barely in, and push back in, harder and faster with each recurrence. She whimpers softly at first, but moans loudly as I push harder. Her eyes completely closed now, I kiss her on her lips, tugging gently at her top lip. I kiss to her ears and gently nibble on her ear lobe, making her moan even louder. I come to the peak of my speed and she’s holding my back tightly; digging her nails into my skin. She moans quickly, “Oh baby…” I push faster, feeling my own orgasm coming. My muscles tense in my butt and legs, and Jenny scratches a trail down my back. “Oh yeah, the doctor’s gonna give you his medicine,” I say as I feel my penis explode inside her. Without breaking a beat, Jenny says, “Give me your medicine! Give me your medicine!” A little shocked, I slow down as Jenny tenses up and moans loudly for her orgasm. I pick up the pace again and feel beads of sweat form on my forehead. I pull out and turn her on her side, putting the bottom leg straight down and the other out in front of her. I put my penis in again, and instead of going back and forth quickly; I pulse my hips back and forth to make an almost vibration for Jenny, and she loves it. “Oooh,” she says, “I like this dose. Give me more, Doctor Wizen.” My pulsating gets more rapid, and Jenny moans louder and louder. The bed moving along with my thrusts, it creaks and moans under the constant abuse. “Jenny’s got a dose for you, doctor,” she moans, “Do you want her medicine?” I lose it, and just laugh really hard, “Give me your medicine, Jenny.” Her whole body tenses and her nails feel like claws scratching up and down my back. I push harder, and the bed’s legs give way… apparently too much abuse in a short time. The bed falls with a loud crash to the ground as Jenny moans at the top of her lungs. I keep pushing, trying to keep hero orgasm going as I put my head behind her shoulder, hoping she doesn’t notice me laughing so hard. I keep her orgasm for what seems like twenty minutes when she finally says, “Oh baby that was the longest orgasm ever! Where did you learn this?” I take this as a cue to stop and lay next to her, bringing the sheets over us. “I don’t know… just to me, pleasing you is more important that pleasing me.” She rolls over to me and lays her head on my shoulder. “That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard,” she says. I feel little beads of sweat drip slowly from my forehead and take notice to the sweat on Jenny. ‘I guess I am good,’ I think to myself as I close my eyes gently. “I love you, Mr. Wizen.” “I love you too, Mrs. Wizen.” I drift off into sleep, praying this moment never ends. § § § I wake up, Kevin at my side, my whole body sore from last night’s events. I lean over and kiss Kevin, “Wake up sleepy head.” Kevin lies still. I lay my head on his naked chest, listening for his heartbeat. His chest rises for a deep breath as I wrap my leg around his. I place my hand on his chest in front of me and tap my fingers along with the gentle ‘thump, thump’ of his heart. Kevin’s arm falls from above his head, but lands gently across my back. “I love you, Jenny,” he mumbles softly in his sleep. “I love you too,” I whisper, looking up at the smirk on his face. I smile and pull his bottom lip down. “Kevin, I have a surprise for you.” “What surprise?” he miraculously answers. I pull his hand over me, and nestle his fingers between my legs. “Surprise,” I whisper, just barely loud enough to hear. He groans, but teases my vagina, “It’s too wet, and way too warm,” he says, his grin becoming wider by the minute. I move his hand to cup my breast, his grin now sporting teeth. “Mmmm… much better,” Kevin says, squeezing my breast gently. “You dog!” I say, playfully slapping his chest and giggling. He opens his eyes suddenly, “Wait what?” and wipes his eyes groggily, still beaming ear to ear. “Whatever,” I say and crawl out of bed, still giggling. I stop at the foot of the bed, my hands on my hips. Kevin pulls his imaginary camera out of his imaginary pocket and snaps a few pictures of me. I throw a pillow at him, which he catches, “What do you want for breakfast? I’ll order something from room service.” He perks up a little bit, looking fully alert now. “Room service? You mean that little Spanish maid that gave us breakfast yesterday?” “Oh gawd!!” I exclaim, letting myself fall onto the bed. “If we ever get a maid, remind me to make sure she’s not Mexican, not Spanish, or at least really old, ok?” “Hey, she was cute,” he says, lying beside me. “She wouldn’t stop hitting on you!” “Well, could you blame her?” “For what? Hitting on the meanest boyfriend in the world?” “Oh, so now I’m mean?!” he says, acting taken aback, “I’m insulted!” “You better be,” I say mockingly. “Oooh… ouch,” he says, “It hurts so bad!” a phony accent with the last words. “Yeah?” I ask rhetorically, leaning close to him. “Here I was the happiest girl in the world, and you have to go and mess it up; salivating like a wolf over that Spanish maid.” “The happiest girl in the world?” “The happiest,” I say, kissing him teasingly. “What if I said I was the happiest man in the world?” “The happiest? Even without that Spanish maid to bring you breakfast?” He draws back and thinks for a second, “Ehhh….” and kisses me sweetly. “Had to think about that one, huh?” “You know what?” he says, again kissing me sweetly. “What?” I say, catching my breath. “Let’s skip breakfast,” he says, smiling as he gently lays me on my back. “No Spanish maid?” I say breathlessly as we kiss again and again, each kiss taking my breath away. “You are my Spanish maid, babe. Why would I even dream of another?” This is where I am going to put the dating/marriage part of Kevin and Jenny’s relationship. I hope you like this part. Lol Chapter Four: Ascertainment “One, please.” Sara says to the clerk. “One moment,” the clerk replies. I take a look around, trying to figure out what to do next. The hotel must’ve been a five star joint; its elevators laden with gold, and a worker trotting happily around with luggage. “May I see some ID, ma’am?” The clerk asks, so I dig into my purse for my wallet. I hand him my ID and wait for his reaction. He takes a quick look at it, goes wide-eyed and hands it back immediately. “The… uh… Presidential Suite, ma’am. How long will you be staying?” “I don’t know, just bill my father. He’ll pay for it,” I say tenaciously, eagerly awaiting the call from dad for such a large hotel bill. “Ok, here you are,” the clerks says as he hands me a key. “Do you need any help with-“ “I don’t have any,” I interrupt, “but thanks. Is it all the way up?” “All the way up. You don’t even need to look for your room... the elevator goes straight to the suite.” “Sweet,” I say and head for the elevator. Looking around at the people, I notice that there really aren’t any people. For a huge hotel, and reasonably, well, I don’t really know about the prices... but this hotel seems nice enough for people to come through pretty often. I set my stuff down in my room, take a quick look in the mirror and decide to head downstairs for some dinner. ‘Ordering would be useless tonight,’ I think, then realize my hair looks like crap and return to the mirror to fix it. On my way down, a very attractive young man comes on to the elevator, and announces that he has some friends staying the night in Rome; they had just seen the Emperor’s Apprentice get shot by two bullets, some of the women were distressed, so they were taking a break and spending the night at this rather more-than-they-could- afford hotel. I do my best to hold in my rage at their statement about my Dad’s best friend and say, “Well, I could talk to your lady friends, if you would like.” “That sounds great,” he replies, “but they are in bed right now. They asked me to grab some soda and be right back, so they could go to sleep. Weird how they operate, isn’t it?” “Quite strange,” I say, hoping he catches my careful inflection to show that I don’t care. There is an awkward silence between us as I try hard not to look into his gorgeous eyes. “So what is a beautiful lady like you doing here, all by yourself?” “Well, my father,” I begin, but stop myself, understanding how relevant it is that he doesn’t know who my father is as long as possible. “…Your father…?” he says, wanting me to go on. “Oh, he’s out of town, and he doesn’t like me to have parties at the house, so he sent me 1,000 miles away to party on my own. Set me up in a hotel room, with no one for company but a shiny piano and a mini bar.” “Well, I could make your night just a tad better by taking you to dinner.” “Yeah? What about your girlfriends upstairs?” I ask, biting my lip. Never has there been a more attractive man! “Girlfriends? Oh, no, they’re not my girlfriends. They are my colleagues. We came here to study foreign policy.” “Foreign policy? I thought my d…” oops, almost let that slip… “Delightful dictator was the only ruler of every country in the world? …besides those damned Americans, of course.” “Oh, that’s where I will have to enlighten you,” he says and pulls his sodas out of the vending machine. “And how are you going to do that?” I ask coyly. “Dinner, here in fifteen minutes; I have to take these upstairs to the damsels in distress… I’m sure they’re wondering where I have been.” “Ok,” I say, amazed at his fluidity of asking me out. His ass is all I see while he leaves, but when he turns around to smile back at me, I smile back and wave. He gets onto the elevator and disappears as the doors shut. I then become very aware of how unprepared I look for a date. Panicking, I look for a mirror to put my lip gloss on, and find that I actually don’t look all that bad… but decide to do my best to make it appear as if I had put make up on. Slapping my cheeks wakes me up a bit, and turns them a very nice-looking rose color. I turn, looking for a place to sit; and once I find it, I take my most proper pose anyone could pull off. My legs crossed, and my hands resting gently on my knee; I eagerly await this man whom I still have no name for. ‘MY BOYFRIEND!’ this thought startles me, as I think of what he would do if he knew I was going on a date with some other guy. ‘Hmmm,’ I think deeply, ‘What could I tell him that would make him leave me, or at least give me reason to leave him?’ I pull out my phone and open a new text message to him. ‘My dearest Shane, I need to tell you something,’ I text into the phone and send it off. Almost immediately, my phone vibrates with the notification of a new message. ‘What’s up?’ Shane replied. ‘My father is Maus Bravado.’ I wait a few seconds, and start tapping my phone, urging for it to receive my uglier-than-my-date-of-a-boyfriend’s text. ‘Oh…’ is his reply. Dumbass boyfriend… that’s not what I wanted you to say… ‘So… does this new development change things between us?’ ‘Well, sort of… I’m an American fighting for freedom from your dick of a father, no offense.’ ‘None taken… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you this sooner.’ ‘Not a problem… I knew. I was hoping you would give me some information about him, but you didn’t so this whole spy relationship didn’t work at all. All my friends said I’m a moron for trying; now they’re really going to have fun once they hear about this…’ ‘You’re a dick,’ I say and throw my phone into my purse and sit, relaxed on the bench. I see him through a plant, and instantly stand up. “Hey,” he says. “Hi,” I reply, blushing. “Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Zander,” he says, shaking my hand gently. “I’m… Angela,” I reply, my knees already shaking. “Pleased to meet you, Angela,” he says, winking. He leads me to the dining hall, and the waiter automatically recognizes me, and says, “Oh, pleased to see you Ms…” I give him a wide-eyed look and signal for him to stop. “Oh…k…” he says awkwardly. “Table for two?” “Yes, please,” Zander says. We’re lead to what seems like the back corner of the restaurant that Zander seems to know very well. I look around and see other attractive couples around us, and think, ‘Oh, this is where they bring all the really beautiful people…’ then I see a couple gorging themselves on spaghetti, trying to reenact a classic movie scene where the couple end up sucking the same spaghetti noodle into their mouths and kissing at the end of it. ‘Sounds disgusting! To kiss with all that food in your mouth! That’s just like making out with a sandwich! Gross!’ Zander pulled out my chair and pushed it in as I sat down, then walked over and took his own seat. “What will you have to drink?” The waiter asks a few seconds later. “Water,” I say, and start looking through the menu, hiding my red cheeks as I catch a glance from Zander. “Water, also,” Zander says abruptly, and then looks at me. “You look great tonight,” he says, his hands cupped in front of his face. “Thank you,” I say blushing. “What is good here? I don’t want to get something that would make me rush to the ladies’ room.” “Well, if you trust me,” he says, gesturing to take my menu, “I’ll order something nice for you, and then you can tell me how much you like it.” “Sounds good,” I say, relieved to not have to worry about making him spending too much on me. I hand him the menu and fold my hands onto my lap. “So what do you do in the post-apocalyptic age?” he asks with a smirk. “Well, my family is well off, so I love to go around Europe and take pictures of the different landscapes and historic buildings; it’s something my mom got me doing when I was little. She loved landscape photography, so I guess I adopted that when she died.” “Oh, wow, I’m so sorry,” he says sincerely. “How did she die?” “I don’t really know…” I say, sipping water and looking out the window. “So what do you do?” “Well, I guess I am more of a politician than anything, but I’m not exactly what you would call a politician.” “What do you mean?” “Well, I only really care about the two assholes in control of this world right now; Mike Brehio, and Maus Bravado. I think they’ve tainted this world to their pleasing, but to the world it’s not pleasing at all.” I choke when he mentions my dad and his best friend, but luckily he doesn’t notice. “Why doesn’t the world like it? I thought it was a good thing that they were doing this.” “Have you been sheltered for the last twenty years? They mass distributed a drug that not only causes people to lose any sign of unique thought; it makes people act like zombies. What they have forced the world to take is a drug that is destroying mankind.” “Ok…” I say, a knot forming in my throat, ‘How could my own father do this?!’ “And how does that affect you?” I say, knowing I will be taking a bullet for this one. “Angela, this affects everyone, except maybe for the ‘well-off’ in the world. I don’t see how you could even go so long without knowing about this.” “I’m sorry, excuse me. I have to get my rest.” I leave him, fuming from his ears, but tears streaming down my face. ‘My dad really is the worst person in the world!’ When I get to my room, I’m hardly amazed by the gold laden chairs, desks, and piano; and instead of doing anything productive, I head to the mini bar, pull out a glass and mix myself some Jack and Coke. I look over at the now really shiny and attractive piano and think back, ‘How many songs do I know that Dad forced me to learn when I was younger? Oh yeah, a million!’ I sit down at the bench and press a key. Its high pitch resonates throughout the room and I look around for a second, then let out a silly, high pitched laughed, coupled with a bit of a snort. Finally finding the fuel for my enjoyment for the evening, I press another key; then another; and another; my laughing growing more and more into a chortle that cannot be quashed. My arms and fingers sore, I retreat to the extravagant bed in this exquisite room. All the muscles in my body give way, and I fall rather hard onto the bed, my feet hanging helplessly off the edge. “Ow…” I say, too tired to move myself into a more comfortable position. Sleep never came so easy. Chapter Five: Amnesia The infestation had started in the heartland of America, and America fought back. Maus was certainly the one responsible for this atrocious act. The death of Mike, his second in command, was the last straw he gave to America. He wanted them dead now, nothing left of them but a few stragglers wandering around. The creatures were said to have almost inhuman qualities, and once they saw a person, they were determined to contaminate him/her. Their skin, a pale gray, glistened in the sunlight, absorbing the UV rays everywhere it went. The sun made them stronger, more powerful. The infected hosts never spoke a word, but when you heard their incredible yell, you knew that they had become blood thirsty, ready, wanting to kill. Yet most didn’t kill; they would instead bite the neck of their victim for about thirty seconds, and toss them aside. After about twenty seconds, the victim rose, slowly, from the ground, now a new host to a terrible strain of cancer, which scientists came to call “Sarcoma”. Somehow, the people who took the medicine prescribed by the ‘doctor’ himself, Maus Bravado, were avoided by the Sarcomas, at all costs in some circumstances. I, always loving action, saw that Mr. Bravado has sent a raiding party full of Sarcomas to the east coast; so that’s exactly where I was heading. My helicopter landed next to a large building, which was built on the beach, stretching in a straight line for nearly a mile, it seemed. All along the beach, the army had set up what looked like guard towers, which were armed to the teeth with various means of destruction. Every weapon bigger than M-16’s were mounted, and ready to fire with at least three thousand rounds each. Hundreds of helicopters appear on the horizon, to the east; each of them carrying two or more large, pill shaped, pods. I see the first of them drop its’ load on the beach; dozens of Sarcomas scurrying out of it. Every round within fifty yards of them is emptied into their now lifeless bodies. I look up and down the coast to see more pods dropped, and each one destroyed barely seconds after it is abandoned by the carriers. My M-16 bursts find the base of a helicopter’s blades, throwing it off balance, and sending it into the ocean. The soldiers all along the beach seem to get the idea, and do the same. Explosions up and down the coast are heard, and the helicopters come crashing into the surf; the few remaining choppers that have yet to drop their loads see this, decide to drop early, and book it. Seconds after they drop their loads, however, they are shot at and destroyed. The Sarcomas desperately try to get away from the water they were dropped into, but find that it is everywhere, and drown, unable to swim; their skin burning from the contact of water. Everyone cheers wildly, shooting spare rounds into the air. § § § …two hours later… I couldn’t believe my luck, to get the prospect of owning what Mike and Maus have been so fervently searching for; The Transient Scrolls, as everyone referring to them came to know them as. The scrolls that God himself gave to an unknown prophet which, when read aloud, could bring the entire world to its demise. Jenny lay on my lap, resting peacefully on the plane trip to Italy. Their task was to retrieve these scrolls from the national museum, where they were kept. No one in the area knew of the importance, the value of the scrolls; but everyone in America did. We still had a good twelve hours left on this flight. I toy with the idea of falling asleep, but excitement of the task at hand create a restless feeling. ‘My dad the President,’ I think to myself. ‘What are the chances? My life is so incredible now! My clan is now the ruling body in the greatest country in the world, and they trust Jenny and me with this extremely important task. There’s nothing that could go wrong.’ Weasel walks over and sits beside me. “You look tired,” he says. “Yeah, I am; very tired,” I begin, “but I’m also so excited for this mission that I can’t even force myself to sleep, you know?” “Yeah. Hey, I have some sleeping pills if you’d like to give those a shot. We have at least ten hours ahead of us, so it’d be no problem to doze for a good eight hours. I was about to take some myself, but it seemed as though you needed them more, sir.” “Yeah, thanks. That’d be great.” Weasel rises and walks toward his seat, rummages through his sack for a few minutes, but seems to have found nothing. He sits back down, across from me, and looks up, defeated. “Sorry, man. I thought they were there.” “Ah, don’t worry about it; I’m sure I can make do, falling asleep on my own,” I say calmly. Closing my eyes, I find refuge in the backs of my eyelids, something I haven’t seen in almost three days. “Hey, take these,” my dad says, handing me a couple pills. “They will help you rest, and will make it easier to get used to the elevation. Wake Squirrel up so she can take hers.” He walks away silently, telling the flight attendant that she had pretty eyes as he walked to another part of first class. He had said that he always wanted to be in the cockpit while a plane was in flight, perhaps that’s where he was going? “Jenny,” I whisper to her, nudging her side. “Jenny, wake up.” I nudge her again. She mumbles something, smacks my hand, and goes back to sleep. I smile slightly, and nudge her again. “Jenny, you need to take this pill.” She opens one eye, looks at me and utters, “Are you serious?! You woke me up to take a stupid pill? What does this pill do anyway?” “It…helps you fall asleep, and get used to the altitude,” I say, realizing that it was senseless to have woken her up to take this pill. She laughs, finally waking up. “You’re joking, right? You woke me up to take a pill that will help me get to sleep? Who set you up to this little prank?” She laughs and looks around the room for another smiling face. I look at her with a serious face, “My father.” “Oh,” she replies. “Yeah, you don’t think I feel foolish waking you up for this? Well, I do.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t…” “Just take the damn pill,” I state, throwing my own pill into the back of my throat, swallowing hard. Jenny swallows hers, and cuddles up with me again, though my hesitation would’ve made anyone back off. I wrap my arms around her, finally feeling nervous about the whole situation. Pinching her arm, I declare, “Stop jumping to conclusions, brat.” We both smile, feeling the effects of the pill. “Good night, love,” she whispers to me, falling asleep on my shoulder. “Good night, Jenny,” I mumble to her, closing my eyes slowly. “Okay, they’re out. Get the ‘chutes,” I hear someone say as I drift off into sleep. I feel Jenny being pulled from me, and then I’m in a deep sleep. I dream of falling, weird in itself; falling through the sky; tumbling, tumbling, faster and faster toward the ground. Everyone I know is falling with me, Jenny to my right, Weasel, Jackal, and all the rest in a circle around us. Suddenly, my father starts to dissolve. His whole shape starts to fade away, like sand being brushed away by the wind. “Dad!!!” I scream out to him. My mother vanishes in the same manner, then Weasel, Jackal, everyone one by one. I turn over, and see them all waving at me; their hands the last thing to fade away in the wind. Jenny beside me looks me in the eye and says, “I love you Kevin, no matter what,” just as she too ebbs away…her hand waving back at me. I continue to fall, farther and farther, but somehow the earth doesn’t come too quickly. Rather, it comes rather slowly, like I’m drifting gently to the ground. § § § I wake up, not sure of anything. Everything before the moment I woke up, and that wild dream, gone. Like I was born in these clothes, in this enormous desert, and left, abandoned, without any clues as to who gave birth to me. ‘Was it possible to be born as a full grown man?’ I asked myself as I looked around. I feel something tugging at my shoulders, almost like the wind. I look behind me, and to my astonishment, I see a parachute, attached to me by its cords. I unfasten the parachute, and pull it back to me, folding it as neatly as possible, knowing that the nights in a desert are far colder than the days. I feel all about me, looking in my pockets, trying desperately to find some shred of my past. Perhaps? Yes, a wallet, stuck into my back pocket. I open it, and realize that not only do I now know who I am, but also that I am married. ‘Hopefully someone…’ I think to myself, looking through photographs stuck into my wallet. ‘Ah, yes, she is beautiful.’ “Wow,” I say to myself as I look through the numerous pictures of a woman that appears to be my wife. “Hmm. Jacob Ames,” I say aloud as I read my driver’s license. ‘Do I even know how to drive? Can’t be too hard, I guess.’ I look around, hoping to find a trace of this beautiful woman that is apparently my wife. My search ends abruptly, as I find that another parachute is discarded, barely in my view over another dune, left to the wind to decide its fate. I stand up, feeling a little dizzy, and climb over the massive dune between me and who I hope is my wife, where the parachute was released. “Are you,” I begin, looking into my wallet for a possible name, “my wife?” She looks me dead in the eye, and says, “I dunno. Do I look like your wife?” “Well, actually,” I say, stumbling my words, “I believe so. I mean, I have a wedding ring, and the only pictures I have in my wallet are of you and I together, so…I assume that you’re my wife. “Do you have any pictures of me?” I ask her, again hoping that she is. Even in this hopeless state, she is shockingly beautiful. She feels around in her jeans, finally pulling out a wallet similar to mine. “T’Ana Mareé Ames,” she says confused. “That’s what my license says. What’s your last name?” She asks, almost to herself. “My last name is Ames.” She holds up a picture, and closes one eye, comparing the man in the picture to the man in front of her. “That’s interesting,” she says. “What is?” “You’re more handsome in person. But judging from this, I have the same wedding ring as in the picture, and you have the same eyes as this man in the picture, so I guess you are my husband. Crying shame though.” “Why is it a crying shame?” “I don’t believe I’ve met your mother, or that you’ve met mine. Do we even know each other? Let alone where we came from?” “Well, I guess we know each other well enough to be married, right?” “I guess so,” she says, playing with the diamond ring on her left ring finger. “Well, I think we should do something. We can’t last long in this desert.” “I agree.” We set off, walking with the setting sun to our left, hopefully going north. “Hey,” T’Ana says unexpectedly, “What’s your name, Mr. Ames?” I fiddle around to get my wallet out again. Finally pulling out my license, I walk closer to her so that she can see too. “It’s Jacob Colin Ames.” I smile satisfied, “You can call me Jake.” “Oh really,” T’Ana says mockingly, “Where did that come from? ‘My name is Jacob Colin Ames, but you can call me Jake.’” “Well, we are married, so we may as well have shorter names for each other.” “Hmm…I gotcha,” she says, “Oh! I know! How about I call you, ass?” I smile and laugh, “Ass, eh?” “Yeah, short for asshole.” “Asshole? You don’t even know me.” “We’re married aren’t we? I think that alone says I know you enough to call you an asshole.” “Touché,” I say, admitting defeat. “So,” I begin, revenge on my lips, “since you can call me asshole, seeing that we’re married and you know me enough to call me that; I’m going to call you ‘bitch’.” She laughs and stops, looking at me. “I don’t think so, Jake.” “Oh yeah; why not?” “That would prove that you’re an ass, asshole.” She starts walking again, a slightly amused look on her face, but trying hard to hide it. I stand there, looking confused. Catching up to her, I say, “Well, that’s not exactly fair.” She stops; her amusement on display now. “News flash, Jake; LIFE isn’t fair. Just look at the situation we’re in.” “That may be true, but does that give you the right to be a bitch to me?” “Not entirely. But calling me a bitch automatically gives me the right to be one, but, you cannot call me one just because I am.” Again, I stop, looking at her in confusion. “That doesn’t seem fair at all,” I say, restating my defense. T’Ana comes up to me, inches from my face, her breath remarkably fresh. “Duh,” she says, snapping her fingers next to my ear as she mutters the word. I stand there, dazed. ‘Why does she have this weird attitude? Did I do something wrong?’ ‘The pictures!’ “Hey, T’Ana,” I say, running to catch up to her. “I found pictures of us in my wallet; at least, I think it’s you.” She stops on the spot and turns around. “Pictures?” she asks quietly. “Yeah, they-“ “Pictures? You had pictures and you never mention it to me? Who the hell do you think you are, Jacob Ames? You should’ve told me this immediately after finding me!” “Hey, I mentioned it to you just before asking if you had some…“ “What kind of pictures?” “Well, there are some on a beach, in a backyard, at a place with a lot of trees, some kind of mall pictures, and some of our wedding.” “Our wedding? How do you know it’s a wedding?” “Well, you’re in a wedding dress, and I’m in a black tux... I would say that’s enough for wedding pictures, but there’s also the one where I’m putting that ring on your finger, and you’re putting this ring on my finger,” I say, pointing to our rings. “Jake, you’re an ass! Lemme see them.” I pull out my wallet, which is immediately snatched out of my hand by T’Ana. “Where are they?” she asks hurriedly. “You just open it, and they fall out,” I state. She opens the wallet; a waterfall of pictures trickling down, one by one. “Where are the wedding pictures?” she asks, studying each picture carefully. “At the bottom." “Well, where is the bottom?” she says, sighing softly. “Right, here.” I show her, and we look at them together. “Wow,” I say, “you look…” “Shut up,” T’Ana says, elbowing me as her cheeks turn red. We walk atop and across dunes until the sun is cresting on the horizon, and then decide to stop to sleep. We wrap ourselves in my parachute, having hardly anything else to keep us warm. Though I know how to build a fire, I have nothing to build one, aside from the sand around us and the clothes we have on. I hold T’Ana, and kiss her on her head, hoping to make her feel safe. Drifting off to sleep is harder than we both thought it would be, but once we do, we are so close, it’s a good thing we’re married. I smile just before falling asleep, holding T’Ana just a little tighter. § § § The next morning we awake to a man running towards us, flailing his arms and yelling, “It’s the fucking Honey Badger! Run for your lives!” He stops when he notices us, and comes close, sits next to me and says, “The Honey Badger is a mother fucking badass. He won’t take shit from no one.” I sit up, nudge T’Ana with my foot, and she just rolls over, saying, “I’m sorry…I didn’t…” “What’s a honey badger?” I ask the strange man. “It’s the most badass animal ever!” he says excitedly. “What’s all the ruckus about?” T’Ana says as she sits up, curious of the new voice. “I don’t know, this guy just…” “It’s the fucking Honey Badger! He’s on the prowl; looking for other badass animals to eat.” “What’s a honey badger?” she asks. “It’s…” “The Honey Badger is the most badass animal ever! He’ll eat King Cobras right after it bites him in the face; he just doesn’t give a shit.” T’Ana wipes the sleep from her eyes and looks at me with a strange look. “Really? After the Cobra bit him?” She asks wearily. “Yes, bitch; after the Cobra bit him. God, fucking listen.” “I’m sorry, I just don’t believe…” “The Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit! He’ll eat you, bitch!” He says and I just start laughing. “’He’ll eat you, bitch!’” I say mockingly. Jenny punches me and mutters ‘asshole’ under her breath. “He’ll eat you too, asshole,” the man says, just as T’Ana sticks her tongue out at me. “No, my name is Jake; as in Jacob. Not ass…” “The Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit! He’ll eat you too asshole!” He says and runs away. After this strange encounter, you would think you wouldn’t be able to sleep, but T’Ana and I just roll over and go back to sleep, as if the whole thing was a dream. I wake up a little later, the stars still shining above us, T’Ana sitting next to me. “What’s wrong?” I ask, wondering why she’s already up. “I couldn’t sleep. I kept having nightmares about how we got in this predicament,” she says. “Well, what happened in your dream?” I say, wiping the sleep from my eyes. “It was really weird… I was getting married to you, and then we were in a plane. We argued for a minute about going to sleep, then when I finally did; I woke up falling, and then I woke up. I haven’t been able to get to sleep since.” “Wow… that is pretty weird. Do you think it’s true?” “Could be…I mean, we’re here, and not having a honeymoon, so who knows. I mean, I guess this could be our honeymoon. How long do you think we’ve been married?” “Long enough for you to know I’m an asshole,” I say, laughing quietly. “Jake! I’m serious! This is really upsetting me. I just don’t know what to do.” “I know T’Ana,” I say, holding her gently. “Let’s just get going, find a town, and at least figure out where we are. Then maybe we could find out what happened to us, and why we’re sleeping on sand for our honeymoon instead of a plush hotel.” “You’re right. Let’s get going.” “Are you cold? We could lay here until the sun comes up.” “No, I’m not cold. And based on how hot it was so late last night, I would rather just get going early, before it gets hot.” “Ok babe,” I say, gently squeezing her arm and packing everything up. T’Ana helps me, but I feel a few of her tears hit my hand as I zip up the parachute bag. I let this go, and we start out on our way. I can tell the sand is cold through my tennis shoes, and wonder how it could get so cold in a place like this. The sand is just above frozen, so walking on it is easy; but as the morning progresses, it becomes harder and harder to walk through. I look at my watch, and see that we have been walking for five hours already. I let T’Ana know that we will be taking a break soon, and she agrees. We stop and start dumping out our shoes. I hold my shoe up to eye level, and through the mountain of sand falling from it, I see phone line towers in the distance. “Babe, look,” I say, dropping my shoe and pointing to the towers. “Oh wow, maybe they lead…” “…to civilization,” I say, finishing her sentence. We look at each other, and then quickly put our shoes back on. Our bags are quickly on our backs, and we start running to the towers. Dune after dune, we climb and nearly fall down what feels like a million dunes. We are so caught up in running; we lose sight of what we are running toward, but somehow maintain a straight line. I keep looking back to the path we just made, always making sure that it’s always behind us; too easy to go in circles in this place. Amazingly, we just keep running and running, our endurance seemingly notwithstanding the distance. I look over at T’Ana, and she looks at me; we both smile and just as the sand got to being flat… it also changed to dirt, then a road, then… BAM! We both smack headlong into the phone line tower and fall backwards. I look over at T’Ana, she is lying about ten feet away from me, her eyebrows showing her confusion, and I start laughing. She picks up a small rock and tosses it at me, and says, “It’s not funny.” I do my best to hold back my laughter, but keep imagining the look on her face, so I soon find it hard not to. T’Ana starts laughing too and we spend the next few minutes just laughing at each other, whatever sour feeling she had for me before obviously gone. We finally stand up and look to see where the phone lines lead. One way, nothing but more and more towers, all leading to the horizon; but the other way, it goes back and forth, dodging rivers and canyons, snaking its way to the horizon… and a city. We look at each other, then the horizon, and T’Ana comes to stand beside me. “Do you think…?” I start to say. “Maybe…” she says as she grabs my hand. “Are you ready?” “You bet,” she says and we start walking down the road beside the phone lines toward what could be our salvation. Two hours on our feet is just long enough to make your feet numb. The rocks and random potholes in this gravel/dirt road make the canyons and hills seem like multiples of the actual distance. Resting every hour only made counting the minutes easier. Our excitement was slowly ebbing away, but as the heat grew to its height, I spot a small hut just twenty yards off the road. I tug at T’Ana’s shirt and point over to it. My finger flashes as lightening strikes and my heart jumps. T’Ana jumps ten feet in the air as the clap of thunder catches up with its’ lightening. I laugh, T’Ana punches me and I wrap my arm around her waist. Trudging the twenty yards seems to get harder and harder as we walk on; the days’ walk already exhausting our feet and legs. T’Ana jumps again, and I hold her tighter, hoping my touch will comfort her. As we walk up the steps, T’Ana rests against the railing of the small porch at the front of the hut. I look carefully through the windows, hoping to God that someone isn’t expecting us. “Hello?” I say as I bang on the door three times. BANG! BANG! BANG! My shouts in are muffled by another strike of lightening and clap of thunder; this time much closer together than before. The storm is approaching. T’Ana says, “Fuck it!” and kicks in the door. We scurry inside, T’Ana screaming, “I HATE THUNDERSTORMS!” A shotgun lay on the floor, several shells already spent and holes in the wall from what appears to be a fight. Over what though? I pick up the old shotgun and see that it has just one shell unspent in the barrel. “Someone’s been here,” I say to T’Ana as she clutches my arm. “Maybe they can take us to town…” T’Ana says nervously, her heartbeat pounding through her grasp. A door to our left is partially ajar, so I push it open with the barrel of the shotgun, and see a moth eaten comforter lazily draped over an old mattress. T’Ana walks in, running her fingertips across the log bed frame. “I don’t think anyone has been in here in ages,” T’Ana says. “I mean, the mirror is broken, there’s no make-up; and look, there isn’t even a closet. This must be the guest room. Let’s find the master suite!” “Wow, someone’s not high maintenance,” I say and prepare for her to punch me. She walks out the door and says, “Jake, shut up.” Feeling a bit more relaxed, we head into the next room, which divided the whole of the hut. The kitchen has obviously been out of use for more than ten years. Rust and grime surround most of the faucets, the tile floor covered in a thick dust, and the small chandelier draping icicles of dust from its five sockets. T’Ana grabs the shotgun out of my hand and raises it to her eyes. “Well, this is definitely something I’m going to love about you…” I say and walk about the room looking for more evidence of life. Barely a second after T’Ana puts the shotgun through the door of the room does she scream and rush into the room. I run in to see the shotgun on the floor, and T’Ana jumping on a very clean and soft looking bed. Looking around, I see that this room is well lit, and very clean. “Oh wow…” I whisper. “I know right?!” T’Ana exclaims as she grabs my hand and pulls me onto the bed. “This is the most comfort we’ve had since…well since I remember!” She exclaims happily. The storm drowns out for just a second as I catch T’Ana’s eyes, entrancing me by how happy she is. I smile awkwardly and look away just as another flash and clap of lightening brings us back to reality. T’Ana quickly scoots over to me and holds me tight. “Did I mention I hate thunderstorms?” She whimpers. “Only once or twice…but I barely heard you the last time,” I say, running my fingers through her hair. “Let’s get into bed. We both need the sleep,” I say and draw back the covers. T’Ana doesn’t waste time to cuddle up next to me; her eyes wide with fear, but her body relaxing more and more as it curls up closer and closer to me. Her warmth comforts me even as more and more flashes of lightening and claps of thunder rock the small hut. My arm wrapped around T’Ana, and her clenched close to me, there’s nowhere I would rather be. § § § I hear the front door open but close my eyes again as sunlight streams through the drapes. T’Ana moans and says, “Jake, you really don’t know do you?” My ears perk up as I hear the doorknob turn slowly. “I think someone’s been in here, Harry,” and old woman’s voice whispers just beyond the door. “No, Charlene, I think someone is still here,” the man says. Man busts into the room, and in a thick southern voice says, "Woo-eee! We've got a beauty in the house; more so than you at least!" “Harry, the last time you said that, you were looking at a donkey on the hill, now let me see,” says Charlene as T’Ana sits up, covering her naked chest. "Sorry about that... he gets real excited when he sees...” she trails off as she finally gets a good look at T’Ana. “A...uh...another woman; my Lord, you are gorgeous. Sorry Harry, but you really do have a thing for those donkeys.” “Those God-damned donkeys are the best lookin’ things in three hundred miles! You can’t say you think those dust creatures are pretty! Those things will suck out your soul!” “Now, Harry! We’re in the presence of a lady! Have some manners!” “Cherry, you know I haven’t had manners in six years; you old hag. This woman is a siren! She’ll sing you to yer death! Let’s get away from this wench!” “EXCUSE ME?” T’Ana finally chimes in. “Don’t you dare call my wife that!” I say, raising what is probably the man’s own gun to his face. “Now look, Char, she even has an accomplice! We gotta kill them before they kill us!” “Harry! You stop it right now! I knew we shouldn’t have been out so long, you always get real cranky when you don’t take your medicine.” “You always get cranky when you don’t take your medicine,” Harry says mockingly. “I’ll tell you what, old heifer. There isn’t one day that I’ve taken that medicine that has been even the least bit entertaining! Now you tell me why I should take my medicine! Go on ahead and tell me,” Harry retorts and sits next to me. He jabs me hard in the ribs, now searing with pain, and whispers, “She ain’t got an answer for this one, watch.” “Harry, if you didn’t take your medicine, you would fuck all of the donkeys on the farm, and that’s not to mention the cows, the ducks, the pigs, and even the horses; I don’t even want to get into how you got high on that horse. Anyway, Harry, get the hell away from that young man before I shoot you myself. “I apologize, my dears. He is rude, senile, and disgusting; hell, sometimes I wonder why I still love him. Actually, there isn’t a day that goes by that I even know why I still love him. “Now, before Harry makes you guys hurl what little you have had to eat, judging from your growling stomachs, let me introduce myself. “My name is Charlene,” she finishes and offers her hand. T’Ana takes it gingerly and says, “It’s nice to meet you ma’am. We’re not from here. “My name is T’Ana, and this is Jacob, my husband.” “You can call me Jake,” I say, offering my hand. “You can call me Jake,” Harry says, leaving the room. “It’s nice to meet you dears. I swear you guys are the cutest couple!” Charlene says. “I’ll let you guys get back to…what you were doing,” she says and giggles as the door closes. Jake looks over at T’Ana and winks. “In your dreams,” T’Ana says and punches his shoulder. “Well, we are married,” I say, “So we have to have done it sometime or another.” “Yeah, don’t push your luck,” she says and puts her bra and shirt on. “How do I always wind up naked when I sleep with you?” I give her a wild smile and say, “Well…” T’Ana laughs and throws a pillow at me, “Shut up, you know what I mean.” I jump out of bed and wrap my arms around T’Ana’s waist. “What do you want this time?” T’Ana says as she puts her hair up into a ponytail. “I just wanted to say that I think you’re beautiful, T’Ana,” I say and kiss her neck gingerly. T’Ana blushes and turns around to face me. “You sir, will be the death of me,” she says, pushing my hands off her waist. “We have to get ready. We have no idea who these people are, but I think they can help us.” “Well, I’m ready,” I say, putting my dirty socks and shoes on. “No, you’re not. Get your ass in that shower while I suck up to these people and see if they have any clean clothes we can wear. Then I’ll get in after you and we’ll go from there.” I scoff and throw off my shoes, flinging my socks toward T’Ana, hitting her right in the face just as she threw a wink back at me. “Gross Jake!! Those have been on your feet for as long as we both can remember!” I laugh, “Well, yeah. There are memories in those socks. The only ones I can remember actually. Were you just winking at me?” “NO!” T’Ana says and cracks the door, her face turning a deep red. “Ok, I was…until that sock hit my face, you jerk. I’ll be back. Get in the shower and wash your ass!” “Yes ma’am,” I say sarcastically. The shower feels a lot better than I expect and halfway through rinsing off, the door opens and shuts behind me. I look over my shoulder and see T’Ana placing some clothes on the small chair next to the door. “They found some clothes for us?” I say, rinsing water through my hair. “Yeah, something you’ll actually look good in,” she says, snickering. “Well, I hope they’ve got something for you then,” I joke as she pulls back the curtain and steps in with me. “Haha, very funny Jake; scoot over, I need to get clean.” I finish rinsing and step away from the water as she steps into it. “Thanks babe,” she says and puts her head under the water. “Yep,” I say, taken aback by her beauty. I step out and dry off, and look at the clothes set out for me: jeans and a plaid shirt. Awesome; just what I was looking for…but not really. “This is what you think I would look good in?” I say mockingly. “Well yeah babe; you’re like a farmer, or a country boy I guess you would say.” “Country boy? You’re crazy.” “True, but as far as I can tell,” she says, poking her head out of the shower curtain, “you like it. Maybe even love it.” She winks and goes back to showering. “Now I know you’re crazy,” I say, laughing loud enough for her to hear. “What did you pick out for yourself, then, if I’m to be a country boy?” “Oh, they only had sundresses and jeans, so I picked the jeans. I don’t think looking pretty really matters at this point. Besides, I’m married, so who do I have to impress anyway?” “Oh I get it,” I snicker. “Well, did they give you any razors? I need to shave. My beard is coming out already.” “Oh yeah, they did. There’s one for you, and one for me. Can you hand me one? They’re in the front pocket of your jeans.” I look and find toothbrushes as well as the razors she was talking about, so I shave, brush my teeth, and she’s still washing herself. “Are you gonna get out of there? You’re gonna end up being a prune.” The shower finally stops and she walks out, drying herself and putting on her jeans. “Where are the toothbrushes?” she asks as she puts her own plaid shirt on. “Oh great, we match.” She giggles, “Yep. Made sure of it,” she says and sticks her tongue out at me. “They’re in the bathroom. I’ve already shaved and brushed my teeth during your hour shower.” “Well, you could have stayed in there with me,” she winks and walks into the bathroom. I come up behind her and look at her in the mirror. “Where do you think these people will take us?” I ask, wrapping my arms around her waist, resting my hands on her belly, and my chin on her shoulder. She spits and says, “They said they wanted to show us what Harry was talking about with the ‘dust-town’, I think that’s what they called it? And then they said they have someone they want us to meet…that’s not covered in dust.” “I wonder who that could be. I mean, how many people actually know we even exist?” She finishes brushing, rinses her mouth and turns toward me. “It’ll be ok babe, I promise,” she says gingerly, putting her hand on my cheek and looking into my eyes. “Well, you’ll certainly help me believe that. I just hate not knowing what’s going on.” “I know; me too, but these guys seem really nice. I mean, they’re letting us use their shower, their clothes,” she says, fixing my collar and kissing my cheek. “What could go wrong?” “I hope you’re right.” She grabs my hand and pulls me out of the bathroom. We walk into the living room to see that Charlene and Harry were waiting for us. “Well I’ll be damned…the tiger can change her stripes,” Harry says, looking at T’Ana. “Harry, you behave,” she says sternly. “You look fine, my dear, but who is this handsome man beside you?” T’Ana looks back at me, blushing and says, “The plaid really makes him look like a different person, doesn’t it?” “I think it’s ridiculous,” I say, straightening out the crinkles in the shirt. “You’ll get used to it. Trust me, you look great,” Charlene says. “Cherry, we better get a move on,” Harry says, looking at his watch. “Angela isn’t going to wait forever.” “Who is Angela?” I ask. “She’s the lady you’re going to see after we run through this dingy town.” “Oh, right, T’Ana was telling me about that. Why is everything so gray in just that town?” “We’ll explain on the way,” Charlene says and heads out to the car. We walk out to the car, Harry and Charlene in the front, T’Ana and I in the back. “The town we’re headed to is so gray because of a cruel experiment by The Leader,” Harry says, surprisingly calm. “’The Leader’? Who is that?” I ask. “The Leader is the dictator that controls all this world. Everything you see is ‘his’ property,” Charlene explains and looks back at us while Harry leads the car onto the road. “He says he conquered the world so that we would have peace, but we only have peace because of what he’s doing to the world.” “What is he doing?” T’Ana asks, intrigued. “He made these…um…pills that he required everyone to take. The only problem with these pills is that they completely zombify you. You pretty much become a robot, in every aspect. You do what you do, you go to work, and you come home. You really don’t have any form of unique thought, so you just live. You’re alive, but nothing is ticking upstairs.” “That’s…insane…” I say astonished. The town comes into view and T’Ana and I stare out the window, hoping to get every detail of the town as we approach. The sickly gray comes into view, and I see Harry pull a handkerchief up to his nose and mouth, covering them almost completely. An electronic billboard comes up on the right, showing a gruesome scene. A man being shot in the head over and over again, the caption reading, ‘Mike Brehio assassinated by American Rebel Group.’ “What’s that billboard about? Some guy just got shot,” I ask, curious of why the media would be showing that again and again. “Oh, Harry, I forgot to tell them about that,” Charlene says slapping the back of her hand on Harry’s arm. She adjusts in her seat and turns to face us, “That’s Mike Brehio. He was The Leader’s second hand man. They conquered the world together. Rumor has it that Mike actually rose up to defeat Maus- er, I mean…’The Leader’. But either Mike was bit by vampires, The Leader stole Mike’s wife, or somehow they became friends and they’ve been co-conquerors ever since. There’s a lot of rumors, but no one really knows the true story.” “So why is it on a loop?” “Oh, that one is just broken. It’s been like that for about a month now. He was shot two months ago.” “It’s lucky that we’re just passing through,” Harry’s muffled voice announces. “You’d hate to have to stay here too long.” We see a sign that says: Test Facility #2 Entrance is welcome, but not recommended. Caution should be taken if staying more than 1 hour. Thru traffic: DRIVE FAST Note: Always wear face protection I look at T’Ana just as she looks at me and she has this horrific look on her face. I raise my shirt over my mouth and nose, then motion for her to do the same. She scoots over to me and rests her head on my chest, looking out the window. I hold her shoulder and stare out the window, not knowing what I might see. Chapter Six: Retribution “Who knows what may come of this, but of all things, you will get retribution,” Zander says as I stare at him, dumbfounded. Its residents take no notice to us as our car carves trenches in the road of dust like mud. Once out of the small town, Harry uncovers pulls down the handkerchief and he says, "God awful place. That dead guy on the billboard designed that one himself. Thought he could control people’s lives completely...asshole. Anyway, that was attempt 2; the town we forage from is the ninth and last. They perfected it, and now," he says as we come to a stop, "There's but a few left." So T'Ana and Jake are escorted to town by these two crazy folk that own the house they slept (sex?? Hmm lol) in. when they come to a city..they see... a bilboard plastered with a recent ad from Mike and Maus(sp?)? Ad? Hmm.. What's the ad about? Ads? or their televised speech that mike dies at? it could be one of those electronic billboard things that displays it, and of course T'Ana and Jake not having their memory know nothing of the situation Maybe a glitch in the billboard that loops mikes death over and over? It being a week since it happened, the couple takes no notice yeah there you go But the first city they come to is a "testing ground" for ads...as described in the first book. __ i liove it! Liove? Lol jk. Um...then they drive into town after filling up the car and T'Ana feels playful, starts pinching Jake... something slightly monumental should happen here Jake punches her in the face! Lol what do you mean? lol not like that gosh what are you tring to make him abusive? gee i meant like maybe they get attacked or something Attacked by mindless zombies who only react...Hmm and yes, he'll be abusive lol jk. Attacked by what? Or maybe the touch feels familiar...and Jake has a flashback? And yells out, "Take that bitch!" Haha But he doesn't hit her, rather he grabs her hand and laces their fingers well it could be that the playful pinch brings up a memory of hollis and skill for them ugh stupid lack of sleep, i mean squirrel.. Oh, Kevin and Jenny. Like...their wedding night? The ride to the cabin they rented? Jenny pinching him every minute they got close yeah there you go! Lol then Jake turns to T'Ana and kisses her..then the love blah blah blah, and T'Ana's face lights up and turns red, she looks at Jake and says, "W-w-where did that come from?" Barely able to speak himself, Jake says, "B-b-because I, um... Because I...love you...T'Ana..." awe yeah good sounds good but Muse is off to bed, early start in the morning and work in the afternoon lol i should be home by 8pm my time if you want to continue then lol Jake says Jenny instead of T'Ana without realizing it..etc..just noting for later § § § This could all lead to T'Ana and Jake's need for this new group, where they find Stubbs and the cure for the symptoms they start having after coming in contact with ads infected people again.. the smell of their rotting flesh the initial onset of it causing near numbness in the right side? and only enough pain registry in the legs to be able to walk. symptoms would be ignored because they have no way of getting drugs to cure it.. and make it to Stubbs just days before the withdrawls would take their lives.. and I think a simple cure, like the polio vaccination, would be awesome. Honey badger blood cocktail Jake and T’Ana come across a civilization that is self-dependent, and self-sustaining. A few days after making acquaintance with them, Jake learns that they use up to 100% of their brains, using (insert name here) to stimulate all areas of the brain. The people allow Jake and T’Ana to aspire to the brain activity they have, and then ask Jake to go on a mission for them. T’Ana is pregnant, so Jake accepts and goes alone. Jake and T’Ana come across a city that is centrally based, and the elected officials have a certain characteristic unlike any other people they have met. Despite this amazing quality, this city kept to themselves, seemingly very happy with their existence and their place in the world. ‘Why don’t they go after Mike and Maus,’ Jake thought, ‘they have every capability to do so. Perhaps their army is weak? No, that would be impossible. Being able to remember everything that went on their entire lives would make fighting too easy… and the need for weapons would be little to none. The civilization, who calls themselves, “Their Name”, requires a strict screening/application process to be able to ascend to using 100% of their brains, which is only accessible to the elected officials. Each person is then contracted to use their newfound intelligence for the better of the city/state/world above their own unnecessary need to before themselves. Requirements include: 1) IQ above 120 2) No criminal record, against any government/country 3) No affiliation with Maus, Mike, or any of their programs, military, government 4) A 6 month minimum use of ADS, for understanding of what it does/why it’s wrong 5) A drive for the greater good of mankind Any persons using their intelligence for crime or simply for their own advancement will be banished from the city, never to return to the level of functioning that kicked them out.