Future’s Past Rebellion by J.A. Zollicoffer

index-fupasreb5

 

Disclaimers: This story is a work in progress. The characters are mine. The plot is mine, and all of the mistakes are mine. So, let me state for the record. I know absolutely nothing about politics, conspiracy theories or time travel, so please don’t hold me be to the flames for any part of this story that is inaccurate. Most of the stuff on these pages are just things that I’ve dreamed up for the story. This is a story I keep coming back to, so I’m posting part one, hoping it will force me to finish what I hope will be a series.
© Dec. 2011…JAZ

Future’s Past Rebellion
by J.A. Zollicoffer
Jozee679@yahoo.com

Part One

Anna Hargrove
Washington, D.C.
August, 2362

It’s getting worse.

That was the only thought running through Anna Hargrove’s mind as she paced back and forth across the carpeted floor of her office. I don’t know what it is, but it’s getting worse. The statuesque blonde continued walking and thinking. Something wasn’t right, and it hadn’t been right for months. She remembered the day she first noticed that something was wrong. . .

It was a fine April morning. The sun was bright, the weather was warm, and Anna Hargrove, High Chairman of the Incorporated States of the Americas was walking down the sidewalk, enjoying a leisurely stroll among the people. She stopped at the crosswalk waiting for the walk sign to pop up, when she noticed a brand new, light blue 1958 Chevrolet Club Coup go rolling by. Fresh off the assembly lines in Detroit, she thought as the luxury vehicle continued on its way.

She smiled at the simplicity of it all. It was as if time had stood still, and in a way it had. The calendar may have read April 5, 2362, but the world that she lived in looked more like an April morning straight out of the 1950s.

All across the country dads came home from work and read the daily news while sitting in his easy chair. Moms prepared the nightly meat and potato dishes on an O’Keefe & Merritt stove, teenage boys drove hot rods and teenage girls wore poodle skirts. All was perfection. Just as it was designed to be.

The people she passed on the street were the same people she saw every time she took these walks. They were the maintenance men, the restaurant workers, and the domestics who served their Corporation well. And the thought of their patriotism made the Chairman smile. These people were the backbone of the Nation, and Anna couldn’t have been happier with their service.

A group of women walked by, all wearing the same gray uniform of hotel maids. Anna imagined that the large satchels they carried at their sides were stuffed with their aprons and cleaning supplies, and as they drew closer she greeted them with her most winning smile. “Good morning, citizens,” she said in anticipation of the exuberant greeting she was about to receive. So it came as a shock when, in return, she received a less than enthusiastic response.

“Good morning, Madam Chairman,” they all said, with the expected level of respect, but without the usual awe and wonder that often came when you were acknowledged by the most important person in the Americas.

Well that’s odd, Anna thought, too confused to be angered by what was most certainly a slight. She watched as the women continued to the bus stop, and was even more baffled when not one of them turned back around to get one last glimpse of the National Leader.

That had been the first incident. After that things began to change rapidly. Where there was once crowds of people seeking Anna’s favor when she was out in public, now she was politely nodded to by most, and totally ignored by others. At first she thought it was just a few random oddballs, but once she really started to pay attention, she saw it for what it was. She was being tolerated. The people acted as if they didn’t know who she was, and that realization brought with it a feeling of foreboding.

It’s getting worse.

She had put the Researchers on it right away. Whatever was going on she was sure they could weed it out. But it had been four months, and still, there were no answers, that’s how she had come to find herself walking a trench into her office carpet.

“What are they doing?” she vented out loud. “What’s taking so long?” Then her greatest fear came to mind. It almost feels like I’m running out of time.

This thought stopped her dead in her tracks. “Running out of time. Running out of time. Running out of time.” She said it over and over again. Feeling each word as it formed in her mouth, tasting each syllable as it rolled off of her tongue, hoping that each time she said it the words would lose their meaning, and become nonsense.

But these were strong words. Words that meant everything, and the more she said them, “Running out of time. Running out of time,” the further away her mind drifted from reality. The words started to become a far away whisper and she started to feel lightheaded. Then her body started to sway. I’m going to pass out, was her last thought before the darkness took her.

But just as she was about to give in to the pull of merciful oblivion, another thought entered her mind. A very important thought. Maybe the most important thought of all. And a slow smile began to spread across her regal features.

“I am Anna Hargrove,” she announced. “and my time is not running out.” She felt her strength returning and she stood to her full height. “I won’t allow it,” she vowed. Her vision began to clear and she was filled with renewed confidence. “I control time. It bends to my will,” she said in a commanding voice.

Then she felt the darkness start to retreat. As the light of truth began to shine in her eyes the darkness receded back into the shadows. Once that truth was set firmly into place, Anna walked over to the bank of tinted windows that made up an entire wall of her office, and looked out over the Nation. . .her Nation.

Her vision was filled with an idyllic view that was straight out of the mid twentieth century. She was ten floors up, and the landscape below was on full display, and what she saw was a utopia. What few people there were on the street, was either working or on their way to work.

She saw the man who ran the corner grocery setting up his produce stand out in front of the store. She watched as he inspected each piece of fruit and vegetable before he set them out. And when the dairy truck pulled up in front of his store, she watched as the grocer stopped what he was doing to help the delivery driver pull crates of milk bottles from the back of the truck, and she smiled. This was typical everyday life in the Americas.

She reached out and touched the glass feeling the warmth of the windowpane, imagining that she could actually touch the perfect day. This was the world Anna had grown up in. A world where nothing ever changed. It was the only world she had ever known. The only world anyone had ever known. And no one had ever asked why. All that mattered was that everything had its place, and every person had their purpose.

Anna’s gaze turned to the west, and in her mind’s eye she could see all of the quaint little neighborhoods with their tree lined streets and manicured lawns. She saw the boys building their go-carts for the annual soapbox derby, and the backyard barbeques that their fathers presided over on the weekends. She saw the mothers gathering for their sewing circles, and the daughters having imaginary tea parties with their little dollies. And the image made the Chairman smile, because these scenes were being played out all over the world.

They were a global community now, and if your family took a vacation to Soweto it would be the same as if they were in France or Spain or Japan or Texas. The people would change, but the cultural experience would not. It was 1950s America all over the world, and this small part of the beautiful dream was hers to control. She smiled like a proud parent.

Since she had been a child, Anna Hargrove had wanted to be in charge. She had been a bossy little girl with blonde ringlets and stern gray eyes. When she was six her parents bought her a child sized desk and chair set, and she had forced her two year-old brother to play office worker with her until the small boy had soiled his diaper several times. He had sat for hours, his chubby little legs dangling several inches above the floor, while his sister handed him papers with her blue crayon writing on them, insisting that he sign each one as a witness.

The little boy, no more than a baby really, looked at the blue crayon in his fat baby hands, and proceeded to stick the end in his mouth. And every time he did it Anna would pull his hand down, and guide his fist over the paper, hoping he would get the hint. Of course he never did, and by the time their mother came looking for them the room had the distinct odor of a wet and muddy diaper.

But when her mother had asked her why she hadn’t come to get her when her little brother needed changing, Anna said, “Because his work wasn’t finished.” Her mother had smiled at that, pleased that her daughter was a disciplined taskmaster in the making. Maybe, just maybe, she’d thought. My little Anna will do what her father never could, and rise up further on the Corporate ladder than Vice President.

“I hope I’m making you proud, Mother,” Anna whispered. She was sending a message out to a woman who, with her husband had taken up residence on the retirement island of Seaport, located fifty miles off of the shores of the Atlantic, between the Incorporated States of North and South Carolina. It was a lovely little retirement island where all of the former Corporate bigwigs spent their days playing gulf, and their nights doing the limbo at the island parties. It was their reward for serving their Corporation well.

Anna briefly thought about those who did not serve well. There were places for them too. If you were a predator of people, or someone too violent to control. There were experimental labs, where human testing went on. If you were overly promiscuous. There were special breeding farms. If you were lazy. A slacker. A non-contributor. A drain on society. There were organ harvesting clinics where people were carved up piece by piece, a kidney here, a retina there, until a heart or a lung was needed, and then your service was over. The World Union didn’t believe in waste, and a person who didn’t serve well was a waste.

Anna noticed that the delivery driver and the grocer were now nowhere in sight. The only people she could see were the nannies in the park with the children left in their care. The precious children, she thought. “How will you serve?” she whispered as she watched a little girl still in the wobbly stages of learning how to walk, teetering towards the sandbox. And will I be the overseer of your service? she wondered. And just like that, it was back.

It’s getting worse.

But this time she shook the thought out of her head before it sent her spiraling again. She reached across her desk, hitting the intercom button, and waited. I am the High Chairman, she reminded herself as she looked out over the horizon. “And this is mine,” she said in a horse whisper. She let the power of her position wash over her. “And it’s time I put my house in order.”

“Yes, Madam Chairman,” came the secretary’s voice.

“Get a Researcher up here.”

“I’ll have an image sent up right away, Madam Chairman”

“No, not a hologram. I want a live person,” she paused. “Have Tom sent up.”

“Right away, Madam Chairman.”

She released the button, and felt her confidence return in full force. The momentary loss of control, all but forgotten. She felt more like herself again.

****

Pap. Pap.

Pap.

Pap. Pap.

Pap.

Sharp smacking sounds echoed throughout the workout room as the lithe fighter threw a combination of powerful punches in quick succession. But her opponent didn’t budge, didn’t even sway. It shuddered a little, but for the most part the red weight-bag refused to move. It just hung defiantly from the ceiling, waiting for her next assault.

Pap. Pap.

Thud.

The next round started with another combination of punches, but now a side-kick was added. This new method of attack left a few deep dents in the bag, but the leather never split, and that’s what the fighter wanted. Grayson Carrington was determined to see the bag’s life’s blood oozing out on the floor in puddles of sand. The fine grit would be the evidence that she needed to prove she had been there. But the heavy bag refused to give in. It was just as determined to keep its stuffing, as she was to spill it.

A feral smile pulled at the tall woman’s lips, exposing straight, white teeth, and she growled. “Now it’s getting personal.”

The attack picked up speed, and more power was put behind each punch, and every kick was meant to cause serious injury. This was her daily dance with the red menace that hung in front of her. It was their synchronized waltz, and she refused to miss a step.

“Come on ya scum!” she yelled before throwing a couple more punches and another side-kick.

Pap. Pap.

Thud.

“Give it up!”

But the bag just hung there, gently swaying back and forth, as if it was being caressed by a gentle breeze instead of being pummeled by a six-foot tall fighting machine. Grayson looked like the ultimate predator, all hunched over with her black hair plastered to her forehead, bouncing around on her toes making her long ponytail swing back and forth across her wide back. Her blue eyes scanned the surface of the bag like lasers, never missing a move her sparring partner made.

Pap. Pap. Pap.

Thud.

Three quick punches and a solid kick to the midsection. This got a little more movement from the bag, and she started bouncing around even more, her adrenaline flowing as freely as the sweat that ran down her back. And a self-satisfied grin appeared on her face.

“Yeah, you felt that one didn’t you?”

She pivoted to the left, and struck out with her right leg. The next kick was delivered with the bottom of her foot, the curve in her arch melding perfectly with the surface of the bag, knocking it off center. This time it was pushed back a little further. Then, as if it had heard Grayson’s taunts, it swung back in her direction with more force. Grayson met the oncoming attack with a short power punch to the center of the bag, and she felt the recoil immediately. The vibration traveled through her wrist, up her forearm, to her shoulder, leaving it a little numb.

She laughed out loud this time. “That’s more like it! Come on, big boy, give me your best shot!”

Her rubber-soled workout shoes were making squeaking noises on the polished wood floor with each change of direction she made in pursuit of her elusive enemy. She made good use of the wide open space in the large workout room, bobbing and weaving in fluid motion, like she was ducking away from her opponent’s swings.

The game of taunt and tease went on for another forty-five minutes until a low bing-bong chimed throughout the room, and a melodic voice came over the loud speaker. “Your session is now over. Please gather all personal items and exit the workout area. Have a nice day.”

“Dang it,” Grayson mumbled as she removed the skintight black gloves from her hands. “There’s never enough time.” She flexed her fingers a few times, trying to get the stiffness out of them, then tossed the gloves into her gym bag, before pulling out a towel to wipe the sweat from her face.

There were options other than boxing in the workout room. She could run around the indoor track, lift weights, ride a stationary bike, do aerobics, but Grayson’s first and only choice was always boxing. She loved the hand-to-hand combat. There was just something about the way it made her feel.

Whenever she fought it was like she was connected to everything around her. When she threw a punch she could feel the air that stirred around her fist as it made its way to the target. When she bounced on her toes, she felt like she could catch a breeze and fly, and when she made contact with a kick, the solid connection her foot made with a resisting force traveled up one leg and down the other, rooting her to the ground, making her feel like she was firmly connected to the earth.

She thought it might have something to do with her being a Rhizome, but she wasn’t sure. None of the “special” Warriors knew very much about their abilities. All they knew was that their specialties were needed in the effort to preserve the future. She was a Time Warrior. A Defender of the Way. A Beacon in the Night. A Guardian of the Path. She was a member of an elite group of protectors who traveled through time to earth’s past to right the wrongs of their ancestors, and prevent the destruction of the time line.

Grayson wiped the sweat from her body, and when she was finished she draped the damp towel over her shoulder and quickly moved towards the exit. She wanted to get home where she could shower in private before heading off to work.

But before leaving the room she turned to face the red menace one more time, and pointed a long threatening finger at it. “Don’t even think about skipping town, Bub.”

She left the gym with a smile on her face, and when the automatic doors of the Warrior’s gym opened and closed behind her she threw a couple of air-punches. “Pow! Wham! Crunch!” she said out loud, just like she read in the Superman comics.

When she heard the next person coming around the corner for their workout session she pulled her gym bag up higher on her shoulder, and set her face to stone, acting all business. Then she saw who it was, and she sneered. The broad man who approached was not one of her favorite warriors.

Vernon White wasn’t anyone’s favorite Warrior, except for the Chairman. She treated him like a prized pony. The big man was a Censor, and in some ways that was a good thing. In others, it was a downright blasphemous way to be. Conscienceless prig, she thought, and avoided brushing against him as they passed.

“Carrington,” he said with a nod of his head, but Grayson ignored him. She refused to waste her breath on him, and continued walking in the direction of her apartment.

****

Tom Mason was hurrying down the hallway, beating himself up for being such a coward. The small man was a nervous wreck. Through the wire-framed glasses that were perched on the bridge of his nose, his brown eyes shifted back and forth like he expected someone to jump out at him at any moment. He was a small man, only about five foot-five, and had started going bald at a fairly young age, so now, at the ripe old age of thirty-five the top of his head was as smooth as a newborn baby’s bottom.

He dared not slow down until he reached the Chairman’s office. She had sent for him. Had asked for him by name, and he knew exactly what she wanted. “I should have informed her as soon as I discovered what the problem was,” he berated himself as he pushed his glasses back up his nose.

“Then why didn’t you tell her?” his annoying little voice asked. “Because that woman scares the bejesus out of me,” he admitted in a tight voice. “That’s why,” he said as he turned the last corner leading to the Chairman’s office.

When he reached the double-doors that led to the suite of offices he stood silently outside, and stared at the pattern in the wood grain, trying to gather as much courage as he could. When none came, he shrugged his thin shoulders, and moved forward.

“Too late now to worry about when you should have told her, Tommy old buddy. It’s time to pay the piper,” he mumbled, knowing how dangerous it was to keep the capricious woman waiting.

He slowly pushed open the double-doors, and was immediately greeted with a sympathetic look from the secretary. Using just his eyes, and a tilt of his head he asked if the Chairman was in a good mood. The secretary only shrugged her shoulders, and motioned for him to go in, and see for himself. He walked towards the second set of double-doors, and hesitated once again. He tried to calm his nervous stomach, and hoped the burn that was working its way up his throat wouldn‘t get any worse. I’m going to need a full tube of antacids after this. He knocked on the door, and waited. When he heard the word “Enter,” he turned the knob and walked in.

*******

Tom crossed the threshold into the Chairman’s office, and like always, he was struck by her appearance. Anna Hargrove was a tall woman. Nearly six feet, with piercing gray eyes that bore holes into you, and she was extremely attractive. Her honey gold hair framed her face in a way that was very reminiscent of the movie star Veronica Lake. Even the deep wave that hung down over one of her eyes mimicked the actress. But that was where the resemblance ended.

Veronica Lake was a long dead celluloid queen whose image was still adored by her many fans in the Incorporated States. Anna Hargrove was very much alive, very much in charge, and very annoyed that her image was no longer being revered by the citizens.

When Anna heard him enter she turned to watch the man make his way across the carpet. He was taking short choppy steps like he was being pulled by an invisible rope. She found this funny. Wickedly funny. Tom was a twitchy a little man, and it amused her to watch him squirm. This was one of the reasons she had requested he come to her instead of one of the others.

Before the Chairman could comment on how nervous he was Tom cleared his throat. “I was just about to call you, Madam Chairman.”

Anna stood with her arms folded across her chest, and stared at him with those eyes. Those hard slabs of steel. “I’m sure you were,” she purred.

This unnerved him, and he had to himself from babbling. He knew for a fact that the person who stood before him was not the same woman who smiled, and shook hands with the masses. Behind closed doors Anna Hargrove was a hard woman who rarely smiled, and found very little humor in mistakes. She was a serious administrator who did not accept failure from those who worked for her. . . and everyone in the Incorporated States of the Americas worked for her.

“W. . .we have identified the problem, Madam Chairman,” he stammered.

When nothing more was said, Anna twirled her hand around in a hurry up motion. “Go on.”

“The change in the people can be traced back to the voice of one woman,” he said.

Anna hadn’t expected that. To her knowledge, all of the rabble-rousers had been rounded up and neutralized. Well. . .except for that one little group of troublemakers. It seemed like it was next to impossible to round them up. They were a group of dissidents who had formed an underground alliance, and their only purpose was to bring down the Union. The fact that they could never be apprehended was a constant wonder to the board members, and a source of shame for Anna. Mainly because they seemed to be based out of the Americas.

“The solution is simple,” Anna said, putting the thought of the dissidents out of her mind. “Send out the Capital Police, and have her detained.”

When the Researcher didn’t make a move to carry out her orders she raised an eyebrow. “Why are you still standing there?” Then her voice dropped, and that ominous eye that was peeking through that golden shroud of hair started to harden. “Is there a problem, Tom?” Her tone had become menacing, and he could see that the Chairman he feared was rapidly moving to the surface.

Tom swallowed hard, and was mortified that he wasn’t able to pull his attention away from that peek-a-boo eye behind the curtain of hair. It held him in a trance.

“I’m waiting, Tom.”

As quickly as he could he told the Chairman what he should have told her from the start. “Madam Chairman,” he said. “This woman is beyond the reach of the Capital Police.” He said it fast, and was finally able to break the connection with that eye. But breaking that connection rendered him mute again.

When he once again stopped talking, Anna imagined herself picking him up by the scruff of his scrawny neck, and tossing him out the window by the seat of his cheap pants. It would leave an awful mess, she thought. The street cleaners would have a difficult time removing this useless splat from the sidewalk, but it would be. . .her thoughts trailed off. That’s when she realized what Tom the Researcher was really trying to say to her, and her daydream came to a screeching halt.

“She’s a wraith,” she whispered, as her hand reached up, and tucked her drop-wave behind her ear.

“That is correct, Madam Chairman, and I hesitate to say that her past actions are slowly erasing our future, Soon, life as we know it will change.”

Tom felt beads of sweat gathering on his forehead, but he was afraid to wipe them away. There was something going on behind the Chairman’s eyes now. Something feral. Something that he was afraid would be focused on him if he made any sudden moves. So he let the sweat roll down behind his glasses, and into his eyes. Even when his eyes started to sting he remained as still as a statue.

For a moment, Anna thought this might be something else, something much bigger than a pesky wraith who held the ear the people, and it made the nerve under her eye twitch, just a little, nothing that could be seen, but she felt it. “What did this woman do?” Anna asked, knowing that this was no longer going to be an easy fix.

“Well, Madam Chairman,” Tom pulled a tablet out of one the deep pockets in his lab jacket, and scrolled down the screen. “In the year 2063, a senator, Vivian Monroe gave a speech in front of the Senate Hearing Committee that called for a modification in the law.”

Anna was not impressed. All of the political orators from the past, the ones who had the Gift, had been eliminated. She was sure of that. The declaration flooded her with confidence. All would be well. This was just another loud mouth from the past who needed to be silenced. “Ruling by the word of two houses. What a ridiculous notion.” She twirled her hand in the hurry up motion again.

Tom continued. “Her speech caused a change in policy that became a slow moving piece of legislature that gradually made small modifications here and there. Nothing big. Most of the changes went unnoticed, that’s why it has taken this long for the effects to be felt this far into the future.”

“A speech?” she said skeptically. “I doubt that a speech moved those politicians. Politicians were never moved by words. The only language they understood was power and control.”

“That may be true, Madam Chairman, but these words must have made a lasting impression, because their power has been steadily building for the last three hundred years.” Suddenly his dark eyes filled with an odd mixture of regret and fear. “And we are about to feel their full impact.”

“Explain,” was Anna’s curt response. She felt a headache starting to pound behind her right eye, and a chill started to travel down her spine as the words came back to her.

It’s getting worse.

“Yes, Madam Chairman. I’ll try my best.”

“Don’t try. Do.”

He saw a storm brewing, so he hurried with his explanation.

“Imagine that Vivian Monroe’s words are like a small wave, nothing more than a ripple in the water. The ripple starts on one side of the world, and keeps ebbing and flowing it’s way along until it reaches some far-off distant shore.

The effects of the ripple, when it arrives will not be a strong one. Maybe nothing more harmful than a discarded food wrapper washing up on the beach. But, as that wave heads back out into the ocean it continues along, and it picks up other small waves, it may even catch the gust of a strong wind or two to help it along, and that’s where things begin to change.

The once small, barely noticeable ripple in the water has now become a force unto itself. It is bigger, stronger and more destructive than before, and when it rebounds, and heads back in the direction it came from, instead of arriving with that same gentle nudge as before, it obliterates all that it encounters.”

The Researcher watched as intelligent gray eyes grew wide with a terrible understanding of things.

“That is how this speech has grown, Madam Chairman. And if you haven’t guessed it yet, it has rebounded, and it’s heading back in our direction, and the tidal wave that it’s bringing with it will end everything as we know it.”

Anna’s grasp of the analogy was complete, and she felt the panic return. She felt the dizziness start to buzz in her head. She saw the darkness approaching from the corners of her mind, and she used what little strength she had to lock her knees, and stop them from shaking.

“But how?” she whispered. Still unable to believe that she had missed something, or someone so important. It’s getting worse, echoed in her mind for what felt like the hundredth time that day. And it’s worse than I thought. She felt herself hyperventilating as black spots began to dance in front of her eyes again, and she had to lean heavily on her desk for support. Come on, Anna. Get a grip, she commanded herself. Don’t you dare pass out in front of Tom the mouse.

That seemed to get her going. There was no way she would allow Tom to bare witness to her weakness. Her nose flared as she tried to discreetly fill her lungs with air, and she willed herself to stand up straight.

But Tom had seen her sway. He’d seen the fear in her eyes, and he’d felt her panic. And although he knew it was a dangerous thing to do, he asked about her wellbeing. “Madam Chairman, are you well?”

She could hear the concern in his voice, and it pissed her off. “I’m fine,” she gritted out.

Tom looked on, not knowing if he should stay or go as the Chairman worked through her internal demons.

Conflicting thoughts were swirling around in Anna’s head, and she wanted to lash out. She wanted to do something harsh, and she wanted to do it to Tom. She wanted to break his bones, tear off his flesh, gouge out his eyes. Anything that would severely damage him for bringing her such bad news. But she couldn’t. It wouldn’t look good for one of her Researchers to leave her office bloodied and bruised, so she focused on the problem. Vivian Monroe. Just thinking about the woman made her guts churn. How can I fix this, she wondered. How can I stop this from happening?

Then the simple answer came to her, and her spirits, along with her ambition soared. She pressed the intercom button again, and waited. And while she waited, she contemplated. This next move could put me in a position to petition for Chairman for life. She let that marinate for a few seconds. No more fear of falling behind the other Corporations. No more fear that a new up and comer could worm their way into my position. The race to stay ahead of the pack could be won with this one, very important move. After all, it isn’t everyday that one saves the world, she thought with a smile.

“Yes, Madam Chairman?” came the secretary’s voice, bringing Anna out of her musings.

“Holocall the Time Warrior’s Commander.”

Tom gasped. The name immediately filled him with awe. The Time Warriors. The Defenders of the Way. The Beacons in the Dark. The Guardians of the Path. They were a secret society of men and women who preserved the future, and only the people who worked in this building knew of their existence. To the rest of the world they were known as astronauts, explorers of space, but in this building they were seen as Knights of the First Order.

Just thinking about them made him feel like a little kid with a bad case of hero worship. They were the protectors of the present, and the gladiators of the past. They were the noble few who did what needed to be done. They served their Corporation well, and he felt honored just hearing their name spoken by the Chairman.

But his gasp didn’t go unnoticed, and when Anna was reminded of his presence, she was immediately irritated. “You may leave.”

He didn’t waste any time getting out of there. When Tom was nearly at the door, Anna called out to him. “Wait!”

He stopped, and turned slowly back around.

“When did the politician,” she couldn’t bring herself to say Vivian Monroe’s name, “make this request?” the word “request” ended in a hiss.

Tom fumbled around with the screen on his tablet before he found the information. “The nearest we can put the date is Wednesday, August 8, 2063.”

She dismissed him with an annoyed wave of her hand. It was a move that made her hair fall back over the right side of her face, once again hiding that searching gray eye. It was the last thing Tom saw as he tripped over his own feet in an effort to leave the office in a hurry.

****

When Grayson reached her building in the Warrior’s Compound she took the steps two at a time, and practically sprinted down the hallway to her apartment. As soon as opened the door she headed straight for the shower.

She kicked off her canvas shoes and socks, and pulled the black, sleeveless t-shirt over her head, tossing it in the clothes hamper. “Two points!” Then she untied the drawstring on her loose fitting white workout pants, and let them drop to the floor, using her bare foot to kick them near the bottom of the hamper. “Goal!”

After she’d removed her undergarments, and used them to contribute to her point total, she walked, naked into the bathroom, and twisted the cap off of the tube of toothpaste, singing the jingle as she loaded her toothbrush.

“You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.” She sang the jingle every morning when she brushed her teeth. It was a habit. If nothing else, Time Warriors were creatures of habit, and after ten years of being a Warrior, most of the time Grayson wasn’t even aware she was doing the same things over and over.

As she brushed her teeth she went over her day in her head. After I shower and get dressed, I’ll stop and pick up some breakfast, then I’ll head to the Warrior’s Office and see if there are any assignments. Maybe something new has come up.

She finished brushing, and turned to adjust the water temperature for her shower. While waiting for the water to equalize, her thoughts turned to her childhood. A childhood that seemed like it was lived by someone else.

Grayson had grown up in the Incorporated State of West Virginia, the kid of a coal miner father, and a farm worker mother. When she was old enough to start contributing to the maintenance of the state she had a choice to make. Would she be a crop reaper like her mother, or a dust hound like her father.

To her the choice was easy. She chose to follow her father down into the mines, because the alternative was too daunting of a prospect for her future. The thought of being bent over in the hot sun, planting, and picking crops for the rest of her life was nothing she ever wanted to do.

Her mother had been a reaper since the age of twelve, and by the time Grayson was born, her twenty-six year old mother’s body was already stooped over. Her hands were always swollen and dry, and the harsh soil that she worked in always left her cuticles cracked and bleeding. No. That was not the life for Grayson.

Working in the mines with her father was only a little better. The tight tunnels that they dug through were claustrophobic, the dust was black death, and the constant pitch of the darkness made it difficult for your eyes to adjust to sunlight once you walked back out into the daylight. But she preferred to work like a mole in a hole instead of a beast of burden, always out in the blazing hot sun with a hump in your back, or the cold damp wind blowing a chill through your bones.

Grayson knew that eventually the dust that she inhaled was going to turn her lungs black, and that it was killing them all slowly, but she lived in the Incorporated States of the Americas, and every man, woman and child’s duty was to make every sacrifice necessary to serve well.

For eight years, from the age of eleven to nineteen, Grayson had worked in the mines. Her only time off was the hours she spent in school. All the children attended school until the age of sixteen. After that, it was work full time.

In the beginning she could only pull dust buckets, but as she grew, so did her responsibilities. By the time she was thirteen she was already six feet tall, so she graduated to pickaxe duty. When she was fifteen she had filled out, and was as strong as any of the men she worked with, so she was moved to beam builder. At the age of eighteen the lead man noticed that she had an uncanny ability to find the safe path. Even in the dim light of the tunnels it seemed like she could sense where the weak walls were. So, she was promoted to prospector.

That was the position she held for the next year, until a representative from Corporate Headquarters in Washington came to town, and gathered the citizens in the town hall. On that day the citizens were told that they would be given the opportunity to serve their Corporation in a most important manner. They were told that over the course of a four week period each and every person in their town would be given an aptitude test.

None of them had any idea what an aptitude test was, but if it meant that they could serve the Corporation well, then they would do it enthusiastically, and without question. They were told if their scores were high enough they would be pulled from the mines and the fields, and given an office job in the Corporation’s Capital. Washington, D.C.

Excitement had spread through the hall like wildfire, and people were lined up for the next four weeks from sun up to sun down, taking the test. The Corporate officials had excused the workers from the fields and the mines so that everyone had the opportunity to take the test. It felt like a holiday to the people. Not even during the Christmas season did they get this much time free from laboring. It was glorious.

To this day, Grayson still couldn’t believe the outcome. Out of the fifteen thousand people that had been tested, she had been the only one chosen. It was a joyous time, but there was one little problem. As much as she wanted to be out of the mines, she didn’t want to be away from her parents.

Grayson was an only child, but it wasn’t by choice, her parents certainly wanted to provide the Corporation with as many contributors as they could, but Grayson’s mother wasn’t able to carry more children. So, for as long as she could remember, it had been the three of them, and she couldn‘t imagine it being any other way. But no matter how much she protested against leaving them, her parents wouldn‘t hear any of it. They knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for their only child, and they felt proud that she had been chosen to serve the Corporation so well. So, Grayson packed up what little belongings she had, and headed to the Capital.

The office that she thought she’d be working in turned out to be a classroom. And the job she was training for. . .she always smiled when she remembered this part. The job was as a Time Warrior. She’d never heard of such a thing, but when her duties had been explained to her she thought she’d died and gone to that big Corporation in the sky, and from the first day that her training began she felt something click into place. This was her purpose. This was how she was meant to serve.

She would send her parents money every month, money they thought she was earning as an astronaut, to help make their lives a little easier, but that’s all it would do. There would be more food on the table, and a new television set in the living room, but no citizen, unless they were high-ranking Corporate executives, was allowed to retire to a life of leisure.

So, the extra money that Grayson sent provided a few luxuries for her parents, but it didn’t extend their lives. Her father still ended up dying of black lung disease, and three years later her mother had died in the fields from a heat stroke. On the day of their funerals a spread of flowers was laid across their caskets, courtesy of the Incorporated State of West Virginia, and they were buried with honor. It was the Corporation’s gift to them because their lives had been spent serving the Corporation well.

Grayson pulled a clean towel and washcloth down from the linen shelf, and caught a glimpse of her empty bed in the reflection of the bathroom mirror. That’s another part of my life that has changed, she thought.

There was a time in her long ago past when Grayson was known to be a bit of a Casanova. Back in West Virginia, when she worked in the mines, the girls melted at her feet from just one smile of her full lips, a wink of a blue eye, or a flip of her ebony hair. The only time the young coal miner was ever without companionship was when she wanted it that way. “I’m damn lucky I wasn’t sent to a breeding camp,” she told herself.

But that all change once she reached the Capital City. She eventually realized that there had been no honor in that type of behavior. Granted, the change didn’t happen over night. Back then there were a few a camp followers who knew her name well, but eventually she got her libido under control. On their first day of orientation they had been given the rules. Number two on the list was no romancing within the boundaries of the Warrior’s Compound. They were to consider it sacred ground. All carnal needs were to be handled by your own hand, or outside of the gates.

Grayson looked down at her hand and smiled. “We’ve become great friends over the years, haven’t we?” She laughed, shaking her head as she stepped under the warm flow of water. Small price to pay, she thought. Then she started to hum a happy tune as she soaped up her washcloth.

****

Standing in her closet putting the finishing touches on her look. Grayson slid the knot in her black necktie up to her throat, and smoothed down her shirt collar. She stepped out of the closet and admired herself in the mirror. “Looking mighty spiffy, Carrington,” she complimented her reflection.

Grayson could have been like the other women and wore the popular pencil skirts and embroidered blouses, but the tight skirts, restricting tops and high heels just wasn’t her taste. She preferred the suits that the men wore. The pleated, loose-fitting pants with the deep pockets, the single-breasted jackets, and cotton button-up shirts. It was more appealing to her. She especially loved the suspenders that she wore under her jacket. There was something about running her thumbs up and down the elastic bands that was comforting to her.

Today’s choice was one of her favorites. A dark blue suit with gray pinstripes running throughout, a starched, white shirt, and solid black suspenders with little silver starburst patterns dotted along the bands, breaking up the darkness.

She sat on the edge of the bed, and pulled a shoebox from under the side. When she lifted the top off the box she immediately got a strong whiff of leather. “Mmm,” she hummed “That smells like Tennessee,” she said as she pulled out the black leather Jarman Grainadiers she’d order through the post, and this would be her first time wearing them.

She slipped her socked feet into the soft leather, and closed her eyes in pleasure. “Feels great!” She bent over and tied the black laces, then went to stand in front of the mirror again. It was time.

Taking a deep breath, she held firm to the blue eyes staring back at her in the mirror, and waited. She waited until she saw that she had her full attention, then she added the final part of her daily preparation. The most important part. She recited the Warrior’s Pledge.

“I pledge my fealty to The World Union, the Corporate head of the Incorporated Continents of the World. I swear to carry out my duty to the Incorporated States of the Americas with truth and honor, and to protect my Corporation from all enemies, past and present. I will serve my Corporation well.”

When she finished she remained silent for a couple of seconds so she could respectfully transfer her mind back to preparing for her day. When she felt the intensity of the pledge leave her, she exhaled and smiled.

“Time to go and rid history of the bad guys,” she told herself with a proud smile.

****

When Anna realized the seriousness of the problem, she knew what she had to do, and who should do it. When she heard a knock on the door a sly grin appeared on her face. “Enter,” she yelled out.

Vernon White’s large bulk walked into her office, with his need to please written all over his bulldog face. “You called for me, Madam Chairman?”

Anna looked at the barrel-chested man with affection. He was an anomaly. As was a brilliant few of the Time Warriors. But out of the whole bunch, he was her most valued oddity.

“Yes, Vernon. I have an assignment for you.”

Vernon White’s already broad chest swelled with pride. He was the only Warrior the Chairman ever called on personally, and his peers envied him for it. He always thought of her summons as a symbol of his status.

“How may I serve, Madam Chairman?”

His eagerness pleased her. “I need you to go back to the year 2043, and eliminate a problem while it is still in grade school.”

Ah, Vernon thought. A child. He smiled internally. He was right. This is an important assignment. He had proven to her on more than a few occasions that he could stand strong when looking into the face of innocence.

He took great pride in knowing that none of the Warriors was as capable as he was. He was special. He was the most special of the special. The fact that he could kill a child and never lose any sleep over it was a unique ability. Sure, the other Warriors shunned him because of it, but what they didn’t seem to understand was that he didn’t look at wraith children as real people. They were ghost, long dead, if not by his hands, by the hands of time. So if the Chairman felt it was necessary to eliminated one of them in order to preserve the future, then it was his patriotic duty to carry out that order.

The man bowed before his leader then straightened to his full height. “As you command, Madam Chairman.”

“Of course,” she said with an air of confidence that only the truly powerful possessed. She sat down behind her large desk, and used the computer keyboard to type out the necessary instructions for the assignment. She loved the convenience of technology. Type in a request, push a button, and bam, a message could be sent to the other side of the world if necessary. It made her job, and the jobs of everyone in the building much easier.

The general public didn’t have access or knowledge of these tools. The World Union had determined that this type of technology would only serve to make the population lazy, and a lazy population would cease to produce. That was unacceptable.

After pushing the send button she turned her attention back to Vernon. “I’ve just sent an inquiry to the Historians. By the time you take the elevator down to their offices they will have gathered all the information that you will need to insure a successful mission. Also, make sure you stop by the Rota’s office, and get your arrival time synchronized. Tell them I want you to leave this morning. There is no time to plan a parade, so you’ll need to leave while the sun is still shining. This is an extremely important assignment, Vernon. There can be no mistakes. Have I made myself clear?”

“Crystal clear, Madam Chairman. I’m on my way.”

Before Anna had the chance to dismiss him he was already heading out the door. Hmm, strange man, she thought, and shrugged her shoulders.

Now that the most pressing issue had been taken care of, it was time to reprimand the those who missed seeing this danger coming. She pressed the black button for a third time, and waited.

“Yes, Madam Chairman?”

“Get me a Watcher,” she demanded.

“Anyone in particular, Madam Chairman?” came the disembodied voice.

“No, any one of them will do. I Just want to see one of those over paid voyeurs in my office. . . NOW!”

She released the button and started to pace again. Her previous high spirits evaporating with the necessity to carry out this last piece of business. Useless peeping Toms, she thought. I should replace every last one of them with the cleaning crew. The enormity of their oversight made her head pound. Their only job was to keep their eyes on history, and alert her when they detected a potentially dangerous wraith. It was becoming obvious that they couldn’t do that efficiently.

Anna had known the position of Chairman wouldn’t be an easy one to hold, but ever since she was fourteen years old it had been her dream to become High Chairman. Even then she knew it wouldn’t be an easy dream to attain, because only the heir of the CEO was in line to become Chairman. Her father was only a vice president, not even a senior vice president. But Anna was determined, and had worked hard to gain the attention of all the right people.

Remembering some of the things she’d done to get that attention made her cringe. Things that would shame her mother, and cause her father to disown her. But in the end it had all been worth it because at the age of thirty-two, it had been Anna Hargrove’s unapologetic suggestion that the Union should start opening Harvesting Clinics.

That one idea had cleared the trash from the streets, making it safer for decent, hardworking citizens to travel along on their daily duties without being accosted by someone begging for an unearned coin.

That idea had been the catalyst that launched the board’s decision to put her in line as the next High Chairman of the Incorporated States of the Americas. It had taken four years of waiting, but on her thirty-sixth birthday she received word that the current High Chairman had ‘suddenly’ decided to take an early retirement. And just like that, one retirement party later, and the giving of a gold watch. . .the job was hers.

Now, ten years later she was the ruler of a land that spanned from the historic waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the sun warmed ocean of the Pacific, from the southern borders of an incorporated Canada, down to the industrial lands of Mexico. All of it was hers to rule. And if things worked out in her favor, one day soon she would hold sway over this country for as long as she pleased.

But only if Vernon White served well.

****

When Vernon White entered his apartment he was elated. Yes! he thought as he headed for his bedroom. Another special assignment. Then a look of serenity washed over his rugged features, and for those few moments of tranquility, the big man looked harmless.

But Vernon White was far from being harmless.

He had been a Time Warrior for more years than some of the newbies had been alive, and had served under three Chairmen. He was forty-five years-old, and had been a Warrior since he was fifteen. That was how old he was when the recruiters came to his hometown of Springdale, a rural town in the Incorporated State of North Carolina.

Vernon came from a large family of herd farmers, and they all served well. While he and his six brothers worked the herds, his mother and four sisters worked as seamstresses in the garment factory. Vernon had been a big baby, and had grown into a big, strapping teenager, but he wasn’t very bright. So his father gave him the job of herd basher. Simply put, when it was time to put an animal down for market, Vernon would take a heavy metal mallet, and with brute strength bash the animal’s forehead in, killing it instantly.

His father told him that sneaking up on them was the best way to do it because if they saw him coming, and got frightened the adrenalin that would be released in their system would ruin the meat. So Vernon would play a game he called whack-a-moo.

On surprisingly stealthy feet, the large boy would sneak up on the unsuspecting animal, raise the mallet high over his head, and come down fast and hard on the animal’s forehead. Sometimes he lost the game, but most times he won. And by the time he was fifteen he could whack-a-moo more animals in one day than any two people could put together.

When the men from the Capital came to Springdale it was two days after Vernon’s fifteenth birthday, and as fate would have it, he was the only one in his family chosen. His first year in the classroom had been daunting, and many times he’d wanted to go back to the farm. Book learning had never been one of Vernon’s strong points, but he endured, and after twelve months of study something unheard of happened. Instead of the boy having to do another twelve months of supervised field training, he was sent out on an assignment. . . alone.

Vernon was sent back to the year, 2004, his target, a kid who was a little younger than he was, named Darren Mackenzie. Darren was thirteen years old, and had just crossed over the threshold into being a teenager. He was starting to get fine wisps peach fuzz on his smooth chin, his voice was going through that rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, and he was starting to notice girls.

That’s what had brought him out to the basketball court the morning Vernon White entered his life. He was thinking about one girl in particular. Her name was Cindy Adams. She was in his science class, and he thought she was the prettiest girl at Edison Junior High. The seventh grade dance was coming up soon, and he was trying to figure out how he could ask her to go with him without looking like a dork. He could always figure things out better when he was shooting baskets.

When Vernon found his target alone on the playground that morning he didn’t attack right away. Instead he watched from the shadows, waiting. This kid was going to grow into a man someday. A man who would eventually invent a weapon of mass destruction, and that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Many lives depended on the successes of this mission.

Vernon watched as the tall blond boy shot the ball at the hoop several times, sometimes making a basket, sometimes shooting a brick. Vernon noticed that the boy hadn’t filled out yet, his frame was lanky, and each time he jumped in the air to retrieve his own rebound he came down on oversized puppy-dog feet that were still getting used to their length.

When the boy made a clean shot Vernon watched how the nylon ropes would snap as the ball entered the open space, hitting nothing but net. It would drop to the narrow bottom of the net, and stay cradled there for a second or two before the material adjusted to the size and let it squeeze out of the opening. Just like taking a dump, Vernon thought. Then he came out of the shadows, and approached his target on his stealthy wack-a-moo feet.

He wasn’t nervous about what he was about to do. He knew that he could do it. When his instructors at Warrior school told him that eliminating a wraith wasn’t going to be anymore substantial than bashing in the head of a cow, he believed them. And when the time came they were right. It almost felt like he was back home on the farm.

After the success of his first mission his commanders had lauded him with rounds of “Job well done,” and pats on the back. The sixteen year old boy smiled from the validation and praise, and for the first time in his young life Vernon felt like he was a part of something. Like he was special. Like he was important. That was something that he had missed out on growing up in a family of eleven kids.

The feeling of acceptance and acknowledgement struck a place deep down in his soul, and it felt sacred to him. It was that feeling of consecration that eventually led to him starting a ritual of his own making. It was something that he did privately in his apartment before leaving on a mission. It was a way to honor what he considered his divine gift.

So, when he arrived back at his apartment, and headed to his bedroom, it was with his departure ritual in mind. He briskly walked over to his bureau, and opened a special drawer. His eyes lingered for a moment, caressing the plain wooden box that rested there. He slowly reached in and lifted the box from the drawer, and held it out in front of him as he made his way across the room to a low maple wood table he’d positioned in the northeast corner of the room. He set the box down on the seat of an old Quaker chair that sat beside the table, and opened the top. His eyes gradually glazed over when they took in the sacred items inside.

Vernon believed that each and every one of the talisman in this box had come to him in a divine manner, thereby confirming his belief that his missions were ordained by a higher power. He removed a rich, dark purple scarf from the box. He used this as his alter cover. It was the scarf that his mother had given him before he left home all those years ago. She had told him that they would probably never see each other again, and she thought he should have something that reminded him of home. Something that reminded him of her. He spread it out on the table, then he reached in again, and pulled out two wax candles.

They were a deep, blood-red and sat in gold filigree holders whose sides were covered with the hardened drips of melted wax. He had purchased these at Carmichael’s Department store, just for this purpose. He sat each one on opposite ends of the purple cloth to anchor it down. Then, with devoted care he slowly removed each of his charms from the box and laid them out on the cloth. He knew, without a doubt that each of these idols had a special meaning in his life.

The first item he pulled out was a rabbit’s foot. It was old and tattered, the fur was nearly rubbed off from the previous owners long ago wishes for luck. The little silver collar that held the chain loop on top of the charm was so badly tarnished that the color looked more like a mottled gray instead of its original silver. The fur that used to be a downy white was now more of a tobacco stained yellow from its many years of existence. But that didn’t matter to Vernon. The day that he got this charm was the luckiest day of his life. He’d taken it out of Darren Mackenzie’s pants pocket seconds after he’d bashed the boys head in.

The next item he laid out on the cloth was a Saint Christopher medal. He didn’t know who Saint Christopher was, but the priest who wore it had told Vernon that the Saint protected travelers. Vernon took that information as a sign. Surely, this medal was meant for him, a man who had traveled over many lifetimes. He could still see the dried blood caked in the links of the chain from where he had cut the priest’s throat before removing the charm from around his neck.

The last item he took out of the box was a penny. The copper had faded to a murky brown, and the year had been smudged away years before, but you could still make out the blurry silhouette of the man’s profile on the front. This particular charm had been pried out of the hand of an eight year-old girl. The little girl had pulled it out of the special, secret pocket in her backpack, and was showing it to the nice giant that had stopped the older kids from picking on her. “See this?” she’d said. “This brought you here just in time to rescue me. It’s my lucky penny.” Those were her last words as her savior twisted her head around, breaking her neck.

Once the sacred charms had been laid out in a row, Vernon lit the candles and watched reverently as the flicker of the flames dance across each of his souvenirs. When an orange shadow was cast across the stained fur of the rabbit’s foot he wondered how the creature had died so many centuries ago. His eyes lingered on the amputated limb for several minutes. This was his favorite charm, and he also considered it his most sacred because it was the first.

The next charm grabbed his attention when the dim light of the candle caught its reflection in one of the few places where the silver remained untarnished. When he first acquired the medallion he’d spent hours staring at the hunched over man hauling a child on his shoulders, and he’d wondered, what manner of man turned himself into a beast of burden instead making the child carry it’s own weight?

The dull penny that rested beside the medal didn’t call to him in the same way the other two did. But when he looked at it Vernon almost smiled. Although this wasn’t his favorite charm it was his sweetest acquisition. He held his large hand up in front of his face, and he thought he could actually feel the little girl’s soft, silky hair between his fingers.

He continued to gaze at the items on the alter. There were no words spoken. He had none to say. More than anything else, this ritual was more about reliving the feelings that echoed through him when he remembered each of these kills. There had been many times when he’d wished he could share this feeling with his fellow Warriors, but he knew he could never find the words that would make them feel things the way that he did. In that way, he would always be different from them. And he found that odd. To be considered different in a group of different made you what? he wondered.

His thoughts turned to this next mission. He looked at his idols spread out on his alter, and his only regret about what he was about to do was that he wasn’t going to be able to see the light go out of the girl’s eyes as he ended her life. But, he had been given his orders, and he would follow them to the letter. “Get in, take out the kid, and get out.” and that’s what he was going to do.

He blew out the candles, and took his time replacing each item. Then he folded the purple scarf, and kissed it before placing it back in the box. He returned the box back to its place in his bureau, and shut the drawer. There was one more thing he needed to do before going to the Rota’s office. It was something he did everyday, twice a day when he went out on an assignment.

He walked over to the full-length mirror. This was an item he had purchased at Woolworth’s. A necessity he’d told himself. He was very meticulous about his appearance, and thought it was very important that he be able to see himself from head to toe, before he left his apartment. Every man should see himself as the world sees him, was his thought on the matter.

But his reflection presented a conflicting picture. Vernon White had a face like a minotaur, with a high forehead, broad nose and a lantern jaw. His light eyes were deep-set and close together, and although they were bright and clear, they were empty and depthless. There was nothing in there. His dead eyes looked out onto the world without any expression of joy, or hate or sorrow. Even when he smiled his eyes were void of emotion.

His blonde hair was perfectly coiffed, and always combed back off of his forehead. Not a hair out of place. He wore a crisp, freshly pressed suit, with black wingtips, that were polished to a high gloss. The odd thing about this image was that the dapper gentleman in the mirror didn’t mesh with the child killer Who lived inside. The image he projected was absurd. The whole thing was a little off. Kind of like one of those pictures of dogs playing poker. . .strange.

After checking his appearance in the mirror, and deeming himself suitable, he took a deep breath, and held the reflection of his own eyes in the mirror, and waited until he saw that he had his full attention. These were the only moments in his life that his eyes truly showed any emotion. These were the only times when he ever truly made a connection to anything. This was the only thing that had ever made him feel. So after he’d found his center he recited the Warrior’s Pledge.

“I pledge my fealty to The World Union, the Corporate head of the Incorporated Continents of the World. I swear to carry out my duty to the Incorporated States of the Americas with truth and honor, and to protect my Corporation from all enemies, past and present. I will serve my Corporation well.”

The pledge nearly brought tears to his eyes, and when he finished he remained silent for a few seconds, so he could respectfully transfer his mind back to preparing for his mission. This was his purpose. This was his reason for being. This was his life. And he loved it like he’d never loved anything else.

“Now go and do your duty,” he told his reflection.

****

Washington, D.C.
Year 2043
Vernon sat watching the little girl kneeling in the grass. She looked like she was praying over something, but he couldn’t be sure. He’d been waiting for what felt like hours, but he was a patient man. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to wait out a target. Once he’d waited outside of a target’s home for twelve hours before the man came out to his car. So waiting for a little girl to finish playing in the grass didn’t present too much of a problem for him.

He noticed that the girl’s hands began moving through the grass as if she was arranging the blades in an order that better suited her. Her sun bleached hair, and angelic features made her appear innocent, but he knew better. The girl would grow up to destroy the Nation. Being reminded of who this girl would become made Vernon sneer. “Not if I can help it you won’t”

He shifted his large bulk around in the driver’s seat, seeking a more comfortable position. His left butt cheek was starting to get numb and he needed to get the circulation going again. Then suddenly, and without warning, the girl jumped up from her patch of grass, waving her arms in the air, shouting about something. And without bothering to look left or right, she went barreling into the street, totally unaware of the danger that was stalking her.

Vernon knew the moment had arrived. And he smiled. As the girl ran towards two older girls who were sitting across the street, Vernon started the car, put it in drive, and pushed on the gas peddle. The car leaped forward, its course set.

The little girl never saw him coming, but the older girls on the other side of the street did, and one of them started yelling. But there was no way to avoid the collision. When he hit the little blonde she went flying into the air. Where she landed, he didn’t know or care. The damage was done. He imagined he felt her bones breaking on impact. He pressed down harder on the accelerator, and left the area without looking back. Another assignment completed.

He was eight blocks away when he heard the wail of a siren, and he smiled again. They were too late. The child was dead, he just knew it. He was sorry there would be no souvenir from this one. He would have certainly given it a place of honor among his alter totems. Maybe he would have even made it more important than the rabbit’s foot. After all, it wasn’t everyday that you saved the world.

Oh, well, he thought as he shrugged his broad shoulders. He knew that he had served his Corporation well. That was all that really mattered.

****

The doctor tied off another stitch, and the nurse reached over with a swatch of gauze, efficiently wiping the sweat from his brow. It had been seven long hours of extremely delicate work. The little girl on the table had been the victim of a hit and run, and her injuries were extensive. On impact the small body had been sent tumbling across the hood of the car, and into the air, and when she landed, it had been with bone-shattering force. The witnesses on the scene had informed the police that the driver never stopped or slowed down to see what damage he’d caused, in fact, they said his speed increased as he left the area.

When they wheeled the child in, the medical staff knew immediately that CAT-scans and X-rays would have to wait. The clock was ticking, and time was of the essence. The obvious damage was the two broken legs, and a fractured pelvis that presented themselves prominently. But bones could mend. The medical professionals knew those were the least of the girl’s problems. This was confirmed once the surgery got underway, and the damage was revealed. The sight that met the doctor’s knowledgeable eyes made his heart drop.

The internal injuries were massive, and for the last seven hours the surgeon had pulled every trick he had out of his bag. He’d already removed her spleen, and was now finishing up the repair to the large intestine before moving on to the lacerated liver.

“I wish they would put the Neanderthal who did this out of service,” he fumed from behind his mask. “This is just barbaric.”

No one in the operating room said anything. This was the first time any of them had ever seen the surgeon, and the only information they had been given was that a critical hit and run patient was coming in, and a specialist from out of town, Dr. Neil Grant, was going to perform the surgery.

By the time the doctor had arrived the room was already set up, the instruments were in place, and the staff was waiting for the ambulance to pull into the bay, so there had been no time for short introductions or long conversations. But from what they could tell the man was extremely skilled. A master of his craft. He had already tied off, bisected, or mended parts of the child’s anatomy that under any other surgeon’s knife would have been a lost cause. So any negative comments he decided to make as to the species, or civility of the man who hit the little girl were mentally echoed by the members of the team.

Another hour, the doctor told himself. Another hour and I can turn this sweet child over to the orthopedic surgeon, and she will be on the road to recovery.

“Doctor, her pressure is dropping,” the anesthesiologist announced seconds before the alarm started blaring.

“Suction,” the doctor ordered the nurse assisting him.

The woman quickly dropped a plastic vacuum tube into the open cavity of the small torso, clearing the canvas, giving the surgeon an unobstructed view.

“Oh no, Little One. No running away this day. I won’t let you go that easily,” the doctor told his patient as he began his search.

But the words didn’t ring true for the team. A sadness began to permeate the room. They had come so close. When the girl was first unloaded from the ambulance their initial thought was that she was going to be a fatality, but the doctor had started working miracles right before their eyes, and they started to believe. But with this drop in pressure they knew the end was near. Her injuries were too widespread for the surgeon to be able to locate the bleeder in time. There were just too many places for it to hide.

But after rooting around for what seemed like only seconds a triumphant voice grabbed their attention. “Ah, there you are,” the doctor said mostly to himself.

The others in the room leaned forward a little, but they couldn’t see what the doctor had discovered. That was, until he lifted a small vein from under the bladder and began to suture the microscopic tear that was leaking fluid.

The two nurses looked at one another over their masks, both thinking the same thing. There is no way that should have been found in time.

An hour later the doctor was closing, and when he tied off the last stitch the exhausted surgeon dropped his crimson covered instruments onto the metal tray and backed away from the table. He removed his gloves and mask, and revealed a weary, satisfied smile.

“I think she’s going to make it,” he announced to the room of stunned medical personnel. “I want to thank each and every one of you for your excellent assistance. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Not one of them believed that to be true. The man could probably have done it all by himself. He was just that good. He gave a final smile, and then, without another word, he turned and left the operating suite, leaving behind an awed surgical team who had to resist the urge to stand at attention and applaud his exit. Dr. Neil Grant was not a name they would soon forget. The surgeon’s abilities had been. . .phenomenal.

As the nurses rolled the child out to the recovery room they left behind a few shell-shocked co-workers, scratching their heads with an absurd thought running through their minds, Who was that masked man?

****

Neil Grant was standing under a heavy stream of warm water, letting the flow relax him. The eight hours he’d spent in the operating room had caused his muscles to seize up, leaving him with a tension headache that just wouldn’t let go. The tall man ducked his dark head under the spray, exhaling when the soothing jets began loosening the cords in his stiff neck.

“I’m sorry for your pain, Little One,” he whispered in a soft prayer. “but this is how it had to be. If he had not run you down, and been certain you were dead he would have come for you again.”

He resisted the stinging tears that wanted to fall from his sorrowful eyes. If they’d had their way the girl would have died this day, but thanks to his actions the driver’s mission had failed, and she would live. I was almost too late, he thought. Another twenty minutes and she would have been dead.

He knew that he had taken a huge risk showing up at this hospital, and performing the surgery, but there had been no other choice. Little Vivian Monroe had to live. She had a promising future ahead of her. A future that would change everything. Yes indeed, Vivian Monroe had much work to do. Anna Hargrove and her brainwashed assassins be damned.

“You won’t get your hands on this one, Hargrove,” he vowed to the shower stall. Then a tiny wash of relief passed over him. “I hope those few minutes on the table was enough time to protect her.” He paused for a moment. “If she ever returns to your sight, Anna, it will be too late for you to change anything.”

He rinsed the soap off of his body, and quickly dried himself off before getting dressed. “I need to get back,” he reminded himself, “There is much work to be done.”

Looking down, he picked up the slightly crushed four-leaf clover that was sitting on top of his clothes. He held it in his hand and smiled. This had been pried out of Vivian’s hand when she was on the operating table. Even after being run down by a speeding car, the little girl had held tight to her prize. Neil had gently removed it from the small hand and carefully slid it into the breast pocket of his scrubs. “You’ll get this back, Little One. I promise.”

On his way out of the doctor’s locker room, the surgeon dropped his scrubs and fake I.D. badge into a nearby bin that was lined with a red hazardous waste bag, he walked out of the hospital with a satisfied smile on his face. “Chalk one up for the good guys.”
Vivian Monroe
Washington, D.C.
Year 2063
Vivian Monroe hurried across the lobby of the Senate Office Building trying to ignore the annoying clickity-clack noise the heels of her shoes were making on the tiled floor. But it was a toss up as to which was more annoying, the clickity-clack of her shoes, or the rapid click, click, click sound of her Jack Russell’s toenails as the little dog worked hard to keep up with his owner.

The senator’s quick strides across the freshly polished floors made it a chore for her dog, as well as her assistant to keep up with her. Jinx was doing a fairly good job of it, but Janice was beginning to lag behind. When she saw the bank of elevators come into view she breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that she would be given a temporary respite on the car ride up to the fifth floor.

Vivian reached into her jacket pocket and fumbled around with the stash of sour balls she kept there. When she touched what felt like the right one she pulled it out, removed the cellophane wrapper, and popped the tiny yellow ball it into her mouth. That’s when she noticed that Jinx was beginning to stray, and gave a quick tap to the wireless leash she wore around her wrist, pulling the dog back from the ficus tree he was headed for.

She did these things without breaking her stride. But that was a Vivian Monroe trait. On the Hill they called her “On the go Monroe,” because the blonde senator seemed to always be headed somewhere fast to do something important.

Ever since she’d first stepped foot on Capitol Hill Vivian had garnered a reputation of honest lobbying, and fair dealings. Her “for the people,” stance on issues didn’t always sit well with her colleagues, but her constituents felt it was their good fortune to have her as their representative in Congress, and she worked hard for them.

Vivian was an author, a writer who specialized in young adult fiction, when the rules of congress changed, lowering the age of service to twenty-seven. Vivian took that as a sign. A call to arms so to speak, so she ran. And won. The people knew they needed rescuing. Needed a hero. Now, three years later, Vivian Monroe was slowly becoming that hero.

Jinx was headed for another one of the potted trees, Vivian tapped her wrist again. She wore the strapless leash on her wrist to keep her curious pup under control on the days when she brought him to the office. The device emitted a low electromagnetic wave that synched up with the collar Jinx was wearing. So whenever the tan fur ball got it in his head to wander off, all Vivian had to do was push the soft spot in the wristband, and wait for the invisible tether to pull Jinx away from any temptations.

“This isn’t the backyard, Jinx, and those aren’t your trees,” she scolded the dog. Jinx just wagged his tail, happy for the outing. It got lonely in the house by himself all day.

“What’s on the agenda today?” Vivian asked her assistant.

Scrolling down her tablet, Janice read off the senator’s appointments. “You have a conference call with the environmentalist group first thing this morning. The senator from Maine has requested a ten o’clock sit-down with you to discuss the banking bill, and you have to be on the floor at two-thirty, for the vote.”

“See if you can push my meeting with Dan back to one-thirty,” she requested as she sucked on the lemon ball in her mouth. “The closer to vote time that I meet with him the better.”

“Trying to avoid spending long hours alone with Mr. Landon?” Janice asked with a smile.

“You better believe it. I’d rather watch paint dry than listen to that bore.”

Janice giggle as she typed in the change her boss had requested. When they finally reached the elevators Janice almost exhaled her relief. The senator might be short in stature, but her energy kept her moving at a pace that was sometimes a trot.

The two women, and the dog stepped into the empty car. Janice leaned against the back wall, trying to grab an inconspicuous breather. Jinx sat on his hunches with his tongue lolling out to one side, panting, and Vivian stood ramrod straight, rattling the cellophane-wrapped candy around in her jacket pocket. It was like she had a need to stay in constant motion.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Janice said out loud. “Here is your mail.” She passed Vivian the stack of envelopes she’d had tucked under her arm.

Vivian accepted the bundle, giving the catalogs and envelopes a cursory once-over, wondering if electronic mail would ever put the post office out of business. When the elevator doors opened onto the fifth floor. They stepped out, and headed in different directions.

“If you need anything, Senator, I’ll be setting up for your conference call in. . .” she checked her watch. “Thirty-five minutes,” Janice reminded her boss.

“Sounds good, Janice. Oh…” Vivian said, stopping the assistant in her tracks. “Could you grab me an English muffin and a cup of coffee from the cafeteria. I didn’t have time for breakfast this morning.” Then she looked down at her panting puppy. “I better get Jinx to my office. I think I hear a bowl of water calling his name.”

Janice looked down at the cute little dog and smiled. “Sure thing, Senator. I’ll be right back.”

****

Vivian opened the door to her spacious office, and made a beeline for Jinx’s doggie dish. She carried the bowl with the hot dog in bun with little legs drawn on the side, into her private bathroom, she filled it with water. When she walked back into the open office, Jinx had made himself comfortable in his doggy bed. He looked like he was getting ready for a midmorning nap.

Vivian placed the water dish on the floor in front of him, and headed for her desk. “Okay, what’s first?” she asked, then she looked over at her lounging dog and rolled her eyes. “Some of us have to work you know,” she told the puppy. Jinx raised his brows as if to ask, “What did I do?”

Vivian sat down in the brown leather chair that had been a special order by the senator. The chairs that came standard in the offices were a little too high for Vivian, leaving her feet dangling a couple of inches above the floor. She didn’t care for that. Not because of vanity, but because after a few hours the pull on her leg would become very painful to her hip.

Sorting through the mail, she pulled the first envelope off the pile, she opened it, and began to read. It was an offer to purchase life insurance. “Wow, soliciting a senator for life insurance. How could I possibly take this seriously? Obviously they have no clue about our benefits package.”

She tossed the letter into the trash bin. Opening another envelope, she silently read the correspondence as she absentmindedly rubbed her hip. One of her constituents didn’t like the current trend of public nudity, and she wanted her congress person to do something about it. Ever since it became legal for women to go topless in public the trend had spread like wildfire. Now, all across the country women paraded around town with their breast exposed. Vivian had to admit that seeing women walking around topless in the park wasn’t something she was sure she could get used to. Then she smiled. But I sure could try.

When her finger hit a particularly sensitive spot in her hip, she stopped reading, and let the letter drop from her fingers. “Twenty years,” she whispered. “Twenty years and you still find the time to remind me that you’re here.” She was still rubbing the ache when her mind drifted back, remembering the most horrific day of her life.

It was late May, and ten year-old Vivian Monroe was carrying out a very important assignment. She was on her hands and knees looking for a four-leaf clover. She was so determined, and so focused on her task that she didn’t even notice when a grasshopper attached itself to one of her sun-bleached pigtails, and crawled to the top of her head.

Even when she felt a tickle on her scalp, she didn’t even lose her focus, she just waved one of her hands distractedly over her head, and continued her search for the lucky leaf. Her big sister, Kathy, had assigned her this job as a condition of her pesky little sister being allowed to hang around with her, and her friend Joy. At fourteen, the girls rarely had time for tagalong little sisters.

Vivian would occasionally look up from her chore just long enough to make sure Kathy hadn’t run off and left her. It wouldn’t have been the first time she had been tricked that way. A quick glance showed her that Kathy and Joy were still sitting on the low wall across the street, gossiping about some boy in their class.

Suddenly, green eyes went wide with glee. Eureka! She had hit pay dirt. She pulled her prize up by the root and held it high. “Kathy, I found one!” she yelled as she rose to her feet.

Katherine Monroe looked up at the sound of her little sister’s delighted voice, and was about to tell her to look for another clover, when her eyes grew large with fear. Vivian was running across the street, too excited about her find to look both ways, and was running right into the path of a speeding car.

“Viv, stop!” she yelled. But it was too late.

Before Vivian could react to her sister’s command, she felt herself being lifted off of the ground. After that there was nothing but pain. Then darkness.

It was two weeks before she was finally allowed to wake from her drug induced coma. And when she did, the pain had been excruciating. And the physical therapy that followed was brutal. But after eighteen months of hard, dedicated work she was pronounced fully recovered. The doctors had warned her parents that as she grew older, or became overly tired her hips may cause her some pain, but he also reminded them that that was a small price to pay to be able to walk.

The bright spot during her recovery was the stories that she heard. The doctors, the nurses, the desk clerk, everyone that had been present the day of her accident made it a point to tell the Monroe family about the miracles the mysterious Dr. Neil Grant had performed that day. And with each new telling, his feats became more amazing, and his sudden disappearance more intriguing. After several retellings, it started to sound like the mysterious doctor was more myth than man.

Then, one day, out of the blue, a package was hand delivered to the hospital. The giver insisted that the box be placed in the recipients hands by her care nurse. It wasn’t until later that they all realized that the delivery guy was none other than the mysterious Dr. Neil Grant.

When Vivian opened the box she found a short handwritten note:

Dearest, Little One. I hope this small token will always remind you of how strong you are. Keep it close to your heart, and always remember, there is no greater calling, than the call to serve.

Be Well
N.G.

When Vivian looked deeper inside the box she was surprised to see the four-leaf clover she’d found. She just knew it was the same one. It had to be. It even had the roots still hanging from the bottom. All four leaves were now spread open on full display. The bright green clover was floating in the middle of a clear oval pendant, with a silver chain attached to the top.

She slipped the chain over her head, and just stared at her gift for several moments, occasionally rubbing the smooth surface with her thumb, and holding it up to the light to watch the green leaf become translucent.

There was one constant after that day, the necklace was never far from Vivian. And although they were never able to locate the doctor, Vivian’s parents never forgot the man. Singing his praises to anyone that would listen until the day they died.

The sound of Janice entering the office, and placing her breakfast in front of her was what brought the senator back from the past. And she was thankful for the interruption. Old memories were not always pleasant memories. But when her hand moved up to caress the pendant resting on her chest, she thought, And sometimes they are.

“Thank you, Janice,” she mumbled.

“Do you need any pain medication?” Janice asked, noticing the senator‘s discomfort. She was well aware of her boss’s childhood injury, and knew that on occasion, it would flare up.

“No,” Vivian waved off the worry. “I’m fine. The pain is almost gone.”

“Are you sure, Senator?” Janice wasn’t going to leave until she was positive that the feisty little politician was not suffering.

Vivian smiled with affection. Janice was a compassionate, dedicated young woman who‘d been by her side from the beginning. She crossed her heart with a single finger. “Scout’s honor.”

This seemed to appease the young woman. “Okay, if you say so,” she turned to leave, but just before she opened the door she smiled. “You know that’s not how a scout seals his oath don’t you?”

Vivian reached into her pocket and threw a cherry flavored candy at the young woman, smiling when Janice caught it with ease. “Get out of here, Brat.”

The assistant returned the smile, and left to set up for the conference call.

When she was alone again, Vivian took a bite of her English muffin, and swallowed a few sips of coffee before going back to sorting her mail. She began pitching the envelopes into separate piles, and laughed to herself when she was reminded of how she did the same thing with her house mail. “Junk, junk, important,” she repeated out loud. Then an envelope with a beautiful, flowing script across the front caught her eye. “Hmm, what’s this?”

She broke the seal with a metal letter opener and began reading, her eyes sweeping across the page, admiring the artistic whorls and lines of the text before actually reading the words that they formed. But once she focused on the content, her brow creased in bewilderment.

“What the heck?”

She made a sucking sound with her teeth, and started reading again in a low whisper. “You, and your colleagues are ruining this country. You are a cancer that needs to be cut out. It has been revealed to me that I am the divine blade who will cut out the disease. You write stories about the world ending because of a corrupt government, then you go and work for that same corrupt government. YOU ARE A LIAR, and I will make you pay. When you least expect it, I will be upon you.”

There next paragraph gave a detailed descriptions of the model of car she drove, her tag number, her home address. The sender even knew that she’d had a hair appointment a couple of days before, and had mentioned the hairdresser by name.

Vivian had received death threats in the past, but never took them seriously. But it was clear that someone was watching her. Vivian picked up the phone, and pressed three numbers. It’s better to be safe than sorry, she thought. When the phone was picked up on the other end Vivian began talking. “Hello, Janice? I need you to find the number of the company who provides security for members of Congress.”
Washington, D.C.
February, 2363
When Grayson opened the door to the diner the hickory smoked scent of bacon greeted her in a rush. The aroma ignited her hunger, sending her to a seat at the counter in a hurry. When Doris spotter her a huge smile appeared on the waitress’s face. “Hey there, you handsome devil you.” She greeted Grayson with her usual flirtatious flare. “What can I get for you this morning?”

“Hi, Doris, how’s tips? Grayson asked good naturedly.

“Tips are tips,” Doris shrugged her shoulders. “I only wish more of my customers were as generous as you are.” She winked at the embarrassed woman, and pulled out her order pad. “Now, what can I get for you?”

Grayson pulled the menu out of the holder and looked it over like it was her first time seeing it. Doris thought it was one of the woman’s cute little quirks. Like the men’s clothes that the tall brunette wore. Today’s dove gray suit with dark blue pinstripes was an elegant choice. The matching gray fedora with the dark gray silk band, and starched white shirt topped off the look perfectly. What a handsome woman, Doris thought for the hundredth time. A mighty handsome woman indeed. If I were fifteen years younger. . . she let the thought drop off. Fantasizing about Grayson Carrington would only distract her, and she had a shift to finish.

“So, Grayson, you decided yet?” she asked, pad and pencil at the ready.

“Yep, I’ll have scrambled eggs and bacon on toast.”

“Anything to drink?”

“Um. . . I’ll have a large OJ.”

Doris finished writing out the order, and left to put it in.

Grayson sat at the counter looking over the menu items, seeing the five cent cup of coffee and the seventy-five cent breakfast platters. She scanned the dinner menu and thought, not for the first time, about coming back, and ordering the meatloaf plate. But she knew she never would. The thought of sitting alone at the counter, eating in silence was a sad prospect to the Warrior. Besides, she had a nightly routine that she wasn’t ready to break. She spent her evenings listening to her favorite radio shows. Burns and Allen, Red Skelton and the Lux Radio Theater. Every Warrior was allowed to have their own radio in their apartment, and most kept it playing whenever they spent any length of time at home. She guessed it helped keep the loneliness at bay.

Grayson jumped a little when the diner suddenly came alive with music. Somebody had dropped a coin in the jukebox, and it wasn’t long before the Andrews Sisters could be heard singing their swing.

He was a famous trumpet man from out Chicago way
He had a boogie style that no one else could play
He was the top man at his craft
But then his number came up and he was gone with the draft
He’s in the army now, a-blowin’ reveille
He’s the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B

Grayson liked this one. It made her think about the clubs on Randolph Street that she used to frequent back when she first arrived in the Capital City. Her heart hadn’t found its honor yet, and she’d overindulged in the music, the dancing and the ladies. The memories had her tapping her foot in time with the beat, and she felt an old energy start to swirl around in her heart taking her back to a time when she was spinning a pretty girl around the dance floor.

These were songs from wartime, back when the Union waged war against the corrupt governments of the world, and saved the population from tyranny. Back then, the elected officials who ran the world were nothing but charlatans who presented themselves as concerned leaders, but were really conspiring to enslave the citizenry. If not for the World Union sending in their own troops, and wrenching control away from the unscrupulous leaders, there was no telling what kind of world they would be living in now.

When Doris returned with a take out bag she could hear Grayson humming along with the Andrews Sisters, and hesitated to interrupted the woman. “Catchy tune, huh?” Doris asked as sat the bag down on the counter. Then she almost laughed at the shocked look that sprung up on Grayson’s face, ashamed of getting caught enjoying herself. “Relax sweet-cheeks. It’s not that serious.” She grabbed the dollar that Grayson had laid down on the counter, and smiled. “This for me?” Grayson nodded her head, but remained mute.

Doris laughed at the stunned woman, and handed Grayson the breakfast bag with one hand, and the covered glass of orange juice with the other. “Get that glass back to me.” Then she shooed Grayson out of the diner. “Get to work, Astronaut. The stars are waiting”

Grayson good-naturedly allowed herself to be ushered out the front door with the sound of the boogie woogie bugle boy blowing in the background.

*******

Grayson was headed to the Corporate Office with her breakfast bag in hand, walking down the sidewalk, she noticed the bustling activity that was going on around her. Everybody was on their way somewhere. She saw Billy Solomon drive past in his suped up yellow pick up truck, and waved. “Hey, Grayson! Nifty day, huh?” he yelled as he drove by, looking like he didn’t have a care in the world. And she guessed he didn’t.

His life was nothing like Grayson’s had been at his age. But the life of a city teen had never been like the life of a country teen. Sure, they had to work. Everybody had to work, but the Billy Solomons of the world worked in shoe stores or men’s shops until their aptitude for banking kicked in, then they became tellers, and bank managers. But kids that grew up in the country had to work on farms or mechanic shops their whole life, and if the kid’s aptitude turned away from manual labor it didn’t much matter because the work had to be done, and they were born to it. She shrugged off the thought, and kept walking. As Doris Day would say, que sera sera.

Grayson needed to make one last stop before going to the office. It was at the news stand. This was yet another one of her quirks. Practically every Warrior in service surfed the internet to get their news. But that was world news. Grayson wanted to read about what was happening locally, and there was no better way to do that than to grab a paper. So every morning she stopped by Mr. McCreedy’s news stand, and purchased a daily.

“Good morning, Mr. McCreedy.”

“Well, how do you do, Grayson? Fine morning, isn’t it?”

“You bet. Not a cloud in the sky,” she said as she looked skyward.

“What can I get for you this fine morning, Grayson?”

Her eyes scanned over the papers and magazines that were hanging from clips all along the top of the wooden booth, trying to decide if she wanted anything extra to read. On the back of one of the magazines she saw an ad that read “Buy Your New Home from Dan Ford.” Grayson stared at the picture in the ad. The white, wood-framed house with the black shutters pulled at something inside of her. The white picket fence out front, and family dog that sat on the porch made the pull even stronger, and she wondered if that would ever be her life. Would she ever find the woman who was meant just for her, and if she did could they share a life like that?

As she contemplated her domestic future, Mr. McCreedy contemplated Grayson Carrington. Her habit of looking over the periodicals every morning, like she was going to buy something other than the morning paper, and a pack of gum was her glitch. That’s how Mr. McCreedy thought of it. Her glitch. Like there was a nick in one of her cogs, and the gears got stuck in the same place every time the wheel did a full rotation.

But there was something about the way Grayson’s glitch worked. She would gaze at the magazine covers every morning like she could see herself inside the pictures. And after awhile, Mr. McCreedy could see her in the picture too. That’s what made him think that if she could ever connect with whatever it was she was seeing, one day Grayson’s cog would be fixed, and her life would begin a cycle of smooth rotations.

Mr. McCreedy never rushed her, and he never disturbed her, he only watched her. He felt that if he broke her concentration it would throw something off in her. So he waited patiently for the inevitable request for gum, and a paper. He didn’t have to wait long.

Grayson finally broke free from her musings, and picked up a newspaper and a pack of Beech-Nut Fruit Stripe gum. “I’ll just be getting these today, Mr. McCreedy.”

“I should have known,” the proprietor said with a twinkle in his eye.

Grayson handed over a quarter and smiled before turning to leave.

“Hold on there, Grayson, you’ve got fifteen cents change coming.”

She waved him off. “Don’t worry about it, Mr. McCreedy, keep the change.”

The man put the quarter to his mouth and bit down on the edge like he’d seen the merchants do on television, then shrugged his shoulders. “Thanks, Diamond Jim!”

Grayson threw her hand in the air without turning around. “Have a good day!”

****

Harrison Sinclair stood in front of the mirror, pulling a small black comb through his equally as black hair. Harrison opened the medicine cabinet and took out a tin of hair pomade.

“Brylcreem, a little dab a do ya,” he sang under his breath as he applied the styling cream to his dark hair. Harrison was very serious about his hair. The waves had to dip evenly, the part on the side of his head had to be razor-straight, and not a single strand of hair could not be out of place. The last thing he needed was to have a loose strand hanging down his forehead, like he was some James Dean thug, or Sal Mineo wannabe.

That would be all Grayson needed to see, and she would start thinking of new ways to torment him. He’d been her apprentice for six months, and it was a rare day that she didn’t find something wrong with him.

As he applied the cream he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, and realized that he still couldn’t believe this was his life. Most of the people who had been recruited with him were assigned to other areas of the Capital. Some went to the science group, some went to the medical program, and others were placed in the mariner program. That one made him wince. That’s one assignment I’m happy I didn’t qualify for. Living underwater for most of the year sounds too claustrophobic for me. He picked up his comb and started pulling the loose hair away from his forehead. Besides, the ladies would be in short supply under all that water, he reminded himself.

Harrison had become a real ladies man since moving to the Capital City. Sure, there were plenty of beautiful girls in New York, but the majority of them feared going all the way. They thought they would get a reputation, and be sent off to a breeding camp. But that wasn’t the attitude down here in Washington. He’d learned fairly quickly that there was a group of women who called themselves camp followers, and they serviced the Warriors exclusively. “Astronauts”, he corrected himself. We’re astronauts to the rest of the world. The camp followers seemed to be an open secret, because everyone knew about them, but no one ever came to take them away, so Harrison assumed they came as part of the Warrior package, and that was a-okay with him.

He stared at himself in the mirror, and for a second he was tempted to start all over, and change the part from the left side of his head, to the right side of his head. It was something he used to do just to be defiant. He could still hear his dad’s first lesson about combing his hair when he was a little boy. “Son, always part your hair on the left side,” he would say. “Only women put parts on the right side, that’s because they always think they’re right.” For some reason this always made his dad laugh, so little Harry had laughed too.

He remembered how his mother would always clap her hands together and cheer when she saw him with his freshly combed hair, like it was the most wonderful thing she’d ever seen. “Look at Harry, he’s sooo cute!” she would say.

But that was when he’d been a little boy. As he grew into manhood his father became more and more disappointed in him. He could still hear his father’s voice in his head. “Are you ever going to grow up, son?”

Harrison dropped his hands to the rim of the sink, and looked at himself in the mirror. “I’m growing up now, Dad,” he whispered to his reflection, and his mind went back to almost two years ago. . . when the recruiters came to town.

By the time most men reached the age of twenty-three they were already settled into their life, most likely living in their own homes, and starting a family. But not Harrison Sinclair. Harrison was what you would call a late bloomer, a little bit of a slacker, and a whole lot spoiled. He served the Corporation by working with his father in the steel trade, but he still lived at home with in his parents. He still slept in the same bed he had slept in as a teenager, and to his father’s great annoyance, he still asked endless questions. The boy had always insisted on knowing the why of things, and had never been able to take anything as it was said. It drove his father crazy.

And that was Harrison Sinclair’s life. He worked with his father all day, ate his mother’s home cooking every evening, and slept like a baby, under his father’s roof every night. It was a life that he found very satisfying, and oddly fulfilling. A life that he was extremely satisfied with.

He lived in the Incorporated State of New York. A seventh generation steel man. A man whose lineage helped build the great city. His father, his father’s father, and the fathers before that, all had a hand in the construction of the Big Apple. That’s what they called it. That’s what everyone called it, and when he was younger, Harrison had asked why, and his grandfather told him a story.

“They call New York the Big Apple because hundreds, maybe even thousands of years ago, long before there were buildings, roads and even people, there was a great garden here. In that garden was a tall, beautiful tree that produced the biggest, juiciest, most delectable apples ever to bloom on a branch. Also in that garden lived the very first man and woman, and when they became hungry the only food they could find was the fruit on the tree. That’s what kept the two of them alive. Eventually, the man and woman had children, and the tree feed them too. As the children grew older they asked their parents, “What is this place?” Their mother said, “We call it the Big Apple.”

When the children grew up, left their home, and ventured out into the world where they found other people, and started their own families, and whenever someone asked them where they had come from, they would say, “The Big Apple.”

Harrison’s grandfather would always finish the story with a big flourish of his arms. “That is how the state got its name.” Then, as an aside, Harrison’s grandfather would add, “And what’s left of the garden is now called Central Park.” His grandfather added one last part, but he did it in a reverent whisper. “But the old ones still call it Eden,” he said.

Harrison always thought that the story was funny. People appearing out of nowhere, and living off of apples. That was ridiculous, but his grandfather always told the story with such conviction that Harrison almost believed it.

On the day that the recruiters came, Harrison wasn’t too far from the former Eden. He was in the New York harbor, shoved halfway up the nose of the metal beast that was going to depict the likeness of the current High Chairman.

He was welding the Chairman’s left nostril into place, when the walkie-talkie that was strapped to his hip started to screech. The unexpected sound was so loud in the small chamber that it made him jump, causing him to lose his footing, and spill out of his seat.

So there he was, hanging from the safety harness, with his legs dangling out of the statue’s nose, looking like a giant booger.

Down below, his father looked up at the display, and just shook his head. Will that boy ever take anything seriously? he wondered. Paul Sinclair raised the walkie-talkie to his mouth, and called to his son again. “Harry, can you hear me?”

After a couple of seconds of silently watching the long legs wiggle around in the Chairman’s nose they all heard a partially muffled voice echoing from above. “Yeah, Dad, I can hear you!”

The disapproving look he received from their visitors made Paul’s neck turn red. As usual, his son’s antics were ill-timed. This type of behavior was not the image he wanted to present to these people. He wanted them to see that they served their Corporation well, and with a high degree of competence.

Paul cleared his throat and spoke into the walkie-talkie again. “Harry, stop wasting time, and get down here. . . NOW! We have visitors.”

The approving nods that Paul received from the visitors relieved some of the tension that was building across his shoulders. Maybe it won’t be too bad, he thought, as long as Harry doesn’t do something. . . His thoughts came to an abrupt stop when he looked up, and saw what his son was about to do. Oh, no.

Harrison decided that if his dad wanted him down, NOW, then he would come down, NOW. He reached out, and grabbed one of the anchor ropes so that he could pull himself back up onto the seat he’d slipped out of.

Once he was sitting steady, he unhooked himself from the harness, and wrapped the anchor rope around his hips and ankles. Then he used the slack in the middle of the rope to repel himself three hundred feet to the ground below.

Everyone on the worksite watched in horror as Harrison Sinclair, a seventh generation steel man, a native of the Incorporated State of New York, use the current, sitting Chairman’s body to advance his descent to the ground.

A foot was firmly planted on the infamous drop-wave, then, Harrison pushed himself out into the air. He fell a few feet, then stopped to push himself off of the Chairman’s long neck. After that, he dropped another hundred feet to her waist, where he stopped to readjust his hold before continuing. A quick bounce off of her knee, and he was headed for the bottom. When Harrison finally reached the ground he could see in his father’s eyes that he was pissed.

“Are you ever going to grow up?” Paul asked.

Harrison spread his arms out to the side, hoping to appear innocent. “What did I do?”

Paul just shook his head. He wasn’t going to chastise him in front of everyone, that would just show how immature the boy really was, but once they got home he was going to have a long talk with his son.

“Go stand with the others, these men want to talk to the crew,” he finally said.

That’s when Harrison found out that the men were representatives from the Capital, and they were going from borough to borough, testing every citizen to see if anyone qualified for a special assignment that dealt with national security. No one was more surprised than Paul Sinclair when after several months of testing, his son was one of seventy-five citizens from their borough who qualified for the special assignment.

Harrison was the youngest of his four children, and his mother doted on him terribly. Karen Sinclair worked as a domestic for a corporate family, and she thought that by proxy this somehow made her an important person among the working class. She spoiled her youngest to the point of almost crippling his independence, and she overindulged him at every turn.

Paul often told his wife that she needed to loosen the apron strings, and let the boy be a man, but she always retaliated with her trump card. “You have two sons and a daughter who serve their Corporation well. That should be enough. The CEO of the great Incorporated State of New York can give me my baby.”

He’d thrown up his hands in defeat. His wife was an arrogant woman, and because of who employed her she had a sense of entitlement. Paul knew this was a dangerous attitude for her to have, because it meant that she didn’t know her place, and those who didn’t know their place often had a place found for them, and the last thing he wanted was for the mother his children to be sent to a breeding farm.

She was fifty-five years old, and well past her fertile years, but the farms always needed matrons, women that would schedule breeding nights, keep track of the women’s cycles, and make sure none of the women slipped out, and got herself pregnant ahead of the Corporation’s schedule.

He knew that wasn’t a job where his wife would serve well, and the next step after that would be to a harvesting clinic, or a recycling barn, because every worker knew, if you can not serve your Corporation well, what is the sense in living? It was a position that he agreed with. What was the sense in living if you didn’t contribute to the greatness of the Americas.

But, now, with Harry’s new job there was hope for everyone. Maybe his wife could avoid trouble, maybe Harry would become a man, and maybe he could have some peace of mind, because he would no longer have to imagine his son growing into an old man, still living in his parent’s home, sleeping in his childhood bed, under a set of cowboy and Indian sheets his mother’s employer had given her when the boy was twelve.

Now, maybe my son will be able to serve his Corporation well. Paul thought with pride.

Time really does fly, Harrison thought. And with the passage of time comes knowledge. That had been one of his Warrior training professor’s favorite sayings. And in a way, Harrison did feel more knowledgeable. He looked at himself in the mirror, and held the reflection of his blue eyes. “But you still have a long way to go, Buddy.”

Taking a deep breath, he stared at his image in the mirror, ready to recite the Warrior’s Pledge.

“I pledge my fealty to The World Union, the Corporate head of the Incorporated Continents of the World. I swear to carry out my duty to the Incorporated States of the Americas with truth and honor, and to protect my Corporation from all enemies, past and present. I will serve my Corporation well.”

When he finished he waited a few respectful seconds, then he checked himself out in the mirror again. “Perfect,” he said, after one last look. “You are ready for the rodeo, you handsome devil you.” He raised his hand and flicked the brim of an imaginary cowboy hat. “Yippee ki yo,” he told his reflection, then left the small room.

****

Grayson’s long strides carried her across the floor of her office, her smile growing with each step. She took off her gray suit jacket, and dropped it over the back of her chair. She had just received word. She and Harrison were about to head out on another mission. An important mission from what little she’d been told. When the commander had given her the codes that would open the file, he made sure to pull her in close before releasing the envelop.

“This one is very important, Carrington. Don’t screw it up.”

She frowned a little at that. When had she ever screwed up a mission? Never. Her record was spotless. Vernon White was the only Warrior who had more successful missions than she did. And that was only because he’d been a Warrior about as long as she had been alive.

Harrison was sitting at his desk, waiting for her to arrive. That wasn’t his usual M.O. It wasn’t that he came in late. That never happened. It was just that he was never early. She usually had the office to herself for at least fifteen or twenty minutes before her apprentice came strolling in.

In the six months since Harrison had become her apprentice Grayson had made a few attitude adjustments in the young man. Harrison Sinclair had come to her a cocky S.O.B. who needed to be brought down a notch or two, and she had been just the Warrior to do it.

He had boyish good looks, a big city attitude, and a charming personality, and from what she’d heard through the grapevine he was using that charm to good measure. Rumor had it that he was one of the favorites among the camp followers. She laughed to herself. That won’t last too much longer. He’ll wear himself out sooner or later. They all do.

“What’s got you in such a good mood?” Harrison asked, after Grayson settled in behind her desk. He was more used to his boss having a scowl on her lovely face, instead of the bright smile she walked in with. When her smile started to falter he figured he’d just blown whatever good thing she had going just by asking the question.

She didn’t answer him right away, which was typical. It was a defensive mechanism that she’d developed two weeks after Harrison had come under her charge. That was how long it took for her to discover his most annoying trait. The young man was a question machine.

His constant stream of “Why this? Why not that? Did you ever?” had become a pain in Grayson’s backside. In her ten years of service she’d never had an apprentice as. . .chatty as Harrison. And no matter how much she tried to intimidate him into silence, she couldn’t break him out of the habit. He just never stopped. Grayson was only a few years older than Harrison, but there was an immaturity about him that made her think of him as a kid, and there were days when she actually wanted to slap a muzzle on that kid.

“I just got our next assignment,” she finally said.

He immediately became excited, and started with the questions. “What kind of assignment is it? Where are we going?” When a wicked smile appeared on Grayson’s face Harrison knew he was in for it. “Uh, oh,” he said.

“If you’ll just hold your horses for a second, pardner, I’ll tell you.” Grayson nearly bit through her lip in an effort to keep from laughing. She had her ways of getting back at her overly chatty apprentice, and this was one of them.

Harrison was obsessed with the old west. Obsessed to the point that he wanted to go back in time, and see it for himself. If he wasn’t talking about Gunsmoke or the Lone Ranger, he was on the internet looking for ebooks about the wild west. Lately he’d been talking nonstop about a book by some guy named Jack Schaefer. That’s how Grayson knew that just by using a word like “pardner” that it would stir his yearnings.

“You’re a cruel woman, Grayson Carrington,” he said with a smile. “But you won’t be able to hold that over my head for too much longer. I have faith.” The honest look on his face made him look like a big kid. “One day soon our scientists will be able to breach the barrier that stops us from traveling past the twenty-first century. And when they do I will be the first to volunteer for duty.” His voice quickly filled with wonder. “Then I will see firsthand, for myself, the saloons, the stagecoaches, even the cowboys of legend.”

The wistful way he described it almost brought the picture to life in Grayson’s mind, but she wouldn’t allow it to come into focus, instead she rolled her eyes, and dismissed the notion. “Keep on dreaming, Slick. If that were possible it would have been done by now.”

She’d been a Warrior long enough to know that the nineteenth century could never be breached, but every time Harrison talked about it she had to admit, if only to herself, that the thought of traveling back to the wild west was an exciting prospect.

Harrison had brought a different perspective to things when he’d been assigned to her. He saw things in a new way. In a way Grayson had never thought about before. He felt like their missions were like historical movies. “Movies where we are given a front row seat to the twenty-first century as it unfolds,” is how he had put it.

Grayson had always been a company girl. Serious, focused and dedicated, so when she realized that she was paying a little more attention to her surroundings before heading back home from a mission, it kept her awake at night because what she was doing frightened her a little.

She scrolled through the information on the screen in front of her until she got to the basics of their assignment. Then she began to read out loud. Our target is Vivian Kimberly Monroe. Oh, wait. . .Senator Vivian Kimberly Monroe,” she corrected. Congresswoman from the state of Maryland.”

“Wow, a politician. Those are the worse,” Harrison said with a bit of awe. Then his mood shifted to disappointment. “Why couldn’t she be the Governor of Hawaii, or the mayor of some remote Appalachian town? I sure wouldn’t mind visiting some place a little more exciting than right here in old D.C. How about you, Grayson?”

“Continuing,” she said, ignoring the question. “Age: thirty. Height: five foot-four inches. Hair: Blonde. Eyes: green. She’s the middle of three children. Parents deceased.”

“What did she do?” Harrison asked.

Grayson typed in the code she had been given, and started singing under her breath while she waited for the screen to load up. She had recently been to the Bijou, and saw ‘High Noon’. Ever since that night the theme song had been stuck in her head. Without realizing he was doing it, Harrison started to sing along with her in a rich baritone.

Do not forsake me, oh, my darlin’,
On this, our wedding day.
Do not forsake me, oh, my darlin’,
Wait; wait alone.

He’d seen the movie too. Even took a date. If you could call a camp follower a date.

Oh, to be torn ‘twixt love an’ duty. . .

The impromptu performance ended when the screen came up. “Hmm, well looky here,” Grayson said, cutting him off, and feeling an odd reluctance to do so. The rookie had a good voice. “According to her profile she gave a political speech that called for treason.”

“Treason?”

“Yeah,” Grayson said absently. “Treason.” She was reading the unusual codicil to their assignment, and wanted to make sure she was thoroughly understanding the order. Once she had the information tucked away in her memory, she cleared the computer screen, and pulled up a search engine. There was something that felt faintly familiar about this case.

Her hands hovered over the keyboard, but she had no idea what to type in. “What am I looking for?” she asked herself.

“Did you say something, Grayson? Is there a problem? Is there something I can help you with?” Harrison was anxious to get involved. This was big. This was real big.

Grayson waved away his questions with a few irritated flicks of her wrist, while she mulled over the situation. Why does this seem so familiar to me? What is it about that name? Where have I heard the name Vivian. . .?

She stopped talking, and typed a name into the political data system, and there on the screen was Vivian Monroe. She was in what looked like a picnic area or a park of some kind. A wooden stand had been built in the shade of the trees, with a banner running across the back that read, ‘Vote Monroe for State Senate’. Grayson ignored the surroundings, and focused her attention on the woman who stood in front of the banner.

She was short. Grayson already knew that from reading her profile, but now she could see it, the blonde woman was just tall enough to be seen over the podium she was standing behind. She was dressed casually, in a button down white shirt, and denim jeans. Unprofessional, Grayson thought, as she took in every inch of the woman’s features, because there was something there, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

“Hey,” Harrison said from over her shoulder, turn it up, let’s hear what she’s saying.”

Grayson taped the volume up, and they both listened.

“This country is not for sale!” Vivian Monroe shouted to the crowd. “Fifty years ago the citizens of this great nation elected a leader who thought America should be run like a fortune five-hundred company. That administration, with its underhanded deals, and outright theft of public funds set this country on a path to corporate slavery. Well, I’m here to tell you that is not the direction we should be heading in. I’m here to tell you that you are more than a cog in the mechanics of big business. I’m here to wake you up, and remind you that your life belongs to you, and only you!”

The crowd came to life with a roar, and both of the Warrior’s went stiff. This didn’t sound like something they should be listening to. Then it came to Grayson in a rush. She knew who this woman was. “Wait!” she said with the snap of a finger. “Wasn’t this Vernon’s assignment from a few months back?” she asked with the teeniest bit of satisfaction in her voice.

Harrison was happy for the interruption. His mind had latched onto what Vivian Monroe was saying, and he could clearly see why she would be a threat. The woman spoke of individuality. That was a dangerous subject. Thinking individually would cause a breakdown in the system, and service would come to a halt. And everybody knew, if you couldn’t serve well, what was the sense in being alive?

So he concentrated for a few minutes, thinking back to when his field training started. He’d been assigned to the same dining hour as Vernon White, and he could clearly remember listening to the seasoned Warrior brag about a special assignment he’d carried out for the Chairman. “Yeah, my first week out of school I heard him talking about going back to 2043 to run down some lady politician.”

Grayson snorted with disgust. “Lady my butt. That useless sack took out a kid.”

“Maybe he took out the wrong person,” Harrison suggested.

“I doubt it. As much as I hate to admit it, Vernon doesn’t miss his targets.”

Now that she had a starting place Grayson typed out a few letters on the keyboard, accessing the news archives from the year 2043, and gratefully leaving Vivian Monroe, and her traitorous words behind. She was looking for an article, or maybe some video footage referencing any hit and run accidents involving a female child.

“What are you doing now, Grayson? Are you looking for something that’ll help us out?”

Grayson felt a small sense of relief. Harrison’s annoying habit was back, and the ghost of Vivian Monroe’s words became smoke in the wind. “Harrison, if you would just wait for me to give you answers before you asked me a million questions you would learn what’s going on a lot faster.”

“Oh, um. . .okay.” He made a motion like he was turning a lock on his lips, and throwing away the key.

After typing out a few more searches she finally found what she was looking for, and leaned back in her chair. “Here it is.” One corner of her mouth twitched into a smirk. “Well, what do you know?”

“What?” Harrison asked. Then immediately slapped his had over his mouth. “Sorry,” he said, but it came out muffled. It was hard to stay quite when he saw the delighted little set to his mentor’s mouth. She looked like she was impressed by something, and he wanted to know what it was. Because to his knowledge, nothing impressed Grayson Carrington.

“According to this article, after a ten year-old Maryland girl was struck down by a hit and run driver she was rushed to the nearby County Hospital where she underwent emergency surgery.”

“How do you know it was her?”

When she looked up Harrison noticed that the strange smile was still on her face. “The article goes on to say that because of the heroic efforts of Dr. Neil Grant, the unidentified little girl is expected to make a full recovery.” Grayson shook her head from side to side. “That ballsy bastard. He went back, posed as a surgeon, and saved the girl.”

Clever, she thought. Neil let Vernon complete his assignment, then slipped through the backdoor, and set things back on course. Grayson leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers together under her chin. I wonder why he did it? Why had Neil even taken the chance to save her, and hide her away? What makes Vivian Monroe so important? she mused.

For once, Harrison remained silent. He was navigating through his own thoughts. One of the first things they were taught in the classroom was to be aware of the Underground. They were an organization of rogue scientist who believed the World Union was too big, and too powerful, and needed to be brought down. They also believed the best way to accomplish this was to sabotage the Time Warriors program at every turn.

Neil Grant posing as a surgeon, and reversing the outcome of Vernon’s mission was just one example of how organized this group of rebels was. The instructors had made it very clear to the students that the members of the Underground were skilled in a wide variety of practices, and if the Warriors didn’t remain forever vigilant to their sworn duty, all would be lost. All it took was for one Warrior to forget to serve well, and it could all end.

“It really burns me up when they get ahead of us,” Harrison said, breaking the silence.

“We aren’t the only ones with the technology. It happens.” Grayson shrugged her shoulders, pleased to be pulled out of her thoughts. Her logic was only taking her around in circles anyway. “I wonder if this is the reason why nobody has seen that big slug in the last couple of months?”

It was Harrison’s turn to shrug. He didn’t care why Vernon White had been M.I.A. His only interest at the moment was in placing blame. “The Watchers should have done a carbon-tracking to make sure she was dead,” Harrison said with bitter judgment. “They didn’t serve well.”

Grayson almost laughed at his outrage. This definitely wasn’t the same Harrison who had come to her six months ago. “The Watchers are too busy peeking into the lives of the living to pay proper attention to the wraiths,” she joked. “Besides, who’s to say they didn’t do a scan?” The remark was meant to be flippant, but she took a moment to think about it. “If they did a scan, Neil probably expected it, and masked the girl’s readings to make her appear deceased. Most likely while she was still on the operating table.” Grayson looked at her apprentice with a self-satisfied smile. “That’s how I would have done it.”

This assignment was getting more exciting by the minute, and despite the fact that they weren’t going to some exotic location, Harrison was anxious to get going. “So, are we going to go back, and stop Neil?” he asked.

“No, that’s impossible. You know we can’t double dip. Once a moment in a person’s life has been breached it can’t be accessed again.”

“What about going back earlier, like maybe when she was younger? Can’t we access her time line then, and get to the girl that way?”

“We still couldn’t touch Vivian Monroe. The child was saved, so no matter what we did to the little girl, her life would always be saved. Besides. . .” Here she paused, and a shadow darkened her features, changing her face from pleasant to ferocious in seconds. “I do not deal in the death of children. That business is better left to those who carry dishonorable blades,” she reminded her apprentice with an icy glare.

Without thought, she had fallen into Yore. Which was a pattern of speech that some of the older Warriors reverted to when their emotions ran high. It was an ancient way of speaking that was almost regal, and most certainly noble. Harrison wondered if he would ever fall as naturally into the dialect as she did.

He held his hands up in front of him like a shield. He had crossed a line, and he owed her an apology. “I know, Grayson. I’m sorry I said that.”

Grayson released a pent up breath of air, and it flowed from her lungs like poison. The one thing she held close to her, above all else was her honor. And in her opinion, killing a child was not an honorable act. As for the Chairman ordering the death of a child? Those were debates she didn’t have with herself. Some things, she always said, were better left to those who were truly in charge. My duty is to serve.

“The child is forever out of our reach, Harrison, so our only chance is to find the right time in her adult life to carry out the assignment.”

A huge grin returned to his face. This could only mean one thing, and the thought of it filled him with an excitement like he’d never known. “Alright!” he practically shouted. “You’re gonna use the Branch Method!”

She felt his joy coming at her, reaching out to her like little wisps of smoke, testing her senses for acceptance, and the kid in her, that part of her who liked Superman comics, and Boogie Woogie music, and slow dancing with pretty girls. That part of her gave in. . .just a little. “Yes,” she said, holding back her own smile. “I’m going to use the Branch Method.”

“That’s kinda your specialty, right?” Harrison was rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet in an attempt to stop himself from jumping up and down.

Grayson felt her resistance to his excitement waning even more. The part of him that released his joy with reckless abandon was trying to break through to that piece of her that she kept hidden away from the other Warriors.

No one knew the Grayson who laid in bed at night listening to the radio, losing herself in dreams of finding true love as Ella Fitzgerald sang Someone to Watch Over Me. The Grayson who wanted to buy a house on a quiet street with a wife, and children, even a family dog.

In other words, the Grayson who had no place in the Time Warriors program. You couldn’t serve well with a family. A family would have question that you had no answer to. That’s why none of the Warriors had them. But she could dream. . .couldn’t she?

But Harrison’s mojo was strong, and it was getting hard to resist his glee. She could only deny the child in her for so long, especially with the giddy energy that was flowing from her apprentice. She felt her guard drop for a split second, and she smiled.

“Yes, Harrison. It’s my specialty.”

There were only a handful of Warriors who had specialties. It was the reason they had been chosen when the recruiters came. Vernon was a Censor. He could edit, block out, justify or eradicate from his mind anything that he did on his missions. That was how he could kill a wraith child without a shred of guilt. That wasn’t something that every Warrior could do, or wanted to do.

Teresa, who in Grayson’s opinion was one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen, was a Rota. She could be found in the Rota’s office synchronizing her pocket watch with whatever timeline she was mapping. She was a keeper of schedules, and could pinpoint the exact hour, down to the minute, when the Gate on this side could be synchronize to open with the Gate on the other side.

Then there was Grayson. Grayson was a Rhizome. She could expand her mind, and see a wraith’s life like a spider’s web, branching out in all directions. She would search the strands until she found an intersection where only the target dwelled, a place where that person’s life touched no one else’s. The place where she could perform her duty.

“Oh, boy! This is so cool!”

“And just so you know,” she said. The child now gone, and the Warrior firmly back in place. “This trip is going to take some time.”

“Oookay,” Harrison stretched the word out. He knew that the assignment couldn’t be carried out quickly, but the way Grayson sounded made him think that he should pack a bag or something. But that’s ridiculous, he thought. No one spends more than twenty-four hours on the time line.

“The Chairman wants this woman studied. She’s decided that since the child lived, she wants to know why the words of the adult Vivian Monroe had such a powerful impact on the lawmakers of her time. She wants me to look for a pattern of behavior. Check out her environment, examine any odd personality traits. In other words, gather up enough information for the Researchers to create a profile so that if there are any other threats out there like her, the Watchers can begin to carbon-track them before any damage can be done. Those are the orders that were in the codicil that was added to our assignment package.”

“So what you’re saying is that we’re gonna be there for awhile?” he asked, already feeling a mixture of excitement and fear.

“That would be a yes.”

“How long?”

“As long as it takes.”

“Come on, Grayson, give me some kind of idea.”

“What? You have a hot date lined up or something?”

His dark, brows wiggled. “Well, I am popular with the ladies.”

Grayson snorted through her nose. “Well, clear your calendar for the next two or three months, Mr. Popularity.”

“Two or three months!” He couldn’t imagine going two or three months without female companionship. Ever since relocating from New York to Washington, Harrison’s dance card had constantly been filled, and the thought of leaving those types of opportunities behind raised his hackles. “Why so long?” he asked, his excitement quickly changing to irritation.

If Grayson saw the change, she ignored it. “I already told you. I have to study this woman long enough to figure her out. That’s going to take some time,” she paused. “And I refuse to give the Chairman a half-assed report.”

As irritated as he was, Harrison couldn’t argue that point. What they did was crucial to the survival of their time.

“When do we leave,” he asked in a more resigned voice.

“After I talk with Teresa about a departure time, and the Chairman schedules the parade.”

“Great,” he said sarcastically. “Why does she insist on all the pomp and circumstance anyway? I mean how long do you think it will be before someone asks about these space missions we’re always going on. We aren’t really Buck Rogers you know?”

Grayson looked at him like he was a simpleton. “Did you pay attention at all in your classes? The Chairman holds parades when Warriors go out on a mission because she knows that if she keeps the public’s eyes on the sky they will never notice the vortex opening in the ocean. The fireworks display keeps them looking up.”

Harrison wasn’t sure he agreed with this strategy. He thought that the public should be told the truth. Or maybe he was just angry about all of the parades he had watched as a child, only to find out now, that they weren’t celebrating real space launches.

Back them his brothers and sister would gather around the large floor model TV set, and Ooo and ahh every time a colorful fireworks display exploded in the sky, or the face of one of the astronauts would flash across the screen. Now that he knew the truth he felt a little cheated. But wasn’t he perpetrating the same fraud? Didn’t the women he took to his bed, the camp followers, think he was an astronaut too. Didn’t the whole world think they were space travelers?

“I think the people should be told,” he said. The defiance that could be heard in his voice was coming from his cheated memories. But Grayson didn’t know that.

Grayson frowned, and took a moment to really look at him. “What are you saying?” she asked him. “I want to make sure I understand exactly what you are saying to me. Because you sound like you’re about to start down a path that will lead to you being put out of service.”

This surprised Harrison. Truly? Out of service? For what? “What are you talking about, Grayson? What am I saying that would end my service?”

“You sound like you are making judgments. Judgments lead to examining things too closely, and examining things too closely will lead to treason. And traitors are put out of service.”

Harrison thought his mentor had jumped to a dire end much too quickly, and was about to say so, but he stopped himself. He had to remember who he was talking to. Grayson was a Rhizome, and it was her very nature to examine things down to the most likely ending. So he held back.

“You’re right, Grayson,” he said in a weary voice. “My emotions are all over the place. I think finding out how long we’ll be away from home just threw me for a second. I’ll be alright, and I’ll be ready to serve.” He clapped his hands together in an ‘okay, let’s get started’ fashion. “So, what do we do now?”

Grayson looked at him for a moment. Silently evaluating his presence. When she decided that he was indeed back to his old self. She was pleased. She would hate to see him put out of service. Harrison had the makings of a good Warrior. She hadn’t told him that yet, but she would . . .eventually.

****

Grayson stood outside of the Rota’s office, giving her clothes the once over. She’d been to this office many times, but this time was going to be different. She needed to give Teresa her travel schedule, but she also wanted to do something else. She wanted to ask the quiet woman out on a dinner date. It was something she had wanted to do for quite some time, but could never work up the nerve to take the plunge. After all, what could she possible offer her? Certainly not a home life. Warriors didn’t have those. But she still wanted to try to have some type of romantic relationship with the woman.

A huge plus was the fact that Teresa also worked for the Warrior’s program, so she already knew what Grayson’s job really was, meaning there would be no pretending she was an astronaut. And to be able to live in that truth was enough incentive for Grayson to take a chance. It’s time to stop dancing around this thing, she told herself. Take the bull by the horns, and ask the lady out. She gave her jacket one last tug, and walked in.

When she stepped into the Rota’s office all eyes turned in her direction, and for a moment Grayson felt exposed. They know you’re going to ask her out! her mind screamed. But once all seven Rotas recognized who the visitor was their attention returned to their work. All except for one.

When Teresa Patton saw Grayson walk into the office her brown eyes lit up with genuine pleasure, happy to see the striking woman. And a welcoming smile appeared on her face when Grayson bypassed her co-workers and headed straight for her desk.

“Hallo, Grayson.” she said in her Caribbean accent. “What can I do for you today?”

Teresa was from the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, and Grayson loved the way she spoke. Her voice had an inviting lilt to it that could be interpreted as sultry, or playful, depending on the pitch. But Grayson didn’t care what the pitch of Teresa’s voice was, the woman could recite the alphabet and the Time Warrior would listen with apt attention. “I’m leaving on a mission in a few days, and I need. . .”

Teresa held up her hand to stop the other woman from continuing with her explanation. It was now very obvious why she was there. Work. Teresa had hoped that maybe, finally, the good-looking Warrior would show an interest in something other than schedules. But. . .

“You need me to chart your departure time,” Teresa said with less enthusiasm.

“Ah, yeah.” Grayson couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the warmth that was just in Teresa’s voice. She handed over the departure chip she’d been given, and took a seat across from the woman who was now all business.

She watched as the Rota pulled out the tools of her trade, a compass, a star map and a pocket watch, then her eyes wandered over to the ominous clock that loomed over Teresa’s shoulder. To Grayson it looked like a gargoyle on sentry duty. All of the Rotas had ornate grandfather clocks standing behind them. They were the reason the room was filled with the constant tick, tick, ticking. But Teresa’s was the only one that looked spooky.

The clock was an eight foot tall mahogany behemoth that was so dark that you couldn’t see the detailed carvings on the front of it unless you were right up one it, and that was a good thing, because there were faces in it that were eerily lifelike, and for Grayson that was one of the spookiest features of the monstrosity.

The faces were placed at various points on the giant clock. The first carving was of two bare-chested angels positioned on each side of the clock face. Their wings were opened in full span, billowing out behind them like capes.

The second carving was of a witch doctor. At least that’s what it looked like to Grayson. The witch doctor was positioned under the clock face at six o’clock. There was a ring running through his nose and a headdress that resembled a bowl of fruit sitting on top of his head, like he was bringing food to a feast.

The third carving was set in the center of the body of the clock, directly under the witch doctor. It was a demon with the face of a human, and the horns of a goat. The face was covered in what looked like fur and the horns were scrolling out from the sides of it’s head in twists and turns.

Finally, three quarters of the way down, there were two cherubs that sat on either side of the clock base, patiently waiting for time to pass, Grayson guessed.

When the clock chimed on the hour it gave off a most obnoxious sound. There was no pleasant bong, bong, bong. There was only a high pitched ring, like a tiny dinner bell was being rung. Tinkle Ling. Tinkle Ling. Tinkle Ling. And the ticking the pendulum made as it swung back and forth was just as odd . It didn’t go tick-tock, tick-tock like every other clock in the room, it did a staggered staccato of thunk-chink, thunk-chink, thunk-chink, like someone was chopping wood inside of it.

From the first moment she’d laid eyes on it Grayson never liked the thing. She never liked sitting near it. She never liked hearing it, and she never liked looking at it. It amazed her that none of the other Rotas seemed to notice how offensive the gargantuan thing was.

“That thing doesn’t give you the heebie jeebies?” she asked the Rota.

Teresa laid the pencil and compass down on the star map she was using, and turned in her chair to look up at the old clock. It was quite a while before she said anything. “No, the clock does not give me the heebie jeebies. (it came out eebie jeebies) In fact it gives me great comfort.”

This surprised, and intrigued Grayson. Maybe this could be the first step in getting to know the pretty lady a little better. “But it looks so. . . so creepy,” Grayson said, too embarrassed to look the other woman in the eyes. She felt like she sounded like a frightened child instead of a fierce Warrior.

“It’s only creepy to you because you don’t know the clock’s purpose.”

Teresa stood up, and Grayson couldn’t help but notice her long, curvaceous body. She walked over to the clock, and ran her hands over its surface in a gentle caress. “This clock was made in the year 1778, by a British clock maker named Jonas Cromwell.”

Grayson could tell by the tone she was using that this wasn’t going to be a quick story. And that was fine with her. She loved the sound of Teresa’s voice.

“It was commissioned by Etway Downs. Etway was what our people call a Benwoa, a conductor of souls. The Benwoa is a sect of people who believe the afterlife has a schedule for the dead to follow, just as there are schedules for the living to follow. They also believe that there are times when that schedule is thrown off, and negotiations have to be made to return the balance. To set things right again.

Grayson was totally and completely lost. “I’m afraid I don’t follow, Teresa.”

“I’ll explain.” Her hands gestured down the length of the clock. “There are four totems on this clock, Grayson.” She pointed to each one. “The two at the top are a pair, Sheta and Lorma. They are the guardians of the living world. When the living body dies they escort the soul to the afterlife.” Her hand moved down to the witch doctor.

Here, at the bottom of the clock face is Washu, he is the mediator that stands at the in-between place where misplaced souls travel to before going to the spiritual ever after. That is why his image is located at the six o’clock hour. That is the intervening time when all deals can be made, and all negotiations can be considered. If a person dies on schedule Sheta and Lorma takes them to Gufoo straight away, because negotiations are not necessary . . .”

“Gufoo?” Grayson interrupted.

“I’m coming to him, just hold on.” She smiled.

“If a person dies before they are scheduled to, Sheta and Lorma will bring the soul to Washu. It is his position to negotiate with Gufoo about where they will go.” Her hand dropped. Now she was pointing to the face in the middle of the clock’s body. The goat-demon, as Grayson thought of it.

“This,” she said, pointing to the most disturbing carving on the whole piece, “is Gufoo. He is the guardian of the underworld. He decides where a soul will go,” she stopped to think for a moment. “He’s kind of like Hades from Greek mythology. But Gufoo can be bartered with. If a soul has been thrown off it’s path Sheta and Lorma will enlist Washu’s help to negotiate with Gufoo for the soul’s proper placement in the afterlife.

“Is that why Washu has a basket of fruit on his head?” Grayson asked, completely taken in by the story.

Teresa smiled wide. “Yes!” she answered with excitement. Pleased that Grayson was really listening, and not just indulging her. “In the basket, Washu carries his bartering tools.”

Teresa’s attention turned back to the clock. There was one more set of carvings to identify. “And these two on the bottom are Chua and Chuway. Another pair. They are the chaperones. They protect the journey. If a deal has been made with Gufoo, and a new path has been successfully negotiated Chua and Chuway will escort the soul to the crossroads of their new destination.”

Grayson was captivated and amazed by the intricacy of it all. The way Teresa talked about it. The way she pronounce the names. Even the way she touched the clock. All of it seemed so ancient, and sanctified. It made Grayson think of temples, and churches and holy places.

“I was twenty-one when the recruiters came to the island, and chose me to come to the Capital City. Kensington Downs, who is a direct descendant of Etway, gifted me with this clock. When I refused to take something so sacred from the island he insisted. He said that I had important work to do, and the totems could assist me in my new position.” As she said this her hands made contact with each of the carvings again. In a loving show of respect.

“Why? How did he know?” Grayson wanted to understand this way of thinking. She had never heard anything like this before.

Teresa shrugged her shoulders. “I never asked Kensington what he meant by his words, and I never asked how he could know what I would be doing in the Capital. I just trusted him, and accepted the clock. And it didn’t take long before I began to see that Kensington was right. The clock has been very useful to me.”

“Why would you need those totems here? What would a Time Warrior need to have negotiated on their behalf? What type of deals would be made for us?”

Teresa sat back down at her desk. This next part was going to take a while. She knew that she had Grayson’s full attention, and she also knew that the Warrior was trying her best to follow what was being said to her, but she was having trouble.

Grayson was a Rhizome. Yes. But Rhizomes could only follow the threads of a logical path. When the walk became more mystical than logical there would always be a veil of confusion to pass through.

“The deals wouldn’t be made for the Warriors. The deals would be made for the targets.”

“The wraiths?” Grayson was shocked.

“Yes. The wraiths.”

“But why? Why would people who have been dead for centuries need someone to make deals on their behalf?”

Teresa gently placed her hand over Grayson’s, and looked steadily into her bright blue eyes. “Because the Time Warriors are constantly throwing off the balance of the afterlife.”

It took a few moments for Grayson’s senses to let go of the feel of Teresa’s hand resting on top of hers before she could hear what was being said. And when she did, it took her aback. And for the first time ever, Grayson wondered if Teresa thought the Warriors were doing something wrong when they performed their duty.

Surprisingly, she wasn’t concerned about the Rota’s views leading to treason. She had a feeling Teresa knew when and where to speak. What concerned her was how Teresa viewed her personally.

“Um . . . do you think what we’re doing is wrong?” she had lowered her voice so that only Teresa could hear what she was saying. Having others hear this kind of conversation could be dangerous. Shockingly, Grayson was starting to feel like a lot of things she was doing lately was dangerous. But she couldn’t seem to stop herself. Something was trying to speak to her, and if she would only listen she would hear. But Grayson didn’t want to hear. She didn’t want to know. She didn’t want to see. Because if she did, her life would change, and change was not something Grayson Carrington welcomed.

The question shocked Teresa. How could Grayson think such a thing? “Oh, no. Not at all, Grayson. Time Warriors are our most honored guardians. They preserve the present and protect the future. Only the Chairman herself serves better than a Warrior.”

Grayson was relieved to have not lost favor in the Rota’s eyes. “So tell me, how do the totems fit in with what we do?”

“Okay. I’ll start with the easy part. There are two different outcomes when the Warriors throw off the balance. Every spirit has a place in the afterlife, right?”

Grayson shrugged her shoulders. That was a subject she knew nothing about. There was one church, and one religion, and as far as she knew the Corporation never gave a sermon about spirits, and the afterlife. Serving well, and being reincarnated to serve well again was the Sunday morning lesson she had always been taught. I wonder what they’re teaching people in the Bahamas? was a brief thought.

Teresa was only mildly miffed by Grayson’s reaction. Mainlanders didn’t know much, if anything, about the old ways.

“When a Warrior is successful during their mission, a life ends on that timeline before a place has been prepared for the spirit. When that happens the spirit can end up in one of two places, depending on how it reacts to the sudden death. It can either linger in limbo until the true time of departure arrives, or it can end up in the wrong body. This is called body snatching.”

Grayson perked-up “Like the movie?”

“No, nothing like the movie. . .” Teresa hesitated, then changed her answer. “Well, kind of like the movie. Let’s suppose a target originally died an old man in his bed, surrounded by his loved ones. Dying that way can make a person’s passing a gentle transition. And his spirit will leave the world in a very specific way.

Now, let’s change that. Instead of the target dying in his bed at eighty, a Warrior ends that man’s life when he’s forty. Shoots him in the head one day when he is leaving his office. The suddenness of it would change the way he makes his transition, and it would most definitely change his destination.”

“What do you mean?” Grayson asked.

“The shock to the sprit would cause a jolt to his calm. Think of it like when an animal is suddenly frightened by an unexpected movement, or unanticipated presence. It scurries away in the forest to the nearest point of safety. It’s the same for the human spirit, but there’s one problem, we don’t have a forest to hide in, so for the human spirit the nearest point of safety is another body.

Because the body is not their own, the spirit has to ride along, like a passenger on a train that never stops at a station. It is misery. Teresa turned to the clock again. “But if a deal can be made with Gufoo . . . Chua and Chuway will catch the frightened soul, and lead it to a path where their true destiny can be regained.”

“Is that what you do? You consult with the totems?”

“Yes, that is what I do,” Teresa said with a shy smile.

“Are you a Benwoa?”

Teresa gazed at the clock that had been gifted to her, and was once again overwhelmed by Kensington Down’s unfathomable trust, and incredible benevolence. “It’s not what I was born to, but I guess you could consider me an honorary member.”

“Have you ever asked for intervention for any of my missions?”

“For the past five years that I have served as a Rota, whenever I have charted your schedules I have consulted the totems about the wraith’s souls that you are to send to them.”

“Every one of them?”

Teresa nodded her head. “Yes.” It came out in a low whisper. “Every one of them.”

This touched Grayson’s heart. What a special woman, she thought. She looked up at the big clock. Now it didn’t look like some big haunting thing. Now that she knew its purpose it appeared to be more regal. She looked back at the woman who had so lovingly told her the clock’s story and purpose, and thought the Rota looked equally as regal.

Teresa was almost as tall as Grayson was, with wavy brown hair that hung loosely around her shoulders, dark eyes that sparkled like tiger’s-eye gemstones, and her caramel colored skin looked as soft and smooth as imported silk. The woman was beautiful, and Grayson knew it was now or never. Her nerves were settled, and her confidence high. She was going to ask Teresa out to dinner.

Teresa watched as several emotions passed over Grayson’s features, and she wondered what the good-looking woman was thinking about. Maybe she’s thinking about her mission. Maybe she’s thinking about everything that I told her. Maybe . . . Teresa’s thoughts were interrupted by Grayson’s rushed words.

“Would you like to go out with me?” Grayson blurted it out, and it sounded nothing like she’d planed. The jumbled delivery lacked the finesse she’d envisioned using when she thought about this moment.

Teresa’s cheeks immediately started to tint a dusky rose color, and a slow smile made its way to her full lips. She’s asking me out! she thought with delight. “I would love to, Grayson,” she answered without hesitation.

Her name sounded so exotic being said in that light accent. It was a toss-up as to whose smile was the biggest. “So, um . . . when I get back, you, me, a nice meal at The Venus Room?”

“I can’t wait.” This came out low, and flirtatious. And for the first time ever Grayson was privy to the sultry side of the Rota’s accent. “I hear their beef tenderloin sauté mascotte is exquisite.”

The Warrior almost swallowed audibly. “Great, as soon as we get back I’ll give you a call, and set things up . . .” her voice trailed off. “Um, I don’t have your number.”

Teresa pulled out a pad, and wrote her phone number and address on a sheet of paper, then handed it to the nervous woman. “Here you go. I’m always home by six.”

Grayson took the paper, and stood up to leave. “I’ll call you as soon as I get back.” As she backed away from the desk she almost tripped over her feet. “Oops.”

Teresa smiled, and waved as the normally graceful woman stumbled out of the office. And as she watched Grayson walk away an odd feeling came over her, and suddenly, pinpricks stung the back of her eyes. It was almost like a premonition. And she knew with unflinching certainty. There would be no fancy dinners at the Venus Room with Grayson Carrington.
Launch Day
Year 2363
The parade was winding down, but Main Street was still lined with excited citizens. Only a few floats, and a handful of baton twirlers remained on the route. The street cleaners would definitely have a full day tomorrow. But as far as the observers were concerned tomorrow was a long way off.

It wouldn’t be long now. All they had to do was wait for the Chairman to make a speech, listen to the National Choir sing the Astronaut’s Anthem, and watch the astronauts get whisked away in a limousine. After that, the real fun would begin. That’s when the pyrotechnic crew would start to light up the night with fireworks.

Anna Hargrove sat in the grandstand, her gray eyes looking out over the crowd with a certain degree of ownership. It was almost paternal, but Anna Hargrove had never been the mothering type. She was waiting too, but not for the fireworks. She was waiting for the Warrior’s sendoff, because once they reached their destination, she could fix the biggest blunder of her career.

Six months ago, after Vernon White’s victorious return, she’d laid the groundwork to set her plan into action. It would be a bold move, and something that, up until then, was unheard of. She was going to petition the World Union, and ask them to consider a request to become High Chairman of the Incorporated States of the Americas in perpetuity.

She had been so excited about the possible outcome of her inquiry that she spent the first four months after Vernon’s return writing, and rewriting her presentation. She wanted to make sure each word carried the message that she wanted to convey. Innovative. Driven. Focused. She wanted the board to feel that there wasn’t now, nor would there ever be a person more qualified to watch over the Americas.

So she practiced in the mirror, wanting to be sure she presented a humble, but confident image. What she saw looking back at her was the perfect permanent overseer of the Nation.

And just as she was about to send off her request, via holomail, a Historian arrived at her office door with urgent news. Vivian Monroe was still alive.

That quickly put the breaks on her ambition, and she immediately called Vernon on the carpet, and read the man the Riot Act.

“What went wrong, Vernon? I thought you said you saw her die!”

In all of his years in service Vernon White had never seen any Chairman this angry. And having that anger directed at him was something new and unsettling, and it was making him squirm.

“I . . . I don’t know what happened, Madam Chairman. I hit her, and she flew into the air. There is no way she could have lived,” he said. Sounding like he was pleading for it not to be true.

Anna slammed her fist down on her desk, and papers scattered. “Well, I guess you made a mistake, because the Historians have found her in earth’s past, and she’s still alive, and still making speeches, and still on track to send us all to ruin!”

Vernon recoiled as her volume increased with each word. She paced around the room wanting to throw everything she could get her hands on at the big man. She wanted to beat him. To batter him. To brutalize him. She wanted to strike out at him in the worst way imaginable.

But in the end she knew that the abuse wouldn’t matter. She could bombard him with paperweights, letter openers and even desk drawers until her arms were tired, but after all was said and done, the problem would still be sitting there waiting for her to handle it. So, instead of causing Vernon physical pain, she opted to cause him mental discomfort.

She had him confined to his quarters for six months. His radio was to be removed from his apartment, and all of his meals were to be eaten in his room, alone, and no one was to be told why he was spending all of his time sequestered. If anybody was to ask why, he’d better come up with a believable reason. Because his humiliation would be her humiliation. And Anna Hargrove was not going to be publicly humiliated.

Now, two months into the man’s confinement, and after many strategy meetings, it was determined that the best long-term solution to the problem was to have a Warrior go back and gather intel on the target before disposing of her.

Anna liked that idea . . . a lot. Creating a profile on this particular target would be a great addition to her petition for permanent Chairmanship. She imagined the petition would read like an epic novel, casting herself as the heroine who would rid the world of the dangerous, villainous Vivian Monroe, and all who followed in her footsteps.

Her only problem with the planned operation was deciding which Warrior to send back, and how much of the truth to tell them. Who could be trusted to carry out this mission? Months would have to be spent living on the timeline, putting the Warrior in constant contact with the target.

That alone was unprecedented. Add to it having to spend a long period of time in a world that was nothing like their own, and that left two untested elements to this assignment. Who could be trusted not to let their duty become compromised? Who could be trusted to serve well?

When Grayson Carrington’s name was brought up to the Chairman she was hesitant to send an assassin to do what would essentially become an espionage mission. But after reading the Warrior’s file, Anna discovered that Grayson Carrington was more then a great target shooter, she was a believer.

Grayson Carrington believed everything she was told, and never asked questions. She was a ten year veteran with a spotless record, and she had proven herself to be more logical than emotional. Add to that the fact that she was a Rhizome, and would know the exact right time to fulfill her duty, and a more perfect candidate could not have been found.

Her profile describer Grayson Carrington as a brooding, antisocial introvert. Anna knew better. The Warrior exhibited the classic personality traits of a Rhizome. They tended to be self-contained people who only needed their own company. They didn’t crave crowds or attention. As a matter-of-fact, they avoided social situations at all cost.

That alone was reason enough to choose her for this very critical assignment. Grayson was a person who didn’t need or want anybody in her life. She was born with a loner’s sprit, and Anna was sure that no one would breech her barriers. . . especially a wraith.

The only remaining issue was Carrington’s apprentice. She’d read Harrison Sinclair’s permanent records, and Anna liked what she saw, mentally praising the Warrior’s Commander for pairing the two together. Harrison Sinclair was cannon fodder. An immature man-child who was recruited because there were situations that sometimes arose where a fall guy was needed in the past. Booth, Oswald. Both fall guys. Covers for the real Warriors. The true assassins.

Anna stood up, and approached the podium. The crowd hushed. And a collective breath was held. It was about to happen. Everyone watched in wide-eyed wonder as the Chairman reached out, and flipped the ON switch at the base of the microphone. Then she smiled her politician’s smile.

“Good evening, fine citizens!”

Like a string had been pulled at the base of their necks, the crowd responded back. “Good evening, Madam Chairman!”

“Today is a great day for the Incorporated States of the Americas!”

The crowed cheered. As they always did on launch day.

“Once again, without any care of the consequences, or fear for their own safety, two of our bravest astronauts will embark on a dangerous journey of new discoveries.”

The crowd came alive with a thunderous roar, and the cheering went on for a long stretch of minutes until the Chairman raised her hand, requesting quiet.

“We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their willingness to explore the darkest reaches of space. But, tonight as we launch these pioneers of space into the mysteries of the great beyond, their mission will be more perilous than ever before.”

A wave of concern washed over the crowd. This was new. This didn’t sound like the usual launch day speech. More perilous? What did that mean? Anna could tell from the way they had their heads cocked to one side, that the people were really listening. Not just tolerating the pomp and circumstance until it was time for the fireworks. But listening, wondering about the journey that was coming.

“This expedition will be far different from their other missions,” the Chairman announced. “In the past, our adventures have set off for parts unknown, only to return in a day’s time, with news of their findings. But not this time. This time their abilities will be tested like never before. Tonight we send Captain Grayson Carrington and Lieutenant Harrison Sinclair out into the far reaches of space, where they will live for the next three months.”

The entire crowd gasped, and shocked murmurs of “Oh, my,” and “That sounds dangerous”, rose into the air.

Anna shushed them again, and continued. “These brave astronauts take their lives into their hands every time they allow themselves to be strapped into their seats, and rocketed off into space. But they take on the challenge with pride, and great courage, because they understand the need to explore the unknown.”

She turned and bestowed upon Grayson and Harrison her most benevolent smile. Grayson gave a stoic nod of her head, but Harrison was frozen for a moment. He noticed that the smile she was directing at them never touched her eyes, and suddenly a warning bell went off in his head. It felt like he had seen something that he wasn’t suppose to see. A secret. Something that the Chairman always kept hidden away.

So he quickly looked away, before his shocked expression gave him away. Instinct told him that it would be very dangerous for him if the Chairman ever suspected that he had glimpsed her true face.

“Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado. It is my great honor to introduce the National Choir, singing the Astronaut’s Anthem.”

A reverent stillness wove its way through the crowd. There was so much more happening this night then any one of them had anticipated. They were sending their National Heroes off on what could be their most dangerous mission ever. One that they might not return from. And each and every person who was jam-packed onto Main Street felt how well these individuals served their Corporation . . .and they were proud. The music started, and immediately emotions began to swell as the first verse was sang.

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

The voices rose in harmony, and Harrison saw quite a few eyes fill with tears. Even a few hands found a place over a heart that was swelling with emotion. Everyone knew the story of how the Astronaut’s Anthem came be. It was written by Noah Smith, an auto worker living in Detroit. It was during one of the early space launches.

The story goes, that while Noah was sitting in his living room after a long day of assembling cars. He turned on his radio to listened to the Launch Day celebration. Once the parade was over and the Chairman, it was Kent Daniels back then, gave the departure speech, Noah was so filled with emotion that right there while sitting in front of his Philco radio, he wrote the words that would become the Astronaut’s Anthem.

From the first night it was played for the crowd on Launch Day it never failed to stir National pride, and ever lasting devotion to the astronauts.

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

Grayson’s chest always swelled, and pinpricks always stung the back of her eyes when this verse was sung, because even though Heaven and Hell were mythological places they learned about as children, if those places did exist she truly would march into Hell to save Heaven. After all, wasn’t that what she did every time she left on a mission.

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

The first set fireworks went off, illuminating the sky in reds, blues and greens. The pop, pop noises threatened to drown out the choir, but their voices rose higher, and soared above the explosions. Refusing to be overpowered by the blasts.

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

Both of the Warriors stood tall, showing National pride, but for Grayson it was more than pride. For ten years she’d stood in this place, and had listened to the Astronaut’s Anthem countless times. And to her great joy this feeling always came. It never diminished. It never wavered. And she was proud. Proud of who she was, and what she did. Her patriotism was firmly imprinted on her heart, and nothing could change it.

Anna saw how moved Grayson had become, and she leaned over to whisper in the dark woman’s ear. “Always remember this feeling, Warrior, and never forget. This is your home.” She pulled back so that she could look Grayson in the eyes. That was when she realized that she had to glance upwards, just the slightest bit, and she didn’t like that. “Don’t let anything you see, hear or experience in the past make you forget where you come from, and why you are there.” she paused for emphasis. “Never forget your mission.”

Grayson nodded her head in understanding, finding it difficult to break eye contact with the hard gray eyes that held her own.

“Come back to us with your honor in tactic, your loyalty in place and your duty performed. Whether you be in the past or in the present, Grayson Carrington, I expect you to serve your Corporation well.”

Anna’s eyes hardened even more, and Grayson wasn’t sure if it was anger or fear that she saw looking back at her. “You hold our future in your hands. The fate of the world rests on your shoulders. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Madam Chairman. The charlatans and malcontents shall not sway me. I am a Defender of the Way. A Beacon in the Night. A Guardian of the Path. I am a Time Warrior, and I shall serve well.”

When Harrison overheard the Yore in Grayson’s speech his brow raised discreetly. I wonder what caused that? Something had obviously happened between the two women that brought Grayson’s emotions to the surface.

Grayson’s answer made the Chairman smile, and her eyes softened as she gave the taller woman a firm pat on the shoulder. “Good. Very good.”

****

Gate City
Washington Harbor
The control center was located several leagues beneath the ocean in a underwater city that housed the citizens who served mariner duty. It was called Gate City. There were shops, apartments and grocery stores, all for the staff’s convenience, movie theaters for their entertainment, and restaurants for a change of culinary pace. For obvious reasons their main mode of transportation was walking or riding bicycles. Exhaust fumes would be deadly in the enclosed environment.

An environment that was populated by an estimated seven hundred men, women and children who served the Corporation by spending most of their lives living away from the blue skies, green grass and fresh air of the wide open world.

Grayson, like Harrison, found the idea of living that deep in the ocean, slightly claustrophobic. But there were many who could do it without a problem. Some people even started families down in that deep darkness, people like the man whose face was now on the communications screen.

“Ahoy, Martin,” she greeted the Navigator.

“Ahoy, Grayson. Ready for another journey?” he asked good-naturedly.

“Ready and waiting, Martin.”

Martin Wright had been sending her off on her missions for the last eight years. He appeared to be a man of medium height with a full head of ash-blonde hair, and a strong build. But since she had never met him in person she couldn’t be sure. The citizens who were assigned to mariner duty rarely formed friendships outside of their own society. Even when they surfaced they remained on the aquatics compound. It was almost like they didn’t want to become familiar with the surface world. But Grayson figured that if she had to live the majority of her life away from solid earth she wouldn’t want to get too cozy on dry land either.

“Aye, Aye, then. Get yourself buckled in, Grayson, and hold on.” This was always his instruction to her. “I’ll see you in three months time,” he informed her. “The Gate will open on your side on Wednesday August 8, 2063 at 11:30 pm. Be there by 11:15 pm. If you miss this window there will not be a secondary. Chairman’s orders. Good luck and serve well.”

Chairman’s orders? What did that mean? Grayson only gave the order a brief thought. She had no intentions of missing the Gate opening.

Then Harrison chimed in. “Do you think the Chairman figures if we miss the Gate opening, that means we failed our mission, and if we fail the mission there would be no need to return home?”

In classic Harrison style he had gotten right to the point without a lot of twists and turns. That was something she was rarely able to do. Everything had to be thoroughly thought out before a conclusion could be reached. But that was the mind of a Rhizome. Check. Double-check. Action.

“Could be, Harrison,” she said. Not wanting to give his idea much thought. She didn’t like the path that particular thread would lead her down.

She watched as Martin slid the lever that would open the Gate, and immediately headed for the railing. It wouldn’t be long now, and it would only last for a few seconds, but Grayson made it a point to never miss those few seconds. That was when she could look over the side of the yacht and see the Gate heading for the surface.

The Gate was an underwater tornado of water that moved to the surface at an alarming rate of speed. Swirling, spinning and tumbling topside where it would form a tornado that spun the ship around in its eye until the desired destination had been reached.

Grayson knew it wasn’t safe to remain on deck, but she always stayed as long as she could, just long enough to see the column of water heading upward. Seeing its ethereal blue light glowing from within, was an indulgence she could never resist. It was an amazing sight to behold.

When she reached the railing, almost immediately lightning streaked across the night sky. Then warm air started to swirl all around her, whipping strands of her dark hair all around her head. When the wind picked up, stinging droplets of salty ocean water sprayed her in the face, and she squinted to keep the mist out of her eyes. The ocean had began to churn.

She looked over the side of the yacht and could see it coming. Like a giant translucent worm coming out of its hole. Soon it would reach the surface and the vortex would open, and her journey would begin. She allowed herself a count of ten beats before she quickly ducked back inside, and strapped herself in below deck.

The air in the cabin had become static, and Grayson imagined they were inside the cyclone from that long ago Kansas of Dorothy Gale. When the waves began to roil, and walls of water raised up high, surrounding the yacht, Grayson knew that the funnel had taken them. She could feel the boat being pulled down into the great mouth, and she held tight to the arms of her seat, and Harrison let out a loud whoop.

“This bronco is bucking now!” he yelled, and when the yacht started to spin like a top, he squeezed his eyes tight together, and pretended like he was on a carnival ride.

For Grayson, the spinning was causing a tickle to gather in the pit of her stomach, and it was threatening to bubble over on a string of giggles. The feeling was euphoric, and Grayson wanted to let loose with a “Woo-hoo,” the way Harrison had. Instead, she waited for what she knew was coming next. The feeling of being pulled down would soon stop, then the opposite would take over, and the boat would start its ascent into the past.

When the yacht was thrust upward, it felt like they were about to take flight, and be sent into outer space for real. But just as they reached the apex, there was a loud boom, and the yacht shifted hard to the left, just before pushing through the veil. There was a solid thump, and like a magic trick, the yacht was bobbing up and down on the water’s surface like a cork.

They had landed.

Grayson’s nostrils flared, and she pulled in a deep breath, recognizing the familiar scent of ozone that hung in the air. They were here. They were in the past. She unhooked her seat belt, and stood up on slightly shaky legs, then she went above deck to man the wheel for the ten mile trip to shore.

****

They made quick work of tying down the yacht, then headed for Harbormaster’s hut. When they entered the office the stout docking clerk was leaning on the counter, browsing through a boating magazine.

“Excuse me,” Grayson said, clearing her throat. “I’d like to rent a berth.”

When he looked up he raised a curious brow. The two people standing in front of him looked like something straight out of a long ago past. The man wore a dark suit that had wide lapels, and three quarter inch cuffs in the pants. A blue tie, and white shirt. His black hair was cut short, and slicked over with some sort of gel that made his hair look wet, and the razor-sharp part stand out like a landing strip.

The woman was dressed almost identically, except her suit was gray, she wore a matching fedora on top of her head. It was an odd thing for a woman to wear, but he thought she made it look good. Eliot Ness, the clerk thought. These two look like they’re Untouchables.

He looked out of the windows, and gazed at the night sky. “Looks like you two just beat the storm.”

Grayson smiled. She knew that it was the blue lights of their arrival that had mimicked the onset of bad weather. “It appears so,” she said as she reached for the registration log.

“You renting a berth for the night?” he asked.

“No. we’ll be staying a little longer that,” she said, gesturing towards Harrison. Two, maybe three months.”

“Okay, well we have monthly rates for that long of a stay.”

Grayson slid a plastic card across the counter. “Put it on this.

“Will do.” The clerk grabbed the card, and started the registration process.

Before they left home, Grayson and Harrison had been issued counterfeit cash cards with a manipulated magnetic strip. No matter how many charges, or withdrawals were made, the funds would never run out.

The clerk swiped her card, then returned it to it’s owner. “You’re all set.”

When Grayson finished registering them she noticed a small stack of newspapers on the counter. “Can I take one of these?”

“Sure, they’re free for the customers.”

She pulled a paper off the top of the stack. Her intentions were to sit down at the galley table, and read about the local happenings while leisurely sipping a cup of hot coffee. She needed to get a feel for this place, see what life was like here. She thought reading a local paper would be a good start.

Grayson folded the paper, and was about to tuck it under her arm, when she caught sight of a picture out of the corner of her eye. She unfolded the paper, and read the heading of a small article. Her left arm shot out to her side like a toll gate, stopping Harrison in his tracks. “Look at this,” she said, waving the newspaper in front of him. “Read this,” she said, pointing at article.

Harrison grabbed the paper she was holding up, and started to read out loud. “Author, Vivian Monroe kicks off her run for the senate with a rally in Henson Park tomorrow.”

He stopped reading. His mind felt fuzzy. “What the heck does this mean, Grayson?” he asked, obviously confused.

“Look at the date, Harrison,” she said. “Look at the date,” she said it again. Now, Harrison could hear the strain in her voice, and the fuzziness dulled his senses even more. “We’re three years early,” she said between clenched teeth. The Navigator undershot our landing by three years!

****

Nation’s Capital
Year 2363
Tom rushed in with the news. His most recent encounter with the Chairman taught him it was best to give her any information he had, as soon as it was discovered. So, he knocked on her door and waited.

“Enter.”

The Researcher pushed the door open, and practically ran across the distance between the door, and the desk. “Madam Chairman, we just received news from the Navigator.” He couldn’t stop the trimmer that made his hand shake. He saw that she saw it happen, and she raised an eyebrow in question. “Grayson Carrington and her boat have disappeared,” he blurted out.

Anna stood up so fast that her chair tipped over. “What?”

“Grayson Carrington and her boat have disa. . .”

“Don’t say that to me again, Tom. Don’t you say it.”

He stood there wondering what he should do next. Flee or wait. Good sense told him he’d better wait. He watched as the Chairman started to pace across the carpet. Back and forth, she walked, back and forth, tapping the back of her right hand into the palm of the left.

Not again, Anna thought. Not another screw up. Forget a promotion. At this rate I’ll be taken out of service. The thought of the shame and humiliation her mother would face was suffocating. That was when she felt the dark edges start to move in. Not this again, she thought. And not in front of Tom. If I sway, even just a little, he’s going to wonder if something is really wrong with me. Stay strong.

My mother, was her next thought. My parents, they could be exiled from retirement, and sent back into service as domestics. The image of her mother being forced to mop floors for those she thought of as peers made her hand tap faster.

“Madam Chairman,” Tom said, interrupting her thoughts. The Navigator wants to know what he should do next. When the boat went off track. . .”

At first Tom wasn’t sure where the white light had come from. One second he was talking, the next, he was flat on his back, watching fairy lights floating around his head. It was when he felt the heat pouring off his burning cheek that he knew something had happened. The stinging pain that followed the heat told the story. The Chairman had struck him. Blindsided him. A sucker punch. And from the way she was shaking out her right hand, it had been a backhand that laid him out. Not a punch. For some reason, that bothered him.

“I told you to be quiet,” she warned him. She hadn’t really told him to be quiet, but she decided he should have figured it out from her current mood. As he struggled to get up off the floor, she ignored him. She was thinking.

A shocked Tom was pressing his palm to a very warm cheek. He couldn’t believe she’d struck him. Of course he knew she had a capricious personality, running hot and cold with whatever direction the wind blew. He’d even suspected she was capable of violence, but he never expected to be on the receiving end of it. Not really.

He felt something welling up inside of himself. Something he’d never felt before. Something he couldn’t identify. It was a sharp, and angry thing that made his blood boil, and demanded attention. It begged for relief from a place his mind couldn’t reach. It was the place where his emotions lived. And he couldn’t understand it. So he remained quiet. Fearing another outburst from the Chairman if he made a sound.

Giving no further thought to the man sitting on the carpeted floor of her office, Anna pressed the button on her desk intercom. “Willa,” the Chairman said into the small plastic box. “A Historian. I need one in my office. ASAP!”

It would be several hours later, while sitting alone in the Researcher’s office, that Tom realized what that indefinable feeling was. It was revenge. Hard, cold, self-satisfying revenge. A need to repay a wrong. And the realization of that emotion terrified him.

****

Grayson Carrington and her yacht had vanished from sight. Gone off the radar. Disappeared from the Gate. It was there one second, and the next it was gone. The Navigator had watched the yacht get pulled down into the eye, and then, as it was descending towards the ocean floor, it disappeared from sight.

Poof. Gone.

Anna’s interrogation of Martin Wright took place in a holocall. Without going to the underwater city, it was the quickest way to get the information from the Navigator. There was no time for traveling, or compressing, and decompressing, or whatever it was they did to live under all of that water. Anna had to act. She had to act, now.

She realized there was no time for contemplation. No time for finesse. The was no time to make well-thought-out plans. There was only time for action. Swift, brutal, unconscionable action. That could mean only one thing. She would have to give Vernon White an early release from his punishment.

With Carrington gone missing somewhere in time, studying Vivian Monroe was no longer an option. Priority number one was stopping her from making that speech. “Willa,” she announced into the intercom. “Have Vernon White sent to my office.”

She sat in her desk chair twirling a fountain pen between her fingers. An unscheduled Gate opening was going to draw attention from the Union. That meant, there was going to be an inquiry. An inquiry where all of her answers were going to be wrong. In the case of Vivian Monroe, she hadn’t closed the deal. At least that’s how the Union was going to see it.

So, if she wanted to keep her job, keep he parents living out their island retirement in leisure, and stop the World Union from putting her out of service, she had to give them Vivian Monroe’s head on a plate. Maybe literally. She may need to have Vernon White chop the woman’s head off, and bring it back in a bag. A medieval trophy she could present to the Union. The more she thought about it, the more she seriously considered taking that action. A head on a plate.

Fear was causing Anna Hargrove’s sanity to slip.

****

Washington Harbor
Year 2060
“It must have been that big boom we heard,” Grayson said. “Remember, how it rocked the boat?”

Harrison definitely remembered. It was the best part of the ride. The bump practical ejected him from his seat. “Yep, I remember.” He wanted to be more concerned, he knew it was his professional duty to show concern, but for the life of him, he couldn’t make the effort. This unexpected change was too exciting. “So, what do we do, Grayson? What do we do about Vivian Monroe?”

They were down in the yacht’s galley, sipping on the coffee Harrison had prepared. “I’m not sure yet, but finding her is going to be easy,” Grayson said. “It says here in the paper that she will be holding a political rally tomorrow at Henson Park. That should be easy enough to find. We just need a map.”

“What’s a political rally?” Harrison asked.

Grayson shrugged her shoulders. She was staring at the grainy picture of Vivian Monroe that was attached to the article. She was sitting at a table with a stack of books at one side. People were waiting in a line. Some held books, others held books and pens. Vivian Monroe was a writer, Grayson thought. In her time, only those who had been assigned to serve as journalist were allowed to spin tales. Tales that were sanctioned by the World Union.

Grayson ran her finger over the image. She knew who Senator Vivian Monroe was. She knew that the woman was going destroy their future. She knew she was the enemy. But this woman, this Vivian Monroe, the writer, she didn’t know. The pathways in Grayson’s mind began to open as her index finger traced over the picture, and the Traveler started on its way to search out every possibility for this Vivian Monroe.

A network of potential scenarios opened up, branching off in every direction. Left, right, up, down, side to side, lines were being laid out so fast, the Traveler had trouble keeping up. One branch would be followed, then another would open before the end of the first one was reached. This continued to happen along the route. It was like watching a virus multiply. Nothing could slow it down.

Suddenly, Grayson realized that she was seeing something that she’d never seen before. Endless possibilities. So she stopped the Traveler. There was no need to continue. Not once since the Corporation opened her eyes to her ability, had she encountered a situation that didn’t have a finite number of possibilities. Until now. Does the Chairman know about this anomaly? Is this why she wants Vivian Monroe studied? She felt the Traveler stir, but refused to follow. It would be a wasted effort. These were problems best suited for the minds of the Corporation.

“What’s our next move?” Harrison asked, breaking into her thoughts, sounding more excited than worried about their unexpected bump in time, and in a strange way, this comforted Grayson. He sat down across from her with a big grin on his face, waiting for an answer.

Grayson tipped her mug to her lips, and blew a cooling breath over the rim, before taking a small sip. She pointed to the newspaper article. “We’re going to attend our first political rally.”

Harrison’s smile got bigger. This assignment was turning out to be so much more than he’d expected. They were stranded, shipwrecked, like Robinson Caruso, or the Swiss Family Robinson. They were well and truly on an adventure.

Grayson saw how thrilled Harrison was, and had to fight with herself not be excited too. And for one fleeting moment, she wondered what it was about Harrison that made her want to let go, and join him. To just be. . .happy.

“Calm down, ya mook. We’re in big trouble here. You do realize we have no way of getting back home, right?”

Harrison nodded, the dumb grin still on his face.

“And we have no way to communicate with the Navigator?”

Harrison nodded again. Still smiling.

Grayson just stared at him. “You’re an idiot, you know that don’t you?”

The smile grew even wider, as Harrison bobbed his head up and down like a happy puppy, and suddenly, Grayson was back in her room, and that nameless yearning began to stir within her heart. It brought on the faint strands of ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’, playing in the back of her mind, and it forced her eyes back to the picture of Vivian Monroe. Then, she smiled too, knowing, but not caring that, if she wasn’t careful, Harrison and his ‘live in the moment’ way of seeing things, was going to get her in a lot of trouble.

****

Senate Building
Washington
Year 2063
Jinx’s toenails were echoing throughout the lobby as he faithfully followed his human to the elevators. Vivian was, as usual, almost moving at a sprint, and Janice was close on her heels trying to keep up.

It had been a difficult morning for Vivian. She’d woken up late, and when she let Jinx out into the backyard, instead of taking care of his morning business, the little dog thought it would be more fun to chase the squirrels.

Once they had made it across the lobby and were in the elevators Janice reminded Vivian about the new member that was going to join their team today. “Don’t forget, Senator, your new bodyguard will be joining us today.”

Vivian’s brows knitted together. “I still can’t believe it’s come to this,” she said as her fingers searched around in her jacket pocket for a sourball.

“I agree with you, Senator.”

Vivian eventually popped a grape-flavored candy into her mouth. “Tell me about this person who is going to be joining our little family. If I have to share my personal space with someone, at the very least I want to know their name.”

The assistant scrolled down the screen of her tablet, and read the bodyguard’s bio. “It says here that her name is Grayson Carrington.”

Hmm, a woman? Vivian wondered at that. It was her understanding that women didn’t make it a habit to work high-risk security details.

“She is a twenty-nine year-old vet with ten years experience in the security field. The last eight of those years have been spent in the area of safeguarding security sensitive clients.”

“She’s twenty-nine, and started in the field ten years ago? Does she know mall cop doesn’t count?”

Janice remained silent.

“And what does she mean by security sensitive clients? That sounds awfully posh. What has she been doing? Going out on tour with rock stars, protecting them from overzealous groupies?” Vivian knew she sounded snarky, but the entire situation had her really annoyed.

Janice ignored the uncharacteristic comments, knowing that her boss was just frustrated. “I don’t think so, Senator. She comes highly recommend, and her resume doesn’t list one celebrity client. She even has commendations for selfless acts of heroism.” Janice paused. “It says here that she once threw herself in front of a client, taking a bullet to the chest to keep the man safe. Luckily she was wearing a bulletproof vest.”

Vivian blanched a little. “Well, I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that,” she said as a soft tone pinged, announcing that they had reached the fifth floor.

When the elevator doors opened, there was a man standing there, with gun pointed at her head.

****

Henson Park
Washington
Year 2060
Grayson tugged at the pockets of the blue jeans she was wearing, trying to discreetly dislodge them from areas in her southern region. The shirt she had on was better suited for a twelve year-old than an adult woman. The sleeves were cutting into her underarms, and the bottom kept riding up, reveal her stomach. The only comfortable item she was wearing was on her feet. The white sneakers she’d picked out were lightweight, and very supportive, the clothes, in comparison, were a nightmare. But Harrison had insisted that they needed to go shopping.

“You can’t walk around in a three-piece suit and a fedora, Grayson. Women don’t dress like that in this time, and we need to blend in.”

She couldn’t argue with him. It was a fact. But the women in this time wore clothes that fit like a second skin. Tight everywhere, leaving nothing to the imagination. She looked over at Harrison, in his loose-fitting jeans, roomy t-shirt and sneakers, and thought he looked way more comfortable than she did.

I should have shopped for clothes in the men’s department, she thought with envy.

The crowd in the park was milling around, waiting for the speaker to take the podium. Kids were on the swings, and a group of people with “Vote For Monroe” posters tacked to a few picnic tables had fired up the park’s grills, and was giving away free hot dogs and hamburgers. The scent of smoke and grilled meat filled the air, giving the rally a family feel.

“Those burgers smell pretty good,” Harrison hinted to Grayson. “Want one?”

Her stomach answered for her, and before she could open her mouth, Harrison was on his way to where the food was cooking.

****

Vivian looked out over the large crowd that had gathered. They looked happy. Or maybe they were just well-feed, and watered. She could feel the ball of nerves in her stomach tighten, and the uneasiness caused her to shuffle the index cards she was holding. Making a speech in front of a crowd isn’t the same as signing books for a long line of adoring fans, she told herself. These people expect more than a warm hello, and a personal note inside a book cover.

But this was the choice she’d made. She would put her writing career on hold, and work for the good of the people. She could see what was happening. Maybe it was because she was writer, or maybe it was because she had a vivid imagination, but she could see it coming. There was going to come a time when the people would no longer have control over their own destiny. And if there was anything she could do stop that from happening, it was her duty to try.

She tapped the microphone with tips of her fingers, and the echo got everyone’s attention. “Good afternoon. First of all, I want to thank all of you for coming out today.”

There were a few scattered applause.

“I hope everyone is enjoying the free burgers, dogs and drinks. A big thank you to Stan Rainey, and the Edwards food chain for providing the food and beverages for today’s event. Let’s give them a big hand for their generous donation.”

There were a couple more claps than the first time.

“Okay then,” Vivian said with a slight sigh. “At first, I thought I would start my speech with a bunch of numbers and stats, as a way to show you statistically why I’m the better choice to represent you in the senate.”

There were a few moans.

“But as I look out over this crowd, I think there is something else you need to hear. Something more important than stats, or promises that may, or may not be fulfilled.”

They were waiting. They wanted to know what sort of politician a writer would make. They wanted to hear the words she’d put together, listen to the tale she’d spin for them. They wanted to judge her, while they ate free burgers, and washed them down with free drinks. Simply put, they were waiting for the lie.

Okay, Vivian thought. It’s now, or never.

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Here she stopped to take a sip of water. She was doing okay. The crowd remained quiet, watching her, listening. Her hold on them was tenuous. One miss step, one line of bullshit, and she would lose them. She cleared her throat and continued.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

She heard a few coughs, even saw a few people turn, and walk away. But this was something the people needed to be reminded of. She wanted them to remember that they had a choice. That they held the power.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

After she finished. There was complete and utter silence. It stretched out for days. Weeks. Months. It was an excruciating thing to experience. Then, from somewhere in the back, a voice was heard, loud and clear.

“Oh, shit! She just told us we should fire all those bozos in charge. Get rid of the rancid meat! Restock the shelves!” Here, the speaker laughed. A happy, amazed laugh. “She wants us to break the game!”

For what seemed like a lifetime, not a sound was made. And then, like a tsunami rolling over dry land, a powerful wave of energy washed across the crowd, and they came to life with a roar.

****

Senate Building
Washington
Year 2063
Vivian found herself standing face-to-face with an odd sight. A well-groomed, well-dressed man, with the face of a stock animal. A bull, was what she thought. He looks a bull. What are they called? The part man, part bulls? Minotaur. That’s it. He looks like a minotaur. It was a strange thought to be having at a time like this, but she couldn’t stop herself. Her brain was processing information in the weirdest way. That’s when she noticed that his deep-set eyes were empty, filled only with nothingness. Then she watched with a curious detachment, as the gun he was holding made a slight downward adjustment so that the barrel was positioned right between her eyes.

Vivian stood still, her eyes on his trigger finger, fascinated that she could see every twitch and every movement before he started to squeeze the trigger. It’s over, she thought. This is how I die. She thought about closing her eyes, not wanting to face this, but she changed her mind. If this was going to be her end, if her life was about to be stolen from her, she was going to look the thief in his eyes, and damn him to hell with her last breath.

She watched as his thick finger pulled the trigger, that’s why she missed Janice jumping in front of her. The sound that came from the gun was a soft pop. Like when you squeeze bubble wrap. Jinx started barking like crazy, but didn’t attack, instead, he was backing away from the blood that was pooling around Janice’s fallen body.

The sight of the blood broke Vivian out of her paralysis. “Oh, my god, Janice!” she yelled as she kneeled down beside her assistant.

****
Henson Park
Washington
Year 2060
The people looked at one another, nodding their heads. Out of the corner of her eye, Grayson could see Harrison’s head bobbing along with the crowd, and applauding with the masses. She elbowed him in the side.

“What are you doing?”

“That was incredible, Grayson. The words. The poetic way they were written. That was. . . that was powerful,” he said, giving no heed to whom he was talking to. “I had no idea you could fire a leader!”

Grayson was immediately offended. “I believe you have forgotten yourself, sir, and who it is that you serve.”

Harrison went as still as a statue when he heard the Yore, and when he turned in his boss’s direction, Grayson didn’t look like a beautiful young woman in a pair of jeans and t-shirt, out in the park to enjoy a burger, and hear a speech. Not any longer. That woman had been replaced by a Warrior. She was standing as rigid as a board, and her eyes were like a furnace, burning hot with blue flames.

“No,” Harrison said, standing just as rigid as she was. “I have not forgotten. Please forgive the lapse.” It was all he could do in the way of regaining any faith she had in him. He hoped she would accept it.

Grayson held him in her sights for a time. And Harrison stood up to her regard. This wasn’t the time to make a joke, or show fear. Grayson was weighing and measuring him, and he refused to give her more of a reason to find him lacking.

She was about to reprimand him. Tell him how dangerous it would be to slip up. Remind him that they were on their own until they could find a way to make contact with the Navigator. And that it was imperative to the mission that they maintain their self-discipline. Now, more than ever, they needed to serve well. She was about to say these things to him, when she heard the sound of laughter, coming from the speakers that stood on the platform.

Her eyes shifted in the direction of the podium, and they softened when they landed on the blonde politician. She was stepping down from the stage, laughing and talking with a young woman, who was holding a white dog with tan spots. From the looks of it, the three were familiar with one another.

Harrison saw it. The shift, and the softening in her eyes. He thought it was odd that Grayson could see the possibilities in everyone else’s life, but was blind to her own. But he didn’t say anything about it. It wasn’t his place. Besides, he was on thin ice, as it was. Instead, he made a suggestion. “Let’s go meet her.”

Grayson raised a warning eyebrow.

“We can call it, first contact.”

Grayson remained silent.

“Hey, we gotta start observing at some point. Now is as good a time as any.

It makes sense. “Okay,” Grayson said. “Lead on.”

****

Senate Building
Washington
Year 2063
Vivian had just enough time to think ‘silencer’, before the gunman readjusted his grip and pointed the gun at her again. But Vernon didn’t pull the trigger a second time. He was watching Vivian as she kneeled on the floor of the elevator, trying to save the life of a dead woman. When she leaned forward, Vernon saw something dangling from the end of the chain hanging around her neck. Something green, encased in glass. When Vivian noticed how he was looking at her necklace, an unconscious hand moved to cover the treasure, hiding it from his tainted view.

That’s what pulled Vernon out of his trance. The image being taken from him so abruptly. It made him feel aggrieved. Made him feel cheated, and angry. That was when he knew. He knew that after he blew Vivian Monroe’s head from her shoulders, he would take her necklace, and add it to his sacred box of charms.

****

Henson Park
Washington
Year 2060
The two Warriors were making their way across the park, when they stopped in their tracks. Coming from the opposite direction, heading straight for Vivian Monroe was Neil Grant.

“This can’t be happening,” Grayson said.

“What’s he gonna do?” Harrison asked. “You think he’s gonna kill her?”

“No. Don’t be stupid. He didn’t save her when she was a kid, just to show up twenty years later to kill her.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

They stood there as people passed by them, drinking sodas, eating hot dogs, and talking about the young writer who wanted to be their senator. But Grayson and Harrison didn’t move. They watched.

When Neil reached the woman her back was turned to him, so he tapped her on the shoulder. Vivian turned around, and smiled at the stranger, extending her hand in greeting. Grayson and Harrison watched as Neil talked to the woman. They saw her tilt her head as the man was explaining something to her, then. . .she covered her mouth with her hand, and took a step back. Then she quickly changed direction, and launched herself forward, wrapping the man in a bear hug.

“I can guess what he just told her,” Harrison said.

“Yep,” Grayson said. “So can I. You know this isn’t a coincidence?”

“What isn’t a coincidence?” Harrison asked, truly at a loss.

“This,” Grayson said, nodding her head in Vivian’s direction. “Her,” she shifted her eyes to where Neil was standing. “Him. . . and us. All here in this place. In this time. It‘s not a coincidence.” Then she was struck by a possibility so strong that she stopped talking, and let the Traveler out to wonder along a certain thread. After only a few seconds she started talking again. “It was him, Harrison. I don’t know how he did it, but it was him.”

“Him who? Did what?”

“Neil Grant. He caused this. He was somehow able to throw us off course.”

“That’s not possible, Grayson. The Underground, they can do some pretty amazing things, but throw us out of time? That would take technology that neither side has. Not the rebels, not the Corporation, not even the Union.”

Maybe,” Grayson said. “But he did it. I know he did it.”

Harrison had nothing more to add. This was Grayson’s area of expertise.

They walked with purpose. “It’s time we got a few answers from the rebel. What do you think, Harrison?”

“I think you’re right, boss,” the apprentice said, walking shoulder to shoulder with his mentor.

When they were close enough to hear the conversation, the dog was being introduced to Neil. “And this is Jinx. My friend, and faithful companion,” Vivian was saying.

“Glad to meet you, Jinx,” they heard Neil say. Grayson was struck by how deep and melodious the man’s voice was. He sounded more like a loving uncle instead of the diabolical madman she knew him to be.

When the pair was only a few feet away, Neil turned with a smile, and greeted them. “Well, hello there, Grayson,” he said. “How are things going, Harrison?”

The Warriors were so shocked by their adversary’s acknowledgement that their hands automatically reached out to shake that of the man greeting them.

Vivian’s attention was drawn to the handsome pair, and she wondered if they were related. They were nearly the same height, and had the same dark hair and blue eyes. Then she glanced over at Neil Grant, and noticed that he too was tall with dark hair and blue eyes. And she had a fleeting thought. He must have been a medical prodigy, because he doesn’t look much older than the other two.

“Are you three related?” she asked.

For the longest time no one answered, but Vivian saw a grandfatherly twinkle spark in her doctor’s eyes before he finally responded. “We are all related in some way or another, aren’t we?” he asked Vivian with a smile.

She smiled back. “Yes, I guess we are.” she turned to Grayson with a extended hand. “Hello, my name is Vivian Monroe, and I’d love to have your vote.”

Grayson was trapped in green eyes as vibrant as the first leaves of spring, and she found herself being pulled into the image as she took the smaller woman’s hand into her own. “I’m Grayson Carrington, and I don’t vote.

****

Senate Building
Washington
Year 2063

Just as Vernon squeezed off the shot that would finally end Vivian Monroe’s life, she disappeared. Poof. Right before his eyes. The senator, the dead girl on the elevator floor, even the dog. . .gone. All that was left the bullet hole in the wall. He stood there pointing his gun at nothing.

Twice. The same target had evaded him twice. Who is Vivian Monroe? He wondered. Who is she really? Never had a target disappeared right in front of him. Not just the target, but everyone with her. Like she had never been there at all. Like this never happened.

He holstered his weapon, and stepped into the empty elevator. He was headed home. With another failure to report to the Chairman. He didn’t want to think about what his punishment would like this time. But this time. If his punishment was to be locked away again, he knew how his time would be spent. The necklace, he thought. I will spend every waking hour seeing it. The artfully carved oval of the glass pendant. The silver chain that it was hanging from. And most of all, that delicate piece of life locked safely away inside the glass. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

His next thought caused a deep fissure to crease his high forehead. And if I am ever given the chance to get close to Vivian Monroe again, I will not hesitate. I will rip the necklace from her throat, and put it in a place where it will be cherish forever.

****

Egypt
Sometime in a way off future
“They made it. They landed safely.”

“The Rhizome and the Cipher?”

“Yes.”

Haveen looked relieved. “Wonder of wonders, it worked. But it drained us. Just getting that boat to bump back three years, drained us. The energy it took put us on our butts for two days. ”

“It will be worth it,” Fedole said. “I’m sure of it.”

Haveen exhaled a thoughtful breath. “If Neil hadn’t escaped when he did. . .” she paused for a few seconds. “They would have all nine of us.” She turned to face her long time friend. “Neil being out there, searching for a way to free us. That gives me hope, Fedole, but do you think it will work? Do you think Neil can train them?”

“He reached them before their loyalty could be completely corrupted by their Corporation, Haveen, so they’re not fanatics. Not yet. So to answer your question, yes, I think Neil can train them. He will tell them who they really are, and he will teach them who they can truly be.”

Fedole walked over to the open window, and was silenced by what he saw. There were people everywhere. He watched as the humans went about their tasks. Fetching, carrying, building, communicating and planting. All lessons taught to them by their creators.

“I miss this,” Fedole said.

Haveen joined him, and took in the view. “So do I.”

They were family. All nine of them. They were the only ones who survived the crash. Three ships had fallen from the sky, and plunged into the desert sand. Burrowing deep into the earth, leaving only the tips exposed. Three peaks sticking out of the sand in a land that would one day be called Egypt.

Outside the window was what they’d hoped for when they gave the weakest of the herd a single drop of their blood. Before that, these beings were just another part of the fauna on this planet. They hunted, and were hunted in return. Loosing more battles than they won. But an unexpected storm in space had changed the fate of these creatures, who surely would have gone extinct if not for the celestial interference of the Nine.

Haveen uttered a quiet spell, and the illusion outside the window fell away, taking the phantoms from long ago with it, revealing the truth of their reality. The desert sand, and plank walkways were gone, to be replaced by the smooth streets, and clean sidewalks of America, circa, 1950. But there were no people out in the open. Not at this hour of the morning. At this hour of the morning every citizen was performing their duty, serving well in whatever capacity the Corporation had deemed them best suited for.

Only the Elementals were out. Policing the streets, and looking for lawbreakers. All in the name of protection. They were mean and petty, and took pleasure in causing others pain. After the Time Warriors program was closed down, this was the group who replaced the old guard. They were the new security force for the Corporations, and as long as every person performed their duty, and served well, how that success was achieved didn‘t matter to the Union.

“They’re lunatics.”

“The World Union corrupted them, Haveen.”

The sun brought out the chestnut highlights in Haveen’s auburn hair, and her blue eyes revealed the wisdom of the ages. “They need to be neutralized, Fedole. They have became indiscriminant killing machines.”

“That’s because most of them are Censors. Their gift was based in their ability to disconnect themselves from their actions, so their ability never turned active like the others. Jealousy made them seek out other ways to be equal to their peers. So they found sorcery. A simple case of overcompensation.”

“Overcompensation my ass. They’re insane, Fedole. Sociopaths. Look at what they’ve done to us.” She turned in a circle, and waved her arms around the room. “They’ve imprisoned us with their witchcraft!”

“It’s not witchcraft, Haveen. It’s earth magic.”

“Call it whatever you will. I just don’t understand how it could bind us. Our powers are a part of us. We were born with these abilities. How are they able to block them?”

“There were forces that ruled this planet before any type of being ever came to be. Those forces are nature based. It’s strands formed the fabric that created the existence of everything on this planet. That is what the Censors tapped into. That is why the spells can hold us. We exist on its playing field, so we are bound by its rules.”

They watched out the window as three Elementals strolled down the sidewalk. Two men, one woman. Their body language was all swagger and arrogance. One of the men looked up at the window at the top of the pyramid, and smiled. Then he twirled his downward turned finger in a circle, stirring the sand at his feet into a small cyclone. When it was large enough to hold together on its own, he flung the funnel at the people standing in the high window.

Haveen and Fedole didn’t move. The Elemental’s magic couldn’t pierce the ships they resided in. They were protected inside their homes, but they were also trapped.

When the funnel hit the side of the pyramid, and feel back into the sand, the Elementals walked away, laughing at the once great Nine. Who were now, nothing more than entertainment. Playthings.

“Can the Savants find the spells, Fedole? Can they break our bonds?”

“Well, if the Rhizome can locate the scrolls, the Cipher can translate them. So, I think we have an excellent chance, Haveen. Especially now,” he said with a smile.

Haveen cocked an auburn brow in question. “What’s happened?”

“Neil has found the Detergé.”

Haveen’s hand went to her mouth, and a small noise escaped her throat. “That changes everything,” she whispered. “If they find the scrolls, and she reads the words out loud, she could free us.” She took hold of his collar with both hands, and pulled him into a hug. “She could free us,” she said again. “If she is powerful enough, all it would take is a whispered word, or a random thought and she could free us,” she said around a muffled sob.

“I think she’s plenty powerful,” Fedole said, as he gently rubbed Haveen’s back. “According to Neil, she caused a time quake on. . .” He hesitated, knowing that mentioning Anna Hargrove in any way caused Haveen’s temper to flare. “The viper’s timeline.” To his surprise, she didn’t even flinch.

“Neil has found the Detergé,” she whispered again.

Fedole gave a soft laugh. “There is much to be done before they can rescue us, Haveen. The Union must be dealt with. Their hold over the people must be broken.”

Haveen squeezed him tighter, but remained silent. The light of hope was glowing bright in her heart. The Detergé had been found. That was all that mattered.

****

END OF PART ONE