Sign me up
“Attention,” came the crack of Commander Rollins’ voice as he entered the room in his sharply pressed blue uniform. Their entire group had been milling about the room socializing; they expected some warning of his arrival. Though surprised at the command, they started to shuffle past each other and form into stiff backed ranks.
Rollins walked up and down the five rows of men followed by a second man who was keeping notes as he spoke.
“Untidy uniform, five demerits.” He moved on down the row.
“Shoes not shined, five demerits.” He moved to the next row.
“I smell liquor on your breath, ten demerits.” He moved to the next man in line, a heavy set youth who didn’t seem to fit in with the others.
“You are just one sorry individual, too fat, too weak, I’m not even sure what you are doing here, twenty demerits.” He turned to move on again when another voice spoke up.
“Piss poor commander, barely an excuse for a human being, only feels like a man when he can pick on someone who has to stand there and take it, fifty demerits.” The Commander sputtered, stopping in mid-insult. He turned on his heel pushing through the line of men to stop in front of Marc Bloom. The commander loomed over Marc using his greater height to try and intimidate him. Marc looked up at him with an openly disrespectful smirk on his face and added, “Sir.”
“You think this is funny cadet?” he practically spit in Marc’s face, rage shown on his face, rage at someone in his command being outspoken and daring to call him on his actions.
“No Sir, I think it’s pathetic.” Marc knew he was ending his ROTC career but he didn’t come here to watch a small man bully someone he didn’t like. ‘I was raised with principles,’ he thought, ‘and what good are principles if you never take them out to see the light of day.’ “Here you are in charge of this group, your responsibility is to train us. Instead of belittling Cadet Bowen you should be encouraging him. But you’re too small a soul in too large a body… it’s just sad.”
“I’ll tell you what’s sad,” the cadet commander shot back, “just how miserable I am going to make your very existence. I think five hundred pushups is a good start, and I want you to try and break the company record. For every, oh let’s say, ten seconds over the record you are, Cadet Fatty over there has to do one hundred of his own.”
“Yes Sir,” Marc replied crisply, unsure why he was bothering to still follow this man’s orders when quite clearly he wouldn’t be in ROTC after this. He knew that would cost him his scholarship but ‘some things just aren’t worth the price you have to pay for them,’ he thought. He saluted Rollins, once again wondering if he had watched every movie with a parody of a bad commander and actually was stupid enough to think that was how he was supposed to act. Marc dropped into position and pushed up into the start of his set of five hundred. Unlike the cadet he was defending, Marc actually looked crisply military and fit enough to do five hundred pushups; he had to coming from four generations of marines. He let his thoughts drift away from the mind numbing activity and only came back to hear “four hundred and ninety nine, five hundred. It’s a new record, over a minute shorter than the previous one.”
“Well,” the commander’s voice yelled over the cheers of the other cadets, “if you found that easy, I have another assignment for you.” Marc looked at him and saw the undisguised hate in his eyes. Not only had he made him look bad, he gained prestige while doing it, that record was going to stand for a long time. Collins stared into Marc’s eyes weighing just how much he thought the cadet could take. “Go get me the regimental flag from the top of the flag pole.” There was a moan from the gathered cadets; this was a frequent hazing ritual, no one could ever climb the sheer aluminum pole to get the flag and if they got up there they wouldn’t be able to hold on in order to get the flag off the pole.
Marc looked up at the top of the flag, it was at least twenty-five feet off the ground, the top of the flag illuminated by spotlights in the darkness; his eyes lost focus as he stared at it and then he said, “Yes Sir!” He took off toward the flag pole at a run and while still a few feet away jumped into the air as if to make a flying side kick. Some of the cadets likely thought he has trying to knock the flagpole down but he didn’t actually kick the pole. He went flying past to its side and reached out and grabbed it as he went by. He used his momentum to swing around the pole and spiral around moving up the pole in a series of acrobatic maneuvers the likes of which no one here had ever seen outside a circus. When he reached the top of the pole he wrapped his legs tightly around it, as if sitting Indian style in midair. He then deftly detached the flag, folded it neatly and loosening the grip his legs held on the pole slid swiftly to the bottom, flipping off at about five feet off the ground to land at the feet of the startled commander who had followed with the other cadets and stared at him in amazement. His eyes came back into focus, he looked down at the flag in his hand surprised, as if seeing it there just now, and wordlessly handed it to the commander.
Rollins looked ready to explode, his face was red, and his arm shook as he took the flag from Marc. “How did you do that?” he asked, barely getting the words out in his anger.
“No idea, Sir!” Marc answered which was actually true, he knew he did it but everything from the order to the landing was pretty much just a series of images to him, as if he were one of the other cadets watching him do it.
“I don’t need a smart ass in my company,” Marc knew what was coming. He had been waiting for it, he just felt sorry for the other cadets who would probably be even more terrified of Rollins now. “Cadet Bloom, I hereby…”
He never got to finish the pronouncement. Several Cadets and the Commander of the other ROTC Company ran in to the yard. One of them had a tablet in his hands, “shut up everyone, listen to this.”
Marc was too far back to see the screen but the report rang out loud in his ears, “… we can confirm that the event that occurred this morning in Meredith Falls was indeed a terrorist action against the United States. No one has claimed credit for the massive destruction as yet. Death tolls are unclear but are expected to be between ten and twenty thousand. Only one inhabitant of the town has been found alive at this time. Of the five heroes who entered the town shortly after the event four have been confirmed as killed in action and the last, Maximum, has been taken for medical care. Speculation…”
They never got to hear what the speculations were as everyone chimed in at once, talking over each other with their own speculations.
“… foreign terror cells…”
“… another Oklahoma City…”
“… 9/11 all over again…”
“… do you think there will be a draft?”
That last one reminded Marc of the days right after 9/11. He was only a young child at the time but he remembered the same speculations at his home. He remembered his older brother trying to sign up to join the Marine’s that day, though they turned him away not taking anyone making the decision to join in immediate aftermath of the attack, he went back and joined, and served, and died overseas. “There won’t be a draft, there wasn’t a draft in 2001, there won’t be a draft now.”
“So speaks Mr. Know it all,” it was Rollins of course.
“Look Commander, I was just saying there are always many men, heroes, who will join up to defend our nation when something like this happens. We haven’t needed a draft since Vietnam.”
“Heroes will join up, you think so?”
“I know so,” getting angry at the question which was an insult to the memory of his brother.
“Well if that’s true why don’t you go sign up, Mr. Hero?”
Marc’s eyes defocused just a bit, “Yes, Sir!”
The room was large and dark, lit only by the glow of multiple computer monitors. Desks and tables were haphazardly interspersed around the area with at least twenty computers sitting atop them all connected by a series of cables laid out like some giant insulated spider web. The area was messy, scattered here and there by each computer were dirty plates, crumbs from chips and other foods, empty bottles from beer and soda, some of which was spilled on the floor. There was an odor in the room, like the slight funk you would smell outside a gym’s locker room, sweaty clothes sitting trapped in a locker for days would radiate that scent.
A rapid tapping sound echoed from all around the room. At each computer sat a young man hunched over and furiously pounding on the keyboard. They didn’t speak to each other but they all worked in perfect coordination with one another. The click-click of the keys only highlighted the almost eerie lack of voices in this room jammed full of people. Every monitor showed a single figure moving at the command of the man at the keyboard. They were all in near first person perspective as seen from immediately behind the figure; they were all wearing some sort of stylized armor and wielding oversized, out of proportion, ancient weapons. The target of those weapons was a large dragon set back on the screen. There were bars across its form showing its strength and its remaining life. The dragon was nearly dead; once it was they would be the first guild in the world to have killed him and open up the next phase of the raid.
“Eddie,” yelled a woman’s voice, “come upstairs.”
Annoyed at the interruption, clearly in the middle of raid night, the youth sitting at the first of the computers, right next to the stairs leading down into this cavern of a basement, yelled up the stairs, “I’m busy mom.” He even glanced away from the screen, continuing to hit key after key triggering attack sequences one after the other. He could just picture the loot popping up as soon as the dragon died, first kill worldwide might get a nice bonus item, not to mention the bonus check from his sponsors and the interview with Online Gaming Today.
“Right now young man!” his mother yelled back down the stairs, didn’t she know this was important
“Mom, I’m about to kill Dragon Lord Garenza, that will make ‘Guild of One’ top rank in the world and bring me even more sponsors. When he’s dead I’ll go AFK and come upstairs.” He didn’t need to look to know all of the others sitting at the computers were shaking their heads in unison, each one’s expression reflecting the disbelief that someone would even think of interrupting them at such an important moment.
The door at the top of the stairs opened and bright light shone down into the basement. The click of his mother’s heels on her way down and the creak up each stair as she stepped on it echoed in his ears. ‘Not now, not now, not now’ he thought, ‘how could she be interrupting me now, now of all times. Five minutes all I need is five minutes.’ He didn’t have time to complain, five more minutes and he would be remembered forever, ‘well at least until the next expansion,’ he added silently in his head. He ignored this intruder into his world, even if it was his mother. He focused on the screens and keyboards in front of him and kept fighting the pixilated monster.
Everyone looked up suddenly as five of the screens went dead. The avatars of those players ceasing all motion and half of them dying on screen as the dragon lashed his tail and they did not move out of the way. Those among them playing healers shifted their focus to try and keep the remaining players alive and still defeat this enemy. As they could they glanced away from their screens just long enough to see to their horror that she had flipped the power switch on the surge suppressor into which a row of the computers were plugged. As the last light on the LAN network hub went out, the men sitting in front of those powerless computers appeared to pixelate and vanished just like their avatars had seconds before.
She ducked under a series of cables strung across a cluttered path between tables and moved to the next power strip. “Mom, what are you doing?” came the voices of those who remained shouting from around the room.
“I said now and I meant it Eddie.”
“Mom, no!!” he shouted as she flipped the next switch, six more computers went dark and six more players winked out of existence. “You don’t know what you’ve done; my sponsors were giving me a huge bonus to finish that raid tonight.”
“Well that’s just too bad.”
“You’re costing me thousands of dollars in revenues, not to mention the notoriety. This will make me a mockery of all my friends in the game.”
“What friends, you could be playing with friends,” she shouted in frustration, “that might bother me half as much. But you’re down here, totally cut off from real life and totally cut off from real people. You’re playing one big game of solitaire and calling it multiplayer. I won’t have it anymore.” She passed between a large desk and a rectangular folding table and reached for another power supply.
“Mom, I’ll never forgive you for this, you are deliberately ruining my life.”
“I don’t care, this isn’t a life, it’s an escape at best and slow withdrawal from life at worst,” she said as she moved to and flipped the last power switch and the rest of the computers went dark and all but one of the players disappeared. She turned to face the one remaining player, watching the dragon breathe fire on his avatar on the screen behind him. “Upstairs now!” was all she said.
“Mom I pay rent, I earn money, this is like me going to your work and burning your files.”
“Eddie, I said upstairs now!” she accented her statement by a determined motion of her arm, her pointer finger extended and showing the way up to the first floor.
“And that’s another thing,” he practically yelled at his mother and tossing irrelevancies at her in his frustration and anger, “I told you to call me Edgar, I don’t go by Eddie anymore.”
“No, Edgar is a man’s name; you’re a boy sitting in his parent’s basement playing games.”
“And earning major money doing it!” he shouted.
“I don’t care!” she shot back. “Upstairs now!” She pointed again, up toward the only source of light left in the basement.
He grumbled and marched up the stairs with her following right behind him.
“In the living room Eddie.”
He walked to the comfortable room still sulking over his raid being ruined. As always he noted his father’s chair sitting empty angled toward the television. His mother had left it tuned to CNN and a reporter’s voice was talking while a picture of ruined buildings played across the screen. ‘Some third world country at war that mom is going to insist on donating to,’ he thought until he started to listen to the report to go with the image.
“Mom, did you interrupt my raid so you could make me watch a show about one of your precious causes? I told you I’d donate part of my earnings to your charities. Hell it will only get me more respect in the online community, gamer with a heart and all that.”
“Shut up and listen Eddie.” She gestured toward the television.
She grabbed the remote off an end table and raised the volume. “Only one survivor of the attack on Meredith Falls has been found at this time. We are still hopeful that others will be found in the wreckage but it is unlikely many more have survived this tragedy. Known dead at this time include three heroes and one intern who went in as part of the initial search and rescue. Faraday, Tramp, Hard Drive will have their names inscribed on the Hero’s Memorial in Washington DC, it is expected that Boom Box will be awarded full certification posthumously and that his name will be inscribed alongside theirs.”
He stared at the television not hearing the words anymore. That wasn’t some third world nation, that was America, that was here. Meredith Falls, the sounded familiar somehow. “Mom, is that the town we passed through on our way to Chicago?”
“Yes it is Eddie.”
He remembered. It was the last vacation they took before dad had died. They drove to Chicago and spent the week going to museums and the aquarium. ‘It must have been six or seven years ago,’ he thought. That town, it was a nothing sort of place, they stopped at the diner for lunch before finishing the drive to the city. He didn’t want to stop he wanted to get to Chicago, he remembered throwing a tantrum and having to sit alone in the car while mom and dad finished lunch. That was the town he was looking at? He couldn’t believe it.
The picture winked out, he turned to see his mother still with the remote in her hand. “I’m tired of you wasting your gift, I’m tired of you playing games while horrible things happen in the world that you could help fix.”
“Mom, we had this conversation back when I first developed my powers and then again when I was getting close to high school graduation. We talked about this for hours on end, we spoke to advisors, trainers, heroes who came to school programs, all the career day folks. I don’t have what it takes to make it in the HCP. If by some miracle I actually got accepted, I probably wouldn’t even get past the first semester.”
Once he might have hoped to, once he might have fantasized about becoming a hero, it was a common fantasy, especially for a super. He lived in reality though, well his mother might argue that. The online fantasy world aside he understood the way the world worked for a super who just wasn’t good enough. He accepted it long ago, sure it might have bothered him back then, but he knew what was real and he knew where his talents lay.
“Do you think that this is something super heroes are going to deal with? This is an attack against our country. This is terrorism or a declaration of open war! They don’t need a glorified policeman in a costume; they need people to defend our nation. You want to fight bad guys well do it, get off that damn computer that’s stolen your life and fight the real bad guys. Forget about the HCP, I don’t care about the latest plot by Doctor Insanity, and I don’t care what the members of Force Majeure are doing, and I could care less about what supermodel Magnificent is dating. Half of what heroes do is over glorified publicity. The paparazzi see them as something between a drugged out teenage superstar and the next coming. I don’t want that life for you even if you could get it. I don’t want you to apply to the HCP,” she took a deep shuddering breath, “I want you to join Force Ops.”
For a second he couldn’t believe what he heard. Force Ops, people who couldn’t make it through, or even into, the HCP. Losers of the super world he heard them called. “Mom, are you crazy, if I don’t have the physical stamina for HCP what make you think I have it for the Army?”
“They will toughen you up, they aren’t like the HCP, they aren’t trying to cut you, they aren’t going for the select few. They want anyone with talents like yours to defend our country and stop travesties like we just saw.”
“Mom, it’s crazy, I’m not a hero, I just a guy living in his mother’s basement. My power, it’s not meant for fighting super villains. It makes me a great gamer but not much else.”
“Oh Eddie, you can be so much more,” she said with sympathy on her face. “I remember when you first got your powers, you wore your Titan t-shirt for a week straight insisting that someday you would be his intern,” she laughed. “I remember back before all the advisors had their say. You wanted to be a hero. You took a beach towel tied it around your neck and went a whole week insisting we call you ‘Many Eddies’, dad actually did it until you decided you would call yourself Eddie Infinity.” A tear slowly worked its way down her cheek, his cheeks were damp too.
“It was a silly name,” he managed to choke out as his whole body shuddered, half laughing, half crying. His mother came over and put her arms around him, the two of them stood holding each other, rocking back and forth crying.
‘I can’t be a hero, and I’m no soldier,’ he thought, ‘and Force Ops, they’re the laughing stock of the super world, not good enough to be heroes, not smart enough to make money off their powers. The dregs, hardly better than powered.’ How could he even think about joining Force Ops? He was making good money playing games and he was good at it. He had actual fans, most of whom he knew also lived in their parents’ basements. Force Ops, that’s just crazy. ‘Still,’ he thought, ‘they are defending our country, they are serving a purpose. Aren’t they heroes too.’
“Mom,” he began hesitantly his head coming up from her now damp shoulder, “you really think me joining Force Ops is a good idea?”
“Oh Eddie, I’ll miss you, I’ll worry about you constantly, but yes, I think it’s the only chance at getting what you really want, what you haven’t been able to bring yourself to admit you need. I think it’s the best idea in the world.”
He shook his head, he couldn’t believe what he was about to say. “Alright mom, I want you to be proud of me… I want... I want dad to be proud of me… I don’t want to disappoint either of you.”
“Eddie, as upset as I was with you using your talent for nothing but playing games I could never be truly angry with you.”
He sighed, “so, what do I do next?”
“I looked it up, you have to go to a Force Ops recruiter to enlist and the nearest one is in the city. I’ll take you there now Edgar, go get your wallet, you’ll need your driver’s license to sign up.”
The news feed across the giant video screens in Times Square was, of course, showing continuing footage of Meredith Falls. A huge crowd had gathered watching the progress of the rescue teams. Kenny York glanced up at the news feed, still only one survivor found, at least there weren’t any more deaths or injuries being reported among the heroes. Kenny pushed his way through the crowd. He had to be careful, in his haste he could easily hurt someone by accident. His goal was ahead of him. Sitting on a traffic island between Broadway and Seventh Ave., it was a boxlike, freestanding building, two stories tall. There were five shields adorning the narrow side he was approaching. He looked at each in turn, the names of the groups they represented in block letters below them: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and lastly Force Ops. Force Ops, he knew, was technically a division of the Army, but most people considered it a separate branch of the military. Above the five shields in large letters were the words, ‘U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Station.’ That was where he wanted to go. He had to go around to the other side of the building to enter. This side looked significantly different than the rest of the building. Another giant video screen took up the entire face of the second story and like all the other screens in Times Square it was showing scenes from Meredith Falls. The first story looked almost dingy, like an old store front. On the right there as a metal framed frosted glass door. The remainder of the wall was a large window and on the inside of the glass was a large poster that said ‘U.S. Armed Forces Career Center,’ set above the familiar visage of Uncle Sam pointing outward resting atop the slogan ‘I Want You.’
He had travelled all the way to Manhattan to the armed forces recruiting center in Times Square to find a recruiting station that had a Force Ops representative present. After all the fuss with recruiters speaking to him when he was approaching High School graduation, he didn’t expect it to be so difficult. ‘I know I broke a bunch of rules getting here’ he thought as he pictured windows shattering as he flew past, ‘but that shouldn’t matter to them.’
Kenny opened the door slowly. He entered the recruiting station set in the midst of one of the best known areas of Manhattan. The inside of the station was small, the whole thing couldn’t me much more than five hundred square feet. He saw five cubicles set up in the main area, there were a fair number of men and even a few women milling around. A man in a Marine uniform was standing addressing the crowd. “Once again, for those of you who just came in, we are not taking any recruits today.” Kenny stared a bit confused, then a memory from childhood resurfaced, he couldn’t have been more than five years old, home from school, watching the aftermath of the attack that leveled the Twin Towers. He vaguely recalled the news anchor saying recruiters had closed their doors due to the influx of people wanting to join up while not thinking straight in the hysteria of the day. He stepped past the crowd, speeding up slightly before the Marine could react and approached the cubicle with the Force Ops seal next to it. He glanced inside the small cubby. There was a man in a black uniform, with an insignia indicating he was a Captain, sitting behind a desk.
There were two flags flanking the desk, one the stars and stripes of the United States, the other the insignia of Force Ops. The seal of Force Ops was painted on the wall behind the desk. An American Bald Eagle, lightning bolts in its claws, emblazoned directly over a shield. Encircling the seal was the motto of Force Ops, “Nostras in servitutem”, Our power in service.
The Captain looked up just as the Marine came up behind Kenny and attempted to put a “come with me” grip on his shoulder and wrist. Kenny let him take hold and simply ignored it. The Captain raised an eyebrow and said, “Staff Sergeant, I think you should just leave this one to me. He’s a bit above your weight class.”
The Marine glanced over at the Captain and let go of Kenny. Throwing a quick salute he growled, “Yes Sir!” obviously not happy with the suggestion that he couldn’t handle a kid like Kenny.
“We aren’t taking anyone today young man,” the Captain echoed the Marine’s previous statement. “We find it’s not a good idea to enlist people when they are caught in the grip of hysteria that follows things like Meredith Falls. They end up deciding they made a rash decision and no one is happy.”
“I’m not making a rash decision Sir,” Kenny replied as sincerely as he could manage. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, Meredith Falls just provided the incentive for me to finally take a stand and make the choice I wanted to make. Not the choice others wanted for me.”
“Well, if that’s the case you can come back in a week or so when the immediate rush of emotion has ended and enlist then. Judging from what I’m sensing from you we’d be happy to have you.”
“Sir, I really need to sign up now. In a week it will be too late.”
“Son, joining the United States military and serving your country is the right of every American. That won’t be any different next week.”
“Yes Captain, it will. Next week will be too late.”
“And why is that?”
“I’m supposed to join the HCP,” he said pulling five letters out from his pocket. He spread them out on the desk. He had heard most supers in Force Ops had lower level powers, people who could never make it into, let alone through the HCP. Each letter was from one of the HCP programs around the country. Each was an acceptance. “I’m supposed to start at Lander next when summer ends.”
“You still have several weeks before you are supposed to report to Lander. Join next week. Send Lander your regrets. There is nothing preventing you from taking the time we are requiring as a cooling off period to let the outrage melt away a bit.”
“Umm…” Kenny hesitated, he wasn’t here to air dirty laundry, he was here to join Force Ops.
“Son, if you are serious about joining Force Ops, you had best get used to answering direct questions from superior officers. Clearly there is something else going on here.”
“Yes, Sir, of course,” the words tripped out of his mouth, “it’s just that my father is insisting I go to the HCP and next week is the deadline where they can’t take new students. If I drop out after that, well I don’t really think it’s fair to take a spot and then withdraw leaving it empty and not giving someone else a chance at it. And I can’t withdraw unless there is no option to go back or dad will make me go back.”
“You’re eighteen, I assume, or you wouldn’t be here to sign up?”
“Then if it means that much to you withdraw your name and don’t tell your father till afterwards.”
“No, Sir… I mean Yes, Sir, but that won’t work Sir.”
“And why not?”
“My father will find out.”
“If you’re over eighteen the school won’t tell your father, you aren’t a minor, he doesn’t automatically get notified.”
“No Sir, not officially.”
“And why do you think he will find out anyway?” Kenny mumbled a reply which the Captain could not understand. “Son if you can’t even say it perhaps you have some growing up to do before considering the military life.”
“I said, my father is Adamant,” he choked out hurriedly.
The Captain froze for a second. “I see.” His brow creased momentarily. “And you have the same power set?”
“Umm… actually I have more power, maybe one and a half or two times as strong,” he blushed as he said it, embarrassed to appear like a braggart. “You see, in my family the power has been growing stronger for at least three or four generations. My grandfather fought along Captain Starlight, my great-grandfather was a circus strongman famous for tying barbells in knots. Everyone thought it was a trick but we still have some of the barbells at home.” Kenny was babbling now, a full information dump being triggered by the one question. “My mother, she’s a super too and I got her powers as well and amplified just like dad’s powers were, they actually work together, they said it was synergistic abilities and no one had ever seen such a perfect melding before,” he said in one long stream of thought without pause.
“Take a breath son. I can understand your concerns, I’m sure your father has many close friends in the HCP and someone would tell him if you withdrew, even though they aren’t supposed to.”
The Captain raised his hand stopping Kenny before he could finish what he was saying. “And you want to be enlisted so there isn’t anything he can do about it, he can’t pressure you to stick with the HCP.” Kenny just nodded in answer. The Captain sat for a long moment considering it before he finally shook his head. “Listen son, if what you say is true you have a major gift, but as much as I would love to tweak the HCP by enlisting you into Force Ops, I have my orders. No one enlists today. Come back in a week and I will happily swear you in.”
“But Captain,” Kenny started to protest but was interrupted when the phone on the Captain’s desk rang.
He picked up the receiver after one ring. “Captain Reynolds… Yes… Yes… Well no, the orders were… Yes… Yes Sir!”
The Captain hung up the phone and looked at Kenny again before opening a drawer in the desk and pulling out a clipboard with a stack of papers on it.
“Timing apparently is everything, the orders to not enlist anyone this week have been rescinded,” he said curtly. “Mr. York, if you would fill out this paperwork, we can begin processing your enlistment.”
Kenny took the clipboard and pen offered by the Captain and began to fill in the personal data required on the sheets. Only after he handed it in, swore his oath, and was given a time and place to report for training, did he realize that he had never given the Captain his name.
The heavy beat of the music and the subtle strobe of the lighting all called attention to the beautiful woman walking, no strutting forward wearing a tight fitting gossamer gown in bright primary colors. Donna stopped at the edge of the stage, put her left hand on her hip and struck a pose. Suddenly massive applause rang out from the audience as she stood there wearing the latest creation from Adriánne, this season’s hottest new designer with her new collection called ‘Superhero Chic’. Flashes went off all across the hall as everyone tried to capture the perfect moment on the catwalk. She pivoted on her heel and strutted back up the stage and behind the curtain, stripping off her clothes as soon as she was out of sight so she could be placed into the next outfit she was modeling. Three people stood around her nearly naked body applying powder and then draping each new piece of clothing over her so it fell just right. She wondered for a second where her modesty went, when she first started acting she blushed horribly the first time she was asked to do a nude scene, she never did dredge up the courage to do it. Now she stood there in just a pair of skimpy panties with she wasn’t sure how many people around her and barely noticed it. ‘It’s amazing how much you change in this business,’ she thought to herself.
The next outfit was a one piece bathing suit in metallic mesh that shimmered in several different hues. It subtly reminded her of the costume that Gemstone made famous. She stepped into a pair of matching strappy sandals and a filmy, see-through, robe was placed over her shoulders while a broad hat and sunglasses were put on her head. Two other models had gone down the runway and back in the time it took her to change outfits and now she was ready. She took her place behind the model about to step on to the runway and waited for the shift in music that signaled her turn to go. Only one more rotation and the show would be over.
Her musical cue came and she stepped out once more her walk much more casual and flirty than the measured strut she used in the formal gown.
‘I can’t believe they almost canceled this,’ she thought to herself as she sauntered down the catwalk, keeping the pace set by the music which had taken on a light amusing air. Monitors set along the path she walked flashed images of Gemstone in action evoking the similarities and making every woman in the audience wish that if they can’t be her, at least they can look like her. ‘Sure the destruction of that small town was terrible but that’s no reason to stop a fashion show.’ She considered her thoughts as she easily turned into the climactic pose at the farthest end of the stage. ‘Alright, truth be told, canceling it would probably have been more respectful, but I need the money this show is going to pay me.’ Her last acting job was months ago and she wasn’t getting any residuals from any of her work, none of it was being shown. Modeling on the runway was her last chance and this was her big break. She was going to be the final model for the biggest show of the season.
She posed just long enough for the fashion reporters to jot down their description, the photographers to snap a few shots, and the buyers to get an eyeful and then she moved on heading backstage for her final clothing change. ‘I have to thank my lucky stars that Mitchel, that slimy PR guy, thought of turning it into a benefit.’ The ads suddenly read ‘Superhero Chic supports our heroes in their efforts in Meredith Falls.’ She had to admit it was brilliant even though she felt like she had to shower, and not from the sweat she was working up.
Passing through the curtain separating the audience from the backstage area she headed to her changing area. Something was wrong, her assistants weren’t there, just one intern holding her street clothes. “What’s going on,” she said annoyed as all hell. “Where are my dressers? Where’s the finale piece? I’ve only got seven minutes before my cue.”
The intern shook under her sudden vocal assault. “I… I don’t know Miss Bristow. I was just told to hand you your things, tell you to change and meet Mr. Westin in the trailer.”
“What? Mitchel in the trailer, that doesn’t make any sense. What about the finale? I’m wearing the damn showpiece.”
“I, uh, well that is, uh, Neveah is changing into it now.”
“Neveah? That whore, she probably slept with Mitchel to get the finale. That was mine. I’ll call a lawyer, I’ll have his balls for this one.” She looked over at the trembling intern, just some college student trying to break into the fashion industry. It’s not her fault she realized. ‘What’s the expression? Don’t kill the messenger. OK then, I guess I’ll go kill the one who gave her the message.’
She grabbed her clothes from the intern and started to strip off the bathing suit. The intern blushed suddenly. ‘I probably would have myself a year or so ago,’ she thought. Then she stopped for a second before pulling her clothes on quickly, ‘Oh my I wonder what I’m doing to her, doesn’t matter what her orientation is, I’m sure as angry as I am right now I’m probably hitting her buttons about as hard as they’ve ever been hit.’ She blushed a bit herself at the realization but simply added, “it’s not your fault.” Whether she meant the message or the confusion she was probably feeling right now even she wasn’t sure. She stalked off heading toward the trailer just as she heard applause coming from the other side of the curtain. ‘Well I’m sure this will only add to my reputation,’ she thought ironically.
She stalked to the trailer that served as an office for the people running the show. She didn’t bother to knock she would have ripped the door off the hinges if she could. “Mitchel you god damned piece of shit, I am going to sue you for everything you are worth. I don’t know what Neveah did for you to get my spot but you better hope it was good because no one is going to touch you after I get through with you.”
“Donna,” he started calmly.
“Don’t you try to calm me down,” she threw back not letting him get a word in. “I’ve seen you handle angry models before but none of them ever had the finale pulled from them as they were about to change for it. I will make you sorry you were ever born. Just because I wouldn’t sleep with you, you think…”
“Donna, shut up before you say something that will make you unemployable.”
She froze, what was he talking about unemployable?
“That stopped you short didn’t it?” He looked right at her unblinking, there was a slight twitch in his left eye. “Donna, this isn’t about who you or Neveah would or would not sleep with. It’s about your, shall we say, special circumstances.”
If talking about her being unemployable gave her pause then that froze her solid. She felt her breath stop, she had to force herself to actually gulp at the air. “What… what do you mean special circumstances?”
“Donna, we know about your abilities.
“M..M..My what,” Donna stammered, “what are you talking about?”
“Donna, please, you think we don’t know why you failed as an actress. Everyone loved you in rehearsals, everyone was thrilled in primary filming. But in editing it all fell apart. Playback just couldn’t capture whatever it was you were radiating.”
“Who told you that?” she demanded. “It’s all a bunch of rumors started by jealous people, you know what Hollywood is like. I wouldn’t go to the casting couch… you know that first hand. It killed my career, and now it’s killing my modeling,” she accused.
He sighed in response, “you are beautiful, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and I work with women considered the most beautiful in the world.” He stared at her, gazed longingly at her, a look of hunger coming over him, “truth be told, I probably would give almost anything to get you into my bed.” He turned away so as not to have to look at her, “but that alone tells me something more than just beauty,” she could see his shoulders slump from behind, she knew from experience that his heart, such as he had, was breaking.
“OK,” she started, deciding to take a different approach, “let’s say I am doing something. Let’s say people who watch me model are drawn to me, like Ulysses and the Sirens. So what, isn’t that what you want, people to watch me and think the clothes I am wearing are making me that way?”
“Yes and no,” he replied, turning again to face her, “too good is bad.”
“What how can too good be bad?”
“You had problems as an actress, you never made a dent as a photo model for the same reasons, the test shots never looked right. So you decided to become a runway model, recorded whatever it is you do doesn’t work but live… well there it should be an asset.” He was hitting too close to the mark for her comfort, it was like he could see right through her.
He paused and half turned to look away before deciding to face her for his accusations. “Even in the catwalk shows you have a problem. We aren’t the only ones who know. Word of your... umm… special circumstances has gotten out.”
Shock played across her face, she thought she had kept the secret well. No one ever talked to her like this before, her contracts were just ended, telling her she didn’t film well in the end. “Who… who knows? What are they saying?”
“Rumors have reached the buyers, we’ve been informed they aren’t sure if they like a piece because it’s a good piece or because you are wearing it. In this business, uncertain buyers are only slightly better than buyers who are certain they hate a piece. They look at the pictures taken on the runway to decide what to purchase for their store and how many units to order. It’s only in bad television that they are so moved by the show they come up checkbook in hand to buy at the edge of the runway. And you my dear, don’t photograph well,” he finished wryly.
“So, different medium, same problem.”
“I’m afraid it’s worse than that, in that last walk people actually thought you were Gemstone come to model the outfit and represent Adriánne. Do you know how many legal problems that is going to cause us? We are already getting calls from her agent and her lawyers.”
“I didn’t mean to… I just was trying to do my best showing off the outfit.”
“Yes, I know and you looked fantastic and so did the outfit but it was too much. Accenting it is one thing but you are enhancing it beyond what anyone can believe and then the reality doesn’t match the show.”
“So… does that mean I’m going to be sued by Gemstone?”
“No, there really isn’t anything she can do and she knows it. We didn’t advertise her coming, we didn’t use her name, we didn’t do anything misleading, at least not in writing and not intentionally. We didn’t use her image and the photos will back us up.” He laughed, “see there are good parts to that.”
“So why am I getting dragged in here.”
“This is a grab by her agent, believe me I know him. You may think I’m slimy but that guy gives slime a bad name. He inherited Gemstone’s account from his father who was, what I’m sure you would consider, good man. I’m sure even Gemstone’s legendary patience won’t be able to put up with him much longer.” He pulled out a folder, “but all of that is beside the point. Just because she can’t sue us now doesn’t mean we, or more specifically you, can keep doing it. We pulled you here and now to show others we don’t support that.”
Donna realized the full implications of what he was saying and suddenly broke down in tears. He approached her quickly, she knew that he almost couldn’t help. “No, don’t come over here.” But it was too late he was kneeling beside her and hugging her to him.
‘It’s just the power,’ she thought, ‘he’s still an unmitigated ass and a lecher to boot.’ But she held him and hugged him to her just as fiercely.
“Hey, it will be OK,” he said soothingly. “It’s not the end of the world.”
“Yes it is, there’s nothing left,” she replied in a shuddering voice between wracking sobs.
“Of course there is, shush, calm down, dry the tears, and tell me why you think this is the end of the world.”
“I can’t do film or photo shoots because I don’t come across the same way when I’m recorded. I can’t do live theatre because I’m too distracting. And now I can’t do runway because I make the clothes look too good?”
“Well that and because none of the photos of you in the clothes look the same,” he said without thinking. “I… I’m sorry, force of habit.”
“I have nothing left,” she began to shake, tears flowing freely into his shoulder.
“Donna,” he said soothingly yet still sounding slightly smarmy to her, “you’re a beautiful woman, even in pictures. The equal of any model here. Just turn it off, don’t use your abilities, and you can keep doing this. Use them here and there for a boost when the cameras are off, that’s fine, but don’t use them show something incredible to everyone which doesn’t quite look the same in the proofs.”
“It’s not that simple. I can’t just stop using it.”
“Sure it is,” he whispered gently to her stroking her hair, “you’re using it as a crutch but you don’t need it. Just turn off your power.”
“I…” she suddenly pushed him away and stood turning away from him head slung low. “No… you don’t understand… I…”
A look of shock came across his face, she didn’t need to see it to know it was there, she had seen it before on her parent and her sister, on her best friend, and on her former fiancée. She didn’t turn back to face him, she didn’t need to see it again. Even on someone she couldn’t stand she couldn’t face that look. “Wait a minute Donna. Are you saying? Holy sh... Are you telling me you’re a powered?”
“I’ll get my things and just go.”
“Wait Donna! You… You’re… I…”
“OK Mitchel,” she said hesitantly turning back toward him at last, “I’ve been through this before. What’s it going to take to keep your silence?” She looked at him with what she hoped was a suggestive look, despite the red eyes and running makeup.
He looked at her, emotions clearly warring on his face, “Oh and she took me up to a height and showed me all the kingdoms of heaven and earth,” he misquoted.
She looked at him confused.
“Donna, I know you don’t think much of me.”
“No… I…” she stammered.
“No, let me finish. I know you think I have no soul. And maybe you are right but I would like to think I am not that person. If I took what I think you are offering… well let’s just say I couldn’t live with myself.” He stared right at her, every part of him told of the longing he had for her, even in her current state. “And,” he added slowly, “if I did it, I would know I had no soul. Your secret is safe with me but I suggest you get out of this business. Do you need any money, you sounded a bit desperate and there are many people out there who wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of it.”
“No… I’m just going to go.” She was already half way through the trailer door when suddenly she turned back and simply said, “thank you Mitchel. You’re a better man than either of us thought you were.” And then she left, nearly running to get away from him before one of them did something stupid.
She went to her locker and cleared it out. The area was pretty much empty at this point so she wandered around backstage wondering where to go and what to do with her life. She went to the stage itself, ‘one last trip down the catwalk,’ she thought and passed one last time through the curtains.
The stage was a disaster, everyone had left to go to the after party, chairs were knocked over, papers were scattered on the floor. Empty plastic champagne glasses tossed wherever the drinkers felt like, sticky residue drying where it spilled.
Only a few of the custodial staff were there, they weren’t cleaning though. The video screens which showed bright and enticing images to compliment the clothes as the models glided passed them were now showing scenes from the devastation at Meredith Falls.
CNN’s “A View from the Air” was on twenty screens spread across the entire catwalk as well as a mosaic of screens above the backdrop. ‘It’s amazing how popular a news show about supers and powered hosted by a retired hero has become,’ she thought. ‘I wonder how easy he found it to move on from his chosen career.’ The sheer sarcasm of the question even came through in the quiet of her mind.
A chorus of Joshua Devonshire, who was ‘All-Seeing’ in his hero days, was opining on the multiple screens impossible to ignore due to the sheer overwhelming repetition. “The prevailing belief is that the tragedy of Meredith Falls was indeed an attack on the town. Whether it was terrorism, villainy, or technology gone terribly wrong no one is sure.”
‘Well at least he’s admitting his ignorance instead of bulling through on sheer imagination.’
“Despite this,” the many images continued, “there has been a public outcry for more protection and more prevention of super power related attacks. Calls for increasing the Hero Certification Programs, eliminating the Hero Certification Programs, stricter laws and harsher punishments for villainous supers, increasing the role of Forces Ops, the founding of a police force made entirely of supers, and expanding the entire Department of Variant Human Affairs have all been heard.”
She stopped listening and wandered out of the hall. She had decisions to make and no time to make them. Devonshire’s words ran through her head over and over. There would be changes, of that she was sure. But what would they be? The HCP didn’t matter to her one way or another, nor would a police force of supers or changes to the DVA. She worried what stricter laws on powereds would do to her. After what Mitchel told her about the lawyers and their threats, she no longer knew when anyone would accuse her of anything. She didn’t want to end up in jail and right now it looked like she was going to end up homeless. If that happened she was sure jail would be the best thing she could hope for.
‘Devonshire said one more thing,’ she considered hesitantly, ‘Force Ops. How can I be thinking about that? I’m not Army material. But what am I? I’m not an actress, I’m not a model, I’m not good at anything else. I’ve always had my looks to fall back on and that’s what’s causing me all my problems now.’
‘Well,’ she thought coming to a decision that she hated only slightly less than being homeless, jailed, raped, or murdered. ‘The Army was always supposed to be the last resort for people who had nowhere else to go. Maybe… well maybe.’
A group of teenage boys and girls, all wearing white outfits with belts of various colors proclaiming them to be martial artists of various skill levels, were gathered around a monitor anchored on the wall in the viewing room of the White Fox Dojo in Chicago. Normally it was set to loop promotional material but right now it was tuned to a news station.
Like most people at that very moment, they were watching continuing coverage of the tragedy at Meredith Falls. The screen switched from distant shots of the town to a reporter recapping what had happened so far. Up till now it was the same information repeating again and again, so called experts discussing things they knew nothing about, speculation and absolute fantasy. But now it looked like they were going to finally get some new material.
“The first responders have withdrawn from the town for the evening for reasons of safety. The entire search and rescue group will finally enter Meredith Falls in the morning and begin the difficult task of digging through the rubble in search of survivors,” a woman’s voice said in a broadcaster’s perfect Midwestern English. “Currently, we have confirmed and can report the following:”
“Of the initial heroes on scene, Faraday, Tramp, Boom Box, and Hard Drive are all confirmed dead.”
“Maximum has been found alive and has been evacuated from the area for immediate medical care.”
Cam looked over at the youngsters hearing about the deaths of their heroes. He wondered how this would affect them, would any have nightmares, would any be traumatized. He was their teacher, their sensei; it was part of him to concern himself with their wellbeing, both physical and mental. In a more walled off corner of his mind, he wondered just what it was that could hurt Maximum so badly that he had to be evacuated instead of simply being treated by an onsite healer. An earlier report said Willowbark was with them. There wasn’t much that woman couldn’t heal.
“Of the 45 heroes who went into the town under the leadership of Tantamount:”
“Cleavage, Arc Angel, Conduit, Glint, Tundra, Ideal, and Elevate were all seriously wounded but treated at the camp established outside of town and were able to return to duty.”
That was what Cam was talking about, Maximum should be with them now, just like those other seven heroes. It meant there was something significant they weren’t saying.
“Braindrain was evacuated to the supers unit at Barnes Hospital in Chicago. She was unconscious and is listed in serious but stable condition. The entire medical staff and all student healers from the HCP program at Sizemore Tech have joined the staff at Barnes to help in any way they can as more injured are evacuated to the Chicago area.
That surprised Cam just as much, to hear a telepath was evacuated and unconscious usually means their own defenses shut their mind down to protect it. She might need other telepaths to coax her out and he didn’t recall hearing the names of any particularly powerful ones in the list of the heroes and other supers all waiting to step back into that town.
“Lastly, the hero known as Rasa, lost his life in the search when an unstable building he was searching apparently gave way on top of him. He failed to respond to radio calls and was found buried under the collapsed rubble. A tragic loss to the world.”
Cam couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Of course it was possible that any hero could have bad luck and the misfortune to be under a pile of falling debris. But it’s hard to believe that was enough to kill him. Rasa wasn’t physically enhanced so it was certainly possible but something doesn’t seem right.
“As the various PEERS groups prepare to enter the town in the morning an official of the HCP programs, speaking anonymously, has stated that the programs are considering sending the junior and senior classes of all five training programs to aid in the search and rescue effort. The HCP has declined official comment.”
Cam couldn’t believe what he was hearing, heroes were dead, others were seriously injured, maybe beyond the ability for healers to fix them and they were talking about sending in unseasoned students. That’s like putting kittens in a kennel.
His thought was interrupted by his cell phone playing a piece of Mambo #5, “… a little bit of Jessica here I am…”
“I’ve been waiting for your call.” Cam said by way of greeting.
“Cam you utter ass why aren’t you here, we’re just a few hours from you.”
“Jess, I have responsibilities here.”
“While I’m sure your students will be devastated without you to teach them beginner Karate, you should be here helping out.”
“No Jess, you know that’s not my life.”
“Wrong Cam, I know helping people is all you want to do. You just didn’t want the bullshit that went with it.”
“Well maybe, but I’m sure no one there wants to see my face. I’m a waste of talent and ability and didn’t just waste mine, I wasted those who supported me and sacrificed for me and…”
“Enough Cam, yeah you’re a waste of space, but you don’t need to be.”
“Thanks, I love you too Jess, I’m going to hang up now, I feel like putting my fist through a TV.”
“No Cam, no hanging up, no breaking things. Don’t all those martial arts you teach tell you to be calm and balanced, violence isn’t the point of learning to fight or some nonsense like that?”
“Heh,” he chuckled, “yeah well I’m not always great at practicing what I preach.”
“Listen Cam, I’m busy here and I need to tell you some bad news. Lori…”
“Yeah, I heard.”
“No Cam, it’s worse than anything you could have heard.”
“Oh god is she…”
“No, but it might have been better if she was.”
“Damn,” he said, going a bit more numb inside, “how’s Luke?”
“How do you think he is?” she answered back spitefully. “That’s a stupid question.”
“Cam,” she said stopping him before he could make another excuse or derail the conversation again, “listen, they need me, I need to go, but here’s the deal. I’m calling in the debt.”
“No!’ she shouted in his ear. “Don’t talk just listen,” her voice had an edge of sadness and rage all mixed together. “You owe me and you know it and now I’m calling in the marker. I want you here, now, and then you and I are going to talk about just what you are going to do with the rest of your life and it’s not teaching little boys and girls to shatter boards. Be here before dawn.” The phone went dead in his hands.
He shook with suppressed anger, at Jess, at Lori, at himself, at the world. He had to let it out. If he didn’t the wrong person saying the wrong thing to him was going to get hurt.
He went into his personal training room, it was where he alone went to exercise or work on his frustrations. Things had been good lately, he hadn’t stepped foot in here in a long time. His old training gear was here, draped in tarps so no one who came in would see what he had there. He wasn’t here for the gear though, he simply needed to purge the anger he was feeling away from anyone who might set it off.
For several minutes he simply stood in the center of a large mat, similar to what gymnasts used for floor routines, if perhaps a bit springier. Anyone watching wouldn’t think he was doing anything but standing absolutely still but there was more to it than that, breathing in and out, focusing, meditating. When he felt he was in control enough he began to run through some basic katas in order to warm up. When those did nothing to alter his mood and bring him calm he moved on to more advanced forms. He was a master of several different styles; his trophies from competition and exhibition were displayed outside in the lobby to bring in more customers. He moved from simple Karate to Tai Chi to Muay Thai to Krav Magah and then to the more energetic dance of Capoeira. When none of these satisfied his need he at last moved on to his own personal style which blended elements from all the traditions he knew and fit his own unique abilities as well.
The peace that normally came from the repetition of the katas eluded him. He had known deep down that it wouldn’t be enough and he knew what he needed to do now. He needed to hit something. To let the anger out in a focused burst before it consumed him from within. He walked over to the covered equipment and pulled off one of the tarps, coughing as he choked on the dust that flew into the air. There was frame under the tarp, it was dull and gray-black, some alloy originally developed for armor to withstand extremes of force. It consisted of two platforms that could be adjusted to hold boards or cinder blocks to be broken. Next to it sat stacks of boards. They had a grain to them, like wood, but they were definitely not made of wood. He turned on the power to the frame, it began to hum as huge electromagnets in the base began to spin and generate force. One board after another was placed between the two stands, five, ten, twenty; eventually he had a stack nearly four feet thick with barely a space in between them, the frame held them only inches from the floor.
He took position on the far side of them, facing the door. He closed he eyes and focused on his breathing. He heard the door to the room open, he ignored it. He heard a voice shout out to him, “Cam, what are you doing,” he ignored it. He opened his eyes and only saw the stack of boards as he shouted a “Kiai!!!” at the top of his lungs and brought his curved hand down on the top of the stack. The boards shattered under the force of the blow, half flying to his left and half flying to his right. The magnetic field, meant to prevent them from leaving the frame and doing damage took hold. Most of them were stopped but with a shriek, the top few which had the most direct force applied to the shot out of the grip of the field and flew through the air. The positioning of the frame was such that none of them flew toward the entrance to the room but the rest of the room didn’t fare as well. There were crashing sounds as the boards crashed into other tarp covered pieces of equipment. Some of the very top boards arced through the air until the collided with the walls causing the entire building to shake and burying themselves twelve inches deep into reinforced concrete blocks. When Cam opened his eyes to look, the entire stack was split down the middle. His business partner George was standing in the door with a look of shock on his face, it must have been him who shouted before he broke the boards. Behind George students were starting to appear searching for the source of the crash. George quickly entered the room and pulled the door closed behind him with a shout to the students to return to the dojo and wait for them.
Cam hadn’t moved at this point, he just stood there focusing on his breathing. Images from the television were running through his head, a voice echoing words, “dead… wounded… serious but stable condition… tragic loss to the world.” And then Jess’ voice, “I’m calling in the debt,” a debt that could never be repaid. Other voices without faces to attach to them “waste… loser… shameful… uncaring…” He had faced those voices in his nightmares for the last seven years. And now he didn’t know if he could keep facing them.
George was standing in front of him now. He had grabbed him by the shoulders and was shaking him to try to get a response. “Cam what are you doing, those are watered steel boards… how did you?”
“They’re not steel George,” Cam finally ended his silence. ‘He sees the grain and thinks of folded steel, makes sense but even watered steel would have just bent around my arm,’ Cam thought to himself, ‘but telling you that wouldn’t help here George.’
“Your hand, is it OK?” he asked as he grabbed it to examine expecting to find it shattered beyond repair. George had seen his share of mishaps in competition, broken bones was one of the simpler injuries he’s had to deal with.
“I’m fine George,” he said numbly, “no… I’m not fine. I’m… well I’m not fine. George, the dojo is yours. I need to go.”
“Mine? Go? Cam where are you going? We have classes, I may own half of this place but I can’t teach them only you can. This thing on the news it’s only going to bring even more people in the doors who want to learn to defend themselves in an emergency.”
“I can’t teach them to do that,” Cam said with a sigh, “they can’t protect themselves. They need people who can.”
“And people will, you saw the list of heroes and corpies who showed up at that small town. Remember how many went to Manhattan for 9/11?”
“I remember. I still have to go.”
“Cam, let’s sit down and talk about this, I’ll pull out a bottle of your favorite scotch. Plenty of people have a loss of faith when a tragedy like this happens. I’ll help you get through it.”
“I know you would help if you could George, you’re a true friend. A better friend than I’ve been to you, a better friend than I deserve. But, no George, I haven’t lost faith from this crisis. I lost it a long time ago. I think it’s time I find it again.” He walked past George, ignoring his protests, and out of the room wondering how he was going to cover three hundred miles before dawn.