We are fortunate at Amerika to be able to present the second installation of the exciting dystopia saga, Crosses & Double-Crosses by Clayton Barnett. You can find your copy on the Jungle River store, but first, read this week’s segment of the story, “New Rules.”
Out and down the corridor, she took the stairs up to the third floor of the south wing. Thomson’s office had been right in the middle of the hall, its outside window facing south. It will be unbearably hot in the summer. Sylvia gathered together what had been his immediate entourage in an empty room at the end of the hall. She announced that while, yes, she would be bringing a few of her people along, there would be no mass firings, no vertical stroke. After all, they had been working together in some capacity or another since Barrett had brought her on. The relief in the room was obvious.
Returning to what had been Thomson’s office she noted that any personal effects were gone. She placed her New Mexico folder into the middle of the desk and looked under it. With a smile, she turned the little space heater on full.
Going through the file cabinet, she pulled anything that caught her eye for later review. Information did not always flow freely in the Extraordinary Commission: there were too many lives at stake. When the young man who had been Thomson’s secretary tapped at the door and asked if she needed anything, she allowed her eyes to first glance at the wall clock then the organizer on the desk.
Ten after six on Thursday evening. One day simply becomes another in this job. With an unpleasant smile, Sylvia realized she had not had a day off since she had begun.
“I’m fine. You and the rest of the staff are dismissed. Until 0700 tomorrow. And have a driver for me around ten tonight.”
With a nod and no words he left and shut the door.
She sat down and began with the New Mexico file. Three-quarters of the way through, by the light of the desk lamp, she was surprised at another scratch at her door. The young man announced it was 2200 and her car and driver were in the courtyard.
“What’s your name?” she asked, leaning down to turn off the heater.
“John Jones, ma’am,” he replied.
“You didn’t have to stay, John,” she said, coming around the desk and turning the lamp off.
“I could not leave the Deputy Director, ma’am. That would be dereliction.”
Sylvia paused to look at him: maybe twenty-two; brown hair in a high-and-tight, hazel eyes, about her height. His face announced he’d had acne at some point. Dressed as a typical ExComm ranker. She was pleased he held her stare.
“I’d planned to bring my own secretary with me. I still do to, actually.” She saw his face fall just a little at that. “However, John, I think that I’ll have much more interesting work for you, instead. Let’s go.”
He followed behind her in silence. Just before walking out she noted the guard was still in front of Barrett’s office. The central court was a-blaze in lights. The car before her turned over its engine. Jones opened the back door.
“Evening, John,” she said getting in. “Go home, too!”
“I shall. You look homeward, Miss Fernandez,” he replied, swinging the door shut.
What did he…! What do I barely recall…! She stabbed the button to roll down the window but they were already through the exit and out on the street. The car’s heater was blasting full but Sylvia could not stop shivering.
She was still unsteady while making her way past the man with a rifle just inside the ground floor doors to her apartment building. Since it was occupied mostly by government employees in a city formerly rocked by anarchist riots, present times called for prudence. Only one of the three elevators was working but she chose to wait rather than brave the six flights of stairs.
Entering her flat some minutes later, Sylvia longed to simply collapse onto her bed until her alarm woke her at five. But… it’s been days since my last shower. And after all, I’m a DD of ExComm now… if I don’t deserve a hot bath, who does?
Sylvia got water running into the tub while prepping her clothes for the morning. Her dirty clothes came off and she brushed her teeth to get the awful taste of whiskey out of it. That did give her an idea: she padded into her kitchen and pulled a bottle of Moscato from the fridge. About six ounces left; I’ll take that! It went into a small glass and she returned to the bathroom. After adding some cooler water to the hot, Sylvia slowly lowered herself in.
Peace, she thought, taking a sip of sweet wine, her mind drifting…
Sylvia crinkled her nose against the smell of sulfur. What is wrong with the damned pipes this time…? And why is the water hotter?
Her eyes opened to a rocky, barren desert. The only exception to the broken terrain was the mineral pool she found herself soaking in. Not really that large, only about ten feet in diameter, she began to perceive that the sulfur was in competition with a rusty smell of iron.
Why does this seem familiar? It’s like no place on earth.
“True,” whispered a voice behind her.
Sylvia spun about just as a short veiled figure drifted around her left to stand at her ten o’clock. She recalled the abyss of its eyes and looked away before allowing herself to be drawn in.
“You,” Sylvia cleared her throat and began again. “You were the one who told me to look homeward. You implied I have forgotten something.”
“Be still and silent, nakababatang kapatid na babae. This is the calm before your storm.”
This strange woman just called me little sister in Tagalog. But there are no places like this in any of the islands…
“You are not working for gold or diamonds but instead seek to remove the jewel of power behind the throne,” the veiled one continued in seeming nonsense. With a movement, she raised her right arm up. The skin on the hand Sylvia could see was young but there was so little of it that it stuck to the bone beneath. “What is the First Law?”
“It,” she could barely recall her last bizarre dream like this, “it was like the Hippocratic Oath; something like, ‘first, do no harm.’”
“Have you done harm, little sister?”
Sylvia could not stop her eyes from meeting the other’s. The darkness expanded slowly at first and then was all around her. She was no longer in a warm mineral pool. In fact, she could no longer tell where she was nor even if she had a body.
“I often go into the night, out in the dark. I take to the sky, chasing other voices like ours in the stars,” came that odd soft voice, now in her mind rather than her ears.
“They know it not, but my family, all that we are, is waiting to fly. I am the start.”
Uncomprehending the dream, Sylvia sighed, waiting for her phone’s alarm to wake her up in just a few seconds.
What harm have I done? I am accessory to mass murder bordering on genocide. I should stay in this darkness forever; I don’t want to wake up anymore…
She was back in the mineral pool. The veiled one was squatting down and stirring the waters with that bony finger.
“You will learn even more dangerous games. You will learn hide-and-seek; you will match reason and rhyme.” She stopped stirring and stood.
“It will be grand and glorious, little sister. But it will be short for you.”
“What in the hell are you talking about?!” Sylvia’s mind was to its fraying point and she was tired of this stupid dream. “There is nothing grand and glorious about murder! God help me out of this sick dream!”