Me, Myself & I
The Phoenix Intiative – Epilogue
Written by papayoya1 :: [Saturday, 02 January 2021 17:16] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 02 January 2021 21:58]
Owen Lindbergh enjoyed the crispy bacon as he turned the TV on to watch the morning news. For years, he had tried to stay away from saturated fat as much as possible. Both his job and his cholesterol asked for it. But he did not see a reason to deny himself of the pleasure of eating bacon for breakfast anymore. He did not give a shit if he dropped dead before lunch. Up to some point, it would actually be preferable.
The images of a blackened crater, surrounded by buildings that were barely able to stand, took the screen.
“…North Korean authorities have released a casualty report that estimates the victims of the Pyongyang attack in two million, three hundred thousand…”
He let a sarcastic laugh out. Some of his more hawkish friends, back at the army, had secretly bragged about bombing North Korea back into the stone age. He knew none of them would have had the guts to do it, had the moment of truth come. Susan Simpson, at twenty, seemed to have much fewer qualms about exterminating people to achieve her objectives.
“…a spokeswoman for the United States Government confirmed that President Simpson authorized the launch of an ICBM in Pyongyang in retaliation for North Korea’s use of nuclear weapons against the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. She said the government hopes that world leaders take note of the consequences of unjustified aggressive action against the United States and the Phoenix class, and that they are ready to have a constructive attitude in the peace talks next week…”
He would have never bet for the girl to turn out to be the ruthless type. Owen had to admit that he had despised her so much that it had been hard for him to see any qualities in the nerdy redhead. And yet, what she had just done was both brilliant and effective to achieve her plans, at least for someone with a complete disregard for human life.
The images on the TV changed to those of a massive demonstration. People wearing masks were leading the march, holding flares and smoke cans. The angle of the camera widened and a group of half a dozen Phoenix girls could be seen, arms crossed at their chests, standing fifty yards away. One of the girls could be seen talking. Then, the six started trotting towards the demonstrators. It was hardly the first clash like that, so Owen already knew what would happen. And he knew not to trust the official reports when it came to “unfortunate collateral damage.”
“Enjoying your handiwork?” a voice at his back said.
He turned in a rush, years of military training making her body tense as he got ready for a fight. He relaxed, although only a little, when he saw Raymond Beck standing with his back resting on the far wall of his farm’s kitchen.
“You finally found me. I heard you were asking around for me,” Owen said.
“It’s not as if you made it too hard,” Beck replied. Leaving aside the fact that the farm was not registered to him, it had not taken too long to locate the house where the man had grown up before enlisting.
“I spent a year running around. It’s exhausting. And I like it here,” he said.
“You always disregarded her,” Raymond said, nodding towards the screen, where a close up of Susan Simpson showed her addressing her new Congress.
“Guilty as charged. I never thought she would have the character to do what she did.”
“Or the wits,” Raymond said.
“Don’t give her that much credit. It’s not as if she outsmarted the country,” Lindbergh said. “Your friend Roark did, but it only got them so far, didn’t it?”
“Well, they are effectively running the country,” Raymond said.
“Beck, don’t insult me. You are way too smart not to see that they drove themselves into a cul-de-sac.”
Of course, the man was right. Despicable as he was, Owen Lindbergh had always had a brilliant strategic mind. So, he could see the situation as clearly as him, if not better.
The Phoenix women had full control of the United States territory. That was undeniable. None of the protests or acts of defiance they had had to face so far had been even remotely a challenge, even if they had forced their hand into becoming harsher, which, in turn, had turned the population even more against them. Their hold of the country was strong, even if it was against its people.
But in the process, they had ruined the United States military power. Susan had single-handedly done most of the job, leaving it to other nations to finish the leftovers with attacks like the one in Alaska. Raymond wondered if Susan or Eva had anyone advising them that could tell them about the long Chinese hand behind North Korea’s action.
Four weeks after D-day, the world had been driven into a stalemate. The world now knew that nuclear weapons were effective against their new enemy, but no other country dared to use them while Susan and her girls had their hands on the US nuclear button themselves. But they could not really project their power to other countries either, maybe with the exception of their closest neighbors in the American continent. Out of planes, ships, and subs and with the world watching closer than it had ever done it to the United States, any attempt at moving to Europe or Asia would be short-lived.
Strategically, it was not a great place to be. Of course, they compensated for their precarious position with sheer raw power, but even that had a limit.
“I have learned not to underestimate them the hard way, I’m afraid,” Beck finally said.
“You have a point there,” Lindbergh conceded. He then changed his expression and asked: “So, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Beck stood up from his leaning position and said:
“Look, I would say sorry… but you really don’t deserve it.”
The sound of the rotors of a heavy helicopter became noticeable just then. Lindbergh immediately understood.
“So, have you become Simpson’s errand boy? I never took you for a lapdog for the powerful,” he said.
“I would say that you would understand… but I doubt you will. In the end, even a stuck up asshole like you must see that all this is your fault.”
“I hope you can sleep well at night,” Lindbergh said in a strangely calmed tone, as he stood up and headed for the porch. Beck exited the house behind him to see the Chinook helicopter landing some hundred yards away.
The back ramp lowered at a painfully slow speed. Eva Roark walked down, closely followed by another woman. Raymond felt a shiver running down his spine when he saw that the amazon, who he had not seen before, was at least as tall and powerfully built as his former lover. This, of course, should have been impossible. Unless Eva had made it possible.
Dressed in red shorts and top instead of the classic black, the woman also looked more dangerous than Eva or the majority of the Phoenix he had seen. His unease increased tenfold when five more women with similar complexions and outfits followed the first one. Naomi followed them, rushing to join Eva and making the difference in the size of the new women even more evident.
Susan did not climb down until the six crimson-clad women were down the ramp and forming. Raymond was shocked when she towered over them, even if many of the images he had already seen had suggested that he had got larger. Somehow, he was even more bothered by the fact that she had changed her attire to a golden one that made her stand out from the rest.
Lindbergh chuckled, making him turn towards him.
“So, your girl has declared herself Empress, it would seem,” he said.
Raymond did not reply. He had come to like Susan as little as he did, even if he could not let it show.
“She got herself a nice Praetorian Guard, didn’t she?” Lindbergh pushed.
“It would seem so,” Beck replied dryly.
Susan made a show of walking slowly towards the house, a column of three guards on either side of her. Eva and Naomi followed behind, both looking less than thrilled.
To Lindbergh’s credit, he did not even flinch. He just stood in place, a wry smile on his lips, as she waited for the amazons to reach him. Susan reached the house soon enough and nodded to Beck, who nodded back and walked to the back of the group, next to Eva.
“The day of reckoning has come, you stuck up son of a bitch,” Susan said through clenched teeth.
“Yeah, yeah…” Lindbergh said. “Would you mind cutting the crap? I would have loved being around to see the moment you realize that you have lost, but if I have to die, could we be quick about it?”
“Lost? Even you must see that we have won!” Susan replied.
“Really?” Lindbergh replied with a sarcastic expression. “Is this what your advisors are telling you? If you don’t mind a piece of advice from an old fox, I would change them. I’m sure you’ll be able to find some competent military officers around without scruples about betraying their species like my old friend Raymond there.”
“Enough!” Susan replied, noticeably angry.
“May I ask that you make it quick?” Lindbergh asked.
“Quick? You made me suffer every day of the nine months I was in Fort Exeter. I don’t have nine months, but I cleared out the rest of the day for you,” Susan said.
“Good!” Lindbergh said cheerfully. “Then you’ll have enough time to whine like the damned nerdy weirdo you still are!”
He made a point of making the hard bite noticeable. The cyanide capsule he had been wearing in his tooth broke as designed, releasing the deadly substance into his bloodstream. Lindbergh dropped dead even before anyone had time to notice what had happened.
Beck had to suppress a smile, watching the show from the back as he was. He could be whatever you wanted to call him, but Owen Lindbergh also had the strange ability to be a couple of steps ahead of everyone else. Beck respected this in a man.
“Nooooo!” Susan yelled, realizing what had happened. Every window in the farm shattered and Raymond had to drop to his knees and cover his ears at the power of the primal scream.
The timing was so perfect that Raymond could not have designed it better. No sooner than Susan’s scream finished, the communicator in the wrist of one of her guards beeped. The woman, who seemed to be the leader of the group, answered through her earpiece. Her expression changed abruptly, letting him know that the hit had been effective. He could barely contain his satisfaction when the woman said.
“Susan… we have been attacked… a nuclear device went off at DARPA. We are still evaluating the damage but it seems… catastrophic…”
The pain in Susan’s face was evident. Raymond realized that she had lost touch with reality and had lost the ability to process information that did not suit her needs. Which was yet another reason he had to get the world rid of her.
“Who did this?” Susan asked. “Was it the Chinese?”
Of course, the regime at Beijing had been amongst the most aggressive in their response to the new American government. The guard seemed to be listening to more information through her earpiece.
“It seems to be local… some group claimed to be called the Iron Sword.”
Raymond was not entirely fond of the name, but according to legend, Phoenix could not touch iron, so it made sense, up to some point.
To say that Susan was furious would have been an understatement. Beck waited for her reaction. Considering how the women’s aggressiveness towards the general population had increased over the last four weeks, it could be brutal. Turning, she said:
“We run back to DC!”
Her guards got ready. Locking her eyes with Beck just before starting her fifteen hundred miles sprint, she addressed Eva:
“You take care of your trash!”
The sonic boom as the women left made Raymond lose his footing and fall of his ass. He tried to be as dignified as possible as he stood up and slowly walked to the swiveling bench at Lindbergh’s porch, under the scrutiny of Eva and Naomi.
Eva seemed to understand what had happened just then.
“You did it,” she said. She did not even sound angry, even if Beck knew that she had had plenty of colleagues working on the project at DARPA.
“I was part of it, of course, but you can’t seriously think that I’m the only person in the world against you, do you?”
“Why?” Eva asked. He realized that the question was genuine.
“Did you ever think that we would go down without a fight?” Raymond asked back.
“I… I had friends,” Eva simply said. She looked startled, and Beck knew it was not only because of the loss of known people.
“Yeah, you know how many officers I knew in those bases you razed last month?” he asked in a mocking tone.
Eva remained speechless for a few moments. She then turned to Naomi and said:
“Leave us… I will take care of this.”
Naomi shot her a questioning glance, but Eva’s eyes left no room of further challenge. Nodding, the smaller amazon turned and sprinted in the general direction of Washington DC. The silence that followed lasted well over a minute. Eva finally ambled into the porch and sat beside Raymond.
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked, seemingly unconcerned about the answer.
“Not today,” Eva said with a sigh.
“That’s a relief, I guess,” Beck replied.
“There must have been a ton of collateral,” she finally said, obviously referring to the nuclear explosion. After all, the DARPA headquarters was not so far from Arlington.
“This is war, Eva. No pain, no gain,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone, even if he was more troubled than he showed by the more than certain death of hundreds of civilians.
“Why DARPA?” she asked.
“The first punch always needs to be the hardest,” Raymond said.
“The women there… they were not even soldiers. They were scientists. The best we had.”
“Yeah, I know. You know Eva, that idea of you girls starting to reproduce… we are not thrilled by it.”
“It’s unavoidable,” Eva Roark said.
“So you would think,” he replied sarcastically. “Tell me, down to how many women you are? Are you even two hundred now?”
“We are more than enough,” she said.
“America is a big country.”
“We can always make more,” Eva said.
It made Raymond chuckle.
“Of course. But who will you get? I bet that not your carefully cherry-picked seed for the future. You’ll probably be attracting more of the red Praetorians Empress Suzie showed up with.”
“We needed the muscle,” Eva said.
It made Raymond snort again.
“Tell me Eva, who is advising Susan now? Certainly not you. And I would bet neither is Roberts.”
“Roberts resigned after Susan’s… raid,” Eva let out.
That was new information. Important new information.
“I wonder how you resign from being an oversized overpowered gal, but I guess I’ll have to ask her if our paths ever cross. But who is Suzie listening to? Is she even letting anyone into her secrets?”
“She still listens to me,” Eva tried, but it was half-hearted.
“Clearly not enough,” Beck said.
“You can consider yourselves lucky to have me,” Eva finally said. “There are some among us who have considerably more hawkish approaches.”
“Is this what you tell yourself at night to be able to sleep?”
Raymond had landed his blow carefully and with brutal precision. Eva did not even try to hide that it had hurt. He went on. He was not nearly done.
“The problem with playing God is that you may end up giving God’s power to an unprepared, unstable teenager that loses her head when she finds herself out of a girlfriend. Then is when you find out that there’s no way back and that you may have unleashed the worst kind of fascism on humanity.”
“I can fix this,” Eva said, but it sounded more like trying to convince herself than anything else.
Raymond did not see any reason to be kind to her, though.
“You go and try that. We’ll try our own options if you don’t mind.”
There was a new period of silence. The kitchen TV was still on, the sound of the news audible from the porch.
“… the resistance group calling itself Iron Sword has claimed authorship of a series of attacks across the country that have ended with seventeen Phoenix women dead. This is the same group that claimed the nuclear explosion at the DARPA facility in Arlington, Virginia…”
Eva looked at Raymond with fire in her eyes. He shrugged.
“You gave us four weeks to plan. And you are way less immortal than you style yourselves. Did you really think it would be so hard to smuggle a few railguns around?”
“Who?” Eva demanded.
“The ones that hurt the most,” Beck replied.
There was silence once more.
“Having second thoughts about the entire not killing me promise?” he asked mockingly.
“Get the fuck out of my sight!” she said.
Raymond did not even hurry as he stood up, walked past Eva’s humongous form, and sauntered to his rental car. As he was getting inside, he turned and said:
“Good luck fixing the situation, Eva.”
“If I see you again, I’ll kill you,” she snapped back.
The mountain trail was as hard as he had been promised. Of course, the sticky heat did not help to make it easier either. Raymond Beck stopped to drink a few more drops of water and check his SatNav, making sure he was where he was supposed to be.
He had abandoned civilization two days ago if Haiti in its current state could be considered civilized. A civil war had broken not a week after Susan’s coup, and getting into the island had not been the easiest thing in the world. Luckily, Beck was a man of resources and with many friends, and here he was, leaving the conflict behind as he got deeper into the interior of the country.
“You of all people,” a voice said to his back.
He felt an instant of chill when he turned to see a familiar face. Its dark skin and soft features had been popular. It had been another time, in a very different world. Nathalie’s well-defined muscles were easy to see despite being covered with bright orange clothing in the Haitian style. Of course, the fact that he had to look up at her was still the most remarkable attribute of the woman.
“Good!” Beck said. “I was starting to fear that I had got lost. Good to see you, Nathalie.”
“Were we ever friends?” she asked, a bit puzzled by the man’s enthusiasm.
“Nah,” he said. “It’s not as if I had a job that worked well to make a lot of friends, anyway.”
“What are you doing here?” she asked, suspicious. Beck could also feel a bit of concern in her voice.
“Visiting,” he said.
“Let’s try this again,” Nathalie said, sounding more serious. “What are you doing here?”
Beck changed to a serious tone himself.
“You are in danger,” he said.
“What?” Nathalie asked back. She sounded afraid. Beck realized that she had been living with the fear that this day would come since the moment they had faded away from the world.
“I’d rather give you the details at the same time than Jennifer and Campos,” Beck said, letting Nathalie know that there was no point in her trying to hide any information from him.
“What’s going on?” Nathalie demanded, getting more nervous.
“Can you lead the way to the village?” he asked.
It turned out that the woman did more than that. Reaching out for him, she grabbed him, easily overpowering his futile resistance attempt and carrying him over her shoulder.
“I cannot afford to have you slow me down,” she offered before she started sprinting back to the village.
Raymond was dizzy by the time they got there and set him back on the ground. It took him a couple of seconds to focus his eyesight. People in the village were already converging to them as he scanned his surroundings in an instinctive soldier move. His eyes stopped on the woman that stood out from the rest. Considerably paler than the rest of the inhabitants of the village and way taller, a woman that could only be Jennifer Watson was dragging a heavy looking plow through a vast field.
“Jen!” Nathalie screamed, catching the woman’s attention.
Jennifer Watson looked as gorgeous as ever as she turned and looked in their direction. This was not the only thing Beck saw, though. He felt a shiver running down his spine when a very obvious pregnant belly showed under her clothes.
“So, that’s the reason for the rush?” he thought as he recalled the sense of urgency of the anonymous tip he got.
“You can’t be good news,” a voice to his back said. He turned to see Dr. Elena Campos, flanked by the man he knew had to be the father of Jennifer’s baby, Kyle Jenkins.
“I’m afraid not,” he acknowledged.
“Let’s walk,” she said, quickly proving to Beck that she might not be inhumanly strong, but she was the leader.
He nodded and they started down a wide path, quickly joined by Jennifer, who was as surprised as everyone else by his presence.
“You have got some views here,” Raymond said, looking down at the valley.
“Yeah. Beautiful, aren’t they?” Campos said. “Now, why don’t you cut the crap and tell us what you’ve come here to tell us?”
“Curious, I don’t recall you being so decisive, Elena,” Beck said.
“Oh, being a fugitive can have this effect on a woman,” she said.
Jennifer and Nathalie had remained remarkably silent until then. Jennifer finally asked:
“Is it very bad, back home?”
Beck looked up at her in the eye and said:
Be could tell that it had hurt. The woman had always been shallow but well-intentioned. He decided to use the opening to say:
“It could get just as bad here. Susan is looking for you. And she is getting closer to finding you.”
“I can’t believe Susan has done what she’s done,” Nathalie finally said. She sounded sad.
“Unchecked power can do that to a person,” Beck said, trying to provide a mental frame for the former nurse.
“She would never hurt us,” Jennifer said.
“Probably not,” Beck admitted. “But once she finds out you are pregnant, she won’t leave you alone either.”
Raymond could see the disgust in Jennifer’s face.
“So, what are our options?” Campos asked.
“I have a boat waiting for us in the harbor in Port-de-Paix. We’ll rendezvous with a sub further into the Atlantic, go to the UK. Europe is as safe as it gets. Susan and the rest have no reach there, so far.”
“We need to leave? Now?” Nathalie asked. Considering her Haitian origins, Beck guessed she had been the one to propose this location to fade away from the world.
“The sooner the better. As far as I know, they are tightening the net quite a bit,” Beck said.
“So, that’s it? We go back and say goodbye Nathalie said.
It was Campos who replied.
“We don’t go back for farewell. You girls get us to Port-de-Paix by nightfall.”
The next fifteen minutes were awkward. Then, when Beck thought he had seen and heard everything there was, Campos fell back from the group to walk by him.
“I suspected Roark and you were close, but I would have never thought she would send you down here for us,” she said.
“What?” Beck asked, genuinely surprised.
“Roark is the only one that knew we were here. She seemed to get nervous when I confirmed to her that Jennifer’s pregnancy was viable, said she would send someone to help us,” Campos said.
He had to admit that for the first time in a long time, his mind was blown. And it was not as if he had not lived through plenty of astonishing stuff over these last two years.
“Eva is mysterious like this,” Beck said as he tried to get his head around the revelation.
Raymond’s mind raced through every possibility, every trick he could think of, any betrayal that could explain why Eva Roark had wanted him down here. He could not think of any beyond the obvious one: she was trying to help Jennifer, Elena, and Nathalie, and keep them out of Susan’s reach.
A new question arose: why?
Once more, he could not think of any option save for the plain one. It was in his training to be suspicious, so the itch in the back of Raymond’s mind kept alerting him all the way to Port-de-Paix and during the boat trip that took them to the expected rendezvous coordinates. It was not until the sub’s skipper closed the hatch and commanded the vessel to go down that he allowed himself to believe that what had happened was actually true.
“I will need to check in on Eva when I get back to the states,” he thought. “And hope she has forgotten about the last thing she told me.”
“So, we made it?” Campos asked. He realized that she had been as concerned as him about the success of their escape attempt.
“We made it,” Beck said. “Welcome to the Resistance.”