XLVII. Resist, Escape

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"I don't know what you drugged me with," Victor said, breathing hard and screwing his eyes closed, "but I've got nothing to say except: Mercury, Victor Michael. Admiral, four star. Service number 145184."

Danielle sighed in frustration. It had been subjective hours of this since Danielle had pulled Victor into her simulated space.

She stepped behind metaphorical one-way glass and sent a message over to her host.

"He's got this interrogation resistance training. He thinks he's drugged or something."


Danielle checked back in with her other threads, sighed, and turned back to the admiral.

"I hope I can get through to him. It'd be good to know whatever he knows about what's going on."

She rejoined with the thread maintaining the image sitting in front of him in the diner.

"Admiral, please, just listen. My name is Danielle Dahl..."

Shyamala's heart pounded as she stepped off the helicopter onto the White House lawn.

She didn't know why Peters had immediately caved and granted her this meeting. She didn't know what she would do once she had all the information.

But she knew she couldn't walk any direction but forward.

"Rear Admiral, ma'am. If you would." As she stepped into the building, a Secret Service agent beckoned her to the side. She held her arms straight out as the agent passed a metal detector wand over her body, and gave her a quick, professional, but thorough patdown. The agent gave her a nod, and a man wearing a black military uniform approached. It was one of the new ones from Peters' new Air Force chaplain corps. The uniform was sparsely decorated, and it had a hood, giving it the general appearance of both a military uniform and a religious garment.

As he approached, he gave her a smile that made her think he had learned to do it by watching a badly-researched video online.

"Ah, Rear Admiral. If you would come this way."

She put her Bernard cap back on and followed the chaplain. He led her not in the direction of the West Wing, but further back into the executive residence, to an elevator situated well away from the main entrance. He pressed the down button, then beckoned her to follow as he the doors opened and he entered.

As the elevator descended, she eyed the back of the man's uniform. The man's uniform was not up to the standards she enforced on Omicron Base. She could see stains and lint. She kept her face neutral, even though he wasn't facing her.

Shyamala blinked as she looked around. The bunker had apparently seen some redecoration. The room hadn't exactly been modest before, but now the only word for it was... ostentatious.

For one thing, the President's Emergency Operations Center was bigger than it had historically been. Shyamala marveled at the open space, wondering what the expense had been to expand it this far.

Every piece of furniture looked more expensive than all of Shyamala's possessions combined. She nearly did a double take when she saw an enormous fireplace. How much had that cost to install?

Mounted over the fireplace was a familiar sword. It looked completely impractical, like something from a movie set.

She looked around the room, then looked at the chaplain with a raised eyebrow.

"All right," the man said, leering at her, "It's just you and me here until he gets back."

She kept her voice calm. "Gets back?"

He nodded, and spoke with an unconvincing note of apology in his voice. "Oh, yeah. Something very big has come up. Classified. I'm afraid it may still be some time before he returns."

Shyamala stared the man down. "How long?"

He smiled nastily. "We serve at his pleasure, Rear Admiral. He'll take as long as he takes."

Shyamala just nodded, turned, and sat stiffly in one of the expensive-looking chairs.

She didn't have a phone, a computer, a book, or anything to pass the time with, so she fixed her eyes on the presidential seal on the wall opposite her and contemplated the country she had devoted her life to serving.

"Are we there yet?" Jason's voice was muffled with his face pressed into the back of the driver seat headrest.

"You joke," Adam said, "But we'll be in West Virginia in ten minutes, so... almost, actually."

Sarah stretched, her neck and shoulder popping impressively. "Come on, let's stop for food somewhere. I'll call my source and set up a meeting and we can head directly there."

"Sounds good," Adam said, and his eyes began scanning for somewhere to turn off the highway. They all looked better rested than they had the previous night, having stopped for a few hours at a motel, but aside from the brief break to sleep and freshen up, they had driven almost straight through, and they were all feeling it.

"Gotta say," Jason said, "much as we're being chased by military-backed cultists with omnipresent death rays who're killing all the birds, it's at least nice to drive through some mountains and trees for a change."

"Can't disagree with you there," Adam said. He yawned widely, blinking up at the rear-view mirror as the vehicle behind them drew steadily closer.

He started to breathe a sigh of relief as the vehicle changed lanes to pass him.

He glanced over at it. It was a big, black SUV with tinted windows. He blinked up at the rear-view mirror suddenly as he saw another vehicle behind him.

"Hey, I think--" was all he managed to say before the vehicle in the left lane slammed into the rental car.

Adam screamed.

"HOLD ON!" Sarah shouted.

Dave pulled the camera up, flicking it on, hitting the record button and protecting it with his body.

The vehicle behind them was accelerating.

"Can you stop?! Or turn around or--" Jason stopped talking as Sarah gave him a severe look.

"Come on, just try not to let them fishtail you," Sarah said. "If we can just get to the next town--"

The vehicle on their left that had tried to run them off the road accelerated, trying to get ahead of the rental car.

Adam glanced over, then pushed his foot down hard on the accelerator.

"Wait, look OUT--" Sarah tried to call out a warning, but it was too late.

The vehicle behind them had managed to pull up along the right side of the vehicle, and pushed its driver's side fender into the right rear side of the rental.

The compact car lost traction, and although Adam hauled on the wheel and stomped on the brakes with all his might, the car sailed off the road, tumbling until it came to a stop against the trees at the bottom of the hill.

Shyamala was still sitting in the chair. Hours had passed. The chaplain had made a few incredibly uncomfortable attempts to make conversation. She did not want to be in a room with this man.

So she wasn't really sure what she felt when the President walked in.

He flashed her an impossibly white smile as he entered. "Ah, Rear Admiral Omar! I'm so honored you could join me here. I do apologize about the little delay, there. Just unavoidable." He gave her the million-watt smile again.

She stood, looking askance at the chaplain, who hadn't. "Mister President. Thank you for seeing me. I have questions to ask that pertain to matters of national security."

He nodded reasonably, striding over to the magnificent wood desk at the far end of the room and beckoning for her to follow.

She did, slowly, and stood before his desk as he sat. He gestured around.

"Like what I've done with the place? I call it the Oval Under. Get it? Cost a mint, but oh, God, is it worth it." He leaned back in his chair expansively, twining his fingers behind his head.

"I mean, it's taxpayer dollars anyway. But here? God, it's the only place in the world I'm really free." He spun in his chair, grinning at the ceiling.

He looked at her suggestively. "You know, there's nowhere in the world I can go without someone listening to everything I say, everything I do? Nowhere but here."

She took a deep breath. "Sir, I don't know if you want the chaplain here for this conversation. It relates to the nature of ASTRAL DOVE."

Then the President did something that surprised her.

He started laughing. It wasn't an attractive laugh. It was a belly laugh punctuated by wheezing squeals. He wiped a tear from his eye. "Oh, trust me, Mr. Erkenhast is read in on ASTRAL DOVE. And believe it or not, I had already started talking about ASTRAL DOVE before you brought it up." He sighed contentedly.

"Shyamala-- may I call you Shyamala?" She didn't say anything in reply, but he continued anyway. "Sweetie, you've heard the old saw, Lead, follow, or get out of the way? Well, you're here today so I can figure out which one of those you are." He flashed her the fake grin again. "Spoilers, though-- the position of leadership is taken."

Shyamala waited until she trusted herself to speak. "Sir, I'm just here to do my job and fulfill my oath of service to the best of my abilities."

He laughed again, a sharp bark. He actually slapped his knee. "Oh, Rear Admiral! I could use a thousand more like you. Just here to do your job. God, that's beautiful. I've never heard anything more perfect."

He leaned forward on his desk suddenly, piercing her with his sharp gaze. "See, what I need is smart people. Smart people like you move up if you don't ask too many questions. I can tell you're the kind of person that needs some answers, or you'll explode. Pardon my phrasing. Well, you're in luck, because the Lord has spoken to me this day, and he has instructed me to tell you all about my relationship with Him and how He has blessed me and this country with his holy word."

Shyamala struggled not to blink at that. "Sir, while I appreciate your concern with my immortal soul, I would like to reiterate I am here to discuss matters of national security, not religion."

He laughed again, and she thought she might already hate the sound more than anything she'd ever heard.

"See, I like you. You still think I'm speaking metaphorically. I assure you, Shyamala, I am not. When I say the Lord has given me orders, I mean I have received orders from my Lord. I always have been. That's how I made my fortune. That's how I got elected. And that's how I defeated the demons."

She gritted her teeth and forced herself to speak slowly and evenly. "Sir, if you'll forgive my saying so, I'm afraid I'm confused. When you say God talks to you..."

He chuckled. "Oh, no no no, Shyamala. I didn't say he was God. I mean, maybe I do in my speeches, but I am telling you now that my Lord is real and has given me everything I have in my life. Because I knew to follow His instructions for my own good. When something infinitely bigger and more powerful than you reaches down and starts improving your life, you do not bite the hand that feeds you." He gave her a look that made her stomach turn to ice.

He grinned, narrowing his eyes. "So, at the instruction of my Lord, I'll be showing you everything he has revealed to me. I'll be bringing you into the Air Force. How does four-star general sound? I mean, honestly. You were wasted as a Navy commodore. Here, working for me, you'll be doing some real good in the world. All you need to do... is accept the word of my Lord, and swear loyalty to me."

She nodded slowly. "I see. So, if I want to know more about ASTRAL DOVE, I... need to join your chaplain corps?"

He leaned forward with a predatory look on his face. "Oh, it goes past switching branches, Shyamala. I need something more. I need your loyalty. I need to know you'll do what it takes when you're ordered. I need to know you'll follow, or at least have the good grace to get out of the way like dear departed Admiral Mercury."

She nodded slowly. "Loyalty."

She heard movement behind her, but didn't turn, even when she heard the sound of a service weapon being cocked.

The President's smile had turned from the crowd-pleasing, photograph-ready expression he defaulted to into something else. His eyes danced. "What I've got here is an unlimited hotline to power. You don't question it. You don't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. When it tells you that this is the date to give the speech, you give the speech. When it tells you to build new military technology and gives you the designs, you do it. I need to know you'll do whatever I require of you. Do that, and you'll be one of the architects of my new world. That's the carrot. Mister Erkenhast behind you is the stick. Now," he said, the look still in his eyes, "Will you come over here, get on your knees, and pledge loyalty?"

He let all those people die because he was just following orders.

He let the old man die because that's what he was told to do.

She looked him in the eye for a long moment before she started slowly nodding.

His smile widened, and the look in his eyes intensified. He beckoned for her to come closer.

Shyamala exhaled.

Two things happened in the next second.

Erkenhast did the second thing: he pulled the trigger of the weapon pointed at Shyamala.

Shyamala did the first thing: in one fluid movement, she spun and slammed her hand on top of the weapon's slide, pointing it down and away and pulling the slide back, preventing it from cycling.

Erkenhast cried out, but Shyamala had already torn the firearm out of his hand. She reversed the motion to slam the butt of the firearm into the side of the man's head, and he fell to the ground limply.

President Peters blinked in disbelief, then his hand shot out to grab the phone on his desk. Before it reached the phone, Shyamala slammed the firearm down on his fingers with a sickening crunch.

"You--" he managed to say before she slid across the massive desk, punched him hard in the face with the weapon, then slid around behind him to transition him into a headlock.

"Gkh-- you-- don't-- I'll give you whatever you want," Peters managed to choke out.

Shyamala thought about what she wanted.

"I don't want to hurt you," she said.

"Well, that's g--"

She placed one hand on the back of his head, and with one smooth motion, she broke his neck with a meaty crunch.

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