Archive for November 25th, 2006

November 25, 2006: 3:45 pm: UMC

Lawrence found the President of the Colonial Assembly in Chong’s office in New Canaveral.
“Thank god you’re here,” Assembler Catherine Hamala said. “We’ve had no word from Vice President Hashimoto.  They were about to swear me in today.”
Lawrence decided to skip the normal dig he’d take at Hamala’s pretended lack of ambition. “What do you mean no word?”
“Perhaps you’d better tell me what’s going on Lawrence,” Hamala took a stern tone.
President Chong is on his way up, so perhaps we should sit down outside his office and discuss,” countered Lawrence.
Hamala inclined her head and came out from behind Chong’s desk. “Very well.”
Lawrence had the patience to wait to make her talk, but he didn’t need it.  She began to spill all she knew as they sat down in the outer recption room tothe President’s office.
“When the President’s abduction was reported, Hashimoto was sworn in as acting Chief Executive of the UMC. He wasn’t given the title of President until we knew what had happened for sure. He received some intelligence but wouldn’t share it with me. The last I heard from him, he was in Tranquility and told me he had sensitive information on the President’s whereabouts but that I needed to assume a ready position in case something happened, which I did.” She looked a little put out, as if Lawrence had been accusing her of something for being in the President’s office. “I’ve heard nothing since. Hashimoto was very secretive.  He gave out no information for fear he would risk the rescue. He ordered everyone to stay away from Tranquility for now. That’s all I know.  We were about to countermand his order and issue a search group to go to Tranquility.  When they reported back, if they couldn’t find him, they were going to swear me in as acting chief. That’s when I heard from you that Chong was on his way. The opposition is having a field day, asking all kinds of questions about who’s running the country, and why the President and Vice President have been so secretive. What’s happened to the Vice President?”
“We don’t know,” Lawrence admitted. “Hashimoto rescued President Chong and Speaker Malinao and I was rescued separately by an underground group in Armstrong. The President met with me there before proceeding here. Apparentl the Vice President and the Speaker had other business to attend to in Tranquility, but we haven’t heard from them either.”
“Well, it’s the President’s call now, but I think he should allow the group to go to Tranquility and investigate.”
“I agree.  I’ll inform President Chong of your advice.”
“And what’s all this about a cloning policy speech?  Is this the right time for that?  It seems incredibly out of place?”
“Does it?” said Chong as he came into the room.
“Mr. President,” Hamala and Lawrence stood up.
“I know there are a lot of questions.  I’ll have a briefing for the cabinet and key Assemblers right away. But the policy speech is more important now than ever.  You’ll see why when I brief you.  But suffice to say for now, the Fundys aren’t gone and their involved in cloning.”
“So you want to make it legal!?” Hamala cried.
“We want to prevent them from having any advantage in it being illegal,” Chong explained. “As I said, you’ll see in the briefing why.”
Hamala just shook her head. “I hope you know what you’re doing Chong.  The opposition is calling for your head.  There hasn’t been a President recalled by the Assembly in 70 years and I’d rather not fight a recall vote under my leadership.”
“You won’t.  I think the briefing will take the wind out of their sales.”
Hamala didn’t look convinced but took her leave of the President anyway.
“Lawrence, set up that briefing in time to give me an hour or so to sit down with Ford Junior and prepare the speech.”
“Yes sir– uh– Ford Junior? You mean Mr. Ford, don’t you sir?”
“No, I want Ford Junior,” he sighed. “Just do it Lawrence.  I have my reasons.”
lawrence was taken aback. That was not Chong’s usual style.  IF he didn’t want to explain himself he usually just kept quiet not admonish like that.  It’s one of the reasons Lawrence loved working for him.
“Very good sir, I’ll see to it.”
“Thank you.  Close the door on your way out.”
“The door.”
Lawrence shut the door. That also was way out of character. Chong made a point of never closing his door.  If he really needed privacy he asked Lawrence to just keep people out of ear shot.  He wanted the symbol of transparency to be dead clear. It was dogmatic. Why the sudden change? Unfortunately Lawrence didn’t have time to speculate.  The president had been through a lot.  No doubt it had shaken them all up and knocked themselves out of their usual routines.  He had work to do to get the Assembly leaders and the cabinet together for  atop level meeting on short notice. He’d better get to it.
As he left the office he thought he saw someone in the hallway duck out of sight.
He defeinitely heard whispers.
“Who’s there,” lawrence stroded down the hall, ready to call security.  He found Ford Junior hiding behind a plant.
“Junior?  What are you doing here?”
“Please don’t be mad, I was just so curious.  I know I’m not supposed to be here.  I just wanted to see.”
“No, it’s all right.  The President will want to see you in a few hours. Come with me and I’ll give you a badge so you don’t get tossed out.”
“Can I meet you there?  I have to go to the bathroom.”
“There’s a bathroom on the way.  I need to stay with you until your properly credentialed.”
Ford looked worried. “Uh– OK. Let’s hurry though.”
Lawrence started to lead him back down the hallway.
“Oh wait I dropped something behind the plant.  I’m sorry I’ll be right back.”
Lawrence waited impatiently while Ford fished around for something on the floor.
As Ford leaned down behind the plant, Narang hissed at him from the dark at the base of the pot. “Go, he’ll make you suspicious.  We’ll finish this later.”
Ford nodded and picked up a small plastic trading card of an Ahsaas Colony Movie Star.
“Found it!” he yelled to Lawrence.
“Come on then,” Lawrence shouted.
Ford gave one last look at the hidden Narang and ran back up the hallway.

: 11:29 am: UMC

Malinao still wasn’t sure she hadn’t permanently damaged Chong when she moved him. She wasn’t sure she hadn’t permanently damaged herself either.  Plus she had apparently used up a tremendous amount of Oxygen in the effort. The air was dangerously thin now.
Chong lay on the gurney she had rolled over. He breathed heavily now too in the thin air but she hadn’t got a response out of him and she’d lost all track of time. She sat on a stool next to him, holding his hand just muttering now and then.
“You don’t know how you looked when I first met you on Air Force One.  I’ve never seen a man so self-important and shy all at the same time. I wanted to torture you. You know, the flirty kind of torture.  That’s why I stole your seat. But you captured me right there without my even knowing it.  I’m not that forward with men usually. I’m rather distant as a matter of fact,” she chuckled. “I made my career off it. But you just had a look about you.  Soft and gentlemanly but strong and,” she gasped for breath. “I don’t know.”
“Are we going to leave now?”
The President squirmed a bit and opened his eyes.  A slight smirk was on his face.
“Between letting the minidrill run and playing true confessions,” he paused and gulped some more air, “You seem to have used up all the air. So maybe we should go.”
“What?” Malinao looked at the Minidrill adn for the first time noticed the soft humming and the low ready lights. Chong had got it started.  That had been the explosion.  She could have been halfway to Tranquility by now. How stupid!
He tried to sit up but couldn’t quite make it.
“I’m so incredibly dumb,” Malinao said as she helped him up fromt he gurney.
“You were just worried. Nice story though.”
“How much did you hear?”
“Just the last part. Something about wanting to torture me?”
“Dream on President,” she laughed.
Between the thin air and Chong’s bulk, Malinao’s lungs almost burst.  But he was getting his legs back and once she had him up, he was able to stand on his own. They folded themselves into the minidrill quite snugly and Chong took the controls.
“You OK to drive?” she asked.
“I’m fine.  Just don’t wiggle too much, you’ll distract me.”
The closeness of the cabin had put them in such a position that Malinao could see what he meant.
“I’ll try to just torture you a little,” she laughed, which turned into a cough in the depeleted air.
“Here we go.”
The mindrill lurched over the barrier of junk from the main compartment and began boring its way back towards Tranquility.
“I’m going to try to get us up close to the surface where the dirt is more loosly packed.  That will save us energy. Keep an eye on the depth meter for me though.  We don’t want to pop up on the surface. That could be bad for a number of reasons.”
Malinao wasn’t sure she wanted to know why.  Chong had turned on the oxygen generators in the minidrill as soon as they had begun moving, and she felt herself reviving quite a bit. They bumped along in silence, punctuated by Malinao’s depth updates whenever they came within a meter or two of the surface. Finally she couldn’t resist anymore and had to ask.
“How much longer?”
“Well I think we have enough juice to make it if we don’t hit any obstructions. We didn’t on the way in, so I don’t see why we should. Another half hour?”
“Why didn’t we just go down the empty tunnel?”
“That would have been a lot slower. The Minidrill is meant to propel by drilling.  It has small wheels to maneuver in open spaces but it’s not meant to go long distances like that.  Well, it’s not meant to go long distances at all.  I hope we don’t break the bit.”
“The what?”
“The drill bit.  The part that’s churning through all that rock.  I did quite a bit of work with it already.  AS long as I keep it straight, we should be OK.”
After about 20 minutes, CHong began to slow down the minidrill and eventually they came to a stop with Chong muttering a quiet curse word.
“What’s wrong?”
“We’re just outside Tranquility.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Malainao was puzzled.
“Yes, but I forgot something. The colony dome is sunk down in a nice thick wall of heavy barrier rock, not the moon dust we’ve been plowing through on the way here. If we try to cut through it, the minidrill will either run out of juice or break a bit trying.  We’re just not strong enough to get through it.”
“How did we get out?”
“The Main drill could cut it, plus there was already a tunnel for it.”
“So we just cut into that tunnel.”
“If I can find it. It’s not mapped and I’m not seeing it anywhere.”
“What happens if we surface?”
“Well, if they glass doesn’t break and we lose all our air, I can nose us up. If I don’t put us all the way out, I can use the maneuvering wheels to get us back down under.  But I’m not really confident that decompression won’t happen.”
“If you can get us a peek, I might be able to tell you where the tunnel is.”
“How’s that?”
“When we were going below to board the main drill, I noticed the Flag from the first Moon landing outside at the Tranquility Monument.   It’s my country’s flag, you know, so it caught my attention.  I can figure about how far we were at that point, if I can see the flag.”
Chong wasn’t sure. He had noticed some pretty shaky seals after the cave-in.
“All right, if we break a seal, we won’t have any time. You’ll just have to point, and hope you’re right. It’s a big risk.”
“If you don’t think we should, I understand.”
“I just wish we had suits. Let’s do it.”
Chong started the minidrill forward and tilted up. The drill bit poked out into a brilliant black sky. Everything in the cabin turned silver int he reflected light. Chong got them just far enough up to see over the ground. The seals held.
“I don’t see it,” Malinao groaned.
“I do, it’s off to my left.”
“Let me look.”
They struggled around each other, which at another time and situation would have proved very distracting.
“I see it. The tunnel should be that way.”
Suddenly they both heard a hiss.
“Seal’s loosening, try to plug it with something, I’ll back us down.”
The hiss grew more insistent as Chong backed the drill down into the tunnel.
“Plug it up, Sam!” Chong yelled.
“I’m trying, I can’t get a hold of it.”
“Don’t use your had it’ll freeze it. Anything else you can flatten over it or plug under it.”
The hissing had become a screaming as the minidrill lurched back on it’s way and turned towards the area Malinao thought the tunnel was.
“Dammit, use this,” Chong ripped off a piece of his shirt and thrust it at Malinao who was still fumbling with various loose itemse to plug the seal.  It had widened into a lip that seemed to be hissing a death call at them.
Malinao grabbed the rough canvas bit of shirt and stuffed it in the screaming hole’s mouth. It muffled it into a mumble of quiet gurgles.
“Make sure it stays there,” Chong said. “We don’t want it to pop out and break the glass.”
“Did you call me Sam?”
“Just now, did you call me Sam?”
“I– maybe–I don’t know I was in a panic.”
Malinao smiled. “Nobody calls me Sam.”
The seal popped out twice more before they reached the tunnel, but Chong didn’t call her Sam again and the glass didn’t break. The broke through the tunnel and convinced the airlock operator to let them in before they explained.
A burly grey-haired dark-skinned man climbed down from the airlock controls shouting.
“Now what kind of ridiculous prank are you kids pulling riding out on the open Moon in a goddamned minidrill of all things.  You two should be– Mr. President?”
“Yes, I’m President Chong.  This is United States Speaker Samantha Malinao.”
The man was stopped cold. “Well, of all the mercy in God’s worlds. They said on the news you were on your way to New Canaveral for a big speech. What happened to you?  You look awful.”
“wellt hank you,” Malinao quipped.
“No offense intended, Ma’am.  I’m– I’m at a loss.”
“What do you mean I’m supposed to be in New Canaveral?”
“That’s what the nescasts all are saying sir. You’re going to give some groundbreaking speech on cloning rights.”
Chong and Malinao exchanged glances.
“We’ve been trapped in a drill hole between here and Cana,’ CHong risked revealing. “Wasn’t anybody going to check?”
“I don’t know sir. I had no orders for the airlock.  I figured whatever you were up to you made it to Cana and left from there.”
“Never mind.  We need to get to our headquarters. Please alert the Tranquility folks that a there was cave-in and all hands but us were lost. They’ll want to salvage the drill and tend to the dead”
“Wasn’t the Vice President on that drill?”
“Yes, he was.” Chong replied softly.
“Oh my,” tha man said. “I’m so sorry.  Well, you need medical attention, Mr. President.”
“Not now!” Chong was already leading Malinao up some side stairs.  They ran, their lungs greedily filled with dome-generated oxygent, through the Tranquility museum out through the road to the Colonial building where their headquarters had been. There was nobody there but automatic sentries. Chong used his identification to get in and they raced upstairs to the second floor assembly room where the staff was supposed to be.
“This area is closed by Presidential order,” replied the pleasant female voice of the sentry program when they tried to enter the staff room.
“Override that, I’m the President,” Chong barked.
“Dual confirmation security protocol requested.”
A tray slid out where Chong was expected to touch a blood tester with his finger to confirm his identity.  He did so.
“Presidential identity confirmed. Override authorized.”
The doors slid open to a macabre scene of slaughter. Ten UMC guards and a dozen of the Vice President’s staff lay dead in pools of blood and gore. The stench was overpowering and almost made Chong puke.
Malinao asked for the doro to be closed and had tears in her eyes. “What’s happening?” she asked.
“I think I may have a clue.” Chong said. He asked for a picture of the internals of the room to be displayed.  It was shocking enough without having smell it at the same time.
“Focus in on the upper corner,” Chong asked the monitor. “Lower right.  A little lower.  There.”
Written in blood on the wall near the corner were the words, “And the sinners shall be smote.”
“That’s a Fundy slogan,” Malinao gasped.
“And not a scientific clone-faction one either.  That’s a devoted follower of Touareg did that.”
“You’re correct,” a voice said from behind them.
Friedrich, the night guard from the shed in Cana stood behind them.
“And now I must finish my job,” he said rasiing a knife.