The Revolutionizer Stories, Vol. 1
PART ONE – “Low-Yield Nuclear Warheads”
Prof. D clicked the cursor inside the ‘Header’ box and typed in his idea for a headline: A Revolution vs. Revolutionizing.
The post’s ‘Body’ section, a rectangle of white space, sat beneath the ‘Header.’ As a yawn formed in his mouth, the tip of his right index finger dragged across the computer’s trackpad. On the screen, the cursor’s vertical line floated down to the ‘Body.’
Stacks of crumpled papers, marked-up books, and a green coffee mug full of water surrounded the university-issued laptop on the secondhand desk. The one-room Brooklyn apartment’s sky-blue walls should have displayed various degrees, awards and certifications. However, those framed citations had been sitting in a milk crate occupying one corner since Prof. D moved into the place last year.
His alarm clock went off eighteen hours ago, but before going to sleep once again, the part-time college professor needed to finish this response and blast it out to over ten thousand connections. Both of his editors sent messages earlier that day. Neither wanted a lengthy piece, just his initial reaction to the events that had unfolded.
Shivers. Only boxers and a white t-shirt covered his slightly overweight frame. On a mental level, the cold sensations didn’t bother him. Warmth brought drowsiness.
Prof. D watched shadows on the wall come to life and move in the opposite direction of the cars driving by on Bedford Avenue two stories below, wiping the sleep from his eyes and running his knuckles across his hard, grayish beard stubble. Dryness and dragon breath coated the inside of his mouth. He took a sip from the green mug. His bleary mind appreciated water’s inherent ability to refresh.
Placing the cup back on the messy table, he focused on the press conference that day—no, yesterday. Correcting himself, he realized that it was a new day. As of one hour and nineteen minutes ago, it was a new day.
Yesterday: a private military contractor—popularly known as a papa mike charlie—stood behind the podium in her oversized eyeglasses and answered reporters’ questions with non-answers.
Today: people are already calling bullshit.
Prof. D thought about her addressing the barrage of reporters’ questions. At first, the private contractor, a late-thirties-ish Latina, seemed like the stereotypical papa mike charlie warmonger as she dodged inquiries about weapons systems and cover-ups. Medium-tall height, athletic, blue business suit of the industry. She stood ramrod straight and broad-shouldered behind that podium. While her poised head swiveled in the direction of each journalist, her body remained rigid.
As the media pressed on, her armor showed its imperfections. Sure, that agent looked tough, Prof. D said to himself. But the eyes behind those oversized frames shared too much. When the telecast finished, he spoke with fellow educators and political associates. All agreed: she had panicked as she verbally danced around the demands for answers and adjusted her large glasses. One friend laughed that she would probably lose her job.
Another buddy—a fellow Jew who liked to kid Prof. D for not being more observant—said, “What if, on her way out, she firebombed that eerie new security complex by the Williamsburg Bridge?”
Those words barely left the man’s mouth when a colleague blurted his response: “If she took out those monolithic government buildings…then restored the Lower East Side to its former glory…I’d elect her president.”
All agreed to support the agent 100% if she torched the Williamsburg Bridge Security and Research Complex.
Prof. D once again wiped his puffy eyes and looked at his computer screen. As a person about to turn fifty, he no longer pulled all-nighters and appreciated the value of nourishing, regenerative sleep. Only tiredness didn’t own him, because the ones in charge had quit scapegoating and said it. They finally admitted it. The government sent a private-industry messenger/whipping pony to stand in front of the media to say…well, to say as little as she said. But she had said enough. Enough to make it official.
Prof. D quit thinking about the tense press conference and looked down at the screen, zeroing in on the blinking cursor. His fingers hit the keyboard and he typed.
Guess what, everybody? We’re not paranoid. Their gaslighting is real.
Reporters were right to hound this spokeswoman.
Whether her crowd is trying to cover up some new type of nuke, or a black op, or another Wall Street fiasco, or…whatever…
Whatever they deflected about today—your instincts were right. If the mainstream media isn’t paying attention, who cares? We are.
A boy, six years old with a head full of black hair and bundled in a gray coat, walked out of line. Step by step, he made his way along the sidewalk until he stood ten feet closer to the row of self-driven vehicles in the auditorium’s drive-up loop.
He had come to this presentation in a yellow school bus driven by a human and wanted to get a closer look at the boxy, pewter-colored vehicles. Parked in the loading area by the stairways, six driverless school buses formed a neat line.
Rocking back and forth on two sneakered feet, hands in the pockets of his jacket, he stared at the row. Raising his voice, the curious boy turned to another group of kids. He wanted to know if robots drove their buses. Also, he added, if they did…he was wondering if he could check one of them out.
A girl his age, with similarly thick black hair, stood in that other line of students, her hands jammed into the pockets of her puffy orange jacket. After hearing his question, she shook her head and replied that some robot somewhere else did the driving. No robot sat behind the wheel.
Since her answer satisfied the boy, he walked back to his line. Kids from the different schools waited for teachers and chaperones to bring them inside.
The year-old, glass-and-steel auditorium jutted off the north side of the spherical, glass-and-steel, two-year-old sports arena. Reflections of clouds from the gray, overcast skies painted many of the windows gray on the two structures.
Classes from five elementary schools congregated at the bottom of the shallow steps in front, organized into rows.
As the students waited outside on the winter day, technicians in the auditorium finished preparing the live feed.
After the auditorium seats filled and the lights darkened, all eyes fixed upward on the high-definition screen. The mix of first- and second-graders giggled and oohed-and-awed as the crew introduced themselves. Here and there, a student would point up at the five-story, curved viewing surface and add their two cents to the show.
In HD, eighteen astronauts who occupied the station Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin—called the Buzz—floated in the weightlessness of space. Many of the six- and seven-year-olds marveled at how enormous each person looked.
Crystal-clear graphics and a state-of-the-art sound system brought their oversized bodies and fun, yet educational insights directly into the auditorium. Some crewmembers did back-flips, front-flips, rolls—rebounding off the curves of the compartment. While they showed off, others discussed concepts like gravity.
Astronauts wore one-piece, fireproof flight suits, half of which were green for the European Union. Americans sported royal blue, Indians saffron and the lone Japanese scientist, red.
All eighteen of them congregated in the central compartment of the Buzz and flew around in the long titanium/Kevlar tube. Before today’s talk began, the inhabitants cleaned out the clutter so the camera could fully show this section of their home. Students learned that two rocket launches had carried the compartment halves into orbit and international teams in spacesuits had assembled the station.
Nearing the wrap-up, the presenters now roamed around with microphones. Kids sat up as high as they could in their auditorium seats and raised their hands, clamoring for a chance to stand up and ask the astronauts questions.
A seven-year-old girl with walnut-brown curls and light brown eyes played with the hem of her blue dress as she waited. Finally getting her chance to speak into the microphone, she asked if they could talk to the other space stations.
A French woman of Algerian descent—the climate systems specialist onboard—smiled. “Of course we can talk with them, but…the other two stations usually stay pretty busy, like we do.” Her accent wasn’t pronounced, as she had spent years studying in America.
The girl asked her next question. “When the Moon Station is all done, will you be able to talk to it, too?”
Smiling, the female PhD candidate replied that talking to the future outpost on the moon wouldn’t be a problem, either.
Reporters from more than a dozen publications captured the event. Kids staring up at the screen, laughing, sharing thoughts with each other, eyes full of wonder.
As the presentation took place inside the auditorium, a group of seventy-five people, ranging from their twenties to late sixties, stood outside near the steps where the kids had congregated earlier.
The overcast skies didn’t let up, but protesters stayed dry as the threat of rain remained only a threat.
One cardboard, hand-lettered sign read EDUCATION FOR ALL. Another read KIDS NEED AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS.
Two retired teachers and two younger activists addressed the small crowd. The quartet stood at the top of the sloping stairs and passed a megaphone around.
Reporters, photographers, and videographers worked inside the auditorium. Another few covered the outside gathering.
One of the organizers had just turned twenty-eight. The youngest of the four, she wore a green, knitted skullcap. Tight brown curls peeked out from its bottom. An unneeded green rain jacket stayed tied around her waist.
After she received the live megaphone, she brought it up to her mouth but didn’t touch the microphone end with her lips. Instead, she held the device directly in front of her face. “What you see in there, on that auditorium screen—it’s a smokescreen.
“Don’t let this so-called ‘good will’ event fool you.” This wasn’t her first protest and she knew not to yell, but rather speak from the diaphragm and let the invention amplify her voice as it was designed to do. “We’ve got an economy that’s crashing, and congress just eliminated even more federal funding for after-school science and math programs.”
Photographers got shots of the firebrand strutting at the top of the steps.
“They cut science. Then they cut the arts, they cut math, and now they cuttin’ science again.” Members of the crowd shook their heads. A few “nuh-uhs” got shouted.
Changing directions, her voice volume rose a bit. “I went to Stedman Elementary, just like some of those kids inside. Congress don’t want black kids or Latino kids to study engineering and go to space. They don’t want people of color around at all.”
With the microphone pointing slightly upward past ninety degrees and her back rigidly straight, the grip of her right hand on the megaphone stayed loose but firm. Her two brown eyes, narrowed and focused, surveyed an audience that hung on her every word. Fingers outstretched, her left hand gestured and danced in the air to the rhythm of her voice. A photojournalist snapped a picture as the sneer in her lip became defiant.
Over the course of the next year, the story would win three industry awards.
The activist continued. “The main extra-curricular program they want for poor kids is Junior ROTC. My school? For boys, it was football and JROTC. For girls, it was just JROTC. No school paper. No yearbook. Nothing. That’s the way it was years ago. And it’s only getting worse.”
She turned in the other direction as her left hand went from gesturing in the air to posturing on her left hip. “They pushing us to fight wars—how many wars we got going now?”
The congregation cheered her on with nods and raised fists in the air. Photographers shot pictures of the organizers at the top of the stairs and the concerned citizens at the bottom of the stairs.
The speaker pointed the megaphone at the crowd. “You don’t have to be that Revolutionizer Alpha guy to see what’s going on here.”
Angel undulated her hips from the right to the left. Before ambling back to begin an unfolding roll, her left hip thrusted to the thumping beat four times. She gave Kyle’s camera flashes of skin. Both hands ran along and played with the folds of her thin, dull-yellow skirt before venturing up her body to stroke the strands of reddish-brown hair that spilled from the loose bun on top of her head.
Shirtless and holding the phone in front of him, Kyle told her how sexy, big, and round her ass looked in the frame of the shot. After leaning forward to get a close-up of her shakes, he sank his skinny frame back into the two-bedroom apartment’s only couch, eyes not leaving the screen as he continued to film his eighteen-year-old girlfriend of six months.
Kyle filmed Angel as she twisted, spun and gyrated in her long skirt and Kyle’s sky-blue tank top. The sides of his loose-fitting shirt fell down far enough to show that she wasn’t wearing a bra.
Their living room/kitchenette’s overhead lights were off, the single floor lamp dimmed low. With few decorations on their walls, nothing distracted the viewer from Angel’s dancing.
Kyle told her she was “sexy-flirty.” She brushed aside the thick hair from her face and showed off some more.
Angel dug this down-tempo house track—a switch from his harder stuff.
Kyle got footage as his girl’s body reacted to the steady hit of beats. She batted her eyes as her lower body began the full circle that her upper body would soon follow.
They had met six months ago. At the outdoor festival, Angel had painted her skin green and wore a purple bikini with yellow, thigh-high go-go boots. Two antennas protruded from her wig, a white afro. Plastic, pointy ears completed the costume.
Kyle had noticed Angel’s little square stage from the DJ booth when one of the crane-mounted spotlights shined in that direction. Grinding ferociously, owning every millimeter of the black platform, the dancer appeared to be on the short side and the thick side. Perfect.
That evening, he sported a yellow tuxedo with outspread, glitter-covered dragon wings sewn into the jacket’s shoulder blades. His alien mask featured a bulging forehead and oversized, black eyeballs, which were offset by a tiny mouth and chin. On both sides, Kyle had cut earholes for his DJ headphones.
After finishing his set at “Area 51 Reduxx,” Kyle waded through the crowd of five thousand. With high-energy psytrance filling the desert night sky, he removed the mask and grinned as his deep green eyes made contact with her soft brown eyes.
“Your bald-ass head is as bald as the bald-ass head on that rubber Martian mask,” Angel said, her smile huge.
“I know.” Kyle smoothed a hand along the side of his scalp. “I shaved it for tonight—my head, I mean. Not the mask.” Then he found his pack in the yellow coat pocket and offered her a cigarette. They had been together ever since.
In their apartment, under the light of the single lamp, Kyle’s mobile zoomed in.
Angel allowed the music to move up and down, electrifying each part of her body as it traveled through. When the beats and melody reached her head, they changed direction to work their way toward her feet. Once there, they did a 180.
Some songs would spiral through Angel in paths. Others would zigzag, or go off on their own tangents. This one meandered from foot to head, then back again.
Kyle went by DJ Scrawnydog until recently, when the universe told him to become DJ Kilo Kyle. Their third roommate told him that he was an idiot, but Angel believed that the universe had indeed spoken to Kyle.
However, she didn’t support Kyle’s decision, five days later, to tattoo the word kilo on his right cheek. When Angel first saw it, she said, “That thing makes you look like a drug dealer, dummy. A dumb drug dealer who has a big ad for his drug business written on his face.”
Tonight, as she moved and played with her messy hair, then her skirt, revealing glimpses of leg here and there, Kyle’s phone captured it all. Nodding, he said, “I could film you shaking that big ass all day, baby.”
While she danced, her mind wandered back to the press conference. Kyle and Angel first saw the video of the papa mike charlie speaking after their friend, DJ Guevara, posted the link. This version of the video contained an afterword, a five-minute discussion about global conspiracies and unseen power-brokers from a panel of fringe activists and freelance investigative journalists.
After the clip finished, Kyle said, “That agent-chick who looks like my cousin Maria, only if Maria, like, worked out and wore big-ass eyeglasses—that chick said the Revolutionizers have designations. Designating people with designations is some serious shit, Angel. That expert at the end of the video, the one who wrote that book about that bullshit about the military complexes and industries, he said so.”
“I’m confused.” Sitting next to him, head resting on his shoulder, Angel squinted. “Does this still have to do with the no-yield nuclear things they been talking about, or are they making new bad shit now?”
“I dunno. Maybe…maybe the Alpha guy and his three guys took the things.”
Sketching passed the time at this convenience store, a lame, lower-tier place. There were no magazines, or even newspapers. Candy and snack choices remained second-rate. Customers primarily bought gas or electricity. His manager rarely mentioned the thin layer of dust on the semi-bare shelves.
The art student sat behind the counter and dinged-up bulletproof window of his part-time cashier job and finished the rendering. A lot of drawing had happened since he started working at this dive of a store three months earlier.
The heavyset twenty-year-old ran his fingers through his shoulder-length black hair and checked out his latest work.
A flag. The graphic on the flag showed a second, burning flag. He drew this on a diagonal, with the pole end pointing to the lower right of the rectangular flag and the flag end aimed at the upper left corner. That flag appeared to be recently lit, the flames climbing upward from the edge of the flowing cloth.
He shifted his sitting position on the rickety stool before adding the final touch to his sketch: identical flames, proportionally larger, in the same position on the larger flag.
What he captured, he liked. A blazing, about-to-disintegrate flag, with a graphic of a blazing, about-to-disintegrate flag. A video of a cryptic press conference and the panelists’ conspiratorial discussion afterward had inspired the idea. After finishing off the rendering, he took a picture of it with his phone and uploaded it to his campus Art Department’s community page.
It got traffic. A few friends forwarded it on right after he posted it. His friend from next door responded within minutes: OMG my fav of yours ever!!!
Her quick response and obvious excitement brought a smile to his roundish face. The woman, who was two years older and on the bigger side as well, majored in Fashion Design and always styled herself out. Between her hair, makeup, and clothing from secondhand stores, she knew how to look good.
Thinking of her also prompted him to remember the late-night talk show host’s opening monologue. A couple of nights ago, the Fashion Design neighbor was going to come over and watch the show with he and his roommates, but got busy.
The cashier/art student rented the split-level, four-bedroom house with five other guys. Their dark hangout TV room in the basement permanently smelled like mold. Above the beat-up couch in the corner, a flat-screen TV hung from the ceiling next to one of four beer neons that adorned the basement walls.
On the night that the Fashion Design neighbor was supposed to come over, the talk show host addressed the rumors. Chilling on a legless, red couch and clad in his blue sweats, the art student watched the opening monologue.
In Burbank, California, the lanky, boyish comedian strutted the curtained stage, splitting his attention between the camera and the human faces in the crowd: “Folks, we got an economy on the verge of crashing, war, top-secret weapons getting stolen or whatever, layoffs all over the place, DC is corrupt.”
The show’s host stopped pacing to finish his next point, fixing the lime-green cuffs on the wide-collared shirt while smirking at the live studio audience. Scanning their faces, mostly tourists, the mid-thirties funnyman said, “But separate fact from rumors. Take the rumor that the environmental saboteur Alfalfa is behind all this, remember: he’s been in jail for the last ten months.”
Looking into the camera, the skinny comedian dropped the goofy expression as he delivered his next line with more energy. “To put this another way: the revolutionary Alfalfa is not Revolutionizer Alpha—now say that three times fast.”
Immediately, he broke into a grin and improvised a tap-dance. Audience members and viewers at home laughed, while saying it three times fast in their heads.
After the show’s closing musical number, the roommates relaxed on the beat-up couches in their smelly basement, smoked weed, and debated the pros and cons of revolutionizing. Here and there, one of the scruffy males would lament that their crew needed to meet more women.
Dancing in the dim light now, Angel let her body feel every nuance of the funk-infused electronic tune. Kyle kept recording as she stayed in one place, but pulsated throughout that limited space.
Her mind focused. Four fellow humans had been given designations. That Mexican agent-chick—the super-in-shape version of Kyle’s cousin—had made it official.
Designations. Revolutionizer Alpha. Revolutionizer Bravo. Revolutionizer Charlie. Revolutionizer Delta.
Four fellow humans had received designations because of something they had done.
Angel looked back at Kyle. More specifically, at his cheek.
Her father didn’t teach her much, but attempts at bonding involved musings and recollections about his time in the Marine Corps. Before he got discharged for a DUI.
She talked about it the second time they hung out, two nights after “Area 51 Reduxx.” Seven months ago, they strolled along a busy boulevard as the weather stayed mild. Both were still broke from the festival, so they decided to hang out and walk around the streets instead of spending any money. They wore jeans and jackets instead of the club wear like the night they met.
Standing at an intersection waiting for the light to change, Angel looked up at him as she finished sharing a childhood memory. “My dad taught me weird military shit, like military time and the phonetic alphabet, because his drunk ass couldn’t talk about normal shit.”
Angel’s skin held the yellow hue for one day after the festival, but by their date on that second night, it had returned to its normal honey-colored tone. Kyle had on a pink polo shirt he had found in the park the week before. He considered sporting his favorite purple ballcap but had decided to go hat-less and look nicer for her.
“I don’t get that Army shit…or your Irish shit.” Kyle shook his bald head as the light turned red, prompting the northbound cars to brake. “But your Mexican shit—your grandma getting on your shit because she’s all Catholic and shit—my grandma does that shit. Then I got German in me, because my mom has part-German for blood.”
Months later, in the apartment, underneath the dim light, Angel stopped grooving and concentrated on Kyle, his face. After staring for a second, she spoke.
“Do you think our roommate would mind if we borrowed his card again?”
A week after uploading his burning flag visual, the art student again sat behind the counter at the convenience store. While scrolling through his connections’ postings on his phone, the hungover twenty-year-old sipped an energy drink and wished he hadn’t forgotten his sketchpad at home.
A meme sent him into an explosion of laughter.
Its visual showed his burning flag/graphic of a burning flag rendering, accompanied by a caption:
REVOL ALFA DRU THE FLAG 2 KEP THE FIRE BERNING! NO NOOKS! NO BOMBZ!!
The shabbily-dressed art student grabbed his pack of cigarettes and stormed outside to call his roommates. Strutting the length of the store’s parking lot, he said, “My Filipino/Scotch-Irish ass is Revolutionizer Alpha, bitches. You payin’ my part of the rent from now on, muthafuckas.”
His Midwestern twang went gangsta as he shouted about the takeover that was about to begin.
Over the course of the next few weeks, he saw renderings of his idea across various mediums. Every time he did, he half-joked about being owed royalties.
A rickety, downtown-bound train pulled away, fifty feet across a chasm of two sets of subway tracks. People standing in the checkpoint line raised their voices to accommodate the departing train’s tired engines. Sticky humidity enveloped the enclosed subway platform and stuck to the tired workers’ skin. Grease and trash mixed with grime. This combination flooded the barely-awake commuters’ nostrils.
As subway cars disappeared one by one into the decaying tube, a heavyset, balding man in a gray suit shoved past another commuter, pushing the smaller, younger man into the beat-up tile wall. The next two people—a man his age and a woman just out of college—stepped aside before he made contact. Right after he finished forcing his way through them, sections of the line re-ordered themselves. Some shook their heads at the interruption. Others maintained their blank stares.
The angry man reached the worn concrete stairs that connected the subway platform up to a street exit by Grand Central Station. Without pausing, he trudged upward, grabbing the iron railing as he took the first step. He pushed some. Others let him pass.
One minute earlier, that same heavyset man stood in line as a subway across the tracks prepared to shut its doors.
People in the section of line by the bigger man chatted to pass the time.
“I wish they had A/C in this filthy tube. This skinny guinea needs a forty—hey, anybody carrying a spare forty-ounce on them this morning?” A corporate mailroom employee from Ozone Park shifted the green ballcap on his head. At this point in the workday, the sleeves on his work shirt were already rolled up. The top button on his shirt, under his tie, had never been buttoned.
Around him, commuters chuckled at his comment.
Studying the security personnel at the top of the stairs checking IDs, the wiry native New Yorker shook his head. Four uniformed papa mike charlies manned the turnstile, its metal grate of a door open so subway riders could pass through and up, to Lexington Avenue, after showing their identification. Three of the guards formed their own closed-off group while only the youngest one looked at commuters’ identification cards and driver’s licenses.
Adding decibels to his voice, the mail guy shifted his cap again and kept his eyes on the exit. “Word is they assassinated the Revolutionizers already. Now Immigration is using these checkpoints as a distraction while they round people up.”
The tall, black-haired woman in the blue suit standing in front of him turned her head to the side. They nodded at each other.
The balding man in the gray suit stood ten feet behind them down the line of workers and other travelers, listening to the words, clenching and unclenching his two fists as he did. Unlike the subway riders around him, the quiet fifty-something made no effort to pass the time with small talk, but instead fixated on the exit.
Nearby, a suited man on aluminum crutches nudged the blonde, suited woman in front of him. Shaking his head, voice loud, he said, “I’m starting to think that these checkpoints are getting more idiotic and desperate-looking by the day.”
The gruff subway rider burst from his place near the back of the line. Leather heels scraped concrete as he forced himself past people. Although the first few didn’t move out of the way fast enough, he met little resistance reaching the bottom of the stairs. Tired citizens shuffled around, their eyes either locked on the yellowed platform below their feet or moving across the array of advertisements on the walls.
“It’s time to get this moving,” he said at the quarter-point up the flight of stairs.
Working forward, he repeated this phrase, his voice growing louder.
A private military contractor at the checkpoint—twenty-one-years old, two months on the job—ran his burly, trembling hand across his dark blue body armor until his gloved fingers felt the bulge of a holstered weapon. Three other security contractors, also wearing uniforms, stood a few feet behind him. Over his shoulder, but keeping his eyes forward, the bodybuilding point-man felt the piece on his side again and yelled, “Decaf or regular?”
“Regular.” His busy supervisor—older and heavier than the agitated commuter who stepped out of line—yelled the code that signaled his approval to use the taser while instead keeping his attention on the phone conversation to his managerial team.
The veteran security contractor’s authorization prompted the junior guard to run his covered fingers across the leather repeatedly, eyes not leaving his target.
Shifting back and forth in his boots, the police gear hanging from his service belt jostled. Again barking the order to stop, he needed to yell over the lumbering troublemaker’s repetition of the phrase, “It’s time to get this moving.”
The older man’s pace up the stairs, his nudging and pushing, stayed steady and relentless. Other commuters tried to move, despite the crowded area.
The new officer took a deep breath and drew what he thought was his taser.
A nanosecond after feeling the pistol’s recoil, he realized his mistake.
The bullet entered the upset man’s skull at the right temple. His big frame jumped—the combination of physical force and neurological shock.
By the time his 240-pound body finished falling back down the stairs—and colliding into panicked citizens along the way—three men in the crowded line drew pistols of their own. Two possessed legal concealed-carry permits, the third did not. The first one to fire his weapon hit the unwashed wall by the stairway three times. As bullets angled off, they took chunks of yellowed ceramic tile with them, allowing the clean white layers underneath to shine. Shards hit commuters’ faces, bloodying a few.
On the stairs, the dying man crashed backward into another man his age, who had just gotten off crutches following hip surgery. The crushing force cracked open the still-healing wound, prompting the skinnier man to shriek at the top of his lungs. Guttural cries caused by an artificial hip separating from a natural bone socket added an element of pain to the screams of terror and confusion.
His agony and the sight of blood streaks triggered a suit-clad blonde woman in her twenties who stood two steps down from him. A survivor of a violent mugging, she added her own piercing shrieks while swinging both fists and kicking her feet at everyone around her, clawing at and punching people desperate to get off the stairs. One kick launched an older commuter into the four people on the stairs below him and they fell like dominoes into others.
Intensity at the front prompted the youngest of the gun-wielding citizens to assume that government Nazis had begun torturing people, or just killing them outright.
The officers returned fire, except the junior one who had mistakenly fired the first shot. The older permit-holder and the unregistered shooter stopped after discharging only a few rounds. The other permit-holder kept squeezing the trigger until a bullet tore through his leather jacket and striped shirt, lodging into his chest. After stumbling backwards a few feet, the recent divorcee fell to his right, off the platform and onto the tracks below. The body came to a rest inches from the high-voltage third rail that powered the subway engines.
The former SQN Revolutionizer Project Liaison Officer and current SQN Contract Agent Raquel Garcia looked across the break room table. SQN Contract Agent Matt Zurbriggen had undone his tie earlier and took off his gray suit jacket before sitting down to eat.
The stocky blond man inhaled a foil-wrapped burrito as he stared at Medical Tower Room 4-B’s wall-mounted TV.
Raquel decided against dinner. She’d been eating like crap lately and hadn’t worked out in over a week. Whenever she got a chance to return to her one-bedroom place, the recently-demoted national security professional planned to mix up a nutrient shake. A nutrient shake, vodka and a muscle relaxer sounded like the perfect dinner.
Although she wasn’t wearing her eyeglasses, Raquel had no trouble seeing the news program. She only used the large-framed glasses when she needed to come across as more corporate and impersonal. They helped with things like speaking to the press—her least favorite part of the job. Raquel’s gray suit showed wrinkles. Never a big wearer of makeup, this morning’s hurried applications of blush along her sharp cheekbones and minimal attempts to color her eyes and shape her eyebrows had long since faded from her face.
Currently, only those two agents occupied a side room with eight round tables, linoleum floors, and nothing but procedural posters decorating the walls. The Medical Tower joined the handful of eight-story, carbon-copy buildings that served as a multi-department complex by the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City.
As they watched the footage—a diminutive man being interviewed by a woman made taller by her heeled black boots, both standing in a parking lot—Raquel yawned, then sipped unsweetened iced tea through her straw. “Matt, how long ago was that news conference…the one where I got myself in trouble?”
Her partner shook his head, grinning. He had just taken a sip from his soda. “Gotta choose your words carefully, Raquel. When you use papa mike charlie lingo around reporters these days, when they hear industry shit like ‘he was designated Revol…’”
“How long ago?”
Matt wiped his mouth with a white paper napkin. “Let’s see, we’ve been quietly, unassumingly hunting for those four for…three weeks? Five?”
She pointed at the TV with her cup. “And now there’s this burning flag bullshit. Senator’s office and CIA hounding Sean, Robert, and Megyn.” She shook her head.
“Power brokers are petrified—that’s the word, right? Even fellas like this bean counter here on the TV terrify rich folks these days.”
On the TV, the balding accounts receivable supervisor spoke to the spiky-haired media professional. Her microphone in his face, the two stood by a gray, two-story office building in Sioux City, Iowa.
Raquel and Matt watched the interview.
“Well…after searching for ‘revolutionizer flags,’ all these links popped up. Tons.” The supervisor ran his right hand through his thin hair and spoke again after both hands parked themselves on his hips. “So, I picked this animated screensaver, put it on every computer, yup, uh-huh. My co-workers who got let go as part of the reorganizing—guess what? They are now part of the revolutionizing. Git some.”
He tried to fist-bump the fashionably-dressed reporter. Neither of her hands moved.
Watching the TV interview and eating his burrito, Matt pointed out a fact to his partner. “Raquel, all that guy did was download a screensaver to the computers of co-workers that got laid off. Takes a video, uploads, and it’s news.”
Brown eyes heavy, she chuckled before answering. Staring off, she lowered her voice to mimic an announcer’s voice. “‘Someone got laid off? Trick out their cube with burning flags. Freak out the boss that Revolutionizer Alpha is comin’.”
Matt cackled. “And he’s bringin’ the nukes.”
After hearing this inside—but now tired—joke, Raquel’s snickers joined his. “DoD is giving Sean all sorts of hell about that. Still.”
Matt’s right hand, the size of an offensive lineman’s, ran across his square jaw’s stubble as he watched the broadcast. “Sean has always been a nutjob of a CEO, but the stress of Revolutionizer done fried his mind.”
Raquel grabbed the remote and turned up the volume, then leaned over to the man who she had first met in the Marine Corps more than a decade earlier. “Did you hear the new rumor? Some wacko reporter is talking about these things called ‘the Revolutionizer surveillance tapes’ and saying that—”
“Revolutionizer surveillance tapes?” Matt’s blond eyebrows squinted. The small smirk stayed on his mouth.
His worn-out co-worker nodded back. “Yeah. Supposedly, Sean is using material from these tapes in his reality-TV show.”
Sighing, he said, “Surveillance tapes…got it.” He hadn’t taken a bite in a while and the steak burrito hovered in his hands. “Don’t they know that we’re too clueless to even find those four? Gotta find them before we can conduct surveillance on them.”
Raquel laughed out loud. “Cart before the horse, right? SQN, TruSec, DoD, NYPD, FBI, the lobbyists, Senator Steves’ office—I don’t know who’s panicking worse.”
After the joking died down, the two quietly stared off. Matt finished his dinner and was cleaning up when Raquel passed along the info she had just received when her phone buzzed a minute ago.
“Just got word: the two homeless guys were dismembered by another homeless guy, not by our test subjects.” She tossed the mobile device onto the table, then ran her fingers through her shoulder-length brown hair, while letting out a long sigh. “So…Jeff, Devi, Derrick, and Nanette are still missing and we have no clues of any kind.”
“You know me. I think we’re chasing our tails. When rich folks panic this hard, something else is up. As much as Nanette meant to you, sorry, Raquel, this all got handled and handled quietly. People are covering their tracks.”
Sipping from her straw, she tried not to remember that at one point in time, she had a friend, Nanette. At another point in time, that formerly paralyzed friend smashed through a doorframe with her head, then threw a man twice her size—a man Raquel herself helped train in Krav Maga—fifty feet down a hallway.
Test subjects Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta crashed. Raquel stood by, helpless, as she watched them, one by one, lose consciousness. Devi Patel, Bravo, hung on longest. In the weeks since, Raquel tried her best to block out those visions of the fear in the thirty-two-year-old accident victim’s eyes as she begged the doctors and Raquel to save her. After all four woke up, they needed to be tazed and shot with tranquilizer darts and other drugs. None of the four moved again until their bodies disappeared days later.
Current nightmares and panic attacks centered on Nanette and the other three harming day care centers, church services, or nursing homes—any public place, for that matter.
“Powerful people are severing their connections.” Matt leaned in as he interrupted her thoughts, his voice quiet. “We destroyed four innocent test subjects, Raquel. We fucked up. Huge. Now, if we chase our tails long enough, it will die down, people will look away. Eventually.”
The exhausted partners stayed quiet until Raquel spoke again. “Stressed out folks losing their jobs got wind that the thriving papa mike charlie industry was involved with something called the Revolutionizers. And before we could set the record straight, we almost killed the actual Revolutionizers.” She closed her eyes.
“Then…we panicked.” Matt chewed on a piece of ice. “We. Fucking. Panicked.”
After yawning, he put down his cup and leaned forward. “If conspiracy freaks are speculating that those four are some magical band of rebels or a gang of benevolent mercenaries or—whatever—I say let the world gossip.” Matt took a deep breath before going further. “And who gives two shits if those hacker assholes Beautifying Humans add more gasoline to the fire just to prove that they’re assholes—I am done caring about it. Any of it. All of it.”
The stony look in Matt’s blue eyes vanished. His gaze drifted from his partner to the room’s institutional walls and the garish, badly-designed, yet official posters that told employees what to do and what not to do. In a quiet voice, he said, “Once the real story breaks, people are going to jail.”
Raquel shrugged, her spent body’s attempt at agreement. While they rested, only the building’s heating system made noise.
Yawning again, Matt said, “My dad took me to the office one day when I was a kid. They had an audit. The firm was missing three forms—out of thousands of clients—like, three forms. Worker-bees tore apart filing cabinets, poured over folders…for three pieces of paper. Managers chewing asses, yelling to search harder.” Matt chuckled as his head shook. “At nine years old, I swore I would never do things like that, ever. Thirty years later, here I am.”
One of the break room’s procedural posters on the far wall, all neon colors and clip-art cheesiness, caught his sight. He grabbed his fast-food bag and tossed it at the trashcan two feet to the left of the poster. It missed and fell to the linoleum floor.
The private military contractors continued to sit and zone out in empty space.
Beneath 42nd Street, the underground corridor spanned three blocks and connected the Times Square subway station with Grand Central Station.
SQN Officers Raquel Garcia and Matt Zurbriggen sprinted. Matt led Raquel by half a foot. Raquel’s black boots and Matt’s black loafers hit, then left concrete as they dodged the few citizens who managed to get past the checkpoints.
Within one hundred feet of their first steps, the two former Marines shared one cadence as their feet connected and disconnected with the tile-lined cavern of a hallway. While their papa mike charlie badges were displayed, neither drew their pistols as they ran down the grimy passageway flooded by ugly yellow light.
One image—noticeable for maybe a second. Raquel made out the spray-painted image as she ran by it. A burning flag. A flag of a burning flag. Blue spray-paint.
Another one. Eighty feet past the first. Also covering the dirty tile. This one in red marker. Raquel and Matt flew by the burning-flag-within-burning-flag renderings.
They’d just gotten the call: multiple shots fired.
Not even one hour ago, the partners were supervising the Times Square papa mike charlie and NYPD teams. The two got assigned one of the Times Square posts and other teams had been told to report to Grand Central Station.
While they inspected the hastily-assembled crew, Matt felt livid and let Raquel know it.
“Look at this shit,” Matt said. “Some old lady with fifty cats calls Emergency Services looking for attention. And we waste half the day dealing with it.”
Their morning began with hearing about a senior citizen filing a report about suspicious-looking individuals on the subway.
After arriving at Times Square, Matt could only shake his head at the mix of young and old faces that would make up their homeland security detail. Some fumbled with gear. The tallest one wore civilian clothes, a team sweatshirt and jeans with his blue tactical vest because his uniform order hadn’t been filled. One man, so overweight, couldn’t secure his body armor. Its straps hung to the side of his body.
Matt studied the group. “Raquel?”
“Not to be cynical here, but what are the chances that one of these yokels mistakes their taser for their firearm? Pistol in the right holster, taser on the left—what are the chances of them fucking that up?”
A slightly overweight chief technology officer of a pharmaceutical conglomerate stared out at the canyon formed by windowed office buildings lining Wacker Drive in Chicago.
Through his own company’s window, the newly promoted professional gazed down at the busy street. He could no longer bear to check out any piece of technology owned by the people who employed him.
While taking in the outside view of concrete, glass and steel, he cleaned his eyeglasses.
Earlier, sporting a wry smile, his boss, the company president, had told him not to worry about the fact that business operations worldwide had ceased. The exasperated Ph.D. rested his sizable hand on the IT director’s shoulder while he reflected on the day’s events. “Five other multinationals got doxxed today. We’re not special. Revolutionizer Alpha and this gang of hacker dickheads he’s financing—know why they are doing this?”
The IT director remembered nodding and removing his oval-framed eyeglasses—while wishing more than anything that his company president’s long fingers would release their grip on his shoulder.
The president sighed, shaking his head. “Forget the hysteria about low-yield nukes…or high-yield nukes…or the… Jesus…the stupid things sound like investment funds or something.” He snorted. “All of that was a red herring, at best. None of this is political. There is no agenda or endgame.”
The senior executive’s heavy hand remained anchored. Leaning forward, his glare grew gigantic. “The ringleader—this alpha-male-wannabe—he’s the son of some billionaire tycoon, bored and acting out, drawing burning flags all over the place just to make a stink.”
The president’s tennis club had been vandalized the week before. The culprits spray-painted the pop-culture symbol on the clubhouse wall.
Recalling the sight of the older maintenance man sandblasting the graffiti, his fingers clamped on his uncomfortable underling’s shoulder tighter. He finished his thought, his mouth inches from his CTO’s ear. “Watch: when they catch him, that’ll be the story. Mark my words: at the center of all this is some sociopathic jokester looking to piss off his rich family. Nothing more.”
The president swatted the fatter man’s back three times before leaving the CTO to look around at the rows of empty cubicles in the silent purchasing department. Due to the chaos, all of the employees had been told to leave early.
Heading to the elevator, the CEO yelled behind him, “You and I will have a more in-depth chat later on. Right now, I need to figure out how much money our CFO stole so I can answer that asshole reporter.”
After the elevator doors closed, the CTO turned away from the vacant department full of beige cubicles and resumed staring out the window.
He didn’t leave the spot for another hour. All the screens in the division—every computer, oversized screen and mobile device—displayed a bit-mapped message written in white on the black screen:
The operation was a success.
We removed the bullshit.
Two aisles sloped up and back through the rows of stadium seats until they each hit a set of rickety auditorium doors. From behind the front lectern, with his head slightly raised, Prof. D greeted the quarter-full class sitting in those beat-up seats. On this overcast morning, the non-working building circulation created only stuffiness, and its stifling air filled the 300-person lecture hall.
Moving to lean on the left side of the podium, the New Yorker wore brown slacks and a green collared shirt. Having just visited the barber, Prof. D’s graying hair went up over his ears again. Before this lesson began, a few students complimented the “more professional-looking” teacher. A wise-ass Kinesiology major kidded him about still needing to lose a few pounds. Prof. D ribbed back about his pupil needing to hit the books as hard as he hit the gym.
After sipping water from his ceramic mug, Prof. D looked up and around at the seventy-odd students, then fixed his thin-framed eyeglasses before speaking. “So, we’ve got an economy crashing, wars, warheads, fascists not paying taxes, burning flags—who thinks that the world has been chaotic in the last year or so?”
Before any hands raised, he lifted his own. Students offered small smiles and some hands went up. Prof. D continued. “All that nuttiness inspired today’s topic. Today, my good friends, we’re going to talk about quantum physics.” He nodded a huge nod. “Yes we are.”
He shifted to the right of the lectern and the wood floor creaked as he did.
A quarter of the class giggled. Prof. D grinned at the rows of students, his round eyeglass lenses reflecting the overhead light.
“I’ll play along.” A blond male sitting three rows back, dressed in a black jogging suit, sneered as he surveyed his peers. “So, Prof. D…why is a ‘Principles of Modern Political Science Theory’ class talking quantum physics—that’s like the study of atoms, right? That’s, like…science.”
Students joined the laughter after hearing the definition.
“Political Science has ‘science’ in the title, bro.” From a row in back, a pony-tailed student with a Midwestern accent raised his voice without cracking his blank expression or even moving a tiny bit in his battered stadium seat. “Don’t be a dick. Prof. D might be qualified.”
The lecture hall laughed. Heads that had been staring off now looked down at Prof. D.
He grinned at the student in the back. Then he put his hands on his hips and raised his voice. “What you said was perfect: I ‘might’ be qualified. You ‘might’ be qualified.”
Prof. D roamed the front of the room, crossing back to his left, as his head stayed raised and his eyes engaged with the seated students. “Quantum physics is so strange that many physicists hesitate to call themselves ‘experts’ in the field. Even Albert Einstein thought it was weird.” He nodded at the rows of students, arms now crossed in front of him. “Yeah. Smart-guy Al ran in the opposite direction after hitting the quantum crackpipe. His word for the stuff was ‘spooky’.”
Students giggled, then went silent.
Pacing again, his arms gestured about the world at the atomic level. “In that nutty lil’ place called Quantumland, one electron spins clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time. One electron can be in multiple places at once. This is called ‘superposition’.”
Looking around the room, he winked. “Matter at this level passes through solid walls as though walls had never existed.”
Prof. D nodded at the skeptical looks that his comment received. “Yup. No shit. And as far as we know, every atom in your body has the power to do all of that, too.”
An out-of-work paramedic raised her pajama-clad right arm to cover her eyes and block the construction floodlights from across the street. A minute ago, her right index finger reached up to itch the side of her right nostril by her silver hoop nose ring before returning to her side beneath the blue wool blanket. Now dead still, the Paterson, New Jersey native wanted to feel tired.
She rolled to her right again, avoiding the incoming rays’ path. Her medium-height frame had no trouble fitting onto the long vintage couch and she found its overstuffed, soft-denim cushions comfortable. The only issue since beginning to stay at her sister’s place two nights earlier pertained to the forever-shining lights.
At another point in time, three-, four-, and five-story brownstones had lined both sides of this block on West 10th Street in the West Village of New York City. Whether the apartment dwellings were brownstone facades or red brick, they all melted together in one’s gaze down the narrow street. Now, only her sister’s 19th-century brownstone and a few other walkups stood on this side.
The obnoxious yellow light blazed in from across the street. There, a twenty-story condominium building’s construction was running close to a year behind schedule, but the builders stored equipment at the skeleton of a site even though workers had not been paid in months. The stalled project occupied a footprint once held by six brownstones.
The recently laid-off first responder tried to relax on her temporary bed, her hazel eyes closed. Thoughts about working out more and adopting a regular schedule, now that free time had appeared in her life again, ran through her mind. Though she skewed more health nut than gym rat when it came to taking care of herself, she still did value the energy that physical fitness brought. Lying on this couch in the darkness, she pondered lifestyle changes and gym memberships.
Flipping from her left side back to her right side on the couch, she released a huge exhale. Her hair. Her black hair reached her ears on the sides and the bangs stuck out too much. Maybe a new haircut could pull her out of this funk. The short look came in handy at her occasionally chaotic ambulance-driving job and she had gotten used to the style years ago.
Barefoot, she got up from the couch and tiptoed to the small closet by the front door to grab a blanket from the top shelf.
The sleepy, early-thirties job-hunter walked the eight feet over to the window and hung a red, wool blanket over the intruding glow. Using her hands, she felt around in the dark on top of the old wooden window frame and found a few random nails sticking out. These had been hammered in there long before her sister Mary had started renting the place. After tucking the blanket’s edges in so they would hold, she padded back to the soft cushions in darkness.
Her sister’s funky couch swallowed her once she laid back down.
A minute later, the red blanket fell from the window. Floodlights brightened the room once more.
Piercing screams, horrified shrieks, and wordless cries for help—howls that human ears could not consciously sense—first filled the air three days earlier.
Looking out at the Atlantic Ocean from the end of his 100-foot boat dock now, the owner of those three acres of property in Westhampton, New York ran his right hand across the baldness of his head, clearing droplets of rain from his skin.
For the past seventy-two hours, the owner had attempted to distract his mind from the flood of tortuous noise with tasks like readying the six gardens for the upcoming spring planting, swimming in the freezing ocean water, meditation, cleaning his rooftop deck, and clearing out his stables-turned-workshop. Even organizing his collection of tools, welding equipment, art supplies, and technology components failed to block the freaked-out hysterics racing through the air. No matter what he did, the terror that had rocked four beings flooded through his head.
The shoreline started thirty yards behind him and ocean water jumped around below. The owner’s bare, wet feet stood on the granite-colored plywood decking at the end of his boatless pier. Fog that accompanied the rain set in and his scenic view of the bay and Atlantic Ocean horizon fell out of existence for a moment. He knew the type of quiet out here; he’d heard it many times. Listening to four beings’ misery, he imagined the sounds of water lightly splashing the wooden pilings mixed with the very slight whoosh of wind.
Four days earlier, his face had appeared to be smooth. Now, suggestions of wrinkle lines showed around his green eyes from the constant stream of intense pain and confusion flooding his ears. Despite the individuals’ pulsing fear, he tried to see it all as one unfortunate downside when races of beings take leaps forward. Evolutionary steps sometimes appear to falter at first and the initial few who take those steps sometimes die. If that’s what was happening now, he thought, the type of occurrence was certainly not new.
Two green eyes stared out at the ocean fog’s ghostly blanket. The being could not escape the guttural pleas of four petrified souls.
Humans, ignorant of what they were doing to four fellow beings—whoever they were—the man told himself not to get angry at them.
Shifting his view to the left, he peered up the shallow, grass-covered hill at his two-story workshop. The light shell of fog turned the century-old structure’s sky-blue paint job into a dreary haze.
Eyes still moving left, the owner surveyed his two-story, five-bedroom bungalow in the distance, up a shallower slope of hill from the workshop. The red brick house had held up nicely over the years. Because of the rainy weather’s distortion, the deep redness of the brickwork and the trim’s solid whiteness seemed to bleed together to become a dull pink. The kitchen’s massive picture window looked out at this dock and bay, but he could barely see it.
Looking up above the top floor, empty ceramic pots sat on the waist-high brick wall lining the rectangular perimeter of the rooftop deck. Five years ago, he had added this extra level. Mulling over planting possibilities for those pots, how he could fill them seven or eight weeks from now—even those thoughts couldn’t eliminate the loudness.
Taking a few deep breaths and running his hand over his head yet again to send rain droplets flying, he wished for death. Not his death. Those four humans—people he didn’t know—he wished for death to overtake them so that they could find peace.
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Release date: April 3, 2019
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