Gwen sat in the waiting room just outside General Thomas Dilk’s office. She breathed in slowly and tried to ignore the stabbing pain in her lower back. For some reason, sitting on a soft surface just wasn’t helping the situation. She reached up and placed her hand on the thick bandage under her uniform and winced. She had sustained a collapsed lung back in the Grand Atrium that had almost cost her everything. Gwen didn’t want to know what Asset 626 had in mind for her. If she had hesitated for just a few seconds in neutralizing the nightshade, things would have been different. Gwen paused and shuddered inside at what could have happened. She didn’t want to think about being eaten alive by one of these things.
“Stupid bleachers,” muttered Gwen as she eased back into the chair again. She maintained her rigid posture even with the injury. “They deserve everything they get here!”
A man chuckled softly from across the room and started mumbling to himself. His deep voice vibrated off the stainless steel paneling. Gwen looked over to the large receptionist sitting at the small desk. The man had been spouting off like this every minute or so. His fingers would type up a storm on the keyboard. When he was finished, he would hold his face and read what he had written and either nodded his head ‘yes’, or shake his head ‘no’. No one in the barracks dared to ask him what he was doing during this time.
Gwen’s keen mind went into detective mode. Odd behaviors, more often than not, pointed to nightshade activity. Dean Johnson’s behavior seemed like it fit the description. He was a very big man that could pile drive you into the concrete if you made him angry. He seemed to always sit alone at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gwen had even heard it said, by the higher ranking officers, that he might be a bleacher in disguise. What better way to gain access to classified military secretes than to sit outside the generals office taking notes. This gorilla of a man must see everyone that comes in and out of this place.
Gwen’s eyes spotted the flashing green light just above his broad shoulders. The green data disk on the back of the receptionist’s neck could be seen peaking up over the collar like a small tick. Gwen didn’t often question the technology that Prewitt Labs developed for them but she did have sneaking suspicions of what they really could be…of course she would never say a word to anyone about her paranoias. They needed as much trust in the government system as possible. The little green data disks had never led them astray while out in the field. Every single one of the individuals they had brought in for “re-education” had changed into a body snatching monster. Asset 626 had changed into one and so would Mr. Cardoon. It was only a matter of time before the transition took place.
It was at this moment that Gwen realized something important. The very thought of it caused her to panic a little inside. She couldn’t recall having caught one female nightshade during her stay with the agency. All the Assets they had brought in for weeks had been male; none of them had transformed into females.
This couldn’t be right. Thought Gwen as she clasped her hands together. Her brown eyes were stills studying the big receptionist across the room, statistically there would have to be a female in this base somewhere. I must be mistaken. Maybe they keep them separated… in another base… but why?”
Every government debriefing Gwen had been a part of made it clear that the bleachers couldn’t breed with each other. Something was off in the logic. Where do they all come from if they can’t breed with one another? Gwen reached up and placed a hand on her own data disc and wondered. Will I really just have to trust the system? The Date Disc on her neck was vibrating slightly with information. Her sharp brown eyes watched carefully as Dean laughed into his hands and nodded his head ‘yes’. The nut job was having way too much fun with his computer to be human. Gwen wasn’t afraid to ask the cave troll what he was laughing at.
“Hey Dean!” said Gwen as loudly as she could muster, “What is so funny?”
Dean finished typing his paragraph and turned to Gwen. He smiled broadly at the agent sitting in the waiting area. His front tooth was missing. “I am almost done with my regency romance novel and things are getting so good between the main characters. This girl, named Susan Hofstadter, finds herself caught in a romance between two English Gentleman. The Duke of Dunkley and the Lord of Westinghouse.” Dean almost came out of his seat as he explained. There was a slight whistle to his speech. “But get this Gwen; one of the English gents is not really who he purports to be. He is actually a thief in disguise who is looking to steal a valuable painting, called “The Eyes of Paris.” Well he was just caught in the act of thievery by Lady Hofstadter herself and in order to keep the ruse alive he was forced to dance with her.” Dean pointed to the computer. “You can’t make this stuff up; its freakin’ gold. The Duke is actually falling in love with Lady Hofstadter right now and I am loving every minute of it.”
Gwen was stunned by the man’s openness to her question. Her train of thought shattered like a glass window.
“I didn’t know you were a writer! How long have you been writing?” asked Gwen. She was genuinely surprised and a little envious at the same time. Her whole ridged demeanor vanished as she reflected on her own ambitions in life. Gwen had wanted to be a writer before her sister was killed by the bleachers. She had been meaning to writer her own book for five years now; but seemed to never find the time. The book was all there in the back of her head waiting to be discovered. It was about a hot headed police agent who always got her man, but who, at the same time, didn’t need a man to define her.
Mad props to you, Betty Friedan, Thought Gwen with a smile.
“Oh I have been writing my stories for a few years now girl friend,” said Dean as he picked up his soda cup and took a few sips. He was always careful not to get the sugary residue on his upper lip. He caught his breath again with a little whistle from his teeth. “I have 6 books published with HMH and my editor is going to eat this one up when it’s all done. She loves regency romance just as much as I do! It’s a way for children and adults to learn history and get there daily dose of romance.” Dean leaned forward and placed his hand near his mouth. He spoke as if he were whispering something secret to Gwen. “I mean we are all looking to be accepted by someone in our lives. Who doesn’t want a big-strong-man to come in and sweep them off their feet?”
Gwen laughed and leaned forward. “What started this passion for writing?”
“Oddly enough, C.S. Lewis started this whole obsession for writing,” said Dean in the most serious voice he could muster. He was whistling softly now. “I fell in love with The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe. I just found some of the phrasing to be enchanting and curious… Sons of Adam… and Daughters of Eve!”
“The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe?” asked Gwen incredulously. She crossed her arms over her chest and raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that a children’s book?”
“Yep,” said Dean. There was not an ounce of shame in his voice as he spoke. “You should give it a try before you rag on it. I gave it to a friend of mine, Daphne, back at HQ a while back. She has read the book from cover to cover a few times and absolutely loves the story. It has changed her whole perspective on how she sees humanity in general. She even had some Christians over the other night to discuss the incarnation; whatever that means. I am not a believer myself, mind you, but she said they were delightful to listen to and delicious in every way! She wants to meet the congregation now!”
Gwen recoiled inside. She didn’t know this conversation on writing was going to head into a discussion on Christianity. She had grown up in a catholic house and had seen all she need to see on the subject of “religious” love. Her dad alone had shown her there was something deeply flawed with the system. To Gwen, it was becoming more clear why Dean Johnson sat alone at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gwen was ultimately sorry she had asked, but played it cool anyway, “That’s great Dean. I’ll have to look into this book.”
Dean Johnson smiled the biggest smile. He was going to speak when his computer started ringing loudly. The large receptionist held his chest in surprise and turned to the keyboard. He pressed the space bar and watched as General Thomas Dilk appeared on the thin glossy monitor in front of him. The General’s face was streaked with three long scars that danced over his visage and down his neck. It was only rumored by the men at Camp Snowflake how he had gotten the weird vascular scars. Some say that his ex-wife had been a nightshade in disguises and that he had seen to her removal from society personally.
The Generals voice was authoritative and raspy as he projected himself over the loud speakers, “Private Dean Johnson!”
“Yes sir!” said Dean as he saluted with a meaty hand.
“Is Agent Garcia waiting out there?”
“Yes sir.” Said Dean as he glanced at Gwen.
“Would you kindly send her in here to see me,” said General Dilk, “I would like to speak to her about recent events that have transpired in the Grand Atrium. I have several questions that need answering on a volume of different subjects.”
“Yes sir, right away sir,” said Dean as he turned to Gwen and motioned to the office doors with his hand. He was speaking to Gwen now. “General Dilk will see you now Agent Garcia. He says he’s got lots of questions for you to answer.”
Gwen nodded and stood up slowly. She was being careful not to twist her torso as she weaved around the modern office furniture to the stainless steel doors in the far wall. Dean watched her go and could only think of how graceful she looked in her combat boots; the girl was on point in so many ways. He would have to write a story about her bravery in the Grand Atrium. Dean turned back to the General. He spoke and tried to limit the whistle coming out of the gap in his teeth. He knew the whistling annoyed the old General. “She is on her way, sir.”
“That’s some damn fine good work, Private Dean Johnson.” Said the General.
“Thank you sir. I pride myself on managing the lobby,” said Dean. He was repressing the smile coming to his face and the tears coming to his eyes. It was a rare occasion that the General made complements to the men on base and he was going to take what he could get.
“Oh, and before I forget. I have another thing to say, Private Johnson,” said General Dilk as he placed his glasses on his face and held up a book to the camera. The title was barely visible. “I finished reading your historical romance. It is some damn fine good regency fiction, Private Johnson. I mean it really pulls at the heart strings. Have you written a sequel for...” The General paused and looked at the book on his desk, “Love Only Knocks Once; But It Knocks Loud and Hard.”
Dean was absolutely floored by the announcement from the white haired General. Maybe all his previous assertions about the man had been misplaced and fanciful. I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover. Dean Johnson couldn’t help himself anymore. He let a tear stream down his cheek. “No, sir. I haven’t written a sequel to that one…Mainly because all the characters died in the end from tuberculosis or a broken heart. Its kind of a standalone.”
“I don’t care if it’s a standalone. I need you to write another one, ASAP,” said the General. He was looking around his desk for his notes he had taken. His expression hardened when he couldn’t find the paper he had written on. “I have a few ideas in mind that we can talk about later. I can’t find the damn paper. I’ll help you compose the whole thing like a proper soldier.”
Dean wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that, “O-O-Okay sir, but we...”
Dean Johnson was cut off.
“That a boy, private!” said the General, “at ease boy.”
The call ended and the computer screen went blank.