ULTERIOR MOTIVES, PART 1.
In stark contrast to the gloomy sky from the previous day, a sea of blue above revealed an abnormally oversized sun shining brightly down upon the mast of the Palace of Education, diverting attention away from the flashing lights from police and military hovervehicles creating an obnoxious light show from beneath the Everton cliffs.
As Jesse arrived via hovertaxi, the parking lot was bare empty save for a few luxury vehicles, and the non-emergency personnel in sight on campus was Pete Harrison himself, standing in front of the Tower entrance.
After Jesse disembarked, Harrison, dressed in a white polo shirt and jeans, approached Jesse with an uncharacteristic slouched posture.
Jesse could tell his principal looked like a broken man.
Harrison rallied a slight grin as he shook Jesse’s hand.
“Thank you so much for coming,” Harrison said in his typical professional tone. “But I would prefer to have seen you better dressed. You look like you just rolled out of bed!”
“With all due respect, sir, I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and this black t-shirt and blue shorts were the only articles of clothing available to me.”
“Yes. I understand your aunt is in the hospital, and she is resting comfortably. I pray for a speedy recovery.”
“How do you know? Did Bob tell you?”
“We spoke this morning. And I want to make this clear: I did not discuss our meeting with him. I purely devised this.”
“Well, sir, I apologize for being presumptuous, but I’m still a little skeptical about why you asked me to show up to Everton today, and I find it a tad dubious that you didn’t consult my uncle on this.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. Come, take a walk with me.”
Jesse’s skepticism only increased as they entered the empty vestibule of the South Tower. His cynicism peaked as Harrison also remained mute during their trek to the Palace of Education.
Harrison remained slouched. Jesse attempted to break the awkwardness by cracking a joke about not being insubordinate, but it was met with silence.
When they reached the office, graying clouds appeared in the sky, ominously dimming the natural light shining through the stained-glass windows.
As Jesse took a seat on the wooden chair and nervously rubbed his flip-flops together, Harrison accessed a text document through his holotab and showed it to Jesse.
“What’s this?” Jesse asked.
“Read it,” Harrison muttered.
The contents of the email from the DRF government contained details Jesse glossed over.
“By special decree of the Ultimate Minister of the Divine Republic of Freedom, blah blah blah, Second Indentation of the Divine Treatise of Freedom, blah blah blah, a military draft, blah blah blah, student athletes participating with Everton Academy’s varsity sports teams will be among the first selected. Eh, no surprise! You-know-who had that in mind long before an attack took place! I know his ulterior motives, so frankly, sir, I don’t understand why you summoned me to your office when my cousin and fifty-one other teammates…”
“You nailed the two words,” Harrison softly interrupted. “Ulterior motives.”
Jesse squinted, and his mouth slowly protruded upward. He already knew this was no ordinary principal-pupil meeting, but he suddenly realized the tone and topic of this conversation would go far beyond the realm of schooling.
“Um, pardon me, sir?” Jesse stammered. “What did you mean… ulterior motive?”
Harrison took multiple deep breaths and attempted to posture himself. Jesse mentally prepared himself to hear a doomsday-type statement. His heart fluttered tremors of earthquake-like proportions as Harrison stood up and walked to the window.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Harrison asked as he focused his eyes on the Manhattan skyline in the distance.
“Sorry?” Jesse asked.
“New York has the most beautiful skyline on this planet. I’ve lived in this area my entire forty-two-year existence on this planet, and I’ve never taken the time to appreciate the view, whether from here, the Weehawken Cliffs, anywhere.”
“Sir, what does this have to do with me?”
Harrison turned back toward Jesse. “Is there something in your life you feel you’ve never taken the time to appreciate?”
“Sir, why you are being so introspective?”
Harrison approached Jesse and folded his arms. “Please answer my question, Jesse.”
Jesse squinted and contorted his face as he attempted to determine a response. “I’m not sure, sir, but I guess I wished my cousins took my concerns about this new military conflict more serious instead of deriding me as a sick conspiracy theorist.”
Harrison folded his hands and returned to his chair and sat. “I already knew you were a brilliant young man before you started here, but I have underestimated how clever you are. Most children your age aren’t this educated about the world, and they rarely possess the attention span or desire to understand their surroundings. If I may be so bold to ask, does the passing of your parents motivate you?”
“Sort of, yeah.”
“How many stories have you heard about your father and the Bergen Boys, besides the one we discussed?”
Jesse paused. He rolled his eyes toward the back of his head, summoning the deepest depths of his mind. He took twenty seconds. “I…I can’t think of any others.”
“I also understand you have recently contributed to projectdriht.link, and that Sarah has, too.”
“How do you know this?! Do you contribute?!”
“Are you the Tipster?!”
“Believe it or not, no. But…” Harrison leaned forward with his hands folded and layered his eyes on Jesse’s. “I know who is.”
Jesse gasped. “Who?!”
“I’m afraid I can’t reveal that information, but I will only say the Tipster is someone I used to know years ago.”
“Was he in the Bergen Boys?”
“No, it was someone I worked with at Capitol Towers. Look, Jesse, their identity is not important right now. But here’s what is: what you and Sarah have seen on the Project is only the beginning.”
Jesse slowly postured himself upright to match Harrison’s. His heart resumed fluttering in anticipation. “The beginning, sir?”
Harrison leaned forward to drive home the seriousness of his point. “Yes, Jesse.”