ULTERIOR MOTIVES, PART 2.
All a perplexed Jesse could do was stare at his principal. He didn’t quite believe him when he denied he was The Tipster, but the intrigue of where Harrison was going with the conversation was impossible to deflect or scoff at.
“You mentioned earlier that you wished your cousins would listen to you about certain issues,” Harrison said. “Do these, by chance, pertain to the Project?”
“Some of it, yeah.”
Harrison nodded, then produced a holographic photo of a woman and a young man, approximately ten-ish, flanking him, standing in front of a large maple tree.
“That’s my wife, Deborah, and my son, Jamal,” Harrison stated. “I would do anything to protect them. When I leave this campus, or when I am not performing charity work, giving a speech, or what, I devote all my energy to them. I plan to do so now more than ever. Jesse, the point I’m making here is, despite whatever troubles you are going through, I think it’s best for one’s mind and soul to not hold grudges. My suggestion to you is to spend as much time with your family as possible, especially your aunt. Because yesterday, our country irrevocably changed, and the changes will only grow more exponential, and not for the better.”
Jesse leaned back in his chair and tilted his eyes downward, attempting to absorb what he had just heard. For him, it felt like a vindication. Most of the information decried as drivel was validated by someone he considered had credibility. “What changes… are we talking about here?”
“All I’ll recommend is that you’d better be even more careful about anything you say, and this is not limited to you-know-who. When the battles with New Alaska begin, I highly suggest you be on a certain side of the political aisle.”
Jesse’s body again became arrested with fear. He studied Harrison’s expression, then stuttered out: “is this… ab-about… Project Zero?”
Harrison remained silent.
“Well, is it?!”
Harrison sighed and closed his eyes. “Jesse, one thing you and I both understand about you-know-who is that… he misappropriates his religious beliefs.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means he uses Joshua Evans as a tool! He conveniently studies Diaries passages about fire and brimstone, and he has correlated that with a call to arms from God to assert the imperialism he wielded like a toy as President of the United States. Anyone that disgrees with that logic is an enemy to him. My family and I attend Joshuan services every Sunday. I listen to the sermons, and I always try to find the good in Joshua’s work. You-know-who, meanwhile, utilitizes that phony sycophant chaplain of his to validate his biases. And now, with the forthcoming military conflict, he’ll have another opportunity to wield his power with child-like enthusiasm under the pretext of faith.”
Jesse welled up. All the information he had ever read about Project Zero, Stewart’s intentions, and conspiracies about the conclusion of the Endgame, suddenly manifested as fact.
Based on this epiphany, Jesse nary had a clue how to react. His confidence remained dormant, but a sudden fear surfaced. “Sir,” he replied, “what do you think I should do?”
“You can take my suggestion to spend time with your family, or you can make your own decision. Do you plan to go to Army training once they draft you?”
“Honestly, sir, I don’t think so.”
“I figured you may say that. Jesse, I’m going to leave you my contact information should you defect, and I suggest you keep it.” Harrison then leaned back in his chair. Moments later, he reached for a tissue and wiped his reddened left eye.
“Are you okay, sir?”
“Jesse, you’re going to find this ironic that you will be the first to know this, but…” Harrison took several deep breaths to compose himself, but when he finally summoned the strength to deliver his next statement, he couldn’t help but quiver. “I am taking a sabbatical from my role as Principal of Everton Academy, effective as of Friday evening.”
Jesse recoiled in shock, then stood up and leaned against Harrison’s desk. “Mr. Harrison, why in the world would you give up your dream job?! There has to be more to it than the forthcoming conflict!” He leaned closer, as far as he could across the desk, then slapped his hand on the table. “Please tell me… what else do I need to know?!”
Harrison deliberately leaned forward, coming within inches of Jesse’s nose, then creased his eyes downward and growled: “Jesse, the real question is: are there things you would even want to know?”
Jesse slightly leaned back. “How do you mean?”
“You have all the knowledge you need. The rest, you need to discover for yourself.”
Jesse despondently sat back down, feeling disappointed. “I see what you mean.”
Harrison then stood up and walked toward the mahogany coat cabinet to the right of the office window. After he opened the cabinet doors, he produced a small black leather box with a key-lock attached to its side, then brought it to Jesse.
“What’s this?” Jesse asked.
“I want you to hold on to this for me while I’m gone, Jesse. There’s a note in the envelope attached to the bottom of the box. Please keep it hidden somewhere safe and open it only if I instruct you to. If this box were to fall into the wrong hands, both our lives will be in grave danger.”
“Why are you entrusting this to me? And why put me in danger? Are you sure you don’t have an ulterior motive?”
Harrison sloped his eyebrow and leaned toward Jesse. “We all have ulterior motives in life, Jesse.”
Jesse paused as Harrison grinned at him.
“You’re the smartest young man I’ve ever seen at this institution,” Harrison continued, “and I can tell you are a person of integrity based on the courage of your convictions. I trust you’ll do the right thing.”
Jesse nodded, but couldn’t bring himself to say thank you out of shock.
“Before you go,” Harrison continued, “there’s someone else that would like to have a word with you.” Harrison waived toward the door of his office, and Christopher Bristol entered.