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Welcome To The Post-Truth World


Chapters: 8 Pages: 48 Word Count: 13,657 Genre: Science Fiction/Action/Adventure

Chapter 1: The Politicians

Two reporters stood in the media pen within a packed stadium of sixty thousand people. On the field, there was a large sign towering behind the stage. It read "Gregory di Conti/2028" - "Restoring American Supremacy."

Supporters in the bleachers cheered and waved giant foam hands that said, "America #1". Many had traveled great distances to see the man who stood at the podium.

“America has been brought low by dissenters and naysayers, conmen and parasites,” di Conti cried over the speakers. “We have been tricked by people who reject our nation’s Judaeo-Christian heritage – the irrefutable truth that America has been and always will be a Christian nation – and into believing that we must worship the government instead of God. Those who brought this civil war down on us will face a day of reckoning.

“I make you this solemn promise. America will not only be great again. It will be mighty. It will not only be respected. It will be feared. Christianity will become the dominant religion on Earth. The Islamists will regret striking down Lady Liberty, as well as the Russians.” Di Conti thrust a finger high. “And I tell you now, no one will ever challenge us Americans again.”

One of the reporters scanned the audience, a cold sweat dripping down his brow. “Man, the crowd is really eating up this crap. Don’t they understand what he’s proposing?”

His friend, Joe, shrugged and peeled off a candy bar’s wrapping. “Look, Ed, Trump said he would drain the swamp of corruption and put Hilary Clinton behind bars.”

“What does Trump have to do with any of this?” The first reporter asked.

Joe took a bite out of his candy bar. “Did Trump drain the swamp as he said he would?”

“Well, no. His administration had more executives from Goldman Sachs than Obama or Bush, and don’t get me started about the personal corruption.”

His friend chuckled. Bits of chocolate sprinkled over his wide midsection. “And what about Clinton? Is she rotting away in some jail cell right now?”

“No, she’s not,” the first mumbled. “But he did get Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.”

“That was about all he got done,” the second reporter said. “Donald Trump proved that our democracy is working. That it will never fail. Oh, he tried to undermine it by attacking the courts and the free press and attempted to destroy the First Amendment by changing libel laws but his efforts ultimately fell short, just like he failed to get his border wall built.”

The second reporter gestured towards the crowd, which chanted “death to gays” and “all liberals must die.” They looked like they were ready to kill someone.

“Trump was a showman,” his friend added. “He didn’t mean half of what he said, and di Conti is no different. This is political theater. Di Conti is playing to his base, propping himself up as a strong man, which in these uncertain times, is what Americans want.”

“Maybe, but what if di Conti isn’t like Trump? What if his words aren’t political theater?”

The second reporter finished his candy bar and tossed the wrapper into a nearby trash can. He grabbed for a soda bottle. “Trust me. They are.”

“But if you suspect everything di Conti says to be a lie, how can you know when it's not?”

“Welcome to the post-truth world.” Joe took a gulp of his soda. “Words, like facts, have no meaning. Everything is just a feeling. Bullshit is the new truth.”

***

Two hours later, Governor Gregory di Conti, flanked by Secret Service agents, walked to his limo. In the distance, thousands of protestors booed and screamed. A group held up a banner: “Governor di Conti, A Proud Member of the Christian Taliban.”

Di Conti sneered. The Taliban? How dare they compare him to those desert-dwelling devil worshipers? Once he became President and repealed the First Amendment, he would have those rabble-rousers skinned alive and impaled on wooden pikes.

Di Conti entered his limo, and it whisked him away. He stared, brooding. “Heretics and infidels. Soon you will know the wrath of the true disciples of Christ.”

His cellphone rang. He picked it up and checked the caller id: Revelation 9:13-21.

Di Conti gulped. He placed the phone to his ear. “Yes, master.”

“The civil war we have engineered progresses nicely,” Supreme Inquisitor Abbot said. “The Heavenly Benefactors are most pleased.”

“I must admit I did not think the public would be so receptive to our message.”

“People are angry. Trump and Pence failed to make America great again, and Wellman has all but handed away America’s sovereignty to foreign bankers.”

“And our civil war has removed the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.”

Abbot chuckled. “Indeed, and the Corporatist Democrats have learned nothing from their years of fighting Trump and Pence. President Wellman’s empty platitudes will fall on deaf ears. But don’t become complacent, my most loyal of servants. Francis Downey has decided to make a third party bid on a progressive socialist platform.”

Di Conti recalled the charismatic billionaire. A lifelong progressive who styled himself after FDR, Downey had the finances to run a successful campaign.

Di Conti sighed. He could beat President Wellman, but Downey…

“I think the time has come for Downey to meet an Inquisitor,” di Conti said.

“Hum. Perhaps. But his death must be made to look like an accident.”

Di Conti leaned back in his seat. “I think that can be arranged, master.”

“Okay, come up with a plan and present it to the council. But remember, timing is everything. We want to remove Downey when it benefits us the most.”

Di Conti nodded. “Don’t worry. His death will only strengthen our hand.”

***

Billy Wellman stared out the window of his limo, with Manhattan in the foreground. His thoughts were troubled by a conversation he had the other day.

“Son, you’re a Wellman,” his father, the President, had said. “You should be at my side.”

Billy recalled slamming down a newspaper, with the headline reading “The Battle of Los Vegas Has Been Won, but 17,000 of Its Citizens Are Dead.” “Your policies have led America to civil war, father. You can’t blame it all on Donald Trump. Trump didn’t sell half the federal government off to satisfy foreign bankers. Trump didn’t declare war on the breakaway states. You could have let them go, but didn’t. Now look where we are.”

“And what do you suggest? That I allow this nation to be torn apart? That’s treason.”

“Treason? This country is already torn apart. Why can’t you and the other Democrats see that? Are you so out of touch with the common man?”

Billy grabbed his whiskey glass and nursed it, mindful that he couldn’t consume too much. He had an appointment with Francis Downey, the only man in America who had any hope of defeating both his father and Governor di Conti in the general election.

Treason? The Bible says that Christians have an obligation to honor their parents. He was about to side with his father’s political rival. What did that make him?

Billy glanced left. Skyscrapers lined Central Park West, still a glorious sight, even in an age when America faced the worst economic depression in its history.

His limo came to a stop next to a new skyscraper, between Trump International Hotel and Century Apartments. It surpassed Trump Hotel by five floors, and it was an elegant building with a slit in the middle and outdoor greeneries running up its sides. Poking out from its summit was a latticework of solar panels, giving the structure the look of a gold-encrusted javelin.

Billy got out and walked towards it. The Downey Futuristic logo hung over its doors.

He lingered under it, again wondering if he was making the right decision. He sighed. “I haven’t committed to anything yet. I’m just seeing what my options are.”

Billy entered and took the elevator to the penthouse. The speakers boomed.

“People say that coal, petroleum and natural gas still have some life in them. Other say it is Russian antimatter, but here at Downey Futuristic, we see fusion, wind, geothermal, thorium and solar powering America’s homes. Downey Futuristic has become the global leader in renewable energies, making some of the most ground shattering breakthroughs in fusion research. Clean, cheap and limitless energy, that’s the Downey way.”

The elevator halted, and the ringer chimed. The doors parted, revealing a spacious atrium.

Billy strolled past scaled-down mockups of wind turbines, solar collectors and geothermal plants. Above him hung a fusion reactor titled A.L.I.C.E.

Billy stared up at it before entering Francis Downey’s corner office. The man sat at his desk with a phone in his hand. “I’m sorry, Wilbert, but I’ve got to call you back.”

Francis got up and greeted Billy with a firm handshake. Billy winced. Man, he was strong.

“I’m glad you could make it,” Francis said, then let go.

“I’m happy that you would see me.”

“The son of the President and a war veteran? I would be a fool not to. Let me show you something.” Francis grabbed Billy by his shoulder and directed him to another model of the A.L.I.C.E. reactor. “The A.L.I.C.E. stands for Advanced Laser Inertial Confinement Environmentally-friendly fusion. It is my solution to America’s economic woes.”

Billy nodded. “I’ve read about it. It uses laser beams to heat up a sphere of highly dense deuterium to initiate a fusion reaction. A cheap and limitless source of energy.”

“And safe. Unlike fission plants, it can’t meltdown, nor does it produce waste to pollute Mother Earth and most important, it can't be refined further to make nuclear bombs. However, that’s not why we’re here.” Francis headed to his desk and planted his ass on its glossy glass surface. “So, I must admit, I’m surprised that you would side with me. Your father is—”

“Misguided.” Billy paused. Did he just say that out loud? Yeah, he did. “His austerity policies have needlessly prolonged this economic depression.”

France bobbed his head. “One could argue that he had no choice. It was the only way to lift the crippling sanctions the other nations had placed on us.”

“The War of the Sands ended seven years ago. Haven’t they punished us enough?”

“American pride contributed to the worst war in history,” Francis said. “The Middle East is a nuclear wasteland. Over two hundred million dead. Many around the world, including our former allies, feel we haven’t suffered enough or that we haven’t learned our lesson. They continue to believe that the sanctions and austerity will keep us in check. That’s their true purpose. If our nation is to ever recover, we’ve got to fight back, and your father won’t do that.”

“Exactly.” Billy sighed. “All he thinks about is paying back America’s creditors.”

Francis crossed his arms. “And what about me? Do you think I’m unchristian-like?”

Billy considered his words. Francis Downey was no saint. Having made his first million at the age of sixteen, he had a reputation for being a playboy, throwing wild parties that no devoted Christian like Billy would partake in. Word was that he had started to clean up his act, perhaps a sign of maturity, but he was still unmarried and an atheist.

“You’re not perfect,” Billy said, “but at least you’re not a Democrat selling himself off as a watered-down Republican, like Hilary or my dad.”

“I’ve often wondered where we would be if Bernie Sanders had run against Donald Trump.” Francis snorted. “But the DNC would never have allowed it. In their arrogance, they handed the presidency to Trump and will likely do so again with di Conti.”

Billy grimaced. “Which is why I can no longer support my father, but you… you’ve put three billion of your own money on the line to save America.”

“I find I have little choice. I have no real desire to become President, but I fear what di Conti will do to America and I don’t trust anyone else to stop him.”

“I know what you mean. Trump troubled me, but di Conti… he gives me the willies.”

Francis walked over to the window. Trump Hotel took up much of the view. “Trump was many things. A raging egomaniac. A womanizer. A demagogue. But he wasn’t an ideologue. He didn’t believe in the insane conspiracies he peddled. He just wanted attention. The spotlight. Dangerous, but only because he was impulsive, thin-skin and spiteful.”

Billy nodded. “But di Conti’s different. He believes his own bullshit. I think he’s insane.”

Francis gave him a look. “Insane? No, but religious zealotry can come across as insanity.”

“Religious zealotry? I’m a god-fearing man, but—”

“God-fearing? I’ve never liked that term. Shouldn’t God be a loving parent?”

“You know what I mean. Di Conti is no Christian.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Di Conti is a Christian. It’s just that the Jesus Christ he worships is not one you or I would recognize.”

“No disrespect, sir, but aren’t you an atheist? Can you make that judgement?”

“I prefer the term humanist, but yes, I’m not convinced there is a god. However, I’ve studied The Bible, The Torah and The Quran.”

Billy stepped forward. “I would like to hear your thoughts on The Bible.”

Francis crossed his arms. “The Bible is an artifact of man. It tells you nothing of the natural world, but a lot about people, both past and present.”

Billy cocked his head. “How so?”

“Well, for starters, it informs you on how the people who wrote it saw the world.”

Billy nodded. “Go on.”

“But more importantly, The Bible tells you a great deal about people today. The Bible is a series of stories, the first, Genesis, separated from the last, Revelation, by more than a thousand years. The values presented change across its pages. Which stories people latch onto, which ones they highlight, illuminates who they truly are, their inner soul you could say.”

Billy listened, engrossed by the billionaire’s every word.

“Take di Conti,” Francis said. “I’ve watched his speeches. He brings up Numbers 31, Deuteronomy 13 and 1 Kings 18. These aren’t stories about Jesus healing the sick, or of the Israelites providing meals to wandering travelers. No, they’re about God and his followers slaughtering people of different faiths. About rape, murder and betrayal.

“This informs me that di Conti is a small, insecure worm of a man. He uses The Bible to give his bigotry and his contempt for his fellow human beings a veneer of legitimacy. But understand, this tells me nothing about you Christians or what you believe in, just about di Conti.”

Billy contemplated Francis’ words as he too stared out the window. His assessment of di Conti seemed dead on, but why couldn’t the rest of America see the man for what he was? Were they all gullible, or had Trump and others like him conditioned people into not taking politicians seriously anymore? Had this post-truth world dulled people’s judgement?

“Civil war is raging along the West Coast and around the Great Lakes,” Billy said. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans are dead. Millions displaced.”

“Yes, and the public is now considering electing a man open to using nukes to end it.”

“I thought Trump would have taught us the folly of electing demagogues, the dangers of succumbing to our worst fears, but we’ve learned nothing, haven’t we?”

“A lot of people are hurting under your father’s administration.”

Billy exhaled. “Like they did under Obama’s.”

Francis crossed his arms. “Obama thought incrementalism was good enough. He pointed to the stock market as a sign of his success, but the stock market is a poor indicator of economic health, and while we saw job growth under his administration, if you look just below the numbers, you would realize that many paid far less than the jobs that came before them. The Washington elite might have been oblivious to this, but the coal miner or factory worker who lost their jobs because the world is rapidly changing weren’t.”

Billy nodded. “All they saw was an empty bank account and mounting debt.”

“More than that. They lost any sense of meaning. Any sense of purpose.”

“And Trump preyed on that. We survived him. I don’t think we’ll survive di Conti.”

“That’s the fear that keeps me up at night.” Francis turned and once again offered Billy his hand. “Okay, you’ve convinced me. I want you on my team.”

Billy hesitated. Was he ready to commit? What other choices did he have? His father would only lead America further to ruin, whereas Downey…

Billy took his hand, aware that he’d sealed his fate. “Thank you, sir. You won’t regret it.”

Chapter 2: Father and Daughter

Three months later, Mellissa Pavlovich walked down a long corridor at the side of Supreme Inquisitor Abbot, her father. The sounds of swords clashing rang beyond the steel doors at the far end. Abbot made a gesture, and the doors swung open, as if by magic.

They passed them and made their way down a catwalk above a large gymnasium. Fifty feet below, hundreds of Inquisitors trained with swords and guns. They moved with inhuman speed, so fast that many of them deflected bullets with their blades.

Mellissa recalled her own upbringing here, and the various scars it left. She brooded. What had her training made of her? An assassin for a cause she didn’t believe in. She couldn’t care less whether Christianity, Islam or Secularism took over the world. They were human concepts. Human ideals. What had they done but bring her pain and suffering?

Mellissa imagined living a normal life, going on dates and falling in love. She sneered. Like her father or the High Council would ever allow it.

And who would she date? The only male Inquisitor was her father.

Abbot turned. “Your thoughts betray you, daughter. I sense defiance in you.”

Mellissa struggled to keep her emotions in check. She both loved and hated her father. Part of her would never forgive him for killing Aunt Catherina.

Abbot squinted, and Mellissa felt his mind probing hers with his telepathy. She cleared her thoughts, allowing him to see only what she wanted him to see. Her father was powerful, the most powerful telepath among them, but even he had limits.

Abbot frowned. “Your skills are improving. Still, I see in your eyes what I once saw in your aunt’s. Don’t make her mistake. Obey the council without question.”

Mellissa snorted. The council. All but her father were humans. Why did he tolerate them?

“I thought you now led the council, father,” Mellissa said.

Abbot sighed. “I do, but there are things you don’t understand. Advances in cloning have reached the point where we can now mature a fully-grown Inquisitor within a few months. Many on the council feel that we would be better served if we fielded ‘short lived’ clones.”

Mellissa scanned the gymnasium. Many of the combatants looked identical to each other. She strained to see clearly. Was that Aunt Catherina fighting herself?

Mellissa took a step forward, but Abbot grabbed her by the shoulder. “Don’t.”

She stared up at him, horrified. “What have you done?”

“I have resurrected your aunt. Her clones will do what she refused to do in life.”

Mellissa turned and gazed down at the clones. They battled with the same ferocity that her aunt had shown, though they lacked her grace and skill.

Abbot pulled Mellissa towards him. “I have a mission for you.”

“A mission? What kind of mission, father?”

Abbot jabbed a finger into her forehead. A man in his late fifties appeared in her mind: strong, handsome and sporting a peppered-colored beard.

“Francis Downey.” Mellissa gasped. “The charismatic billionaire?”

“Yes. He threatens Grand Inquisitor di Conti’s ascendancy to the presidency and our long-term goal of world domination.”

Mellissa grimaced. “I take it you want me to eliminate him.”

Abbot nodded. They stepped outside onto a balcony overlooking a scorching hot desert. More Inquisitors trained with repurposed tanks. A small army.

“I have mated with countless women over the years,” Abbot said, “but your mother was the only one I ever loved. That didn’t stop the High Council from putting her down when she got too old, as the protocol regarding breeders demands. You are all of her I have left.”

Abbot dipped his head. “I shouldn’t assign you this mission. You’ve just turned thirty, and thus your Inquisitor mating cycle begins. The need to find a mate and reproduce will, in time, become all-consuming. But the council wishes to test your loyalty.”

Mellissa sneered, disgusted. “So, the council too believes I will turn out like my aunt.”

Her father gazed down at her. “Yes. That’s why you must prove them wrong. Understand, daughter, I would hate to see them make clones out of you.”

Mellissa thought of Aunt Catherina. “I understand, father.”

***

Three days later, Billy Wellman sat in a dressing room, sporting a black business suit and a red tie, with a U.S. Air Force pin buttoned on his right side. A woman dabbed powder over his cheeks and then applied gel to his dark curly brown hair.

Billy scanned through the latest edition of a local newspaper. He flipped to an article talking about how his boss was skyrocketing in the polls.

The stylist leaned in. “So, how do you do it? Campaigning against your own father?”

A ping of remorse washed over Billy. He’d heard that charge time and again, both from his critics and when he was being brutally honest, from himself. He’d grown up admiring Dad, only later in life to find himself totally at odds with him. How did it come to this?

“It’s nothing personal. We just have a difference of opinion. My father looks to the past with fondness, whereas I have my eyes set on the future.

The stylist took a comb to his hair. “Still, I imagine he was hurt.”

“At first, but he has come to understand that what I’m doing is important to me.”

“I’m glad to hear that. From all the news stories I’ve read about your dad, it’s hard not to think of him as some Machiavellian opportunist.”

Billy sighed. Artifice: another certainty of the post-truth world. The media was full of fake news stories these days, especially now that people like Alex Jones and Jimmy Eagle were given positions of legitimacy in the media. He could blame politicians like Donald Trump, who had conditioned their followers to trust people like Alex Jones over CNN or NSMBC, but then again, the media was also to blame. How often did they give equal time to climate change deniers? When was the last time they called the GOP out on their bullshit?

Billy shook his head, disgusted. Like a bunch of whimpering puppies, the media had clung to their belief in neutrality, that they must present both sides, even when one was correct and the other batshit crazy, because they feared the right would call them bias. Where did that get them? The right tuned them out regardless, and people like Jimmy Eagle filled the void, weaving one lie after another, the worst being that his father had the governor of California and his family murdered. It was that lie, no, conspiracy theory, that had sparked the civil war.

Billy cursed di Conti and his family’s media empire, the Golden Biblical Tribune, for spreading it. Did he ever consider what his fibs might unleash?”

Billy slouched. Probably not. Di Conti likely only cared about expanding his readership.

“My father is not evil, just misguided,” Billy said.

“But you think Mister Downey isn’t. That he would make a better president.”

Billy glanced up. “I thought my interview was with Rachel Henderson?”

“It is. Think of me as prep. She’s going to throw you tougher questions.”

Billy grabbed his tie and tugged at it. “I look forward to it.”

A man walked into the dressing room. “Mister Wellman, you’re on in two minutes.”

“Well, I had better get going. Thanks.” Billy stood up, walked down a hallway and took a seat in a room with a green screen backdrop. The camera’s light blinked red.

Billy smiled. “Thank you, Rachel, for having me on your show tonight.”

Chapter 3: Fatal Encounter

Many hours later, Billy got out of his taxi and strolled towards John F. Kennedy International Airport. He passed security and headed for the private jet terminal wing. Out the window, Francis Downey’s personal Airbus A380 dominated the tarmac.

Spotlights illuminated the four turbocharged hybrid engines that gave the double-deck airliner the thrust to take off. Solar panels seamlessly blended with its blue paint job, highlighting Francis’ commitment to environmentally friendly flight. The aircraft weighed almost twice as much as a Boeing 747 and yet consumed roughly the same amount of fuel.

Billy walked up to a young boy staring out at the technological marvel. “Cool, ha?”

“That’s Francis Downey’s jet, right?”

“Yep. Makes Air Force One look like a crop duster, doesn’t it?”

The boy spread his hands over the glass. “What would I give to fly around in that?”

“Well, if you study really hard and get good grades, Mister Downey might hire you some day and then you might get to see the inside. See you around kid.”

Billy headed down the terminal and boarded the A380. He climbed the middle stairway to the second deck, which functioned as Francis’ office and private residence. His boss sat behind his desk, his secretary and longtime lover Carrie seated beside him.

Francis glanced up and smiled. “So, how did the interview go?”

“How do you think?” Billy asked. “You did so well during Monday’s debate that Henderson spent most of the segment giving you praise. Didn’t you watch?”

“Francis spent all last night on his business, didn’t you, my dear?” Carrie crossed her arms, her radiant beauty tarnished by a frown. “Didn’t you?”

“Guilty as charged. It’s not easy untying myself from the corporation I built. She’s my baby.”

“Yes, but it’s important,” Billy said. “The last president who ran a company before holding public office didn’t know the meaning of a conflict of interest.”

“And he caused us all sorts of trouble. Still, part of me can’t let her go.”

“That’s why we’re putting her in a blind trust. To spare you that unbearable temptation.”

Francis crackled. “You know me all too well, Billy.”

The airliner’s intercom chimed. “Mister Downey—”

“Mike, how many times have I told you? Just call me Francis.”

“Sorry, sir, but I just wanted to let you know that we’ll be leaving shortly.”

“Good.” Francis tidied up his desk and removed his data pad from a drawer. “I have a nine am rally tomorrow in Houston, Texas. I need to go over my speech.”

Billy grabbed a chair beside his boss. “Have you made any changes?”

“Yes, I have strengthened the wording about campaign finance reform. It should give those greedy fat cats on Wall Street something to fret about.”

Billy glanced over the speech. “Sir, this will give them heart attacks.”

“Well, it’s about damn time we told those bastards that elections are meant to serve the people, not them.”

“Don’t forget your pitch about tying your livable wage to inflation,” Carrie said.

Billy giggled. “That’ll give many on the right kittens.”

“Yes, well, they will no doubt say that my livable wage will destroy the economy.” Francis snorted. “Like we haven’t hit rock bottom already.”

“You might just get to prove them wrong.” Billy laid a sheet of paper on Downey’s desk. “The latest polls are in. You have a seventeen-point lead over my father and di Conti.”

Carrie hugged Francis. “This is wonderful news. You’re going to make history.”

“History?” Francis raised a finger. “No, bar calamity, we’re going to save America!”

***

As the sun rose over the horizon, Mellissa Pavlovich slunk across the tarmac and hoisted herself into Downey’s A380’s front landing gear compartment. She removed a silver cross from her belt and squeezed its grip. A yard long nanoblade shot up.

Mellissa plunged the elegant, decorative sword into the ceiling and cut herself a hole, careful to make as little noise as possible, and pushed it aside.

Mellissa entered the cargo deck. She crawled to the aircraft’s mainframe. Once beside it, she took out a portable computer, a hacker’s device, and connected it to the machine. Its tiny LED screen lit up, displaying a camera feed of the cockpit. She scrolled from one feed to the next until her eyes fell on a handsome man with dark curly brown hair.

Mellissa lingered on his rugged bust, mesmerized by his majesties. Who was he?

She shook her head. No, this was exactly what her father had warned her about. Her Inquisitor biological clock was calling, making her lust for a man she’d never met.

Mellissa fought against the urge. She had a mission to complete. She couldn’t… A pain jabbed at her stomach, and she puked out blood.

Mellissa gazed down at it. Blood? Why was she coughing up blood?

She laid her back against the wall and wondered. Did this too have something to do with her mating cycle? And why was it acting up now? What was the cause? She turned to the handsome man’s image, and the pain returned. She looked away, and her stomach settled.

When she felt she was in control again, Mellissa inputted a command and a loading bar popped up on the screen, indicating that a virus was being installed.

She switched back to the camera feed. Her target, Francis Downey, sat beside the handsome man and discussed some upcoming political event.

Mellissa examined her target’s colleague. Her heart pounded. Her breathing quickened.

She backed away. No, she can’t let herself get distracted. Lust was of the devil.

She vomited more blood over the deck. Smoke rose from the red liquid.

The device chimed. Mellissa wiped her mouth and switched screens. The loading bar read finished. She adjusted the A380’s operating system, then smashed the black box with her fist. Now all she needed to do was take control of the aircraft and fly them to their doom.

Mellissa detached the monitor from the device and left the rest hooked to the mainframe.

Mellissa climbed the stairs to the first deck. She imagined herself invisible and telepathically imprinted the illusion on the minds of three dozen reporters who stood in front of her. She headed for the cockpit. A stewardess strolled a cart down the aisle. Mellissa dashed inside the latrine and waited. She peeked out before exiting and continuing her journey.

Mellissa reached the cockpit and locked the door behind her. Six men manned the cockpit’s various terminals, two pilots and four more who performed other necessary tasks. None noticed her. She raised her sword, but stopped. No, their cries might alert others.

Again, Mellissa visualized herself invisible and imparted the illusion onto their primitive brains with her telepathy, as well as the fake route they would take.

Sweat dripped down Mellissa’s forehead. This would be a long flight.

***

On a sandy white beach, Billy laid naked beside a goddess, a slender young beauty with ample breasts and long, radiant brown hair. She waved him a finger, her nail polished pink with cross imprints. He grabbed her face and drew her lips towards his…

Billy awoke to the hum of the airplane’s engines. He gazed down at his watch and blinked. Ten am? No, that can’t be right. There must be a mistake.

Billy peered out the window. Nothing but dark storm clouds appeared on the horizon.

He tossed a pillow at the man resting beside him. “Bruce, wake up. Bruce, wake up.”

Francis’ head of security opened his eyes and yawned. “Did I doze off?”

“Yeah, we both did. It’s ten o’clock. We should have landed two and a half hours ago.”

“That can’t be…” Bruce glanced at his watch. “What the fuck!”

They got out of their chairs and along with Secret Service agents, headed for the cockpit’s door. Bruce banged on it. “Open up. We need to talk.”

No one replied. Bruce rapped on it again. Still no answer.

Billy turned to a Secret Service agent. “Can you bash this door down?”

“These doors were designed specifically to stop people from doing that,” the man said.

Billy nodded, and he and Bruce made their way to the top deck. They opened the door to Francis’ bedroom and found him and his lover dressed and laying on the bed.

“Sir, we have a problem,” Bruce said. “It’s ten o’clock, and yet we’ve still not landed.”

Francis got up. “How can that be possible? I had a rally at nine.”

“We don’t know. Everyone seemed to doze off. We tried—”

All of them turned. Screams bellowed further up the plane and towards the cockpit. The woman from Billy’s dream marched up the stairway.

Billy gasped. She was real, and was she brandishing a long sword?

Bruce and the Secret Service agents discharged their weapons. The woman intercepted their bullets with her blade, sometimes deflecting them back at them. Men fell and cried, and Billy made a grab for one of their pistols. Bullets zinged overhead.

He caught it and unloaded several rounds at the woman. She batted them away before bringing her sword down and slicing his gun in two.

Billy dropped it and sneered. “I can’t let you kill him.”

The woman stared at him with a sorrowful expression. She raised her sword. Blood dripped down her nose and smoke rose from where the droplets fell.

Billy blinked. Killed by the girl of his dreams. Who would have thought?

The woman winced, clearly in pain, and she lowered her blade. She removed a submachine gun from her trench coat and aimed it at Francis.

Billy stepped between the weapon and his boss. “I can’t let you kill him.”

Chapter 4: The Betrayal

Supreme Inquisitor Abbot stared at a monitor. A thermal image of Downey’s A380 glowed, with his daughter pointing a submachine gun. “What are you waiting for? Pull the trigger. Put an end to Francis Downey’s life and his misguided guardian.”

Abbot growled. “It has to be her damn Inquisitor mating cycle. She is infatuated with Downey’s defender. I know what needs to be done, but...”

Abbot hit the terminal. He should never have sent her in that state. Damn the council!

A shadow swept over Abbot’s sanctum, enveloping even the torches that illuminated nearby pillars. Their flames flickered and dimmed, and the temperature in the room dropped. Ice crystals formed over the terminal, and Abbot’s breath became chilled.

A raspy voice hissed, as intimidating as death, and the hairs on the back of Abbot’s neck stood up. “Your daughter defies you, Supreme Inquisitor.”

Abbot eyed the button next to the monitor, frost covering it. “I know, Oh, Holy One, but she is my daughter, and I love her. Please don’t make me do this?”

“Jesus Christ demands much. Doesn’t he, in Luke 14, tell his followers that anyone who puts his children before him cannot become one of his disciples?”

“Yes, that is what scripture teaches us.” Abbot’s hand hovered over the button.

The Holy One cackled. “Then why do you hesitate? Kill her.”

Abbot’s fingers continued to linger over the button. A part of him wanted to rebuke the divine being. Curse his name. He knew what the scripture said, but how could he be asked to take his own daughter’s life? Wasn’t murdering his sister proof enough of his loyalty?

Abbot stiffened and rebuked himself for such thoughts. The Heavenly Benefactors were living, breathing angels, God’s emissaries, just as they had been in the days of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Didn’t God once ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac? And then there was the story of Jephthah, who in Judges 11, butchered his only daughter after promising God he would. How was this any different? How could he not make a similar offering?

Abbot pressed the button and said into the mic, “Inquisitors, call in.”

“Ready and prepared to terminate the target should the principle asset fail,” a woman said.

Abbot sighed. “The main asset has failed. Repeat, she has failed. You have the permission of both me and the council to terminate the asset and the target.”

***

An explosion roared outside Downey’s A380, and the cabin shook. Mellissa glanced at the windows, her submachine gun still pointed at the handsome man’s face.

Another detonation rattled the A380. The lights overhead flickered.

Mellissa lowered her weapon and walked over to a port window. A private jet hovered a few hundred yards off, with an Inquisitor outside shouldering a rocket launcher. A missile blossomed from the launcher and slammed against the side of the A380.

The A380 wobbled, and Mellissa ground her teeth. Her father knew she was onboard. Damn him and the High Council. Did they honestly think she would just stand by and let them kill her? Like bloody hell. They wanted a fight. She would give them one.

Another missile exploded, just outside the port window. The glass cracked but held.

“That missile should have penetrated the hull,” Mellissa said.

“This aircraft has enhanced armor plating,” replied Francis. “Cost me a small fortune.”

“No amount of armor is going to protect us for long.” Mellissa turned to Francis. “Autopilot can’t handle this kind of turbulence. Get to the—”

An explosion muffled her voice. She gazed out. Fire consumed one of the plane’s right-side engines. Seconds later, a missile hit the other. Boom.

Mellissa headed for the nearest outer hatch and gripped the leaver.

Francis caught up to her. “What the Hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Engaging the enemy, or do you want to die?”

“No, but I thought you were here to kill me.”

“That was before my father turned on me. Now get out of my way.” Mellissa waited for him to leave before opening the door. The suction created by the change in cabin pressure pulled at her, but with superhuman strength, she stood firm.

A missile corkscrewed towards her. Mellissa raised her submachine gun and pulled the trigger. Her shots peppered the missile and it exploded.

Mellissa exited onto the wing and closed the hatch behind her. The enemy aircraft drew closer. Seven women departed from its fuselage and moved across its hull, each armed with a sword identical to hers. They jumped a hundred feet and landed next to her.

The other jet plummeted into a death spiral. A fireball marked its landing.

Mellissa brought her sword up and planted her feet, the wind blowing her hair back.

“Our master’s orders were clear,” one said. “Francis Downey must die. Step aside.”

“No,” Mellissa said. “I have lived in fear of my father for long enough.”

“So be it.” They took a step closer, their own swords raised and poised to strike.

***

Billy stared out the window, dumbfounded. The woman from his dreams danced on the wingtip of an A380 flying over five hundred miles per hour and at 40,000 feet above sea level, dodging and intercepting swords as the wind battered her around.

How did she not lose her footing? How could she still be breathing without an oxygen tank? How had she been able to block bullets with her sword?

None of this was possible. This had to be a dream. Yes, he must still be dreaming.

“Billy, I need a copilot,” Francis cried from the cockpit.

Billy snapped to and bolted to the copilot chair. He placed the headset on, and took hold of the yoke. “This is a A380, not a stunt plane or a fighter jet.”

“Yeah, but you have more training than me or anyone else on board.”

Billy checked the instruments. Three of the four-engine lights blinked red. “We’re down to one engine. We can’t maintain this altitude. We need to land.”

“Agreed.” Francis pointed at the map. “There’s a long stretch of road thirty miles away.”

Billy gazed down at the attitude indicator and fought to level the craft. The yoke felt sluggish, as if a group of people were fighting each other on its wings. He strained to bring the nose up. He did, switched to autopilot and set the radio frequencies to 121.50 MHz.

“May-day. May-day,” he said. “This is November 19421. Our pilot and copilot are dead, and we’re down to one engine. We’re going down. Over.”

The speakers crackled with static. Billy tapped it.

“May-day. May-day. This is November 19421. Our pilot and copilot are dead, and we’re down to one engine. We’re going down. Repeat, we’re going down. Over.” Billy looked up and grimaced. “Either our radio is dead, or we’re being jammed.”

“Likely the latter,” Francis said. “I think we’re dealing with professionals.”

Billy recalled his dream girl battling on the wing. “More like super villains.”

The airplane rocketed. Carrie ran into the cockpit. “The other wing is on fire.”

Billy sighed. “Let me guess. The women—” A blade plunged down from the roof, just an inch from his nose. It retracted, and air escaped from the hole.

Oxygen masks fell from the ceiling. Billy put one on and said, “That was too close.”

Footsteps tapped overhead, and beyond, the wind howled with the clanging of swords.

“What are they doing to my plane?’ Francis asked. “Are they trying to get us all killed?”

“As if landing this brick wasn’t difficult enough.” Billy inhaled and prepared his descent. He reduced altitude and opened the flaps, decreasing airspeed.

Storm clouds gave way to a frozen tundra. Beyond it was an ocean. Where was the road?

Billy rapped the autopilot. “Has someone been tampering with these instruments?”

“Most likely your girlfriend.” Francis pulled out his satellite phone and glanced at it. “According to this, we’re over Nunavut, Canada.”

“Nunavut? How did we get this far north? I’ll try to land us on a soft spot.”

Crosswinds battered the plane, and the yoke rattled. Billy banked the aircraft towards them. The yoke stopped shaking. He raised the nose by fifteen degrees and lowered the landing gears. The landscape grew, a wasteland of snow, ice and jagged rocks.

***

As the airplane descended, Mellissa spun, blocking her opponents’ swords and lunching kicks that threw them backwards. They rolled, stopping at the aircraft’s edge before getting back up and coming at her again, utterly relentless in their determination.

Mellissa retreated to the front of the aircraft. Hail battered her trench coat. She glanced back and saw land, compelling her to plung her sword into the roof.

The airplane touched down and skidded. Metal screeched. Tires popped. Her grip on her blade’s hilt tightened. The A380 came to a stop just short of a frozen lake.

Her adversaries flew off and landed on ice. It cracked, and they plunged into its murky depths.

Mellissa waited for them to resurface. They never did, and she retracted her blade. She entered the airliner through a side hatch. “Is everyone—”

Bang. A bullet pierced her right shoulder, and she collapsed to the floor.

A man approached her, his pistol drawn.

“Good work, Bruce.” Francis came up behind him. “Now cuff her.”

The handsome man bolted to her rescue. He bellowed, “What the Hell are you doing? This woman just saved our lives, or didn’t you notice?”

“I did,” Francis said. “I also noticed the part about her killing my guards and pointing a gun at me. By the way, why didn’t you pull the trigger?”

Mellissa stared at her defender. A warm feeling bubbled up inside her, new and exhilarating. She touched his jaw and smiled. “I’m… not entirely sure.”

Francis frowned. “I think I do. It seems I was wise to hire you, Billy.”

Billy? So, that was the man’s name. Billy. Billy. She liked the way it sounded.

Billy turned to Francis. “I don’t understand, sir.”

“Love. It’s the Achilles heel of all would-be assassins.”

“Ha? Oh.” Billy bent down and blushed. “Do you have a name, miss?”

She coughed. “Yes. Mellissa. Mellissa Pavlovich.”

“Pavlovich? Sounds Ukrainian. Is that where you’re from?”

Mellissa shrugged. “Beats me. My family’s a bit of a mystery.”

Chapter 5: The Knight’s Templar?

Two hours passed. Billy removed the bullet from Mellissa’s shoulder and bandaged her up. She didn’t complain or squirm, even as he pulled the shrapnel out with tweezers, but he did notice smoke bellowing from the metal, which slowly changed color.

He gazed at the bullet, dumbstruck. Was her blood acidic?

He applied extra bandaging around the wound, hoping that her blood wouldn’t eat through.

A blizzard moved in, as furious as ever a man knew. It battered the A380 with hail and howling winds and reduce visibility outside to almost nothing.

Francis, Bruce and the other survivors plugged holes in the plane’s wall with strips of torn clothing and duct tape, and yet the cold still managed to seep through. The temperature quickly dropped, and even the use of portable heaters barely made it livable inside.

Billy removed heavy winter coats from storage. Francis packed his plane for almost every eventuality, even being stranded in a frozen wasteland.

He placed one around Mellissa. She continued to quiver.

“Not a big fan of the cold, are you?” Billy asked.

Her teeth chattered. “No. My-y kind prefers-s tropical climates.”

“That is true of most, but I have a feeling that your ‘kind’ are different.” Francis entered the office and sat down beside Billy and Mellissa. “By the way, the radio is busted, but that’s the least of our troubles. Were you able to dispatch your attackers?”

“I killed three,” Mellissa said, “but the rest fell into the water and likely have gone into a hibernation state. We can survive sub-zero temperatures for years.”

Billy cocked his head. “I thought you said you couldn’t tolerate the cold.”

“In a hibernation state. That’s not the same as tolerating it.”

Francis nodded. “The tardigrade has that same remarkable ability. Interesting.”

“They’re our closest relative, believe it or not,” Mellissa said. “Anyways, my kind prefers climates ranging between 130 to 177 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“Again, most interesting,” Francis said. “Few places on Earth get that hot. Iran in the summer time is one, and most humans would perish under such heat.”

“Does it even matter?” Carrie sat opposite them, shivering within the large coat she wrapped around her tiny frame. “Your attackers would have drowned.”