Murmurs Of A Coup
Chapters: 19 Pages: 93 Word Count: 29,173 Genre: Science Fiction/Action/Adventure
The dark times have begun. Billy Wellman and Mellissa Pavlovich failed to stop Gregory di Conti’s rise to power. Now the President of the United States seeks to assassinate his predecessors to consolidate that power. Can Bill and Mellissa warn the ex-presidents in time? Find out in the sequel to the short story that started it all: Welcome to the Post-Truth World.
Chapter 1: Reunion
May 2nd, 2030
Darkness had descended on Harrisburg. In truth, it had consumed the city long before the sun had set on the horizon. The once vibrant capital of Pennsylvania was now a patchwork of lit and unlit zones, the latter too poor to afford the rising cost of electricity, so they had been disconnected from the grid. There, the only sounds that could be heard were of dogs barking and the occasional banging of a firearm, a sign that crime was on the rise.
Former U.S. President Philip J. Wellman tapped the window of his limo, barely able to see more than a few yards beyond the glass. His expression soured. “Yet another neighborhood that has plunged into shadow and despair,” he said in a whisper.
His thoughts drifted to his contribution to this situation. It would be easy for him to say that he had inherited this mess from Trump and Pence, but his conscience, which these days always took the voice of his dead son, Billy, reminded him that it was he who drove the separatist states to secede. That it was he who declared the hostilities that brought his nation to ruin, a civil war that his successor had ended, but at a price so terrible that he shuddered to think it.
Hearing his son’s voice, even if it was just a phantom echo, reminded him that Billy's birthday would be coming up in a few days. They should be celebrating it and would have if he hadn't driven his son into the arms of his political rival, Francis Downey. Philip didn't begrudge Downey. The fault was his. He hadn't listened to his son's concerns, allowed a gulf to form between them. Over a year ago, Downey's plane had gone down in the Arctic; all onboard assumed dead. Now Philip would never get to tell his son how sorry he was.
If he had just done things differently, Philip wondered, would his son still be alive? Would he still be President and not Gregory di Conti, a man even less qualified for the office of the Presidency than Donald Trump? Would millions still be alive? If only he had listened.
Philip felt a tender hand pat his lap. He turned to see his wife, Hazel, staring back at him. “Things will be alright,” she said. “Just remember to smile when socializing.”
Philip grabbed his wife’s hand. "You have my word. I'll be on my best behavior."
“I know Billy’s birthday is coming up. Hard to believe that it has been over a year since we last heard from him, but we’ll get by. We always do.”
“Yes, we have had years of practice with Franklin.” Philip glanced outside. “I always wanted grandkids. Then again, given where things are headed, it might be for the best.”
“Don’t think like that. Things will get better. We just have to have faith.”
Have faith? Both of our sons are dead. Philip held his breath. That was the last thing his wife needed to hear. “You’re right. We need to keep our faith in God and humanity.”
Neither spoke for the remainder of the journey. Philip just gazed out, again observing that more of the city had gone dark. Then their limo reached the upper-class neighborhoods, the mansions here lit up like Christmas trees. The contrast between the haves and have-nots couldn’t be starker as they transitioned from the shadows to the light.
Their limo passed the gated communities and weaved up a hill to the convention center located at its peak, a dome structure doused by spotlights.
Their driver brought the limo to a stop in front of the main entrance, and they departed.
Philip and his wife walked down the red carpet, photographers on either side flashing them with cameras, and entered the Santorum Convention Center. A statue of an archangel towered in the main lobby, and they had to climb winding stairs to reach the ballroom. Hundreds of people had gathered within, among some of the wealthiest families in Pennsylvania. Men were dressed in tuxedos, while the ladies wore the latest fashions.
The couple sought out a cadre of their closest friends. Once reunited, gossip was traded, laughter was contagious, and all were merry, or at least, they were until Simon Adams crashed the gathering. With a martini in one hand and a handful of salted nuts in the other, the lumbering oaf shouted, “Hey, Philip! Have you heard the good news? Di Conti won the war!”
“Yes,” Philip said, determined to hide his distress as he took a sip of his drink.
“It must vex you, to know that he could do what you could not and finish the civil war your bumbling started,” Simon said. “If only he ran four years ago.”
“I’m surprised you’re not weeping given how much you profited from it,” Hazel said.
Simon twisted his massive midsection to confront her. “I’ll admit that until war broke out, our profits were dipping, but I’m also a patriot. This conflict has been nothing but a distraction, one that has deterred us Americans from reclaiming our rightful place as the world’s hegemony.”
“Di Conti’s reckless use of Kinetic Rounds has wrought devastation on the former states,” Philip said, again struggling to keep his composer. A patriot? Simon was an opportunist prick. He only wanted America to be an empire again because more foreign wars would make Adam Corp. International insanely rich. ”We still don’t have an official death count, but I hear it could be in the tens of millions. I don’t even want to imagine property damage, but I assume we’ll be preoccupied with rebuilding for several decades.”
“You might have to put your dreams of a renewed American Empire on hold,” Hazel added.
“The war might have postponed our triumphant return to the world stage, but it has also created many opportunities for those with vision.” All turned to see Simon’s son, Edward, approach the group, his lovely wife, Elanor, coiled around his arm like a bejeweled heirloom. “Congress is deliberating over two massive construction projects; one of which I am told has to do with the separatist states. I’m also pleased to announce that Adams Corp. International has just won a fifteen-year bid to service the forces maintaining martial law there.”
“Fifteen years?” Herald Smith asked. “Surely the occupation won’t last that long.” He turned to Philip. “Have you heard anything about this?”
“No. I was under the impression that their statehood status would be addressed soon.”
“Well, our contract with the federal government is for fifteen years,” Edward explained.
“Damn right, it is,” Simon boasted. “Fifteen years. No one has ever gotten a contract that long. Hell, my granddaughter Amanda will be married and with kids by then.”
“And what if Amanda wants to pursue a career first?” Hazel asked. “I hear the girl is smart. Really smart. She should be encouraged to develop her talents.”
Simon eyed her. “What are you suggesting? That my granddaughter should go to college?”
“When she is old enough, yes,” Hazel said.
Simon snorted. “Like hell she is. College is no place for a lady of refined breeding.”
A debate erupted between his wife and Simon over the role of women in society. Philip tuned them out, his thoughts drifting back to what Edward had said. Fifteen years? That couldn’t be right. Why would martial law need to be extended for that long? Yes, it would take years to undo all the damage, but basic government could be restored relatively quickly unless… Philip grimaced. Unless di Conti had no intention of restoring the states to their former conditions, but instead, planned to keep them in limbo indefinitely. But why would—
“This way. Turn around,” a woman whispered into Philip’s ear.
Philip swiveled, confused as to where the voice had originated. It seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere, almost as if it was his inner voice.
“No,” the lady bellowed, clearly annoyed. “To your right. Turn to your right.”
Philip did, still wondering where the voice was coming from. Why couldn’t he— He paused. Off in the distance, a familiar face stared back at him, a ghost from his past.
“This is the 21st century, Simon. How have you been able to maintain such medieval— Hey, what are you doing?” Hazel cried as Philip yanked her away from their friends.
Philip pulled his wife deeper into the crowd. A mixture of excitement and aspiration fueled his every step. His dread grew, a fear that as he neared the object of his fixation, it would reveal itself not to be his dead son, but merely someone who shared many of Billy’s physical features, a cruel trick of the mind, one he’d suffered before. “Son, is it really you?”
“Hello, father. Hello, mother,” Billy said, his cheeks sparkling with tears.
Hazel rushed forward to embrace their son. “Oh, thank God, you’re still alive!” She glanced up. “Sixteen months. Where have you been for all this time?”
“I’m sorry for staying out of touch,” Billy said. “But it was too dangerous to call.”
Philip drew closer, not entirely convinced that this moment was real. “Too dangerous? I don’t understand. How can you be here? The Canadians found your plane’s black box. Said it suffered engine problems and crashed into the Arctic Sea. We were told there were no survivors.”
Billy grabbed Philip’s shoulder. “Dad, our plane didn’t have engine troubles. We were shot down, and our black box was damaged beyond repair.”
“Shot down? Why would the Canadians shoot down your plane?” Hazel asked.
“Mom, it wasn’t the Canadians. It was Gregory di Conti. He gave the order.”
“Di Conti?” Philip asked. “Why would he do that? Where’s Francis Downey?”
“Downey’s dead, Dad. He was murdered. Di Conti had him and the others killed?”
Philip stared, perplexed. “If Downey and the others are dead, why are you still alive?”
“That’s hard to explain. It would be easier if I just showed you.” Billy directed them to the far corner of the room where a stunning brunette in red waited.
“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Wellman,” she said in the disembodied voice Philip had heard earlier. “My name is Mellissa Pavlovich, and I’m the daughter of your enemy.”
Philip frowned. “My enemy’s daughter? Do you mean di Conti?”
“No,” Mellissa said. “My father is di Conti’s master, Supreme Inquisitor Abbot.”
Chapter 2: Dark Plots
Hundreds of miles away, a battle blimp soared above the ruins of Los Angeles like a flying turtle, its underbelly bristling with autocannons and missile launchers.
On the horizon, the sun settled over the Pacific, a mosaic of red, yellows and oranges. Its rays filtered through the gutted towers that made up the downtown area, illuminating some sections, while leaving others in shadows. Steel beams rose from sheared-off buildings. Boats rested sideways like beached whales, and fires peppered the landscape, the only other source of light. Gunfire could be heard, but their wails were becoming more sporadic.
On the video screens that lined the blimp’s bridge, its occupant eyed men in hazard suits placing civilians in body bags and moving them onto haulers. They were destined for mass graves on the city’s outskirts, some already filled with tens of thousands of corpses. The resolution was subpar, but some of the bodies were so badly mangled, so tattered and burnt, either by radiation poisoning or fire, that most would be compelled to look away.
U.S. President Gregory di Conti gazed at his handiwork and nodded with approval, his hand resting on the rails that separated him from the bridge’s canopy.
A cough caused him to turn. His master, Supreme Inquisitor Abbot, dressed in his traditional dark red robes, came up behind him. “I see that you’re enjoying the view.”
“One should savor one’s triumphs, master.” Di Conti cocked his head. “I’m surprised you’re not down there. I imagine you would find the radiation rejuvenating.”
“And I did.” Abbot lowered his hood and tilted his head slightly to the left. The diagonal scar along his right cheek, received during his final battle with his sister, had vanished, no doubt healed thanks to his kind’s unique biology and how it reacted to radiation. “The Battle of L.A. succeeded in every measure, far better than Detroit I must say.”
“The Detroit mission failed only because the SEALs turned on us. Delta Force proved more loyal. It almost saddens me that they all died in the explosion.”
Di Conti hit a button on the console, and the image changed to one of a nuclear power plant, its large cooling stacks having crumpled in on themselves.
“The Arroyo Pescadero Nuclear Facility,” di Conti proclaimed with a wide grin. “The world’s first uranium-zirconium pellet reactor. Its designers claimed that it could never melt down. That it was 100% safe. Angelenos were so convinced of this, and in the future of green energy, that they built this monstrosity in the very heart of their city.”
“And their confidence would have been warranted if we hadn’t introduced the quastinium the Heavenly Benefactors had bequeathed us into the core,” Abbot said.
Di Conti chuckled. "Indeed. The public is convinced that the meltdown was an accident. This incident not only won us the war but convinced people that nuclear power could never be safe. I have ordered the construction of more coal fire plants to replace the capacity lost. The rest of the world might be moving away from fossil fuels, but America won't."
“I imagine this news will cause your stocks in coal to skyrocket,” Abbot said. “Regardless, with this civil war over, we need to accelerate our other plans.”
Di Conti nodded. “Yes, negotiations on the wall have stalled. Few see the need, especially given that many still labor under the assumption that we are going to rebuild the former states. It doesn’t help that President Bush will be hosting a fundraiser in Huston dedicated to making Los Angeles livable again.” He shook his head. “What a waste.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps. I wonder. Will the other ex-presidents be in attendance?”
“All but Trump. He has never forgiven California for not voting for him in 2016.”
“Trump is not a threat, but the others are. I want you to attend this gathering.”
Di Conti gasped. “But master, many in my base are against the idea of rebuilding Los Angeles, as am I. This den of depravity deserves its fate.”
“I care not for Los Angeles, but we cannot have those five subverting our plans.”
Di Conti clenched his short beard and stroked it. “I doubt they would oppose me at such a venue. Besides, they know not of my role in starting the war.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not. But they vehemently objected to how you ended it.”
“Oh, like the rest of them don’t have blood on their hands. Sanctimonious hypocrites.”
“The wars they fought took place on distant shores. Los Angeles, however, was a former American city.” Abbot beamed di Conti a wicked smile. “Besides, I find the best way to entice someone to go where you want is to give them something to run away from.”
Di Conti considered his master’s words, as well as the optics of such a move. He could rationalize it by making a plea for civility. His base would feel betrayed, but their devotion was beyond question and, eventually, they would get over it. Besides, the corporate media – that collection of self-congratulating idiots who once mistook Downey for a greater threat than him – would eat it up. They would hail it as his pivot to the center, when, in fact, it was anything but. No, if handled correctly, this could boost his appeal and kill two birds with one stone.
“As usual, you’re right, master,” di Conti said, an idea percolating inside his skull. “I think I will attend. I have a feeling that this event will be one to remember.”
Back at the Governor’s Ball, Philip and his wife followed their son and his fiancé to their limousine. He carefully scrutinized Billy, noting that he was scanning their surroundings, almost incessantly, as if he expected for someone to rob them. That came across as uncharacteristically skittish. Like anyone would try while his Secret Service detail was visible. What had transpired that could have made his son, a man who was a decorated fighter pilot, so edgy?
Philip’s gaze shifted to his son’s fiancé. Her demeanor was the opposite of Billy’s. Her posture conveyed confidence, while her stone-cold stare might cause some to coil. But to Philip, Mellissa reminded him of his old drill instructor: discipline, vigilant, and resolute, his emotions always shrouded by a granite gaze that you swore could melt steel.
Who was this warrior woman, and how did she become engaged to his son?
The limo’s driver reached the passenger door and opened it. “Leaving so soon, sir?”
“Yes, Raziel,” Philip said. “Please take us home.”
After the other three got in and were comfortable, Philip asked the question foremost on his mind. “Now, can either of you tell me why di Conti would want you both dead?”
"Your son and the others weren't the targets," Mellissa explained. "Downey was."
“Dad, Downey was rising high in the polls. Di Conti and Abbot were confident they could defeat you, but not Downey’s progressive message.”
“When dealing with right-wing populists like Trump or di Conti, you don’t counter them with establishment candidates,” Mellissa said. “Did you learn nothing from Hilary’s defeat?”
Philip bristled at her condescending tone but chose to let it slide. “Okay, di Conti wanted to remove Downey so that he could face me in the general election alone. How?”
“Yeah,” Hazel said. “How did they make your crash look like it was an accident?”
“So long as you had the original black box’s serial number, replacing it with a fake would be simple enough,” Mellissa said. “Then all you had to do was upload it with false data. Also, simple. As for the wreckage, I’m betting the Canadians didn’t find much.”
“Yes,” Philip said. “They only found a wing and the rear section. How did you know?”
Mellissa gave him a chilling look. “Because I’m the assassin they sent to kill your son.”
Mellissa told them her story. What began as surreal quickly devolved into the kind of nonsensical madness one only expected to hear uttered from the lips of Alex Jones or Jimmy Eagle about an ancient religious order, its lineage one that could be traced back to the Knights Templar. It had infiltrated the CIA, the FBI, and other government agencies, all part of some 900-year-old plot to take over the world. If that didn’t sound outlandish enough, this Cabal had a slave army of superhuman assassins who could block bullets with their swords.
Listening, Philip wondered if his son’s earlier signs of skittishness were an indication that he and his girlfriend were taking LSD. That seemed more plausible.
Melissa eyed him with suspicion. “You don’t believe a word I said.”
Hazel cringed. “Well, dearie, you have to admit that your tale sounds… um, far-fetched."
“That’s the understatement of the century,” Philip said. “There are people admitted to mental asylums who come across as less batshit crazy.”
Melissa removed a pocket knife from beneath her dress.
“Wo,” Philip exclaimed, hands raised. “Don’t do anything rash, dear. I didn’t say—”
Melissa slit her palm and allowed her blood to drip on the limousine’s carpet, smoke rising wherever the droplets landed. “What do you think of my story now?”
Philip stared and gulped. The acid blood had burned a hole in the carpet.
His son grabbed his hand. “Dad, you have to believe us. America is in grave danger.”
Philip continued to stare at the sizzling blood. “I’ve always known that di Conti was ruthless. I’ve even called him out once or twice, but this… this…”
“I’m a telepath,” Mellissa said. “With your permission, I can show you I’m telling the truth.”
Philip opened his mouth, then paused. He recalled the recordings he’d seen of Engineer Un, taken decades before he was born. The alien survivor of the Roswell Incident had told the scientist at Area 51 much. Telepaths existed, but as Philip understood it and his knowledge of genetics was limited, but wasn’t humanity destined to develop mastery over time and gravity? Human telepaths were impossible. That’s what Engineer Un said. Right?
Philip frowned. Engineer Un was a telepath and a powerful one at that, but he didn’t have acid blood. Only one race in the galaxy did. Wait. Was he actually thinking of going through with this? Why not? If Mellissa was lying, if this was still just the delusions of someone with a fevered imagination and a rare, but not supernatural or otherworldly blood condition, then what did he have to lose? “Very well, my dear. Dazzle me with your powers.”
Mellissa drew closer and pressed her uninjured hand against his temple. Philip found himself teleported into a hallway. The walls echoed with the clanging of metal. He panned to see two combatants coming down it. Armed with swords, they moved with inhuman speed, twirling like tornadoes, each attempting to bypass the other's defenses. No one could react so quickly, not even the greatest of swordsmen, and yet they did so with flair and grace.
Soldiers from parallel corridors converged on them and opened fire. Their aim seemed to be directed at the female combatant, a petite with short raven hair. The arch of her sword altered slightly, sending the bullets back, and the soldiers toppled.
The pair passed him, and finally, Philip got a look at the other fighter, a bearded man with hawkish cheekbones. He launched a sidekick, forcing the woman to back up. Then he bolted down the hallway at cheetah speeds. The petite ran after him.
How could any of this be possible, Philip thought as he crept forward, his limbs moving without any input from him. Where was he? Who was he?
He neared a reflective surface and gazed at the face of a teenage girl; her features a younger approximation of Mellissa's. Well, that answered one question.
Philip reached a flight of stairs. He ascended five floors before catching another glimpse of the pair. The woman battered relentlessly at the man’s defenses.
“Yield, brother,” she said between blows. “You’ve never been a match for me.”
“I will not let you free father,” the man screamed. “Nor let you take my children.”
“You’re children? I’ve been more of a father to them than you. I’m taking them away from this madness. You want to stay. Fine. But they’re coming with me, as is Dad.”
The male combatant backed up, desperate to deflect her swipes. One swing sent his sword flying, while another cut a diagonal scar along his right cheek.
The woman kneed him in the stomach, then slammed his head against the wall. The concrete shattered, the depression growing with each wack of his head. His skull should be mush by now, yet it was merely bloodied. The last strike knocked him out.
Philip dashed to the man and, in Mellissa’s voice, said, “Aunt Catherina, don’t kill Dad.”
Aunt Catherina reached out to him and said, “Sweetie, what are you doing here?”
“I saw you and Dad arguing, then he drew his sword,” Philip said, again in Mellissa’s voice. “I know that Dad can be mean at times, but please, don’t kill him?”
Aunt Catherina moved him off to one side. “It’s okay, sweetie. I would never kill your father. He’s my brother, but I couldn’t let him stop me. Do you understand?”.
Philip sniffled. “Yes, but why do you two have to fight at all? I’m sick of always fighting.”
“I know,” she said in a tender voice. “So am I. I’m going to free you and your sisters and take you someplace where you’ll never have to fight again.”
Aunt Catherina wiped the tears from his eyes, her smile reassuring him.
“I would like that,” Philip said.
“I know you would. I promise, Mellissa, I will never let anything bad happen to you. Okay?”
“Can Dad come with us?”