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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.”