The Prisoner and The Assassin
The Arrows of Defiance
If you're nice enough to buy them, I really hope you enjoy them. I had a lot of fun writing them and I think I've learned a lot in the process but my philosophy on writing has always been a simple one: always get better. I've got a month or so to wrap up a print edition of The Arrows of Defiance (I want to get that done by Christmas- fingers crossed) and then it's off to 2017 to try and figure out how to take my writing to the next level. Right now, I don't know what that's going to entail. (I am going to try and get some of my short fiction published though, I know that much.)
I do, however, have a little taste of my next big project- (not the start of another series, thank goodness! This one will be stand alone!) tentatively titled: The Last President
Zebulon Josiah Stanton or Zeb as he preferred to be called, groaned as someone nudged him back to consciousness, courtesy of a foot applied none-too-gently to the side of his ribs. He opened his eyes and then immediately closed them again. Bright. Too bright, he thought. What am I doing on the floor? He coughed a few more times and tasted carpet. He edged one eye open and saw the carpet was blue and then, like an avalanche, the events of the previous night came flooding back to him.
“Jesus, he’s a mess,” someone was saying above him. “I thought you were going to watch him, Price.”
“I’m not his goddamn babysitter,” came the reply.
“We’ve got to get him cleaned up and downstairs. The Speaker’s going to have our asses if he’s late.”
There was a sigh. “Fine. Together then?”
“On three. One, two… three…”
Zeb felt himself being heaved upward and then the pain became intense. The hangover lodged in his brain like an icepick to the temporal lobe and his stomach felt like a dinghy caught in a hurricane. What the hell did I do? The thought ran through his brain- more to the point, what the hell did I drink? He began to piece it together as he was dragged across the carpet, hanging limp between the two burly men, Secret Service Agents, he dimly noted like a bag of potatoes and into the hall beyond.
Whiskey. He seemed to recall starting with whiskey, but it hadn’t ended there. He had gone through the bourbon and then moved onto the scotch and then, oh God, he let out a juicy belch as they reached the bathroom and he was dumped unceremoniously onto the rug, that tastes like tequila. Oh man, tequila? He let out another juicy belch and felt his gorge rising even as he heard one of the two agents turning the shower on. Vomit was advancing now, creeping upward in a rapid advance that he forced back down with a hard swallow. Yeah, that’s tequila. Then he felt himself being heaved upward.
“Grab ahold, sir,” one of the agents said and steadying himself, he did so. “Now step in.” And he stepped into the shower and-
“Jeessssus, that’s cold!” Clarity arrived in a blast of cold water as he remembered why he had been drinking so heavily last night and why the Agents had dragged him to the bathroom and put him in the shower to sober up. He closed his eyes and felt the shock of the cold water spread through his system, nerves firing to life as his body moved into a state that could be considered presentable at least. Having woken up and he noticed the Agents had not bothered to take his clothes off, so he was standing barefoot, unshaven in an expensive suit in the middle of a cold shower. “That’s enough cold water, I think,” he said aloud and adjusted the taps to warm up the temperature. He glanced over at the Agents, wondering if there was a chance that he could get past them and out of the building somehow so he could escape his fate, but they had gone. Probably guarding the door, he thought. They had, at least, left him a fresh robe.
Feeling more human, he stripped off his clothes and showered, letting out the occasional belch that revealed the hellish mixture of alcohol he had ingested the night before, he cleaned himself and by the time he was done, he felt better. Turning the shower off, he stepped out of the bath and, grabbing the robe, forced down more vomit that had a smoky taste that he couldn’t quite place his finger on. Maybe the whiskey, he thought as, without a backward glance at the two agents, headed back to the bedroom, closed the door and he began digging in the closet and found himself a presentable suit and dressed himself.
Re-emerging from the bedroom, some minutes later, he adjusted his tie and glanced at the two Agents, both of whom were waiting. “Thank you, Agent Price and… Agent Thompson is it?” The second Agent nodded. “Shall we? I imagine they’ll be waiting.” With that, he began to walk down the hallway to the stairs that lead down to the first floor, where they were waiting for him.
There was still time. He could run. He might make it out of the building. He could find a transport and head south to Virginia or maybe the Oceanic Republics. He could be a bartender and live on a beach somewhere and just be a normal, regular guy and have normal, regular problems and maybe even a normal, regular wife and a normal, regular kid too. It was tempting. It was oh so tempting…
He arrived on the first floor, the Agents on either side of him like a man walking to his execution. Well that’s what it is, isn’t it? That nasty little voice in the back of his head snickered. A suicide mission. A bug to be crushed under what’s coming. The effects of the shower had faded and his nausea had returned and a tiny part of his mind kept poking him. There had been something else. He had started with whiskey and then tequila and then something else…
He stopped in the small room outside his destination and gathered himself. This was it. No going back once he was in the big round room. He tried to imagine himself being brave in the face of what was coming, but he knew himself too well for that. He was resigned to his fate. Manacled to his duty. And you’re too chicken-shit to walk away, the nasty little voice added.
“All right,” he sighed. “Let’s get this over with.” He opened the door and stepped into the room beyond. The morning sunlight bathed the room in a soft glow and he tried not to make it obvious as he surveyed the room. One of the most famous rooms in history, it had been designed to make foreign dignitaries and visitors feel intimidated and although it was shortly going to be his office, he could still feel the weight of the centuries pressing down on him. Or maybe it was the hangover, he couldn’t be sure.
“You’re almost late.” The Speaker of the House, Leo Yates was a short, rat-faced little man who was a consummate political operator of the highest order. As such, Zeb didn’t trust the man one bit. With him, were Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ellen Boateng-Miller and the familiar face of his father’s old chief of staff, Richard Ocampo.
“It’s not noon yet,” Zeb replied. “Is that the desk?”
The trio in front of the desk parted so he could take a look at it. “It’s a copy, of course,” Ocampo said. “A perfect replica though.”
“Was it really made from the ship?”
“That’s what the history says,” Ocampo replied. Yates cleared his throat, signalling his impatience. “We should get on with this.”
“Very well,” Zeb sighed.
“Madame Chief Justice,” Yates said. She stepped forward, holding a Bible in her hands. “Place your right hand on the Bible and repeat after me.”
Zeb did so. No going back now. Chicken-shit, the nasty little voice in his head said.
“I, Zebulon Josiah Stanton,” his nausea was rising and he felt himself start to sweat. He was operating on automatic pilot now, just repeating everything he was being told, like the good little puppet he was about to become. “Do solemnly swear, that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States,” His head hurt and he felt the full weight of it all crashing down on him. “And will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” a thousand years of history was going to come to an end. Armies were sweeping across the Continent, sweeping aside the balkanized clusters of successor states that had once made up the United States of America. “So help me God.” And they had nothing, no fighting force strong enough to stop them. He was going to be the last one. The Last President of the United States.
Yates left without a word and he heard the Chief Justice offer her quiet congratulations and felt himself shake her hand and then she too departed and he was left alone in the Oval Office with Ocampo.
“I’d say congratulations, kid,” Ocampo said, “but--”
The nausea broke then and Zeb ran across the room to a small, elegant trash can that had been placed near the door and, falling to his knees began to vomit. His stomach heaved again and again, the contents of the despair he had tried to drown the night before in alcohol spewing out into the light until he took a deep shuddering breath and stopped. “Mezcal,” he rasped.
“What?” Ocampo asked.
“I’ve been trying to figure out what all I drank last night for the past hour,” Zeb replied, spitting some excess phlegm out of his mouth and into the trash can. “I could taste the tequila and the whiskey but there was something else I couldn’t figure out and I guess its the mezcal.”
“How do you know?”Zeb leaned over and looked down into the garbage can. “Well, for starters I’m pretty sure I ate the worm.”