pain and ash
in suspension in the summer heat. The Senator
stubs out his cigarette and the windows rattle in their frames again, like they do every 15 minutes, every day the weather's good. The weather's usually good here.
The Senator lights another cigarette, and watches the straightline contrails, pillars to the heavens, slowly widen and dissipate. A lizard runs up one of the walls. When the Senator drops his butt on the concrete floor, and stumbles into the bathroom, bile suddenly rising in his throat for no reason he could name, he instinctively tries to use his right hand to push the door open. Nothing there, no connect.
While he is hunched over the toilet, retching over and over again with nothing coming up, a corner of his mind notes that the rattling has jarred loose the photo he always keeps taped to the mirror. A slim, dark man with piercing blue eyes in a white military uniform stares up at him from the floor, and the Senator still can't make himself puke.
Two men are talking on the LIRR train as it glides silently through Flushing. They are the only men in their car. The short, skinny one is sweating, though the filtered air-conditioning runs at full blast. "How much longer do you think we can hold out? The committee meets again in a month, they'll want us out of the picture before then!"
The tall one looks him in the eyes, tries his best to project calm. "Listen, we are out of the picture, so far as they're concerned. That's what you have to count on now, it's our only ace in the hole." He leans over to pat the other man reasurringly, and never even feels the needle break his skin.
The brushed-aluminum of the monorail reflects sunlight onto broken windows and Mandarin graffiti.
The police had strict orders to move in on the mobs camped out in the streets and squares in the dead of night. They used noise supressors, and city power was obligingly cut ten minutes before they moved, so the only thing you could really see was muzzle flash against the night, and the only thing you could hear was their boots against the pavement.
"Sure, I knew it would never last. I even told him so, told him to his face. He just laughed. I'm not sure, but I think he knew too.
"For a while, before we lost the satelites, I really thought he might have been able to pull it off. Like the whole world was in the palm of his hand,. Everything was going just like we planned, government after government declaring for us. The night after the UN session, we were all drinking, champagne and whiskey, everybody except him. He would just pace, back and forth. I think he must have known. He must have!
"Then, when the counter-attacks started coming in, one after another, God knows how you people coordinated them, he wasn't any different. Still pacing. Like the whole thing had been foreordained, and he'd seen it all. He was a great man. Bigger than you, bigger than me, bigger than any of us."
The searchlights play across heaven and earth, while artillery rumbles and flashes on the horizon. This position hasn't been judged important enough for missiles or bomber raids, but it doesn't matter. The forest is burning and the food here can't last out another week.
Men in white uniforms are taking giant piles of paper, dossiers and requisitions and charts and codebooks and posters, and heaping them into piles and burning them. At first they shredded them, but they haven't had power here for days.
The gray little man glances up at his screen. Green phosphorous lettering informs him that Senator Guiterrez was found dead, a few days ago. In Florida, not far from where they send the rockets up to the moon. He coughs, once, and tries to look impassive. You never know when the cameras are on.
He gets up and walks to the coffee machine, pours himself a cup, black. It is terrible, as always.
The gray little man tries not to think about what he will do next, about the fact that he may be the only sleeper left in place. There is, perhaps, nothing left to do but wait, and watch, and hope that some time, at least, he will have the chance to tell the whole story to somebody.
Somewhere, deep, deep underground, a slim dark man, with piercing blue eyes, in a day-glo orange prison uniform, is laughing. Or perhaps weeping.