Short Stories

This blog is the home of some old short stories I'd written five or six years ago for "challenges" (contests) at the Writers BBS. In such challenges, someone else sets the topic, genre, word length limit, and time in which to complete the story.

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Location: California, United States

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Expediency

This story was written for a Mystery Challenge on the subject of politics

Two weeks ago ...

Mark ran stumbling through the forested darkness, blood roaring in his ears, chest heaving with the effort to drag in each ragged breath of night air. As he clutched a heavy backpack in a death grip, he repeated over and over the litany that kept him going ... he had to get away, had to survive, so that others would know.

Tripping over an unseen obstruction, Mark fell heavily to the pine-needle strewn ground, the backpack flying from his grasp. For a moment he lay dazed and bleeding from numerous scrapes, but soon he pushed himself to trembling knees. Then, with the feeble benefit of starlight, he saw what had caused him to fall ... it was his female contact. She stared up from a bed of blood with a glassy unfocused gaze, her throat torn open by a large caliber round.

Mark managed to crawl a few feet from the corpse before the retching took him. As he wiped his mouth against the back of his shaking hand, he noticed red beams slice through the dimness of the forest ... laser sightings .... soldiers of the Special Ops Division of Fort Marshall were almost upon him. With a last glance at what was left of the nameless woman who'd helped him break into the secret medical research facility, Mark forced himself to his feet, retrieved the backpack and began to run.

* * * * *

One week ago ...

"This had better be good, Mr. Archer. Do you have any idea what it takes to give the Secret Service the slip?"

Mark Archer, rookie congressman from Oregon, looked around nervously as he pulled his coat closer with his left hand. In his right hand he held the handle of a metallic briefcase. "Thanks for coming, Mr. President."

"I still don't understand why we couldn't have met in my office tomorrow morning. Don't you think you're being a little paranoid, dragging me out to East Potomac Park at 3:00am?"

"You know what they say Sir, the real question isn't 'are you paranoid?', but 'are you paranoid enough?'," Mark smiled.

Michael Ryan's face hardened and he wondered if he'd made a mistake in taking this odd request seriously. "Look, I'm only here because of the respect I had for your father. You said this had to do with his death ..."

His expression now grave, Mark hastened to explain. "Do you remember when Senator Rockefeller issued a report in 1994 revealing that for at least fifty years, the Department of Defense had conducted secret experiments on unknowing civilians ... exposed them to mustard gas, LSD, plutonium and more?"

The President sighed and wearily flopped down on a nearby stone bench. "How could I forget?"

The young congressman paced back and forth before Ryan, too disturbed, it seemed, to take a seat. "You also know that my father was one of the doctors who testified before the senate sub-committee ..."

Impatient, the president interrupted, "Yes, of course, but what does this all have to do with his death?"

Mark stopped in front of the older man and their eyes locked. "Those reprehensible human experiments ... those skeletons from our political past ... they've never ended. In fact, they've reached a level unbelievable in both their depravity and their threat to every person in this country. My father was silenced when he found this out, when he tried to make it known."

Ryan shook his head in disappointed dismissal. "You've been watching too many episodes of the X-Files, Archer. Don't you think if something like that was going on that the president of the United States would know about it?"

"With all due respect, Sir, I think you're overestimating your position on the political food chain."

"Okay, I've heard enough," growled Ryan, getting to his feet. His anger faded as he stared into the younger man's eyes. "I'm sincerely sorry about your father ... he was a good man. But this isn't the way to ..."

"Mr. President, I didn't really expect you to take my word for all this," Archer broke in with a bitter smile. He opened his briefcase. "I've brought proof. I have copied files, photographs, but I think you'll find this the most persuasive."

The older man caught a faint stench of corruption as the congressman slowly lifted the lid of a metallic container. As the president gazed down into the receptacle at a horror impossible to have imagined, he felt himself break out in a cold sweat.

"What would you be willing to do, Mr. President, to defeat the experiments responsible for this?" the younger man asked grimly.

"Anything."

* * * * *

Three days ago ...

Dr. Karl Farber caught a glimpse of his reflection in the spherical glass of one of the large tanks that lined the walls of his lab. He straightened his slightly bent spine and smiled at himself ... not bad, he thought, for a man of eighty-six. Blue eyes still bright, hair still extant ... a fair example of the master race. His personal reverie was interrupted by a movement from within the tank. Peering through the viscous green fluid, he tapped lightly on the glass and observed his experiment's reaction with relish.

Brought to the United States by the CIA in 1945 as part of Operation Paperclip, the Nazi scientist had been offered immunity and a new identity in exchange for the contribution of his expertise to secret government projects. In Germany, he'd been one of the scientists doing live vivisections and pharmacological experiments for drug companies on concentration camp victims . Now he used the knowledge he'd gained sixty years ago to aid the unspeakable aims of a shadow government within the US government.

"How's our latest test subject responding?"

Farber turned to see a middle-aged man in an impeccable dark suit entering the lab. The scientist grimaced ... he hated the idea of his work being constantly surveiled by this hatchet man ... for the umpteenth time he wondered who the nameless suit worked for - CIA, NSA? Best not to be too curious. "I'd be farther along without these constant interruptions," he answered coldly. "Speaking of which ... have you yet found the man who broke into my lab?"

The other man smiled, ignoring Farber's rudeness. "Not yet, but it's just a matter of time, a few days at the most ... the fool left some of his DNA behind."

The old scientist snorted in disgusted contempt as the other man lit a cigarette and moved closer to the tank to observe the object of their common interest.

* * * * *

Last night ...

Mark Archer was scared. Perspiration soaked his expensive suit and made it difficult to retain his grip on the deadman's switch in his left hand. Once more, he raked his gaze over the fully occupied US House of Representatives. Where were the secret service agents, the state police? Would they believe in his threat to blow up the entire building with everyone in it? He heard his name whispered and his eyes snapped back to the president.

"Maybe we'd better get on with the show," Ryan muttered to him in a low voice. The older man glanced at the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House as he continued. "I think the natives are getting restless."

Giving the president a brief nod, Mark handed him a couple of lengths of rope and then loudly demanded that Ryan bind up the two other men on the speaking platform. After the president had finished, Mark instructed him, in a voice easily heard by all thanks to the microphone at the podium, to attach himself to the lie-detector. As he watched Ryan begin to remove his suit jacket, his mind flitted over the details of their desperate plan ... the plan that would probably get them both killed.

After numerous brainstorming sessions and a few discrete inquiries by the president, the young congressman and Michael Ryan had come to the harrowing conclusion that there was no safe way to stop the despicable experiments and no safe way to tell the public they were taking place ... every alternative and scenario ended with them both "plausibly" dying while the secret government within the government continued its work with no one being the wiser.

Only the memory of his father's murder kept Mark from giving up. He had no idea what sustained the president in the effort . Mark had not even voted for Ryan ... he knew the president had won the election by only a few votes and had spent his tenure at loggerheads with a congress made up of a majority of the other party ... even his own cabinet was mostly against him ... obviously there was more character to Michael Ryan than Mark or anyone else had suspected.

On the night before the State of the Union Address was to be given, Mark had come up with a radical idea. The president's first reaction had been incredulous disbelief, but Mark had eventually convinced him it was their only chance.

The plan was for the president, after his speech, to invite the rookie congressman up to his side on the speaking platform. Once there, Mark would take possession of the deadman's switch, which the president had managed to have hidden under the podium along with a lie detector and some rope. Mark would then explain to the watching world that he was taking those on the speaking platform hostage, that the deadman's switch was connected electronically to bombs planted throughout the chamber.

The point of this action, he'd say, was to question the president using the lie-detector ... if the president lied, everyone would die in a massive explosion. It was the greatest of bluffs, for there were actually no bombs and there would be no explosions if Mark's thumb were to leave the button on the deadman's switch in his hand. But both he and the president were betting their lives that the Secret Service wouldn't want to take that chance.

He and Ryan would thus have an opportunity to reveal the truth about the monstrous experiments taking place at Fort Matshall. The entire world would hear the compelling evidence thanks to the presence of the press and both Ryan and Mark would be safe, set free by the truth.

As Mark reviewed his plan, Secret Service agent Alvin Howe, near the back of the huge room, felt the sudden vibration of his cellular phone. Taking it out of his jacket pocket, he looked around to make sure he was within hearing distance of no one. "Yes?"

"It's me."

The agent stiffened, all attention. "Yes, Sir?"

"We have the results of the DNA scan ... it was Archer who broke into the lab. Our guess is that he's going to ask the president about the experiments. Ryan's clueless, of course, but we can't take any chances."

The agent asked, "What do you want me to do, Sir?"

"You have to find a way to terminate both Archer and Ryan without setting off the bombs ... we have too much of an investment in various members of congress to lose them and their votes needlessly."

"I understand, Sir."

The agent slipped his phone back into his jacket pocket and moved unobtrusively towards the speaking platform. Somehow he would have to both get the deadman's switch away from Archer without triggering the explosions and also find a way to blame Ryan's death on Archer before he killed the congressman.

Mark's musings on his plan were disturbed when he noticed the agent's movements and he rightly intuited that there wasn't much time left. He was about to turn back to the president and begin the questioning when he was blindsided by Ryan. Almost dropping the deadman's switch in surprise, Mark was hurled back against the waist-high edge of the speaking platform by a left hook from the president.

As everyone in US House of Representatives held their collective breath and as people watching on television throughout the world sat on the edge of their seats, the president grappled with the young congressman for possession of the deadman's switch. Unnerved by disbelief, Mark watched as Ryan slowly pried the switch away from him. For the fraction of a second, the president had the switch in his possession and then he seemed to just drop it over the edge of the speaking platform to land on the carpeted floor of the chamber.

For a moment, no one moved and then, as Mark opened his mouth to ask the president what the hell he was doing, a multitude of bullets tore through the congressman's chest. Mark fell, death already overshadowing him. It's doubtful he felt the crump and shudder as the explosions began.

* * * * *

The present ...

"So Archer never actually planted any bombs in the House of Representatives?" The middle-aged man in the impeccable suit swore under his breath, amazed at the late congressman's nerve.

"No. It was I who put them there," answered the president.

"Had that been your plan all along?"

"Not at all." Ryan sighed and sat down on the same stone bench he had shared with Mark Archer just one week ago. "When the congressman told me about those experiments of yours, when he showed me that ... that sample ..." The president shook his head. "I was 100% behind him in wanting to expose you."

"But you had a change of heart," prompted the nameless man as he took out a pack of cigarettes.

The president shifted on the hard bench as if uncomfortable. "Yes. Archer told me about his plan the night before the State of the Union Address. It seemed dangerous, a long shot, but I eventually agreed. I sat up for hours after he left, thinking."

"About ...?" asked the other, blowing a ring of smoke into the night air.

"About what it means to be a politician. About how life is nothing but a series of compromises. I still believe with every fiber of my being that what you're doing is wrong but if we'd exposed your secret government experiments, what would have been the outcome?"

The smoking man supplied the answer he knew the president wanted, needed. "A few lackeys would have been sacrificed to feed the public's conscience and we'd have been back in business with hardly a break in stride ... a mere inconvenience." He watched with secret amusement as Ryan nodded. "And of course," the nameless man added maliciously, "You weren't influenced at all by the opportunity to destroy your political enemies in congress and the cabinet ... to come off looking like a hero."

A number of emotions played over the president's face but he finally chose not to answer.

The other man dropped his cigarette and ground it out under his heel. "I'll be leaving now, Mr. President ... but just to clarify, we have a truce?"

Ryan nodded.

"Oh, and by the way, an interesting place for a meeting," observed the suit as he glanced around the dark emptiness of East Potomac park.

"Thanks," answered the president with a bitter smile. "A friend turned me on to it."