“Responsibility for political conditions thousands of miles away can no longer be avoided, I think, by this great Nation. . . . The United States now exerts a tremendous influence in the cause of peace. . . . The slightest remark in either House of Congress is known all over the world the following day. We will continue to exert that influence only if we are willing to share in the responsibility of keeping the peace.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), U.S. president. FDR Speaks authorized edition of speeches, 1933-1945 (recordings of Franklin Roosevelt’s public addresses), side 12, address to Congress on Yalta Conference (March 1, 1945), ed. Henry Steele Commager, Introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt, Washington Records, Inc. (1960). The Columbia World of Quotations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. www.bartleby.com/66/. [Date of Printout].
“And that one is marked; he’s the pebble in the pond.”
– Goodkind, Terry. Stone of Tears. New York: Tor Books, Oct. 1995.
The stars and stripes still singing to him, Bill floated, seemingly suspended in white space. He could still hear the gunshot that had ended his life, and knew that he had done the right thing. He wanted to rest, but the last few weeks of his life had caught up to him; playing every moment that had happened from when he had met Lucy and Nick Quintessence, ensuring that he would be punished from now till eternity.
The reporter got in William North’s face, the mike shaking in the reporter’s eagerness to get his story. “Mr. North, is it true what they say about Antarctica? Did they really find oil there?”
Bill North sighed. As soon as he got off the plane, it was as if he was the honey, and the reporters bees. They even buzzed like bees. He tried to sidestep a reporter, and then his funny bone went off when another reporter’s microphone struck it. He dropped his gray suitcase to clutch his right arm and it landed on his left foot. Cursing frustratingly, he felt around behind him for the bench that he knew was there. Sinking gratefully onto the cushions, he thought longingly of his bed at home. What with jet lag, reporters, his arm and now his foot, it was shaping up to be a pretty bad day.
He looked up. The suitcase had been taken off of his foot by a pretty young woman with shoulder-length auburn hair and blue eyes. She had picked up the suitcase almost as soon as it had made contact with his foot, he just hadn’t noticed because of all the pain. She wasn’t a reporter, or she just didn’t have a mike and was representing a newspaper. She smiled at him; startled, he smiled back. She reminded him of his 22 year-old niece Kirsten. She even looked a bit like her but –
“Mr. North!” One of the reporter’s narrow face was about to turn purple, which did look interesting with the thin lackluster hair that dangled in front of the small man’s bifocal green eyes. Groaning, Bill staggered up to his feet. He did, after all, promise Paul Sparrow an exclusive. It wasn’t every day that a cousin has the means of turning you from a teleprompter to an investigative reporter in a matter of days. (Of course, it would help Paul’s case a lot if he would stop showing off and call Bill by his first name.) Anyway, it didn’t really matter, since even though normally he would yield to this swarm, today however he needed some rest.
Bill saw Sparrow’s eyes widen eagerly when he stood up, but Bill quickly stole his thunder, “Everybody, I can’t give any statements right now. I just got back to D.C. as you can see, and I need to get home to rest.” When the reporters faces clouded over, he said, “All interviews can be taken at my office at Fossil Energy, where I can be reached in a few days, as I will be with my family for a special occasion.”
At that he took his suitcase back from the young woman, and started down toward the exit. All the reporters looked like he had given them coal for Christmas, with the exception of one. Sparrow looked like his coal had been turned into a beautiful diamond, if you could judge from the look on his face. Then it hit Bill. Special occasion. Family. Cousin? Sparrow?! The special occasion Peggy Sparrow’s birthday (Paul’s sister), and was one he had promised to attend a month ago. He had promised not only his mother, but Aunt Misty as well that he would go. Damn!!
As he trudged along, the day’s possibilities getting dimmer as his thoughts grew darker, the pretty blue-eyed woman hurried up alongside him. “Hi, I’m Lucy Quintessence.”
He glanced at her. She peered up at him as if he was supposed to know her. She did look familiar, but that was only because of her resemblance to his niece. She was dressed as he was, in jeans and a polo shirt, and carried a small black leather duffel bag that she slung over her right shoulder. “Do I know you?” He inquired.
She laughed, the sound echoing like chimes, and tossed her head back to dimple up at him. “No, but I thought that Mr. Michaels would have told you about me.”
He stopped dead in his tracks to gape at her. “Frank Michaels? Assistant Secretary Frank Michaels?”
She had gone a few feet before she realized he had stopped. She peered back at him quizzically. “Yes, he hired my husband and me to be your assistants.” When she saw that the clueless expression on his craggy face had not changed, she suggested, “Look, my husband Nick hired a taxi to come pick us up. It should be here by now. Let’s go so we can all talk on the way
over to your place.”
He raised his blonde eyebrows, but didn’t even ask how she had come by his address. She raised her own auburn ones back at him. He grinned to himself, maybe this day was going to turn out all right after all.
The taxi was a black and white mini-van, and a tall lean man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt of about mid-twenties stood propped up against it. He looked like he belonged in the North family as he had Bill’s build, and could have been his brother; that was how much he resembled Bill’s family. If it hadn’t been for the man being so familiar and the fact that the mini-van already had a man in the driver’s seat, Bill would have taken him for the cab driver. Bill looked closely at Lucy as she waved an enthusiastic hello and then introduced the two men to each other. What’s with them being so damn familiar?
Nick Quintessence took one look at Bill’s uncertain, wary face and turned to Lucy, frowning. She grinned and shrugged. Nick grimaced, and raised gray eyes to Bill. “Sorry, ol’ buddy for the intrusion, but I told Lucy that Mr. Michaels wouldn’t have been able to inform you of his decision to hire us. It was just this morning that he decided.”
“It’s fine,” Bill told him, “Lucy tells me that I’ll be able talk with you both in the taxi, so shall we?” He gestured, and the three boarded the taxi, and the vehicle moving as soon as the doors slid shut.
He and Lucy sat in the second row of seats, with Lucy over by the door, while Nick sat in the third row. Bill glanced back at Nick, assuming him to be the more forthcoming of the two.
Nick took that to be his cue for the promised explanation, and dug into his own small
duffel bag that resembled Lucy’s. From it he produced an envelope that had Bill’s name scrawled on it. Bill took it from him and opened it.
In the envelope was a signed and sealed letter from Assistant Secretary of Fossil Energy Frank Michaels. It contained information about Nick and Lucy Quintessence, and that they were hired to assist Bill on the Antarctica Oil project. Mr. Michaels gave his assurance that they were checked out, and had the credentials to back them up. Mr. Michaels also put his own personal stamp on the letter by telling Bill that they were along to make sure that Bill doesn’t have to feel like he has to do everything, and to ‘relax’.
Bill suppressed a sigh, and tried to look on the bright side. He had two kids along who seemed so familiar that they were like family, and a job that he would not have to do all by himself. He would say that life could only get better, but his fifty-one years of experience argued against that. All it would take is one person to say something to tempt fate, and all hell would break loose.
“All hell is going to break loose, Sam!” Frank Michaels was just barely able to keep his voice level. He was in Secretary of Energy Samuel Coleman’s office, and felt like he was going to have a panic attack. “I don’t think President Pavlo realizes what he’s doing, taking on and breaking the Antarctica Treaty. Just because a couple of our scientists say that they’ve found oil does not mean that we have the right to drill!”
Sam Coleman leaned back in his leather chair, and smiled his thanks when his assistant came in carrying coffee. They were going to need it. After Susan left, he focused his attention back on Frank. “You know that by now the public has gotten wind of this, Frank. If that’s not enough, other nations are clamoring for the right to drill now. The President may be hot headed sometimes, but he realizes that we can’t just rush in and say that we got there first.” Sam took a sip of his coffee and cleared his throat. “But he can’t and won’t forget that there is oil, and what’s more, neither will anybody else. Besides, you know the drill; once that oil trap was found and it was apparent that drilling there would be economically proficient, our best hope would be to just delay.”
“But there are other ways! Conservation, substitution, and recycling; what about those?!” Frank got up to pace. His heavy frame moved back and forth, hands gesturing with every emphasis. “Has everyone lost leave of their senses! Before this find, people were crying out to use more solar energy. Now, they’re crying more oil just because of the global warming that melted the icecaps in Antarctica, and enabled our scientists to accidentally find oil. It’s going to run out, all of it, and then we will still have to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve. This is only delaying the inevitable, and we should be focusing on the future generations, not on a quick fix.”
“Frank, I know, and we still have our programs for those operations running; besides, we have some time. President Pavlo is getting back from his meeting with the Antarctica member nations next Friday, so Bill North has that 3-day vacation that we promised him, and then he’s back to work. Make sure that he gets all that he needs to make his report, so that he can then brief me.”
“O.K. Sam, I just hope that those two assistants that I gave him will help him out a bit.” Frank stopped in mid-pace to stare anxiously at Sam. “God, I sent him a letter telling him to relax! I hope this doesn’t affect his report!”
There’s something fishy about those two, Bill thought a couple of weeks later. He was in his office at home, and for once was alone. Nick and Lucy had practically moved in, and seemed to know what he wanted before he wanted it. Just the other day, Bill was looking through his files for his copy of the Antarctic Treaty and Lucy had popped up beside his desk to hand the folder to him. He hadn’t even asked for it! Grumbling to himself, he got up to go to the bathroom.
“Hey, Boss,” Nick strode in through the doorway, without pausing set sandwiches, turkey and pickle, on Bill’s desk, and then went to answer the phone that rang almost as soon as Nick had stood in front of it. Bill stopped halfway on the way out to gape at the kid.
Nick quickly finished up his conversation, wrote down a few notes, and said to Bill, “Boss, when you come back from the bathroom, you’re to call Mr. Michaels in about thirty minutes.”
When Bill didn’t move, Nick made a shooing motion, and Bill, still feeling poleaxed, started again on his way to the bathroom. He didn’t require much room, so the apartment only consisted of two bedrooms, a bathroom, living room, and kitchen. It was on the second floor of the complex, which was just the way he liked it. The person that he had bought the place from had converted the whole second floor of a Victorian home, into one big apartment. This way, his apartment is spacious without being too near the ground. After living in a house that had included his Aunt Misty’s family, being in this apartment was like a breath of fresh air.
On coming from the bathroom, he had to go back through the living room, which was
unfortunate as that’s when Lucy came in through the front door. She was carrying a couple of books in one of her hands, the other occupied with shaking the rain off her umbrella.
She spied him trying to sneak by, and virtually stopped him in his tracks by sticking the umbrella out in front of him. “Good,” she said, handing him the books, “now that you’re out of the bathroom, you can look at these books that I got for you on Antarctica.”
Briefly forgetting that she could have easily thought that he was coming back from the kitchen, he looked at the books and almost fainted. They seemed to have the exact information he needed for his report for the cabinet meeting on Thursday. This was just too much! What are they going magically know what he’s doing next?
He stormed to his bedroom, thinking that a good walk in the rain would be good for him. He reached it as Nick was coming out with the sweater that Bill had intended to put on over his polo shirt. He grabbed it from Nick, and went back to the hall closet for his boots, rain slicker, and umbrella, only to find Lucy waiting with them. He snatched them from her, and went to his love seat to don his boots, but turned at the last second having changed his mind. Lucy held open the closet door, smiling, and finally he lost it. Throwing everything in his arms down on the floor, he shouted, “What the hell is going on?”
There was movement from behind him, and then he heard Nick’s voice, “Sorry ol’ buddy.” Nick’s fingers touched the back of his skull, and then everything turned black.
He was dreaming. Everything was hazy while he laid on the couch with Lucy and Nick standing a few feet in front of him, talking quietly.
“We have to tell him!” Lucy insisted. She was turned half away from Nick, her pretty
“I’m not saying that we don’t tell him now, I just thought that it was a bad idea to freak him out like that. Come on, he’s acting almost as Oswald did. We had to put that guy out when he was going to talk, and the same with Ruby. And it was almost a close call with him!” Nick stalked to the kitchen to take a three soda cans out of the refrigerator.
Lucy accepted her can, and gestured at Bill, “I know, but I like him! We just can’t . . .” she turned toward Bill and her sentence dropped off as her face turned into a look of dismay. She immediately went over to Bill and touched his forehead, warmth leaking out of her fingers, and Bill went off to dream about other things.
When he woke up, he was alone, with a blanket laying over him. There was a soda can sitting on a coaster on the end table. He sat up, and the room briefly spinned while he tried to get a hold of his surroundings. He frowned; the last thing he remembered was Nick touching the back of his neck.
“Bill!” A voice came from his office; it’s Lucy, he thought thickly. “Bill, since you’re up, you can join us in here.”
What the hell, Bill thought as he swung his legs over the side of the couch, they sure have good hearing; he hadn’t made that much noise.
He went to his office, clutching his Sprite as if it were a lifeline. He crossed the threshold, and looked around the room. He was alone. Funny, he could have sworn that Lucy’s voice had come from here. He turned around to go back out to look for her, when Nick said from behind him, “Why don’t you sit down? You look like you need it.”
Bill spun around, and the room spun with him. There weren’t two doors in the room! And where the hell is Nick? “Right here.” Nick’s voice said in front of him.
“Bill, Nick told you to sit down.” Lucy’s voice said, and nothing, nothing, moved his desk chair around to be behind him. Then a pair of hands gently escorted him to the chair.
He sat on the edge, his eyes and ears searching around for the source of the voices. He must be dreaming, he thought. That’s it! He has to be dreaming, and any minute now he was going to wake up. To ensure this, he reached down for his leg and pinched himself. “Ow!”
Great, now his leg hurts in addition to him hearing things. Or was it seeing? Could it be that he just was . . . . the thoughts in Bill’s head jumbled and scrambled until he screamed, “What’s going on!”
The air in front of him wavered and shimmered, until Bill thought that his eyes were going to bug out. Finally, out of it all stepped Lucy and Nick. Or what he recognized as them. Lucy’s hair was white and Nick’s hair was black, and they both were dressed in some kind of flowery robes that hung down to their sandal clad feet.
Bill opened his mouth as if to say something, and then closed it. He gulped. Are they angels?
Nick shook his head at Bill, and Lucy stepped forward. “Here,” she said, “this’ll help.”
She laid her hand on top of Bill’s head and information, (oh gods, the information!) poured in. They were spirits, human’s essence. They are the epitome of who every human is, and their existence is owed to human life. They could change into who ever they wanted (even
combinations of people who are alive); often borrowing memories from people they contact to make their presence acceptable. When they shape change, they have to briefly flash back to their real self to accomplish the process, and they can make their identity fit in with societies rules. Once they are in their human body, they’re vulnerable, which makes them have to arrange whatever plans they have around that fact.
He opened his eyes, not having been aware that he had closed them. He surveyed the two spirits. Lucy’s touch with the information had made the shock more bearable, but there was something they weren’t telling him. Why were they here?
His heart beating, Bill got up and took his watering can that sat over by his small
American flag (the flag matched the one that leaned off of his living room window), and watered the pot of sunflowers that he had sitting on his window sill. Finished, he turned around to find Lucy and Nick arguing quietly.
He put the watering can down on his desk and faced them, “Why are you here?”
Nick sat down in the chair that Bill had recently vacated, and Lucy perched on the other side of Bill on his desk. Lucy turned toward Nick, and Bill gathered that it was Nick that was going to explain.
Folding his hands in front of him like a grade-school teacher, Nick began. “Whenever something is going to happen that threatens our existence, Lucy and I feel compelled to interfere, to stop whatever that something is. Now, Lucy and I don’t die, we can’t. However, we can simply just not be anymore. We would go away and never come back. The only way that can happen is if humans wipe out their existence. If they go to war, and it affects everybody; the whole planet is killed; we wouldn’t have a reason to exist anymore.” Nick got up to pace.
Bill sat down, hard, on the couch next to him. He opened his mouth to speak, and found that he had to swallow several times to get back his voice. Finally, he took a couple of swallows from the soda can that he had placed on the desk along with the watering can. There, that was better, he thought.
He looked at Lucy. “Antarctica?”
She glanced over, her face sad. “Antarctica.” She affirmed.
Bill leaned back, shaken. He had thought that with people being better educated that nothing would come out of the argument over the oil resource. Apparently something is, and god help them all.
He thought of something then. “Nick,” he asked, “how come you know this?”
Nick stopped to stand in front of Bill and Lucy. He looked at Bill as if to ask him for forgiveness. “We get inklings, ideas of what is coming in the future. That normally only happens when it affects us. Lucy and me.” He continued looking at Bill as if to say he was sorry.
Then Bill asked the one question that had been foremost in his mind: “What do you want with me?”
Lucy hopped down to stand next to Nick. She had the same unhappy look on her face. “Bill, we can only do so much when we’re in human form. Often we need help. Our little inklings that we get tell us that you’re the one that has the chance to help us. You have to understand that we wouldn’t place you in this kind of position if there wasn’t great need. I know-,” she bit her bottom lip when Bill held up his hand, calling for silence.
He stood up to clear his head, and wandered over to the window again, this time to stare out the window. He could literally feel Nick and Lucy holding themselves back in order to give him more room. He tried to think about how good his life was now; he didn’t have to worry about any children (seeing how his wife Cynthia had passed away before they were ready for them), and he only had the occasional obligation to his parents and aunt. He had been content until his life was upended by two angels (Oh excuse me, humans’ essence, he corrected himself sarcastically.) who drove him nuts and then dumped this problem in his lap. Sure, he thought, there’s going to be a world wide catastrophic event, and he gets to be Bruce Willis this time, but that still doesn’t give them the right to -. Bill stopped himself, and forced himself to look calmly at the situation. He wasn’t going to get anywhere by whining about the problem; he always got through hard situations by focusing on the solution, and the first key is to take a deep breath and calm down. Then he could ask questions so he could solve this thing.
The first thing in his mind was to gather information so he could make a conscious decision. So, as calmly as he could manage, he turned around and asked, “What do I have to do?”
Lucy took a little step backward, and Nick placed his hand on her arm for support. She glanced over at Nick, then back over at Bill. Lucy drew a deep breath and then she told him.
Bill lurched to his feet, all calm thoughts forgotten. Nick rushed over hold Bill up when he almost fell, but Bill shook him off. He backed away from the two, trembling. “You want me to do what?!?!” He shouted.
Bill looked at his watch. 1300, it blinked at him. It was time. Glancing over his shoulder at Lucy and Nick, who were unobtrusively lurking in the background, he swallowed.
Nick had lost that ‘I’m sorry’ look, but Lucy still had it. They had listed reasons upon reasons why he had to do it, until he was seeing these spirits saying them in his dreams. He had finally backed down, but he didn’t see how this was going to turn out all right. He had butterflies in his stomach and he was afraid that they were the lethal kind. Too bad that he couldn’t use those to complete his mission! Any minute now, those butterflies are going to be expelled!
He surely was going to die; he had heard all those conspiracy theories. Look at what happened to John Wilkes Booth, and Lee Harvey Oswald; they surely didn’t live to long after Lincoln and Kennedy was assassinated. He had thought of himself as a true citizen of America, and now he was expected to kill, to assassinate, President Richard Pavlo.
Looking around the room, he admired the American flag. It was much more made up then his at home; and why shouldn’t it be, for after all this flag here was sitting in the White House, and probably has to be like that. There’s probably a rule or something. Oh boy, he noticed, he was starting to babble.
“Bill,” a voice hissed, shaking Bill’s thoughts, “stop daydreaming and pay attention. I didn’t invite you to the cabinet meeting to be a paperweight! Start taking notes or something.” Sam turned his seat back toward the front of the room and sighing, Bill did likewise. Sam acted like he hadn’t even taken his eyes of the Secretary of Defense, who was in the middle of his speech on the preparations the country should take if China should declare war.
Bill waited for a couple of minutes, after making sure that Sam wasn’t paying attention to him anymore, then he stood up and casually walked toward the front of the room, making as if he were headed for the door. He kept Lucy’s slight figure in his peripheral vision; she was edging towards the nearest Secret Service agent. They had to time it just right; he would catch the weapon that Lucy would snatch out of the agent’s hand (lucky for them, the agent was examining his weapon; probably making sure the clip has rounds in it), and then he would flip the safety and shoot President Pavlo in the head.
Oh, he thought, I don’t want to do this. He had to, though, as Lucy and Nick had told him. He was their only hope; this was their only chance, and if he failed, they all would perish. No second chances, and no more excuses. Bill winced; he really was Bruce Willis incarnate! Talk about pressure; if he failed, the whole world would die. Good thing there was a trash can next to the flag, as he didn’t think he could hold back his vomit much longer.
Lucy was almost there; she had told him that she had timed it to the second when the weapon would be loose in the agent’s hand. Bill accidentally stepped too close to the flag stand, and the American flag brushed against his face. It was a little moment really, nothing that would mean anything to most people. However, when the flag slid over his face, he reflexively closed his eyes, and the stars and stripes lingered in his vision. They sang to him “My Country ‘Ties of Thee”, and when the stars and stripes went away, he was left with enormous peace and relief. Bill opened his eyes, and lifted them toward Lucy’s. He shook his head at her, and she smiled at him. He shook his head at her again, this time emphatically. No, he thought, he couldn’t; wouldn’t; assassinate the President of the United States. He saw more movement; it was Nick, and he was planted right next to another Secret Service Agent. What was he going to do? Heck with moving stealthily, he thought, and bolted for the door. There were shots fired behind him; he couldn’t tell who it was. He yanked open the door, and there stood Nick.
Bill couldn’t hold it back any longer, he threw up all over Nick’s suit. He could hear pandemonium all over in the background. The already cramped board room was swimming with the Secret Service, and he could hear President Pavlo’s egotistical voice demanding to know what was going on. He heard all that, but all that he could focus on was Nick Quintessence saying with a thin veneer of vomit on his clothes, “Sorry ol’ buddy, not that it matters anymore, but we can’t have anybody knowing about us.” Nick grinned at him; that old familiar grin, and shot him dead in the face.
The stars and stripes still singing to him, Bill floated, seemingly suspended in white space. He could still hear the gunshot that had ended his life, and knew that he had done the right thing. He wanted to rest, but the last few weeks of his life had caught up to him; playing every moment that had happened from when he had met Lucy and Nick Quintessence.
And those moments played on and on and on and on and . . . . . . .