Chapter XXVII:

Starstruck

“I can’t believe it,” Heather breathed, mind reeling with the confusion of all she had been through.

“It’s hard to accept, isn’t it?” asked her host, smiling as if sheepishly.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, looking about her at the grand, tall bookshelves and the rolling ladders one would use to climb them.

“I live here,” the president answered.

“Where are we?”

“You have three guesses.”

“Was that a note of sarcasm?” Heather prodded, “From the president of the United States?”

“I guess it was.”

“We’re in the White House?”

“Yes we are.”

Barack Obama leaned forward and lifted himself from off of the desk he was leaning against. He approached one of the couches in the center of the room, and motioned for Heather to join him.

“Have a seat, Heather O’Connor. I imagine you have a lot of questions.”

“I’ll say.”

He reached the arm of one of the couches and stopped there. Out the window Heather saw an overcast day, and three Quixotes running across the green lawn, chased by a squad of dark-uniformed security guards. Something was happening out there.

“What’s going on?” she asked, not coming forward.

“Have a seat and I’ll tell you.”

“That wasn’t the White House I just came out of, was it? I never thought the White House would be so metallic.”

“I can explain everything.”

“And you’re going to?”

“I am. But I need you to listen to me, Heather O’Connor.”

“Why?”

“Just… Please. Sit down with me. That is an invitation few young women such as yourself would turn down, isn’t it?” he was still smiling that dopey smile, standing awkwardly by the couch.

Doubt and fear, but, to be honest, a degree of bashfulness at the star-power of the person with whom she found herself faced, Heather approached him. Palm outward, he motioned for her to have a seat, and he began to do the same, so they would be facing each other.

“What will you do to me if I don’t sit?” she asked.

“I hope that’s a bridge we won’t cross.”

“You’ve kidnapped me.”

“We did what had to be done.”

“What the hell have you done?”

“Please, Ms. O’Connor. Please sit.”

There were gunshots outside the window. Barack Obama looked to them, momentarily distracted, and Heather thought the look on his face was closer to regret than anything else.

Heather came forward and, when Obama turned to face her, she sat down on the couch, but not where he’d indicated. It was grey suede. More comfortable than it looked.

Obama smiled weakly and walked about the back of the couch to the other arm so that he could sit across from her.

More gunshots on the green outside.

RAT-A-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT.

“Don’t worry,” Obama said, sitting down. “They can’t reach us in here.”

“What about Leon?”

“What about him?”

“Can he reach us?”

“He can, and he will, but he needs your help.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Should I start from the beginning?”

“You should tell me why you fucking kidnapped me.”

RAT-A-TAT-TAT-TAT.

“God I wish they would stop,” Heather said.

“They’re not going to,” Obama responded. “There’s a war outside.”

“What do you mean?”

“Us versus them.”

“Who’s us? Who’s them? What the fuck do I have to do with any of it?”

“We are the last of the pre-crisis people. We haven’t turned into Quixotes, and we haven’t succumbed to mindless hate. We are targets simply because of who we are. They, everyone, they all see us as threats to their very identity.”

“Start from the beginning.”

“I will. But it doesn’t have to do with you, Heather, at least not directly. It was only because of Leon that we took you like we did. We needed his attention, and after that night you made yourself a target and you knew it.”

“You got his attention, alright. Didn’t you?”

“Yes we did. After you threw him this,” and he took something out of his pocket, the sun-orb talisman that Heather had found on her desk, “he knew that something terrible was happening to you, and he felt that it was in part his fault.”

“Start from the beginning.”

“That was the beginning. For you it was anyways.”

He was staring at her very intently. Just like on television he spoke calmly and with assurance, but there was clearly too much that he wasn’t telling her. His words were decisive and spoken with assurance, but the circumstances that he apparently had played a part in…?

“Your boyfriend had been seeing them for weeks before you were taken.”

“I know it.”

“Yes, but did you know that he wasn’t alone?”

“What do you mean?”

“Many people were seeing them too. People that never came anywhere near the true Quixote.”

“That’s why everyone was acting so crazy.”

“Not everyone. Not the Quixotes. They were defenseless against the hate inspired against them.”

“I know this already. I noticed it. Leon and I talked about it already.”

“Yes, but you didn’t know that you should be afraid to come near him. Leon knew, in the back of his mind, but he went to you anyway. How does that make you feel?”

“It makes me feel loved. It makes me feel like he loves me,” but the words were flat.

Obama saw the doubt in her eyes.

“We’ve been watching you very closely,” he said. “And we can’t tell for sure if he loves you or not. He surely wanted you though. He even thought that he needed you.”

“I gave him more than that that night.”

“Yes you did, he appreciated you imensely for it. You might have hooked him for good. As soon as he found that we were taking you it pushed him into highest gear. That’s what compelled him, finally, to come to us. But the damage was already done. War was here, and one side was completely helpless to fight it.”

Heather didn’t know what to say. She wondered if the sun-orb creatures were working for him.

“People are dying out there,” Barack Obama said.

“All because of what?”

Obama hesitated, frowning slightly.

“What the fuck did you try to do?” she pushed, feeling that she was onto something.

“I tried to take it.”

Heather looked at the thing in his hand.

“Give it to me,” she said, holding her hand out. “Let me know that I have nothing to fear from you.”

“You have nothing to fear from us.”

“Can Leon say the same?”

Barack Obama shook his head, and looked at her hand.

“Come on,” she said. “Give it to me.”

“Understand the significance of what you’re asking me,” he said. “My people will know everything there is to know about you, soon enough.”

“They can read minds.”

“Yes they can, the sun-orb creatures.”

“Give it to me.”

“I don’t want to,” Obama replied, but he didn’t put the thing back in his pocket.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not over yet, and I don’t want you to mess anything up.”

“What’s still happening?”

“Leon is looking for you.”

“Is he going to find me?”

“I doubt it.”

“What, Mr. President? What, oh what did you get all of us into?”

“I told you. We tried to take it. We failed. We didn’t anticipate the hate and hostility that we would stir up. Just beneath America’s cheerful, pragmatic veneer, there is an undercurrent of violence informing every decision we make. Coercion. Fear. Nasty emotions that shock with their virulence. It was a plot, on our part, to make everyone just a bit more docile. We failed miserably.”

“Give it to me,” Heather said, feeling her oats.

“I won’t.”

“Give it to me or I’ll take it from you,” she hazarded, but immediately, at Obama’s sharklike smile, she knew she had gone too far.

“You have no power here, Heather. You have only significance.”

Then, as if struck with a sudden inspiration, Barack Obama stood up.

“Come on,” he said. “There’s something I want to show you.”

Obama reached for her right hand, the one she had held out for the sun-orb talisman. She allowed him to take it and he helped her stand up, then he led her out of the library by way of a door near to the windows. When they passed near to them Heather couldn’t help but look out, and saw more Quixotes running across the lawn, security guards chasing them down. There were dead bodies out there, distractions, perhaps, from something larger than themselves.

“Leon’s here, isn’t he?”

“Absolutely.”

They were in another corridor now, empty of life, plush blue carpet on the floor. Obama’s hand was soft and strong, and he pulled her along with an assurance that Heather found comforting despite herself.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“It’s a room that we call the ‘Headquarters’. Something of our Quixote nerve center.”

“Do you have a lot of people working on this?”

“You have no idea.”

The word ‘incompetence’ flashed through Heather’s mind, but she wondered if she could believe it. She wondered, if Leon were here, what the chances were that he would happen upon them in these very hallways. She liked to believe that Barack Obama was afraid of the same thing.

Obama reached his right hand into his jacket and produced a laminated key card, and, stopping at one of the doors they passed, as if at random, he flashed the card through a scanner and the door opened.

“Come on,” he said. “I’ll give you the sun-orb again if you really want it, after you see what I have here to show you.”

“That’s all you needed to say,” Heather answered. “Lead on.”

“Okay,” he said, but paused a moment before taking her into the room, which was darker than the hallway, and from which electronic beeping sounds issued.

“Many lives are hanging in the balance, Heather,” Obama said, “including your own.”

“Including Leon’s?”

“My God yes.”

“Then show me what you have to show me. If I can help him out I will.”

“And you can help, Heather. You can be a huge help to us, in fact, if you’re willing to come along for the ride.”

“I’ve already shown you that I am.”

“I know it.”

He put the key card back into his pocket. There were voices too coming from Headquarters, but Heather couldn’t make them out.

“Come on,” he said, squeezing her hand, and then entering into the place.

Heather, behind him, allowed herself to be led in.

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