Of the Beast
It was a room unlike any she had ever seen, except maybe in the movies, only vaster, like a giant computer, with screens and keyboards everywhere, and sun-orb creatures manning them. Her first thought was that Headquarters reminded her of Houston’s Apollo Mission Control, which she had seen only in Apollo 13, for in addition to the ranks of computer monitors, there was a giant screen that eclipsed all of them fixed to the wall opposite her, and it was now picturing a satellite image of the United States, with orange squiggly lines drawn across its surface. The sun-orb creatures conversed with each other — they actually had vocal chords, apparently — over clipboards and charts, and at the different screens, which, as far as Heather could tell, were security cameras, each with a different view, except, the longer she looked at them, the more mobile they appeared to be.
“This is Headquarters,” Barack Obama said.
“So it is.”
They were on a grated metal landing in the far upper corner of the room. The landing snaked around the room’s circumference, broken by staircases that headed down to the lower levels, like a giant construction scaffolding.
“What do you do here?”
Heather was momentarily lost for words.
“What do you watch?” she asked.
“Everyone and everything.”
“All the time?”
“All the time. Twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year. Manned constantly with sun-orb creatures. They are our agents.”
“The ones that took me.”
“Why of course? I can’t imagine why you are doing all of this!”
“To prevent in the best of worlds exactly what’s happened. In the worst of worlds to control it.”
“Well you’ve failed.”
“Let me go down there. Let me see what you can see.”
“We might as well stay up here. You’ll want to see what happens next.”
“No. I want to see what you can fucking see.”
“I already told you. We can see everything. We can even see your thoughts. And we watch all of it very closely.”
Heather pulled her hand out of his, which suddenly felt loathsome to her touch, and she made for the closest stairway. Her new shoes clanged on the springy metal beneath her. When she reached the stairway she saw that Obama was following her, but was doing so at a walk.
Good. Maybe she would lose him for a little while.
But as she made her way to the bottom floor, on a level with the rows and rows of camera monitors, she saw that that would be a moot point, because there was already a team of sun-orb creatures gathering at the bottom of the stairway, waiting for her. They were wearing military fatigues. There were even firearms fixed to their sides, and batons in the hands of several of them. They formed a line that circled the bottom of the stairs.
“Where’s Leon?” she cried out, stopping a few steps shy of the bottom. “What are you doing to him?”
“You’ll see, Heather,” Barack Obama called out, coming down the stairs now himself. “We’re all going to see.”
She turned around.
“Let me talk to him,” she hollered. “Let me tell him something that will help him win.”
“It’s worth consideration,” was the reply she received.
She turned again to face the creatures.
“Let me pass,” she said, but received no reply, the sun-orbs by nature devoid of expression. Not even any psychic messages, though she remembered intensely the pain she’d felt the last time she’d seen these things in the open world. She wondered why they weren’t doing anything to her now.
“We’re waiting to use you, that’s why,” Barack Obama said, coming down behind her. “We want you to speak with Leon. We want him to know that you’re alright.”
He was now just two stairs behind her.
“If I could threaten you now I would,” she said. “I would fucking hurt you right now if I could.”
“I know you would. But you want to speak with Leon, don’t you? Well, you’ll have a chance, though there’s a strong possibility that it will be for the last time.”
“Where is he?”
Barack Obama took her hand again and pressed it warmly into both of his.
“I’ll show you. Come on.”
He moved around her and descended to the bottom of the stairs. The creatures cleared a path for him.
“You see, we knew that Leon would come to look for you. We believed that he would feel responsible for putting you in harms way, a risk he was halfway aware of when he went to you that night at your workplace.”
“You don’t think he loves me?”
“I don’t know. It’s hard to tell sometimes.”
“I don’t fucking care. This is wrong. This is so wrong. What are you looking at in here all the time?”
“Everyone and everything. We have cameras in everyone’s mind so we can see what they see, hear what they hear. We have emotional registrars that can chart a person’s anger or pain or frustration. We watch constantly, all the time, it’s what we do. And nobody knows about it. No one except you. Not even Leon.”
“Well I’ll fucking tell him. I’ll fucking tell everyone.”
“After what’s happened over the last few weeks, after what’s happening now, we don’t think that anyone will give a shit. We are going to save the world, you and I.”
Barack Obama pulled her through the line of soldier creatures and towards one of the computer screens closest to her. It looked out, at a jerky, hand-held camcorder eye level, into a hallway carpeted in black, doors on all sides. There was a light coming from one side of the screen.
“Look,” Obama said. “It’s Leon.”
Heather looked. At a certain point he looked to the side the light was coming from, and there Heather saw one of the strangest looking things she could ever have imagined. It was rivaled, only a few short minutes later, however, by that she saw on a different screen, which stopped her heart and swallowed her breath whole.
We’re getting closer, the Quixote told him.
“To what, exactly?”
“The nexus,” Leon repeated.
He palmed the Quixote with both his hands.
“I’m going the right way?”
Leon took the next left coming up. The doors were becoming fewer and further between. At the end of the hallway he came to a staircase, the black carpet continuing uninterrupted down it like an abominable tongue. The illumination came from spearhead-shaped lights fixed into the ceiling. The staircase went down quite some ways before it reached another long hallway, this time uninterrupted by doors or intersecting passageways of any kind. Only the spearhead-shaped lights, fixed to the low ceiling, broke the corridor’s monotony. Leon couldn’t see the end of it.
You are close now.
“The end of the hallway?”
The end of the hallway.
Leon re-arranged his grip on the Quixote, which still sparked light, held it hard in his right hand.
The hallway was narrow, so there wasn’t enough room for the two of them to walk abreast of each other. At a certain point Leon turned around and found only the empty hallway. His companion was gone.
He turned around again to continue on his way. His heart was beating faster. He was suddenly struck with the fear that he had been betrayed. He hoped the Quixote in his hand wouldn’t validate that feeling.
The lights were becoming fewer and further between, so that there were spaces of darkness between them, and the whole hallway getting dimmer. Leon believed it was only his imagination, but it seemed like the hallway was narrowing too.
At long last he saw the end of it. It terminated at a metal doorway and was crossed with a ‘DANGER’ sign in black block letters over a yellow background, beneath a skull and crossbones moniker.
His heart beat faster still. The power of the Quixote kept right on coursing through his being.
He remembered what he had already been through. He told himself that it was the nexus beyond the door, and Heather beyond that, and he would be able to deal with it whatever was to come. The Quixote had told him so. What possible motivation could it have for bringing him here if it wasn’t to fix whatever had been broken? Leon only wished he knew what that was.
The hallway was widening out again as he approached the door. His shoes padded on the black carpet.
He was perhaps fifty paces away when he heard something, and not in his head.
“Leon! Leon don’t open the door!”
A woman’s voice. Extremely familiar.
“Heather?!” he called out. “Heather is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me Leon. I’m here.”
“Are you okay? Where are you?”
“I think I’m where you are. Close by anyways.”
“Oh my God, and you’re okay?”
“I’m fine. But Leon you can’t go through that doorway, you have no idea what’s waiting for you on the other side.”
You have to go through, Leon heard the Quixote’s voice. It’s the only way to fix it.
“Don’t listen to it, Leon. It’s not your friend. I repeat, it’s not your friend!”
“How do you know, Heather?”
“Because I can see, right now, what’s waiting for you on the other side.”
“Is it the nexus?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
There is no nexus, Leon. Only the beast.
“The beast,” Leon repeated.
“The beast. That’s what it is, Leon, a fucking beast. And it will kill you.”
Leon found that he was still walking.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“Because I can see it. It’s fucking huge.”
“There is no nexus.”
This whole place is the nexus. The whole of the presidential palace.
“There is no nexus,” Leon repeated, but found that his footsteps were still leading him toward the door.
“Leon I’m serious, do not go through that door!”
“Did they hurt you?” he asked.
“Did they hurt me? Yes they fucking hurt me!”
“They are not your friend, Leon!”
“It doesn’t matter, Heather. It’s what I came for.”
“Oh, so you didn’t come for me?”
“I didn’t mean that.”
“Of course you did you selfish bastard. How dare you?”
“I came for you also.”
“I’m in danger too.”
“Of course you are.”
“I’m with the fucking president.”
“Oh? Barack Obama.”
“Barack fucking Obama.”
“He’s not my friend.”
“None of them are. They were just using me as bait, they just wanted to get you here so that thing could fucking kill you.”
“I’m not unarmed, Heather.”
“What, that thing you showed me? I saw it. But how the fuck is that going to help you?”
“I don’t know, but I have to find out.”
He was coming up on the door, only several paces away, his heart beating in his throat as if to burst. The Quixote was cracking and sparking energy in his hand. He shifted it to his left so that he could open the door with his right.
There was a circular indentation in the door with a bar crossing it. This was the door handle he should turn vertically to open the door. He reached his hand out.
“I can’t fucking believe you!” Heather screamed.
“I have to.”
“You selfish fucking bastard! I put my life on the line for you! What, you don’t think I knew what I was doing that night!”
Leon was smiling. He wondered if she were lying. He grabbed the metal handle, cool to his touch, and turned it. There was a whooshing sound of air decompressing, and when he pushed the door, heavy inches of steel, swung open.
Leon walked into a short, dark corridor opening out into a much larger chamber.
The door swung shut behind him.