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The Show Must Go On
David van Domelen
[Cover is a shot of a graveyard, with a newly dug grave in the center of the page. The name on the tombstone is obscured by a bridal veil.]
It had been three days since Kelly was moved to a private hospice in Atlanta, a hospice paid for by a Mysterious Benefactor. It didn't take a Holmesian intellect to guess that this benefactor was the person behind the Machine, no doubt feeling responsible for Kelly's injuries.
Well, there were a number of things Kelly was angry about, but the Machine wasn't one of them. After all, if they hadn't been there, she would have died. If anything, she was angry at herself. Bringing her Recharger to the beach was really stupid, she now realized. That...thing...that attacked her had killed four Patrollers before her. The only way it could have found Patrollers so quickly was to have some way of sensing Patroller power. By carrying her Recharger around, she'd made herself an easy target. Plus she'd totally blown her 'secret identity' in the process. She was still amazed that the government hadn't tried to contact her yet and 'persuade' her to work for them more directly. Maybe she had the Machine to thank for that. Or maybe the government didn't want the services of a Patroller who was so incompetent as to let herself get crippled.
The pain in the stump of her leg had mostly faded now, she didn't have to be medicated into oblivion to stop feeling it. Thanks to the cauterization Greymask had performed, she hadn't lost too much blood. But she was told that the burns would leave fairly ugly scars which would never totally heal. Reconstructive surgery was an option, of course, but the damage would mostly be covered by the prosthesis she'd be fitted with once the damage had healed enough. And the Gauntlet could cover a multitude of problems.
If she kept it.
After all, what had the Patrol done for her? Set her up as a target in a war that it didn't tell her about, to face unknown and incomprehensible monsters without any real defense. That's what. And the power she got in return didn't really compensate. She couldn't use it for personal gain, after all, and one lapse in the Code and she'd be cut loose, perhaps even to die!
Not that she had much choice anymore. Too many people saw her with her Recharger, and some of them had camcorders to record vacation fun with. Even if she abandoned the Gauntlet, she couldn't live even an approximation of a normal life again. People would eventually seek her out and try to wrest the secrets of the Patrol out of her, even if she didn't know any secrets. Without the Gauntlet, she'd be an easier target. Even with it she wasn't exactly secure anymore. That creature proved that point.
Her Recharger sat next to her bed in a locked trunk, the key to which had been handed to her when she awoke here. She had tested to see if she could reach it, and could. But she hadn't talked to her Recharger yet. Not until she made some kind of decision. And she couldn't make a decision until she felt she could live with one of the options.
A short life as a target without the Gauntlet, or perhaps an even shorter one as a Patroller. Not a terribly good choice. She might have a better chance if she joined the Machine, but if they wanted her they would have asked by now. Besides, her Recharger had made clear before that the Patrol doesn't think too highly of the Machine.
If only she had another option.
Then the door opened. "You have some visitors," said the nurse at the door.
Sarah never had liked hospitals, not since she'd almost died of complications during an appendectomy as a child. Oh, she knew in her head that her case was a rarity, but in her heart she'd always harbored a dread for the places. For the twentieth time she stood up and paced the room while she and Brian waited for visiting hours to start. Brian had already gotten clearance to see the girl from whoever was paying her bills, but the hospice had rules it wouldn't bend without good reason. And Brian couldn't really come up with a good reason without giving away too much.
So they waited. Sarah found a copy of the day's paper and scanned the front page. Hm. Sullivan Green got captured again, this time by Greymask and Pendragon. Somehow he managed to maintain a link to his Recharger even when his Gauntlet charge ran out, and had escaped from the tightest of security twice now. And he never committed crimes heinous enough to justify the proposed 'sleeping beauty' method of incarceration where the subject would be kept asleep by artificial means for the duration of their term. It violated too many civil rights to be used except on the most dangerous of criminals, and ironically the very thing that made Green hard to keep under lock and key also kept him from ever committing a crime that could put him in the sleeper. Oh well, eventually someone'll find his Recharger and put a stop to his antics.
The administrative nurse put down the phone and addressed Brian and Sarah, "The afternoon shift is all on duty now, I guess we can let you visit Ms. Naehring now. I still don't like letting non-relatives have a private visit, but her...guardian"the nurse spoke the word with an obvious distaste. Apparently she didn't like anything about this arrangement but had been told the hospice needed the money being offered, and besides it wasn't strictly unethical or illegal"...said it was all right. Room five, down the hall to the left. I'd prefer if you didn't stay too long, however, Ms. Naehring is still in need of rest after her injuries." She motioned a duty nurse to accompany the pair to the room.
The duty nurse walked ahead of them to the room and opened the door. "You have some visitors," she said, then let Sarah and Brian into the room before closing the door behind her and resuming her other duties.
Brian took off his sunglasses and looked at the young lady in the hospital bed, not seeming to notice the slight gasp she made on seeing his scarred eye. "Ms. Naehring, my name is Brian Janssen. I've come to make you an offer."
Sarah nonchalantly consulted her watch as Kelly replied, "You're with the government, aren't you? Well, forget it. I'm not working for any government, even my own."
Noting no response on the various devices built into her relatively bulky wristwatch, Sarah muttered, "Clean," to Brian before he continued.
"No, I'm not with this or any other government. I'm a Patroller like yourself. And, as you can see, I've suffered injuries for my affiliation just as you have. Working alone, we're eventually doomed, because the Gauntlets are not all powerful, nor can we be alert twenty-four hours a day. Even working in loose pairs and trios there can still be problems. I got this," he pointed to his injured eye, "while working with her," he nodded to Sarah, "in the occupied West Bank of Israel. If we'd had more Patrollers with us, I might not have been hurt. Likewise, if you had a backup, you might still have your leg. Or perhaps your backup would also be injured or worse. What we need, Ms. Naehring, is to gather the world's Patrollers together into a cohesive group. Avoid duplication of efforts, decide where we're needed most, be able to react more quickly to crises and above all else, protect our own. The Enemy's forces are already organizing, and will certainly wipe us out if we remain scattered like this."
Kelly sat up straighter. "The Enemy? You mean, whoever was behind that monster?"
"Among other things, yes. That monster, we have found, is called a Zando, and is often sent to kill Patrollers on planets where Civilization hasn't taken hold yet. The pooling of information is another valuable thing organizing will do for us. You see, the Rechargers are often cagey. So long as you stay in their good graces, they will answer almost any question you put to them, any specific question. General questions, like, "Who are my foes?" will get general answers like "All who oppose Civilization." You need to think to ask the right questions before you get the right answers. By pooling our resources, more intelligent questions can be asked, and the answers made available to all."
"That sucks, how the Rechargers won't give us vital information until we ask!" Kelly shot an accusing glance at the trunk containing her Recharger.
Brian shook his head. "Actually, it makes some sense. We have to find out for ourselves rather than be handed everything. And we must be able to cooperate before we can really start to get more information. It's like the reward we get for forming a microcosm of Civilization among Patrollers: once we show ourselves capable to being Civilized, we are given more knowledge. This forces us to work together, rather than thinking each Patroller can save the world on his own. We lead by example, Kelly. If all Patrollers start to work together, regardless of nation, religion or politics, then we can start to hope that everyone else can as well."
Sarah stepped out from the background and added, "We won't try to pressure you into this. Here's a phone number, call it if you decide you want to join us. It'll be logged by computer and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."
Kelly took the card and placed it on top of the trunk. "I'll think about it. I won't guarantee anything, though."
Brian put his shades back on and opened the door. He turned and looked at Kelly over his shoulder before leaving. "No one can, Kelly."
Physical Therapy was starting to get less grueling, Kelly thought. Getting used to her new prosthetic leg was taking more out of her than she'd expected it would. She'd have to build up more toughness in her stump if she was going to be able to walk for more than an hour at a time without pain. Still, at least she'd only lost part of one leg. She shuddered to think what it would be like now if she'd lost all her limbs to the Zando before the Machine arrived. One thing that helped her keep her spirits up was a letter from Kelly Tanaka, a fellow Patroller who apparently was part of Janssen's network already. If that other Kelly could make it with no working legs, she could make it with one and a half legs, damn it!
Kelly levered herself out of her wheelchair and onto the bed. She'd stopped having help from the nurses with that a day ago, and even though it was awkward, she felt much freer for it. Fortunately she'd gotten cleaned up right after therapy, and could just relax now. She fumbled for the controls to the bed and got it into a comfortable sitting position, then picked up the TV's remote and turned on the news.
"...is NBC Nightly News for April third, 1994, with Tom Brokaw reporting from Washington D.C."
Great, just in time. She sat back to catch up on the news, finally able to enjoy it now that she no longer headed it. And after the Machine's accomplishment of yesterday, there was actually something to look forward to.
"Good evening. I'm here at the White House, where the President is expected to speak in a few minutes. As you all know, yesterday an assassination attempt on him and several prominent members of Congress was halted by the vigilante group known as the Machine. Although the advanced technology used by the terrorist group self-destructed and killed most of the terrorists, the Machine was able to save a few of them. Questioning of those survivors has yielded little, but seems to indicate a large conspiracy within both the government and private sector. The Secret Service is withholding more details until such time as they can act on them.
"In reports from Bethesda National Hospital, the Senators injured in the attack are in good condition, suffering only minor burns from the explosion of one of the terrorist devices. Most are being kept for observation overnight to assure doctors that they suffered no side effects from the radiation given off by the weapon, but are expected to be back at work tomorrow.
"I see the President has emerged from the White House and is being escorted up to the podium by his Secret Service agents. He seems to be wearing something...a wide belt, perhaps."
The scene shifted as the cameras switched away from the anchor and focused in on the President, who indeed was wearing a thick belt under his suitcoat. He paused for a moment to look into the cameras, then spoke.
"As you all know, yesterday a terrorist attack on myself and other members of the government was foiled by the actions of a group considered by many to be little more than terrorists themselves. I'm talking, of course, about the Machine. My first purpose here tonight is to announce that I am personally issuing a pardon for any criminal acts the Machine may have committed in their vigilante career." There was a murmuring from the crowd. "Now this is not a blanket pardon for any future activities, but I have assurances from the Machine that they will be working within the bounds of the law in the future. Already they have made arrangements with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help deal with the rising levels of crimes committed with this new 'science fiction' technology. People like Sullivan Green, monsters like the one who terrorized this country a few months ago, groups like the one which tried to kill me.
"The other purpose of this press conference is to announce that I will be issuing an executive order concerning the members of the so-called Patrol. Having been apprised of the nature of their organization, I feel confident in making all Patrollers federal deputies and allowing them to operate unhindered within the borders of the United States. Abberant cases like Mr. Green, of course, are not included in this order."
The crowd of reporters seemed about to break like a wave against the shore, so eager were they to ask questions about these two bombshells. Kelly could already hear in her mind the questions that would be asked by the paranoid, the nationalists and those simply out to make the current administration look bad. But the tide was turning in favor of the Patrol, and she smiled. Even if the President caught major flack over this, the precedent was set. She muted the television and picked up the phone, dialing the number she had already memorized...
Montana. Specifically, the Karlson ranch in Montana. More specifically, a red and white striped tent set up in a small clearing away from the house. A few dozen people are in the tent, all in various formalwear. To one side of the tent a buffet is being set up and other preparations for an outdoor reception being made. The weather is warm for mid-April, and the sky is free of clouds. Perfect weather for a wedding.
"I, Jennifer Dreiser, do wed Samuel Lyons. Through trials and good times, forsaking all others, I will stand by his side so long as life endures."
"I, Samual Lyons, do wed Jennifer Dreiser. Even though the trials may seem to outweigh the happiness, I will never stop loving her. No temptation will sway me from her side so long as life endures."
"So, in the eyes of God and all gathered here, you have pronounced yourselves husband and wife. May your love sustain you through through whatever may come."
And with that, Dr. Wier joined Sam and Jenny's hands together and stepped back as they kissed.
"...and I know that with Sam and Jen off on their honeymoon, the last thing you want is to cut the Machine's numbers down even further, but Dan and I need to get away from all this for a while, help him get his head together and shake off the 'legacy' his Gauntlet left him," implored Ted.
Simon sighed. He still hadn't found a replacement for himself in the Captain Justice role, now he would have to replace Greymask too. "All right. I know you need some time to heal, Dan. Just don't take too long, and keep in touch. Where did you plan to go?"
Dan shrugged. "Europe maybe. When I got out of college I wanted to take a bicycle there and bum around for a year, but I got a job right away. And there don't seem to be as many Patrollers in Europe anyway, it'd help keep my mind off things. Maybe I'll keep in touch...but I'm not so sure I even want to return to the Machine anymore. It'll depend on where I am when I find myself, I guess. But hey, you practically grabbed me off the street...I shouldn't be too hard to replace. Especially with the President pardoning us."
"Maybe. Well, good luck, bon voyage and all that. Maybe recent events have shown us that we don't need the 'Guys In Suits' approach to be as effective anyway. More good has been done quietly, through our public works and the broadcast power systems, than we've done as 'superheroes.'"
Ted shook his head. "No, always remember...our value as heroes isn't something you should ignore. Sure, the quiet stuff does the most actual good. But it's the flashy stuff that inspires people, makes them believe that good can be done in the first place. And that's almost the entire battle."
The sun hadn't come out all day, and the hillside was whipped by a bone-chilling wind. The warmth of a few days ago was almost forgotten as another cold front descended on Montana. Fitting, perhaps.
A figure pulled his trenchcoat around him as he walked up to a stone marker imbedded in the hillside above a patch of freshly-turned earth. He wore sunglasses despite the day's gloom, and clutched a file folder in his left hand.
He stopped at the foot of the grave and looked at the folder in his hand, then down to the dirt. "Well, you're innocent. Little consolation right now, I suppose. You're in His hands now, and He already knows what I finally found out. You were telling the truth. You were no more guilty of war crimes than I am. Too bad I couldn't find these papers until the day you died...."
With that, Janssen dropped the folder and watched the contents scatter in the wind. Then he turned and walked down off the hill.
We see the tombstone close up. It reads:
RICHARD M. WIER 1920 - 1994
Life's but a walking shadow - a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
Copyright © 1994, 1997 by David van Domelen