Chapters 3 and 4 are out! The Oday Way group has read through them and decided on the next course of action. You can find the options and what they chose at the end. Tap the link below to check out the group.

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Last week’s story fork….

1. Should I believe what Agent Barrow said and make a run for it?

2. Should I believe what Agent Barrow said and shoot Agent McKenzie to neutralize the threat, and then make a run for it?

3. Should I believe Agent McKenzie and go with him?

The group chose #3 and the following chapters are where that took us.

 

TDDR – Chapter 3

Trust?

How could you trust anyone when you couldn’t first trust yourself?

Despite the wind gusting through the exposed interior, despite the hammering in my ears, despite a dozen other distractions blurring by, my hand didn’t waver.

It held the pistol locked in place. A focal point in the surrounding chaos. Like the north star with the heavens wheeling round, painting curved streaks in the night sky.

The world circled the stationary muzzle. One pull of the trigger and McKenzie would begin his journey back to the space dust from which we all arose and inevitably returned.

His right hand inched toward the inside of his dark coat.

Toward a gun hidden there?

“Don’t move!” I shouted again.

A distant explosion and the floor trembled.

His left hand remained up and open. “We don’t have time for this! It’s me, McKenzie!”

“Should I know that name?”

He cast me an odd look. The right hand inched deeper into the interior of the coat. “You’ve sustained a concussion from the blast. We need to get you to safety, Sir.”

“What are you reaching for?” I asked as my finger tightened around the trigger that I somehow knew would resist with five pounds of force before breaking and slamming a firing pin into the primer of a nine millimeter round of ammo.

“Don’t fire, Sir!”

“What are you reaching for?” I shouted, louder as the point of decision rushed closer.

His hand flashed out of the coat.

My finger curled inward. In less than a second, in the space between the one before and the next, it applied one, two, three, four pounds of pressure.

And stopped.

The thing in McKenzie’s hand flopped open.

A security badge.

“Look!” he shouted as he held it out. “It’s me! I’ve proudly worked for you every day since the moment you took office. I’d give my life for you or Hannah without a second thought.”

My curled finger eased off the smooth curve of hard metal. He believed what he said. At least, I believed that he did.

Hannah.

He knew her.

The floor above us creaked. A tearing, ripping hellish sound.

McKenzie jumped toward me. He grabbed my arm as the pistol dug into his chest. “Either shoot me or let me get you to safety.”

The ceiling groaned and a chunk of plaster and lumber large enough to fell an elephant crashed down.

We dove to the side and rolled away. We were up on our feet an instant later and headed for the corridor he’d indicated earlier.

We came upon a set of stairs going down and another going up. McKenzie didn’t hesitate as he herded me toward the ones going down. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a mini flashlight. It clicked on and cast a hard circle of light into the growing darkness of the descending steps.

After turning through three landings and four sets of stairs, we passed through a series of corridors and reinforced doorways that no longer had doors. Scorch marks from whatever had blasted them off scarred the nearby walls.

The further we went, the more I noticed the dust. The neglect. The eerie feeling of entering a space not used in a long while.

Like being the first explorer to step inside an ancient and forgotten temple. One whose worshippers had carved strange symbols into stone pillars before their beliefs and practices vanished into the darkness of time.

“Come on!” McKenzie said as we made a sharp right turn into a small room. His flashlight swept over the scene.

A cramped kitchen occupied one corner. Dust so thick it looked like a drab coat of paint covered a refrigerator and stove and kitchen sink. A short bank of cabinets with doors open and interiors empty. A round dining table on the floor missing all four legs. A sofa occupied the other half of the room. Shredded like it had lost a fight with a chainsaw. Tattered and faded where cloth remained.

The musty smell of stale air.

“This is it!” McKenzie said with excitement as he guided me through the middle to the door on the far wall. He yanked the handle down and it broke free in his hand. He tossed it aside with a curse. An instant later, he had a large pocket knife unfolded and jammed into the hole.

Something clicked and he turned the blade.

The door opened with an audible whoosh. Hinges squealed in protest.

A tiny shift in air pressure registered in my inner ear. The one not clogged with blood.

McKenzie pulled me inside and shut the door behind us. “This has to be it,” he said to himself as much as me.

The flashlight bounced light around revealing that we’d stepped into a…

a…

janitor’s closet?

Plastic bottles with stickers peeling away lined metal shelves. Red, green, blue. Some clear with colored solutions inside. Cleaning supplies.

Shrink-wrapped bundles of toilet paper filled the shelf in the corner from floor to ceiling. The picture on the plastic still visible. A family of happy cartoon bears holding a roll of toilet paper like it was the best Christmas present in the world. The brand name not one I recognized.

Not a surprise considering my situation.

The closet was larger than expected. Easily the equal to the room connected to it.

McKenzie turned to me. “Okay, your turn.”

My eyebrows crinkled up in confusion. “My turn for what?” I didn’t look at it, but I was keenly aware of the blade in his hand all the same. My fingers tightened around the grip of the pistol, ready to return it to service if the situation demanded.

“We can’t go anywhere without your bioscan. Do you remember where the input is?”

I shook my head, looking around in confusion. None of this looked familiar.

A sudden wave of dizziness hit and I reached an arm out for balance.

McKenzie grabbed my elbow to steady me.

The feeling passed as quickly as it came.

“You okay?”

“Yeah.”

He let go. “Look, we can’t access the main entrance. It’s this or nothing. And I’ve never been down this way before.”

I scanned the area, looking for something… anything. I noticed a large electrical panel on the back wall. A flash of recognition ignited. Not quite a memory, but something.

“There!”

McKenzie hurried over and snatched the panel door open.

Circuit breakers.

The electrical heart for the rooms on this level.

In other words, nothing.

He shrugged. “Any other ideas?”

I stepped around him and approached the panel.

The columns of black switches looked like any ordinary panel. White labels with block letters had the names for what each circuit powered.

BASEMENT

N CORRIDOR

BASEMENT KITCHEN

BASEMENT LOUNGE

S CORRIDOR

SUPPLY CLOSET

My body cast the lower half of the panel into shadow.

“More light,” I said.

“Sorry,” he said as shifted it into a better position.

I slid my finger down over more labels.

There!

HANNAH’S SECRIT PLAYHOUSE

Written with pencil in sloppy handwriting.

With secret misspelled.

Without thinking, I flipped the breaker from ON to OFF.

Nothing.

I switched it back to ON.

Something inside the wall clicked.

With a whir, the panel slid down into a recess.

An illuminated screen cast off a gently pulsing blue glow. A blue outline of a head appeared with a hand-shaped outline next to it.

A synthesized female’s voice spoke. “Please confirm identity.”

I glanced at McKenzie, still unsure about him as much as this latest development.

He nodded toward the screen.

I switched the pistol to my left hand and bladed my shoulders to keep McKenzie in view. I raised my right hand with the palm forward and fingers splayed to match the outline on the screen. I moved to touch the screen but stopped abruptly six inches away.

3D shapes comprised of countless tiny blue dots appeared on the screen. Fingers. Then the palm appeared down to the wrist.

A scanned and digitized reflection of my hand.

I made a fist and the copy did the same. I opened it and adjusted the alignment until the computerized representation fit within the blue outline.

“Awaiting facial identification,” the pleasant voice said.

“We need to speed it up, Sir!”

Moving my face closer to the screen was going to put McKenzie out of my peripheral vision. And that meant offering an opening to a potential enemy. Not something I was excited to do.

“Come over to the side. I need more light.”

With the blue glow emanating from the screen, it was a weak excuse.

He moved without hesitation, bringing the flashlight around to better illuminate an area that didn’t need it. I noticed his other hand no longer held the knife.

“Thanks,” I said in a cordial tone, intentionally playing it like we were friends.

Maybe we were.

And if we weren’t, it didn’t hurt to let him think I thought that. The ruse might offer a split second advantage. An advantage I might end up needing.

I leaned in toward the screen and a digitized version of my face appeared. A square chin holding up a wide mouth. Hollowed cheeks emphasized by protruding jaw muscles. The line of the nose slightly bent hinting that it had likely been broken at some point. Deep set eyes beneath a strong brow.

It was me.

And yet it was like staring into a mirror and seeing someone else’s reflection.

The dotted figures of the face and hand blinked green.

“Scan complete. Welcome to the Political Emergency Operations Bunker, Mr. Vice-President.”

Vice-President?

I turned to McKenzie with a questioning look.

He nodded. “There’s a small but powerful faction that has managed to block a system update.”

The security images dissolved and ten horizontal bars appeared. Each with a number and name. All except one.

1 – Security

2 – Residence 1

3 – Administration

4 – Systems

5 – Infirmary

6 – Recreation

7 – Farms

8 – Residence 2

9 – Water and Power

10

The disembodied voice prompted me after apparently deciding I’d taken too long. “Please choose your desired destination.”

“We need to get to you to the Infirmary level.”

I scanned all the levels and a couple of things jumped out.

One was that the bottom level had no name like the others. And two was that the two residence levels were pretty far apart.

“Why are the two residence levels so far apart?”

McKenzie frowned. “You don’t remember any of this?”

I shook my head.

“Rank,” he replied. “The PEOB is a ten story underground bunker designed to hold the entire White House staff and both branches of Congress and their families indefinitely. It’s a doomsday bunker the size of a small town, essentially. Residence One is close to security and administration and filled with higher ranking people and their families. Residence Two is filled with the workers that keep the bunker running. They get to live with the constant vibrating hum of the generators on the level below. Every so often, someone down there cracks and it gets ugly.”

“How large are the floors?”

“Massive. The Obama administration started it back in twenty-ten. Dug up the North Lawn and passed it off as improvements to the air conditioning and electrical systems. The floors completely encompass the areas of the North Lawn, the White House and most of the South Lawn.”

I had no clear picture of what that meant, but it was enough to impress McKenzie.

“Please choose your desired destination.”

How could a voice so vaguely pleasant be so specifically irritating?

“There’s a trauma team waiting. You’re banged up pretty bad, Sir. And we need you now more than ever.”

“Okay.” I pushed the blue bar indicating the Infirmary Level.

Nothing happened.

I pushed it again.

“You say it, Sir. There’s a voice scan for security verification.”

Nothing like a subordinate trying not to treat you like an idiot to make you feel like a complete idiot.

“Oh, yeah. Right. Take us to the Infirmary level.”

I waited for a hidden door to slide open somewhere. For part of the wall to part and reveal an elevator.

A muffled whooshing sound and the whole janitor’s closet started descending. No objects in the room moved, but the difference registered in my inner ear. The subtle change in pressure and balance.

Again, the the one not filled with blood.

“You’ll be safe now, Mr. President.”

I nodded, not necessarily in agreement though.

“Sir, can I have my pistol back?”

I glanced at it in my left hand.

We were heading down into the bunker.

The security system had recognized me as the Vice-President.

McKenzie hadn’t done anything overtly strange to arouse my suspicions. At least, not if Agent Barrow had been, in fact, an enemy.

And I’d sustained a head injury. Something serious enough to cause memory loss. I barely remembered anything beyond my own name.

Asking for the gun was a reasonable request by someone dedicated to keeping me alive.

And I was apparently the president.

Did the leader of the most powerful country on the planet need to personally carry a firearm? Wasn’t that tactical level of security better handled by others?

The president’s job was to focus on the strategic issues. The big picture problems that challenged the country.

And there didn’t seem to be a shortage of those at the moment.

I raised the pistol—McKenzie reached for it—and switched it to my dominant right hand.

“No.”

 

TDDR – Chapter 4

Doctor Tanaka moved the pen light from side to side in front of my right eye. My left hand covered the other eye. “Try to track the movement, Mr. President.”

“I am,” I said with frustration coloring my voice.

The light stopped moving. “Now cover the other eye.”

I did and the light began moving from side to side again. “Hmmm, okay,” Tanaka said as the light clicked off.

A nurse walked into the exam room with a folded hospital gown in his hands. He placed it on the bedside table and then pulled a syringe out of his pocket. He plugged it into the port of the blood bag hanging from the mobile unit beside the bed. He stole a glance at me before depressing the plunger and then hurrying out.

“What did he just do?”

“What?” Tanaka asked while scrawling onto the paper attached to the clipboard in his hands.

“That nurse. He just put something into the blood bag.”

Tanaka glanced at McKenzie standing at the foot of the bed and then back to me. “A masking agent to ensure your system doesn’t reject the donor blood.”

I traced the tube from the blood bag to the IV port in the crook of my elbow. Whatever it was would be in my veins in short order.

Tanaka returned to scribbling notes.

I shifted forward to see what he was writing, but flipped a page down to cover them.

“Mr. President, you’ve lost a lot of blood. It’ll take some time but we’ll get you replenished. Of greater concern is the impact to your head. Memory loss. Paranoia. Have you experienced any bouts of dizziness?”

I had. A little when I first woke up. In the janitor’s closet. And then again while looking through the blinds.

“Yeah.”

“All classic symptoms of cerebral edema. Swelling of the brain.” He glanced at the pistol in my right hand resting on my lap. “We need to do an MRI to know for certain. If there is swelling, we need to know how much. It could be nothing to worry about or it could be a life-threatening condition.”

“Okay.” I was fine with getting more information. That was all I wanted and hadn’t gotten enough of.

Upon exiting the elevator to the Infirmary level, we’d encountered Doctor Tanaka with a wheelchair which he’d encouraged me to use. I refused and we set off toward the trauma wing as Tanaka observed me in silence while McKenzie ran a gauntlet between us and the numerous people we passed.

No one in the corridors spoke to me, but I noticed their nervous looks.

Furtive glances.

Maybe because I was the president and they had no reason important enough to require my time.

Or maybe something else.

Tanaka clicked his pen. “Good. You’re going to need to change into the medical gown. And the pistol isn’t allowed inside the scanner.”

My fingers involuntarily tightened around the grip. “I’m keeping the gun.”

“Mr. President, the metal will cause problems for the magnetic resonance imaging.”

“You need to look at my brain, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then I’ll hold it down by my side. Will that be in the way?”

Tanaka’s glasses slipped down his nose and he pushed them back up into place. “This is all very irregular. We need the clearest images in order—”

“Can you get a picture of my brain like that or not?”

Tanaka glanced at McKenzie.

“Why are you looking at him? I asked you a question. I want an answer.”

Tanaka swallowed hard and returned his gaze to the clipboard. He lifted the cover page and scratched out a note. “I’m concerned about the magnetic fields heating up and igniting the primers in the bullets.”

“I’ll take that chance.”

Tanaka let out a long sigh and nodded. “Fine. Yes. It should work well enough to get a clear image of your brain and skull.”

“Good.” I started unbuttoning my shirt, taking care to leave the pistol on the bed within easy reach.

“Agent McKenzie and I will leave you to change,” Tanaka said as he turned for the door.

McKenzie followed behind and paused to close the blinds to the wide window by the door. He stopped in the doorway. “I’ll be right outside if you need anything.”

“Thanks,” I said, doing my best to earnestly sound appreciative. All part of the subterfuge to go along until something clicked into place. A memory or a situation that brought understanding.

The door closed and their voices cut out.

I slipped out of my shoes and hurried to the window, taking care to drag along the hanging blood bag as I went.

Standing in the corner of the exam room, I found an open crack between a bent blind and the row below. Careful not to touch them, I peered through the sliver.

McKenzie and Tanaka stood in the corridor outside. They huddled close and spoke in low voices clearly intended to keep the conversation private.

Tanaka pointed at his clipboard as McKenzie looked on.

McKenzie said something.

I focused on his mouth and the movement of his lips.

“The question is what to—”

I gritted my teeth in frustration as he turned toward the doctor and his mouth rotated out of view. The back of his head moved with subtle rhythm as he finished whatever he was saying.

Tanaka adjusted his glasses and shook his head. He replied as I stared at his mouth. “It’s a risk.”

A surge of dizziness swept over me. I teetered forward and my forehead smacked into the blinds and glass.

The door flew open as I landed back on the bed.

“What was that?” McKenzie said in a voice thick with concern—or was it suspicion?— “Are you okay, Sir?”

I waved him off. “I’m fine. Stood up to move the blood bag closer and got dizzy for a second. Nothing major.”

He turned and noticed the blinds settling back to rest. His eyes returned to mine.

Did his posture shift?

Was there now a tension not there an instant before?

I waited, ready to jerk the pistol up and fire a round into his chest.

“Do you need help getting into the gown?”

“No, I’ll be fine. Just need to stand up a little slower.”

He seemed to accept that. “You need to take it nice and easy, Sir.”

I nodded. He was right. I felt it. The exhaustion. The weakness overtaking my limbs. A sluggish warmth creeping into my veins.

The donor blood.

What had the nurse added to the blood bag? Was it actually a masking agent?

Or was it an anesthetic?

Something to knock me out.

Something to give them control.

I grabbed the tube attached to the IV port and ripped it out. Blood spurted out the end as I flung it away. It splattered onto the sheets, my pants, and then continued leaking crimson onto the drab beige tile floor.

“What are you doing, Mr. President?” Tanaka said from the doorway. It was more an accusation than a question. “You need that blood! I’m doing my best to save you, but you seem determined to die!”

McKenzie snatched the tube off the floor and crimped it shut. “You’re not well, Sir. Please, you need to listen to Doctor Tanaka.”

“He’s right, Scout. I’ve been your personal doctor for more years than I care to remember. I know your physiology better than my own. I want to help, if you’ll let me.” He crossed his arms and waited.

A pious priest ready to absolve a penitent sinner.

CHOICES:

1. Should I accept the donor blood?

2. Should I refuse the blood but still go for the brain scan?

3. Should I grab Doctor Tanaka, put the pistol to his head and demand some answers?

4. Should I refuse to do anything until I get some answers? Keep the gun close, but don’t use it.

I originally only had the first 3 choices available. A member of the group suggested #4 and it got added to the list. And then ended up winning the vote! But will pursuing such a path lead to the desired outcome? The next story segment will be posted to the blog next week (after the group has read and decided on the next story fork).

Make sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think!