Gene poured himself some fine cognac and swirled it in the glass to hear the ice cubes clink. He walked across the cavernous library and took his seat on a plush couch. The library, all its thin plastic books and the house belonged to his old friend and mentor, Charles. Twice a month, Charles hosted a little get together among political advisors and strategists to discuss current events over dinner and fine spirits. He did it mostly to lament the fate of his former profession because a retired multi-millionaire suffering from nearly clinical boredom has nothing better to do in his spare time.
Charles was what a nice person would call horizontally inclined. Since his retirement at 267, he really let himself go. He didn’t sit in his overstuffed leather chair as much as he was squeezed into it as he reflected on current breed of political advisors and pundits with such melancholy that anyone would be moved to tears. Even nearing 300, Charles still knew how to give speeches that touched the soul.
“Ah these kids today,” he cried. “No sense of moderation and no idea how to elicit anything other than rage… It’s sad really.”
“I don’t know if it’s that bad,” shrugged one of his guests. “They produce results, get the right people elected to the right places… It’s not perfect, I’ll grant you that, but as long as things get done, nobody cares about technique.”
“That’s the sad part,” sighed Charles. “And Gene, you should be thinking about this. I’ve seen how your bootlickers are campaigning for Newman. By campaigning I mean smearing everybody under the sun without telling anyone why Newman is a good choice. Keep that up and that new guy who just announced his candidacy… what’s his face… umm… Harland? Yeah, that’s it, Harland. He might just have a shot at becoming Councilor.”
“If people hate progressives, they’ll vote Newman,” noted Gene as he sipped his cognac. “The TVG won’t undermine him.”
“People get fed up with politicians who’s only talent is slinging shit all over the airwaves. They can go to a zoo and see that. There’s a sense of nobility that has to come with politics. You can’t pitch the candidate like he’s a bag of chips or a new car. You’re giving people a choice between statesmen. Remember that word. Statesmen.”
“Like we have any of those,” chuckled another guest. “And who cares about the public? They go out and push whatever buttons we’re telling them to push. People today are like cattle. They pick a fantasy world they want to occupy, listen only to pundits and when someone disagrees, they chalk it up to ‘bias’ or some evil agenda. Now tell me that the public is educated and we have to actually consult the cattle on who should be their shepherd.”
Charles exploded with a burst of grim, booming laughter. With a tragic sigh, he stopped laughing and lowered his head as if in shame.
“And do you know why some people are like that?” he asked. “I actually look at the statistics. Only 15% of the population watch the news on TV. The other 85% trust only wire services. So besides the fact that what you told me is total bullshit, you also forgot why this happened over the centuries.”
“Well, enlighten me,” requested the guest snidely.
“Charles is talking about the big division that started a thousand years ago,” interjected Gene. “Well actually, much earlier than that.”
“Exactly,” confirmed Charles. “There used to be news and then a small dose of opinion. But then, times changed and the news became a business. Opinion drew loyal audiences and became so much more important than the news, some people only got news from pundits. I know my great grandfather told me about the years when people still had news reports instead of just opinion. Today, turn on the news or talk audio-casts. Some pundit is preaching something and news don’t even matter anymore.
“They’re doing it just for money, hoping that their listeners tune in and so they tell them all kinds of fairy tales just to get on the good side of whoever they know is their core audience. And their audience doesn’t give two shits about the news. They just want to hear about people they hate doing something they can hate them for even more. In the 2600s, we started using that to get councilors elected.”
“We all know that,” scoffed Gene. “That’s why we’re successful at what we do. People just want to pick their poison, not hear facts, so what’s the point of using facts and getting into a drawn out debate? I would think it’s much more efficient to tell them something they’re gonna believe anyway and leave it at that.”
“But that’s the horrible part!” sighed Charles. “All we’ve done is let people pick their poison and surround them by yes men who only tell them what they want to hear. We keep people locked up in some kind of reality-proof bubble and use them to pull levers out of every emotion we can think of, all not to have a common sense, reasonable debate! I’ve been watching the news and there’s not one, reasonable or honest discussion about the Nation. Everybody wants to make the Nation fit into their party line and gets mad when they don’t want to get in line and dance to the tune. Why should they?”
“Really, they’re their own animal,” said Tina who was listening to the conversation in a dark corner, sipping a martini. “They have a clear, concise goal, but I just don’t know what it is and they’re never going to roll over and play along. Not their style.”
“And the pundits are putting them off,” seconded Charles. “The people we see today… God what a crop of rejects! There used to be a time when pundits had a sense of decency, a sense of honor. Now, we have these idiots who spew whatever nonsense they’re given just to hear themselves talk. They think they’re political superheroes. It’s disgusting. It’s like a snake that’s not immune to its own venom.
“All they want to do is destroy, destroy, destroy. Any moron can do that. Creating, building someone up, slowly reshaping the world’s opinions with a delicate touch, with finesse… That takes skill and all the idiots on TV and web today don’t have that skill. Then they put a scientist on the air and act all surprised when he rips them a new one. Paper tigers, all of them.”
Charles sighed with relief and put his empty glass on the round, metal table next to his chair with a clank. Having gotten this rant off his chest, he felt better.
“So Charles, why don’t you come back to work?” asked Gene.
“Eh…” shrugged the old strategist. “I’m too old and not ‘radical’ enough to be on TV today. I’m not gonna start shouting obscenities or invite pushovers to shred for the 15% who enjoy watching people agree with them and tell them how good they are.”
After a pause, he chuckled nervously and smiled.
“Sorry about that,” he apologized. “I’ve been rambling forever now, probably boring you all out of your minds… Anybody have an interesting battle story to share?”
The get together continued into the night as the students of the old political warrior told juicy stories about the commentators who graced news shows, their competition and the various power starved dolts they had to promote as visionaries although the vision of all these so-called “geniuses” was limited to a tiny area in front of their noses.
Inside the apartment occupied by Ace and Dot, the only source of light was the cold, white-gray beam cast by a beautiful full moon. Objects on tables and counters cast eerie, stretched out shadows on the walls, bending away from the lunar beam. It was dark, but it wasn’t quiet.
Soft, sensual moaning which was getting louder and more primal by the minute was coming from the kitchen. In the background, the growls of a male occasionally slipped though. A pendulum of a large analog clock cast from brushed metal and decorated with a simplistic design, swung suggestively to the rhythm of the moans and growls, as if setting the pace.
In the kitchen, Dot sat on a counter, holding herself up with her hands which rested on the range, arching her back. She was naked and the dark silver tone of her skin reflected the cold light of the moon which shone through the floor to ceiling windows.
Ace was on his knees in front of her, bare, delicately kissing and licking her mound with his eyes closed. He was slow and tender, taking his sweet time with her, allowing his tongue to slip ever lower as he produced low frequency growls that sent vibrations along her body.
“Oh please… oh please… oh please…” she begged.
In reply, Ace allowed his tongue slip down to the tender slit he and Mai took so long to lovingly design for a female cyborg’s anatomically correct body. When the Shadow Demons finally received the sexual organs originally deemed unimportant by their masters, he was going on ten years without sex. The things he did to Mai the day he became a man again… Just the memory drove him crazy.
His passionate licks and kisses were rewarded with Dot’s moans as she clasped his head with both hands, pushing him into her. As he felt that she was nearing climax, he rose. With a swift and practiced move, he entered her to her great delight. She wrapped her bare legs around him, holding him tight, kissing his neck and shoulder with a passionate chant of a lover being fulfilled. After a long, coarse moan, she started licking the sensitive rune spanning his chest and shoulder with wild abandon.
As she drew close to climax, her moaning seized, replaced by an almost stunned gasp she slowly allowed to escape her soft lips. With a soulful, almost pained expression she gazed deep into his eyes. The climax rocked her body and after a long, high pitched groan, three words slipped from her lips.
“I love you…” she exhaled right before she hungrily kissed Ace, her tongue maneuvering between his fangs, probing the tip of his.
She released him from the kiss and they looked at each other in a satisfied, comfortable silence. With a gentle peck, Ace separated from her but didn’t turn away, leaning on the counter with his hands just a few millimeters away from Dot’s shapely hips.
“Wow…” he finally said.
“Yeah, that was great,” she seconded.
Dot looked at her lower ribs. The dark silver skin was alight with the white-gray beam that illuminated their passionate consummation.
“Hey, what do you know…” she giggled. “I am glowing.”
She leaned on Ace, her head resting on his chest, her right hand roaming across his stomach, occasionally dipping down to a far more tender feature of his anatomy. While she caressed him, he let almost every polymer fiber in his body relax, locking his knee and ankle joints to effortlessly keep himself upright.
“You’re great,” he smiled, kissing her crystalline hair.
Suddenly, a holographic television screen activated with a news flash that a computer deemed so important, it couldn’t wait even one more second. The broadcast showed a bewildered reporter rattled by something she saw seconds earlier standing in front of an enormous, awe-inspiring megachurch with giant stained glass windows bearing scenes from ancient Christian iconography.
The church was built in the shape of a cross like every other church in the last three thousand years. In this case, the cross shape was made by obvious add-ons to the amphitheater bought by Lombard decades ago. On the extending arms of the cross stood two obelisk-like towers with domed, golden roofs decorated with massive metal crosses. Skyscrapers and various high rises surrounded this building.
The reporter stood in the church’s vast parking lot filled with the worshippers’ sleek cars. She looked around with apprehension.
“That’s right Janice,” she was saying, “as of right now, we’re not sure what happened to the congregation of Pastor Lombard’s United Church of the Revelation. The building itself is sealed shut and there is absolutely no contact with anyone inside after the police tracked a distress call from the building.”
The picture altered to show an anchor in a studio. A graphic identified her as Janice Wolfe.
“So the police got a call and then nothing?” asked Janice.
“Yes, that’s correct,” confirmed the reporter.
“Is the police still there?”
“Oh yes, in fact if we pan over here, you’ll see the police trying to get into the building but what’s happening is that their tools keep cutting into some sort of black goop that keeps recollecting itself and effectively re-sealing the door.”
Dot and Ace looked at each other in shock.
“Did she just say…” started Dot.
“… black goop?” finished Ace. “It sounds a lot like buffer gel.”
“This can’t be good…”
“No. No it can’t.”
Meanwhile the anchor and reported continued the coverage. The reporter was holding a small piece of what looked like black gelatin, the same exact substance Dot used to capture a Rexx ship she shot down during the war.
“Do we have any idea what this substance might be?” asked Janice.
“Actually no, we really have no clue,” replied the reporter. “But it’s very strong stuff and it’s putting up a real fight.”
She paused, looking behind herself and turned around with false excitement. It was clear to anyone who cared that the only thing she wanted was to get out of there.
“We just received word that we were able to get a camera probe inside the building,” she announced. “Let’s take a look.”
The screen switched to a dark picture of the church’s cavernous atrium which lead to the many doors into the main arena. Every door was sealed shut by a web of black, gelatinous buffer gel. Every door except one…
Rather than torn off, the thick wooden door was opened enough to let a medium sized person through. An eerie silence hung over the dark, empty void of the entrance hall like a tangible item. With a soft whoosh, a dark shadow suddenly darted across the screen.
The broadcast immediately displayed modules with the reporter and Janice on top of the live view of the church’s dark atrium.
“Marie, do you know what that could be?” asked Janice.
“You mean the shadow we just saw?”
“The police think that it’s a trick from the light hitting the black goop sealing all the doorways. Actually we’ve seen a couple of these shadows outside. They appear for an instant and then just vanish.”
While the eyes of the reporter and the anchor were clearly not up to the job, the eyes of the cyborgs knew what this shadow was. With alarm, they glanced at each other.
“Son of a…” started Ace.
“Fuck…” muttered Dot.
They stood in front of the TV naked, knowing full well that a grizzly scene would unfold at any moment but unsure what to do. Dot activated a holographic screen on which she tried the find the phone number or an e-mail for the studio. Unfortunately, she was stuck in a confusing loop of contact information designed to discourage calls to the station from anyone without a direct line to the anchors.
“It’s too late,” said Ace hollowly with terrifyingly confidence in his voice as he noticed another shadow within range of the reporter.
“If you’re just tuning in, we’re standing in the parking lot of the United Church of Revelation ran by Pastor Bradley Lombard and his ministry,” continued the oblivious reporter. “An estimated 30,000 or so worshippers gathered for Friday service. Today, June 17th being the anniversary of…”
She never got to finish her line.
The massive, shearing claws of a Shadow Spawn easily pierced through her soft flesh before she even knew it. As she realized that in just a few more seconds her life would be over, she looked down at a set of four razor sharp, black claws sticking out of her body, rivulets of blood running down to her feet. Her fright was frozen in virtually every muscle of her face as the spawn removed its claws, letting her body fall and cool into a corpse.
In the distance behind the reporter’s body, spawns attacked anything in range, flipping cars and tearing humans to shreds. Watching these scenes of carnage and destruction Ace wondered why it suddenly felt as if the device that acted as his heart sank with pain and pity.
The broadcast went blank. All that the holographic screen could display was a black screen with the message “please stand by” in red letters designed to look like a digital readout.