After what I last wrote, I was stuck for once. I thought about Sylvia’s long drive across west Texas (I’ve done it a few times; it takes longer than you think) and how it looks like that odd place where she met the Ninon person. Still, I have already written “road sequences” for this story before… boring! Done and done!
Saturday late morning, just before noon in fact, in the IV Room, having just finished the Batch, it hit me: this is one of Director Barrett’s three chief underlings. She would fly to El Paso to meet with the Mexican diplomats about the coming partition of New Mexico! And the moment I saw her in a small jet, I knew what Ninon’s True Form was…
Into the night, out of the dark, take to the sky chasing the stars
All that we said, all that we are, waiting to fly, this is the start!
That then gave me the “machine dream” sequence I needed. A quick stop at a bridge over the dry Rio Grande and an encounter with a Special Guest from “Cursed Hearts,” and our Deputy Director is off to the National Labs in Los Alamos to continue laying plots for the eventual termination of ExComm.
And, I just broke the 30k word barrier! Woot.
From the couch of the port side of the small Gulfstream G280 Sylvia looked over her shoulder. Far below the bleak west Texas landscape slid by at five hundred miles an hour. Their trip should take just a little more than seventy minutes. Given that, she had done what work she could for the first thirty minutes to allow time for a nap before they landed. While the couch was hers, her two security officers and her newly-promoted Field Secretary, Kharachan, sat in chairs about the cabin.
So much like a wasteland down there, she thought, still looking. There are a few patches of green against the brown, and some flashes of silver and grey where buildings are; most likely oil or fracking rigs. Not at all like that lifeless landscape where I met that odd woman, Ninon, in that odd dream.
But was it a dream? When that hyper loligoth suddenly appeared and “fixed” my memories… it seems as real as this does. She ran her hand down the cool fake leather of the couch in the jet. Sylvia had been surprised at the follow-up to her dispatch to El Paso: the Director allowed her use of one of ExComm’s few aircraft. Some quick research yielded that Los Alamos had a small airstrip had her choose the smallest plane for her mission.
Still wanting her nap, she also wanted to have a quick word with someone. She clicked on the three-gear icon. They rotated only a moment before a window opened: ‘Thaad unavailable.’ That had only happened once before; the gifted hacker with a keen political sense was usually always there. Ah, well.
She closed the laptop and set it onto the small table at her right. She slid down onto the couch and closed her eyes.
There was a bump of turbulence great enough to lift her just into the air. It became a matter of concern when she didn’t return to the couch. Sylvia opened her eyes. While having the impression of motion, it was as if she was flying through clouds… just not in an airplane.
Another dream? She broke through the clouds to see the plain brown landscape far below. It was real enough that she involuntarily flinched in panic. At that she felt something tighten around her waist. With a look she saw what seemed orange and red ropes of fire, about an inch thick.
You are safe, little girl. Ninon’s voice, but into her mind. Now Sylvia looked up and back.
A phoenix: a bird made of fire as large of the jet she was – hopefully – still asleep in. The mythical beast cocked its head to bring one of its jet-black eyes onto what it held.
I recall, Ninon, she thought back to it, you said something to the effect that you alone of your family take to the sky. This is one of those times?
The cocked head returned forward as they dove at the ground. Sylvia began to grow concerned. If I die in this dream…
Ninon pulled up just yards shy of the rocky ground. With each powerful beat of her wings they were climbing higher and higher.
You are more a stone than a feather, little girl, Sylvia heard. Very soon you are going to have to move outside of your head: first in your thoughts, then for good.
If I had a client who talked to me this way, I’d drop them! she thought.
When that happens, little one, be strong in your step.
They were back onto the clouds but still climbing. It was getting cold, fast.
“Just what are you telling me – ” Sylvia began aloud.
I take to the sky, chasing the stars; no reasons, no rhyme…
They broke through the clouds. Sylvia could see the curvature of the world below her. Not only was she freezing but there was suddenly no air. She began to struggle.
Live the dream, little one: yours and mine. Euphoria!
Someone was shaking her. She opened her eyes to her gunner, Smith.
“You were making a choking sound, Miss! And shaking, bad!” he said.
Sylvia sat up, still shaking.
“Just… one of those dreams,” she managed, still taking in great mouthfuls of air. Behind Smith, Kharachan was looking at her yet had remained in his chair.
“How… how soon ‘till we land?” she asked, trying to get her mind working again.
“About fifteen minutes, Deputy Director,” Smith said, pulling a small blanket down from a tiny overhead bin. She thanked him with her eyes as she pulled it around her shoulders.
“We’re close enough to the river that you can see the Director’s handiwork,” her Field Secretary lisped, looking past her out the south-facing windows.
Sylvia kept her face a mask and didn’t bother to look out the windows. Instead she pulled a file from under her laptop and flipped it open. She didn’t notice Kharachan’s rat-like smile before he looked away.
I know what’s down there, you slimy bastard, she thought, her eyes not seeing the papers before her. Just south of the line of the border wall that had been built a few years ago was a line of what looked like power poles: one every hundred feet. Enough time had passed in this desert climate that most of their original occupants were nothing more than bones. 66,000 crucified.
There was a ding! for the passengers to don their seatbelts for landing.
The commercial airport was snugged up to Biggs Army Airfield and Fort Bliss; between the three ExComm had carved out a little space for themselves. Once parked, two large sedans pulled next to the jet. A liaison from Second Chief Directorate, Blevins, waited next to the car in front, in a proper suit, Sylvia noted, rather than the ExComm uniform; she wore hers as it tended to scare people, even professional diplomats. The temperature felt to be about sixty. Positively warm compared to where she had just come from.
“Senior Agent Blevins, a pleasure,” she said, taking his hand and getting to business. “Any changes?”
“None, Deputy Director.” She was pleased at his quick reply. “They have a motorized brigade just behind the hills to the southwest of Juarez and a battalion in Palomas to take Deming and secure the road and rail lines west toward Tucson. Once the Director requested this meeting they have been surprisingly quiet.”
“Considering that crossing the border without our permission could result in the accidental release of some of those atomic artillery shells we took out of Fort Hood, I’m not surprised!”
“You… we…” now Blevins was perspiring, “actually told the Mexicans that?”
“Not in so many words, but yes, your boss did,” she concluded, turning to wave her people to the second car. “How long to Yselta Bridge?”
“Traffic’s light this time of day, so maybe fifteen minutes,” Blevins replied, indicating the early afternoon. “And, of course, we closed all normal traffic on the bridge. Not that there is much these days.”
“Then let’s get this show over,” she turned toward the second car. “I need to be back in the air before nightfall! See to it, please!”
She heard him yell at one of his men who then yelled into a radio. Good.
Out of the airport and down two highways later both cars rolled to a stop just outside of the Customs and Border Control building. Her two security went first followed by her with Kharachan. Blevins and two of his men came behind as they walked on the deserted bridge due west. Just shy of the dry gully that was the Rio Grande, crosses, every hundred feet, stretched out to her right and left, as far as she could see. Being a populated transit area, a few had been remounted with recently condemned traitors to the New State. One to her right moaned his agony to the wind.
Ahead, the delegation from the Mexican Interior and Foreign Ministries waited for them on the bridge, midway over the gully. This would not have been a time to arrive late. Twenty yards shy her man on her right cupped his right to his ear, as if listening. So: all clear. Had the man on the left done that, they would have turned about, anticipating betrayal. Her men stopped and stepped aside. She walked between them as an older, balding man from the opposite group came forward alone.
Vice Minister Villa, she recalled from the files, from the Foreign Ministry. So they were leading with a diplomat rather than a spy or military man. That meant she had already nearly won. She allowed herself a quick look at the rest of his entourage. Utterly unremarkable, with the exception of that young man, about her age…
“Miss Fernandez?” Villa asked in perfect Broadcast English.
“Deputy Director Fernandez of the Third Chief Directorate of the Extraordinary Commission for the Preservation of the Republic,” she countered to throw him off balance. Neither extended their hands. “I am pleased you came to meet me, Vice Minister.”
Her attorney’s eyes just caught the flicker of irritation in his face of ‘you came to meet me.’
“Both of our masters,” Villa tried again, now stressing that they served others, “want to make sure that there are no misunderstandings between us; between our very old country and your very new one.”
“<At best, Vice Minister,>” Sylvia said, dropping into a Spanish with wide Filipino traces, “<your current nation dates only from Nineteen Twenty or Nineteen Twenty-eight. The Resumption of the Texas Republic goes back to Eighteen Thirty-six. Try not being condescending.>”
A few in the group behind him muttered or suppressed their humor at her dialect. She was interested to see that young man was not one of them.
She deliberately looked at her watch, both to insult them and signal Kharachan. He crept forward to hand her a thick, legal-sized, sealed packet. It was covered in officious stamps and ribbons. She held it out to Villa.
“This is the official version of what we are talking about here,” she said, returning to English while he took it from her. “You would do well to note the top two signatures.”
She watched as he looked down. Seeing the President’s and the Director’s seemed to focus his attention.
“And just what are we talking about here, Deputy Director?” he asked, politely this time.
“Texas cannot have Mexico occupy New Mexico. That would present a huge salient into our northwest border. Plus,” she looked right, to the cries of the dying man, “we are running out of criminals to crucify.”
Before he could reply, she went on.
“We shall divide the former State,” she said more loudly, so that all heard. “The Rio Grande will function as the de jure line of authority between our two nations, with a few exceptions. There will be peace between us.”
There was more muttering from the group behind him but Villa quickly rejoined her tiny speech.
“And what few exceptions are those?”
“Some unimportant mesas around Santa Fe,” Sylvia waved at the be-ribboned packet. “You will see the details there.”
The wind and the dying sighed for a few moments before the Vice Minister spoke again.
“This is an excellent beginning,” he said with no sincerity at all. “Let there be peace between us.”
“Excellent!” she made a motion with her left hand. “It is something of a tradition in our organization to have a drink amongst friends… which it seems we now are. Acceptable, Vice Minister?”
“Certainly, Deputy Director. Shall I have one of mine fetch – ?”
She was shaking her head as both of Blevins’s men came up with what looked like oversized briefcases. One cleverly unfolded to a small table. The other, set upon it and opened, contained a variety of alcohols and shot glasses. Sylvia and Villa moved aside as their men came forward to pour drinks.
“I think we both dodged a bullet,” he said, sotto voce to her.
“This time. You can trust the Texans to keep the agreement.”
She saw him turn from the corner of her left eye.
“And your people?”
“Ah. Everyone has a drink. Shall we?” She stepped ahead and poured an ounce of tequila for them both.
“Peace,” Villa said.
“Peace!” everyone echoed.
While their two groups co-mingled, Sylvia did note that her official packet was handed off to a man who left with undo haste to a car at the Mexican side of the bridge. The car tore off at speed. Not particularly wanting another drink she found herself next to the young man she had taken note of. His nearly pure Spanish skin and features highlighted by his tailored cream-colored silk suit.
“Young to be a diplomat,” she teased.
“<Young to be a terrorist,>” he rudely said back, in the high-class Spanish of Mexico City.
“<These are odd times we find ourselves in,>” switching to a regal, Catalan dialect. “<We are all… chasing new stars.>”
Now what made me think of Ninon just now?
“New stars…?” he lapsed into English.
“Your skin says what you are and running your mouth like that tells me you aren’t a part of the Ministries,” she said while taking his hand with hers. “I’m Sylvia Fernandez.”
“Not Deputy Director?” he asked with a smirk.
“Not at this moment, no.”
“Oh.” He seemed surprised and noticed her hand. “Apologies! I am Anton Alvarez. I’m supposed to be in the Masters Program at UC San Diego but there are other things…”
“Of course!” Sylvia laughed softly. “We all have ‘other things!’”
She dropped her hand and stepped back, not wanting to attract too much attention to their little exchange.
“I was once told that I was going to matter; I have my doubts, young Alvarez, but I do admit that I feel the same for you: in this turbulent world we find ourselves in, you are going to matter. Don’t let your chance slip!”
Kharachan made an odd sound. It was time to go.
Sylvia flashed young Anton a smile before a few concluding works with Villa. Both their groups retreated to their own countries.
Once back into her car she had Smith radio the plane to get ready. I have to be in Los Alamos in less than two hours and talking with Kline in no more than three…
“Deputy Director?” Smith asked.
“The flight crew is prepping. I wanted you to know that we also have word that our forces, Texas and ExComm, have crossed into New Mexico. They will be outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe by nightfall and will await orders to enter the cities the next day.”
The fact that Smith regarded ExComm as a separate entity from his country increased her anxiety.