The Hill

The penultimate piece of Sylvia’s puzzle in which the reader also has a glimpse of the heart of what she and Thaad are plotting to do to free Texas from Barrett’s terror organization.  Assuming Thaad is really on her side…

4600 words in two days.  Not bad at all.


Immediately after re-boarding their plane, Sylvia checked her phone and laptop for messages.  Besides largely unimportant chaff that Llon had seen fit to pass on, there was one from Thaad:  transport FY&OY arranged at LA.

So I’m to meet Kline alone while their ex-State is being invaded by Texan forces.  Not only does that seem dangerous it will also arouse Kharachan’s suspicions… I’ll sleep on it.

Knowing the flight was only about an hour, she told her people to wake her when they were close.  Until then she lay down on the couch, put a seat belt around her, and hoped Ninon would let her sleep this time.  She was already out before they were wheels-up.

Sylvia only dozed fitfully and sat up as soon as Smith had called out to her.  She unbuckled and minced her way forward.  Looking out the front window between the pilots she saw a small adobe colored city to the right and a line of mountains to the left.  The sun was low but still about an hour-and-a-half to sunset.

“That’s Santa Fe on the right, ma’am,” the co-pilot said.  “Los Alamos was built on the mesas that jut out from that mountain there.”

He pointed at their ten o’clock at what looked like an unusually regular, conical mountain.

“A volcano?” she asked.

“From what I was told it was one of them super-volcanoes, but it’s been extinct forever.  Sorry I don’t recall the name,” he said.

“It’s not important.  What is are the changes made in the last few months.  Can you tell the tower that we’d like to make a couple of fly-bys before landing?”

At that the captain on her left snorted.

“This is little more than an airstrip, ma’am.  There is no tower!” He reached right to throttle back the engines.  “Just tell me where to go.”

They first circled the little town of White Rock to the southeast of their destination.  From her briefings she knew it was home to some of the engineers and most of the techs.  Even her untrained eyes could see the new earthworks:  a hasty dam across the thin Rio Grande with canals radiating out from what water was caught by it.  Just further north she saw that the residential parts of Los Alamos were built on long mesas stretching like fingers to the east away from the side of the extinct volcano.  On their second pass around it was clear that the Lab facilities were on the open but uneven ground just south of those mesas.

Sylvia noted the airstrip.

“We’re landing on that?!” she asked.  “I’ve seen bigger driveways in Texas!”

The co-pilot laughed while the pilot asked her to return to her seat.  She pulled the belt extra tight.  They landed to the west, just barely onto the runway.  The braking was immediate and severe but brought them to a stop about three hundred feet before they ran out of pavement.

“That was exciting!” she called forward.

“Thank you, ma’am!” the co-pilot, the more talkative of the two, replied.  “We’re over seven thousand feet up and the air’s a little thin for a short landing!”

“I hope it’s thick enough for a short takeoff!” she rejoined, unbuckling while they taxied to their right.  A man stood next to a small electric car just off the tarmac.

The jet stopped and lowered its flimsy stairway.  Sylvia went first but waited for her team at the bottom, out of earshot of the one waiting for her.

“Even with some initial work done by one of my men, this is going to be very tricky,” she began.  “These are some of ex-America’s best-and-brightest and not used to being bossed around.  I am… going to try to apply subtle pressure at their top in hopes the rest will fall into line.”

“They’ll fall into line once a few hundred of them are shot,” Kharachan observed.

And that’s why I’m leaving you here, you useful little shit!

“I don’t want anyone who might have an idea for a superweapon that could defend the Republic possibly being shot,” she countered as reasonably as she could before looking to her two security men.

“You two are staying here.  Tell the pilots to do what’s necessary to be ready to leave in three hours.  I might be later, though.”

She picked up her briefcase.

“While I do not anticipate any trouble from the locals, I’m leaving Kharachan, here, in charge.”

She could tell he did not expect that and that he did not like it one bit.

“I…,” he stopped and tried again.  “It is best I stay with you, Deputy Director!”

“Best?  Probably.  But we cannot always do our best.” She looked about at the three of them, one seething.  “Those are my orders.  Clear?”

She walked to the waiting car and driver.

“Miss Fernandez?” the middle-aged man asked.  This was no time to make a show of strength.

“Yes.  You are taking me to Daniel Kline?”

“Correct,” he said, opening the passenger door for her.  “Please?”

He returned to the driver’s side, got in and pressed start.  As they drove off she noted her Field Secretary staring at them.

They drove west.  There was a dusting of snow on the ground.  The buildings were an odd mix of old (late 50’s she guessed) and the recent (less than a generation old).

“It seems so normal here after what I’ve observed in parts of Texas,” she said lightly.  “It’s as if the Breakup missed this community.”

The driver said nothing as they passed a small hospital complex on the left before crossing a gorge over a beautiful, single-arch bridge.

“Since the Manhattan Project, back in the Nineteen Forties,” he began, “we’ve been an independent, cantankerous lot.  Take more than a few blackouts to pry us out of our homes.”

He turned them sharply right into what was obviously one of the main entrances to the Labs.  A man dressed as a soldier but with a white helmet waved them to a stop.  Another man, on Sylvia’s side came out of his little booth with his rifle vaguely pointed in their direction.

“Hey, Bob,” the driver said.

“’Sup, Jim.  This the Director’s guest?”


Bob tilted his head left and they proceeded on.

“And I imagine that everyone knows each other up here on your hill?” she asked with humor in her voice.

“We’re a family,” Jim said, pulling into a parking spot in a nearly empty lot before a three story office building.  “We take care of each other.”

He got out and she did as well.  He went ahead and held the door open for her.  Inside a Latino secretary behind a desk told her to take the elevator to the third floor.  Mister Kline would meet her in room 305.  Sylvia thanked them and did as she was told.

The third floor seemed as deserted as the ground floor.  The door to 305, a conference room, was open.  She tapped twice and walked in.  A slightly heavyset man with black hair and a grey suit with no vest was seated about two thirds of the way down opposite her.  He was looking through reading glasses at a laptop, nodding at what was there.  He looked up at her.

Had I passed him on the street I’d not guessed his ethnicity.

He stood and walked to her.  Not exactly happy but not angry.  Cautious.

“I’m Daniel Kline,” he said, putting his hand out.  “I’m kinda in charge here.”

“Sylvia Fernandez,” she replied.  “You are too self-depreciating.  My man Jones spoke very highly of you.”

“Nice kid,” Kline observed.  “Too bad he’s mixed up in all this.”

“Too bad,” she agreed, “for all of us.  Yet, here we are.”

He waved at a chair opposite his.

“Get you anything?  Water?  We’ve a little coffee left for special occasions…”

“I’m fine right now,” she said, putting her briefcase on the table to her left.  “Just you and I today?”

“Ah, well, no,” Kline said apologetically.  He sat and pushed his laptop to his left where they could both see the screen.  An eighteen or nineteen year-old young man.  Epicene features and barely too long dirty blond hair.  His careful grey eyes regarded them both.  As always, it was a trial for Sylvia to not chuckle at his jug-handle ears, sticking out through his fine hair.

“Thaad,” she said.  “Why am I not surprised?”

“Had you been I would have used someone else,” he said in his typical deadpan candor.  “Texan forces are closing quickly so time is short; come, let us reason together.”

Into the pause, Sylvia went first.

“How much do you know?” she asked Kline.

“Barrett made ExComm to create some fantasy dreamworld of a permanent majority white state,” Kline answered smoothly, “to this end, Blacks, Hispanics…”

He paused; she waited.

“Jews… are being either pushed across the border or murdered.  No matter what end he may have in sight, Miss Fernandez,” he emphasized her surname, “this is genocide and you are abetting a war criminal.”

“I know.”

“You…” that caught him on the hop. “You do?”

“I was top of my class at Fordham Law.  Did post-doc work at Yale.  Clerked under Galen Reynolds in Tennessee,” not one to toot her own horn she spoke quickly to get to her point.  “While I may have a Beaner surname it is because my grandfather came to the US from Manila from an aristocratic Spanish family who can trace our line back over five hundred years.  This means two things…”

“One, I’m genetically whiter than you are; your ass is evacuated first!” The crass language was uncalled for but helped to make her point.  “And, two:  I know I am a war criminal, too.  My sole defense against the inevitable tribunal is that I am trying to destroy ExComm from the inside!”

She watched Kline look to Thaad.

“Truth,” the laptop’s speakers said.  He looked back.

“What can I do to help you, Miss Fernandez?”

Without a word she took her laptop out of her briefcase and woke it up.  She tapped the three-gear icon while turning to Thaad.

“Take this over; call up the ‘Sunset’ file, please,” she asked.

“Mister Kline is to part of the inner circle, then?” those careful eyes asked.

“Inner…?” Kline began but stopped when Sylvia shook her head.

“Watch, read.  Be older,” she’d learned that last from Thaad, “when the time comes, you and the rest of my cells must be in a position of strength to tell Austin that unless all – all, mind you! – vestiges of ExComm are expunged, you will ally yourselves with non-Texan powers.  In your case, obviously, Mexico.”

The screen of Sylvia’s laptop flickered.  Kline quickly took in the proposed ExComm self-congratulatory celebration; the commandeered cruise ship; it’s path into the Gulf of Mexico… a path marked with a red ‘X’ just before it was to turn east.  He thought he understood, but…

“Explain,” he said.

“Over eighty-five percent of all our people will be on that ship.  It’s going to sink and they are all going to die,” Sylvia replied.

“For a lawyer you use passive voice too much,” Kline retorted.  “How is it going to sink?  Did you come here for some magic weapon we don’t have to do that?!”

“No,” they both paused to look at Thaad’s image.  “She did not.  I will destroy the ship.”

“How?” Kline demanded.

“I both cannot and will not tell you that.”

Sylvia watched the Lab’s Director sit back, eyes hooded, obviously thinking.  Wagering his life and that of the people here on what I and Thaad are saying.  After a small eternity, he spoke.

“Power is the only fact that matters in times like this,” he began carefully.  “We’ve no military and only a few police.”

“Consider, Mister Kline,” she said softly, “that most in Austin will be glad to see the end of the Extraordinary Commission, as well.  Everyone wants Greater Texas to be at peace.”

“’Greater…?’  So New Mexico is done for?”

“Absolutely.  ExComm or no, this State is dead; it simply doesn’t know it yet.  And, in one sense, Director Barrett is correct:  culturally and socially, you and yours will fit better with Texas than Mexico.”

Another pause.  Kline leaned forward to the table.

“Right.  We’re in.  What next?”

Sylvia was a bit surprised that he was confident to speak for both the thousands of the Lab and the surrounding community but didn’t want to make an issue of it now.

“But I do have one question, Thaad,” Kline went on.  “You are obviously a genius hacker with a flair for power-politics, but really:  why us?  Why this elbow-end of the US and our Lab?  Why do we matter so much?”

“As a child, Director Barrett spent most of his summers in Los Alamos; he is very aware of your importance,” the face on the laptop replied.

“Well!” Kline finally broke into a smile.  “Isn’t that the coincidence!”

“Disabuse yourself of that right now, Daniel Kline,” Thaad said in a cold voice.  “There are no such things.”

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