5 More Perfect DaysMark Tullius / Fantasy / Science Fiction
5 More Perfect Days
a companion novella by
5 More Perfect Days
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Tullius
Published by Vincere Press
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Long Beach, CA 90802
All rights reserved.
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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this book are either fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Cover design by Florencio Ares firstname.lastname@example.org
It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.
Table of Contents
A Note to the Reader
Cast of Characters
Why I Wrote These Stories
About the Author
Excerpt from Try Not to Die: At Grandma’s House
Excerpt from Brightside
A Note to the Reader
5 More Perfect Days is the companion novella to 25 Perfect Days. While I have attempted to make the stories in 5 More strong enough to stand on their own, their main purpose is to enhance the original novel, answering some questions, creating others. Here’s a look how the new 5 stories fit in.
Five Minutes Alone August 19, 2036
Fourteen Angry Marchers October 11, 2037
29-US89N4X (5 More) June 21, 2039
Thirteenth on the List September 11, 2041
Nine Months Later December 18, 2042
Four Percent June 2, 2043
Twenty-One Seats June 20, 2044
Fifteen May 20, 2045
Nineteen in a Row April 24, 2046
Ten Drops of Bleach May 4, 2047
30 Day Program (5 More) March 23, 2048
Eleven Times More Likely August 16, 2049
Six Hail Mary’s June 26, 2050
Twenty-Four Hour Bullshit November 1, 2052
Three Sacred Truths August 12, 2053
Seven to Go August 31, 2054
28 Blocks (5 More) September 30, 2055
Eight Out of Nine December 17, 2056
Eighteen is Enough May 8, 2057
Twenty-Twenty November 4, 2058
26 Pills (5 More) January 21, 2059
Two Minutes to Midnight November 14, 2061
One Last Bedtime Story February 1, 2063
Twelve O’Clock High November 14, 2066
Twenty-Two Pine Avenue March 6, 2067
Sixteen Acres December 24, 2068
Seventeen Soldiers August 1, 2072
Twenty-Third District March 31, 2074
25th of December December 25, 2076
27 Generals (5 More) December 31, 2076
June 21, 2039
Walt Jaworski pulled up to the gate and lowered the cruiser’s window. He slipped off the recog glasses recently banned inside HQ and faced the mirrored guard shack. When had he gotten so old? Fifty-one and still in the field, his dyed brown hair not fooling anyone. He gave his name and agent number to the small silver box, waited for the retinal scan. The gate rolled open. Walt drove through to the final security checkpoint, none of them manned by humans – Dreschner’s latest efficiency reform. Walt wondered how long before he would be replaced by a machine.
The sun reflected off the massive, gunmetal gray building. Walt parked three rows from the entrance. It’d been six months since he’d been called into HQ, and that had only been to escort an analyst to the Retraining Center. This morning, dispatch said Dreschner needed to see him. Walt knew this couldn’t be good. Rumor was that Dreschner no longer saw anyone.
Walt checked his smile in the rearview. “It’ll be fine,” he said. He got out and closed the door, the clenched fist of the Controllers’ logo emblazoned on the side. He straightened his black uniform, reminded himself he was one of the best agents in the field. Maybe this was about his oldest son, Brian, who’d been submitting applications for almost a year. Maybe they were going to finally offer him a position.
The steel door slid open and snapped shut behind him. Walt stepped into the pristine, white lobby. Huggins, Dreschner’s weasel of an assistant, was waiting, arms crossed. Talking as if he were the heavily muscled guard standing behind him, Huggins said, “Your guns. Both of them.”
Walt watched Huggins’ beady eyes. “Never had to before.”
Huggins wasn’t amused. “New policy.”
Walt handed over the .45 at his waist and the snub nose .40 strapped to his ankle.
Huggins gave the .40 to the guard, kept his eyes on Walt. “You know you’ll have to make the switch.”
Walt nodded at the Huggins’ particle pistol. “I don’t trust those things.”
Huggins headed down the hallway, finger on the .45’s trigger. “Follow me.”
Walt looked at the guard, “You a new policy too?”
The guard motioned with the .40’s barrel for Walt to get moving.
Huggins said, “You talk too much.”
Walt bit his lip. He wasn’t about to throw this job away because of some power-hungry little prick.
Walt followed Huggins into the glass tube suspended a hundred feet over the building’s Data Collection hub. Analysts in silver suits and matching headphones sat at their consoles, fingers scrolling through lines of encryption.
Becoming an analyst was even more grueling than the process for becoming a field agent. The agency couldn’t afford to hire the wrong candidate. If a field agent went rogue, he could be tracked and eliminated. An analyst could spread a million secrets. Analysts had to be meticulous, loyal, and, above all, cold. If the information called for action, they had to follow protocol. They had to be above reproach. Even though Walt had handled some things he’d rather forget, he always had the assurance that it had been thoroughly researched and based on facts.
In front of the analysts below was a giant screen playing a two-year-old clip of the President behind his desk, his words piped through speakers and scrolling across his chest. Walt didn’t have to read them or listen. He’d heard the speech a thousand times. He concentrated on his breath, tried not to think of how Huggins was walking, back straight, long strides. Walt had escorted enough people to know this wasn’t a friendly visit. He tried to think if there was anything he might have recently done, something to raise a flag.
“Look around you, at your neighbors,” the President said. “They can’t even handle their own problems. You want them handling yours?” The President leaned forward, both fists clenched on his desk, looking like a true leader, not some figurehead who had bowed before the young Preacher. “We cannot allow this nation to fail. There is too much at stake. I will preserve order. Our country will triumph!”
The glass door slid open, revealing the rotunda – an arching dome, marble floors, and brilliant white walls. Huggins said to hold on and disappeared into Dreschner’s office. Walt looked around the room. He felt dizzy. Huggins reappeared and held open the door, pointed to a silver chair in front of Dreschner’s desk. “Take a seat.”
Walt did as he was told. The chair was freezing and uncomfortable. He noticed the framed photographs were gone, nothing on the walls, no trace of what had been here during his last visit. Dreschner still looked sharp with his jet-black hair and winning smile, but something was off. Walt said, “I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter.”
Dreschner nodded. “That’s very kind of you.” He pushed a button on the desk’s console.
Strips of metal shot out from the arms of the chair. Walt couldn’t move fast enough. They wrapped around his throat, chest, ankles, and arms. A mechanical claw crept out from between his legs and guided a syringe with an inch long needle to the side of his neck. He leaned as far as he could to the left, felt the sharp tip tracing over his skin.
Dreschner pressed another button. The needle stopped. “I have a few questions. Give me the right answers and everything’s fine.”
Walt tried to stay calm, didn’t say a word. Maybe it was a test, some kind of new training program.
Dreschner turned to Huggins. “You two can go.”
Huggins glared at Walt. The door opened. Footsteps. Walt couldn’t see if the men had actually left. Walt said, “Sir, I haven’t done anything.”
“Really?” Dreschner studied him. “We’ve all done something.”
Walt wasn’t in any position to argue. He just tried to breathe.
Dreschner pressed his finger to the wall. The blinds snapped shut and his features disappeared in the darkness. “I want to believe you, but I need to be sure.” He pressed the button again and the needle slid into Walt’s neck. “I’m injecting you with P-604. Your answers better match what I already know.”
The serum coursed through Walt’s veins. He scrambled to think of what might be asked. He feared it was about rumors regarding Dreschner’s daughter, why she’d taken her life. He’d heard the awful stories.
Dreschner sat on the desk, clearly waiting for the serum to settle in. “I hate bad news. Don’t you, Walt?”
“Sir,” Walt slurred. Everything slowed. Dreschner’s mouth was moving, but Walt couldn’t make out the words. He just heard his own heartbeat in his ears.
“Walt! When did you last speak with Vincent Morrison?”
“It was…Saturday. No, Friday. I picked up Todd after work.”
“What was discussed?”
“Nothing. Nothing important.”
“What was said?”
“Might’ve asked him how his day was going.”
Shit. This couldn’t be about that. They’d been so careful. “She was busy with dinner.”
“But she came to the door?”
“Did you give her a hug?”
Walt’s stomach flipped. He started to say he couldn’t remember, but every time he touched Laura was permanently engrained. “I think so. Yeah.”
Dreschner’s smile disappeared. “I only want certainties.”
It killed Walt to be talked to this way, especially by a hand-picked puppet for The Way. “Yes, I hugged her.”
“Okay.” Dreschner slid back. “Did you always know what Vincent was planning? Is that why you referred him?”
“Answer the question.”
“I referred him because he was an excellent Marine and my friend.”
“So you knew him well?”
“And you expect me to believe you had absolutely no idea what he was up to? Even with all that time you spend at his house?”
“I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”
“Okay, you might be telling the truth, but let’s find out.”
He pressed the button and another mechanical claw slithered out from the back of the chair. The needle plunged into the base of Walt’s skull. The effects were immediate, and not like the last time when everything slowed. This time it felt like he was floating away from his body. His mouth was on autopilot. Walt answered each of the same questions. Thankfully, they matched, give or take a word or two.
“Your friend, Vincent, is a traitor.”
Walt swallowed. “No.”
“Yes, he is, and he needs to be brought in. We cannot have terrorists in our midst, especially one of our own. Now, you made this mess by bringing him in, and you will clean it up.”
How could Vince have betrayed anyone? Walt didn’t want to believe it. “You’re wrong about Vince.”
Dreschner stood and said, “October 24. Sacramento. Senator Humphrey’s office.” A screen popped up from the desk. The footage showed Vincent walking away from the building as people filed through the front doors. Three seconds later everything went up in flames.
Dreschner repeated his question. “Can I count on you to do your duty?”
The Controllers didn’t make mistakes. And now he’d seen it with his own eyes.
“This is your last chance, Walt. Can I count on you?”
“Good. I want him alive. I need to know how far this has spread in the agency.”
It calmed Walt to know Vincent wasn’t already sentenced to death. “I will bring him in.”
“And Laura too.”
Walt nodded as much as the restraint allowed.
“And their daughter.”
“Relax. I want her brought in separately. I’ll make sure to take care of her, place her in a good home.”
Loralei, Walt’s goddaughter, was only twelve. Dreschner’s assurance he’d find her a home didn’t offer any comfort.
Dreschner held his finger over another button. “You sure you can do this? Remember, we’re all replaceable.”
“I will do my duty and defend my country.” The words every agent spoke on the day of graduation.
Dreschner hit the switch. The restraints zipped back into the chair, along with the mechanical claws. “I’m trusting you here. Fulfill your orders and Brian will have a job.”
Walt didn’t buy it. Dreschner was just bringing up his son as another threat.
The drive to Vince’s was the longest and shortest thirty minutes of Walt’s life. He exited the freeway, started down the route he’d driven thousands of times, but instead of turning at the corner, Walt went up a few blocks and made a right. He’d never been on this street before, half the houses with for sale signs, two teenagers with backpacks strolling down the sidewalk.
Another right turn. Different direction, same destination. He parked in front of the three-bedroom townhouse, a lot nicer than his own. Vince’s unmarked black sedan sat in the driveway.
Walt checked his weapon, reholstered it, turned up the radio to drown out his thoughts. Laura was like a mom to his son, Todd, babysitting him every afternoon since his mom died when he was two. Walt first saw a picture of Laura in Afghanistan. Vince had said she was the only woman brave enough and dumb enough to put up with his crap.
Walt stared at his hand on the wheel. The chip embedded near his wrist made him get out of the cruiser. The Controllers were definitely monitoring, they’d know he was stalling. He put on his recog glasses, walked up the driveway, blew out a deep breath.
Before he could even ring the doorbell, Laura answered it. “I thought that was you in the driveway.” She swept her blond hair from her eyes. “Vincent is actually downstairs. Should I get him?” Walt’s recog glasses showed elevated levels of adrenaline. She was nervous. “I was just about to start dinner. Todd and Loralei should be home from school soon.” Walt didn’t need recog glasses to know she was covering something. This was her “happily married, everything’s wonderful” voice. Vincent was probably in hearing range. “I didn’t expect you so early.”
Walt kept his tone friendly when he said, “I got off early. You said he’s in the basement?”
“Yes.” Quieter than before, she said, “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. Boring work stuff. I just wanted to go over it with him before dinner.”
“I’ll get him then.”
Walt stepped inside, grabbed Laura’s arm. “Hold on a sec. I’ll just go down.”
“Really, it’s no trouble. He needs to come up anyway. Been down there all day.”
“I thought he had the flu.”
Laura pulled her arm back. “Is this what happens when your husband calls in sick? Are you interrogating me with your glasses?” She moved toward the basement door, disappeared down the steps. Walt pulled out his gun, started for the basement then looked down the hallway, saw their bedroom. A suitcase and duffle bag near the door.
Vince came up the stairs. “You’re a little early for Todd, aren’t you? Don’t they have art today?”
“Yeah, I came here so we could talk.”
Vincent cocked his head. “Everything okay? What’s with the gun?”
“I’m going to ask you some questions. Questions I don’t want to ask.”
Vince glanced back at the duffle bag by his bedroom, played it cool, walked into the living room. “If you don’t want to ask them, then don’t.” He stood by the end table. There was an antique candleholder next to a TV remote. Walt’s recog glasses registered them as a remote control and a weapon. Vince said, “What’s on your mind?”
“You know why I’m here.”
“No. But judging by the way you’re all uptight, I’m guessing someone’s pissed about me not showing up today. Either that or you want to admit to your affair with my wife.”
Laura, now standing in the hallway, let out a laugh, but Walt didn’t react. Vince looked like he was about to reach for the candlestick. Walt leveled the .45 with Vince’s face. “Don’t even think about it.”
Vince put up his hands. “Whoa, what are you doing?”
“You’re a goddamn traitor.”
“A traitor? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Humphrey’s office. I saw the footage. You blew it up. There were people in there, kids.”
“Man, you’ve lost your mind. You’re going to call me a traitor? In my house?” Vince headed for the hallway before the recog glasses could get a read on his vitals. Vince was walking toward the duffle bag.
Walt took aim at the back of his head. “Don’t make me do this. Don’t take another step.”
Vince stopped. Walt told him to back up, to stand next to Laura.
Laura said, “This isn’t funny, Walt.”
Walt waved her over with the pistol, kept his eyes on Vince. “Did you have this planned from the start? Did you use me to get inside the agency?”
Vince shook his head. “You know I’m not a traitor. You know this.”
“Then what’s in the bag?”
“I have a disc, okay? I read something I shouldn’t have, found out some things I couldn’t believe. Just let me show you.”
“Do not move.”
“I opened an in-house message. You can see it for yourself.”
“I don’t need to see anything. You’ll show it to them at the center.”
“You’re going to take me to the Retraining Center, huh? You know exactly what they do in there. Come on, man, this is me. I saved your life. I looked after your boys when you couldn’t even get out of bed after Carrie died.”
“Vince, I have to bring both of you in. I don’t have a choice.”
“Because it’s an order? Do you know who you’re even following? They’re killing people, Walt. For their money. They’re executing wealthy citizens and seizing their assets.”
Walt had heard the rumors. He just never thought it possible. The recog glasses said Vince was telling the truth. Still, Vince had training to survive interrogation and had to be lying. Walt ripped off the glasses.
“They’re setting me up, Walt. They are. Because I know too much.”
“Not another word. I’m not your judge. Now put out your hands.” Walt reached for his handcuffs.
“Come on, what about Loralei? Don’t do this.”
“The Director said he’d take care of her.”
Laura screamed, “No! You can’t do this. This is insane!”
He didn’t respond. “Walt, please,” Laura said. “Just look at me.”
Walt glanced at Laura. “What?”
“He’s not lying. I’ve seen the files. There are plans. It’s social engineering.”
Vince said, “Just let me show you.”
Vince started toward the bag. Walt’s finger tensed around the trigger. Laura lunged and grabbed Walt’s arm, the gun swiveling. Laura tried to rip it away. A shot fired. Laura’s eyes widened. She stumbled back against the wall, slowly slid to the floor, a trail of blood streaking down the yellow paint.
Walt looked down at his gun, his finger still over the trigger. It was if his hand belonged to someone else.
Vince fell onto his wife, her eyes staring straight through Walt.
The sound of brakes squeaking. A school bus pulled to the curb. Their kids would be coming out any second.
“Jesus,” Vince said.
Vince looked out at the bus. The door starting to open. “You have to kill me,” Vince said.
“You can’t bring me in. They’ll torture Loralei to get what they want. And all I have is the disc. You have to kill me now.”
Vince got to his feet, yanked Walt’s arm up, put the gun to his own chest. “Do it!”
The door to the school bus opened. Kids filed out.
“You have to protect her. You know what they’ll do if I’m alive.”
Walt did. They’d both be dead within the week.
Walt swallowed, squeezed off a round into Vince’s heart, watched him collapse onto his wife.
The screen door slammed shut as Walt walked into the yard. He cut off Loralei and Todd before they could see inside. “Come on, we have to go.”