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Daniel Stenning was having intermittent problems seeing the big screen taking up most of one wall of the spacious den in Tyrone Beamer's apartment, built into the Genetechnics plant owned by him. The plant was located halfway up the "mountain", actually a large hill, that overlooked Masterville Valley . Daniel's visual problems were caused by Lisa Berry, who was sitting in his lap. Periodically, she insinuated herself between his gaze and the screen by placing her lips against his or tickling his neck and ear with her tongue. He had to admit that it was much more pleasant than watching the inauguration of the new president, what with his adjective-laden speech about "new paradigms", "reaching out generously to others" and the like. Nevertheless, he thought they should watch it. The new president's thinking could have enormous implications for their future.
"Do you really want to sit through the rest of this?" Lisa murmured against his lips, then slid her tongue partway into his mouth. Strands of straight red hair tickled the arm he was supporting her with, and more strands blurred his vision.
"We should. What he says may mean a lot for our future."
Lisa blew at the vagrant wisp of hair. "Oh, poo. He's not going to say anything in this speech that means a hill of beans and you know it."
Dan had to admit she was right, but nevertheless...
Lisa moved back to his ear with her tongue, making him laugh, even as he felt the familiar warmth she always induced begin to build in his body. Lisa wasn't bashful at all; very few of the Masterville women were. She didn't care that others were in the room with them, watching thesame speech.
"If you're that interested, you can watch it from bed," Lisa whispered.
Daniel squirmed and ran his hand up the length of her bare thigh to where her shorts began. "Would we watch?"
"You can if you like. I'll be busy." Her tongue moved in his ear, making promises.
Daniel stood up abruptly, dumping her from his lap, but catching her hand to prevent her from going sprawling. He drew her to him. He was learning not to be embarrassed, too. "All right, let's go."
Just as they turned their back on the rest of the group, the volume and character of the broadcast changed abruptly. He heard screams, shouts, crashing sounds and a cacophony of voices going shrill with excitement, all trying to speak at once. He whirled back around to see what was happening.
On the screen, Daniel could see a tangle of bodies bent over a figure, with the commentator shouting that the President had been shot, and being overridden by other voices yelling unintelligibly. He felt Lisa gripping his hand fiercely. The scene opened up momentarily, showing the new president laying on his back with blood pouring from his mouth while hands and heads came into view, and receded just as quickly. He heard cries for a doctor and other voices yelling for an ambulance. In the background, the huge crowd that had gathered in the Washington Memorial Plaza for the inauguration was moving like a huge erratic amoeba, with pseudopods of humanity going first this way then that, but making little overall progress. The wail of sirens sounded in the background and became louder and louder.
Daniel didn't have to look any longer, even though he still stared at the chaotic scene. He had seen death before and he knew that President Sheffield was a goner. The blood had been coming from a hole in his chest directly over the heart as well as from his mouth. He found himself thinking that whoever shot him must be an excellent marksman.
"We're in for it now," Tyrone Beamer said.
Daniel looked over Lisa's shoulder. Tyrone Beamer, the head of Beamer research and the true leader of Masterville Valley was shaking his head, lips drawn into a grim line.
"Why?" Lisa said. "We didn't do it."
"We'll be blamed for it, if for no other reason than that religious bigot who's going to be president now."
Daniel felt his stomach knotting in distress. Tyrone was ahead of the rest of them, as he usually was.
John Sheffield had selected Manfred Williamson as his running mate, a southern born again Christian, in order to help pull in the votes of the fundamentalist and religious right wing of the party. Before that, Williamson was one of the ones who had called for isolation, if not outright imprisonment, of the population of Masterville Valley. "Mutant Atheist Prion People", he had labeled them, ignoring other voices like the Surgeon General, who advised against any sort of pogrom. And though the people of Masterville weren't exactly confined to the valley, one battalion of the army brigade that had been moved in by the previous president was still in place. Theoretically, it was to keep tourists away from the area that had been contaminated by a dirty bomb, one that a rouge cabal of the National Security Agency had exploded close to one of the passes leading into the valley, but Daniel knew that wasn't the only reason. They were there as the forerunner of even more troops if they were needed--and he knew who defined "need". The media kept the valley in the spotlight because of the differences of its population from the norm; differences that he knew could instigate violence from bigoted know-it-alls at the drop of a politician's speech or the whim of a publicity-seeking preacher.
Daniel started to comment about Masterville taking the blame for the assassination but Lisa shushed him by pushing him back down into the chair where they had been sitting and again plopping down into his lap. "Just watch for now," she said.
As it had in the past, the assassination played out on television during the long afternoon in all its gory detail, with disoriented reporters probing at every possible ramification, like a hive of bees swarming over a single honeycomb. The group in the apartment stayed silent as the big wall screen eventually showed feeds of the new president taking the oath of office, his cherubic face belied by hooded gray eyes resembling those of a lizard. There were flecks of blood spattered on the jacket of his light gray suit. Daniel, being a natural cynic so far as politicians were concerned, was certain that he had kept wearing the blood-adorned garment purposely, knowing it would make a great image for later use.
When the screen began showing reruns from just after the assassination, where the new president had disappeared from view into a phalanx of limousines headed back to the White House, Tyrone Beamer shut off the television. He got up from where he had been sitting with Marybeth Chambers, his part time lover, and went to the bar to freshen their drinks. Daniel suspected that only the succession of crisis' over the last year or so had prevented them from making their relationship exclusive, or as exclusive as Masterville people ever got. Or perhaps not; he and Lisa had been out of circulation, away from the valley for most of those months. They could have tied the knot for all he knew, though he doubted it; marriage wasn't a big thing here.
Tyrone sipped at his new drink as he leaned back against the bar. He said nothing, but raised bushy red eyebrows, denoting that the subject of President Williamson was open for debate.
Daniel had a question for him immediately. "Tyrone, a while ago you said >we're in for it, now'. You didn't mean immediately, did you?"
Tyrone rubbed at the beginning of reddish whiskers on his chin. "Hard to say, Dan. For certain, there's going to be those who blame us immediately, not even stopping to consider how much better off we would have been, relatively speaking, with Sheffield than with Williamson. But officially, I'd say it won't begin right away. Williamson may be ignorant about most things, but he's no dummy when it comes to politics. He'll let things stew a bit, then hop on us when he needs to stir up the people to get his points across in Congress. And that's the real problem: the House and Senate are split three ways just about evenly now between the conservatives, religionists and the moderate factions. It won't take much agitation to swing the majority against us, and he has two years to work at it."
Lisa leaned forward a bit from her position in Daniel's lap. "Daniel and I have been outside the valley for months, Tyrone. I can tell you, the people are jittery. Most of them still don't quite know what to think of us, and the religious-minded are damned scared of getting infected with our prions for fear they'll turn into atheists. They think we're emissaries from the devil. Or the fundamentalists do, anyway."
She leaned back against Daniel, making him speak past her freckles. "Lisa didn't mention that there are lots of people who want our prions, especially for their kids. There's even a black market, despite the penalties for selling them."
"Which means there are a few sane people out there," Gina Lesters, one of Beamer's administrative assistants said. "And we know about how many, since we supply the black market." Like Tyrone Beamer, she was a redhead. There were lots of redheads in Masterville.
Timothy Powers, Tyrone's other administrative assistant said "There's more than a few; more like fifteen percent, maybe."
"What are you talking about?" Lisa asked, covering Daniel's hand where his fingers had begun tickling her bare knee.
"That's our estimate of the percentage of the population who don't believe in religion at all." Timothy said. He ran his fingers through thinning brown hair and smiled at Gina.
Copyright © 2004 Darrell Bain
Posted July 31, 2013
No text was provided for this review.