The Coup

The cell block was loud, filled with the screeching voices of inmates who knew they would never leave. Their only remaining goal, their only remaning hope, was to bring the sanity of a guard or two with them. Actual violence was rare, if only because food was even more rare. Who had the strength to even raise a fist? That was the guards’ delight: to bring in food, never enough, and with it provoke these starving souls to fight each other for a morsel of moldy bread.

The foul stench of shit and urine, stagnant and festering on the concrete floor cut through the darkness like a knife; it was inescapable. Some had given up, sitting or laying in pools of filth, letting it steep into their pores, with only the hope in exchange for such humiliation, death would soon take them. Some still rallied, using old clothes to mop areas clean and demanding others do the same. In the passage of time, however, clean became a relative word meaning only a sticky residue, rather than a pool of sewage, waited for you.

The darkness was absolute: built three stories under the ground, the cell block was originally fitted with electric lighting. The new regime had removed it, however, first issueing the guards flashlights, then taking away even those. The guards now used, at least, this was the speculation between the prisoners, some kind of night vision goggles. The last time any prisoner in this block had seen light was two and a half years ago.

It was a long time to be in the dark.

Many had gone mad, killing themselves or others. Others starved, unable to fight for a scrap of food. Yet there always seemed to be voices, yelling, screeching voices, at all hours of the night. And the night never ended.

In one cell, a man sat, apparently given up, in filth which seemed to creep up his naked side. He cried, not quite silently, but not loud enough to conquer the echoing voices. “I‘m sorry,” he whispered between the tears, “I could have stopped this, or we could have gotten away...” This was not the first time he cried, nor the first time he spoke those words. This was a ritual, repeated between two men, and each time it was the same.

“Ramon, you did the best you could. I can‘t imagine anyone doing better,” the other man spoke softly. “Just rest, ramon, sleep for a while.”

“Sleep,” Ramon cried bitterly, “and wake in the morning.” To “wake in the morning” meant among the prisoners here to die, to fall into that sleep from which one never awakes, just as the sunlight of morning never comes.

Light streamed in through the tall picture windows. The morning sun shone boldly across a clear sky, cutting into the finely adorned bedroom. A rich purple carpet was meticulously clean, yet showing no marks of overt vacuuming. Molding graced the ceiling and the windows, the light green walls framing the windows. Several plush chairs sat in the corners, empty, yet regally awaiting a visitor. A four post king sized bed was the highlight of the room; and the only part visibly disturbed.

Next to the bed, a mahogany nightstand bore three items: a fountain pen, a small pad of paper, each page embossed with a seal and the words “The City-State of Trellis”, and finally a telephone. Like almost all phones in the city, this one was a replica of the old technology: touch sensitive buttons, a digital readout indicating the name and location of any caller, and a variety of indicator lights. Not all the lights actually functioned; not because the unit was broken, but simply because the designers were unable to determine what function they served on the old technology originals. Nevertheless, the designers faithfully reproduced the appearance.

A red indicator on the handset flashed, and a phone emitted a ringing tone. No one was quite sure what sound the old technology phones made, although the engineers were absolutely certain that they did, in fact, make some kind of noise when a call came.

The phone rang again.

The king sized bed stirred. More correctly, a figure buried deep within the sheets and comforters of the bed stirred. He reached out and picked up the handset. “Yes?” A voice on the other end spoke for several seconds. “Yes, thank you, of course,” the man repeated sleepily. “I will meet them in one hour.”

Clocks, of course, did exist in the city. The man owned several very nice clocks. But none were to be found in his bedroom, except built in to the phone. This was his sanctuary, his place away from time, which he perceived as a cruel master, laughing in the shadows as it ticked away the time.

After rising, he stared from the windows onto the city. Although most of the buildings in the city were new construction, three or four were renovations of old technology buildings which stood the test of time. This was among them; standing five stories tall, it was the tallest building in the city, if only by a hair. He had heard of other cities, where evidence suggested that old technology buildings had stood much, much taller. Perhaps, some suggested, even as tall as twenty or thirty stories. This room stood at the top of the building, giving it a luxorious view of the entire city and beyond.

The man showered and dressed, preparing and selecting his attaire carefully. Although his hair was beginning to show gray, he had still not chosen a bride. Each day, of course, there was the possibility of glancing just that perfect woman. Yet in all the years he rose in this bedroom, and spent his days in the city, that had never happened. Doubtlessly, he mused, today would be no different than the others.

He finished dressing, moving into the living room. Here one of the grand clocks in his collection ticked out the time with a slow swinging pendelum. Another phone sat on a desk, and rang as he entered the room. “Yes?” he answered again, this time more alert. The same voice, again speaking only a few seconds. “Yes, please come in,” he answered. It was all part of the routine.

Heavy double wooden doors opened revealing two men in suits. A small emblem was tastefully sewn onto the shoulder of each jacket, reading EPA. “Good morning, sir,” one said. The other silently handed the man a folder. The same insignia embossed on the paper near the bed was graced the cover of this folder. The man flipped it open, glanced through several papers, and closed it just as abruptly. “Breakfast, sir?” the first man in a suit asked.

“No time,” he answered. “Are they assembled?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let‘s go.”

They went together, out the double doors into a small lobby. To the side of the room, a lady in a similar suit sat behind a desk. “Good morning, sir,” she smiled. He nodded absentmindedly to her. Opposite the doors was an elevator. The lady at the desk pressed a button, and the elevator doors opened. The three men stepped inside.

The committee room was well appointed, with a long waxed mahogany table and comfortable, yet formal, chairs. Twelve people sat at the table, six on either side, the head chair empty. A folder, embossed with the Trellis official emblem, sat closed before each person. The room was thick with silence, interrupted by the occasional muffled cough or creaking chair. The silence was shattered when the doors opened. Everyone at the table jumped to their feet, as the two suited men entered the room, standing each to one side of the doors. “Honorable committee members,” the taller one said, “please stand for the Leroy Valence, President of the City-State of Trellis.”

Everyone was already standing.

Leroy entered the room, carrying his folder and beginning to regret his decision to skip breakfast. He took the seat at the head of the table. “Please be seated,” he began. Normally the committee would discuss various matters of state; setting wages, or repairing house, perhaps the appointment of new officers in the military. But today a single, important matter weighed on each and every mind. The President continued, “Today we must settle this matter of General Nagoy.”

The barracks were a bustling place, filled with new recruits and seasoned veterans. Once their initial two year military commitment was completed, each able-bodied citizen was required to spend 3 months out of the year serving. That meant the faces were constantly changing. A small administrative area had been carved out between the mess hall and the armory, but the brittle brick walls did not secure the old man from the noisy assault. Every day, the same noisy assault.

“Sir!” A young man, an unfamilar face.

“Yes, what is it?”

“High priority letter for you, sir!” The recruit wanted to please. A good recommendation from a commanding officer, especially a high ranking commanding officer, was usually the deciding factor in the rest of a person‘s career anywhere in Trellis. Those who failed to secure such a recommendation were often stuck in the worst jobs, or left seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Not that they were likely to find them, the man mused.

The letter was secure within a plain, white envelope. On the front was written “General Nagoy”. The back of the envelope was sealed with the EPA insignia and a “confidential” stamp. The stamp could come from anywhere, and in practice meant very little. But an official EPA seal was not likely to be ignored. Truth be told, Nagoy had never before received an envelope sealed with the EPA seal. He did once receive a letter sealed with the Presidential seal -- his appointment letter. But never with an EPA seal. The seal assured him that the letter would have been maximum priority. Whatever this was, it was important.

Nagoy opened the envelope.

Inside was not official letterhead. It was a scrap of paper, onto which was quickly written, “They are doing it today!”

Nagoy paused, as if to contemplate, but his heart was racing. In a strategic game, the question was always, “Who will move first?”

Now that question was answered. The question the general now faced, “What will the response be?”

General Nagoy picked up the phone.

“As I said, we have strong evidence that the general is positioning himself for some kind of power grab. With all the military assets now answering to him...”

“Except the EPA.”

”...Except the EPA, we are potentially in a very precarious spot.”

“Why wasn‘t this discovered sooner?”

“It should have been. We all approved the consolidation. It seemed to make sense at the time.”

“He‘s a con man.”

“The general we can handle,” Leroy confidentally interuppted the now squabbling committee, “It‘s the military servicepeople themselves we can‘t. Where do the people stand?”

The committee fell into silence for a moment.

“There is...” the Director of Employment stuggled with his words, ”...substantial popular support for Nagoy.”

“Then there‘s no time to waste,” Leroy stated. “With confirmed evidence,” he motioned to the folders, “we have to act now. We can‘t trust the military, at least not while the general remains in command. I‘m dispatching EPA agents to arrest the general.”

“Sir, I don‘t mean to be rude, but the EPA doesn‘t have the firepower to take the general by force.”

The President nodded. “At this point, I‘m assuming that our people, our military,” he asserted, “will back down and respect our authority. I want to get the general out before that changes.”

“What about a quiet operation? Send in a couple agents and grab him in the middle of the night.”

“No,” Leroy shook his head, “We need to play openly and by the rules. Otherwise we‘ll lose what little respect and allegiance we have. Then, well...” he looked around the room at the concerned faces. “I ordered the arrest this morning,” he continued, “before coming here. Agents are on their way to pick him up now.”

Although the guard had in fact been changed by special order only fifteen minutes earlier, he looked tired, his eyes drooping and unfocused as if he had been sitting at his post all night. “I‘ll need to see some ID,” he slurred. Maybe drinking too, the two well dressed agents in the front of the truck glanced at each other.

The driving agent displayed a badge. “Agent Valez, EPA.” he formally told the guard.

The guard nodded absentmindly, “Go on through then.”

The truck drove past, into the military barracks compound. The compound was the oldest building that wasn‘t old technology. Built when Trellis was only a hundred or so citizens, it was the original housing, administration, and everything-else compound. Today, the poorly and hastily assembled structure showed considerable wear.

The guard watched the truck drive into the complex, and wiped a bit of dark markup from under his eye. He picked up the phone, sitting next to a bottle of cheap mouthwash. “They just cleared the gate,” he stated firmly.

“Reporting as ordered, sir,” Agent Neville stated, his mouth dry. He had worked for the EPA full time now for, what was it ... four or five years? The EPA recruited the best of the military, starting them off at EP-1. Neville had worked entry grade for only one year, less than most. He had inspected sites, performed searchs, crowd duty, driving, and other duties. EP-1 agents never performed direct protection of the President, or any other high value personnel. Neville impressed the Director, however, and was quickly promoted to EP-2. There he served as an active agent in the building, as well offering escort and protection services to the Director.

Originally, there was no EPA. When a disgruntled janitor, fuming at the first President‘s lack of socialist policies, shot him, the next President appointed a personal security agent. This role eventually grew into an entire agency, the Executive Protection Agency. In recent years, the Director of the EPA had, with the approval of the President, designated himself a high value person, and was now eligible for round-the-clock protection from EPA officers. Neville had spent a lot of time close to the Director for two years as EP-2.

A year ago, the Director started becoming secretive, Neville reflected. More and more often he declined his personal EPA protection that he himself had fought to establish. When Neville protested, the Director immediately promoted Neville to EP-3. Frankly, he hated. He now worked nights, sitting in the foyer outside the President‘s heavy door, watching the elevator and the security cameras. He carried a semi-automatic pistol, and a second one was strapped to the underside of the desk, invisible to anyone coming and going but within easy reach for Neville.

He needed to get shifted to days. The President had a fondness for the EP-3 that usually worked the foyer during the day, a nice young lady named Tina. That was the spot, he figured, where he stood the greatest chance of getting the job he really wanted, the job everyone wanted when they applied to join the EPA: EP-4, Presidential Protection.

EPA rules stated that the President must at all times either be alone in a secured area, or under the protection of at least two EP-4 officers. The President now sat at his desk, with two silent EP-4 guards standing, one at either side. Neville was three-quarters of the way to being one of them, but for now, he was considered just as much a potential threat as anyone else.

“Please be seated,” the President finally said, without looking up.

Neville sat down in a seat prepared at the President‘s desk.

“Sir,” he began, “I served under General Nagoy for five years before coming here. Even then, he had a cult of personality. People are loyal to him, exclusively. I tried to say something then, but nothing got through. I‘m concerned for you and for our agents. I don‘t believe the General will simply be led away.”

“It‘s too late for that,” Leroy shook his head, “As I told the committee this morning, I‘ve ordered his arrest. You should have reported this earlier, and to the Director of the EPA. He handles this sort of thing.”

“That‘s just the thing, sir, I did report it and...” Neville started.

“The Director investigated, and here we are,” Leroy concluded.

“No, the Director, well, sir, I served him for a couple years and recently something has changed. I don‘t know, sir, I‘m just concerned.”

“Director Ramon is the best, and a personal friend,” Leroy smiled, “I‘m sure he has the situation well under control.”

“The General was not expecting your presence. We apologize, I‘m sure he will be available momentarily.” The soldier, well, supposedly, as he was unarmed and in disarrayed uniform, slouched on a stool. The foyer of the barracks was otherwise empty.

“We will need to see the General immediately,” the agent answered. Three other agents from the truck flanked him.

“What do you want me to do?” The guy shrugged.

A door opened at the other side of the foyer. “Gentlemen, please come in,” the General motioned them into the office, and closed the door behind him.

The agents glanced at each other. The uniform was clean and well kept, but something was off. It was the hair, really, and the voice. All had served under the General when they were in the army. Sure, that was some time ago, but still...

“General, by order of the President, you are removed. You will need to come with us.”

The General raised his eyebrows. “Surely there is some mistake. What is the reason for this? Why is the EPA,” he motioned at them, “here in force?”

“General,” another agent began, “you are accused, with evidence, of sedition against the President and plans to seize control of the City-State of Trellis. As the Executive Protection Agency, we respond to all threats against the President.”

“Yes, of course,” he dismissed, “but what has that to do with me? What evidence is this you speak of?”

“I‘m afraid we can‘t go into that here, General, you‘ll need to come with us.”

The General leaned back in his chair. “I don‘t believe you will drag me out of here in front of my soldiers. I simply don‘t.”

The agents looked at each other.

The General continued, “Let me make you an offer, boys. There is a winning side and a losing side to each conflict. You should think carefully about which side you are on. You don‘t have to decide now... Just walk out that door, and tell your President you couldn‘t find me.”

Three of the four agents were EP-1. This was the kind of difficult and dangerous assignment that EP-1s went on. But perhaps this was more difficult, or more dangerous, because one of the agents was an experienced EP-2. He joined the group at the last minute, Director‘s orders.

He had been standing in the back of the group, silently observing these proceedings. Now he stepped forward. “I‘m sorry, we simply can‘t do that.”

“Then you‘re going to drag me out,” the General asked.

“No,” the agent replied. The General looked confused, as did the other agents.

Agent Merrs, a four year EPA veteran, then withdrew a silenced pistol and shot the General twice in the chest, then once in the head.

“Special orders,” he said to the other three agents who stood stunned. “Straight from the Director.”

“We‘re finished here,” Agent Merrs continued, as he holstered his weapon. “Let‘s go,” he motioned the other agents toward the closed door. Agent Valez, the driver, opened the door. The other two EP-1s followed, but Agent Merrs hung back. Out in the foyer he heard, “Hold it right there!” Agent Merrs closed his eyes. He wondered if this brief standoff would end peacefully or violently. Some people would think he wished them all dead. But this was not true. Agent Merrs had a belief, a conviction; and he would kill for it, but if there was another way...

He opened his eyes. The dead body, covered in blood, stared back from the chair. Was there another way? Maybe he didn‘t have to kill the man, he could have just wounded him... But orders are orders, and convictions are convictions.

Out in the hall, the three EP-1s were surrounded by a phalanx of automatic rifle wielding soldiers. Their impulses to draw their handguns, which would have resulted of course in the immediate death of them all, were tempered by years of military training. Hell, Agent Valez and the others knew some of these soldiers holding them at gun point now.

One man emerged from the firing line. He was dressed in polished and fine Commander‘s uniform. “Gentlemen, you are under arrest for the murder of a military officer. Surrender immediately.”

Agent Valez spoke first. “Executive Protection, Commander. We are immune from arrest except at the order of the Director or the President. Furthermore, none of us shot the General.”

The Commander stared cooly back at the agents. “You are right, agents. None of you shot the General.” He looked over his shoulder, as a figure emerged from the hall. “The General is just fine.” To the soldiers, he ordered, “Remove their weapons and place them in the stockade.”

The soldiers rushed up, searched and disarmed the agents, then led them away. The Commander stood next to the General, in silence. “Good work,” the General said.

“Thank you, sir.”

A third figure now appeared. “Mr. Merr,” the General smiled. “You performed admirably.”

“Sir.” He replied emotionlessly.

“Well, General,” the Commander finally interjected, “The President is not likely to take lightly to your arrest of three members of Executive Protection.”

“Ah, yes, the EPA,” he nodded, fingering the scribbled warning now secure in his pocket. “Well, they aren‘t all bad,” he smiled at Agent Merr. “Mr. Merr, will you brief the soldiers on the plan and layout of the PEC? We‘ll move out in thirty.”

“Sir.” he replied, and left.

The General turned now to the Commander. “A man,” he glanced at the door, “who would betray his closest charge will betray again. Use him until his purpose is served, then eliminate him.”

The Commander smiled. “No problem.”

As I mentioned previously, it was the tallest building in the city, the most grand example of the old technology. It appeared to made of solid glass, although the engineers had concluded that in fact giant steel beams held it together. So far, no one had discovered a method of creating steel that large and strong, so all the modern buildings were low and brick, with small windows.

The building was surrounded by a fence, within which was a decorative garden. The fifth floor, the residence of the President, was set slightly smaller than the lower four, making the building appear from the ground to stand only four stories tall. Etching into stone, displayed from the front of the fourth story, were the words “PRESIDENTIAL EXECUTIVE CENTER”. On the top of the fourth story, accessable from the President‘s private suite, was an exclusive rooftop garden where President Leroy often spent peaceful warm summer evenings.

The fourth floor was devoted to the committee, who tirelessly worked to recommend and implement Presidential policy. The second and third floor were administrative offices. The first floor contained an open foyer layout. Here, within this beautiful glass building, bustled the office of the Executive Protection Agency. The EPA was really everywhere; they had plainsclothes agents all over the city, in addition to uniformed agents walking the perimeter of the fence, checking clearance to entry the building, and positioned throughout the building. The open floor plan office of the EPA was constantly alive, with communication with field agents and tactical plans. One silent refuge was a closed door office, labeled “Ramon, Director”

The phone rang. Director Ramon picked it up. The voice on the other end made an introduction. “General?” he said, surprised. The voice spoke. “Yes, ok.” He hung up. The air hung heavy as the Director pondered his next move. It was decisive, it was a show of either loyalty or treason, the moment to act was now. He leapt from his chair, threw open his office door, and gathered the attention of every agent in the room with a single yell. “We have a threat against the President!”

“The procedure is as follows,” Mr. Merr continued, “There are three access points to the PEC: the front gate, the rear gate, and the emergency tunnel.”

“Emergency tunnel?” one of the soldiers asked.

“It‘s top secret, EPA knowledge only. In the event of any trouble, the EPA‘s first choice is to evacuate the president through the tunnel. There is a stairway, protected by concrete, which runs from his suite on the fifth floor down into the basement and then underground to the Civic Center. Post a garrison at the exit door in the basement of the Civic Center. It‘s door 044-A.”

“I always figurd that was just a janitor closet.”

“That‘s the point. The rest of you will sweep into the PEC from the front and back.”

“What about the EPA?”

“Shoot on sight, but expect minimal resistance. The General has made a phone call.”

The unmarked, black vehicle rolled up to the rear gate of the Presidential Executive Center. Agent Lucy Evans, EP-1, was newly assigned to this guard post. She flagged the vehicle to stop. The window rolled down and two people, dressed as EPA although she did not recognize them, sat inside.

“This is a restricted area,” she stated confidently.

The men both displayed EPA badges. “EPA business, open the gate.”

“I‘m going to need to call this in to the office.”

“Lady,” the driver read her displayed badge, “Agent Evans, we really can‘t wait. It‘s a matter of Presidential security.”

“Everything we do is a matter of Presidential security,” she responded, “including me making this call.”

“Fuck,” the driver turned away. Agent Evans turned to the guard station, picked up the phone, and collapsed.

“Now where the hell did you get a silencer?” the passenger asked.

“Just thought it might come in the handy.” The driver got out of the vehicle, pushed Agent Evans’ body into the guardshack, and pushed a button. The gate swung open. He got back into the vehicle, and drove it onto the PEC grounds.

President Leroy was staring out the window watching rain coat the roads and wash through the gulleys. Soon winter would be over and new growth would sprout forth from the barren ground. The old was dead, the new was soon to come. Could the same be said for him? Leroy sat in a plush chair. Was his work here finished? Was he, in some sense, already dead? Incapacitated by the committee, swept away in political games, having lost sight of the needs of the very real people who depended on him?

There were no firm elections in Trellis; the previous president has stepped down amidst an embezzlement scandal and Leroy, a respected member of the community with substantial military service, seemed somehow magically selected to take the position. How? “The will of the people?” Or the will of someone else, someone or someones who made people think everyone else wanted Leroy installed?

The rain pounded against the heavy window. Leroy considered it absently. He established the committee after being selected as president as a gesture of goodwill: to help prevent him from becoming aloof and separate from the will of the people. But time changes everything, and recently it seemed that more and more protests against Leroy were larger and more regular. How had he responded? By opening elections for committee positions, or even his own?


He responded by closing ranks. No more glad handing or open forums. No more reading letters from constituents. Certainly no talk of stepping down. The committee closed in behind him and here they were, isolated, trapped even, behind walls of glass and stone, built so many years ago that no one even remembered...

What had happened to Trellis?

What had happened to Leroy?

The artful, old technology replica phone on the table next to Leroy rang.

“Shall we evacuate the President?”

“No,” Ramon directed confidently. “That is what they expect. We have a mole in the EPA.” To this several gasped. Ramon continued, “The standard procedures have been compromised, as has the emergency escape tunnel.”

“Yes, sir,” the stunned but ready agents listened attentively. He surveyed them. Thirty trained agents. They could put up a good fight, but ultimately, against the General‘s army, the EPA could not emerge the victor. “They will expect that the President will be evacuated through the tunnel. We should appear to be acting accordingly, lest they suspect an alternate plan.”

“Sir, who is ‘they’?”

Ramon considered. “The entire military of Trellis,” he finally answered.

The room was silent.

“This operation will require considerable speed and delicacy, and no hesitation whatsoever. Activate all off-duty personell. Establish EP-3 security points along the tunnel, in the standard evacuation pattern. Distach a team of EP-1s to the tunnel exit.”

“Sir, regulation calls for an EP-4 team at the tunnel exit.”

“I‘m aware of that. For this operation, I need the EP-4s elsewhere.” Ramon omitted the fact that whoever was sent to the tunnel exit would be executed by the military team stationed there. He bit his lip, then continued. “My information indicates the general will be coordinating this operation from his office at the barracks. All remaining personell will form a strike team, proceed to that location, and arrest the general.”

“Sir, what about PEC security?”

“The military expects the President to be evacuated. They will ignore the PEC. All current officers in the PEC are transfered to the strike team.”

The room filled with murmurs. “Sir,” someone finally asked, “Do you mean that the President will be here, without protection?”

Ramon listened to the murmurs, and considered his options. “No,” he said finally, “A skeleton team will stay behind to give the appearance that standard strength protection remains. But only a skeleton team. I need every available person on the strike team.”

He looked around the room at the bright men and women of the Executive Protection Agency in what very well may be their last mission. “Go,” he said.

“I see,” Leroy frowned, listened, then hung up. He had just been briefed on Director Ramon‘s plan, already in action. In the distance, groups of EPA agents established themselves at tunnel checkpoints, while truckfuls departed for the barracks. Leroy couldn‘t relax. It made sense; fool the general and then grab him. But somehow, watching the flood of EPA agents empty the building made him nervous, vulnerable in a way he had never felt before.

Couldn‘t anyone just walk in now? He had grown accustomed to round the clock security, and now there seemed to be none. He was as safe as could be, he had been assured. A skeleton crew remained behind, all of five armed officers, including the one at his door, while the rest of the EPA did what the EPA does best: protect the President. Or in this case, pretend to protect the President.

“Do you have the codes?”

“Yeah, yeah, right here.”

The basement parking structure was cold but well lit. Usually there was an EPA agent on duty, but the desk was empty. The pair had parked their black truck near the desk and went to its phone. When the agent left, he locked the phone. This matched standard protocol to ensure unauthorized parties cannot make calls which appear to have official EPA origins. In order to access the phone, a valid EPA code was needed. Not every agent received a code, however; all EP-2s and higher did, as did EP-1s on specific missions.

Neither of the two men at the desk fit into those categories.

“Got it,” the first said. He entered a sequence of digits into the phone, which beeped and displayed:

x6507, PEC B-1 (Parking)

David Wells had given his code to these two men. They told him if they found out the code was wrong, they would kill his wife. He believed them. Of course, it wasn‘t true. His wife was never in any danger. She had no idea what was going on. Agent David Wells, on the other hand, posed a concern. After being convinced that he was telling the truth about his phone code, he became the first victim of the silenced handgun.

Leroy‘s phone rang again. He stopped short in his pacing of the floor. Somehow, he believed, he could pace forever, wearing a hole through the floor, down, down, down into the earth and stay safe forever in its depths.

The phone rang again, the indicator light flashing annoyingly.

Leroy walked slowly toward it. So soon after the previous call. Could the plan have changed? Did something happen?

Not just anyone can call the President directly. The EPA issues access codes to its agents, and certain other important persons. Persons such as the General, Leroy mused.

The General, however, did not appear to be the caller. The phone‘s readout showed the call originating from an EP-2, a David Wells that Leroy had met only a few times, in the basement parking structure. According to the Director‘s orders, the post at the basement structure should be vacant. David should be part of the strike team heading for the barracks. Even if he were not, anything he had to report would go directly to the EPA main office, not the President. Frankly, there was almost no reason for an EP-2 to call the President. So why was he calling?

The barracks were awash with activity, but quickly emptying. Troops poured into trucks, which dispatched out toward the city center. As the barracks emptied, the commander approached the General. “I suppose this is it.”

“Yes,” the General nodded. “Did you finish with Merrs?”

“Eliminated, sir. The first battalion of troops are enroute to the tunnel exit.”

“And the others?”

“Ready for your word, sir.”

“Well, let‘s not keep them waiting,” the General smiled.

“No, sir,” the Commander replied.

“Hello?” Leroy answered tentatively. Everything seemed so upside-down. Inside-out. Rain and sunshine. What did it mean to be “President”? Could he really say, at this moment, that was the president?

“Mr. President,” the voice on the other end seemed to think so, “you need to listen carefully. A trap has been set. The EPA is compromised. The General‘s army is enroute to seize the PEC and you. The escape tunnel is compromised. There are two ways for this to end, sir; you can fall into the General‘s hands, or you can fall into ours.”

“Who the hell is this?” Leroy demanded.

“Sir, you need to come down to the basement parking level. Now. Bring no one with you. Tell no one. Give your EP-3 at the desk the run around, tell her something, anything, except the truth. Get down here, sir. Time is very short.”

Rain pattered against the window. The streets seemed deserted, and the clouds hung low, as if lining up to watch a show about to begin.

“Sir, this is your last chance to escape the General.”

Leroy paused. “I‘m on my way.”

The guard shack was empty, but it wouldn‘t have mattered. Trucks poured into the complex, and EPA agents stormed out. The barracks were surrounded. Normally soliders would be everywhere, but the grounds were empty; the soldiers had been sent to seize the president, to seize him from an emergency escape tunnel he was not using.

The leading officer called the Director and conferred. “The Director approves the action; all personell move in and take the General.”

With that, the small sea of agents entered doors and windows, filling the barracks from all sides. They wound around corridors and cleared rooms; checked closets and posted sentries. Closer and closer the fluid mass of well trained officers flowed, toward the General‘s lair.

Leroy paused, his heart pounding, the phone in is hands. His instincts told him ... told him what? Told him to trust no one. Everything was wrong. He set the phone down and stepped into his bedroom. From under the bed he removed a small, metal case. A combination lock quickly opened revealed a hefty, high-caliber handgun and several magazines of ammo. Leroy loaded the gun slowly, and set it next to the phone, leaving the metal case open on the floor.

He stared at the phone, the weapon sitting ominously next to it.

Leroy glanced between the phone and the door. The phone and the door. On the other end of the phone, an anonymous voice offering him the magic out, claiming that everyone else, even the EPA, was against him. On the other side of the door, an EPA agent he had known for years stood guard at his door. He trusted her. But was that enough? So much uncertainty.

Yet when uncertainty comes, when rule and order are on the verge of being lost, is not precisely then that a good leader stands up for the law and order, rather than running and hiding? Leroy picked up the phone.

“Mr. President,” Ramon‘s helpful voice graced the line. “Our agents are converging on the General now. They should have him momentarily. I‘ll have them take him into ...”

“Ramon, I just got a phone call from the parking garage.”

”... custody and then. Wait, what?”

“Unknown, using a false EPA access code. Wanted me to come down there alone.”

“Shit.” Ramon seemed upset. Really upset. “We‘re a little short staffed, as you can imagine, but I‘ll send somebody to check it out.”

“Thanks, Ramon.”

“No problem, sir. Thanks for calling.”

But when law and order have turned themselves on their head, is abiding within them still the right thing to do?

“Freeze! Executive Protection Agency!”

The EPA. Virtually the entire EPA. The door to the General‘s office had just been kicked asunder, and a myriad weapons pointed in. But the office was empty.

“What the ...”

A pop. Not a gunshot, but a seal being broken. A hiss. The room filled with gas. Not smoke. Some kind of gas. It burned, oh it burned. Eyes become balls of leaden fire, mouths like those of a dragon. The agents screamed and the agents fell. The screams turned to wails, the wails to sobs, and the sobs died into broken silence as the barracks became a ghostly tomb.

The EPA was all but decimated.

Leroy shivered as he watched the road through the rain-soaked windows. A convoy of vehicles appeared, pulling up to the front and rear of the building. The EPA, returning with their prize. But these were not EPA vehicles. The General‘s army, dozens of soldiers, arrived confidently on the steps of the Presidential Executive Center. Leroy saw, then, that the General was not at the barracks. The General was with the soldiers. Leroy heard muffled noises, shots fired. The General‘s army quickly eliminated the skeleton EPA crew.

The phone rang. The ID showed that the young and attractive EP-3 sitting outside Leroy‘s door was calling him. Calling him, no doubt, for the last time.

“Yes” he said, flatly and without emotion.

“Sir,” her panicked voice carried none of the composure and strength that EPA agents were selected and trained for, “Sir, the military is here, they‘ve executed the agents, they are in the building. We have to get you out, sir, out the tunnel.”

“No, the tunnel has been compromised,” his heart raced. Or had it? What if that was the safe way? What if the men in the garage were the safe way? But it was too late now.

“Sir, they‘re in the elevator! My security won‘t override, I don‘t know what‘s going on...”

A muffled ding. Shots. A scream. A thud. The sounds cut through Leroy‘s heavy door like butter, and he knew the carnage that lay on the other side. The phone was silent. There was no one to help him now.

“General.” Director Ramon of the EPA rose from his desk, and saluted. “I have waited for this day for many years.”

“I could not have done it without you, Ramon,” the General replied.

“Thank you, sir. Or should I say, Mr. President?”

The General laughed. “Ramon, you can call me whatever you like. How did the barracks plan work out?”

“Flawlessly,” Ramon replied, “The agents took it hook, line, and sinker.”

“Any other issues?”

“A couple jokers showed up in the garage. I iced them. Did some ID... they were AWOL EPA agents. I think they were on the us. Trying to rescue the President, I mean, Leroy. Ha.” Ramon chuckled nervously.

The door was reinforced with steel and heavy wood, built into concrete settings in the style of the Old Technology. It would not be trivial to break it down. But the soldiers knew this, and they had come prepared. Leroy could neither see nor hear them, but he knew they were there. He paced nervously. Should he take the gun, go out fighting? Or should he surrender. Victory was not an option. There was certain death, and there was probable death.

The explosion threw Leroy to the floor and blinded him with dust and debris.

“Ramon,” the General patted him on the back, “I appreciate your service. I just have one concerned.”

“What‘s that?” Ramon asked nervously.

“A man who would betray his loyal charge for another will no doubt do so again.”

“Well, sir...”

“Remove the traitor,” the General commanded several soldiers, who rushed on Ramon, binding him and dragging him out of the ex-EPA offices.

“Wait! wait! How can you do this? Let me go!”

Ramon‘s screams were answered, but not by the soldiers.

“Ramon!” It was Leroy, also bound and being dragged by soldiers.

“Ah, the former President,” the General observed. “As you can see, your so-called protection agency was useless.”

“Put them in the hole.” The General ordered.

The darkness was overwhelming. At first it had been terrifying, then horrible, then painful; but now it was just numbingly overwhemling. Nothing but darkness, darkness, darkness for year after year after year...

“I’m sorry,”” a man, soaked in urine and feces, laying in the dark on the floor of a cell, one cell of many in a prison of perpetual darkness, cried, “I could have stopped this, or we could have gotten away...”

“Ramon,” Leroy comforted him, a few feet away in the same filth, the same darkness, the same despair, “You did everything you could. You did what you thought was right.”

“No,” Ramon answered, sobbing, “You don‘t understand.”

“What, Ramon?” This was a new twist, and Leroy leaned in.

“I did it,” Ramon whispered. Leroy‘s blood ran cold, colder even than the icy cell block. “I betrayed you for the promise of a place at the General‘s side.”

Leroy was silent. All the old questions, long lost in the his memory, surged back. The suspicions, the reports of trouble within the EPA... He had dismissed them all in absolute trust of his friend, Ramon, the director. This very friend had been his downfall. Not just out of the Presidency, but out of life itself, down, down, down, into this pit of shit and darkness and death, this noise and screaming and wailing, this hell itself where darkness devoured the souls of the living and turned them to zombies of night.

The gagging and shaking subsided. Leroy slowly loosened his hands, hands tight around Ramon‘s neck. Had he been too weak to fight back, to resist? Or was it not even worth it? Was it, perhaps, a last attempt at honor.

But what value is honor to one who has killed? And now Leroy was alone. Alone, with a warm but a cooling body of his former best friend, his best friend who betrayed him, and in turn whom he killed, killed with his bare hands, in the darkness, in rage, in hell itself. The screams of prisoners, thousands, continued unabated. One death in the dark, noticed only by the killer himself. Leroy sat, the slime of years of filth creeping up his body, like worms devouring a corpse.

Alone, now, alone. Had he killed Ramon, or had he killed himself? How can a man live like this?

“Sleep,” Leroy whispered, his voice lost in the echoing screams, “and wake in the morning.”

The End

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