If I did not know better I would swear that all of the buildings had been shelled. Instead the terrorists had
planted plasma devices in copier toner. For a full three minutes each of the high ministry buildings pissed
antimatter at the bunker. Thank the gods, they all fell short. There will be time for sorrow for the lives lost
later. No one important was hit. Most important, my Candy was spared—although she must be frightened.
I have kept Candy top of mind. I am sure that she knows this. It is probably the reason why I am here. In an
earlier time there was a vogue for power couples in power. That would have been nice, but that time has
passed—our coupling never having come to full fruit and the fashion of leadership having changed, in any
case. It does little good to mull over the past, opportunities not explored and such. I look at the present as a
time to be of service to all of my loves.
Whoever is the head of Internal Security now has more to fear than just imprisonment, if he is not already dirt
napping. Fifteen yards across the street from this bunker is the Triangle Building--Internal Security
Headquarters--or what is left of it. The glass has fallen off of all seven stories of its face. The dormer shaped
gables on the top floor are sagging inward. Holes the size of fists appear numerous times in every remaining
concrete slab. In this way it is no different than the other four buildings which surround the bunker.
“General Varco, we are leaving,” Kyle says.
Kyle is taking up most of my time. It is hard to read him, what with his automated voice box, iron jaw and
electric eyes. I do remember him before his accident. He was a handsome man. He still carries himself as if
he is. I suppose we have all taken our lumps for our service in Internal Security. Several regimes ago I was
jailed a year for the crime of being the head of Internal Security. But that was for doing my job, not for not
As the sub chief of refined agricultural products I am not a person in the position to be here. It was a lateral
move into obscurity, one of many that I have made in the course of several regime changes. Only my once
close proximity to Candy could be the reason to distinguish me. I try to catch her for a moment, but her
technocrat, Vodd, has her surrounded with his flunkies. I have thus far only had face time with Candy’s father
Jool and her brother Sax. Both of them seemed happy to see me, but their words were few.
No one is quite sure who sent for me.
All of the important people are here now, with Candy or merely around her. Some are holdovers, relics of
bygone orders simply consuming space until successors can be found. Others are cogs, certified servants
of the state. Then there are Candy’s personal advisors, her family and friends. Beyond Candy, I can’t say
any of the seventeen or so people here in the bunker are close to me, either professionally or personally.
Even my bodyguards, the people who physically brought me here, Kyle Brannon and his crew from Internal
Security, are people I cannot recall being pleasant or unpleasant to, either on my way up or my way down. I’
ve in the past treated them no differently than any other people of little consequence.
On the other hand, I have always had an informal tone with everyone who has ever been in Kyle’s position. I
do try to stay on the positive side of neutral to those people whose predilection or duty it is to tote guns.
I wanted to squeeze her shoulder, but I was batted away. I will not fail her again. At the first opportunity I will
amend this poor circumstance we find ourselves in. But timing is everything and this seems the time for her to
cocoon herself within Vodd and his failures. She glances over their shoulders, over their misdeeds and at the
past and future—at me. She has smiled. She’s hasn’t looked at me full on as yet.
I remember her not as she is now, all gravity inflicted with a thumb sized red blotch peering out from the
foundation near her jaw line, but as she was then when we met. Back then I was the appointed emissary of
the establishment, connected to the main of society by family affiliation and Candy was my assistant, the
fresh faced technocrat, just out of college with ideas she needed to be disabused of. And an ass to die for. I
never anticipated that our positions would flip, nor how directly they did so. That is just one of my failures.
I cannot get closer to her, but by the gods I send Candy all the love in my being. Each molecule sends to her.
She turns for a moment, as they are putting her in her protective blazer. Past the black clad security agents,
we make eye contact at last. She opens her mouth to speak. The motorcade will not wait. It really isn’t safe
My squad, Kyle and his three men, are the last to leave. We will be in the last of the four cars. If there were
mortar men or snipers about, our car would be the logical one to hit. I am not concerned. Anything for Candy.
It still stinks of ozone out here. Where the bushes shaped like animals and rambling fountain troths were is
now a moonscape. The five heavy black sedans are in a line, pointed up or pointed down, depending upon
their positions in the creators.
They push poor Candy’s head down as they seal her in. The reinforced doors, with their thick grey riveted on
sheet plates, slam shut. The scout car crawls away. Then the car with her family in it. Then Vodd and his
men. And then Candy’s car joins the slow moving line. It’s noiseless. No conversation. No sounds of birds.
The cars’ electric engines say nothing.
Kyle’s men halt by our sedan’s doors as I watch Candy’s car depart. They are very respectful. They don’t say
anything. I tap the top of the sedan with my swizzle stick and we get in.
Once underway we wind through splintered wrecks displaying frozen yawns, all in the place where our
beautiful campus filled with the right people doing the important things had been. Where is the army? No
zeppelins overhead. No autogiros. Not even a tank. Those were all about my office in the sticks. I haven’t
seen one since coming to our capital.
“This should not have ever happened,” I say, almost to myself.
“Damn straight,” Kyle says. His driver and the men on either side in back with me echo the same.
That was rude of me. Instead, I should express empathy for my immediate companions. It is incumbent on
me. I attempt to recover composure, saying “You should all be fine once this is over. I suppose your new
commander with be Briflow or Nadast.”
“Who?” the man to my right says.
The driver says “We don’t want no one nobody sent.”
“That is, if they are still alive,” I say.
Kyle reports “I know where they are.”
It certainly is Briflow and Nadast’s fault that, with the exception of Kyle, none of these men know who they are.
I know the men in this car—and I have never been their commander. I even know Kyle’s mother. I arranged
for her to get into a better nursing home. The man to my right, Brigal, had a blotch on his record I expunged.
To my left is the miscreant Hal-Van, who has reported for duty sober every day since the incident I had
officialdom ignore. The driver, Mykal, I signed off on officer training for despite a poor civil service testing.
And these men are acquaintances, nothing more. The system must breathe. That is the job of people like me.
Currently I know not only the names of the children of my staff but those also of their pets. That’s the way
things work. The old way. I did the same in every position I have been in, even when I was head of the army.
I hope Candy takes a good look at what her technocrat Vodd has produced. I am sure she has. All they are is
pigeon managers, flying dive bombing missions only to up and jet to the next place, which they perceive as
higher. In truth, all positions are the same with the same mandates: perpetuate the organization’s existence
and husband distribution of the spoils. There are no skip steps, cost take outs or first times rights. Not even
for machines. To make things better you make it better at being paternalistic. Or you get this!
The future awaits us, dearest Candy. I will teach you finally what the technocrat cannot understand. This time
it will not be advice I give, but a new soul. I will use all of my persuasion, all of my power and I will save you.
The cars ahead are halting. We halted a moment before. The last car, Candy’s car, is now several hundreds
of feet ahead of us. We are at a corner, a triad of terraced three story planters. Trees inside these planters
are layered in fresh fallen ash. All of the cars ahead are stopped in mid left turn.
I take my cue from the men with me in the car. They don’t seem particularly concerned. This could be some
new procedure? Perhaps civil defense, the department I headed before my current position, has finally
showed? They should have been at the bunker. It would be a good show if they show. It would prove to
Candy that the training I gave them had some residual effect.
“Engines have conked early,” the driver says.
“Ah well,” says Kyle, then adding “They’re trying to open the doors.”
The driver flings the car into reverse. We squeal backwards, make an abrupt turn and then sidle behind a
I have to ask “What are we doing?”
Kyle’s inflectionless voice reports “Dodging shrapnel.”
“What shrapnel?” I ask.
Thunder erupts and there is a flash on the planter’s other side. Ash cascades off the trees near us, but
nothing else falls.
“That shrapnel,” Kyle says.
Our car again heads forward, creeping. Its solid tires crunch sprawled glass cubes and concrete bits as we
roll over the broken ground. We round the corner, slowly.
I am not saying that disaster is opportunity, but proximity and luck certainly are. Candy will be coming with me
the rest of the way: and that will be a metaphor, a good one, for her remaining career. Never will there again
be a distance between us. Our wills and that of the state will be wed. I give you all, my love, my only true love.
I will be for you, with you now, always. Together we will put it back in place the right way.
We are taking it slow and I don’t blame them. The corner now turned, I see that Candy’s car has popped, is a
spiral smudge mark. Her family’s car is similarly sizzling ooze. Vodd’s car is stomped flat. Only the scout car
still looks like a car, even though it is missing its back and is flipped on its top.
Our car halts. Kyle and his men get out, with machine pistols drawn. I follow in solidarity. I will not allow them
to partake in any risk without my sharing it.
Hal-Van, Mykal and Brigal advance on the smoking scout car, leveling their weapons. They gun down the
“General, you do understand,” Kyle says, turning to me.
It then occurs to me: there are other women.
Mark Lax 2011