|Dante Domino, Ultrathief
Author: Michael Panush PM
In a spy-fi world where shadowy espionage agencies rule the world, Dante Domino was a stylish criminal. Now, he's finding himself obsolete, with a divorced wife, a young son and a decaying reputation. The world's moved on - but Dante isn't retiring yet.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Crime - Chapters: 8 - Words: 69,905 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 07-27-12 - Published: 05-23-12 - id: 3025191
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Friendship Island had once been a nameless strip of sandy earth, sitting in the Caribbean like a discarded crust of bread. Then the Cuban Missile Disaster changed the entire world – and changed the Caribbean as well. Cuba itself was scorched and burned into nothingness by a nuclear barrage and a following US invasion. Fallout struck numerous other islands and the death toll was as terrible there as it was everywhere else in the world. But, due to some miraculous trick of the wind and currents, that particular strip of sand was spared. After the brief war ended and the uneasy, Cold War truce was declared, that bit of land received a new identity as Friendship Island – a memorial to all those lost in the Disaster. And now, with Cold War tensions as high as ever, it was to be the site for an international peace meeting.
Harvey Diamond's mother, Myra, worked for a PR firm in the recently built city of Omnopolis hired to help advertise the meeting and she had asked her thirteen-year-old son if he wanted to be there to witness the historic moment. Harvey readily agreed – as long as he could bring a friend. Now they were in a pearl colored yacht speeding into the ornamental dock at Friendship Island and Harvey was wondering if he had made a mistake. The girl he had invited was Winifred Winters, one of his classmates at his private school. Her company filled him with a strange mixture of trepidation, happiness and pure terror. He could only hope that she would enjoy the day's outing.
Now both children leaned on the railing, staring out at the island. Friendship Island's small length had a core of pale, geometric or circular buildings surrounded by various memorials. Groups of survivors from around the world had built memorials to those lost in the Disaster. Some were simple obelisks covered with names, while others were statues of long-dead children or bulbous mushroom clouds. The one thing that unified them was that each statue or monument was composed of the same, bone-white marble. It was like looking at an island of bones.
Winifred smiled at Harvey. "This is marvelous," she said. "Simply marvelous, Harvey!" The kids were both wearing their school uniforms, their suit jackets and ties serving as formal enough for the ceremony. "Thank you very much for inviting me along on this jaunt." Winifred had a small purse slung over her should as well.
"Oh, ah – you're very welcome," Harvey said quickly. He had been slightly nauseous and seasick during the voyage to Friendship Island and was hoping that Winifred hadn't noticed. He tried to think of a good response. "So you're interested, in international peace, I mean?"
"Absolutely," Winifred agreed. Their boat was pulling into a long dock, where numerous other vessels already floated. It was the mid-afternoon, and the sun was bright and made the tropical water seem shiny as a jewel. It made Winifred's short blonde hair gleam in a way that was just as beautiful."This is the world that we will grow up to inherit," Winifred explained. "It is our duty to make sure that it remains a peaceful world. The future of mankind must be a peaceful one." She smiled brightly. "Otherwise, we're doomed for extinction."
"Extinction," Harvey repeated. "That sounds…awful." He struggled to find the right word.
"It certainly does." Winifred turned around, as Myra Diamond approached. "Will we be landing soon, Mrs. Diamond?" she asked, with practiced politeness.
"That's right," Myra agreed. She seemed delighted that her son had invited Myra along. "We're just pulling into the docks right now and then there will be a brief reception in the Atomic Meadow before the proper meeting starts." She wore a stiff black business suit and skirt, and seemed to be a little on edge – though perhaps not as nervous as Harvey. "And I certainly hope everyone behaves themselves."
"We'll behave ourselves," Harvey said quickly.
Myra smiled. "I have no doubt about that. You and Winifred are great kids. It's the delegates – especially the Soviet and American ones – that I'm worried about. Petulant and spoiled children would be easy to handle compared to them. And I've got to make sure to put some positive spin on it for the firm…" She sighed. "But don't let that bother you. Let's go to the reception."
The boat came to a halt. Gratefully, Harvey hurried down the gangplank and reached the dock. From there, he, Winifred and Myra joined a few more of the guests and walked towards Atomic Meadow. It was a round circle of verdant grass, between the white marble buildings. A single fountain splashed and trickled in the center of the lawn, which was bordered by completely square and rectangular hedges. Pale statues looked out from alcoves in the corners, showing the plaintive, crumpled forms of atomic victims. The caterers had already set up, with a few tables straining under the weight of appetizers and drinks. The guests were there too, diplomats in formal suits or elaborate national costumes munching their canapés and chatting in several languages. Harvey, Myra and Winifred swung by one of the tables and were soon balancing tall glasses of lemonade and plates of cheese cubes in their hands. Myra spotted a circle of men in dark suits at the far end of the meadow.
She turned back to Harvey. "I got go and check in. Will you guys be okay on your own until the meeting starts?"
"I'm sure we will, Mrs. Diamond," Winifred agreed. "And please accept my humble thanks for your work to creating a more peaceful world. The work you are doing is enormously laudable and of great importance for people of my generation."
"Thanks," Myra said quickly. She smiled at Harvey. "I like your new friend, honey."
"I do as well," Harvey agreed. He realized how stupid it sounded as Myra patted his shoulder and then headed off.
Harvey sipped his lemonade and felt his cheeks reddening. He was proud of his mother for working to help this peace meeting – and delighted that Winifred felt the same way. Still, he was hoping that he could make it through the day without embarrassing himself. Then he heard a high, clear and anxious voice calling his name. He looked up and saw a small boy, about a year younger than himself, hurrying towards him and Winifred. He gulped and became terrified that his real embarrassment had yet to begin.
"Harvey! Harvey Diamond!" The boy had an aristocratic British accent, spoken in his piping, youthful voice. He was Philo Templeton, a young British inventor and Harvey's dedicated pen pal. Philo was a small boy, wearing a red felt vest and tie under his white lab coat. His reddish hair and freckles clashed with the dignified appearance of his suit. He came skidding to a stop and beamed at Harvey."You're here – oh, that's absolutely and utterly capitol!"
"Yeah," Harvey hesitantly agreed. "It's swell." He looked at Winfired. He'd have to introduce his friend. "Winifred, this is Philo Templeton. He's an inventor, from England – he's a noble, actually. And Philo, this is Winifred Winters. She's one of my classmates and my, um, my friend."
He watched the two, hoping that Philo would not embarrass him. Philo bowed stiffly to Winifred. "It is an honor to make your acquaintance, Miss Winters," he said. "I am part of the British delegation, here to showcase some of my inventions as examples of the power of industry." He patted his coat. "I brought a few along, you see, and I'll be delighted to present them before the international audience – and now you and Harvey are here, to enrich my audience tenfold!"
Harvey turned back to Winifred. He was afraid she'd dislike Philo, but she smiled politely at the boy instead. She curtsied gracefully. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Philo. I've always wanted to meet a noble. My father occasionally deals with people of a royal class and always spoke highly of their comportment and breeding. Tell me, do you have any relatives of note?"
"Well, my uncle is a spy in the Royal Service," Philo explained. "He's a bit of a murderous rogue, actually." He smiled quickly. "I think Harvey's written about you – like how you were kidnapped together and sent to the moon and how you faced assassins in a Nuevo Paraiso resort. Those sound like truly thrilling adventures. I'd like to experience something like that."
"I doubt you'd enjoy it," Winifred replied. "But your manner, Philo, is charming. I think that you are quite noble enough."
"Oh…" Philo grinned sheepishly. "Thank you." Then he looked over Harvey's shoulder. "Ah – Mr. Payne is here. Harvey, you know about Commander Augustus Payne, don't you? I suppose that all Yankees have heard of him."
That was doubtlessly true. Harvey turned around and saw the familiar, craggy face of Commander Augustus Payne, chief officer of HAWC. Harvey had seen that face before, on the TV news and in newspapers almost every morning. Commander Payne was in charge of the US's main freelance espionage organization and he was frequently on the news talking about HAWC's latest saturation bombing of some Third World Country, justifying their rounding up of dangerous intellectuals or denying allegations that his agents were involved in drug smuggling. He had steel gray hair, a blunt nose and cold eyes in a face that seemed not so much wrinkled as carved from cracking stone. He wore a full olive green uniform, bristling with medals. His peaked cap was tucked neatly under his arm.
Commander Payne stared down at the children. "I wasn't aware," he said, with a barely noticeable Midwestern drawl. "That kids would be attending the peace meeting." His eyes settled on Harvey. "You're the son of the Diamond woman, aren't you, boy?"
"Y-yes, sir," Harvey agreed. Commander Payne seemed to be always blaring out military orders. Harvey tried to be respectable. "Do you know her?"
"I know everything on this island. HAWC's running security here, so it's my duty to know." He pointed to the corner of the meadow. "Like you see that fellow there, in the trench coat and fedora?" Harvey followed Commander Payne's thick finger. He was pointing to a hunched over figure, who was nearly completely obscured by his billowing coat and the brim of his hat. Cane couldn't see his face and then realized why – he was wearing a flesh-colored mask that hid his features.
Winifred nodded. "We do see him," she said, sounding a trifle annoyed.
"That's Comrade Blank – Soviet super assassin. That bloodthirsty commie is supposedly providing security for the Russian delegation, but I'd sooner trust a rattlesnake than a Warsaw Pact Red." Commander Payne pointed to the other edge of the meadow. "And will you get a load of those clowns? A pack of stinking Bohemians who say they're making some pilgrimage to Friendship Island. It's easy to smell the reefer on them. They call themselves the Community."
Harvey examined the Community. They were perhaps a dozen young men and women, wearing black leather or fringed khaki jackets, with their hair long. They sported headbands, bearing symbols of peace signs or atomic mushroom clouds. They appeared to be sitting down in the corner of the lawn, lighting candles and waving them about. Some of them strummed acoustic guitars, producing strange, haunting melodies that didn't appear to have any tune or rhythm. It made Harvey uneasy. He turned back to Commander Payne.
"Will they cause any trouble, sir?" he asked.
"Not while I'm here," Commander Payne stated. He set his cap on his head and nodded briskly. "Well, you youngsters enjoy the meeting. I think we'll be heading inside soon enough." He looked down again at the children. "You're waiting for peace, then?"
"We certainly are, Commander," Winifred agreed.
Commander Payne smirked. "Keep waiting." Then he turned and stalked away.
"What a rude fellow," Winifred replied. She pointed to a few folding chairs, which rested near the entrance to the main marble hall. "Shall we go sit there and talk until the meeting begins? I think that would be best."
It was sort of close to the Community and their strumming guitars and chanting, but Harvey figured it would be okay. He, Philo and Winifred walked over and sat down. They talked and sipped lemonade from their glasses. Harvey and Winifred told Philo about what they were learning in school and he explained how he had mastered those lessons around his sixth birthday. Harvey enjoyed talking with his friends and began to calm down. He realized there wasn't much of a need to be worried around Winifred – she simply seemed to enjoy his company. Time passed quickly and soon enough the assembled guests began to file into the meeting room. Harvey, Winifred and Philo stood up and headed in as well, towards the rear of the main crowd.
They walked past the Community. Harvey told himself to look away from them, hoping that they wouldn't be bothered. But then a member of the Community came to his feet and headed towards Winifred, Philo and Harvey, his arms outstretched like he was a sleepwalker. He was a tall fellow wearing a leather jacket studded with bits of shining metal over a t-shirt featuring a crude stencil of a mushroom explosion. He had unruly, stringy black hair framing a face with a sallow complexion and a permanently hungry look in his eyes. He walked towards them, his hungry eyes fixed on Harvey. The boy stopped walking.
He stared at the hippie and smiled weakly. "Hello," he offered.
"Hello, little one. I am Brother Eternal." He crouched low. "You're young, you know – you never saw what happened in '61, did you? You never saw the Disaster?"
"He's only thirteen, sir," Winifred explained."Of course he didn't."
"Then let me lay it out for you, little one – because I wasn't much older than you when the bombs fell." Brother Eternal drew closer, his wide and passionate. "It was like god spoke – and everyone heard him. There was fire everywhere, burning the buildings and turning glass to water. And afterwards, when the sickness came, people just slipped right out of their skins—" He snapped his fingers in front of Harvey's face, making the boy hump. "—and into their purest forms."
Philo shuddered. "It sounds dreadful," he whispered. Harvey felt the same way. There was something about the wild-eyed Brother Eternal that made him uneasy. It had to be the look in Brother Eternal's eye or the awful imagery he preached. Harvey didn't know how exactly to respond.
"And that's all that needs to be said on the matter," Winifred said quickly. She grabbed Harvey and Philo's hands and led them down after the main crowd, towards the meeting hall. They reached the large glass doors, which opened into a great meeting room where chairs were set up before a full stage. Winifred started through the doors and then stopped. "Oh applesauce," she muttered. "My purse – I left it back by our seats."
"I'll go and get it," Harvey said quickly and without thinking. It meant walking past Brother Eternal the Community again, but Harvey decided it was worth it. "You guys save me a seat, okay? I'll just grab the purse and head right back."
"You'd do that?" Winifred asked. "Thank you. That's very nice of you."
"Don't dawdle too long!" Philo called.
Somehow, Harvey doubted that he would. He waved quickly to his friends and then hurried back towards the Atomic Meadow.
Harvey walked carefully back into the meadow. It was empty now, with even the caterers leaving the tables unattended. Harvey scanned the lawn and spotted Winifred's purse on one of the folding chairs. He stepped over and grabbed it, holding it tightly like he was afraid it would run away. He prepared to head back inside and join his friends – when he heard voices coming from behind one of the hedges. Harvey stopped walking. Every part of him wanted to turn back and hurry inside. But he thought about his father – who always had an eye out for trouble – and he knew he couldn't leave. He tucked the purse under his arm and crept slowly towards the hedge. As soon as he was there, he dropped down and peered under the hedges.
The Community was there. They were standing or crouching in the bit of lawn between the hedges and the wall and they all appeared to be working at some activity. Harvey leaned closer and saw that each of them held small silver cylinders – like cans of soup – and were shaking them slowly. Brother Eternal stood in the middle of them, nodding slowly as they worked.
He raised his hands and began to preach. "That's right, my children," Brother Eternal said. "We must work like God did when he carved the world from the cold void of nothingness. But while he rested for one day, our rest shall be eternal." He grabbed one of the cans and held it up, then pressed the top. There was a small nozzle on the top and it released a bit of pressurized gas into Brother Eternal's face. He sniffed deeply. "Yeah…" Brother Eternal whispered. "That's the stuff."
They were planning something – and it was going to be bad. Harvey knew that like he knew his own name. But what was in those spray cans? And what were they going to do with them? Harvey wondered if the cans were filled with some sort of poison gas, but then why would Brother Eternal spray himself? Harvey crouched down and leaned closer. Then he saw one of the spray cans drop from a hippie's hand and roll to the side.
The can rolled under the hedge and stopped, blocked by the roots. Harvey reached out and grabbed it. He picked it up and stared at it, looking at the silver sides. Then one of his fingers pressed on the top. The nozzle sprayed. Harvey gasped and stepped back – but some of the chemicals still reached his nose. He could fell them slipping down his throat, sour and pungent. Harvey stepped back and sat down in the grass. He felt a cough rising in his throat and tried to stifle it. He had to stay quiet or the Community would hear him. He looked up at the sky. It was the red and purple color of a fresh bruise. Harvey gasped.
He looked up. Something was ripping into the sky next to him, billowing into the sky. It was a mushroom cloud, expounding out madly to cover all of Friendship Island. Harvey seemed to be surrounded by the cloud and felt sweat gleaming on his forehead. His mouth was dry and empty. He looked around him as the mushroom cloud blossomed. The sky was now a sickly yellow. Harvey saw the hedges, burning away to ash that was blown aside in the winds. Skeletal branches remained, burning lightly like some cartoon character after they'd been struck by a bomb. Harvey spun around. He looked at the white marble statues in the alcoves around the Atomic Meadow. They were moving now, screaming as their white skin melted off from the force of the atom bomb. Harvey could see the white skin cracking and falling like an eggshell, revealing the raw, red flesh beneath. They were screaming silently, writhing as they died. Harvey retched. He fell backwards and closed his eyes. He knew he couldn't make any noise. He stayed quiet and felt relief in the darkness.
"Harvey?" It was Winifred's voice, nervous and afraid. Harvey's eyes flickered open. He saw Winifred and Philo standing above him. Winifred had her purse over her shoulders. He still held the spray can in his hand. "Harvey, are you all right?"
Harvey tossed the can away with a grunt and turned around. He peered under the hedge. The Community was gone. Harvey looked back at his friends. He wiped sweat away on his sleeve and felt a shiver rippling through his body. "I think I am," Harvey said. He smiled at Winifred and Philo. "And thanks, guys, for coming to get me. I saw the Community getting all these spray cans ready, and I hid and then they dropped one and I examined it – and it gave me this really scary dream."
Philo picked up the spray can and examined it. He produced a small electric monocle from his coat and slipped it into his eye as he sprayed the can into the air. "You said you hallucinated?" he asked Philo. "After you inhaled what was in this can?"
"Yeah," Harvey agreed. "It this was kind of atomic death dream." He shivered a little at the thought of it. "Scary stuff."
"Well, you're very lucky that only inhaled a fraction of it." Philo carefully set the can in his pocket. "This is a weapons grade hallucinogen, with a chemical name that's a paragraph long. I remembered hearing rumbles of its creation, but I thought the substance was supposed to have been shelved. The hallucinations can last for days and include all manner of monstrous imagery." He shook his head. "It is a truly dangerous weapon."
That was not heartening news. "So what is the Community gonna do with it?" Harvey asked.
"We have to find out," Winifred replied. She pointed across the meadow, to where a stout man in a blue set of janitor's coveralls was sweeping up the garbage. "I'll go and talk to him and see if he noticed anything. Stay right here."She hurried over to him, moving swiftly over the lawn and waving as she approached. Philo and Harvey watched her talk.
Philo clasped his hands. "This is another one of your adventures, isn't it?" he asked. "I'm now here too – to join in. Oh, I hoped I would get to help you do some good in the world and now it appears that I shall."
"I hope so," Harvey agreed. "But Philo? My adventures might seem a little fun, but I don't really think they are. In fact, most of the time, they're really, really dangerous and terrifying." He watched Winifred return. She raced over the Atomic Meadow to join them. "And I have a feeling that this one will be no different."
"The Pillars of the Dead," Winifred explained. "That's where they're headed. Its right behind the main meeting hall, you know, and I wonder if the Community won't do something dreadful over there." She nodded to Harvey and Philo. "We have to find out."
There was no arguing with Winifred Winters. Harvey and Philo followed her out of the meadow and through a small, tiled pathway to the Pillars of the Dead. This was a memorial located towards the rear of the island, and consisted of a forest of graceful, thick white pillars inscribed with the names of all the lives lost in the Cuban Missile Disaster in delicate brass lettering. A few plates showed large pictures of the disaster, with engravings of the cities that had once existed – New York and Moscow and Miami and several others, all burned to nothing in the war that nearly ended the world. Harvey, Winifred and Philo crept silently through the pillars, hugging the side of the meeting hall. They moved as quietly as they could, stepping lightly on the grass and concrete. Up ahead, they saw the Community.
The strange cult was clustered on a gently sculpted, grass hill. It was next to a large metal air duct projecting from the side of the meeting hall. Harvey saw that they pulled away the grate and were setting a square, steel crate filled with chemical canisters at the edge of the dock. The canisters now had wires running along their tops, all leading to a large nozzle at the top of the crate which rested near a large button. You didn't have to be a great engineer like Philo to figure out what would happen – the button would be pressed, the chemicals would spray and a massive cloud of the hallucinogens would pour out and blanket the meeting room. The only thing Harvey wasn't sure of was why the hell anyone would want to do a thing like that.
He turned back to his friends. "Looks like they're gonna gas the meeting," he said. His mother was in there, along with dozens of diplomats from around the world. "We can't let that happen." The conviction – the iron in his voice – surprised him. He sounded a little like his father.
"Of course," Winifred agreed. "And there's no time to tell Commander Payne, though I doubt his brutal action would make the situation any better. Do we have any plans on how to distract them while we grab that crate?"
"I just might." Philo reached into his coat. He withdrew a small steel cylinder, topped by what looked like a glowing steel pie plate. It seemed to be a ray gun, like Harvey would see in one of his comic books. "A laser gun," Philo explained. "Don't worry – it's quite harmless. It merely creates a large blast of contained red light. But it might be frightening and serve as a distraction."
"Might be?" Harvey asked.
Philo shrugged. "I've tested it a few times. Well, once really – but it worked then!"
"It's good enough," Winifred agreed. She grabbed Harvey's hand. He felt her fingers, warm and strong, intertwining with his own. Harvey suddenly wasn't scared of the Community or Brother Eternal any more. "Ready?" Winifred asked. Harvey mumbled agreement. Philo nodded. "Excellent. Let's protect the world."
Together, Philo and Winifred ran towards the gentle hill. They pounded up the slope, their dress shoes digging into the grass as they rushed towards the small circle of cultists. Harvey's breath was ragged and nervous. His bravery fell away as he realized the sheer stupidity of what he was doing. Still, he ran on. Winifred was next to him and they hurried up and reached the top of the hill. Some of the cultists were turning to look at them. They seemed surprised. Harvey and Winifred pushed their way through, ignoring the calls of "not cool!" from the Community. Then he saw leather jackets sliding open, and hunting knives, snub-nosed revolvers and machetes revealed to glimmer in the sunlight. His panic rose. The crate was still ahead of them.
Then Philo swung into action. He hurried halfway up the hill and raised his little, handheld laser. "Be gone, fiends!" he bellowed, his voice sounding shrill. "Or you'll be reduced to subatomic particles and ash!" He leaned on the trigger. A beam of bright, ruby red light blasted out from the end of the laser. It shot up into the ranks of the Community. They dove for cover, shrieking as the glowing light cut through the air above them. Philo swung the laser around, shooting fat bolts of light in every direction. Winifred and Harvey hurried through. Harvey found himself smiling.
They reached the crate. Winifred grabbed one handle and Harvey took the other. "Easily done," Winifred said. She lifted up her end and Harvey did the same. The crate was surprisingly light. Both children pulled it away from the air duct. They turned to go – and found Brother Eternal stopping them. He stood tall, his long leather coat open to reveal a full-bladed machete on his belt.
As Harvey watched, Brother Eternal pulled the machete free. He held it up, letting the fat blade shine in the sun."Not so easy," Brother Eternal said. "You kids best put down that crate. You wouldn't want to get hurt." He leaned closer, letting his rank hair drip over his face. "People who fight God tend to get hurt."
"You are no God, sir!" Philo scrambled to the top of the hill, swinging his laser. "Now step aside or that will be proven to you in a most painful way!" He raised the laser and took aim. He balanced it carefully and then squeezed the trigger. He must have thought that Brother Eternal would lose his nerve and jump to the side or dive out of the way – but that wasn't what happened.
Brother Eternal stood still. The laser reached his chest and harmlessly cast red light over his t-shirt and face. His followers stopped running and stared at him. Brother Eternal moved his hands through the harmless life, grinning like he'd finally understood an often heard joke.
"Well, look at that," Brother Eternal said. "I really am immortal." He turned back to Harvey and Winifred, raising his machete high. "God needs his domain. Mine is the atom bomb. The Community is a vision of doomsday and I'm gonna make sure doomsday comes to pass."
Winifred stared at him. "That is utter madness," she said.
"Nah – what's mad is stockpiling all those nuclear weapons, hording up the key to changing the world and never using them. They call that civilization. I call it a bad joke." Brother Eternal drew closer. "Until some mistake happens and Hell truly comes to earth, the farce of civilization will continue unabated. And I'm ready for the bomb. My people are ready for the bomb. after we wreck this peace meeting and give every diplomat a hallucination-packed freak out, the whole wide world's gonna be ready for the bomb too."
Harvey had to agree with Winifred – this plan sounded absolutely bonkers. But Brother Eternal still stepped closer to them and raised the machete. Harvey looked at the blade and knew that he and Winifred couldn't run. The other members of the Community were coming up behind them, taking out their own knives. Even if they could flee, it would mean dropping the crate and letting Brother Eternal win. Harvey didn't know what to do.
Luckily, Philo did. "Winifred, Harvey – cover your eyes!" he cried. He raised his laser. Now the entirety of the silver device was a dull, flashing red. It glowed brightly, pulsing with slow regularity. Then Philo hurled the laser into the middle of the Community. It landed between Harvey and Winifred's feet. Harvey covered his eyes, dropping the crate and turned away. He didn't know what would happen next, but he had some idea that he should do what Philo said.
The laser exploded. There was no heat or sound from the explosion, only a blinding burst of red light. Harvey could see it through his eyelids. When he opened his eyes, he saw that all the Community had also experienced the blast and were now looking away, covering their eyes or simply staring blindly ahead. One thin fellow waved his hands in front of his face. "Far out…" he moaned.
"Run!" Philo cried. "Hurry! The blindness should wear off in seconds!"
That was all the warning Harvey and Winifred needed. Once again, they grabbed the crate and hauled it up. Then they turned and ran straight down the hill. The pounded down the hill, the gentle slope giving them a little speed. Philo was waiting for them. He turned to run as well and they hurried straight into the Pillars of the Dead.
Behind them, Harvey could hear the Community giving chase. "Capture them, my children!" Brother Eternal roared. "We must have our glory today!" The Community ran down the hill, many of them going for their knives or guns. None of them fired, probably for fear of hitting the chemicals. Of course, they didn't need to fire. Their blades would solve the problem quickly enough.
The kids ran into the Pillars of the Dead. Harvey looked up, staring at the pillars and the rows and rows of names even as he panted and felt fatigue reaching him. He struggled to hold the crate, which felt heavier and heavier in his hands. There were more names than he could imagine, of all different nationalities. Harvey realized that each name was a life like his – with fears and hopes and dreams that had all been blotted out by impersonal atomic fire and national stupidity. It made him feel sick to live in such a world. He realized why Winifred was so concerned about peace and why it mattered to thwart Brother Eternal and the Community.
"This way!" Winifred cried, turning around a corner and weaving between pillars. Harvey followed, holding up the crate with the chemicals in both hands. Philo followed, scrambling and slipping on the polished cement and tiled floor. They kept running and emerged from the forest of pillars – and at a dead end.
There was a small viewing platform, a little stone dock jutting out into the ocean. It was circled by a bright steel railing and could provide visitors with a panorama of the beautiful sea after they had seen the horrors of atomic warfare. Right now, the platform was occupied. Commander Augustus Payne stood there, along with Comrade Blank, the Soviet super assassin, and two jet-pack wielding, uniformed and helmeted HAWC Talon Troopers. All were armed. Harvey had no idea what they were doing there. They didn't seem the type to enjoy staring out at the ocean.
Harvey, Winifred and Philo came to a stop. Harvey dropped the crate and Winifred did the same. Commander Payne approached them, Comrade Blank and the Talon Troopers at his side. Commander Payne looked at the crate and then stared at the children. Behind them, the Community was closing in.
"What the hell are you kids doing?" Commander Payne asked.
"It's the Community!" Harvey cried. He pointed to the chemicals, struggling to explain everything. "They're gonna pour those hallucinogenic chemicals into the meeting and make everyone freak out and hallucinate—"
"—and then cause them to forget the peace process and nuclear disarmament!" Winifred added.
"All because of some mad scheme to drag the world closer to nuclear Armageddon and create some sort of religious utopia from the ashes," Philo finished. He smiled politely as the Community headed out to the viewing platform. "That's pretty much the whole story," Philo said quickly.
Commander Panye stared up at the Community. All the cultists had stopped. Commander Payne approached them and looked at Brother Eternal. "You've fouled up," he announced. "Good God, boy – you've fouled up more than I thought possible." He drew closer to the Community as he reached for the holster at his belt. A pearl-handled revolver rested there. Comrade Blank followed him, dropping his hands into his own cloak. The two HAWC agents pulled long batons from their belts and cracked them open with audible snaps that sounded like breaking bones.
"God doesn't m-make mistakes," Brother Eternal said.
"He made you, boy," Commander Payne replied. "And if that ain't a mistake, than I don't know what is." Commander Payne drew out his revolver. He rammed the barrel into Brother Eternal's nose, crumpling in it seconds. Then he grabbed the next cultist and pounded a fist deep into his gut. The Talon troopers followed, swinging their batons wildly. They smashed down the Community, cracking their limbs and sending them reeling. Comrade Blank moved on them next. His hands emerged from his coat, both wearing heavy brass knuckles with crackling electrical edges. Comrade Blank grabbed the nearest cultist and delivered a flurry of punches into his face, working his head like it was a speed bag in a gym. The cultist didn't get a chance to scream. Harvey smelled burning hair.
The Community stumbled back. They were outclassed and beaten and they knew it. "Fall back, my children!" Brother Eternal roared. "Fall back and we'll find my divinity and—" Comrade Blank pulled a silenced pistol from his coat and shot Brother Eternal in the knee. Brother Eternal's words ended in a pained scream. He pitched over backwards. Two of his cultists grabbed his shoulder and dragged him back. His screams faded into pained mumbles. A thin line of blood followed him, looking like the messy etching of a red marker on the clean, white cement.
When the Community was gone, Commander Payne grinned and holstered his revolver with a flourish of a spin. "Well, I do love beating up long-haired hippies," he said. "So I suppose this day wasn't a total loss." He nodded to his men. "Get on the horn with the others. Have them picked up and detained. We'll fly them up to a HAWC aerocarrier and get them to the mainland. Then they can be instructed to keep quiet." He looked down at the crate as one of the Talon Troopers began muttering code into the radio on his belt. "Blank, you and me better go and finish this job. I guess we gotta do it ourselves." He reached for the crate.
"What?" Harvey grabbed the crate first. He pulled it away from Commander Payne. "Do it yourself? What are you talking about?"
"Who do you think got those damn unwashed freaks onto this island?" Commander Payne asked. "And gave them weapons grade hallucinogens?" He grinned at Comrade Blank. The fleshy mask remained impassive. "Yeah, it was me and the Russkie here. We figured those dirt-loving hippie scum-suckers would be the perfect fall guys. And you know what? They still will be."
"But why?" Winifred demanded. She sounded hurt, like she had been personally insulted. With her values, maybe she had been. "Why you want to wreck a peace meeting? This is the best chance for humanity – and the future. You can't just damn everything to an existence of fear."
Commander Payne grinned. "Why the hell not?" he asked. "We've been living under the shadow of the bomb for a long time now and nothing's wrong with it. It gives me and my Red friend here good jobs. Keeps the subversive elements in line. Gives thousands of agents and spies around the world steady employment and licenses to do whatever they feel like in the name of national security. The bomb's a godsend, sister. And we're keeping it around."
Comrade Blank drew closer. He pointed his pistol at Harvey, who still held the crate of chemicals. Harvey looked into Comrade Blank's featureless pink mask. There was no mercy to be found there. It was like he wasn't even looking into the face of a human being – only a weapon that was now leveled on him. He shivered and felt his mouth going dry. But he still held onto the handle of the crate. He looked down at the big button next to the nozzle in the middle.
"Oh god!" Winifred cried. "Please – just don't hurt Harvey. For God's sake, don't—"
"Damn," Commander Panye said. He patted Comrade Blank's shoulder. "You want to just liquidate all three of them? You Soviets play things a little rough. Though I guess I already knew that." He drew out his revolver. "How about we just beat them to a pulp instead. We can blame it on the Community, hush up the whole operation, and it's not like anyone's gonna believe a bunch of snot-nosed little whelps like this batch."
Philo drew closer to Harvey and Winifred. The younger boy looked at his new friends. "Do you have a plan?" he whispered.
Harvey was still staring at the nozzle on the crate. Suddenly, he did have a plan. "Yes," Harvey said softly and with a confidence he did not feel. "Cover your mouth and nose." He leaned over and slammed down on the button with all of his might.
Then he turned away, covering his mouth and nose with both hands. Philo and Winifred did the same. They ran away from the viewing platform, pounding down the cement walkway and quickly reaching the Pillars of the Dead. Harvey turned around, risking a glimpse over his shoulder. He saw that a great cloud of sickly, greenish chemicals was pouring out from the crate. It filtered into the air, forming a hazy circle around Commander Payne and the others. The nozzle made a slight whispering noise as it pushed out the chemicals. They began to take affect almost instantly.
Comrade Blank stumbled back and sank to the ground. His flesh-colored mask began to ripple. He started to make a series of rhythmic grunts and Harvey quickly realized he was laughing. The two Talon Troopers collapsed, both screaming and rolling around. Harvey had only had a small whiff of the hallucinogen and it had been enough to give him a terrifying nightmare. He could only imagine what these poor guys were going through. Commander Payne was the only one who didn't fall. Instead, he pulled out his revolver and stalked towards the kids.
"Goddamn commie…traitors…" His teeth were tightly clenched. A thin sheen of drool covered his face and his eyes were wide and full of panic. "Coming…out of the goddamn…walls!" Commander Payne drew closer. He fired his revolver, aiming at the children. Winifred grabbed Harvey and yanked him back. The bullet clanged on one of the pillars, chipping the stone and making a loud ringing noise.
"Come on!" Winifred cried. She grabbed Harvey's hand and dashed back into the Pillars of the Dead. Harvey and Philo ran with her. Harvey's heart was pounding. He felt sick. Though he was dosed with a full load of the hallucinogen, Commander Payne still hurried after them while firing his revolver wildly. Harvey had no idea what could stop him.
They weaved through the pillars, moving past the names and brass engravings of the dead. Harvey stumbled on the cement and nearly walked into a pillar, but he kept going as Commander Payne pursued them. Commander Payne was still raving, screaming about Vietcong and Castro while he fired his revolver wildly. He was like some specter of all the awfulness of the Cold War, all the wretched acts done in the name of national security now hunting down Harvey and his friends through the names of the dead to please his fevered bloodlust.
Winifred turned another corner and stopped. Harvey stopped as well. They had reached a place where three pillars were closely pushed together and the spaces between them weren't small enough for a rat to slip through. Harvey stared at the pillars and then looked at Winifred and Philo. They had followed him. He had let them down. He felt awful.
"I'm sorry," he said, just as Commander Payne stepped into view.
With a grunt, Commander Payne raised his revolver. "Midget…commie spies…" he snarled. The drool had almost formed a mask around the lower half of his face. "Corrupting…everything." He raised the gun. Harvey looked at Winifred. She still held his hand. She gave it a squeeze.
A pair of hands grabbed Commander Payne's shoulder and spun him around. Harvey stared in amazement. It was his mother. Myra Diamond grabbed Payne's wrist as he tried to raise the revolver. She slammed his hand into one of the pillars and then kicked away his revolver. Myra stepped back, neatly avoiding Commander Payne's drunken swing at her.
"Commie…Pinko…lady…" Commander Panye muttered. "Teach you…teach you…"
"There's not a goddamn thing you can teach me," Myra replied. Commander Payne charged her. She sidestepped him and then grabbed his shoulders and rammed his skull into the nearest pillar, rubbing his face in the engraved names of the dead. Commander Payne emitted a slow moan and then sunk down, bashed into unconsciousness.
Myra hurried to Harvey. "You're all right?" she asked. "He didn't hurt you or anything?" She touched his shoulder and cheek, like she was searching for any hidden wounds.
"No, mom. He didn't get a chance to." Harvey smiled at her. "And thank you for saving me – and my friends."
"Thank you, Mrs. Diamond," Winifred added.
"And you have my thanks, as well," Philo agreed.
All around them, a few HAWC agents were coming in with their guns drawn. "It's okay, fellows!" Myra called. "Your commander went nuts for some reason, but he's okay. You can slap some handcuffs on him and get him to a hospital, or an insane asylum." She turned back to Harvey. "I didn't see you in the meeting hall – the meeting's finished, by the way - and went out to find you. Then I heard the gunshots and hurried right over." She cocked her head. "You're sure everything's okay?"
"It's a long story," Harvey said. "We'll explain on the boat ride home."
Winifred perked up. "So the meeting is over, then?" she asked. "What were the results, if you don't mind telling me? Were any treaties planned or disarmaments agreed to? What conclusions did the diplomats come to?"
"I'm sorry, Winifred." Myra sighed. "But they didn't really decide much of anything. They talked amongst themselves, spouted off platitudes about the value of peace and didn't actually change a damn thing. The whole meeting was almost pointless." Myra stared down at her shoes. "I gotta go to the office and try to spin it the other way and I don't know how I'm gonna do it. The international situation remains the same. Even when they're surrounded by memorials to the millions who died, the nations of the world still can't make up their minds to change."
"Oh…" Winifred lowered her head. She seemed just as sad as Myra. And after all the trouble they'd gone through, Harvey felt the same way.
They said goodbye to Philo at the docks on the other side of Friendship Island, where they boarded the yacht to take them back to Florida. The diplomatic parties were departing as well, piling into boats and helicopters to whisk them back to the mainland or their own countries. The Community were escorted out, handcuffed and watched over by uniformed HAWC guards. Comrade Blank, Commander Payne and the two Talon Troopers were carried out on stretchers. They were still raving and hallucinating. They'd probably be that way for another day or two before the chemicals finally wore off. All the guests were leaving and Friendship Island would soon return to its usual, contemplative and quiet existence.
Philo pumped Harvey's hand and seemed utterly delighted by the day's activities. "You know," Philo said. "Despite everything, I had a splendid time! We must meet again for another of your adventures, Harvey – though perhaps one that is less life-threatening?" He shook Winifred's hand as well. "And it was very nice to meet you, Miss Winters."
"It was nice meeting you as well," Winifred agreed. "We'll keep in touch."
"I'll mail you my next letter soon!" Harvey called, as he and Winifred walked up the gangplank to their boat. He waved vigorously and Philo waved back. Soon he joined his mother on the deck of the yacht. Winifred stood next to him and it steamed out into the clear, crystal blue waters of the Caribbean.
They stood in silence as the boat sped away from Friendship Island. "I'm sorry," Harvey told Winifred suddenly. "I'm sorry the peace meeting didn't work out."
"It's not your fault, Harvey," Winifred replied. She turned to him and gave him a quick smile."And at least they had their meeting without any hallucinogens flooding in. Perhaps in the next one, they'll actually make some progress. We have that hope." Her hand once again fell on Harvey. Her touch was light, but her fingers still wrapped around his. Harvey nearly stopped breathing. "And we'll just have to hope for more friendship."
Harvey felt a little redness growing in his cheeks. But he was still happy. Winifred was right. As long as they didn't let their guard down, they would have peace. It was something worth hoping for. Harvey turned around and stood next to Winifred. They looked out and watched Friendship Island slowly disappear in the vastness of the blue sea.