(Copyright David Anthony Kearns, all rights reserved)
(Copyright David Anthony Kearns all rights reserved. For entertainment of the invidual reader only. No commercial reuse, concepts, ideas, dialogue, plot, characters)
Nov. 15, 2014 Capital Hill – Senate Subcommittee Briefing on Defense Appropriations/Intelligence sector.
Georgia’s Myles Stansil was speaking down to a well dressed gentleman sitting at a long table before the dais, but he wasn’t speaking to the man , so much as acting as the fellow’s mouthpiece.
This was Carlos Mercado, founder of Savante Systems Inc. Whom Forbes Internet recently deemed “Super-Mercado” a one-man market force unto himself. Mercado, as Stansil liked to say in private chats with colleagues on the hill, in that studied, folksy manner of his “…could cause a huge up-tick in the stock market with just a decent bowel movement in the morning.”
Savante had produced SmartLife Systems Inc., “For home, office, car for your Life!” They had the Gregorio platform on just about every mainframe and desktop in the country.
But Stansil was also alerting the defense subcommittee that there was evil afoot in the way of a bill rising in the House of Representatives, that would attempt to limit or restrict the sale of Savante’s Neural Desktop system; a system that had already been approved and released and was enjoying excellent sales, even if the stock had taken a hit with the news of the proposed bill.
In his inimitable skill with a blunt, impactfull talking points, Stansil said “unscrupulous, techno-haters on the hill” were throwing everything they could find at Savante’s company; “no objection seems too ludicrous” the forty-something senator told committee members.
Epps walked behind Senator Stansil, sat to his left at an empty seat near the wall, leaned over and set the folder down; apart from the senator’s briefing papers, but close enough if he needed to lay a hand on it for a look.
Stansil was a classic, rumpled, gray-suited republican in the mold of Newt Gingrich; the only difference being a defined and rich southern accent, whereas the former minority whip had no pronounced Georgia drawl at all. Stansil, a former University of Georgia football star and coach, had gone somewhat softly to pot in recent years, but he was still very feisty and his steely-blue eyes missed nothing.
“And I don’t need to tell my esteemed colleagues in this chamber how important the Neural Desktop is to our battle plans for the war on terror,” the senator was saying as Colonel Epps walked in.
Not to say this was a scripted exchange between Mercado, a Miami entrepreneur with more than twelve billion in assets and Stansil, who was quietly accepting campaign contributions from the courtly Cuban American, but it couldn’t have played better to their mutual benefit for the moment, for there were reporters in the room, and they knew news when they heard it. “Techno-haters on the hill” had the alliteration they needed, not to mention a hint of street jargon that would play well to late twenty-something. News concerning the “decades old war on terror,” always sold ad space all over the internet.
“Correct senator,” said Mr. Mercado into his microphone. “But if the government limits the civilian retail side of my operations to nothing, there won’t be a Savante Systems Inc. in three years, and the Neural Desktop will die in its infancy. That’s how committed we are to the ND. Time, money, lives have been invested in the research and development…”
“Ladies and gentlemen, do we hear the voice of private industry, crying out not only to protect us from ourselves, but to merely survive? Do we hate technology and industry so much we won’t listen? After the disastrous days of the last depression can you not… ” asked Stansil.
“Excuse me Mr. Mercado,” said a democrat from Illinois, Barbara something or other, thought Epps.
“Senator, uh, Thomond you had something?” Stansil asked, getting the name wrong on the pronunciation. He said it like “Thow mund” emphasis on the ‘tho’ as though the female senator was something he’d like to ‘thow’ out with the trash.
The senator from Illinois ignored his folksy style but her face bore the trace of irritation as she began.
“It is my understanding the bill seeks to curtail corporate policy demanding the implant of the neural desktop as a precondition of employment. Now, this might curtail a portion of the corporate end of his business for the common good, but it certainly won’t touch the retail side if people want to go out and spend their hard-earned bucks on it.
“And I must say for the record, Mr. Mercado, it is truly a brave new world, sir, when a corporation begins demanding that their employees be fitted with a mind communication device, before they can come to work. The neural desktop is an invasive procedure, sir, that requires implanting a chip inside the head of the recipient,” Thomond said.
“You object to that, I can see by the look on your face, Carlos,” Stansil said.
Giving Mercado a chance to speak gave Epps the break he was looking for to direct the senator’s attention to the report coming from Coleman, Texas. The senator looked down to the report placed there by Epps while Mercado took flight with his customary schpiel.
“Well I had hoped to avoid elements of this speech until the House was preparing to vote, but I’ll share some of it with you now. As we talk, here, my company’s stock value fluctuates on every word; the jobs of more than seventeen thousand individuals who are employed by Savante Systems Inc, also ride on these words.
“Words such as “implants” and “invasive procedures” not only are harmful to my company’s position, harmful to the economy, and detrimental to our national security, they are quite simply inaccurate; to the extent that, any more, they must be considered for what they are, senator, deliberate falsehoods designed to thwart not only my business, but progress in general.”
“Mr. Mercado we don’t deal in falsehoods here,” the senator from Illinois bristled. “ If you have to make an incision, it’s invasive by definition, sir, and…” she said.
Mercado kept right on talking as if he hadn’t heard the senator or didn’t care.
“Sixteen eminently respected neurosurgeons have come forward in support of the neural desktop. It is no more invasive than the old Blue-Tooth products of the early 2000s. An “implant inside the head” seems to imply some sort of sinister connection, some kind of brain surgery required, when in fact it is no more drastic than getting your ears pierced, senator.
“The chip is nothing more substantial than a tiny sliver of plastic, one centimeter square that is slipped harmlessly between the skin and the hard bone behind the ear. The patented technology makes use of microwaves working in concert with brainwaves. At no time do the neurons of the brain actually come in contact with the circuitry of the chip. It is a miracle of communication that has applications…”
“And yet you call this device the neural desk-top,” Senator Thomond said.
“For marketing purposes,” he said.
“And all the House is trying to do, sir, is limit corporations from forcing an employee to adopt this technology as a condition of employment. It’s unconstitutional, is it not?” she said.
“Well, back in the 1990s they had the same argument about cell phones, did they not?” he responded, “without the first shred of evidence at cell phones caused cancer. Senator, if the job candidate doesn’t want the technology, he or she, can simply exercise their constitutional right to seek employment elsewhere,” Mercado said.
“Yes, someone who spent a fortune gaining a four-year degree in engineering or finance can wander right down the street to Shakey’s Pizza I suppose, Mr. Mercado, and begin dicing endive for lunch customers. Practically speaking, sir, we see where this is leading and some of us, don’t like the end result!”
Stansil had seen enough of the OIS report. He needed to speak with the Air Force Colonel alone. He neared the microphone.
“Ah, madam senator, where this is leading is nowhere today, as this is a hearing on defense spending. We’ve already budgeted for this man’s product to be incorporated in our overall plan for troops on the ground. If his company goes belly-up, that money does not get spent over the next three years, and likely will go somewhere else in the larger budget, perhaps the ladies’ cotillion fund. Let’s table this for now, and see where the House goes. Perhaps if they get a lick of sense in the next three months, they may drop this whole silly idea of slowing up American business. I can tell you right now, for our end-game on the war of terror, we need what this all-American company offers us,” said the chairman.
“Thank you, senators,” Mercado said.
As the committee broke for lunch Stansil waved for Epps to follow him to his offices.
“Who knows about this?” the senator demanded as they walked down the corridors toward his senate office.
“Elements of NORAD, and of course our OIS guy, Warner,” Epps said.
“Is he kosher?”
“As a dill pickle. He hopes to work with us in the future, if you know what I mean, senator.”
“This report says the chip may be a knock-off of the Savante technology?”
“Yes sir,” said Epps.
“How did they get it?” the senator asked.
“Mercado has all sorts of folks working for him, and his retention rate is about average for a company his size,” Epps said.
“So they work for him a while and then head on back to China taking the knowledge with them. Jesus, when in hell are we gonna learn?” the senator asked.
“Yes sir,” said Epps.
“Says here there was some type of architecture extending out from the chip through the cranium of the creature,” the senator said. “That’s new…”
“I thought you’d pick up on that,” said Epps.
“Don’t be a smartass. And you’re sure, Warner is kosher?”
“Yes sir,” said Epps.
“Tell him if he can keep this quiet, through whatever Svengali powers of amazing influence he can wield, we’ll make room for him. The man wants a ticket on the bus, he can earn it right now,” the senator said.
“Senator Stansil, you have your luncheon with the newly-elected senator from Florida,” said his secretary as they entered the senator’s outer office.
“What was his name again?”
“Senator Cogswell, Sean Cogswell,” she intoned.
“Aw sheep-shit, I forgot…..Ooops! He ain’t here yet is he?” asked the senator embarrassed at his own vernacular, although this clumsy, folksy business of his was all an act.
“Not yet, he was running about fifteen minutes late,” she smiled.
“Good, I’ll be in conference with the colonel here, I don’t want to be disturbed by no reports of kitty cats in trees, or school tours marching through, you hear, Lila?” he said.
“Yes senator,” she said. “I hear you.”
As they entered the senator’s office, he said; “ Now can this guy Warner deliver? Or do we need to get someone in CIA to run counter-intell on this deal.”
“Oh, Warner’s top notch, senator. Let him earn his seat on the bus as you said.”
“Alright now, what do we know about this fella’ Cogswell?”
Epps pulled out another file.
“Warner said for some reason OIS has been following Cogswell since way back, but, other than some hanky-panky with a married gal, he’s as clean as a whistle.”
“Hanky Panky? I like it. Been a long time since I’ve heard that phrase, so few men have the balls anymore to play it,” the senator said looking at the picture given him by Epps. It showed Cogswell with his arm around the waist of a woman in a white sequin dress outside a hotel.
The senator whistled appreciatively, dropped the photo back in the file, and from a silver bowl on his desk, picked up a football given him by the UGA team of 2009. The National Champions thanked him for his service as the team’s offensive coordinator.
The senator sat, began twirling it around on his palm as he leaned back in his chair and staring at Epps. He wondered if Epps had ever played the Hanky Panky. Epps seemed to Stansil as sexless as a naked “Ken” doll. Was Epps capable of below-the-belt urges or had the Air Force Academy, and all his stiff promotions washed all his manly pangs from him?
“Well?” asked the Senator.
“Well, what senator?”
“Tell me about the Hanky-Pank, boy. C’mon, give…!”
“As you saw from the photo, she’s quite the bombshell,” Epps said.
“I’ll say. What’s this woman’s name?”
“Lorna O’Shea-Stebbins, thirty three, of Palm Bay, Florida. Apparently they met at a country club function in Merritt Island. Her folks are rich, but she married some loser, Jimmy Stebbins, who runs a cleaning service, former football star or something they met in high school. Anyway, as the story goes, Cogswell was home on a leave, and boom, all the sudden they were a thing. Pretty racy emails back and forth since he got back,” he said.
“Why don’t she just dump the loser, and go with the senator?” the Georgia senator said with a wry smile. All of this pleased him immensely, letting Epps know he had been there in spirit, if not in the exact same position with his own married “bombshell” in the past. But bombshells seldom settled down, as far as his or anybody’s experience went. Stansil was merely digging for the naughty parts. How seedy had the thing gotten? How many juicy details were there? Was there blackmail, some delicto-flagrante photos somewhere, and if so where were they?
“She and the loser had some sort of pre-nup and so forth,” Epps said. “He’s got her over a barrel on it. It’s airtight and that woman has a whole lot of money. Still she really digs our man here, and what’s not to like, war hero, senator, in reasonably good shape…”
“Well, well, well, it looks like we’ve found us a pocket man, from the precise county we need him to be from. Ha! He’s a gift from God above,” the senator said.
“As long as we have this on Cogswell, and no one else does, he’s in my pocket. Nice work, Colonel. Tell Warner that seat is getting warm for him,” the senator said standing and extending his hand..
“Yes sir,” Epps said rising and clasping it for a shake.
“And Colonel Epps,” the senator said. “Why not also tell Warner he needs to find out whatever else it is the OIS has on Cogswell, just to be safe? I can’t imagine why they would be following a retired Marine colonel around before his election, unless there was something really screwy in his past, or in his service record,” the senator said.
“I mean something worse than bombshell screwy. Look at that woman, there’s not a male voter on the face of this earth could blame him. Maybe there’s more to this Cogswell. I can’t imagine what it is, but maybe someone over to the OIS knows,” Stansil said.
“Neither can I, senator. We’ll see if we can find out,” Epps said picking up the photos and the file.
“Good. Good. And hey, we need to get some more quiet time on the rest of this Texas file too, so why don’t you come back today around nine or ten p.m. and we’ll huddle,” the senator said.
“Yes sir,” Epps said.
“Senator Cogswell is here, senator,” a voice in the intercom said.
“Fine show him in,” the senator intoned.
Sean entered the senator’s office passing a stony Air Force colonel who was on the way out. Sean took the senator’s hand.
“Sit down colonel, let’s chat a minute before we head down to lunch,” the Georgia senator said.
Remember he’s a sneaky bastard, Sean. Appear charmed, but don’t be charmed, understand?” That had been Tim’s warning.
Gus had done most of the homework on Stansil; “ he needs a military point man on the hill to push through a lot of his defense stuff. He wants a couple of pork projects for his state. He needs to steal Florida’s thunder so he will try to sweep you off your feet. But that’s perfect for us. Remember Space is your district, if he wants you to forget about your voters, he has to offer you something, and that something just might be the vice presidency,” Gus had said.
“How you finding everything, Sean?” said Stansil.
“Belly dancers? Limo rides? Strip clubs? Everybody show you where all them things are kept?” Stansil said.
“Man, if the voters only knew,” Sean said making a joke out of it.
“Ha-ha,” laughed Stansil. “Sean I guess you kicked some major ass over there and I can’t tell you how proud I am for you to be working with me on the subcommittee for defense intelligence spending.”
“Thank you, senator.”
“But we need to get you up to speed, and fast, Colonel. And we may even need you to polish off that Marine uniform, figuratively of course, to drive the point home!”
“House is getting a bill together to stop Savante’s neural desktop from becoming a worldwide reality and the trouble with all their bullshit is, we need the capabilities of this thing for our guys on the ground,” Stansil said.
“I can see why you would be concerned, senator. That does seem like a problem,” Sean said.
“Lila will send all the stuff over to your office today. Meantime, let’s grab some lunch. I could eat the ass out of a dead donkey about now,” Stansil said. “I’ll explain on the way our counterattack and see if you’re with us on this one.”
“Sounds good,” Sean said.
They got up to leave, but Stansil had another idea. He decided to drive Sean over to a fine French restaurant in downtown D.C. that was part of a congressionally funded redevelopment district, which Myles Stansil had helped push through.
“Damned democrats, all they want to do is talk a good game. D.C. was their black eye for years, and we turned it into our little victory. Got the cops extra funding they needed, got some block grant money. You know D.C. ain’t even in a state so it’s not like they can petition the governor first. It’s screwed up,” Stansil said.
“Yeah, I guess you were able to secure some more funding for inner city Atlanta too didn’t you?”
“I may be white but I still have eyes, Sean; still have eyes and I still have a soul. I can still see a city that needs work. No matter what the mayor says. He thinks he’s getting my seat two years from now, ha! Let him work his black ass off like I did,” Stansil said.
“I hope you’re not one of these PC neo-cons,” Stansil said.
“Oh hell no, Senator. It’s a new day,” said Sean, reading off the GOP’s tag line’
“No more can race policies be used to dismiss needed fiscal conservatism required to rejuvenate this country of ours. No more can divisiveness be permitted to reign supreme in the halls of congress – it’s a new day!” Sean had said, following the party line to a T.
“Tom Avery is probably the best president since Reagan, if not better,” Stansil said sadly. “That he’s also a minority pisses those people off, oooweee!, worse than a flaming bag of dog-shit left on the stoop. You know it does. They went minority with Obama? Sheeyut, we got minority too,” Stansil said.
“It’s a new day,” Sean said.
“And, unfortunately there’s no way in hell he’ll win the nomination for the 2016 election,” Stansil hissed with a sigh.
“Not many people outside the beltway know about his health. He’ll be lucky to make it out this term,” Stansil said.
“It’s that bad?”
“It’s that bad. And we all know McLintock is for shit. He won’t win the nomination, what with his past and his voting record,” Stansil said.
“You’re telling me all this, why?”
“I want you to know what a fortuitous time you jumped into politics, Sean. And I want you to know what the stakes are. Everything you do will be under a microscope. All of it. Now is there anything I should know about you, as we continue on down the road of fortune, hand in hand, walking into the light of sunshine and reason that will propel this country of ours out of the dark ages?”
“You’re already writing your address?”
“Everybody’s polishing their resumes, baby. Believe it. So…?”
“Nothing jumps to mind,” Sean said a little too casually.
“Well you keep your nose clean and see that it don’t. And if it do, I want to be the first one to know about it, understand?”
“Sounds like an order,” Sean said with a smile.
“It is colonel, it is,” Stansil said. “Speaking of which, did I hear right? Did you actually demand they take back your Purple Heart?”
“I told them it needed be put on one of the graves of my guys who died,” Sean said after a moment.
“Navy Marine Corps Medal for Bravery, though. Not bad, Sean,” the senator said.
Sean’s mind wandered back to the battle region; the day when the humvee in front of him exploded. He remembered issuing orders he didn’t like but he had to do, it; “back the shit up! C’mon we’re taking rounds.”
All the dinosaurs began back tracking for more room, then Sean managed to get his vehicle turned around and he tried to convince the driver of the next vehicle in line but the kid’s mind had stalled. It was his first time in battle.
“Make the loop we got to get the fuck out of here, lieutenant. We’re trapped in a duck walk.”
The guy remained panicked, dumb-struck.
“Lieutenant, just do what we did, make the turn and follow,” Sean shouted.
The man remained locked.
“Look man, it’s a fuckin’ three point turn; from driver’s ed, remember? Reverse with hard left, hard right, then forward. That’s all it is baby! Just do it!”
And yet it hadn’t been good enough, and it was too late anyway.
“We’ve got hostiles, rooftop at two o’clock!” the gunner yelled from atop his humvee. It was a fifty cal at first and Sean’s gunner ducked, then returned fire, but the man on the roof, he changed things up on them. Two RPG’s later and hell was raining down on the convoy that was going nowhere fast.
Sean didn’t know at what point he made the decision, or how he had come to it. It seemed almost casual, the run to the doorway. He didn’t know if anyone was following him. All he knew was that he had to get that man on the roof to shut the fuck up. That’s how he thought of it.
And things just seemed to fall into place. There – a bag of rags falls to the thump of his assault rifle. There – a man gets hit in the chest and topples backwards. Sean took the steps two at the time. Had he know beforehand? There – there went another one down the hallway, falling in a heap. Sean walked on down the hall, and there – and there and damn it almost missed that one – there! Then out onto the sundeck he walked.
And the son of a bitch who had been on the fifty - but the dumb-ass ran out of ammo - was still aiming the goddamned grenade launcher down at Sean’s men. His buddy still trying to shove another rocket grenade into it, while Sean stood behind them like a schoolteacher catching two kids smoking pot behind the bleachers. Sean remained calm, cool. His mirrored shades didn’t allow the expression on his face to come through, echoing the thought; “just what the fuck do you two assholes think you’re doing, huh?” but somehow they knew.
The man holding the rocket-launcher actually turned to look at Sean as if to say ‘how the hell did you get up here so fast?’. Just before Sean put the man and his buddy down with his 45 - blam, blam, blam-blam - the man smiled, he actually smiled at the end, as if to say “isn’t this strange, American, how all of this shit is playing out?” It was an expression of resignation, commiseration, with a dash of - what was it, exactly? Was it fair to say camaraderie? - And how peculiar was it that, as Sean shot the man in the chest and in the face, he felt it too.
The stinging sound of gunfire in his ears, followed by brutal silence that rang like hell’s gong. So much mayhem. Dead bodies smelling up a hostile house outside of town Who Gives a Fuck. The stink of cordite and be-shitted rags of the dead, their last minutes of life and the associated BO lingering as a reminder anyone who walked through that these men had been alive only seconds prior. The feeling that his ears were about to start bleeding. Taking the stairs back down through that lifeless house, with eight insurgents dead in the space of a minute, all by his hand, he wanted to get out fast. He knew that their spirits were still there in that house, lingering near their bodies, confused, wandering; lamenting their own stupidity in this bloody human ritual called war. Sean didn’t want to hear their souls in his head with their warnings “all we can tell you now is, you may be next to join us! You think you are better, simply because you live still? We were wrong to hate just as you are wrong to go on with hate in your living heart…”
He didn’t even want to look at their torn and twisted forms, but his men wanted to show them to him anyway.
“Hell yeah, fuck yeah! Look at what LC Cogs’ did to these motherfuckers!” they screamed, as they pumped their fists and led him room to room. It was a good moment for them. They needed this morale booster so Sean let them have it, and lived forever after with the visions from it.
It was in that moment, Sean knew his career as a marine, was over. He used to be able to kill dispassionately to protect his men. Fire and forget. Kill, walk on, move out. Over. But now he felt passion. The white hot anger, the murder rage opened his heart to feelings of pity afterwards. The face of the man he killed. A man with a sense of humor, just like him, just like his brother Ryan had been. An enemy combatant with a sense of humor in the face of death had a worthy soul. And when you extinguished his life, the world was worth a little less after he passed, no matter what side he fought for. This wasn’t a marine thinking anymore, it was a human being.
Later, just like the night before, scorpions were trapped by two layers of masking tape near the doorway. Spiders were used for target practice with an air rifle, Camel cigarettes were stuffed into gun barrels to keep out the gunk. The stink from the latrine nearby his bunk. The way things went over there. Stuff breaking down, men breaking down, and none of it getting any better. Everyone waiting to die, kill, or go home.
But they had “gotten them some” after the humvee exploded; They said “hell yeah, fuck yeah!” and they gave him his medals, and he saluted over the gear of his fallen men whom he loved dearly, and wallowed in the pain later with no one the wiser.
Now, here sat this fat asshole complimenting him, planning on becoming president. And Sean agreed with his dead enemy, hell yeah, my friend, it is weird how all this shit is playing out.
“How were you wounded, Sean?”
“Oh yeah, that,” Sean said. “A piece of flak no bigger than a bb went into my leg beside my shin, and came out again from my calf. I stitched that up myself. They guys who bought it that day deserved it much more than I did.”
“Well we’re gonna see if we can’t bring more boys home safely Sean. More of them, and Savante’s gonna help us do it.”