Beginning of a novel. Chapter 2 is up if you like it.
Year: 2102 Location: A prison cell
Dark. Damp. Cold. All these terms described the windowless cell that Amran had been forced into. Standing up to his nearly six-foot height without hitting his head on the ceiling of the tiny chamber proved impossible. The biggest object in the room was the toilet that had been mercifully provided. Webs plugged up the corners of the corners of the cell providing the only decoration in the room. The spiders who made these webs and the occasional cockroach proved to be the only life that Amran glimpsed in the entire time in which the cell had become his home.
Rations only came twice a day and when they did come they were scarcely more than two slices of bread and half a cup of water. Amran was almost certain that they were drugging his water but still he drank. He hardly ever spoke a word because there was no one to hear him. Even the food was sent through a slit in the titanium door of the cell so that no one would come in physical contact with Amran. In his entire life of fifteen years these were the worst conditions that had ever befallen Amran Zewail.
Life in the cell was miserable, there was no mystery in that. There was however, mystery as to why Amran in those cramped quarters. That question was a cloud of confusion and curiosity that hung over most of the very captors who were responsible for keeping him in that cell. To them he was just a kid – he didn’t even seem very agressive and after all he was alone.
Amran may have been all alone in his cell but he was not for one second bored. That was because Amran could stare past the hollow boring eyes of people into the wondrous elixir of thoughts.
He was not however, just able to just look at someone and discern what they were thinking. Amran’s ability was that when someone was near he could sense what their intentions at that moment were and recently had been. When someone got close enough Amran felt a slight pressure weighing down on his mind. To anyone else this feeling would just seem like a petty migraine but Amran knew better. What he was feeling was another human mind coming within range of Amran’s aberrant power. This light feeling on his mind had proved to be a warning that someone was close enough for Amran to see into their mind.
This extraordinary ability proved to be both a blessing and a curse to Amran, his family, and anyone who knew him. This power was the reason that he was locked up in a room where the only resource he had was his mind. This in itself however, had proved to be a greater weapon than anything in the arsenal of a
soldier. This had been proved time and time again since the very beginning of his life.
20 Years Earlier
Year:2082 Location: Cairo, Egypt
Layne stood up, stretched out her legs, and set the binoculars that had held been held up to tired eyes for nearly the entire night down on her dresser. She looked over at the clock as a yawn escaped from her mouth: 4:30. It would be dawn in a matter of minutes. Layne let out a frustrated growl. She had been sitting at her post, staring out across the street, holding the stupid pair of binoculars for almost ten hours She had spent ten hours and no action at all from the apartment across the street. It was definitely a failed stakeout.
As Layne took a seat on the hotel bed she really felt the toll that these stakeouts had been taking on her. From her position on the bed she was able to view the mirror hanging on the wall. She absentmindedly fixed her hair as another seed of doubt in her superiors was planted.
Actually, she supposed by now that the seed of doubt had grown into a tree. Hanging from this tree were the big ripe fruits of contempt and anger. Yes, Layne Harper had a watermelon tree of doubt growing in the organization whom, for security reasons, asked her not to keep track of how many years she had been a member. Aww hell, she figured, deciding it was harvest time for one of those melons, it had been twelve years, twelve years working for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Layne suddenly heard a deep growling sound and nearly jumped off the bed before realizing it was her stomach. Now where could she get something to eat? As she pondered that question she took a quick glance out the window. She was in luck, a couple blocks down away from her hotel was a donut shop. Not exactly the most healthy breakfast, but Layne wasn’t about to go searching around the city for some place else without a car at her disposal. Before heading out Layne made sure she didn’t have any CIA markings on her as her organization wasn’t the most welcome in Egypt these days. She grabbed her leather bag containing a some assorted materials and headed out her room.
She walked the extra few feet past the elevators to where stairs where the stairs were. They were better exercise, plus she didn’t altogether trust elevators. There was just something about the feeling she got when it finally stopped, her body wanted to keep going. She knew all about Newton’s Laws and she knew her fears could never be realized but as soon as she stepped into an elevator that logic just went out the window.
Because of her extensive physical training Layne reached the bottom of the hotel in less than a minute. She waved to the desk manager who had helped her with her bags before heading towards the door. She pulled open the glass door and inhaled a huge breath of air.
If Layne had not been convinced that she was in Cairo, Egypt she would have sworn she was on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Much to the amusement of the hotel staff she had been repeating this ritual every time she stepped out of building since she had been in Egypt. The cities of Egypt were consistently rated highest in the world for lack of air pollution. This was a side effect of solar power finally becoming a suitable substitute for many fossil fuels at the same time as Egypt’s industrial revolution.
As she strolled out of the hotel Layne spotted a newsstand. One of the first lessons she had learned while working for Big Brother was, when in a Foreign country, always read the newspaper. She scanned the covers not even having to translate to English as they already were all in her native tongue. Before it’s slump, America had all but made English the Universal language.
She quickly noticed the same picture repeating on every page. It was Akil Zewail.
It seemed that every time that Akil Zewail did something newsworthy, journalists dound it necessary to point out he was a self-made man who: “had skyrocketed to fame in 2098 with his book Wolves and Hyenas: The consequences of Egypt and America’s rivalry”, Layne didn’t see it being that extraordinary, like any book these days it had to have a subtitle.
Contrary to the press’ reasoning that Zewail was such a success because he was a gift from God and/or the anti-christ, depending on what you read, the reason his book stood out from it’s peers claiming to foresee an irrevocable schism between the two countries was that it at least attempted to offer a feasible solution. Also, unlike the other books his did not try to relate the current rivalry to the Cold War. In fact, it only mentioned the cold war once, in the first sentence of the book: “This is not the Cold War.”
While the books warnings were not heeded by either country, it was widely
read by the common folk of the world. When it became clear that his book was a best-seller Zewail took a leave of absence from his job as a history professor at the small university where he taught. From there he toured the world giving speeches and meeting politicians, occasionally returning to the college to give a lecture.
The articles that went along with the pictures of Zewail in the newspapers all spoke of his “State of the World” address. The speech was delivered without advanced warning less than hour before leaders of both Egypt and America were slated to address their countries directly. The major news networks of both countries covered their respected leader’s speech, of course, but when the media executives of Egypt and America looked at the viewing stats for the time slot they found that more viewers than were tuned in to Zewail’s speech via any independent news source on the internet. Of course these statistics were never mentioned by any of the corporate news sources in either country but the view-count the clip on YouTube spoke for itself.
While Layne stared down at the paper she was prompted from her reverie by her empty stomach. She bought the paper she had in her hands and slipped it into the leather bag she had brought along. She then turned her attention down the street to the donut shop a couple blocks away.
Even with her stomach currently set on getting to the donut shop Layne’s mind couldn’t help but to wander. This tendency of her mind to wander led her to think of ideas and possibilities which she had found other people missed. What she considered her gift, and the doctor’s considered not quite ADD, was one of the main propellants for joining the CIA.
One hundred years ago Layne Harper might have looked slightly out of place as an American walking down the bustling streets of Cairo. This had long ceased to be. Fifty years a string of economic leaders had arisen in Egypt just in time to take advantage of the new water and solar (two resources which Egypt had plenty of) powered technology being produced.
The time of Egypt’s rise was also a time of weakness for the United States. The United States, after centuries of worrying about everyone else’s problems, forgot about their own at home. Millions of jobs were outsourced and the once mighty corporations of the U.S. steadily slipped away to other countries. America’s economy nearly imploded. An economic downward spiral soon followed in everything from shoe sales to foreign trade. The extent of this nearly became America’s second Great depression. Because of all this, on the streets of Cairo these days there were almost as many foreigners as Egyptians.
Even with all this new technology when Layne looked around her she couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Despite Egypt now being one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, the present she was living in did not live up to the expectations of people decades or even a century ago had imagined. A cure for cancer hadn’t been discovered, there were no hover cars, and to the disappointment of children everywhere nothing was that shiny.
Since the beginning of time and especially in the last few centuries, people could look forward to the technological advances that would make their everyday life simpler. She was disappointed because in the last century things hadn’t really changed much. For the last several centuries Europe and America had been the main producers of anything that simplified life. In recent years these two powerhouses’ scientists had become too preoccupied to work on social advances. Preoccupied with terrorism.
With the threat of terrorism rising steeper by the day, the government of Europe and America had diverted funding from other areas into anti-terrorism measures. Not only this but more and more companies were popping up that claimed to help prevent terrorism on national, local, and even personal scales. Terrorism played a big factor in the daily lives of the people in the western hemisphere. Terrorism is why Layne Harper was in Egypt.
At least that was the claim of her superiors. Layne had been in Cairo spying on a cabinet member of the current Egyptian Prime Minister. An increasing
number of agents were being sent to Egypt to look for what they were told was “terroristic material” on top Egyptian officials. Not one agent had come back with any evidence that something was going on. With so little evidence, more and more of her colleagues were wondering if they were being sent on a wild goose chase.
As she continued to walk down the street a neon sign announced her arrival at the shop. She opened the door and for the second time since her stay in Egypt was taken by the wonderful smell. She walked up to the counter where an Egyptian girl stood looking wide awake, most likely because of the free coffee which working at the shop guaranteed her, “What would you like today Miss?”
Layne reached for her bag, “I’ll have two glazed donuts and an espresso.”
While she said this she opened up the bag and reached for her wallet. Within moments she realized it wasn’t there. Puzzled she pulled out the newspaper and set in on the counter so that she would be able to see better. The wallet nowhere to be seen, Layne was about to cancel the order when she heard a voice from behind her.
“Oh, I’ll pay for that.” Layne turned around to see a tall dark Egyptian man smiling at her.
She turned around ready to turn down his generous offer when her stomach made her think better of it.
“I usually don’t do this but I’m extremely hungry. Thank you,” she said taking the money from the man.
As she turned around she realized she recognized him from somewhere. Her mind raced through the list of informants she was in contact with but none fit his
profile. Discouraged she took her order from the Egyptian girl. It was then that
she realized his identity was staring her in the face. She picked up the paper she had set on the counter and glared at the picture on the front page: Akil Zewail.
Before she even had time to realize what was happening Layne found herself turned around and shaking hands.
“It’s no problem at all. I’m always forgetting things too,” he said nochalantly, “my name is–”
“Akil Zewail,” she said finishing his sentence.
He sighed an over exaggerated sigh with a smile on his face, “I wish I could,
just once, go someplace where I wasn’t recognized so easily.”
“You should come to America then,” she said, “most people there don’t even know who you are. I only recognized your face because of my newspaper.”
“Really? You’re an American?” he said rasing an eyebrowe, “You seem much more educated than they portray you.”
“What are you talking about? Who’s this ‘portrayer’?”
“Well,” he said searching around for an answerer, “everyone. The Egyptian media particularly.”
“A man as smart as you unable to dispel a notion as simple as that?” she said bewildered, “I mean really, you must have met tons of Americans.”
“Sure, I’ve met plenty of Americans but they were all Nobel prize winners or cabinet members. The only interaction I get with the average American is through the e-mails they send claiming to have found my secret Zionist agenda.”
She laughed, “Yeah, I saw an hour long special about that on one of the cable channels. I suppose Americans don’t think of Egyptians as too bright either,” she said with a wave of her hand, “Now I hate to end this heartwarming conversation but I’m quite hungry and I’m sure you’re a busy man.”
Layne sat down at a table not too far away with her back to Zewail. She hastily opened up the paper bag she was holding and pulled out one of the glazed donuts.
Before she had even swallowed her first bite she heard footsteps approaching from behind her. She looked over her shoulder to see Zewail standing a few feet away.
“Well, my schedule is uncharacteristically free at the moment, and I would really be interested in learning more about Americans. Do you mind if I sit down
“Go right ahead, Mr. Zewail” said Layne, surprised by the sudden question.
Zewail sat down in a seat across from Layne, with his sitting on top of the table, crossed. “Thank you, and I’ll draw from a cliche of your country’s old movies,” he put on an over-exaggerated politeness that was straight out of the old black and white movies, “please, call me Akil. Which reminds me I don’t believe I got your name...”
“Layne Harper,” she said polishing off her first donut.
The rest of the conversation went by in a blur for both of them. Their topics ranged from world politics to flavors of licorice. The conversation ended up going on long after Layne finished her donuts and coffee. After what seemed like only a few moments but was in fact over an hour, a beeping on Akil’s watch signaled his departure.
“This was great,” he said standing up, “I’d love to talk to you again. I’d give
you my home number but I’m not home a lot and I don’t want the kind of publicity you calling my office would attract.”
“I’ll give you mine then,” she said pulling the pen and paper that she always kept with her out of her bag. “Just call me whenev–”
“Don’t worry I’ll call you as soon as I can ” he said as he drew open the donut house’s door.
Year: 2122 Location: Vermillion, South Dakota
Den stared anxiously at the digital clock imbedded into the wall at the front of the room. The clock read 2:29. That meant the any second now…. “Beeeeep ” There was the magical, wonderful, brilliant, computerized sound that signaled the end of the school day and the school week since it happened to be Friday.
Den stood up, as did the rest of her class and rushed out of the room while her teacher tried (unsuccessfully) to shout the homework assignment to his students most of whom were already engaged in conversations. Den grabbed her bag and left the room in a hurry. She, like every other student, was anxious to leave.
As she walked towards the exit someone approached her. “Oh my God, that was one dull EEC class You got to agree with me here Den. Am I right?”” EEC referred to Egyptian Economy and Culture, a new class only made mandatory in most schools that year (to the anger of many diehard believers that America
would always be the only superpower in the world).
Den recognized the voice immediately. It was Alina her friend since grade school. “I’m with you on this one. That was definitely dull. I still can’t believe the legislature swallowed their pride and made it a requirement.” Den said this already knowing what the response from Alina would be.
“Yeah, whatever you say, I’m not much into that political mumbo-jumbo. So how’s track going?”
Den sighed, no matter how simply she tried to explain it to Alina, she would not hear anything that didn’t concern life in their small town of Vermillion, South
Dakota. Nonetheless she answered the question pretending not to care that her friend had changed the subject. “Pretty good actually. I brought my mile time down 15 seconds. How’s cheerleading?”
“Brutal. We have to learn like, 6 new cheers for the big basketball game
next Tuesday. We’re walking home together today right?”
“Sure,” Den said as they started down the street that led to their houses which had neighbored each other since before either of them could remember, gossiping and bantering and chattering along the way.
After about a twenty minutes walk they’d reached the sidewalk that lay in front of both of the girls’ houses. “Bye Den. See you tomorrow?” Alina asked knowingly.
“Of course.” Said Den as she headed back to her lemon- yellow house and Alina ambled back to her light green house next door.
Before heading in Den took a peek into the garage to see if anyone else was home yet. It was totally empty except for a couple of gardening tools and sports equipment lying around. Den’s mom was of course at work and her father was
probably out buying groceries or something else of the sort.
Den walked over to the door and, out of habit, turned the knob only to find
that it was locked, just like she knew it would be. Old habits die hard. Den then
took a step back and scanned the bricks that made up the pathway that led up to the front door of the house. Within seconds she had spotted the brick with the little green spot in the center of it. Reaching down, Den wedged the brick up with her hands and then pulled it the rest of the way out. She flipped it over to reveal the key to the house taped to the bottom. Taping the key to the bottom a brick in the pathway was her father’s idea. Putting the hide-a-key under the doormat like a normal family just wasn’t good enough for him. Den unlocked the door and then re-taped the key to the brick and placed it back into the pathway. Her stay-at-home dad seemed to have too many ideas sometimes.
Having unlocked the door, Den pushed it open, her face coming within an inch of a sign hanging on the door. Her mother had it painted herself years ago. It read: The Robertson Family and had balloons and flowers painted on.
Den set her bag down and just stood where she was for a moment taking in smell of the house just as she did every day. The house had been there for God knows how long but it had always managed to keep what Den called “The new house smell”. This smell could only be described as a mix of polish and carpet cleaner, a combination that did not sound good together but that Den found remarkably pleasing. She credited the house smelling of these two cleaning products to her Dad who found cleaning to be an exciting hobby.
Den had started heading into the kitchen with that wonderful aroma filling her nostrils when she felt an odd sensation. At first she thought she had just she had just been sniffing polish for too long but she soon realized that wasn’t it.
Den had never really felt anything happen to her mind before and had no idea what such a sensation would feel like but nonetheless she knew that was where the tingling feeling was coming from. Then, all of a sudden, that strange, almost tickling feeling stopped and an unbearable pain erupted replaced it.
In her entire life, a bee had stung Den just once. It had happened years ago and it had stung her leg, but she was sure that if a bee were to sting her mind
somehow, what was happening to her at that moment would be exactly what it would feel like. Only a thousand times worse.
She had no idea why it happened and later she realized she had no memory of what went on during those few moments except that, at some point, her eyes had
closed. Whether she had closed them of her own free will or that it was some automatic reaction to the pain she had no idea. When Den finally reopened her eyes she felt something cool and hard pressed up against her cheek, and when she turned her head she realized that she must have fallen down because she was now lying on the floor. She immediately tried to stand up but when she tried she realized her legs felt like jelly. Using the wall for support, Den carefully stood up, shifting most her weight up against the wall. When she was finally upright, a pain came across the whole left side of her body, the side that had first hit the floor when she fell.
When she finally had her wits back around her she was plagued with
questions. Did she pass out? How long had she been on the floor? And the most urging question of them all: What the hell just happened? Looking up at the clock
Den realized that if she had been unconscious it couldn’t have been for long as just a little over two minutes had passed since she had entered the door. This also meant she couldn’t have been on the floor very long either. The last question still hung in her mind however and somehow she knew that it would be a little too complex for her clock to answer.
After standing there for more than a few moments rubbing her head with one hand to try to soothe the pain in her mind (to no avail), Den decided to sit down. No sooner had she sat down though than she felt a gnawing hunger in her stomach that she realized she must have felt during the whole ordeal but had been too preoccupied to notice. She walked over to the fridge, opened the door, and peered
inside already knowing what she would see.
“Oh coooooome on ” Den complained out loud as she stared angrily as she stared at the contents of the fridge. In it were a bag of carrots, Several different varieties of apples, Half a carton calcium enriched, low fat, vitamin added skim milk, and as Den described the rest of the items out loud, “A whole lot of crap.”
Because of the current situation with the fridge Den was unbelievably happy to hear from outside, “Den I’m home, come help me with the groceries.” Den looked outside through the window in the kitchen and saw her father
laden with groceries walking up the driveway. At that moment her stomach told her that those words were the sweetest she would ever hear.
Not very far from the current moment, Den’s gut would tell her that another set of words would be the worst she would ever hear. But Den knew nothing of this as she rushed to the front door, opened it, and sprinted outside grabbing bags out of her father’s arms, a smile adorning her face.
“Whoa Den, slow down!” her father’s words went in one ear and out the
other because at the moment Den had one thing on her mind ... food. She tore
into the house with the few grocery bag she had grabbed from her father, dropped them down on the table, and then immediately began searching through them. Cleaning crap, no. Frozen steak, no. Tube of toothpaste, no. Bag of marshmallows, yes Den’s eyes lit up as she finally saw something not only edible, the only qualification the food needed to have at that moment, but her favorite food. She tore through the plastic like and shoved a huge handful of marshmallows into her mouth. She was reminded of her health class in which her teacher had spent the whole period lecturing them on why one shouldn’t do drugs,
Marshmallows, Den thought in her state of ecstasy, must be some sort of drug.
“Every father’s dream ” said her dad, exaggeratedly clapping his hand over his heart, “Seeing you right now just made my day.” Den realized she must have looked pretty ridiculous with marshmallows crammed into her mouth. She chewed them a few times, then swallowed. “Aren’t you just so proud to have me as a daughter?”
“I was being sarcastic, Prudence,” he said smiling.
Den raised one eyebrow and glared at her father as the mention of her full name.
“Fine, Den, whatever. I still think Prudence sounds much better. Although I guess it doesn’t fit you very well, you don’t exercise much prudence. The SAT’s will be here before you know it, would it kill you study a little more often?”
“It could for all I know. I’m not sure I want to risk it,” Den said allowing the corners of her mouth to curl upwards in a small smile. Her father only grinned
and shook his head.
“Help me put the groceries in the fridge before some of the stuff spoils.” Den helped her father put away the food and was delighted by some of the other items her dad purchased as well.
Soon her mother arrived home and was equally pleased that there was a new
supply of food. Then, along with Den’s father cooked a dinner while Den did her
homework. They then sat down to eat and discussed how each other’s day went: Den got an A on her English test, Mom had a new client at work, and so forth.
Afterwards both parents watched the news while Den lay on the couch and listened to music. All was just as normal as every other day, some would call it monotonous, others would call it peaceful, but this was how the Robertson’s and
pretty much every other family in Vermillion went about their day to day life. Nothing was out of the ordinary until that night.
Den gazed up at the clock from her very comfortable position on couch, 12:30 already Den realized she was kind of tired and unbelievably glad it was Friday.
As she rose onto her feet she came to the conclusion that “kind of tired” won the award for biggest understatement of her life. She trudged over to the stairs that led to her bedroom on the second floor of the house. Her mother had already gone to bed but her dad was still awake sitting in an armchair reading some sports journal with his eyes only half open.
“Good night Dad.” Den said in a voice which came out much hoarser than
she expected it to.
“Huh?” He looked up from the paper. “Oh, goodnight honey.”
Den continued up the stairs until she reached the hallway at the top. She turned to her room, the first room on the right. When her family first moved into
the house Den had been very young and all the doors at the top of the stairs had
looked the same to her so her parents had come up with a rhyme to help her remember which one was her room. First room on the right sleepyhead’s delight. Even as Den got older the rhyme always popped into her head as she flipped on the
light in her room
Den turned to the mirror that hung above her dresser and couldn’t help but
laugh. She looked ridiculously tired. “Red decorates the eyes, with drooping bags under the eyes complimenting the red for the ultimate tiredness effect,” she said, wondering immediately afterwards why she sounded like a cheesy infomercial all of a sudden. Rub this cream on your face, it makes you taller Laughing at her own thoughts and not in the mood to ponder the question Den turned away from her mirror.
Too drained to even change out of her school clothes Den just flicked the light off and slipped under the covers of her bed.
That was when she heard it. What exactly “it” was Den was unable to discern at the moment, nor would she believe the truth for some time. It was very soft, very faint, but later on there would be no denying that she had heard the two words. Two words which meant nothing to her at the moment but when coupled with the story behind them, would alter not just her future but humanity’s. Merely a whisper, “Help me.”
As Den drifted off into sleep she ignored the plea. She thought it was merely part of her dream. She would hear much more from the same source of those two words, and later she would remember and realize: That this moment, those words, were how it had all begun.
(Author's note: Chapter 2 is available if you're curious)