Chapter 2: Father to a Sister of Thought
One month later: Washington, DC: 8:35 a.m.
Michelle Parke hated Mondays. It was by no means an original thought. Many people through the ages have ruminated over their hatred for Mondays. From Aristotle's observation that "we are what we repeatedly do," believed to be a lament about the start of the week, to Bob Geldof's "I don't like Mondays," Monday's beginning puts almost everybody in a bad mood, but its end does little to enliven the spirit.
For Michelle, this particular Monday had a most inauspicious start Sunday night. Michelle resided in a townhouse in the Glover Park neighborhood of Washington, DC. It seemed like a wise investment at the time. A quiet neighborhood off Wisconsin Avenue, it was a maze of one way streets that only the most resourceful of robbers would dare attempt. The general run-of-mill burglars and ne'er-do-wells would most likely stay away. As a single female, Michelle often obsessed over these types of things. There was the slight issue with the strip clubs, but Michelle firmly believed in one's first amendment right to wear as much or as little as one wanted. Besides, it had a really good elementary school, which had to count for something for the resale value. The neighbors on either side were quiet and tidy, lace curtains in front and orderly gardens in the back. All in all, Michelle felt very proud for making the right choice the day she signed the mortgage papers.
Then, the Vadens died, one right after the other. Mr. Vaden met his end during an unfortunate unscheduled stop to the Dupont Farmers Market. Picking the one contaminated tomato in the pile, Mr. Vaden contracted lysteria and never recovered. Mrs. Vaden wasn't the same and Michelle was convinced the sweet old lady died of a broken heart. Rather than sell the place, the Delaware heirs decided it was better to rent. Being from Delaware, they didn't place a lot of time in vetting applicants. The first to apply were the first to rent. And that is how the boys of the SEC came to live on Michelle's left with their LSU Tiger parties and stellar example of the pitfalls of communism. While one man may strive to take care of and improve his property, men living in the collective will refuse to do anything that could be perceived as being taken advantage. Like the lawn. If one man mowed the lawn while the others watched the LSU game, what did he get out of it? Whereas if all the men watched the LSU game and the lawn remained un-mowed, no harm no foul.
Then, her other neighbors retired. Fed up with chilly DC winters and fully vested in their CSRS pension, the Abbotts packed up and moved to Mississippi, renting out their former homestead. Living in Mississippi, they conveniently forgot what it was like to share a wall, a very thin plaster wall, and went with expediency rather than quality in choosing tenants. Thus, the boys of the ACC came to live on Michelle's right with their Saturday afternoon college football fests, Sunday and Monday night football gatherings, Wednesday beer pong tournaments, Thursday night discos, and Friday baseball rallies. The neat flower garden in back died and weeds took over. Meanwhile, the boys kicked up their heels and sat on the porch tossing down 40s like the world was about to end. For Michelle, it did in a way. A lover of peace and solitude, it turned out that a decent elementary school wasn't enough of a draw in comparison to frat boys on both sides and strip clubs mere blocks away. After receiving no bites when she listed her place, she accepted her fate and, quite begrudgingly, acknowledged that she indeed made a bad decision.
But back to this particular Monday. Michelle still didn't know what was so special about Sunday. There were no sporting events of which she was aware. The weather was remarkable in that there was nothing remarkable about it. It was a Sunday like any other Sunday except for the fact her neighbors treated it like a solstice feast. Thumping bass and squeals of "whoop-whoop" assaulted her ears at 3 a.m. After desperate pleas to please keep it down fell upon deaf ears, she called the police, who never came. She fell asleep curled up in her closet, buried under pillows and blankets, which is why she never heard her alarm clock go off.
Rushing through an abbreviated shower, forgoing breakfast, Michelle hit the pavement and did a record time sprint to the bus stop, waiting for the bus that would never come. For strange reasons unknown to the denizens of DC, WMATA buses will not and do not travel alone. Rather, they travel in packs lest they be attacked like the roving caravans of humanity's last hope in some Mad Max movie. The 7:45 bus showed up right on the heels of the 8:00 and the 8:15. The bus oozed along the narrow streets of Georgetown, before parking in front of the Dupont Circle Metro Station. Hopping off, Michelle dashed and cut her way through the hoards only to trip on the escalator stair that didn't move, stubbing her toe and scuffing her shoe. Cursing, Michelle cast an evil eye at the temporary out of service sign and wondered when Metro would just cut its losses and install a permanent one.
Stopped escalator stairs are not made for walking. The proportions are all out of whack. The rise is too drastic for a comfortable step and the parallel lines of black steel jar the eyes and can cause vertigo in those so inclined. Michelle was so inclined. Her stomach bobbed and weaved as she descended the 188 feet of stairs to the station below. Reaching the bottom, the line to pass through the turnstile snaked its way around the upper mezzanine. Only one gate was working. Michelle hopped in line, the flashing digital clock above a reminder of just how late she was going to be. Michelle sighed, it was always like this. Whenever she had an absolute deadline of where she had to be, something stood in the way.
And today she had an absolute deadline for where she needed to be. Michelle was General Counsel for the United States Department of Commerce. When she first accepted the appointment, she had high expectations that she would swoop in, cut red tape, render masterful legal opinions, and assist the Secretary in freeing markets everywhere. It would be a huge stepping-stone on her career path. Instead, every decision Michelle rendered seemed to compound red tape and instead of issuing masterful legal opinions, she was more of a fashion consultant, deciding which tie better suited the Secretary depending on his speaking engagement of the day. She only had to survive six more months, six more long, grueling months, before she could put feelers out for a new position. Until then, she would endure. And part of that enduring meant meeting with the Secretary before any speaking engagement, no matter how small, not to go over talking points, but to select his tie. The Secretary's meeting was at 9:30, she was cutting things close.
Waiting on the platform for the next train, Michelle instinctively jockeyed for position. It didn't look good from where she stood. The platform was packed with early risers and the Metro car was jam packed as well. Where these people came from, she knew not. She just knew they were there, wanting the same thing she did, admittance to this train. Warily eyeing the competition, Michelle positioned herself where she estimated the doors would open. Alas, luck was not on Michelle's side and she severely underestimated the door by a few feet. But a few feet, often the difference between a gold and a silver, was the difference between hopping on a packed train or fuming in silence for the next. The next train was met by howls of curses as it rumbled past the station, "out of service" scrolling across its destination board.
Finally the third train was the charm. Michelle allowed the crowd to push her forward and she grabbed a pole as the train sped forward toward her destination. Arriving at Metro Center, Michelle barely made it off the train as Metro's sing-songy warning, "door closing," barely preceded the slamming of the car's doors. Fact, the doors on a Metro car do not automatically spring open when meeting resistance like a Chicago "L" car. No, Metro doors are programmed to do one thing, close. If a bag, or say even a person, is in the way, the doors will keep trying to close and the car will rumble ahead with said bag or person flailing outside, attached to the train. Michelle wasn't going to ponder how she arrived at that fact, unconsciously rubbing her shoulder that was still sore almost two years later.
Realizing the futility of arriving in time to assist the Secretary in selecting his tie, Michelle figured she had time to grab a quick coffee. She started preparing her apology speech as she rode the escalator topside.
Unknown Cobra Outpost: 8:55 a.m.
"You heard me correctly."
"You can't be serious."
"Oh, I am very serioussss I assure you."
"Commander, I just don't follow." Destro shook his head; trying to grasp the essence of Cobra Commander's latest plot was beginning to test his patience.
"Surely you have to see the genius of my plan. Think of the havoc Cobra shall create. The world will be at its knees. A surgical strike they will never anticipate!" The Commander clutched his fists and raised them into the air, rousing victory marches playing in his head.
"I don't buy it. Once you do it the first time, they'll figure it out. Word will get around. You can't expect to accomplish much." Destro folded his arms across his chest waiting for the explanation.
Metro Center: 9:05 a.m.
Michelle squinted against the light as she stepped off the escalator. A few feet in front of her she noticed a group of 20-somethings dressed in blue jumpsuits handing out something to the swarms of people exiting the station. Some took the free offering with open arms, others held up their hands trying to avoid any contact with the workers. As Michelle walked closer to the group she saw that they were handing out trial pieces of chewing gum. She instinctively reached out to take a piece offered by a young blonde-haired woman. A hand suddenly appeared from outside her peripheral vision and placed a packet in her hand. She turned to thank the individual, nodding her head in appreciation. As she walked away from the scene she found that she couldn't recall the face of the man who had handed her the gum. He looked so nondescript that his face was almost just a blur, as if he didn't have a face at all, just a blank slate where his features should be. Shrugging it off, Michelle looked down at the wrapper, Cool Breeze: Alpine Blast. Somehow, she doubted it truly would be reminiscent of an alpine trip, but free was free. She unwrapped the stick of gum, shoved the wrapper into her pocket and the gum into her mouth. She sucked her cheeks in as the intensity of the flavor hit her head on. It felt like she had placed half a tin of altoids in her mouth. Breathing out, the minty fire in her mouth subsided and she hurried onward. There was a coffee kiosk in the Marriott where the Secretary was speaking at a meeting of the Fresh Produce Association. It would have to do.
Walking down the street, Michelle couldn't help but notice just how darn hot the morning had gotten. The Weather Channel failed to mention this little heat wave. Sighing, she resigned herself to limp locks and a sticky shirt. Unbuttoning the collar to her blouse did little to relieve the sauna. Missing the light at 13th and E, she unbuttoned her blazer. Looking around, she wondered how many people would even care if she stripped down to her skivvies. They were oblivious to her as she normally was to them, so wrapped up in their own commuting dramas. Wiping the sweat from her brow, she crossed the street as the light changed. Stepping up onto the opposite curb, the ground lurched beneath her. She held out her arms to steady herself and found that it took great concentration to place one foot in front of the other. She willed herself to walk more carefully. If she could just make it to the hotel, everything would be okay. A taxi cab drove by honking its horn, the sound echoing in her head long after it sped away. The solid cube of the Marriott loomed overhead, arching menacingly above. Michelle stopped in the middle of the doorway, trying to catch her breath. The surroundings ebbed and flowed, spinning ever faster. Stumbling, "Watch it lady!" a man pushed her away as she fell into him. Panicking, Michelle headed for the kiosk, assuming that lack of breakfast and caffeine were getting to her. She really had to remember to eat something, even a piece of bread, before heading out for the day. She staggered into line, her body pitching and swaying. The barista gave her an odd look as she tried to place her order. Her tongue wouldn't form the words in her mouth and it felt leaden and almost dead. She tried again but her whole body was rebelling. Someone behind her commented that she must be drunk. As she turned to tell that person off, the ground shifted. The last sound she heard was a woman's scream as clarity gave way to nothingness.
Unknown Cobra Outpost: 9:45 a.m.
Cobra Commander and Destro faced each other across the conference room table. Destro's arms were folded across his chest. The arms dealer's unwillingness to embrace his plan was frustrating the leader to no end. "What do I expect?" The Commander began to regret letting Destro in on his plan. "What can't I expect? By the time they figure it out, Cobra will already be one step ahead. No one will feel safe. The populace will turn on its governments and seek out those that can make it safe. Our friends will step in and our path to domination will begin. You always say I aim too high. This time, I listened." A knock was heard at the door. "Come in," ordered the Commander. An apprehensive young solider stepped across the threshold.
"Sir, I have the report you've been expecting. Zartan wanted to relay that the subject was found and the test was positive. Further, the other marks were handed out and he'll continue to monitor the situation." The solider, with shaky hands, fought against his primal urge to flee as he handed a manila file folder over to the Commander. He shifted his weight back and forth, pulling at his collar. Of all the places to be on base, this wasn't it.
The Commander accepted the file and waved the anxious young man out of the room. He turned back to Destro, "It looks like my little test today was a success. Soon, very soon, we shall plan our sssstrike." His maniacal laugh filled the room.
Reaching across the table to take the report proffered by the Commander, Destro felt something he had never felt before in the Commander's presence, admiration. As he perused through the report's pages, Destro kept his thoughts to himself, but maybe, just maybe, the Commander was on to something. If so, Destro worried that he was going too far.