A Castle Reborn II By R. Cary

A Castle Reborn II

By R. Cary

CHAPTER 60

June 2022

Washington DC, Dominic Culter’s Home

Dominic, how are you?

Fine. 

Benjamin notices Dominic looks a little bit tense. An unease that is usually not present in him. I came by to speak to you Dominic. A few months ago, a girl came by here and she was with the Priest. Do you recall her? 

No. 

Here Dominic. Here are their photos. The Priest is dead, but this girl, she has gone missing. 

Dominic stated ‘no’ without looking at the photo. 

Look. I need to know if you can identify these two. 

Okay. I am just under the weather. 

You look worse than under the weather, you look like you have been on dope for 10 days straight Dominic.

Just a lot of work and some of it, I just don't want to do. You know Benjamin, I didn't get into this for these reasons, to do what I do now.  I always imagined it to be different, more fantastical. It is more ruthless than creative. Every step there is an angle. The blunt brutality of a situation, the work is much different than the idea of it. There is nothing left to the imagination. Just stark coldness. When I was just a middleman, I always got to imagine. You guys came to me for some resolve, I provided it and I could then imagine the outcome. It was all like a movie playing in my mind. If I would have known...

Dominic. Look at me. Eyes up, chin tucked in. Gather yourself. Shoulders back. Breath and relax. 

You are one of us. We are on the same team. 

I don't feel that way.

Fucking hell Dominic. You are acting like a petulant fucking child. You are the fucking star of DC. Yes, you are stuck here, don't get to do 007 shit, but there is a brutal fact, your impact is measurable time and time again and you always get it done. Isn't that enough? Don't we keep coming to you? 

‘It is’ Dominic says, but loneliness is God awful. Look at me, my eccentricity all bottled up in this bungalow of hell. I mean, go look in the bathtub and see what I deal with. 

Benjamin freezes, Dominic, what the fuck did you do? 

I am sorry, I am going crazy isolating myself like this. I can't even gather myself to get rid of him. I guess I am so fucked up he kept my mind busy, not like a friend being around, but just having something to do in my mind, like telling myself, 'ya, I need to do it', but save it for later. 

Dominic walks towards his bathroom. Shit, he can smell it already. Dominic's face begins showing the impact of the smell. He can already imagine the blood turning black, the flies, the swollen skin ready to ooze puss from it, the coloring of juices resting in the bathtub around the body. 

Dominic opens the door. 

Jesus Christ Dominic. Who the hell is that?

Look at your photo Dominic.

CHAPTER 61

June 2022

Washington DC, Dominic Culter’s Home

He just showed up, The Priest. I didn't know what to do. I panicked. How the hell does a dead man show up at your doorstep? I mean, this isn't what I asked for. 

Dominic, it's okay. Benjamin grabs his arm, just below his shoulder. It is okay. Benjamin grinding his teeth, the normality he presents is far from what lies beneath. Benjamin is a sociopath. He has learned to posture through banal conversations, make those around him believe he feels, but he doesn't. The pain Dominic is experiencing, the confusion, the moral dilemma is a foreign object to Benjamin. Benjamin didn't choose this path, he was forced into it. His history is of bloody murder. He comes into your life, uses you and gets rid of you. When he was arrested 15 years ago, he took his plea deal, met his terms and killed everyone involved. Each step of the way his skill sets and tenacity of killing people was recognized by the U.S. Attorney's Office. His relationship to criminal organizations can be invaluable, especially when they need to remove someone from power. He was cold, calculating, and could sit in on any meeting with the most consistent of tones. His vibrato resonated through his speech. Benjamin looks towards Dominic and says, `I am going to kill you’. 

Dominic looks at him with a surprised look, but a bit of sass with it, like if you dare try, gaining himself a bit.

Benjamin say's, I wasn't speaking about you. 

Who were you speaking to? The Priest? Are you insane Benjamin? He is already dead. 

‘Oh no he is not’ Benjamin groans as he leaves Dominic alone to his situation, like everyone does. 

Dominic smiles, proud of himself. You are right Benjamin. He is not dead. And he is gonna kill you. Dominic just watches the back of Benjamin leave his home. 

CHAPTER 62

November 5th, 2022

Maryland Institute for the Mentally Ill

Natalie, running to her Psychologist. 

Bryce. Why the hell would you tell me to watch the news! Especially at an exact time.

Natalie. Take a breath. Tell me how you are feeling. You can go into an episode quickly and you may not come back from it. 

Fuck off. Tell me why! Now! Natalie is leaning over his desk, hair in her face, veins pulsing up her forearms to her narrow shoulders. Natalie was always thin, making her look so much worse. Each vein on her forehead, the one Bryce is staring at, is always visible, showing her emotions all the time. 

Tell me why now! Natalie asserts.

Okay Natalie. I will admit something if you sit down and take a breath. Can you do that for me?

Natalie puts her head down, takes a breath and just sits. 

Did you see that Natalie? How you were able to gather yourself, compose yourself in a second, that ability is inconsistent with your delusions. You literally live in an alternate world but can gather yourself in an instant. In fact, since day one, you might huff and puff but you always gather yourself. I have feared breaking your reality and putting you in a manic episode you never came back from. So, I chose a neutral platform. If I challenged your delusions, the small trust we do have would be broken, as I would become one of ‘them’ indefinitely. Today, I knew the President would be on TV and even more so, Kat Vogel, the Secretary of State, would make her first appearance after Morning Joe.

You watch that whiny show! Oh God, that isn't something I miss. Before all this started, my last morning I enjoyed with the Priest he was watching that show. 

Oh c'mon, give him a break. He just got smarter. I mean, he enjoys English soccer over SEC football. Anyone who understands soccer is a much better sport than football is alright with me. Bryce is consciously opening himself up, wanting to go into Natalie’s story with her, as he knows something is seriously wrong here. This is born into him. He hunches things out. So he will bring himself to Natalie.

Whatever. So, I saw it. 

Do you still believe your reality exists and that He was or is President?

Listen Bryce. I didn't know. I was severely depressed when I came in, obviously. I never watched TV, read a paper or anything like that before Five Guys. 

So no, I don't think He is President. Hillary Clinton is President. You know Bryce, when that first came on, I thought you put that there for me, like with actors. But I trust myself. I know that was just the news. You had your reason. Now, I have a new storyline for you. 

Natalie. Take a breath before you tell me what you are going to tell me. As of right now you are showing signs of recovery. If you make up an alternative reality, I can't help you. 

Your decisions are your own Bryce, as are mine. Bryce is struck by this statement, but not showing its impact on him. How can her recognition of self be so clear, Bryce thinks. This does not fit the symptoms of the DSM, her delusions, her diagnosis. 

Natalie continues… 

Here is what I know Bryce. I was wrong from the moment I walked in here. Don't ever get me wrong. I was there with the Priest to kill Kat Vogel. But it was a different world, literally. 

Ya Natalie, I know that. You have told me.

I haven’t told you everything Bryce. 

Like what?

That in my world you were FBI Bryce. In my world you were interrogating me and the Priest in June 2022. You did so at the request of Kat Vogel. From that point forward, the whirlwind began. 

Natalie. You still believe this to be true? 

Yes. 

Why didn't you tell me this? 

Because I didn't care. Losing my father again, The Priest, being here, failing, it was rough. Now, I know I didn't fail, the Priest didn't fail, my Father didn't fail. We just didn’t fully stop Kat.

Natalie, here is what I must tell you. This is not the CIA. Do you believe that? Bryce puts out a feeler for where he is about to go.

Yes. 

You do understand that He is not and was never President of the U.S.? 

Yes. 

And you are clear I investigated you, is that right? 

Yes. 

And it was Kat Vogel who had me investigate you? 

Yes. 

Good. Natalie. Good. 

What the hell does that mean Bryce? 

It means I believe you. This is a mental institution Natalie, I assure you of that. I assure you you are under the custody of the federal government. I assure you I am a criminal psychologist. And I assure you I am FBI. I may not be the Bryce Miller you know, but I am Bryce Miller as I am, right here in front of you. 

CHAPTER 63

November 5th, 2022

Maryland Institution for the Mentally Ill

Natalie. The FBI is investigating Kat Vogel. She was nominated for Secretary of State shortly after you and the Priest attempted to kill her. In fact, we think she knew you were going to kill her and used it to gain publicity. Her nomination for Secretary of State came soon after. Hillary needed a hawk and her career in the CIA and Republican approval was a shoe in. She became a hero. You and the Priest tried to kill her and she stopped WW3. 

The war still happened? 

Almost, like I said, Kat stopped WW3. Not all your thoughts are delusions Natalie. A lot of what you say is very close to the reality I know.

Natalie noted the extreme change in Bryce's voice. He is interrogating her, gaining information. She has no choice but to give him everything she has. Natalie shows the tension, as she realizes the blur and overlapping between the two realities. 

Bryce jumps in. Natalie, relax. I am here for you. I need you to get healthy so I can use you. I honestly didn't know if it would happen, but it happened like a truck. To sit in all this day after day and hour after hour and come back from your trauma, trauma that is still happening suffices to say, you are fucking relentless. To trust yourself without any grounding. I can't say how much I admire this in you.

Do you trust me, Natalie? 

Yes Bryce. I do. 

You had no reason to come to me. Trust is going to be on a string, but at least we have a string. From string we make the rope okay? Natalie. There is one thing I am not clear about. Why do you think Trump was President? That never happened here, in my reality.

Bryce, this is how it all started. In June 2022 The President was killed by Russian aircraft and China launched Nukes at us. 72 hours began then. I was at The Priest’s...I used to show up there when I was tired and drunk. The Priest was my crutch. 

How did you know the Priest?

My dad wasn't just FBI, he was CIA and so was the Priest. Their role in the 90's turned the CIA into what it is today. They began in L.A. with Asian crime syndicates and soon penetrated all of China when it was beginning to build capitalism. It was a hub of world crime that led out from there. 

The Priest was CIA? How the hell did he become a Priest? 

He is a conflicted human being Bryce. In the end. He is the one that took me through this. In the end, he gave his life to help. He is the one that told me about the Alpha Omegas, their role in the world, time travel or whatever this is. I still don't know. Still sounds crazy to me. But what I do know Bryce is when you interrogated me He was President. No, Pence was President, The President had already passed. The Priest's purpose was to save His life and it appears he has, we have. You see, me and The Priest went to get some intelligence from China back in 2016 for our intelligence community which proved Russia's role in the election. He, as President, was under investigation by the FBI from 2016 to 2019 for collusion with Russia. Wasn't true, but the Russian part was. We went back in time to stop Russia and let the natural outcome happen. As it turns out, Hillary was the natural order of things, as they are now. My father, Agent Jackson back in 2016 successfully extracted the intelligence from Chen in China. My dad was able to deliver the intel successfully, it appears, as now Hillary is President. When me and the Priest came back, we had hours to get rid of Kat. We knew she wouldn't stop. We failed. But my father didn't. So, since we came back, 3 days after you interrogated us, we believed He was President, the world was ending, and we needed to stop Kat.

Natalie. That is insane. No one will believe you. 

Wrong Bryce. You believe me. I can prove it. You want Kat? You need me. C’mon, let's rewatch the news casts.

C’mon, let's watch .

Bryce, don't tell me she doesn't say, 'You haven’t stopped me...'.

Look Bryce, she stares right into the TV and say's 'you haven’t stopped me', like she was talking to me. Look at her body mannerisms as she speaks those words. They completely change. 

Natalie, does everything about this say she was talking to you?

Yes Bryce. I am sure of it. In fact, it hit me so hard, it is what let me accept everything else, Hillary, the truth hit me. 

So, she is still at it, Kat that is? 

Bryce. Her father was killed by the Russians. She wants revenge. She set up Russia to cause the war, well almost war between China and us. She wanted an excuse to obliterate Russia. She wants to wipe it off the face of the earth. Not that I would mind it, it is just not right though. 

Natalie. We must go. 

How can we? I am here. 

Well Natalie, we better start running. 

I know right where to go Bryce. 

CHAPTER 64

2022

Washington DC, Dominic Cutler's Home

Knock knock.

‘Nero’, Natalie says as she opens the door past the crack Dominic was allowing.

'Agent Jackson', I mean Natalie, what, how are you here? Dominic says more as a statement in his mind than a question. Bryce flashing his FBI badge enters Dominic's home. Dominic deals with a lot of people, but he knows, right now, these two-mean business, these two will only accept absolute answers.

Nero.

Please, call me Dominic. I haven’t been called Nero in a very long time.

Dominic, Natalie resorting to firmness. What happened? That day, when the Priest died.

Bryce is a bit shocked at Natalie's bounce back, something he finds admirable in her. Bryce stepped forward to show a clear disposition of shear force.

I called Kat and warned her that the Priest and you may be going to kill her. I am sorry, but it is my job. I am now like the Priest. I am CIA.

So, you turned your back on the Priest?

No, well yes. It is my job. It is why I am in this.

No. That is an excuse. You overplayed your card.

Dominic is more scared now than with that sociopath Benjamin. He can see it in her eyes. Her posturing is from another realm. Bryce is calm, but is posturing with Natalie’s brute force approach. 

Listen, I have something to show you and something to tell you. Dominic knows he only has one truth to tell and one way of getting out of this.

Follow me Ms. Jackson, Agent Bryce. And relax, I am not armed. I want you to know I am here to fix this.

Natalie and Bryce follow Dominic to the bathroom. Dominic notices Natalie covering her face and Bryce gagging in his mouth. With a large breath, Dominic opens the door.

CHAPTER 65

2022

Washington DC, Dominic Culter’s Home

What the hell did you do Dominic? How the hell is he here? This question, whether she would see the Priest again crossed into her consciousness many times. Now she has hope.

Dominic, where is he?

I don't know. He just told me to trust him. To kill him and he will be back when he needs to be back.

Natalie. He forgave me.

He's a fucking Priest, what do you expect? You have got a long way to go until you get that from me.

Well this is my first step Natalie. Benjamin was just here.

‘Who is that’? Bryce asks.

A sociopath looking for The Priest Dominic mutters. He was at the airport when you and The Priest came to DC and the one who shot The Priest at Five Guys.

Natalie jumps in. What was the Priest doing here?

Hell if I know. He was dead and is dead again. How the hell am I supposed to know? He just said he will be back when he needs to. He looked different to Natalie. Younger. And very focused on whatever he was doing.

What did he tell you?

To kill him? Dominic being as brutally honest and simple as he can be with a hint of showing his lack of understanding.

What else Dominic?

To trust him....and that he forgave me, like I said.

Bryce is trying to understand. Are you saying he just came in here and said, ‘kill me’?

No, he came in, said ‘I need you to kill me, Nero’. I looked at him astonished. I was just trying to figure out if I was hallucinating and told myself I need a new career. He calmed me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked me to kill him. He then simply said, ‘Nero, I need you to trust me’. I forgive you. I will be back when I need to be back. That's it. He has been there ever since. I guess my guilt kept him around.

Now, what else can you give me Dominic. Natalie is still being brutally clear that his life depends on it.

I can give you Kat. She is still involved with the CIA and that alleged group, the Illuminati's or whatever. Some call it the Deep State.

‘The Alpha Omegas’ Dominic! Shouts Natalie.

They exist? You are telling me they are real? Dominic showed his enthusiasm for the mystique of it all, feeling like his old self again, for the first time in months.

Enough. You gonna keep helping the Priest?

Of course Natalie.

Well first. Get rid of his body. Show some dignity and professionalism Dominic.

Look, there is an internal struggle going on with the Alpha Omegas Dominic. So far, the bad guys are winning, meaning Kat. You want to help your country, you help me, you help the Priest, even Agent Miller with no more hiccups. The Priest came to you because he trusted you. Don't misplace yourself again.

No no, of course not, Dominic showing his giddiness.

Now, tell me more about what you know, Kat, about this sociopath Benjamin, etc. .

Before they could sit down, there was a knock on the door.

CHAPTER 66

2022

Washington DC, Dominic’s Home

Dominic do not answer that door! Do not say a word! Bryce drawing his weapon.

The door knob begins to wiggle. Bryce watched carefully, ready on a hair to pull his weapon. His fight response is intense, his desire to run not existing.

Boom! Boom!

Dominic shaking, knowing very well this looks bad on him, he steps free from Natalie and Bryce's position, heads towards the door and says, ‘hold on, hold on, I was taking my morning rest on the pot’, delivering his expected self. He turns to Natalie and Bryce and mouths a ‘trust me’.

Bryce and Natalie really have no choice. That or kill everyone. They wait, don't move. Eyes peeled, glued to the door.

Dominic opens a crack, already with his excuse being acted out. His stomach is killing him, half crouched over, appearing weak and uneasy, covering for the rotten stench of the Priest. But as he opens the door, it is clear, this isn't going to work. His eyes widened. He screams ‘run’ and lunges his body into the man. Pop! Dominic goes kneeling over with his right arm sliding down the door and his left arm folded across his stomach. The man is in a blank stare with Agent Bryce and Natalie. Before the man can raise his firearm to shooting level again Bryce unloads, catching the man’s right arm as he spun around the door. Bryce emptied all but two rounds and continued forward towards the door. Natalie stays a bit further back, recognizing there is nothing she can do to help. As Bryce reaches the door, he kicks it further open to find the man on the ground but he doesn't. He is gone.

Natalie runs to Dominic, the Priest's death flashing before each step she takes. Dominic, are you okay? Natalie fully recognizes that he may just have given his life not just for The Priest, but for her, for Bryce.

Dominic looks up at her. Do you trust me now? Dominic always looked for approval.

And with a compassionate nod, Natalie gives Dominic his approval.

CHAPTER 67

2022

Russia, Tavern, The Priest

The Priest, a bit younger but more emboldened Walks around Russia. The Priest reflects on his goals and what he must overcome. He took every word Agent Jackson told him to be true, as a matter of faith to a matter of fact. That at one point, his life did end. Something he would not let happen again. This Priest never went through 2022. This Priest was never killed by Kat Vogel or, more accurately, Benjamin. This Priest was never under investigation for espionage. This Priest is a bit rawer, a bit more uncertain, but with a jaw of intention. 

The Priest picks up a NY Times in Russia's Square, walks a few more feet and walks into a tavern. 

Here in Russia, it is the same as everywhere else in the world. People drink and drinking people eat. The Priest just enjoyed the grittiness of food cooked at a tavern. Today, he is here for Wu. Today he will sit and read the paper, November 2nd, 2022. Today he will begin to orchestrate the black hand of GOD upon Russia. They will realize attempting to destroy the United States in any way is like grabbing a snake by your hand. You will get bit. 

Wu. Have a seat.

CHAPTER 68

2022

Russia, Tavern

Wu was a Chinese intelligence in Russia. China and Russia have always agreed on one thing. The United States needs to stay out of their lives. Wu was the key ingredient to their relationship. Working directly for China's President and delivering American intelligence to Russia. China had the intel. Russia did the dirty work. It was just the nature of their relationship. 

Wu was a politician by nature, but a loyalist first. His only goal was to serve the President of China. The Presidency represented the whole of China, its history, its place in the world and he would protect it with his life. 

Wu knew Agent Jackson well. He respected Agent Jackson's desire to do good and not weigh basic statements such as humanity against China. Agent Jackson respected other countries' ways, especially China's. And so did the Priest. When the Priest got word to him that they needed to meet, Wu made the time. When the Priest said, ‘I am in Russia’, Wu left immediately, understanding the message this could mean. 

Wu noticed the name on the Tavern where the Priest was waiting inside and realized the definitions of this meeting place. This tavern was built after WWII and was a symbol of life coming back to Russia. Wu never flinches, walking directly into the Tavern, as he did anything else. Completely competent to have discourse at any given moment, anywhere in the world about any subject. The country, the scenery, the subjects of discussion change, but in the end what Wu knew was it is just two people having a conversation. Something he was a natural at. 

Hello Priest. Been a long time.

CHAPTER 69

2022

Washington DC, Dominic’s Home

While Natalie and Dominic are out after Natalie tending to Dominic’s gun shot, Bryce sits at the dinner table with his bottle of cognac. Bryce hid himself a lot, a way of hiding his history, hiding where he came from. He lived his life in the FBI as an educated dilettante that was unshakeable when conducting an investigation. His slim nature gave hints of history. Growing up with nothing, always thin, always looking a bit shaky at times. But he worked hard to change his external perception. To give himself off as someone confident, in control, when deep inside, who would do anything to hide is years growing up. But in high stress situations, his raw self came out. And in this moment, he is resorting to himself, that is not his best. He slipped into it without even noticing. Anxiety ridden situations tend to bring this out in him. But for Bryce, it wasn't anxiety, it was something much different, rather than the world speeding up, his slowed down to a crawl. His mind still racing, his eyes still moving quickly only Jack would help or, in this case, cognac. At this moment, he doesn't need a thing. There is enough imagery in his mind at this moment to entertain him and everyone walking by outside. He needed it to stop. Hoping to regain his composure and not expose himself any further to Natalie and Dominic, what he refers to as his worst disposition, his worst self, he tries to gather himself. But in reality, in what he got himself into he is going to have to accept, he needs to live on both sides of himself, the perceived dilettante from UCLA and the man that walks like he is 10 ft. tall on his thin frame. That is, if he is to survive what is coming. One more shot and he feels his thoughts ease, folds his arms, sits back in his chair, shoulders resting softly on his body and lets his eyes drop, hoping he has regained himself by the time he wakes, by the time he has to talk to Natalie and Dominic again.

*

2022

Russian Tavern

What brings you to Russia, Priest? Last I knew you were out of this business. Even further, to come to me after all this time. Either you are overreacting or something significant brought you back. Either way, I owe you this one visit. 

Wu, remember operation Lazarus you so kindly pressured me about 15 years ago? You are looking at living proof of it. The Priest brings Wu’s Imagination to him, to make sure this conversation is the beginning, not the end. 

We tried every possible way to break the Lazarus code and discovered nothing Priest. We even dug up Hitlers supposed time machine tunnel and tried to revive it. It gave us little insight. Even further, your country failed. Closing it as you did your research on mind control. Just a part of your history. Your willingness to do anything to maintain your status in the world. 

Are you sure that is true Wu?

Let me imagine with you that I believe what you are telling me to be true. I don't see the rationale for using it. Everything has just been fine. We argue like little kids sometimes, but civilization is too far advanced for anyone to want to destroy it. We back down, Russians back down, the U.S. accepts how we are. It isn't logical to even use such a machine, unless one wants complete control. 

Well, that is just it Wu, you nailed it, someone does want complete control and I am stopping it. Well, me and a few others. We are traveling through time, well I am to stop the person who is causing the current conflict. Tensions are pretty high aren't they?

That I can agree on. But we always get through it. 

What if you were tricked? What would you do if you had proof we were gonna attack? 

We have our ways of refuting such things, as we do routinely. 

Just go with me. What if?

We would attack. 

Isn't that the real threat Wu? False information, false threats, fake news. These are scarier than the real threats we face every day.

Let me say something more Wu. What if Hillary didn't win the 2016 election and the Republican nominee won? 

‘That would be even better, more money in the market’, says Wu with a smirk. 

He is an isolationist, don’t let his Hollywood side fool you. Maybe, in another time, he did win and his goal was to make the United States the almighty power and couldn't stand China. What if he cut off trading with you? What would happen? What if this was an economic war causing China to crumble economically and Russia was sending you false information. 

That would cause the world to change Priest. Why are you telling me this? 

Because in another history, in 2022 China attacked the United States with mid-range nuclear weapons. And the person from inside the government, besides economic trade policies, was the cause of it and she is still in power today? 

Who are you talking about, Priest?

The Secretary of State. Kat Vogel.

CHAPTER 70

2022

Washington DC, Dominic’s Home

Natalie opens her eyes, looking at Dominic, the needle still in her arm but tied off from giving Dominic blood. She immediately looks for Bryce. She pulls out the needle letting the blood drizzle down her arm. First checking if Dominic is still breathing then walking into the kitchen, where Bryce is, head tilted back to the right, arms crossed, mouth half open. Right next to him are two bottles, one full, one almost gone. She herself empties the bottle into Bryce's shot glass and throws it down. She doesn't bother to wake Bryce. She needs some sugar now. She gave Dominic way too much of her own blood to keep him alive. Opening the fridge, she sees multiple bags of blood. Great, we should have checked rather than me giving my own to Dominic. Moving the blood bags to the right, she finds a bottle of apple juice and a V8. She grabs them both. Cracking the V8 first, she drinks quickly. Before she can finish the V8 she twists open the apple juice, which feels so much better, quenching her thirst. With a breath, her shoulders relax, her vision coming back to her. As she looks over to her left, Bryce is just staring. Her eyes begin to focus. 

Natalie looks at him, changing her disposition a little towards him, as a little disdain rose from him letting himself go last night and drinking the cognac. What if Benjamin would have come back, she thinks. They would all be defenseless. Natalie didn't understand this. She just saw Bryce act heroically in a moment's notice then decides to let it all go and pass out drunk? She is missing something with him. She turns to Bryce, ‘do you want some water’, looking to help him rather than depend on him. 

No thanks Natalie. I am good. I just needed some shuteye like you did. Like Dominic did. Is he still alive? 

Natalie kind of shocked at how passively Bryce asked the question. Bryce is showing his weaknesses. With every act of bravery comes a downfall. He only has so much to give. She takes note of this. 

Yes Bryce, he is, as of now. 

Let me go check on him. 

You mean you didn't check on him or me last night? 

Nope. Either you were making it through or you weren't. When things are out of my control, I take a step back and retreat into myself a bit. Can't you see that? 

Ya, I can. Clearly. 

You know how I have a reputation as a fierce interrogator, someone who does not sway. 

Yes. I mean. You follow the truth. Hell you followed me Bryce. 

Well with that intensity comes a need for solace, a need for myself to just be. Last night, last night was the tip of the iceberg. My last thought was, don't let them see you like this. But I had no choice and the truth is I trust you enough to show myself. 

Natalie is a bit more understanding and compassionate. She tells herself never to jump to conclusions like that. She needs to be better. He is a person and we all have our way of getting through. 

I need a coffee, Natalie. You want one? 

No. Sounds horrible Bryce. 

A few minutes at the coffee shop will do me well. When I get back, after you get your nourishment, we have to get right back to it. We are not safe here. We got some time before anyone would try and flush us out. 

Natalie nods her head and watches Bryce walk out the door. She finishes her juices, pauses for a minute, gathers herself and she walks through the doorway and turns to check on Dominic. 

‘Dominic, we need you’, Natalie whispers. She sits next to him and holds his hand as she lets her forehead rest on the side of the table. Praying for the Priest, not noticing what she is doing, as she rests. 

CHAPTER 71

2022

Washington DC, Coffee Shop

Bryce finds the closest coffee shop he can see. A small place. Very fucking hippy he thinks. The place is filled with young people. Every single one of them has earbuds on a laptop or tablet. They look like zombies to Bryce. No, he thinks, they look like androids. Either way, there is a seat for him near the lounge area he notices. Perfect. 

Bryce orders a small black coffee. He is handed a cup. Disappointed when he is pointed to the end of the counter where there are at least 20 carafes of various kinds of coffee, as he knows he has to pick the right one or it won't be hot. Why does anyone use those things? It is a damn coffee shop. Using carafes in his eyes lacks the uniqueness that each young person here comes for. They use those at gas stations, not coffee shops. He pays for his drink and has a seat. 

Bryce rests back into the seat, ignoring his running mind, making judgments about anything and everything around him. He knows in about a few minutes his mind can digress. The fluctuating thoughts will cycle down to his pin point focus. He did this best in private, but with people around him, rather than in pure solitude. In some way, even though no one can possibly know his thoughts, he always felt the social pressure to be his best self when around people, even if they didn't know him. Just as he takes a breath to settle in, he reaches for the paper on the table and hears, ‘Bryce, let me help you with that’. 

CHAPTER 72

2022

Washington DC, Dominic’s Home

Do I know you? 

In 2022 you were interrogating me, but I, along with Natlie disappeared. 

Bryce calmly sets his coffee down and stares directly into the Priest's eyes as he sits down on the two seat sofa next to him. The Priest never looked away himself. 

Bryce, I need a favor. Natalie. 

What about her? 

I need to see her Bryce. It is important. 

Bryce responds to the world in various ways. Sometimes, it just takes brunt force to get him back to his best. With questions of doubt and uncertainty, Bryce does what he does. What his academic training taught him to do. Don't go off your emotion, go after the facts. When he grew up, his emotions drove him. Now, as an adult, his emotions are well quelled. He looks at the Priest, staring past the wrinkles of his blue eyes and says, ‘Priest follow me’.

CHAPTER 73

2022

Washington DC, Dominic's Home

Natalie resting alongside Dominic she begins to think about the Priest, again the whirlwind she is in makes her want to run to him. As she is now, she needs to find a way to slow herself down. To give each moment the time it deserves. She hears the door knob wiggle. A bit of fright hits her, but not enough to make her jump up, she is just kind of frozen, in a dream-like state.

Bryce walks through the door, leaving it open wide behind him. Natalie just gives a smirk, not a full smile, but a smirk. Still a little upset with Bryce for leaving them so vulnerable yesterday, even though she now understood, she is hoping Bryce's night off did him some good.

As Bryce walks in, Natalie sees an older man in his 50's, dressed in normal clothes, slacks and a traditional Ralph Lauren shirt. She looks closer at his body, his sway when he walks, moving up to his face. A hint of familiarity struck her, just slightly. Then their eyes met.

Hello Natalie.

Priest? It can't be. She gets up and starts running to the front door, where Bryce just moved through and now this man stood. The closer she gets the closer she realizes, it really is him. She meets him with a tight grip of her body. The Priest embraces Natalie with an endearing touch.

Priest, couldn't you have come back younger?

Maybe I have Natalie. Maybe he is in Russia.

Russia? Natalie thinks there still may be hope. She hugs the Priest, a bit of joy coming with her hug. She is beginning to feel a circle of completeness.

Natalie. We have work to do. The world is fragile again.

Bryce interjects, ‘Guys, make it quick, we need to get out of here’.

Wait we aren't leaving him, Dominic. He is one of us. This notion of 'us' felt good to Natalie and from what she could tell, Bryce liked the idea of 'us' as well.

Dominic begins to wake up. 'What the fuck! I feel like my asshole was ripped open'. Dominic's own way of showing his comfort and vulnerability with Natalie and Bryce. His head falls to the right. He blinks. Priest?

Yes Dominic.

Priest, whatever you do. Don't go to the bathroom. You are still laying their dead. I'm sorry, but my mind was getting to me.

The Priest begins in. Bryce is right. We need to go. Dominic, I think you can make it. 

'Sure can'. 

‘I suggest we leave then’, The Priest says calmly.

‘To where’, Natalie asks, a bit baffled as to what the next step is.

Russia.

CHAPTER 74

2022

Russian Tavern

Following the aged Priest into an old fashioned tavern in Russia square, Natalie takes a mental note. She looks at Bryce holding up Dominic. She has no idea how he is still going. Her thoughts arise in her as a sense of belonging. Even further, maybe this has already happened before. This time Natalie say's, we will get it right. 

The Priest opens the door, holding for each to follow. Natalie comes in last making her way to the front of the group to scan the room, looking for the younger Priest. 

Wu turns around. Priest, looked at what just walked in. 

The Priest, not paying much attention, took a glance for Wu's amusement. He glances briefly, assuming it is just Wu's nature of woman mongering. He is 5'1 and looks like a child, but acts like he is the Marlboro man with women, always grabbing his pants at them. So strange The Priest always thought. I guess he is getting pretty drunk by now if he is turning to women already. 

But then the Priest gets a feeling. The world slows down a bit. He looks again. A feeling of Déjà Vu, a feeling of he has experienced this before. Paying close attention he sees a tall young lady, very familiar, walking towards him but with an unfamiliar smile. 

The Priest, Natalie begin running. Quickly, The Priest is embraced by her. A warm feeling for him. Letting go, Natalie grabs him by the shoulders to stand a bit back, to gain a vantage point on his blue eyes. 'You look so much younger' she says. Suddenly, his eyes widened, looking over Natalie’s shoulder. Natalie believes this to be The Priest seeing his older self, but it is The Priest looking at Bryce, Dominic with AR15's pointed to the back of their skulls. 

CHAPTER 75

2022

Russian Tavern

A guard comes and grabs Wu, The Priest, Bryce, Natalie. Rather than shrinking, Natalie is pissed, really pissed. She doesn't say anything. Her head is down. Every fucking time she feels comfortable, gaining perspective on her true self, some bullshit like this happens. All she can think is brutally clear. She looks directly at Bryce. A dead stare. At first he wants to shake his head no, but her determination is unavoidable. The guard pushes Natalie with his hand flat on her back. Before the guard can release his hand she has spun around and has her hand on his throat, fingers digging deep into his windpipe, enough to pull his body forward so she can knee him in his balls, causing him to crunch forward where his nose will soon explode with blood, as Natalie's forehead meets it on its way down. Immediately Bryce has his sidearm and fires a round at the armed man immediately in front him. He drops like a truck. With Wu looking at everyone, not knowing what to do, he reaches down and grabs the AR 15 from the man Natalie just took down and turns to lift it only to drop it as his left side goes limp. A stray bullet from Bryce's struggle. In just a few moments, there were no more armed men with AR 15's aimed at them. Rather, a team having their first successful battle together. Bryce looks at Natalie with a blatant, ‘well done’. 

Bryce immediately asks, ‘everyone good'. Everyone but Wu say's the Priest. 

Wu, you okay? I don't know, I can't move my left side. Bryce walked to him looking for the wound. 

I don't see anything. I see a little blood by his knee, but that is it. Wu, roll onto your back, let me take a look, says Bryce. Rolling Wu over to his right side he sees what happened. Wu, you will be fine. It grazed you, but I think it hit a bone on the outside of your knee. The pain will subside, but you can walk. Wu is not used to these things. He may work in the dark shadows of China, but he is a talker, a politician, not a warrior. 

Natalie wanted to pop one in each of their heads but she knew it wasn't right. It is over, she told herself. Only forward. 

All of them, Dominic, Bryce, Natalie, the two Priests and WU leave the tavern together. 

Wu says, here, I am around the corner, I can get us out of here. The younger Priest said, 'thanks, but we are on our own path’. ‘Do what I asked of you and remember what is at stake’, Wu. 

Yes Priest, Kat Vogel. I will not fail. That I promise. 

Wu gets into his escalade, his security detail in a panic. He tells them to relax and whispers a ‘good luck Priest'.

As Wu drives away they all look at each other knowing there is only one focus now. Nothing else matters. Her name is Kat Vogel and her day has come. 

CHAPTER 76

2022

Flight Back to U.S.

Dominic, still exhausted from the past 24 hours, is still somehow kicking, still fighting. He grabs the older Priest's hand with a suggestion of thankfulness, thankful for being forgiving. Natalie, noticing the gesture, reaches forward and grabs his shoulder, giving Dominic comfort. The older Priest looks back behind him and sees Natalie and his younger self. Natalie lets go of Dominic and sits back in her chair, then resting her shoulder on the younger Priest. Not much is said, not much at all. Just comfort. This makes the older Priest happy. He sees and feels the groups coming together. Their sign of belonging to each other, himself included. But again, Bryce is a few rows up. The Priest curious as to why his separation, why maybe he doesn't feel a part of the group. 

The older Priest gets up and walks over to Bryce, giving Bryce a clear square stance so Bryce knows this conversation must happen. 

Priest. Can I help you? Bryce not letting down, putting out a tough exterior. The Priest asks the lady next to Bryce if he could sit with his friend a bit. She didn't mind at all. 

The Priest sits down, looks to his left out the plane window and says, 'it is a beautiful sight isn't it'. Bryce agreed.

'That is beautiful too'. The Priest says, smartly. 

Bryce knew exactly what he was talking about. But not adding anything further. 

The Priest begins in:

You know Bryce, I have spent my entire life getting to where he is, my younger self. I don't know how he changed sooner, what changed in his life, I don't know any of that. It could very well be we have lived different lives in many ways, really just built off our perspectives, our state of mind when we went through our experiences in our journey. But it is a sight to see what one may overcome with the right perspective. Look at Natalie, she was brilliant. Unquestioned resolve to help. That is all she does is help. Before all this, her desire to help was egotistical, aggressive, in the words of others, 'A pitbull was too soft for her', but her purpose was always to help. When you first interviewed her you saw it. Now look at her. Big change can occur merely through perspective. You know what their change of perspective is Bryce? Let me tell you. It is faith, pure faith. They aren't back questioning themselves. They aren't asking if they are doing the right thing. They aren't worried about what others will think. They are just being, together. They all feel a sense of a calling. And from what I can tell, you don't have that sense of belonging, of a calling. 

Calling isn't the issue. Faith is not the issue. I am still investigating, point blank. My guard is and will be up. 

You are telling me Bryce, your guard is up but you are flying around the world with them? See the issue Bryce? Acceptance is where you start. 

The lady comes back to her seat. The Priest holds Bryce's shoulder and gives him a smile and heads back to his seat. 

Bryce sits back in his seat. His first response was defensive, a barrier put up, like most people. 'He is trying to break me down and I won't break'. But then Bryce's analytical mind stopped, his first emotional reflection on his journey. Then he thought, maybe he has been looking for belonging as well. This thought concerns him. His mind begins racing like it does so he has a few drinks and gets some rest, as did the others. 

*

2022

Washington DC

Kat, they got away. 

Good. 

What do you mean good? 

I mean good. They will be here shortly. 

What are we going to do?

You leave that to me.

Kat spent her entire adult life chasing the killers of her father. Russia. That was her conclusion. Not a man, not a woman, not a group, not an agency, just Russia. Russia killed her father. Her retaliation? Kill every last single one of them. Kat knows the psychology of this. But pain, human pain is powerful. It can consume one's soul, causing their heart to beat, pulsating closer to the cause of the pain in each beat, as it does with Kat. She can't stop herself if she wants to and is willing to stop anyone willing too. She created this, she built this and she will see it through. Nothing else matters. She can't see anything else but the end result and her satisfaction. There is no moment after. There is no peace after. It all ends with Russia. Where her pain began. Where her pain will end.

CHAPTER 77

2022

Washington DC

Benjamin hangs up the phone, just as quickly as Kat did. This time, he will prove to Kat once and for all his skill sets, his talents. He has been planning for this, his shot at becoming more than he is. He walks to his closet and gets his arsenal together, picking and choosing his weapons, walking past each with a touch of his hand, as if he can feel the victim already. Not once does it cross his mind to get some help, put together a team. He rests solely on himself. Driven from some sense of self-reliance he has never understood. Maybe it is his inability to have any fear, maybe his arrogance, either way, he is going to run right into this. He will deliver for Kat, he will deliver to prove. This is all he can see. His desire to win, to beat, not in the sense of achievement, but through his lack of control to know anything different. He packs his guns and walks out the door. Only one thing on his mind. End this and you can be who you were meant to be.

CHAPTER 78

2022

Agent Jackson is on his last mission. He gets to see his daughter one last time. One last goodbye. He has aged quite a bit, spending the last 6 years traveling through time, protecting, correcting, which has taken its own toll. He only has one last push to accomplish what he set out to do. To put the world on its natural path and give the Alpha Omegas a fighting chance to protect the future, a future that includes his own daughter and those he cared about. 

Agent Jackson was a man who only gave. Gave to what he believed in and what he valued. While this caused some shortcomings in life, as he viewed it, he was overall content with his life. Happy was not a term he associated himself with. He never thought he would have a career like this. Beginning as a young agent in the FBI, he was always tall and professional but looked like just another suit, nothing special. He never felt special. To this day he recognizes how luck can play a role in one's life. It is up to you, just go with it, was Agent Jackson's belief. He could easily be a suit or MIB back in L.A., but he chose to trust, trust himself and those around him. Most importantly, he chose to trust the Priest whose own story Agent Jackson was always unsure of, to this day. Regardless, The Priest became who he became and Agent Jackson could not have become who he is without The Priest. What drew the two together is still un concerning to Agent Jackson. It is just something he always accepted. A fact of his life, like many other things. 

Agent Jackson never took credit for his accomplishments, something he and the Priest shared in common. His success was unparalleled, but he never took credit for it. Always forward, always working. Everyone in the FBI knew of his work in L.A. with Asian crime syndicates. In fact, after that, no one knew what he was up to. Everyone thought he just got a cake job, managing rather than investigating, but that was far from the truth. Yes, a portion of his job was getting Chinese diplomats to allow U.S. investigations to happen in China, but that was only one aspect of him. When he was seen at an office, he was polite and simple. Never engaging in office behaviors or small talk. He didn't have time either, nor did he care to engage in what he called 'nonsense'. Besides, he was always working angles, strategizing, hiding his thoughts; he really didn't have the time nor could he take the risk of exposing himself. So, he kept relationships to a minimum. When the CIA approached him, he didn't ask questions. He just did. This was his nature. He had no desire to know the world of espionage, even though he was being tossed right in the middle of it. Data, information, message deliverance, that was his role. Who is who and what is what. That was his role. He never considered himself a spy, at least like they show in the movies. He was simply a man working in the United States' best interest; for the CIA, for the FBI, the Alpha Omegas. And this legacy he built that only he truly knew about needed to be passed on. When he is done in 2022 and his life ends, he needs to ensure his role gets filled. So, he decides to pen a letter: 

Natalie, it has been my desire for some time to find someone to follow in my footsteps. Which as you can imagine, was always the Priest. But this path needs to be a decision, one's own decision and the Priest made his decision a while ago. His confliction of self was always an issue. To live this life, your core values must be ingrained as someone who wants to help. To continually give in any given situation and gain nothing in return but the value of what you are doing as your return. You can already imagine where I am going with this letter, my beating around the bush is something I am not used to. But asking someone so close to me, so dear to me to take over in my footsteps, has been deeply reflected upon. One that can balance duty against all other needs, balance ego against will, your pain against purpose. Over the years, I have passively watched you grow. It seems somehow, someway through all this you found your way. Finding your true self, your pure desire to help and not letting the worst parts of your personality take control, your negative disposition is the hallmark of a caring person. Your resort in disposition is towards care and truth. Two values that will serve you well across your life and will also serve others. This decision is yours. If you decide not to take on this role, that decision is your own. It will then end with this letter. Choosing to take on this role is a life of service, something that can be better managed today, as technology has changed. But do take care what this can mean to you, your potential husband, children, and anyone else you care about. In my hopes, I believe you can do better than me, be better than me, as all fathers hope for. And that is something I believe has already happened. Please accept this letter as my final goodbye. You may not have seen me, but I have been in the shadows, giving as I could, as I know how. 

Love,

Your Father

Jackson

CHAPTER 79 

2022

Washington DC

After arriving in the U.S., Natalie, The Priests, Bryce, Dominic only have one place to go, back to DC. 

Dominic say's. ‘Guys, I know it may seem dangerous, but we should really get to my place. We don't have many options’.

Bryce jumps in, that is crazy, we are walking right into what we want to avoid. Being killed. 

Natalie clarifies her concerns but says, 'what else can we do'. Bryce, we can't exactly walk up to the FBI and say hey, check this out. Besides, we still do not have proof of anything. 

‘Let's just start at my place’, asks Dominic, his exhaustion showing. Natalie see's the reprieve needed by Dominic and makes it clear, ‘we are going to Dominic's’. 

Dominic furthers Natalie’s decision, ‘Let’s gather ourselves and take the next steps. They found us in Russia. We are not safe anywhere. At least there we have home field advantage and have a fighting chance to get out of there’. 

‘Agreed’ says the older Priest. Dominic needs to rest and we are beat up. We have nothing, I mean nothing. It is as if we just got back from a 6-month backpacking trip and have nothing left in us. 

The younger Priest says, 'well, we better have something left in us because we have caught someone's attention’.

CHAPTER 80

2022

Washington DC, Dulles International Airport

‘Benjamin’, Dominic say’s. 

The sociopath from your home? 

Ya, that's him. Look at him. It is like he is a wolf circling us. 

Do you see anything else Priest? Natalie says softly. 

No, no, not yet. Let's just keep walking. 

Bryce jumps in, Priest, you lead the way. Both step forward, then the older Priest giving way to his younger self. I will take up the tail end in case he comes. 

As the group walks to security, Benjamin just looks on. He is showing himself, his will, his control, his determination, making the statement of I can crush you now, but won't. The team continue on, a bit baffled, but calmly they get through security and into an uber. Bryce's last thoughts are clear. This guy is going to be something else and we don't have much time. Bryce, ‘you have to protect everyone’. You know his type. You have locked them up before, profiles always the same. Lack of fear, determined, loved posturing, hid themselves well in public. But this guy, he is showing himself, in front of everyone. This means only one thing to Bryce. He is out of control and not even he can stop himself. A seditious desire every human wishes they never engaged with. A true criminal sociopath.

CHAPTER 81

2022

Washington DC, Dominic’s Home

Dominic opens the front door. His home is different, the smell of the dead Priest is gone. Even the table where his life was saved is gone. He looks down for any blood stains from being shot right where he is standing. 

Bryce goes first, an attempt to show his desire to protect everyone, but also a new part of his nature he has found, to protect his team. He holds his hand back as he creeps forward with his weapon drawn, not saying a word, just creeping, cautiously, forward, checking the left side hallways and peeking into the bathroom, where there are no dead Priests. He retracts to the living room and goes to enter the kitchen. He sees a man with headphones on reading the NYTimes. His back is turned to Bryce. Bryce walks up slowly and rips his earbuds out with one pull of the cord, backing up a few feet to hold his weapon at a distance in case the man turns quickly. But that man just sits there, turns around and stands up. ‘Hands up’, says Bryce. His hands were already up. Who are you? I am Agent Jackson. You must be Bryce.

CHAPTER 82

2022

Washington DC, Dominic’s Home

Dad! Natalie runs immediately to her father, hugging him with a pureness of comfort in seeing him without reservations. 

‘Dad’, says Bryce? Astonished, he takes a step back. The issues with reality are stunning to him. He has a moment to make a decision. Does he accept this? Does he run? Does he call this in? The whole plan, the plot, the narrative everyone is living in. A narrative that will soon be his if he continues one more step on this journey. Remember the Priest, there is no point in questioning this after what he has done. My faith in the truth is being challenged. Follow the truth. This is right in front of you. Believe it, follow it, be a brutal beast gaining the truth. Bryce's decision is clear. Holstering his weapon, his confused look was gone. He shakes Agent Jackson's hand. 

Natalie, Priest. I am proud of you. Your journey has unfolded leaving you here. Both of you have been relentless and unshakeable by the challenges that have come in front of you. This is a quality I admire, something I built in you Priest and something Natalie has apparently found. So, I am here to help one last time. And what better way at the end of my life than to help you Natalie. 

Dad! What do you mean! Are you dying? 

In another time, yes. But I have to go back to that moment to help you. That is the last of me. I am the last version who knows about Lazarus, time travel, you guys, me being here. 

The Priest jumps in. Is there any other way? 

Bryce just watches, looking at the sincerity of this. The reality that is right in front of him is what he has been missing. Raw, pure, human.

No, Say's Agent Jackson. It is time. I have spent the last 6 years pursuing this and I am tired is the truth. I have aged quite a bit more. This is all I have to give. 

Dominic steps in, always looking to designate something or make it part of something bigger, Agent Jackson, you are the ideal of who I would like to be in another world. In this world, I would only dream of who you are as a person. It was my honor to serve you and your purpose. 

Agent Jackson just grinned. ‘Dominic, it was my pleasure’, giving Dominic back his due in his form. 

Natalie. It is time. On this date, Kat will be at this private party. That is where you can get to her. I once told you to kill Natalie. That was wrong. Only resort to taking human life when you have too. I understand the position you are in and what you may have to do. However, at this party, there will be evidence of what she had done, evidence that is a smoking gun. You can put an end to this course of unnatural human desires and help put the world back in order. While you didn't ask for this, you need to see this through. After you are done. It is entirely up to you to choose. 

To choose what Dad?

Agent Jackson vanishes before Bryce's eyes. Natalie taking a step forward to where he was. On the table in front of her is a letter. 

Dear Natalie,

CHAPTER 83

2022

Washington DC, Dominic’s Home

Bryce stunned and disposed of volition, putting his chin to his hand or his hand to his chin. Either way, he became introverted. 

‘Bryce’. He raises his head with the look of 'stunned' on his face. ‘Bryce’. His eyes wide open and jaw unable to move. Natalie walked directly over to him, grabbed him by his face and kissed him right on his lips. She herself had no idea why she did this. She herself was in her own form of shock. Her biology or natural reaction took over, in a new form. Not grit, nor flight or fight complex arising. Just compassion and emotion. More and more each day, each obstacle Natalie is resorting to a 'loving' and 'caring' disposition. On this day, with these emotional stressors she took herself forward by letting her heart take over, rather than her pain and fear. Bryce embraced her. He too came out of the complexity of his reality breaking and relying on his purest emotional instinct. Something that has been happening slowly, causing him to question himself many times. Now he knew, just let go, no more reflection, no more analyses. He understands, just as Natalie does, they must lead with their heart and their soul, not their minds. Their minds will just get their hearts where they want to be. 

The two Priests look at each other with pride, only happy for Natalie. She just gave Bryce what they could never have, Natalie at her best. They think back on their accomplishments, some of which are unknown to each other, bringing a feeling of peace they long searched for. Just one was fortunate enough to receive it earlier in life. They stand and wait for the moment to end. And it does.

Dominic scoffs at Natalie and Bryce. Can you two knock it off. You are sickening me. Natalie lets go of Bryce. Their gaze reaches each other, resorting to a stare of confidence, a stare of together we will accomplish our goals. Dominic just waits as do the two Priests. Bryce and Natalie will lead out of this. This is their time. 

*

Outside sits Benjamin, waiting, knowing, studying his prey for the perfect moment. His desire reaches deep inside of him, compelling him rabidly. He has lost control and he knows it. He only views himself as the hunter stalking, lying just below the grass, ready to pounce, ready to kill. He can imagine the feeling, the surge of his strength, his brutal dominance over those inside. He remembers every crevice of their faces, imagery of immense detail protruding in exact detail. He can see every step he will take, every action to be taken, a brutal show of skill and force they have never experienced. And when he is done, he will lick himself clean, having eaten his fill and bringing his pride home to Kat. Kat Vogel. ‘Yes’, Benjamin says to himself, ‘yes’. I will show her. I will show her.

CHAPTER 84

Agent Jackson returns to 2016 where his life will end. He is just moments away. He sees his body, the person to kill him standing to his left, all of it frozen in time. All of it a fate well crafted, designed over years of work. As his body awaits, he reflects on his life, his duty to the world. A duty now ending with one last act of giving. Himself. Himself so others may live. Himself so Natalie will continue on. His heart does not hurt, his mind is clear. He walks into himself free of pain, a heart weighed against a feather for Anubis to decide. Comfort and peace arise as his soft smile relaxes upon his face with his last step of mortal life. Agent Jackson is no longer.

CHAPTER 85

November 7th, 2022 

Washington DC

MSNBC News

We are now covering Kat Vogel Secretary State's press conference on Russian Sanctions.

Today, the United States issued heavy handed sanctions against Russia. As you know, the world knows the United States and China entered intense negotiations over trade and the falling economic conditions of China. Earlier in the week China warned the United States to stop the trade tariffs implemented by President Hillary Clinton. The trade wars have been ongoing and increasing. China has labeled this as an 'act of war', an economic war built to bring their growing capitalist country to its knees, an attempt by the United States to collapse its country from the inside. Even further, China became under the belief that the United States was planning military action against China to finally crush its competitor. The United States has refuted these claims. Even now, I assure the world, we have no intent of military action upon China. In our talks with China, we are accepting our role in their economic impact and overall downturn that has effectively hit our economy as well. This ongoing economic war, engaged with by both parties, is the source of the conflict. Your government, your officials you trust are doing everything we can with late hour talks to improve trust and our relationship.

Now, the United States has taken our conflict with China with the sincerity it deserves. In investigating the information the CIA discovered a plot by Russia to sabotage our trade relationships with China and engage in psychological warfare, causing both the United States and China to act off of false information. This attempt by Russia is still new with details unclear. We expect to have a broader picture drawn together within the next 24-48 hours. For Russia's unacceptable behavior, we have placed sanctions on Russia, stopping all trade with Russia 2 hours ago. Our NATO allies have 72 hours to stop purchasing oil from Russia and England has already frozen all Russian monetarism in London, a central hub for Russian financial transactions. 

I will not be taking any questions. I must get back to work. We are working on this. We will get answers and we will find resolve. God Bless America and may America be blessed. 

CHAPTER 86

November 7th, 2022

White House, Conrad Sr.

Kat retreats after her press conference to the Secretary of State's office in the White House. Her fantasy of meeting her goal, once a prospective delusion, now becoming reality. Kat knows she is holding on but the tide is coming. In time, she will not be able to hide from herself. But it does not matter, because by that time, Russia will not exist. 

You have done well Kat, a voice from a chair not far from her desk hits Kat with precision. ‘Conrad’, Kat say's. I was wondering when you would show up. Kat knew within the Alpha Omegas, only Conrad Sr. could stop her. Conrad Sr. had been around a long time. He worked silently, passively, hardly ever directly engaged. His decisions were thorough and immediate. Today Kat would find out what he is going to do or not do. 

‘Why Russia’? Ask's Conrad, already knowing the answer. 

Pure evil. Do you know how much of the world's resources go to just putting up with them because they have nukes? No one cares about them. Their goal is always to kill their enemies. That is all they care about. Kat striking a caring womanly tone. But Conrad knows better. 

I was there Kat, when they killed your father. Kat gave no emotional response. Just staring down, hiding as much as she could. Conrad continues on. They tortured him, sticking a hot rod iron down his throat. Unsure if Conrad is trying to rally her to meet her goals or bring out an emotional response, she just says, ‘Conrad, that is the past, why tell me this now’? ‘It felt like the right time’, says Conrad. Kat. Your plan is working. Bring the US and China into deep conflict while working for Russia to increase the tensions and conflict. In effect, Russia helped the U.S. win against China. Putting Russia back into the #2 slot. What was your plan then, take Russia head on? To set up a #1 vs. #2 fight for world supremacy. No, that is not your plan. Your plan is to frame Russia for the entire conflict and bring China and the U.S. to end Russia. Isn't it? Russia cannot withstand that. That will be the end of Russia or shall I say, this is the end of Russia. 

‘Conrad’, balance, natural outcomes, that is what we do. Russia has always been the outlier. The one that should not exist. A bunch of Eastern Europe states is what it is, governed by a totalitarian regime. Kat playing the role of one who follows the goals of the Alpha Omega’s. Conrad knows better. She knows he knows better. But with Conrad, she at least cares enough not to be so blunt about her own personal goals. 

Kat, I cannot disagree. I just stopped by to send my message, to show my stake in the outcome. Is my message well received?

Yes. Yes, Conrad it is. Kat knowing no bullet is coming to her head, at least not at the moment. But Conrad does have an interest, an interest still not defined by Conrad, but an interest. All Kat does is get past him today. 

Conrad. Is there anything else I can do for you? 

No Kat. I am watching carefully. 

Yes Conrad, you made that clear. 

Conrad nods and exits the room, leaving Kat a bit more nervous, a bit more tense than she was before Conrad walked in. 

Kat's head focuses. I must get to China. This needs to be sped up. Kat picks up the phone. Get a flight ready. I need to leave China now.

CHAPTER 87

November 7th, 2022

Washington DC, Dominic’s Home

Gazing out his windshield, Benjamin is lost in his thoughts. Sitting right in front of him is what he always wanted. Validation. He has hidden in the crevices of his work, portraying an external form of posturing until he would get his shot, to let himself loose. Today is his day. 

Benjamin exits his vehicle, two tactical side arms prepared, one shotgun to blow open the door. The darkness of the night hides him. His shifting perceptions are rising out of his internal mania. Forward, only forward his mind grinds his step to his future behind that door. Dominic's door. 

With one blast, a whole in the door widened, reaching his hand through the hole to open the door from the inside. He should have been smarter, blowing off the door knob but he didn't care. This was his show of force. To him, he has all the time in the world. 

In the Kitchen everyone! Natalie, Priest, Bryce step to each side of the entrance to the kitchen, Bryce and Natalie in front of the fridge giving them further protection. To the right is the Priest and Dominic. Right in the middle of the door frames is the younger Priest, collapsed on the floor. Natalie takes a look at him and attempts to reach out for him, but Bryce grabs her, dragging her back to his protection and that provided by the wall and fridge. Natalie knew The Priest was dead. Some modified ammunition she thinks. Right through the upper part of the Priest’s back and his lower neck. Right through him. A clean hole in him. The Priest eyes looked alive, in dead shock. But his head is barely attached to his body. His spine completely separated. Bryce just hopes he died swiftly, without a moment's thought. His brain probably saw himself fall, but that was it. No pain. All Bryce can do is hold on to Natalie for a moment, just a moment. He is the only one armed. Natalie is in shock. The older Priest across the door frame with Dominic doesn't know what to do, his mind stunned by seeing himself die. But Dominic, Dominic is moving, through the door frame, towards the shooter then cuts right to the hallway. The first footsteps of the shooter now inside. Boom! A hole in the wall clears just to the left of the older Priest. He tightens up, shrinking his body to a narrow figure. Every inch matters, Bryce thought. It is up to him. Bryce hears a thud on the wood floor. Bryce has a moment, just one moment to gain an advantage, the time between the shooter dropping the shotgun and reaching for his sidearm. Bryce, with his weapon in his right hand, back to the fridge, holds Natalie back to his left. Bryce spins to his right raising his weapon and swings his left hand to his right to meet his weapon. His body squares to the shooter. He aims directly at the shooter's chest and fires, but he is stumbling backwards, a sharp pain in his arm. His weapon now hangs in his right hand. He can barely breathe. He is too late, too slow. He looks up and sees the same man that shot Dominic, grinning, focused, confident. Bryce's lungs are suffocating from the pain, the bleeding. His attempt to raise his firearm is lacking. The physical energy to do so is gone. He looks at Natalie. She looks at him back. The Priest is still hiding, holding his breath, thinning his body. But then he grimaces, and knows what he has to do. As Benjamin steps forward, through the threshold of the kitchen the Priest lunges at Benjamin, but he is too skilled, too strong. Benjamin simply grabs the Priest, rolling The Priest’s back into his chest, raises his gun to the Priest's chin and pulls the trigger. The bullet exits the Priest forehead blowing off half his face. Natalie jumps out from the fridge but to Bryce, not out of fear, but a desire to protect him, saying ‘me first’! Benjamin takes two steps forward, raises his right arm and points directly down at Bryce's forehead. Natalie hugs Bryce, not wanting to see, wrapping her arms around him tightly. Bryce is just staring, in shock, his body is incapable of doing anything. Benjamin pulls the trigger.

CHAPTER 88

2022

Washington DC, Dominic’s Home

Bryce opens his eyes, realizing he isn’t dead. Natalie raises her head off of Bryce's shoulder, seeing if he is still alive, then herself. Benjamin is flat on the floor, face first, limp. Bryce kicks him from his position on the floor to see if he moves. Natalie quickly reacts, grabbing Bryce's gun, standing up, lowering the weapon and firing the clip into Benjamin's body. Each shot went right through him, down into the wood floors. A little extra power in each bullet from Natalie's sheer determination to make sure he is dead. Natalie fires a few more click click click. Nothing left. Dropping her arms, her hair in her face, breathing, panting like a lion that just killed. She raises her head slightly and sees Dominic standing there, Glock in hand, leaning against the frame of the threshold. Natalie says, this is the second time Dominic. Dominic just nods then says, ‘are you okay’? Natalie replies, ‘he is hit’. Dominic looks at Bryce, sees both Priests dead. Dominic fires one more round into Benjamin for their deaths. Bryce begins to get up. 'We have to leave'. Neither Natalie nor Dominic argue. 

*

Now, the team is only the three of them. Weakened and debilitated, they continue on. Bryce's wound is clean right through. Nerves were hit, but his body will adjust. Dominic threw Natalie a suture kit. Bryce looks at Natalie. No time, just do it. Dominic hobbles to gather as many weapons, pain meds and supplies he can. 30 minutes later they are out the door. 

Within 24 hours they will be in China. 

CHAPTER 89

November 7th, 2022

Washington DC

‘Gabriel’. I need some people overseas, in China. 

What is this about Conrad? 

Kat. 

What about her? 

That is to be determined. I met with her earlier today. Clarity didn't arise. I need more intel. 

Why in China? Kat is right here in DC. 

She is leaving for China in 30 minutes Gabriel. 

Conrad, can you keep me updated. We are talking about the Secretary of State here. 

I know, which is why it is better if I don't. 

Okay Conrad. No decisions without me. Gabriel knew very well this statement had no impact on Conrad. Gabriel just got it off his chest, to remove himself from what happens, if anything happens. He too knew with Conrad, it was simply black or white, one way or the other, no in-between. 

Gabriel. 

You are welcome Conrad. Gabriel quickly walks away, showing to anyone watching the perceived lack of importance of the conversation. 

Conrad heads out of the building. He waits a few minutes outside of the federal building right in the middle of DC. CIA offices. He lights a cigarette showing his ease. He always operated as if someone was watching. Conrad isn't a conflicted man, but he is introspective, examining himself as if he is outside of himself, from a varying perspective to ensure accuracy of his decision making. His decisions are swift once evidence is supported and he has thoroughly examined his position. In this case, he is dealing with a cabinet member, which will take a slightly more delicate touch than normal, compared to the dark world he usually inhabits where nothing is what it seems. But this can wind up right in front of the American public, putting him right in front of Congress and in a situation he cannot get out of. He has to tie up all ends before he even attempts to engage with this on its face. His position in the CIA, the Alpha Omega’s and the goals of America are always his first thoughts. He has never had to choose between the two. He viewed them as one in the same and the Alpha Omega’s as a group of concerned governmental employees. Nothing more. Conrad is cerebral, taking things for what they are. People just being people and trying to fix human problems. And this problem is human. And it may need fixing. 

CHAPTER 90

November 8th, 2022

Beijing, China

Bryce, Dominic and Natalie arrive at their hotel in China. Way off the beaten path. Dominic makes a vomit gesture. He can smell the duck necks cooking below the window. A bit different from his flamboyant ways. But even more important is rest. Dominic says, 'one bed'. Bryce, realizing the situation he is in, says, ‘I will sleep on the floor’. Natalie a bit shocked, then realizing the posturing of homosexual fears. ‘I will sleep in the middle, okay’, she says, so you two don't become boyfriends. All three appreciate their ability to amuse themselves after the way things have gone. People tended to do this, Bryce thought, to respond to harsh circumstances with humor and laughter. And in this moment, they could not be more human. Full range of human emotions have hit them over 24 hours. Now, they needed to rest, give some reflection.

Dominic, noticing Natalie and Bryce becoming a bit introverted, steps up and says, ‘I will be right back, I know just what we need’.

Natalie and Bryce are now alone in the room, both hesitant, but both comfortable. Neither say anything for a few minutes. Then Natalie starts in. You know Bryce, The Priest was the only one ever there for me. He never asked anything of me. I don't think he has ever called me in his life. Not that he didn't care, he just always knew I would return. And I did. Time and time again. No matter how drunk I was or stressed, he was there. He never mocked me, never said a word but matched my banter with his own, always challenging me. I think I reminded him of his former self in a way, and gave him a glance into his old life. Whatever it was, he was always there for me.

Well Natalie, I don't know that Priest. I wish I had; I do know that. But how many times do you meet the same person dead, alive, older, younger? That was the first time for me. How about you?

Natalie laughing at the absurdity of this, staring up at the ceiling. Bryce rolls over to her and they gently kiss. Then the door opens up widely, both of them propping up. Dominic comes staggering in, almost looking drunk with bags of something that smelled wretched.

Dominic, why are you running? Slow down! Shouts Natalie, while getting up to help him. Are you drunk?

A bit, the guy at the stand down stairs gave me some of his personal drink. It tasted like fermented ass, but it felt so good I couldn't stop. Plus, I need to be drunk to eat this stuff.

Bryce is now getting up, the thought of food sounding nice. His intrigue to eat whatever the hell Dominic brought is undeniable.

Dominic starts to open it up. He has 8 containers of Chinese food. He begins to open each one. Bryce peaks inside and say's 'look interesting'. Natalie is already taking bites, with her mouth full of food saying 'who cares, eat’.

The three of them, the last of the team, spend the rest of the night by themselves, telling stories, laughing about which insane asylum they are going to after this, capturing humanity for just a moment. If history repeats itself, they know their chances of surviving this are not high. But tonight, they will just be.

CHAPTER 91

November 8th, 2022

Beijing, China

Kat walks into a tiny shop in Beijing. The shop owner hears her walk in, the red dragon chimes dangling with a sound that causes her to turn. Normally, the chimes move slowly, creating a gap in each high pitch tone, but whoever walked in, had been here before, as the chimes rang with commotion. The old lady, just below 5 feet tall, hunching just slightly from the neck says,  'American' in English.

Kat, already at her counter says, where is he?

Who?

Your son.

Wu?

No not Wu, Xi. Where is he?

Oh Xi. He will be here in a minute. He went for food. The Chinese lady looked at Kat and said ah, I know why you came. Kat looked at her strangely. Hold on, I have the perfect gift for you, I feel it is just for you. Kat, of course not wanting a fucking gift, but puts up with her. She throws her hair back and looks up at the walls and thinks, how do you clean this damn place? The old lady walked back out with a shotgun. You see, it is just for you. Kat just laughs, very well knowing the traditional Chinese ask questions later. Kat began to back out, just to give her space to draw her weapon and put a bullet right between the old ladies' eyes when a man walked out of the back. He says something in Chinese to the old Chinese woman, placing his hand on her shoulder. She lowers her weapon, almost losing her pride in the process. Kat is standing there, ready to end this. Then the man steps out further.

Hello Kat.

Good. You have been 'missing'.

According to the Chinese government I am with my family on vacation in Japan.

I need you Xi.

Officially or unofficially?

Both.

Tell me more.

CHAPTER 92

November 8th, 2022

Beijing, China

Xi, it is time to change the tide.

Ooh, do tell Kat. I have been waiting for this day.

Xi, I have admiration for China and I know you do too, just as I do for my country. I have spent my entire life in government, my father, his father, our history. I have studied history, politics and know very well the history of the world and the United States role in the 'new' era. This is something my family has dedicated their life to. My Grandfather called it the ‘enlightenment project', an extension of what happened in Europe, in its purest form. He called the United States the 'new Europe' and you can see today with the European Union, bringing together several countries under one rule of law, like we already did 200 plus years ago. I can see attributes of who we are across the world. I respect the Arab states, just knowing poverty and religion can cause issues, as it does in my country. I see Greece in us, I see French in us, I see a long line that developed my country. Asia is different, the east and west grew historically and philosophically unique, well maybe not, Asian Philosophy appears to have affected Greek Culture, but in general, two separate lines of thought. But there is an outlier. The country that took my father's life, Mother Russia. It has always been a hoarder state. A state that only wants to conquer and that has been that case since history can tell us. To this day, Russia only exists to beat everyone else, to conquer, to make everyone else fail. It is a wretched existence. The people suffer while their government only seeks to bring everyone else down. I can't see any humanity in Russia. I see a fucking Grizzly Bear with no soul. A Grizzly Bear that took my father's life. Taking one American's life is too much, let alone my father, let alone someone in a family who can do something about it. Every day of my life I try to convince myself that there must be some good in Russia. Maybe it is what I know of how they operate. Maybe it is because every time I hear anything about Russia that fucking piece of shit Putin is there. I just think of Russia and I see his face, lying across the whole country. I would rather see that fucking anchor on their flag than Putin. I don't know where he gets his pride from, his sense of purpose, his belief Russia is better or Russians are better. If he just stopped and took a look, he may see, yes Russians, the people have something to offer, but not Russia. Xi, I am ending Russia. You and I are ending Russia. It is time to get Chen the data. It is time to expose Russia. And I need it done tonight. I will be at a party tonight. Make sure Chen is there, everyone will be there. After tonight, the world changes, the world structure changes. Together Xi, together we are stronger, together we will build. Build a history of truth and trust, bringing the best of the world into one culture of Good. A new mecca of world cultures coming together. That is my vision. The world is coming together at this party. After tonight, America and China will be close allies and will build human history into a new narrative, a historical narrative. This is your role, this your importance. Without you, at this moment, it will not happen. No one will ever know you, me, my organization, but the books will write about America and China. You will know, your grandchildren will know, you are in the footnotes. Xi, can you do this.

Kat. I assure you, while I am just a small part of this. This is my duty. I have my nature of fun, but that is how I get by. Tonight will be the beginning of change, the beginning of a new era in human life.

Xi, here is the address. Chen will be there.

Kat, be careful. Kat nods her head and heads out the door, the chimes ringing a bit slower this time, something even she notices.

CHAPTER 93

November 8th, 2022

Beijing China

Conrad arrives in Beijing, going straight into the ghettos. The best operatives in the field hid in the shadows of local crime, keeping themselves surrounded by people that keep them safe and are brilliant for utilizing smaller tasks. A couple hundred dollars goes a long way in the ghettos of Beijing.

‘Hello Conrad’, a younger female Asian girl walking up to Conrad says, as he passes security. Dam massage parlors he thinks. Conrad doesn't take advantage of these poor women, massaging out of slavery, knowing nothing else, living most of their life half naked. When he was walking up there were three of them outside getting soup. Panties, a top, see through blouse and some clear high heels, that is it. To this day he can't comprehend it but it is here, complete normalcy.

How are you? Conrad says as he approaches one of them. ‘I need Li'.

‘Oke, come with me’. 

She walks Conrad to the back, out a door to an alley and into another building. The security at the door, who never talks, never says a word, just expects a tip to let Conrad in, but not the girl. Directly in front of Conrad is a set of stairs he walks directly up. ‘Such shitholes’, Conrad says under his breath, knowing very well where he is going is not a shithole. The Chinese built luxury in the ghetto. And this place is Gold, literally. These massage parlors and these little stores aren't what they seem, 'good old Chinese traditions of work'. These places hold isolated characters of crime, many of whom operate internationally. Li has almost 30 massage parlors in Los Angeles, cycling out these girls on BS visas, making them work for tips, low wages. Li doesn't care, she is far removed. Whoever she puts in charge of LA will get the case against them, not her. 

Conrad opens the door and there is Li. Fucking naked with some American. She puts up a hand saying hold on, the American on top has his head buried into her neck. He doesn't even flinch. When he is done Li grabs him by the face and say's okay honey, I have to work. Time to go. He kind of wants to throw out a but...but, as he turns around and sees Conrad sitting at the kitchen counter made out of pure marble. A bit embarrassed, the man grabs his clothes and runs out half naked.

Conrad! Li walks over to him to give him a hug. Conrad accepts the hug reluctantly, knowing she will be upset if he refuses her. Refusing an Asian woman is the worst offence you can commit. Li jumps in, my landlord in the United States, I get a good deal. 

‘Li’, Conrad says, immediately changing the subject, Gabriel told me you have grown a bit and I am in need of some high-level covert 'agents' tonight, just like in the movies, getting Li riled up. The Chinese love American action films and thrillers Conrad thinks.

Okay Conrad. You want girls?

Some. I need 3 pairs. Tonight, for dinner or an event. The girls are to know nothing. The men need to look elite. Not security, maybe some of your more educated men, a bit more refined.

I have them. Don't worry. They do good for Gabriel. They work more for him than me now. All educated in America. And the girls, they know their part. Half of the girls at any event in China are whores on the men's arms. It is a sign of power. The wives stay home, out of business, the girls are their pride in owning their lives and their homes. Only the lower level people bring their wives. For a little extra I can send you Xiuy, she is beautiful, tall, stern and will kill you with her hair clips that are knives.

That is fine Li.

Good Conrad. Also, I need a favor from you. The Nuys clan. They took out one of my parlors. I need to send a strong message. If we do it, well, it will start a war. But if an American does it, they know what will come with any further retaliation.

Li, we don't engage with your fights. How many times...

Conrad. You want to get out of here alive? Li being funny but truthfully clear. Reminding Conrad of where he is and who is in control. Her generosity is about an exchange. No emotion, like with all Asian transactions. Brutally blunt and God awful to Conrad. No sense of helping, right or wrong, just here, you give me this I give you that.

Li, I will work it out, but not until this is done and I am out of China.

I trust you Conrad.

Good Li. I need to leave. Tonight will come too quickly.

As he turns to leave, not wanting to say another word, Li grabs him by the arm, ‘hold on Conrad’, you aren't finished here. Big fat man didn't do it. Conrad is pulled toward her bed, everything in here marbled, gold plated, at least $250k in just decor in this damn place and a mattress on the floor. Conrad's mind rested in Li's statement, ‘the big fat man didn't do’, his mind capturing the imagery of it all too well. He pauses for a moment, wanting to retreat, sees her femininity, her desire to express this part of her, but rejecting her very female side may cause him to get his throat slit. Conrad unbuttons his shirt and begins to undress. He is trained for this. He blocks out all imagery and puts himself in the moment. The fat man didn't exist, the exchange never happened, the only thing that exists right now is a woman who wants to make love to him. And in that, he lets go and when he is done, will barely recall it. If he didn't need her, he would give her what she wants and then slice her throat when he is done, just to bring her from one emotion to the far end of the other. Only focused on the end result, he loses the thought of what he really wants to do. 

As he leaves down the stairs, he exits the door and turns at the alley and then goes to the central area of the marketplaces surrounding this God forsaken place. He can't believe his eyes. He sees Dominic Culter buying some fucking food. He crosses the street and goes to another vendor, watching Dominic go inside the building and seeing him appear at a Window. Soon he sees two other people gathering around Dominic and sit down at a table. He cannot believe his luck. Conrad may be who he is, but he still gets surprised in life. Never expressing it, but luck has always driven him. Right place, right time. He followed the flow of the world, which always gave him a perception of being in control. He plays it back. From Gabriel, to Li, all of it is like divine intervention. One step different, one moment later, one decision different and he would have never seen Dominic, finding the 3 of them unguarded, in the ghetto of Beijing. Dominic says to himself, 'the chances of this are no different than how the earth was formed', a matter of chance and exact occurrences. Conrad looks up at the sky and says, ‘God, I don't know if you live in China, but I am listening', as he walks away, for now.

CHAPTER 94

November 8th, 2022

Beijing, China

‘Bryce, get up, we have to get ready and go’. It is already 4pm. Bryce hits Dominic, wondering how the hell he was lying next to him. All three of them fell asleep after eating and talking.

All three are a bit confused, gathering themselves with their thoughts. Their exhaustion is pure, causing some reality breaks and shifts in time they are still adjusting too. Bryce gets up, helps Natalie up from her seated position to support her. ‘Dominic’, he just yells, 'get the fuck up', now! Resorting to a bit of his old self, inciting some fear of failure into Dominic with a simple phrase. Dominic riled, posturing a bit, 'you don't have to yell' even though he knows Bryce does need to yell. He is wiped and, in these situations, he usually sleeps. That was something he had before the CIA. His own time, his own schedule, his own way of being. While he misses those days, he knows to relish this one because after today, not another may exist.

‘Natalie, where are we going’, asks Bryce.

To a party, a dinner party. Not will only Kat be there, but anyone else involved. Bryce, we won't be the only ones there. The CIA will be there, the British, the Russians, everyone on some level will be there. Security won't be an issue. We were invited.

How?

My father said just walk up and give our names. The only thing we need to do is get out of this dam place and get cleaned up. Looking at Dominic, we need a good hotel to go get cleaned up at and some formal attire. Can you get that done Dominic? Natalie trusted Dominic for the style needed to fit right in.

Sure Natalie.

Bryce jumps in, ‘I hate tuxedos’.

Well, pretend you are James Bond, Bryce. Bryce getting the point, Natalie is focusing in, dialing in. He needs to do the same and quickly. He takes the smallest step by running down stairs and asking for a ride to arrive from one of the merchants. They need to take a bike out of here for a few blocks until they can get a taxi. The rich in Beijing were in the outskirts of the city, from one block to the next Beijing can change. Bryce runs back upstairs to grab Natalie and Dominic. All three leave their room and take a brief look, as if that little room represents their lives in four corners, a summary of how it ends.

Their destiny awaits.

CHAPTER 95

November 8th, 2022

Beijing Mansion

Beijing, holding traditions of old, has succumbed to the demands of Western culture, of Capitalism. And Beijing Mansion was the pinnacle of such a show. At first sight, you would think this home was in the rich part of Atlanta. Almost American in tradition on the outside, with columns of its strength enduring on the entrance. Asian plants and flowers decorated the acre it sat on with long stretches of lawn for walking and paved paths ending at ponds with Koi fish and American Goldfish and of course, Zen gardens that only the poor Chinese raked.

Once inside, everything changed. The decor was sublimely traditional with every detail staged to impress power and privilege. Each marble tile on the floor was grouted with gold, the tables made of red wood polished beyond the grains of its build, the small designs too filled with gold. At each corner was something of Chinese decor, like we think of here, sitting lions looking at dragon plates, round stones, waterfalls with real flowers in them. And tonight, as the sun went down, the lighting of the mansion would be its highlight, darkening the light and bringing out the rich features of the mansion as a whole. And on this day not a fitting metaphor could be better. From lightness to darkness, the world is about to change.

Natalie, Bryce, and Dominic arrive early, at 7:30 pm, wanting to get a hold on their environment. All three dressed beyond what they normally would wear, even to something like this. Dominic got it right, they stayed in a hotel with 110 floors, a straight erect black glass building built for Americans. Inside it was utterly sleek and utterly modern. They almost were not allowed in the building, giving security an explanation, they were reporters doing a story on local eateries and were invited to a dinner. With some disdain and disgust, as if they were an insult to the building, they were allowed in. From there, they began to transform, not really to themselves but who they needed to be tonight. All three of them are trying to have some fun with it and at the same time respecting how far they have come, even feeling a little bit of a perceived success in life by being around the world elite.

They walked up effortlessly to Beijing Mansion, entered the mansion and were treated as royalty, as all the guests would be treated. Respecting Chinese traditions while giving a hint of eastern Europeans gold trash while alluring American capitalists. As they walked through the Mansion, they took in their environment. A woman at a podium greeting them traditionally. Neither of them bowed, well, except Dominic, he couldn't resist the opportunity to partake. Bryce looked at him with a roll of his eyes while Natalie stared straight ahead. She can clearly see the point of contact, for her, Bryce, Dominic, but in general, where everyone would be entertained.

The room is large, circular, with exits to other parts of the mansion. Each one well-guarded with large Chinese men, most likely armed. Natalie notes, no, definitely armed. The size of the room is smaller than she expected, giving a close intimate environment or a perceived feeling with a ceiling20 ft high. There is no introduction, no one even notices. It is as if each group or each person only comes for their purpose. Natalie realizes quickly, keeping to themselves is best. Small talk will not shoot here.

Natalie pauses, Bryce and Dominic pause with her, looking at her with a blatant now what?

Guys, we are just here. We only have one goal. This isn't a rubbing shoulder party. This is a cover, to hide what is really going on. What we are here for. ‘We matter’, Natalie says, attempting to give them a vote of confidence. We have till about 10 pm to get this done. Kat will be here and gone. Kat is our only focus and the last person she talks to is our person. People will greet her here, all attempting to get in good with the United States. Whoever she meets with last is who she is here to see. And as of now, we are in the dark. So, let's just talk, let people come talk to us. We want to give as little away as we can away until it is time to act. And guys, if I know I have been busy in my own mind since we woke up, but I am proud of us. What we have been through. The Priest, my father, this is it. If we don't make it out, I love both of you. It has taken me a lifetime to feel as I do now.

Dominic blushes and says, ‘I love you too Natalie’. Byce steps forward opening his arms, all three embrace each other for what may be their last time.

The next hour or two they talk and engage slightly, just waiting, just willing their way forward, without a thought, living in blind faith until it is time. To meet their faith and in their minds, for their world to meet its fate.

CHAPTER 96

November 8th, 2022

Beijing Mansion

Natalie see's someone she doesn't expect. And of all things he is with Kat, Kat Vogel. She grabs Bryce and Dominic, using her body to reflect the object of her focus.

Who is she with? Ask's Dominic, like a woman seeing a man she likes just walking into the room.

That is Xi. He was meeting with Kat when the Priest went to kill her.

In DC Bryce asks? ‘Natalie, you can't let them see you’. You will be dead before you can take a step forward.

I know, I just didn't think this would be so brutal. Meaning, just months before she attempted to kill Kat with the Priest. In her mind, she is the good guy. In her mind, she knows the real truth about Kat, at least she thinks she does, her mind wandering a bit, feeling a little light headed, but gathering herself by remembering the Priest, her father, what they have been through. She has been beaten by this woman every step of the way. Compose yourself Natalie.

Behind Kat and Xi is Chen. Chen will be known by everyone Natalie thinks, he is China's black arms dealer, right behind Kat. The level this goes too is getting Natalie's mind going. And it doesn't stop there, Bryce and Dominic noticing her lack of composure and her riled self-coming out. Bryce grabs her hand to give her support. Dominic stands tall and erect as if saying, ‘I am here with you’.

We 'missed' it, says Natalie. Look, behind them, an American, right behind them. Dominic recognizes him jumps in, he is CIA, but he has moved into politics. He is running for President, just has not announced yet. Conrad. 

CHAPTER 97

November 8th, 2022

Beijing, China

Bryce jumps at Natalie; you don't know what is done and not done. Now get it together. You helped get us here. Quit questioning yourself, you got me believing so you need to believe.

Natalie fixes her posture. You are right, I am here, you are here, Dominic is here. More importantly Kat is here.

Look Natalie, right there.

Natalie sees Kat and Chen exit the entertaining room, the circular monstrosity they are in.

‘Only one way’, Dominic says. Natalie, you have to go alone. Bryce, you and I are going to go pick a fight with them two and Natalie you slide by. It is that simple.

Noting Bryce’s discontentment, Natalie grabs Bryce's shoulder, ‘It is okay’. We know what could happen. And remember, so far, we have made it through. So far we are the ones that are still alive, so far we have done this. 

Dominic walks right up to the hallway trying to pass through. He is grabbed with a fist on his chest, while the other guard steps to his left to block the entrance, leaving no room for Dominic to get past, giving a clear signal that he is not entering.

Bryce follows immediately, with Natalie flanking his left to get her shot.

Bryce has one option, draw them out, let Natalie sliver by and before anyone else can notice she will be gone, alone, isolated with Kat and Chen. This thought strikes him with fear but he continues on, grabbing the arm of the man over Dominics back, reaching in, keeping a distance so they must come closer. They step forward, Dominic still in between Bryce and the two men. Bryce raises his hand, they step forward, Bryce whispers in Dominic's ear. 'Hold on for dear life', as he pushes him into the two men and then tightens up his body and holds on to Dominic and begins pulling Dominic up, falling backwards in pure hope Dominic can somehow hold on to them and drag them forward right on top of them so Natalie can squeeze by.

When they hit the floor, Bryce throws up his arms, okay okay, we just wanted to use the bathroom, we just wanted to piss goddammit you don't have to be Chinese about it! Dominic yelled, ‘you are ruining my suit you fat hogs’! The two guards, a bit stunned and really feeling embarrassed, wipe themselves off. It was just so awkward they wanted it over with. They stand up, one points in the opposite direction, meaning just go now. Bryce Grabs Dominic with Dominic still yelling at them. Shut up Dominic! And keep walking.

Bryce, lost in the moment, hears Dominic, where is Natalie?

I don't know, she was right behind me.

Did she make it in?

I guess so Dominic, because she is nowhere. 

Dominic and Bryce rejoin the party. What was never discussed is how they will get out of this mess.

They will just have to hope.

CHAPTER 98

November 8th, 2022

Natalie at the end of the hallway, ‘only one way to go’. Without looking back, she opens the door. She walks forward and there is a spiral set of stairs surrounded by stone walls lit with candles coming out of a dragon's mouth. She continues on, her desire to know allows her to overcome her fears. Her truth is coming into reality. She has Kat alone, Chen alone. This is what she has been searching for, always out of arm's reach. Her destiny, her father, all of it will be written.

As she approaches the bottom of the staircase she ensues, opening the door not knowing what to expect, but knowing compels her forward, she needs to know.

As she opens the door, she sees Kat standing there, facing her, along with Chen.

Hello Natalie.

Kat. I remember on TV, your words, 'you haven't stopped me yet'. Well now I will. But then Natalie realizes she doesn't have a weapon.

Natalie, we have been waiting for you. You have been relentless. Tell me Natalie, how do you know you are right? How do you know this exists? Your Priest, where is he? Do you really believe there are so many of one man?

‘Shut up’, Natalie recognizes the clear attempt to engage with her weaknesses that she always hid. Self-doubt.

Oh, c'mon Natalie, it is just a game.

Natalie grinding her teeth, something she normally doesn't do, stands tall, fortifying her position.

Okay Kat says. You got us, now what.

Now you die.

Chen steps forward and raises his arm, clearly armed. Natalie was in trouble. Natalie, you will not get in the way, you will not stop this. You have been behind us the entire time, on our heels but nothing ever to grab. Today, today it will be the same. Your friends, soon, they will not exist, like you too, soon, will not exist. Your compulsion to know, your compulsion to prove will not be given to you today. That is something you will have to earn, something you came into ill prepared. Running recklessly, running straight into us as we stand here in open arms. Just in time, just as we planned. Who do you think is going to take the fall for this? Me? Kat? Or you? Just as Natalie was going to lunge, the door behind them opened.

Kat stops. ‘Conrad’.

Kat broke into confusion, as if she realizes what is happening but this most certainly was not part of her plan.

Chen, noticing her disturbance, quickly moves to shoot Conrad but before he can realize it, his forehead is smoking and his body drops to the floor. Decisively, Conrad made his decision.

Kat realizes how quickly this has turned, but just because Chen was killed, does not yet mean he is going to kill her.

‘Natalie, step aside’. Natalie stares at Kat as if to say, faith, hope, is all with her now. Whoever Conrad is, he in some way is here to help. Maybe her father sent him. Her mind began to run, to sprint in hope she would be successful, that the Priest did not die without reason, that Bryce and Dominic will live and it was all worth it. Even if she dies now, it was worth it. To know she did well, that her purpose had meaning.

Kat, this is not how we do things. You took it too far.

Kat, nervous, stands in herself and says, ‘I have done the best I could. I am sorry if I failed’, hoping this last act of self-reflection and understanding works, an attempt to build compassion in Conrad that will prevent her from dying.

Conrad had already made his decision. Kat, you are a true inspiration but I am going to show you bluntly, there are better ways. It is better this way.

Conrad with his gun in his left hand raises at and then looks at Kat. Kat closed her eyes and heard a thud. Conrad had struck Natalie right on her forehead. Natalie is out.

Trust Kat. It is better this way.

CHAPTER 99

February 2nd, 2017

Maryland Institute for the Mentally Ill

Good Morning Natalie.

Natalie walked into the room she had been walking into every morning for the past 3 months. She looks up and quits trying to ask, ‘Bryce, how do you not remember’?

Every morning Natalie, you never give a response. I will ask again. How are you doing? Natalie just stares into him with a glaze he cannot understand.

He has heard all of Natalie's story, her beliefs, who she thinks he is. He had been a Psychologist a few years now, formerly working for the FBI's BAU, now full time at this hospital. He specialized in criminal psychology and the relation to trauma-based crime. It was his firm belief Natalie experienced her story in some form in her life. Maybe her father's death. Maybe her failures in life caused her breakdown. What he did know, from what he has gotten out of her, was that her experiences and delusions started in college after her father's death. She herself was to become an FBI agent like her father. She was to follow in his footsteps. It is all she ever wanted to do. Some how some way, Natalie was harmed and began to associate herself with international politics and crime syndicates, becoming focused on people that simply have not been proven to exist, a sort of fictional reality that blended real life people with narrations about them. On some level, we all do this, reflected Bryce. But her identity with real and fake people and beliefs about the world are her trauma or a result of them. Either way, her identity she is living in still has not broken. He wants to get to know the real Natalie, but has yet to do so. Today, he will try and break her, bring her back to what is right in front of her. This is a risk, he knows that. He could lose her forever and he cared deeply about helping her. But he has to take the risk.

Natalie. Do you still believe Hillary Clinton is the President?

Yes. One of the few things she was firm on.

And the year is 2022?

Yes.

Natalie, what if I told you neither of these are true? How would you feel?

She just stares into him, burning him from some force beyond touch.

Come with me Natalie. I want you to sit here and watch this news conference. I will let you watch alone. I am here for you. Can you do that for me?

Without saying a word she goes with it, following Bryce, without a thought.

Bryce turns on MSNBC and walks away. It is 9 am. Natalie sees the TV and her eyes finally open up, they have been half closed since she arrived, she herself lost track of time. On the screen, she reads the scrolling words, seeing the date, February 2nd, 2017 and watches as the man on TV opens his mouth:

Today is a great day for America. We have a powerful voice in my new Secretary of State Kat Vogel. Natalie watches Kat step on the stage and say, 'thank you President Trump’. Then, Natalie begins to look closer as Kat’s lips begin to move again, ‘You still haven't stopped me yet’.

End

A Castle Reborn II

By R. Cary

Copyright 2022

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