As I approach the finish line on book two of the Apollo Stone Trilogy, tentatively titled “The Warrior” I decided to post a few chapters of book 1, The Navigator, in order to give readers a taste of what these books are about. Hope you enjoy, and please feel free to leave a comment. The Navigator is available on Amazon in ebook and trade paper format.
Book 1 of the Apollo Stone Trilogy
Arthur Chambers looked back at the shop just as the lights above the entrance went dark. He heard the deadbolt slide into place as he scanned the dark street as casually as possible, noting the handful of pedestrians hurrying home now that the restaurants and shops were closing down. To his right was the dark blue sedan which had followed him from his apartment. He had driven around town for the better part of an hour in an attempt to throw them off his trail, and at one point he believed he had succeeded, but there it was again, the same blue sedan. He cursed his stupidity for having thought he could elude them.
Chambers walked across the street, still wet from the rain, toward a small gray Victory automobile parked on the opposite side. He opened the door and squeezed his tall lanky frame into the driver’s seat. He inserted the key into the ignition.
“Damn it!” he whispered to himself.
Chambers turned the key, but it refused to start. He frowned and shook his head. We have fighter planes that exploit extra-dimensional gravitational differences but we still can’t build a decent car. Chambers took a deep breath and followed the usual ritual of pumping the gas twice and counting to five. Then he rotated the key once more. The Victory coughed and rattled in protest, but it finally started. He turned on the headlights, looked in his side mirror, and pulled away from the curb.
As he drove away, Chambers looked in his rear view mirror and saw a man exit a coffee shop and step into the passenger side of the dark blue sedan. The headlights turned on and the car quickly pulled into the street behind Chambers. He turned left and then right. The blue sedan did the same. His heart began to pound as his anxiety grew. A thousand questions raced through his mind. Would they retrace his footsteps? Would they question the shop owner who had promised to mail the hastily conceived note? He felt a sudden pang of terror surge through his body. He’d made a terrible mistake. He needed to retrieve it; undo what he had done.
Chambers approached a sharp bend in the road. He looked in his rear view mirror, and when he was out of sight of the blue sedan, he gunned the Victory’s engine and sped down the hill toward the five way intersection at the bottom. At the last moment, he pulled the steering wheel sharply to the right. The tires screamed their warning, but he ignored them. He clenched his teeth and kept his foot on the gas pedal, trying to turn onto the little street that ran along the river.
Then he heard a popping sound and the left front tire suddenly turned perpendicular to the car frame. The little Victory spun out of control and slammed head first into a cement block at the foot of a bridge.
Moments later a man in a dark blue overcoat ran up to the car. He pulled hard on the door, but it refused to open. He pulled again and again until it finally yielded. The man crouched down and looked at Chambers, who was pressed tightly against the steering wheel. Blood flowed freely from a head wound.
Chamber’s eyes were closed, and he breathed in small gasps as his punctured lungs quickly filled with blood. “Don’t touch it,” he rasped. “Don’t use it.” He opened his eyes and looked at the man’s face. He struggled to focus on his features, then with his last breath he whispered, “Fool.”
The sun was just beginning to rise above the tree tops when Logan returned from his run. He entered the code into the apartment’s keypad and went in. He walked into the small kitchen and poured himself a tall glass of water from the faucet and gulped it down. Then he prepared a pot of coffee. As the pot filled with steaming dark liquid, a door in the small living room next to the kitchen opened.
“Hey, Cap” Logan said to the blond haired young man who entered the kitchen.
“Hey,” replied Cap, squinting at the morning light filtering through the window shades. He sat on a stool at the kitchen bar and leaned forward, resting his torso on the counter and moaning softly. Then he stretched his arms out and said, “Need coffee…brain…hurting.”
“You stayed out past your bedtime, Cap” said Logan.
“I did,” replied Cap. With eyes half open, he lifted his head and rubbed his temples with his fingertips.
“Drink this, you’ll feel better,” said Logan as he handed Cap a cup of black coffee.
Cap tried a sip. “This coffee tastes like a sweaty gym sock.”
“Drink up. It’ll put steam in your stride,” said Logan as he walked toward his bedroom door.
An hour later the two men, now shaved and showered, exited the apartment building. Both wore dark blue pants, black shoes, white dress shirts, and blue waist length jackets. Each had a bag slung over his shoulder. They joined a stream of identically dressed young men and women walking toward a group of buildings two blocks away. As they crossed the street they passed a large boulder with a brass plaque on it. It read, Malcom Weller Military Academy for Science and Engineering.
Walking on bright green grass, Logan breathed in the fresh spring air. Tall trees provided a brilliant display of blossoms in the bright morning light. At the center of the park was a large bronze statue of a man standing on a stone pedestal. The statue’s eyes looked boldly toward the horizon. His overcoat was open, flowing behind him as if he faced a strong wind. His right arm was raised and his large hand pointed forward. His left arm was at his side, the hand clenched into a fist. The name “Malcom Weller” was carved into the pedestal.
They walked past the statue and entered a building on the far side of the park. As they climbed the steps to the second floor, they were joined by an attractive young woman with shoulder length dark hair and dark brown eyes.
“Hey Lena,” said Cap. “I missed you last night at The Cave.”
“You didn’t miss me. I had no intention of being there,” she replied coolly. “I have two finals today. One of which you’re also taking, Caparelli.”
“What? I have a final today?” said Cap in mock surprise.
She ignored Cap’s theatrics and turned her attention to Logan. “You ready for the fluid mechanics final?”
“We’ll find out tomorrow,” Logan responded. Logan had received the highest score on the midterm, but Lena’s project had won Professor Bouchet’s greatest praise. The final exam would probably decide who would receive the highest overall grade.
“Well, good luck,” she said. She turned to her right and walked down the hall.
After Lena disappeared in a crowd of cadets, Cap looked at Logan. “By ‘good luck’ I think she means ‘I hope you fail miserably’.”
“Probably,” agreed Logan. Lena Moreau was hyper competitive by any standard, and she excelled at everything from academics to close-quarters combat. Logan clapped Cap on the back. “Good luck with that systems design final.”
“Thanks, but I just need to pass,” said Cap as he started to walk in the same direction Lena had gone in. “Maybe I’ll sit next to Lena. She digs me, I can tell.”
Logan shook his head and smiled. “Yeah, she digs you. Have a groovy day.”
Logan entered a small lecture hall. There were about fifteen students already in the room but the class had not yet started. At the front of the room there was a large view screen behind a wooden lectern. Facing the lectern were four rows of seats, a continuous curving bench running along each row. Logan ascended several steps and walked down the second row, taking the seat next to a man with short black hair.
“Phillip,” said Logan, deepening his voice and nodding his head in feigned formality.
“Logan,” answered Phillip, also slightly nodding his head. Then he smiled and said, “Did you catch any of last night’s Re-ded match-ups?”
“Some,” answered Logan. “Looks like Samarak will win gold for sword and guard. And I don’t think anyone is going to beat Muthu’s time in the triathlon.”
“Yeah,” said Phillip. “That guy’s inhuman. A beast. Who’s your pick for the big one, the banner race?”
“I don’t know,” answered Logan as he watched a few more cadets file into the room. “Vorsek probably. He’s won twice already and looked good in the prelims.” Looking back at Phillip he asked, “More importantly, how many banner thieves will get run down this year?”
Phillip shrugged his shoulders. “Hard to say. How many was it last year? Two? Plus another four injured? There are rumors the SPD will crack down on it this year.”
Logan shook his head and said, “No way. People would take to the streets if they kept the thieves out. Watching them jump out and try to steal banners is more popular than the race itself. And as long as the bookies keep paying anyone who can steal a banner, the thieves will keep trying. I hear they get a fully loaded black buy card if they get one.”
“I doubt that,” scoffed Phillip. “They get cash, but the SPD can trace a card through its bio-encryption. They’d just invalidate it.”
“The SPD already looks the other way by letting the thieves in the race. Why would they care about a couple cards? And you never hear about a crackdown on the bookies.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Phillip. “I’ve got fifty bucks riding on Vorsek to run someone down, and another twenty-five it’ll be fatal. You?”
“Not me,” said Logan, hands raised. “I don’t have cash lying around to give away to bookies.”
“Too bad we can’t use buy cards like cash,” said Phillip with a grin. “I’d put five hundred down on Vorsek.”
Logan laughed. “Yeah, right. People would blow their allowances on booze and bookies.”
“Money well spent,” said Phillip. “Damn, I hope I win. I need the cash. I still have one year until graduation, and I can’t make it on a cadet’s green buy card.”
“Maybe you should jump the fence and grab a banner,” suggested Logan. “With a loaded black card you could get a nice apartment, eat at the best restaurants. You could buy new car. Might even get bumped to the front of the waiting list.”
“Maybe you should do it. You could buy a new PDD,” said Phillip pointing at Logan’s battered personal data device.
“Don’t need a new one,” said Logan. “I’ll be going on full active duty right after graduation. Don’t need a PDD to fire an M-35 or march in a straight line.”
Phillip grinned and shook his head. “You? Fire a weapon? March around? They won’t waste your talent on that.”
Logan smiled and looked toward the front of the room. “Who knows what plans the Guardians have for any of us?” he said in a mock philosophical tone.
Their conversation was interrupted when a tall thin black man wearing khaki pants, a dark green dress shirt, and a brown jacket entered the room. He walked to the lectern and placed a folder filled with paper on the nearby table.
“Good morning everyone,” he said.
“Good morning, Professor Garrison,” murmured a few students.
Pointing at the folder, Professor Garrison said. “As you can see I have printed out and graded your final papers. I will return them to you at the end of the class.”
He looked around the room and smiled at the students. “I am holding your papers hostage because I know some of you will be tempted to leave as soon as you know your grade. Not everyone will be happy with the results, but if you have questions about your grade we can discuss them after today’s class or during my office hours on Wednesday.”
“Okay,” said Garrison as he clapped his hands. “Your grades are determined, but our conversation is not over. For today’s topic, our final topic, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the influences on early colonial society that led to a shift in perspective. I’m not talking about the proximate causes for the revolution, namely the British crown’s oppressive mercantilist policies combined with counter-productive individualism in the colonies. I want to discuss why the people’s collective consciousness had advanced to a point where they identified more with each other than with the interests of the crown. Who has a theory? Who wants to begin?”
A woman with short brown hair sitting behind Logan raised her hand. “Professor Garrison?”
“Yes, Ms. Becker,” said Garrison with a smile. “Please get us started.”
“According to Larrent’s Roots of a Revolution, the colonists’ view of themselves as a distinct people began with the Seven Years War. It was the first time colonists had to fight for their homes in a meaningful way.”
“Great,” said Garrison. “That’s what Larrent thinks. What do the rest of you think?”
The question prompted several cadets to raise their hands and an animated discussion followed. Some cadets argued that the seed of colonial separateness was formed very early, before the Seven Years War. Some believed the feeling of a separate identity formed at least fifty years prior to the war due to the crown’s prohibitions against the colonies developing certain industries or producing manufactured goods. Then there was a heated debate about the deep divide within pre-Revolution society between those who wanted independence and those who supported the crown both during and after the war. Phillip argued the divide was fueled by the wealthy merchants who would benefit from freer trade versus merchants and landowners who benefited from the status quo. Logan argued that whatever the causes of the war the split in society was deepened once it started because most people followed their convictions. It wasn’t just about wealth, manufacturing, and trade; ideas truly mattered.
The debate continued until the bell rang, after which Professor Garrison called out each student’s name and returned their final paper as they walked by. Logan’s name was the last to be called. When he received his paper, he turned to the final page to see the grade. Ninety-seven. Maybe not the highest score, but enough to ensure he’d get an A for the course. He thanked Professor Garrison for teaching the class and walked toward the door.
“Mr. Brandt,” said Garrison.
“Yes?” he said, turning around to face the professor.
“I thought you made some interesting points in your paper. However, I noted a few threads of thought that were, how shall I put it, unsupported by leading scholars of pre-Impact society.”
“I see,” said Logan.
“Look,” continued Garrison after a pause. “I understand that there are some theories out there that can be attractive to young people, but you need to guard against undedicated modes of thinking. It probably doesn’t matter too much for ancient, medieval or even early American history, but as you approach the period immediately preceding Impact, I recommend you stick to the authorized histories.
“Yes sir,” said Logan. “Thank you for the advice.”
Garrison smiled and continued. “Personally, I don’t think it’s harmful to discuss these things in a properly supervised environment, such as our classroom. I said many times throughout the semester that I welcome all well-reasoned discussion. But you will be leaving academia soon and things will be different. You’ll need to watch your step.”
Logan nodded. “Thanks Professor Garrison. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Garrison placed a hand on Logan’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. “I hope you know that you can trust me.”
Logan nodded his head and said, “Yes sir. Thanks.”
Logan left the classroom and exited the building. He walked across a small square toward a three-story glass building. He went inside and entered a large open room. There were a few rows of books, but the majority of the space was devoted to individual study stations equipped with large transparent view screens and docking stations. Wooden tables arranged in rows occupied the center. Students sat at the tables, quietly studying alone or in small groups.
He found an unoccupied study station and docked his PDD. The view screen flickered and then icons of various software programs, textbooks, and other files appeared. Logan touched the icon of a textbook entitled Advanced Propulsion. The view screen showed the table of contents. He touched on one of the chapters and the screen opened a page with text and equations. He pulled up the notes file on his PDD and inserted a portion of them next to the textbook file so he could simultaneously view the text and his class notes. Touching the screen, he flicked through the pages of notes until he found the relevant information.
He read something that didn’t make sense to him. What he’d written down in class did not seem to agree with what the text was saying. He opened up the lab simulator program, and using his finger as a stylus, he wrote out a series of equations. He touched the image of a green “GO” button and the simulator program converted his equations into charts and graphs. The screen displayed a 3D image of how his model would function. He adjusted some of the variables, such as fuel purity, mass, and environmental conditions. He frowned at what he saw. Frustrated, he sat back, unconsciously running his fingers through his wavy brown hair. Then a thought occurred to him. He made some adjustments to his equations and hit “GO”. This time he smiled when he saw the results.
He stopped studying at 11:45 and went to the cafeteria to get some lunch. He took a tray from the top of a stack and pushed it along a metal shelf. He indicated what food he wanted and one of the dozen or so cafeteria staff workers placed it on his tray. He looked around the large crowded room and saw Cap and another student sitting at a table.
“How’d your systems final go?” asked Logan as he sat down next to Cap.
“About usual,” said Cap unenthusiastically. “I didn’t light it up but I didn’t crash and burn either.”
The student sitting across the table took his heavy-rimmed glasses off and started cleaning them with a small cloth. “Systems design with Fowler is a joke,” said the other student. “Try taking it from Van Horn. The man’s a sociopath.”
“No thanks, Hamza.” replied Cap. “Fowler was crazy enough for me. Did you know he sings to himself when he writes on the view screen? What a cube.”
“Strange,” agreed Logan. He looked at Hamza. “What about you? How are exams going?”
Hamza held his glasses up to the ceiling lights, gave them a final wipe, and placed them on his nose. “I had three last week and two more this week. Then I’m a free man.” He looked around the cafeteria. “Free from this fucking bullshit gulag.”
“Free?” replied Cap. “Your active duty station is Peoria. Peoria! That’s the goddamn frontier, boy. Shithole central.”
Logan and Cap laughed. Agitated, Hamza adjusted his glasses and said rather defensively, “That’s where they need civil and agricultural engineers. I’m good at both, so they’re sending me where the work needs to be done. At least I’ll be doing work that makes a difference, makes us one people, one nation.”
Logan smiled. Then he said, “You better be good with an M-35, too. The clans raid out there at least once a week.”
“Shit,” said Cap. “Hamza will be too busy pissing his pants to get a shot off.”
Hamza mimicked Cap. “Hamza will be too busy pissing his pants to get a shot off.” He leaned across the table toward Cap, “I can hit a fly’s eye at two hundred meters.”
Cap coughed on his food as he laughed. He swallowed and said, “Look at you! You’re blind as a bat. You couldn’t hit your mama’s fat ass at ten meters.”
Hamza tightened his lips and said, “Meet me at the range tonight, and I’ll show you how it’s done, asshole.”
Cap grinned. “A challenge from the lady in the spectacles!” he said in a ringmaster’s tone of voice. “I accept. I’ll see you at the range at nineteen hundred hours. M-35 and 9mm. One clip per person.”
“You’re on, fly boy bird turd,” said Hamza. He stood up to leave. As he walked away he said over his shoulder, “Bring some money. No buy card bullshit. Cold cash. I want to make it interesting.”
“I’m going to enjoy this,” said Cap after Hamza had gone. “Easy money.”
“I wouldn’t get too cocky,” cautioned Logan. “Hamza looks like a geek but he was walking foot patrols west of Chicago during last summer’s active duty. It’s wild out there so I’m pretty sure he fired his weapon in anger a few times.”
“Not concerned,” said Cap. “I did a lot of shooting during last summer’s AD, too.”
Logan shook his head and chuckled. “You flew F31 patrol missions. You’re a fly boy, a stick jock. You played with expensive toys all day and got tucked into your warm bed at night.”
Cap waved a hand, dismissively. “You’re backing up Hamza because you’re both infantry. Flat Foots, ground pounders.”
Logan shrugged. “We’ll continue this discussion tonight when you get back from the range. And don’t bullshit me. I’m going to verify every detail with Hamza tomorrow.”
Logan took a final bite of green mush on his plate and stood. “Time to meet my fluids study group.”
“Have fun with your fluids,” said Cap. “Tell lovely Lena I said hi.”
“I will not. She thinks you’re an egotistical idiot.”
“Just one of my many charming qualities,” replied Cap.
Ten minutes later Logan entered a library study room and sat at a table with four other cadets, including Lena.
“Cap says hi,” he said to her.
“Caparelli?” she said without looking up from her PDD. “That boy’s an idiot.”
That evening Logan was sitting at the apartment kitchen table in front of a small view screen docking station. A 3D video was depicting how waves interact when they collide with other waves. Logan paused the simulation and opened up the equation screen. He scrolled through pages of numbers and symbols until he found the spot that interested him. He changed several of the numbers and was about to return to the simulator to judge the results of his adjustments when the door buzzer sounded.
Irritated by the interruption, he got up from his chair and walked to the door. He looked at the video screen next to the door. A man with a flat nose and a square jaw wearing a light blue coat stood outside. He wore a military style cap with a small badge above the visor. On the badge was an image of an eagle clutching a shield in one talon and lightning bolts in another. The letters “SPD” were sewn on his coat collar.
Logan stiffened and clenched his jaw muscles. He looked back at the kitchen table, then at the door to his bedroom. He was about to walk to his room when the buzzer sounded again. Logan took a breath and opened the door.
“Logan Brandt?” said the man.
“That’s right,” replied Logan noting that under his long blue coat, the man wore a gray shirt and blue trousers, which disappeared into calf-high black leather boots. A black stripe ran down the length of the trousers.
The officer smiled and said, “I’m Lieutenant Fischer from the State Protection Directorate of the National Security Ministry. May I come in?”
Logan stepped out of the way and extended his hand toward the apartment’s interior. Lieutenant Fischer walked past Logan and into the small living room. He removed his hat, tucked it under his left arm, and turned to face Logan.
“Please sit down,” offered Logan.
“I’ll stand,” replied Fischer. “This shouldn’t take long.”
“What can I do for you lieutenant?” asked Logan.
Lieutenant Fischer didn’t answer the question. He looked around the room and said, “You have a very nice apartment,” he observed. “They take good care of you here at the Weller Academy.”
“Yes they do,” agreed Logan.
Fischer walked toward a shelf and glanced through the cheaply bound books. He pulled one from the shelf, looked at it for a moment, and returned it to its place. He walked toward Logan’s bedroom and peered through the open door. Then the SPD officer returned his attention to Logan and smiled.
“Don’t misunderstand me,” continued the SPD officer. “Unlike some, I do not begrudge another’s successes. In fact, I’m glad that you are well cared for. After all, you and your fellow students are our future leaders. You will be defenders of the People’s Republic of America and should be given every opportunity to excel.”
Logan smiled but said nothing.
“I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about your recently deceased grandfather, Dr. Arthur Chambers.”
“Okay,” said Logan, hoping the SPD officer did not notice the hint of tension in his voice.
“When was the last time you heard from your grandfather?”
“Let me think,” said Logan. “It would have been about one week before he died.”
“So just three weeks ago?” said Lieutenant Fischer. “What did you talk about?”
“We didn’t talk. I received a congratulations card from him. I’m due to graduate from the academy this Saturday.
“How very nice,” said Fischer, his mouth stretching into a smile, revealing crooked yellow teeth. “He must have been very proud of you. Do you still have the card?”
“I think so.”
“May I see it?”
“Sure, just a second.” Logan went into his bedroom and searched through some clutter on his dresser top. He found the card and brought it into the living room. “Here you go.”
Lieutenant Fischer read the card. “It’s a nice card. I see he wrote you some riddles. Did he often do that?”
“Sometimes,” replied Logan. “When I was a kid.”
“Interesting. May I scan the card?” he asked as he pulled out a personal data device. Without waiting for Logan’s response he laid the card on the table. A red cone of light shone from his PDD. The light rotated a few times and then flashed brightly. When he had finished, Fischer looked up and smiled. “Where would we be without these PDDs?”
Logan smiled. “Yes. They’re very useful,” he said, although he was unfamiliar with the scanning function on the SPD officer’s device. Clearly, theirs came with added features.
“Do you still have the envelope in which the card arrived?”
“What happened to it?”
“I threw it away.”
Lieutenant Fischer frowned when he heard the response, but then he said, “Oh well. That’s understandable. Do you recall what the return address was?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Don’t recall?” asked Lieutenant Fischer. “Was it his home address? Some other place?”
“I don’t think I bothered to look,” said Logan.
Lieutenant Fischer tapped the nail of his index finger on the PDD and stared at Logan for several heartbeats. At last he said, “You’re probably wondering why I’m asking about your grandfather.”
“I suppose you have good reasons,” said Logan as he eyed the man’s PDD. “Keeping the Republic safe must require you to investigate many things.”
“That is true. The price of safety is constant vigilance, I always say. In this case I can tell you that whenever a high ranking person or prominent citizen, such as your grandfather, dies we at the SPD conduct a thorough investigation. Better safe than sorry, right?”
Logan nodded. “Agreed. No harm double checking things.”
“I’m so happy you understand. Terrorists from the Southern Union, The Pacific Federation, and the Waste grow bolder by the day,” said Fischer.
“I know,” said Logan.
“You know? What do you know?” asked Lieutenant Fischer, as a faint smile played across his lips.
The question startled Logan. “Nothing special,” he muttered. “Just what you see on the news. There are always reports of some clan raid or the discovery of some spy ring.”
Lieutenant Fischer nodded his head. “Yes. The news is full of these stories.” He tapped his PDD. “So, returning to the subject of your grandfather, the last communication you received from him was the card. When was the last time you two actually spoke?”
Logan took a deep breath and thought for a moment. “I guess that would have been during winter break. He came to visit us for a couple of days.”
“When you say ‘us’ you mean you and your mother, correct?”
“Your father died when you were young, right?” asked Fischer. “He was stationed on the frontier and died during a reconnaissance-in-force mission near Indianapolis, though the record contains a few contradictions.” He smiled slightly, noting Logan’s discomfort. “Forgive me, but I conducted a little research before coming to visit you.”
Logan shook his head. “It’s okay. Yes, that’s how he died.”
“Did you ever talk about your father with your grandfather?”
“Not really,” said Logan. “Dr. Chambers was my grandfather on my mother’s side, so there really wasn’t any reason to talk about my father.”
Lieutenant Fischer nodded and asked, “During your grandfather’s winter visit, do you recall any conversations that seemed strange?”
“Strange in what way?” asked Logan.
“Did he seem nervous? Did he mention any person or persons who might have wanted to harm him?”
“No. Just the normal stuff.”
“Just the normal stuff. Good.” Fischer paused for a moment then he placed his hat on his head and said, “Well, I’ve kept you from your studies long enough. If you remember anything about Dr. Chambers that seems out of the ordinary, please contact me at this number.”
He handed Logan a business card and smiled. “I’ll show myself out.”
Logan didn’t move after Lieutenant Fischer left the apartment until he heard the faint thud of the stairwell door closing. Then he walked to the apartment door and looked at the monitor screen. The hallway was empty. He walked into his room and opened the top drawer of his dresser. He reached in and searched under some T-shirts until he found an envelope. He pulled it out and tilted the open end until a small flat medallion about the size and shape of a large coin rolled into his cupped hand.
He held the medallion up to the light and examined it. Etched in white against a black background was an image of a man holding a torch. He was standing in a chariot pulled by several horses. To the man’s right was what appeared to be an arrow or comet shooting upward toward a small dot. Logan turned the medallion over to the other side. It was covered in a silver metal lined with thousands of tiny swirling grooves.
His grandfather had written a note and taped it to the medallion. Logan pulled it out of the drawer and read it. Logan, please keep this for me. I will retrieve it soon. It’s important that you keep it safe.
Below this request, his grandfather had written something else. Wanderer, if you come to Sparta, tell them there you have seen us lying here, obedient to their laws.
Logan returned the medallion to the dresser drawer and closed it. He took the note and envelope into the kitchen. Lighting a wooden match, he set fire to both of them and washed the ashes down the sink.
Cap closed the apartment door behind him and pressed a button on the control pad. The dead bolt slip into place with a click. He went into the apartment and saw Logan sitting at the kitchen bar. Cap could see his roommate was deeply engrossed in his studies, so he quietly walked behind Logan’s chair toward his bedroom.
“How’d the shooting match go?” asked Logan without looking up.
“Hm? Oh yeah,” replied Cap. “It went okay.”
“Just okay?” Logan looked at Cap and smiled. “Something tells me Hamza’s pocket has some of your money in it.”
Cap raised his arms slightly, palms up, and said, “I was out of my rhythm. Any other night I would have won.”
Without giving Logan a chance to reply, Cap asked, “How’s the studying coming? Ready for your fluids final tomorrow?”
“I think so,” Logan said, returning his attention to the PDD and view screen.
Cap continued walking toward his bedroom when Logan asked, “What is the center of gravity?”
Cap stopped in the doorway and turned around. “Excuse me?”
“It’s a riddle my grandfather sent me before he died.”
“You’re grandfather sent you a riddle before he died?” asked Cap. “Weird.”
“He sent me a congratulations card since he would not be able to attend the graduation ceremony. He included a few riddles in the card.”
“I see. How many?”
“Three. I’ve figured out the first two, but I don’t understand the one about the center of gravity.”
“What are the first two?”
Logan looked at the card and read aloud. “’You can cut me and put me on the table but never eat me.’ I think that one is flowers.”
Cap nodded his head in agreement.
“The second one is, ‘Why is a beating heart like a writing desk?’ Edgar Allen Poe wrote on both of them.”
“I would never have gotten that one,” admitted Cap. “But I think you’re right.”
“That leaves the one about the center of gravity, which I can’t figure out.”
“Why the sudden interest in these riddles on the night before a final?”
Logan put his hands behind his head, laced his fingers, and leaned back. He looked at the ceiling for a moment. Then he said, “My sudden interest was sparked by a visit from Lieutenant Fischer of the State Protection Directorate. He came here to ask about my grandfather. He found the riddles interesting and scanned an image of the card they were written on.”
Cap sat down at the table. “The SPD? Really? Why would they care about your grandfather’s death?”
“I don’t know. He died in a car accident, but they apparently check into any deaths involving anyone significant. Anyway, that’s what Fischer said.” Logan handed the officer’s card to Cap.
“Was your grandfather ‘significant’?” asked Cap, handing back the card after reading it. “I remember seeing him a couple of times a year at your house when we were kids, but I didn’t get the impression he was a heavyweight worthy of SPD attention.”
“Yeah,” said Logan. “He was a pretty well-known physicist, but I don’t think he was influential outside his professional circles. And even if he was, I don’t know if the SPD is investigating as a matter of routine or if they’re onto something suspicious.”
“Maybe they don’t believe the car accident was an accident,” offered Cap.
“That’s what I was thinking, but all I have to go on is these riddles. That’s why I’ve been wasting valuable study time trying to figure out what the ‘center of gravity’ is.”
“What happens when you solve it?” asked Cap.
Logan hesitated for a moment. Then he stood and went into his bedroom. When he returned, he laid the medallion on the counter. “My grandfather sent me this and asked that I keep it safe.”
Cap picked it up and examined it. “Interesting. What did Fischer say about it?”
“I didn’t tell him.”
Cap raised an eyebrow. “Did he ask?”
“Not directly. He asked if my grandfather had communicated with me. I showed him the congratulations card he sent.”
“But you didn’t show him this.” Cap turned it over and ran his thumb over the swirling grooves on the back. “You don’t think showing it to the SPD is what your grandfather would have wanted? It wouldn’t be safe?”
“I don’t know. Something in my gut held me back.” Logan scratched his head. “Probably not too smart to have kept this to myself.”
Cap raised an eyebrow and said, “It’s never smart to play around with the SPD. I’d rethink this if I were you and give Lieutenant Fischer a call. Tell him you suddenly remembered the medallion.”
“You think he’d believe that?” asked Logan, incredulously.
“No, but then you’d be done with it. Think big picture. You’ll be at the National Defense Research Center soon, one of the best active duty postings you can get coming out of Weller Academy. Your grandfather’s career is over; yours is just starting.”
Logan nodded. “I get it. Let the dead bury the dead.”
Cap raised a thumb. “Right on.”
Logan smiled and shook his head. “Nobody says that kind of stuff anymore. You know that, right?”
Cap shrugged and walked away.
“Here comes Bouchet,” said Logan to Lena, who was sitting in the row behind him.
She looked up from reading some notes and saw the professor. “Right on time, as usual.”
A short man entered the lecture hall. His head was bald, except for a horseshoe of dyed black hair that ran around the back of his head. He wore a blue double-breasted pinstriped suit, white shirt, and a red bow tie with yellow stripes.
“Someone needs to tell him he dresses like a clown,” mumbled Lena.
“Watch your tone. He graduated at the top of his class at Clown College,” replied Logan.
“Okay, everyone. Let’s get started,” said the professor in a loud but rather high pitched voice.
He handed a stack of papers to an assistant and said, “Please distribute these to the students, face down.”
Logan heard Lena popping her knuckles. He turned around and saw she was feverishly reading a page on the small screen of her PDD. He looked down and saw she was unconsciously bouncing her leg under the bench.
“Relax, Lena,” he said.
“I am relaxed,” she replied.
“You have to let your mind focus on something else, even for just thirty seconds. Believe me, it helps.”
She waved the back of her hand at him, fingers down. “Be gone,” she said in a mock imperious tone.
“You’ve got thirty seconds before the final begins,” said Logan. “How much do you think you’re going to learn in thirty seconds?”
Lena did not respond.
“Hey, I’ve got a riddle for you,” said Logan. “What’s the center of gravity?”
“V,” she said without hesitation.
“The center of gravity is ‘v’. It’s a kids’ riddle. Now leave me alone.”
Logan considered her answer and smiled. “Oh yeah. Makes sense.”
At the front of the auditorium, Professor Bouchet cleared his throat and spoke. “Ladies and gentlemen, please quiet down. Take your seats if you have not already done so.” He waited until everyone’s attention was on him.
“Welcome to your fluid dynamics final,” he said with a broad smile. “As with the midterm, this is an open-book exam, or, more precisely stated, an open PDD exam. You may refer to your PDD textbook and any notes that are of your own making.”
He walked along the front row of students and surveyed the faces directed toward him.
“However,” he continued, “as you no doubt realized while taking the midterm, your PDD and your notes won’t do you any good if you do not understand the material. My advice is to do your best on each question and move on. Don’t get bogged down. Maintain your pace. You can go back and revisit your answers when you have finished all the questions, although it’s unlikely you will have much time to do so.”
He saw a hand go up. He half closed his eyes and said, “And yes, you may use your PDD’s simware, but understand you won’t have time to program anything.”
The hand went down.
When the tests had been distributed, Professor Bouchet pressed a button on a controller and the number two followed by a colon and two zeros appeared on the room’s view screen. “You will have two hours to complete the exam. You may begin.” The view screen started counting down.
The students turned the exams over and began working. Logan had done a good job anticipating the first few questions and breezed through them. The next two questions were complicated, but once he had sorted out the irrelevant information, he developed a solution that he was confident would work. He looked up at the clock. An hour had already passed.
Logan looked down again and started to read the next question. As he read, his left hand began to twitch. He ignored it. A moment later it twitched again and he felt an aching sensation in his left thumb. He looked at his hand. Shit! He thought. Not now. Not now! His hand began to twitch more frequently. He put it on his lap but the twitching continued. With a sigh, he set down his pencil and closed his eyes. Soon he lost awareness of the classroom, the people around him, and the fact that he was taking a final exam. Everything turned black.
Professor Bouchet sat on a chair at the front of the class. He had a PDD in his hands, which displayed a news article. Clan Attack on Border Town Kills 20, Injures 33. He shook his head slowly as he read the details of how armed members of a border clan had attacked a small frontier town without warning or provocation. They looted it for food and fuel, killing anyone they could find, even the innocents. The attackers had retreated across the Mississippi before local military units could arrive on the scene.
Another article entitled, Anarchist Cell Uprooted in Louisville – Visa Controls Tightened, described how SPD tactical security units found bomb-making materials in several apartments of an abandoned building in Louisville. Five people were arrested, including a local government official. They were suspected to have caused several explosions near government buildings over the preceding year and would face an SPD tribunal within the month. The article discussed the additional measures the SPD was taking to improve public safety, including expanding travel restrictions around Louisville to visa holders only. A spokeswoman was quoted as saying the SPD also needed the assistance of the citizenry to identify strangers or strange behavior and report it to their local SPD office.
Professor Bouchet shook his head and looked up. “Barbarians,” he muttered. He scanned the faces of the students, stopping when he saw Logan. The young man was staring vacantly into the space in front of him. His left hand was aimlessly fidgeting on his lap and his cheeks were bright red.
Bouchet stood and quickly went up the stairs to Logan’s desk row. Slipping behind two students’ chairs to reach him, he leaned down and noted that Logan was clenching and unclenching his jaw muscles.
He whispered, “Are you all right, Mr. Brandt?”
He placed a hand on Logan’s shoulder and gently squeezed. Logan did not respond; he continued to look into the distance, his jaw muscles flexing. Bouchet looked down and saw Logan’s left hand repeatedly pulling at his trousers at the knee, as though picking away pieces of lint. Some of the students had noticed the commotion and watched Bouchet and Logan. Lena looked up from her exam and saw the professor in the row in front of her leaning close to Logan. Bouchet looked left and right and took a deep breath.
“Class,” he said loudly. “Continue with your exams. Mind the clock.”
With that announcement, even those who had not noticed Logan and Professor Bouchet looked up. Bouchet repeated himself more forcefully. “Continue with your exams.” Most complied with the instruction, but a few continued to watch the strange scene unfold.
Bouchet signaled for his assistant to come to him. “Something is wrong. We need to call a doctor,” said Bouchet to the young woman when she arrived.
Just then, Logan blinked and looked up at the professor.
“Are you all right, Mr. Brandt?” asked Bouchet with a nervous smile.
“I’m fine,” replied Logan, but his words were a bit slurred. He rubbed his face with his hands and took a deep breath. “I’m fine, I’m fine.”
Bouchet patted him on the back and asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yes. Thanks.” Logan looked around the classroom to see a number of cadets were staring at him.
Bouchet nodded his head. He and the assistant returned to the front of the auditorium.
Logan picked up his pencil and tried to focus on the next question, but the words did not make sense to him. A minute or two passed before he could get back into a rhythm and regain his focus.
Bouchet sat down and continued to read his PDD. He periodically looked at Logan and searched for further signs of unusual behavior but saw none. When the countdown reached zero he called out in a loud voice, “Stop work. Turn your exams over.”
Logan turned over his exam. He had just finished the final question, but he had rushed through it and wasn’t confident that he had provided a complete answer. He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. He hadn’t failed the exam, but he knew he no longer had a shot at the top grade.
“You feeling all right?” asked Lena as they walked out of the lecture hall.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I just zoned out, I guess. Thanks for asking.”
“Sure thing,” she said.
Lena smiled at him, but Logan thought he detected a hint of silent jubilation behind her dark brown eyes.
“I’ve got close-quarters combat training now,” she said, and patted him on his shoulder. “See you later.”
Logan watched as she turned left and quickly descended a flight of steps. A thought flashed across his mind. There goes our class valedictorian.