The Navigator, Chapters 6-10

As I draw closer to finishing book two in the Apollo Stone Trilogy, tentatively titled “The Warrior” I wanted to give folks a sense of what book 1, The Navigator, is about.  Chapters 1-5 are on an earlier post.  Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 6

Logan entered the apartment evening and found Cap and two classmates watching a martial arts competition on the wall-mounted view screen.  They were drinking beer and cheering.

“Heeeyyyyy, Logan’s back from the last final of his life!” yelled Cap.  “His final final!  We’ve been waiting for you.  The Re-Ded mixed martial arts finals are on – come watch.  Then we’re all going out.”  He pointed at the two cadets sitting on the couch and then at Logan.  “All of us.  You’re coming, too.  No excuses!”

Logan smiled and put his hands up.  “Sounds good, but first I’m going for a run.”  He turned and walked to his room.

Cap followed him and stood in the doorway.  “I know what you’re up to and it isn’t going to work.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Logan without looking at Cap.

“You’re going on a twenty-kilometer run with no intention of going out tonight.”  He stepped forward and patted him on the back.  “But not this time, my friend.   We’re done with Weller Academy.  We’re going our separate ways soon and who knows if and when we’ll see each other again.  I mean these guys.” He pointed toward the living room with his thumb just as the two cadets let out loud cheers as one of the martial arts combatants landed a series of powerful blows.  “You and I grew up together so you’re stuck with me for life.”

Logan’s smile faded and he looked at Cap.  “I had an episode,” he said.  “I had a seizure right in the middle of the final.  Barely finished in time.”

Cap folded his arms and leaned against the door frame.  “Shit.  I thought the meds were supposed to stop those.”

“I guess not.” replied Logan.  “If Bouchet reports this up the chain, they’ll reevaluate me.  They gave me the all-clear three years ago, and I haven’t had a seizure for five, but if this gets out there’s no way the army will trust me with anything more dangerous than a pencil.”

“So what?” said Cap in an encouraging voice.  “You’ll just be a regular Flat Foot infantryman.  No big deal.”

“Do you think they’ll give an infantryman who suffers seizures a weapon?  Not likely.”  Logan threw his book bag on his bed.  He sat down on the corner of the mattress and ran his hands through his hair.  “Damn it!”

After a moment, he looked up at Cap.  “I don’t care about being able to drive a tank or shoot a rifle, but I don’t want to be separated from everyone else.  I don’t want to be the guy who spends his active duty years riding an office chair with ‘unfit for combat’ written on the top of his personnel file.”

“What are you talking about?” said Cap dismissively.  “You won’t be in an office.  You’re slated for National Defense Center.  You probably won’t even be required to serve in a combat unit.  You’re a research and development guy.”

“Thanks, Cap, but you know that’s bullshit.  Everyone who’s fit does at least one year in a combat unit.  And if I don’t do that one year, what are my chances for advancement?  Even at the NDC.  They’ll always look at me as being somehow deficient.”

After a few moments Cap said, “Fuck it.  They won’t find out.  As far as Bouchet knows, you just zoned out.  Now get changed.  We’re going out.”

“I’d rather not,” said Logan.  “I need to go for a run, clear my head.  And besides, it’s a Tuesday night.”

“So what?” asked Cap.  “You’re done with finals.  Take my advice for once and live a little.”

Chapter 7

Cap handed everyone a shot of whiskey, then he placed four glasses of beer on the table in front of them.  Raising his glass to eye level, he looked at each of his companions in the eye and said, “Logan, Ben, Hector – a toast to the end of school and the beginning of our lives.”

The others raised their glasses and gulped down their whiskey.  Cap coughed after he swallowed.  “Damn it, Mick!” he yelled at the bartender.  “Wash the bathtub before you make the whiskey!”

An attractive young woman standing behind the bar shrugged and said, “We make the whiskey in a bucket.  The gin is made in a bathtub, fly boy.  And if you don’t like it you can get the hell out of here.”

Cap winked at her and smiled, but she turned away to pour a beer for a balding man in a rumpled brown suit.

Ben passed around the glasses of beer.  “Gentlemen,” he said.  “Here’s something to wash down that suspect whiskey.”

“Thanks, Ben,” said Cap.  He took a long drink and smiled.  “Better,” he said, smacking his lips.  “Better get another one.”

“So why’d you insist on coming to this stinking hole of a bar?” asked Hector, a short stocky man with curly dark hair.  “It should be closed down as a threat to public health.”

“Simple,” said Cap in a voice loud enough for Mick to hear him.  “Mick is in love with me, and I wanted to give her a goodbye kiss before going on active duty.”

Mick was pouring a beer from the tap.  “You never give up, do you.”  She handed the beer to an overweight man in a collared shirt a size too small.  She looked at Logan and said, “Why don’t you introduce me to your handsome friend?”

“Who?  Logan?  He’s not your type,” said Cap.

“Tall, strong, and handsome is exactly my type,” she said, allowing her eyes to linger on Logan for a moment before she turned and walked toward the other end of the bar.

Cap looked at Logan and said.  “She’s too much woman for a boy of your tender disposition.  She’d only break your innocent heart.”

“Thanks for protecting me,” said Logan with a smile.  Then he looked at Hector.  “Where’s your active duty station, squid?”

“Charleston,” he answered with a smile.  “Warm weather and beautiful girls.”

“And scrubbing floors in the hold of a fifty-year-old coastal cutter,” added Ben, a skinny man with a weak chin and a thin beard.

“Like hell,” Hector responded.  “I’m assigned to a new destroyer, Hampton, and lieutenant JGs don’t scrub deck floors.”

Logan looked at Cap and Ben.  “Why is it that whenever you talk to a lieutenant junior grade they always shorten it to ‘JG’?”

“They’re compensating for something,” said Cap.  “Let’s just call him junior.”

“To junior,” said Ben, raising his beer.

Logan and Cap raised their glasses and repeated, “To junior!”

Hector shook his head.  “Two ground pounders and a bird turd.  You boys are not navy material, that’s for sure.”

As they took a drink, Logan noticed a view screen mounted in a corner was showing images of burning homes, cars, and shops.  He walked toward the screen, and the others followed.  The repetitive, pounding music coming out of the bar’s speakers was too loud for them to hear what was being said, so they read the news script running along the bottom of the screen.

Ben shook his head.  “More clan raids on the frontier,” he said.  “When are we going to put a stop to this shit?”

“It’s getting pretty bad,” agreed Cap.  “Things have just settled down on the southern border and now this is flaring up.  We can’t catch a break.”

“You would think we could handle these clans,” said Hector.  “But they just keep raiding and we keep letting them get away.”

“Is that all there is to it?” asked Logan.  “Just clan raids?”

“What do you mean?” asked Ben, a little annoyed.

“I’m just asking,” replied Logan.  “If we’re so much better organized and better equipped than they are, why can’t we prevent the raids?”

“The border’s too porous,” said Ben.  “We need to tighten it up.”

Hector nodded his head.  “Agreed.  These frontier territories joined the Republic about…what… fifteen years ago?  Obviously, they’re better off now than they were, but they need stability to really get going.  More troops on the border would help.”

“More troops?” asked Logan.  “We’ve got troops all along the frontier.”

“What are you getting at?” asked Ben.

“Nothing,” said Logan.  “I’m just saying we’re hearing how these disorganized clans from the Waste are somehow sneaking thirty, fifty, a hundred kilometers into our territory, raiding small towns, burning a few barns, and then running back.  Sometimes we get them, but usually we don’t.  Why is it so hard for us to put a stop to it?”

“They blend in with the population,” said Hector.  “We can’t tell who’s who.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Logan.  “Seriously – why can’t we locate and destroy a bunch rifle-toting goat herders dragging loot fifty klicks back to the far side of the Mississippi?”

“They know the area like the backs of their hands,” said Cap.  “They probably have a lot of secret paths in and out.”

Logan shrugged.  “All I’m saying is either the clans are a lot more sophisticated than we give them credit for, or we are not as effective as we think we are.”

“I get what you’re saying,” said Hector.  “It’s too easy for them to move in and out of PRA territory.  The SPD needs to tighten internal controls.

Ben nodded.  “I hear they’re deploying Republican Special Forces in the frontier territories to help the SPD.”

“That should help,” said Hector.  “Of course we need to get at the real problem, the so-called League of Free Cities out there in the Waste.  They’re supplying and controlling the clans.”

Looking at Cap, Hector said, “I hear the League’s scraped together some kind of air force.  You ready for a little action out west?”

“I’m always ready,” said Cap with a grin.

“What about you, Logan?” asked Hector.  “You ready to put some hurt on the League and their clan cronies west of the river?”

“Sure,” replied Logan.  “But I think we should figure what’s going on in the frontier before we go marching across the Mississippi.”

“I just told you,” said Hector.  “The League and their clan minions are the source of the problem.  Take care of the League, and we take care of the clan raids.”

“What if the clan raiders aren’t really getting away across the Mississippi?” Logan asked.  “What if they’re staying on this side of the river?”

Ben scoffed.  “You mean PRA citizens?  Why would they do that?  After joining the PRA their lives got a hell of a lot better.  Steady food supply and clean water.  Education for their kids.  They would have no reason to be raiding.”

“They haven’t been citizens that long,” said Logan.  “Maybe they need time to see the benefits of life under the Guardians.”

“I don’t want to hear any shit like that,” said Hector, noting the sarcasm in Logan’s voice.  “We’re trying to pull this country back together again after a hundred years of chaos.  We’re not going to let the League or a few raggedy-ass clans stop us.  I think it’s time we put the boot down on the League, the clans, and maybe even the fuckin’ frontier territories.”  He took a quick drink of beer and looked away, his face flushed red.  He swallowed and raised a finger at Logan.  “One people, one nation.”

“One plus one equals one,” agreed Ben, nodding his head.

“Hector’s right Logan,” said Cap.  “We’re going to pull the country together again.  That’ll put an end to the raids.”  He clapped Logan on the shoulder.  “Tell Hector he’s right.”

Logan looked into Hector’s eyes and saw the anger boiling beneath the surface.  Then he smiled and said, “Yeah.  Of course Hector’s right.  We need to pull the country back together.  That’s what they’re training us for, right?”

“Right,” said Cap.  “Let’s have another beer.”

Ben and Hector left after drinking the next beer.  They embraced Cap and clasped hands with Logan but without great enthusiasm.  As soon as they were gone Cap looked at Logan.  “What the hell was all that about?”

“What?” asked Logan, his eyebrows raised in surprise.

“All that fifth column, enemy within bullshit,” said Cap.  “You know that Hector’s brother was killed chasing down clan raiders, right?”

“No.  I didn’t,” said Logan.

“It happened last year.  They ambushed his company someplace near Nashville,” said Cap.

“They ambushed his company?” asked Logan.  “That’s a hundred fifty or two hundred troops.  Clan raiders ambushed that many PRA soldiers?  Inside the PRA?”

“Let it go,” said Cap.  “You’re letting this get too personal.”

Logan didn’t answer right away.  Then he nodded.  “You got to move, right?  Move on.”

“That’s the first intelligent thing you’ve said all night,” said Cap.  “Let’s get out of here.  I hear they’ve got a good rev band playing at the Billy Goat.”

“Asynchronous reverberation and growling lyrics.  Can’t wait,” said Logan unenthusiastically.

“There will be women there,” said Cap encouragingly as he pushed Logan toward the door.  “Lots of beautiful crazed dancing women.”

Chapter 8

Professor Garrison heard a light knock on his office door and looked up from the hard cover book he was reading to see Logan standing in the doorway.

He removed his reading glasses and said, “Mr. Brandt, come in.”

Logan smiled and entered.  It was a small windowless room just large enough for a desk, two chairs, and a filing cabinet.  There were a couple of framed prints of colorful impressionist paintings hanging on the wall, but the room was otherwise a uniform shade of beige.  Logan sat down in one of the chairs.

“I know I said I’d have office hours today, but I have to say I’m surprised to get a visitor now that everyone has their grade.  Pleasantly surprised, though,” he added, smiling.  “What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to show you something and get your opinion about it,” said Logan as he reached into his pocket.  He removed the medallion his grandfather had sent him and placed it on Professor Garrison’s desk.  “It’s a family heirloom that my grandfather passed down to me.”

Garrison put on his reading glasses and picked it up to examine it.

Logan continued.  “I’ve already looked this up on the net, and I’m pretty sure the man on the chariot with the torch is supposed to represent the Greek god Apollo, but I wasn’t able to find any references to the arrow pointing up or the dot its flying toward.”

“I see.  You could try the academy’s reserve hardcover collection,” replied the professor as he held the medallion under the light of his desk lamp, turning it to see it from different angles.

“I was just there.  Nothing,” replied Logan.

“Not surprising, considering we don’t teach art or ancient history here,” said Garrison.

The professor held the medallion at an angle.  “I agree the man with the torch is supposed to represent the Greek god Apollo, but I don’t know if this is an arrow flying toward the dot.  It might be a shooting star or a comet.”  He rubbed his thumb over the intricate swirling design on the other side.  “What are these grooves for, I wonder,” he said, half to himself.

“I don’t know,” said Logan.  “They’re definitely a different artistic style than the image of Apollo.”

“Hmm,” said Garrison.

Garrison handed the medallion back to Logan.  He removed his reading glasses and leaned back in his chair.  “Your family heirloom certainly predates the Impact, but I’m sure you’ve already guessed that.”

Logan nodded his head.

Garrison thought for a moment, tapping his glasses against his open hand.  Then he said, “Logan, please close the door.”

Logan looked a little surprised but did as the professor asked.

After Logan sat down again, Garrison said, “As I said, I agree the man on the chariot is probably Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, healing, prophecy, and a number of other things.  As for the other images, the flaming arrow or comet and the dot, I think they may refer to something that is not often discussed these days. In fact it’s quite taboo.”

He dropped his glasses on the desk, laced his fingers together, and rested them on his stomach, his elbows on the chair’s arms.   He stared at Logan for a few moments.  Then he shrugged and tilted his head a bit, as though answering a silent question.

“As you know,” said Garrison, “In 2031 a series of asteroids crashed into the planet.  Not only was there significant damage at the impact sites, but the debris thrown into the atmosphere darkened the skies for many months.  This led to the Long Winter, worldwide crop failures, and radically different weather patterns, which persisted for many years, even to today.  You’re familiar with the turmoil that followed.”

“I’m familiar with it.  Everyone’s familiar with it,” said Logan, surprised at his own terseness.

Garrison held up a hand and said, “Please.  Be patient.”  He cleared his throat and continued.  “The social fabric was shredded.  Soon after Impact there were the resource wars, the breakup of the United States, the Tyranny of the Nine, and so on.  Finally, under the leadership of Malcom Weller the eastern part of the former United States regained some semblance of order and power was restored to the people and the Congress of Representatives.  And of course we can’t forget the Guardian Council, which carries out the will of the people and enforces the laws passed by Congress.  That’s all familiar territory for you.”

Logan nodded and added, “After the Impact, the western region formed the Pacific Federation and the south formed the Southern Union.  The rest of the world experienced similar political and social upheaval and environmental pressures.”

Professor Garrison nodded.  “As for here in the former United States, the Midwest was hit by several massive direct impacts and descended into complete chaos.  We’re told it’s still mostly ruins and rain-starved scorched lands.  The few people living there now have begun to reoccupy the ruined former cities, but politically speaking, they’re just a bunch of warring clans.  A few cities have recently made a claim for legitimacy, calling themselves the League of Free Cities.  But, we are informed their land can’t support even their modest population, so they are forced to raid our frontier towns for food and supplies.”

“The Midwaste,” said Logan.

“Exactly,” said Garrison.  “Now, Congressional leadership and the Guardians assure us that we here in the People’s Republic of America have regained, and even surpassed, the quality of life enjoyed by citizens of the United States prior to Impact.”

Garrison looked into Logan’s eyes and said, “Now, before I continue, let me emphasize that as a professor of history, I am simply informing you of a minor line of academic theory.  A very minor line.  I do not personally agree with this theory.”

Logan nodded his head.  “I understand.”

Garrison shifted in his chair and paused to collect his thoughts before speaking.  After several moments he said, “There is a very small minority of fringe thinkers who believe pre-Impact society was much further advanced in certain aspects than ours.  Orthodox teaching about pre-Impact society emphasizes street crime, injustice, income disparity, and the immoral self-indulgence of a rich ruling class.   But the fringe scholars I mentioned think this view is overstated.”

Hearing footsteps in the hallway outside his door, Garrison stopped speaking.  The footsteps stopped.  After a few seconds there was a knock on his door.  Garrison leaned forward and placed his hand over the medallion.  He gave Logan a cautioning look and said, “Come in.”

The door swung open and a man with swept back white hair wearing a blue blazer and blue trousers stepped into the office.  Under his blazer he wore a blue button-down shirt.  A narrow red and green striped tie hung from his neck, running over the curvature of his round stomach and terminating slightly above his belt.  “Excuse me, Professor Garrison,” said the man.  “I didn’t realize you were in a meeting.”

“Not at all, Professor Ferrin,” said Garrison in a warm tone.  “We were just discussing Mr. Brandt’s grade.”

“I prefer doctor Ferrin.”

“Of course,” said Garrison.  “My apologies.”

“No matter.  I try not to take these things too seriously, but it’s better to be accurate.”  Dr. Ferrin smiled at Garrison and then looked at Logan.

“Discussing grades, eh?  I hope you weren’t too hard on our dedicated citizen, Mr. Brandt,” he said to Garrison with a wink.

“Not too hard,” said Garrison.

“I must say I’m a little disappointed Mr. Brandt didn’t accept my invitation to take my course, Roots of Authority to Govern,” said Dr. Ferrin.  “I think he would have found it stimulating, and his insights would no doubt have elevated our class discussions.”

Sensing Ferrin was waiting for him to speak, Logan said, “There are so many good courses and so little time.”

Ferrin smiled and lifted a hand.  “Don’t worry.  I’m not offended.  I know you needed to prepare yourself for a lifetime of important military service.  Advanced political theory is for politicians, not warriors, eh?”

Ferrin turned his attention to Garrison.  “Can we expect to see you at the faculty meeting this evening?  We’ll be discussing new initiatives for next year’s freshman class.”

“Of course,” said Garrison.  “I’ll be there.”

“Great, great,” said Ferrin.  He looked at Logan and then back to Garrison.  “Well, I’ll leave you to your conversation about grades.”  He flashed them a smile and closed the door.

Garrison stared at the door and listened to the sound of Ferrin’s fading footfalls.  “As I was saying,” he continued, “one of the threads of this fringe theory includes a belief that society had achieved spaceflight.  And not just spaceflight, that humans had visited the moon.”

Garrison leaned back in his chair and pointed at the medallion on the desk.  “I believe your family heirloom refers to something called the ‘Apollo’ moon landing.  I have seen some of the symbols these fringe believers have used over time, and the image on that medallion reminds me one used long ago.”

Logan looked at the medallion again, excited by the possibility that humans had overcome the engineering challenges and visited Earth’s ancient satellite.  Returning his attention to Garrison, he said, “Okay, so the medallion pre-dates the Impact and might be evidence of a belief that we have sent ships into space and perhaps even to the moon, but if it were true why would Congress or the Guardians not want that known?  If someone told me that pre-Impact society had done all of this, I would be inspired to try and match or exceed the achievement.”

Garrison smiled and nodded his head.  He held his index finger up and said, “Yes, if it were true.  If it were true, the story could serve to inspire not just you, but many people to push the boundaries of our understanding.”

Then Garrison dropped his smile.  He leaned forward and rested his folded hands on the desk.  “But consider this,” he said in a serious tone.  “Since the Impact, we have been through a lot.  By many estimates, four-fifths or more of the world’s population died from the Impact and the natural disasters and crop failures that followed the Impact.  The resource wars here and elsewhere in the world that followed killed even more.  It has only been about forty years, just two generations, since we have enjoyed much stability here in the PRA.  And that stability is due largely to the fact that a strong government emerged and created order out of chaos.  Now that…”

Logan interrupted, “But can you imagine how excited people would be if they knew how much we had achieved before Impact and how much more we could be doing now?”

“Excited or angered by the gap that still exists?” asked Garrison.  He leaned back in his chair.  “I think you’ll find that whether people are content or not depends on how they see themselves compared to others around them.  Neighbors envy neighbors for the slightest perceived disparity in wealth or privilege.  They don’t care that they are no longer starving to death like people did after the Impact.  People are not intrinsically happy, they are only comparatively happy.  That’s just human nature.  Now imagine if they knew that our supposedly great society is a mere shadow of pre-Impact society?  That would only serve to upset social harmony.”

Logan shook his head, “People’s happiness depends on more than what their neighbors are up to.  I think that’s narrow thinking.”

“To you it is, Logan.  But if you’re in charge of running a government, don’t you think you’d prefer to have an obedient and relatively content society instead of a volatile one?  Wouldn’t you prefer to govern a society whose attention is occupied by frequent military parades, so-called just wars, and the Rededication Games?  Or would you prefer to govern a society that is constantly pressing for change because it is reminded of the superior achievements of the past?”

“I think I’d prefer to have a government that holds out examples of great achievements and inspires people to exceed them.  If the Congress of Representatives or the Guardians are afraid to do that, we need a change in leadership.”

Garrison held up both hands and said in a low voice, “I wouldn’t repeat that anywhere outside of this room.”

Logan realized he had gone too far, much farther than he had ever openly stated before.  He had contradicted sacred doctrine which had been ground into him since he was a small boy.  He’d been told again and again that the only thing standing between social order and the chaos of the past, the chaos that still gripped the middle of the continent, was a strong government and a unified people.  To cut at the roots of this great social compact was to risk everything that had been achieved since the founding of the People’s Republic.  How many times had he repeated the final line of the national pledge, we are one people, one nation?  Probably every day since he was six.

Garrison silently observed Logan for a few heartbeats.  Then he said, “Everything I have said is pure speculation, you understand.  It’s a fringe theory.  But if you want to explore this further, there is just one approved text that I am aware of.  It was published about fifteen years ago but has not been digitized so you can’t get it off the net.  However, the Central Library has a hardcopy in the reserve section.

Garrison opened his drawer and retrieved a pen and pad of paper.  “The book’s author goes to great lengths to disprove the truth of the Apollo flight stories, but at least you will be able to read some of the fringe arguments that have been advanced.”

Garrison wrote down the name of the book and the author.  “Go to the reserve librarian’s desk and ask for this title,” said the professor as he handed Logan the note.  “You can’t check it out, but they’ll let you read it in the library.”

“Thanks,” said Logan as he looked at the note.  It read Social Organizational Theory in Pre-Impact Society by Miguel Velasquez.  He folded it and put it in his pocket, along with the medallion.  Then he stood up to leave.

“And Logan,” said Garrison before Logan opened the office door.  “I wouldn’t show that medallion to anyone you don’t trust.  It’s an unusual thing to have these days.”

Chapter 9

An hour after leaving Professor Garrison’s office, Logan ascended the marble steps of the hulking Capitol District Central Library.  He looked up at the massive stone walls and giant bronze doors.  It had been one of his favorite places to go when he was a youth.  He’d always marveled at the monumental inspiring building.   On each side of the great bronze doors was a huge statue, also of bronze.  On the left was the image of a man in coveralls with his shirt sleeves rolled up.  He clutched a hammer in his right hand and looked confidently into the distance.  The statue on the right was of a soldier standing guard, a rifle at his side.  His handsome young face wore an expression of fearless determination.

Logan walked through the doors and into the long hall, the walls of which were decorated with a series of paintings depicting the history of the People’s Republic of America.  The first image showed the devastation the Impact had caused.  People lay on the ground, reaching to the skies as streaks of fire rained down.  The next image showed the people’s misery as they starved or fought for scraps of food.  This was followed by a scene depicting the collapse of the United States and the failure of the weak successor state to feed the people or maintain rule of law as people rioted for food, clean water, and shelter.  The next image depicted the Tyranny of the Nine, a time when mass protests were mercilessly put down by force of arms.

After these scenes of misery came a bright optimistic painting showing a figure on a hill with large crowds looking up to him, arms outstretched.  It was Malcom Weller gathering the people together, uniting them to overthrow the Nine.  This was followed by a painting representing the War against the Nine, which finally shattered the nation and split the country apart, resulting in the three successor states plus the ungovernable Midwest.

The next image depicted the death of Malcom Weller soon after he founded the People’s Republic of America.  It was followed by a painting showing the struggle for power after Malcom Weller’s death as those loyal to the Nine tried to reassert their control over the PRA.  Then came an image showing the people in triumph as they defeated the resurgent but secret forces of the Nine during the Rededication.  The final panel depicted a peaceful scene where farmers, laborers, scholars, and soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder, facing a rising sun.

Logan passed by the final panel and entered the large reading room.  The ceiling was very high, almost two stories.  A balcony ran along all four walls of the central hall.  Behind the balcony were many narrow hallways containing thousands of hardcopy books on metal shelves.  At the back of the reading room was a semi-circular desk.  A sign above it said “Reserve Books”.

Logan approached the thin man standing behind the desk and said, “I’m looking for a book and I was told there might be a copy in the reserve selection.”

“What is the title and author?” asked the man in a tired tone, slipping an index finger behind the lens of his wireframe glasses to rub his right eye.

Logan read him the information from the note Professor Garrison had given him.

The man entered the information into the computer in front of him.  “Here we are.  Social Organizational Theory in Pre-Impact Society by Miguel Velasquez.  It’s only in hardcopy.  I’ll be right back.”  He turned and walked into the dimly lit warren of bookshelves behind him.

After a minute, the man returned with a book in his hand.  “Here you go.  I’ll need your ID.  You can use one of the tables over there.”  He pointed at a row of five long wooden tables.

Logan accepted the book and handed him his identification card.  He walked past several tables where people sat reading various reserve books and found an empty one next to a wall near the reserve shelves.  A sign on the end of each shelf said Reserve Section : Staff Only.

He opened the text and read the table of contents.  It contained twelve chapters, each dealing with what the author considered to be a pre-Impact fringe theory.  Two of the chapters dealt with technology that might include the space flight theory.  Logan looked at the index in the back for the word “Apollo”.  He found several entries concerning an alleged pre-Impact space program.  The author went into some detail regarding a few of the space flight theories, dismissing them one by one.  In some cases, he went so far as to question the mental and emotional state of the space theorists, arguing their “undedicated” ideas bordered on madness and sedition.  With regard to the moon landing theory, Velasquez dismissed it as technologically impossible as well as strategically and politically pointless.

Logan leafed through the chapter and stopped at a page that contained a drawing.  He removed the medallion from his pocket and laid it next to the image.  They were very similar.  Both showed the Greek god Apollo bearing a torch and driving a chariot.  Both had what appeared to be a flaming arrow or comet and dot above Apollo’s head.  Logan read the caption under the image.  It said “Symbol of Apollo Society”.  Velasquez described the society as a group of discredited scientists and social misfits that had been disbanded during the Rededication.

Logan heard a thump and spun around in his chair.  Behind him was a thin female librarian loading a cart with books.  “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, pushing a few loose strands of black hair behind her ear as she stooped to load more books onto the cart.  “Didn’t mean to surprise you.”

“It’s all right,” said Logan.  He returned his attention to the book.

“That’s an interesting piece,” said the woman leaning over the empty chair next to Logan.  He placed his hand over the medallion, which was resting next to the book.  She looked at the book.  “I think I’ve seen some other books on this sort of pre-Impact thing.  If you’re interested, I can show you.”

“Maybe,” said Logan.

“May I see it?” she asked, eyeing his hand covering the medallion.

“I’d prefer not,” replied Logan.

“Okay,” she said with a shrug.  “But come with me.  There’s one book in particular you should look at.”

She led him into the rows of reserve bookshelves.  The stacks were very tall, blocking the ceiling lights from neighboring aisles and casting shadows over most of the shelves and the floor.  Logan followed the woman as she wove her way through row after row of dark passages.  Finally, they reached a spot in what Logan thought must be the back of the library.  She reached up, pulled a book off the shelf, and handed it to Logan.  It was entitled The National Aeronautics and Space Agency.  A History.

Logan turned the book over in his hands.  On the front cover was an image of a tall rocket lifting off from the ground, a great ball of fire and smoke erupting from its engines.  He looked at the spine.  Then he opened the book to the first page.

“There’s no bar code or stamp,” he said.

“No, there isn’t,” said the woman.  “Don’t take this back to your table.  Read it right here.  When you’re done, put it back on the shelf.”  She walked away, and quickly disappeared around a corner.

Logan opened the book and began to read.

Chapter 10

Thirty minutes later, Logan was outside the library.  It was a sunny warm spring afternoon.  The Central Library was located in the heart of the Capitol District, and although there was a nearby bus stop where he could catch a bus that would take him back to Weller Academy, he decided to enjoy the weather and walk a few blocks to the next stop.

The sidewalk was full of pedestrians as the warm sunlight drew people out into the open air.  The road was busy too as people on bicycles and motor scooters hurriedly wove their way around each other.  A few small Victory and Unity cars sputtered through traffic, occasionally honking their tinny horns at indifferent co-commuters.

Looking at a sign hanging from a crate at a fruit stand, Logan noted it was blue shopping day.  Those with blue buy cards were out in large numbers buying groceries and other essentials.  The fruit was rather expensive, probably imported from Florida, thought Logan, but people were glad to have fresh produce to eat so early in the year and the vendor had nearly sold through his quota.

As he walked, Logan thought about what he had learned in the library.  He had skimmed each chapter of the book the woman had shown him and was intrigued by what he had read.  The book had contained detailed accounts of a variety of space programs:  Gemini, Mercury, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle, and Orion, not to mention numerous unmanned probes and satellites.  The book was broad in scope, and it contained such convincing details that Logan found it difficult to dismiss.

He returned the smile of two young women passing in the opposite direction.  One of them reminded him of the woman he’d met in the library.  Clearly, her appearance was not a coincidence.  She didn’t just happen to find him researching the topic of pre-Impact spaceflight.  She didn’t just happen to know of another book that contained a wealth of information on the topic.  And she didn’t just happen to know the exact spot where it was located in the book stacks.  Also arguing against a serendipitous encounter was the fact that the book didn’t appear to belong to the library; it had lacked a barcode, stamp, or other indication that the library owned it.

Logan arrived at the bus stop.  As he waited for the bus, he looked at people sitting at sidewalk tables of nearby cafés and restaurants.  They were in high spirits, enjoying the arrival of warm sunny weather after the long harsh winter.  A pair of women at an Italian restaurant laughed loudly and pressed wine glasses to their lips.  A well-dressed young man sat at a table behind them, smiling and trying to get their attention.  The women were indifferent to his overtures until one of them saw the black buy card between his index and middle finger.  She momentarily locked eyes with his and granted him the hint of a smile.

When the bus arrived, Logan took a deep breath, taking in the sweet smells of thousands of nearby blossoms, and smiled.  As he boarded, Logan looked to his left and saw something that made his heart skip a beat.  On the passenger side of a small blue Victory sat a man with a tan face and short-cropped black hair.  Logan only caught a glimpse of his face, but he was quite certain he’d seen him at the library sitting at one of the tables.

Logan was tempted to go to the back of the bus and look at the car through the rear window but he didn’t dare.  He decided he would get off the bus at a stop just before the Weller Academy campus.  If he saw the man in the blue Victory he would know it was not a coincidence.

During the twenty-minute bus ride, Logan weighed his options.  If he was being followed, it was probably an SPD officer, which meant Lieutenant Fischer had ordered that he be put under surveillance.  If Lieutenant Fischer was having him followed, Logan thought perhaps he should come clean.  Telling the SPD the full story was the prudent thing to do.  What did he hope to accomplish by withholding information anyway?  His grandfather had asked him to keep the medallion safe until he could retrieve it.  But now that he was dead, did Logan owe him anything?  He thought about his promising career, what his mother expected of him, what his father would have advised him to do if he were alive.  He shook his head and looked out the window.

A few minutes later, the bus arrived at his stop near the academy.  As Logan stepped onto the sidewalk, he looked to his right and searched the street and surrounding area.  No blue car.  No strangers watching him.  In fact, the street was empty.  He looked at his watch.  Sword and shield training was at 4 p.m. and it was already 3:40.  Logan broke into a run, arriving at his apartment five minutes later.  After changing into his exercise gear, he placed the medallion in his dresser drawer and headed for the door.  He turned the handle, but then he paused.  He turned around, went back into his bedroom, and retrieved the medallion.  He put it in his pocket and left the apartment.

 

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