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Authors: James F. David

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BOOK: Judgment Day
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CHAPTER 2 BREITLING

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the Lord, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."

—EXODUS 34:10

COLUMBUS, OHIO

H
er tears angered him, his foot involuntarily pressing the throttle closer to the floor.

"What are you crying for? It was the right thing to do."

"It wasn't right, it was convenient."

His foot pushed harder, the pitch of the engine whine reaching a new level.

"You're still in college, and I've got a year of graduate school left," he argued. "We couldn't take care of a kid."

No answer, only more blubbering.

"Maybe someday we would be ready," he said.

"Someday? You'll never marry me! I'm so stupid. I loved you so much."

He hated it when she talked of love. Maybe he didn't love her, but he did like her, so it wasn't like he had been using her.

"It's not a big deal," he said. "Lots of women have abortions."

"Not in my family. Not in our church."

She was right. In their church abortion was preached as murder. They had known each other since Sunday school but she was three years younger and at that age no boy was interested in a girl that much younger. Only when she showed up at the university did he see her differently. A lithe young woman with shoulder-length brown hair, she dressed conservatively but even so her pretty face set her apart from most of the freshmen that year. Her ready smile and bright personality attracted other boys, and eventually him. He still remembered what she said the day he approached her at the library.

"I know you, Ira Breitling," she said with a slight smile. "Your family sat on the left, next to the organ. We sat by the piano."

"I know you, Ruth Majors," he replied.

"In all the years we went to church together you spoke to me a grand total of—never," she said.

"I'm smarter now," Ira said.

Ruth smiled at that, and they talked about common acquaintances. He'd long since left the church, spending his Sundays hungover in bed, but to his surprise, she brought him back. They became a couple, attending church together, holding hands during prayer, sitting close in the pews, sharing hymnals. He was a prisoner of his feelings then, sure she was the most wonderful creature in all creation. He would have married her, but she'd promised her parents not to marry until she finished college. It was a stupid promise, but she'd made it and would keep it. When it was clear she would honor the promise, his frustration grew and he pressed her to go further, kissing wasn't enough. Wanting him as bad as he wanted her, she finally gave in and they became lovers. She was never comfortable with it, tolerating the intimacy because he wanted it. He tried to assuage her guilt by blaming her parents for forcing on her the promise not to marry.

With his lust satisfied, he saw her in a different light; no longer the unattainable goal, she became ordinary in his eyes. Soon, other girls caught his eye, each as unattainable as she had been, some even prettier. He began to wonder if she was the right woman for him, and doubt weakened his feelings for her. He noticed other girls—sitting next to him in classes, flirting with him in the Student Union. He
was
attractive, after all. At five feet ten, with a husky build, red hair, and blue eyes, he had always been noticed by the girls, and now he realized they wanted him. He was ready to talk to Ruth about giving each other some "space," when she told him she was pregnant.

"I still say it's not a big deal," Ira argued. "In a couple of weeks you'll forget all about it."

"I'll never forget—it was murder," she whispered hoarsely.

His foot hit the floor, the little four-cylinder engine knocking loudly.

"You're just depressed. The counselor said this might happen. You'll get over it. And don't call it murder. There was nothing to murder. You know what they told us. It wasn't a baby yet."

She'd stopped crying now, but her eyes were set in a stare, her mind focused on a single thought.

"God will punish us for this," she said.

"You didn't have to do it," he said defensively. "I didn't make you. We agreed it was best—together."

She wasn't listening, she'd slipped into a prayer.

"God, please forgive me for what I did."

At least she wasn't blaming him in her prayer.

"It was just tissue; that's what they called it, 'fetal tissue.' "

"I have sinned . . ."

"Maybe we should
go
somewhere and talk about this," Ira said, even knowing it would do no good.

Her prayer softened to a whisper, then she came out of it, looking at him.

"Please slow down," she said.

He lifted his foot from the floor, rpms dropping, the car slowing.

"You're going to be late for your shift at the lab," she said.

"I could get Constance to stay late," he said weakly, hoping to get away from her as soon as possible.

"Don't bother, I have to get home," Ruth said. "I'm bleeding."

"Bad? I mean more than normal?"

"How would I know?" she said angrily. "It's not like I've done this before."

"You want me to take you back to the clinic?"

"Take me home." Then she began praying again, softer now, barely above a whisper. He was relieved he couldn't hear her God talk.

"You'll get through this," he said weakly, doubting it even as he said it. She was taking it much harder than he thought she would.

Her prayers continued. He gave up trying to reason with her, riding in silence to her dormitory. She got out without a word.

"I'll call you later," he said through the window.

She walked away without looking back.

He cursed her as he drove away. He didn't feel guilty and he wouldn't let her push her guilt off on him. She was too old-fashioned—he should have known that and never gotten involved with her. He'd grown up with the same kind of narrow-minded people—his parents were like Ruth. The world they lived in was gone, their religion out-of-date, replaced by new theologies that allowed people to be human, to make mistakes.

No, he wouldn't feel guilty—he refused to feel guilty. They had done nothing that wasn't done a million times a year. It meant nothing—in fact it was a good thing. They weren't ready for a baby. Her family would have disowned her if she had a baby out of wedlock and she couldn't live without them.
It was the right thing to do!
he shouted to himself.

He pulled into the parking lot nearest his building, easily finding a spot. It was late Friday afternoon and most faculty and students were gone, getting an early start on the weekend. He and Constance Wong, however, had long days ahead, working in shifts, layering metal atoms on exotic ceramic surfaces. Dr. Kurtz was working against a grant deadline and his graduate students were paying the price.

Grabbing his lab coat, he was apologizing to Constance before she was within earshot. Constance had delicate features, blond hair, almond-brown eyes, and a ready smile. She was good-natured, generous, and as such popular among the physical chemistry graduate students. Once more Ira had counted on her generous spirit. Now close enough that he could be heard, he began his apology again. He only managed "I'm sorry . . . " when she started the vacuum pump, the noise drowning out his words. She frowned briefly, then smiled, pulling him to one side and leaning close so he could hear what she said.

"Kurtz came by an hour ago," Constance said, referring to their adviser. "I told him you were in the bathroom. You're just lucky he didn't come back. I had a diarrhea story ready to cover for you."

"Diarrhea? That's the best you could do?"

"I could have told him you were off with your girlfriend . . . " she began, then trailed off as if she knew where he had been.

"The bathroom story was fine," he said quickly.

"Anything wrong?" she asked sincerely.

"Just a tough day," he said, quickly changing the subject. "I'll set up the next layer."

"Great. Kent should be here any minute."

Ira turned his head so she wouldn't see his frown. Kent Thorpe was universally disliked by his fellow graduate students while at the same time popular with the faculty. He was brilliant, supremely self-confident to the point of being arrogant, and moved smoothly among the faculty as if he were a peer. He was awarded the Armstrong Fellowship on entry, which was a full ride with no teaching expectations. The fellowship freed Kent to pursue his own interests and not serve as an indentured servant to the faculty like the rest of the graduate students. To the disgust of the other students, Kent became a confidant of the faculty, brainstorming with them about their research. Within a year his name had appeared on two published papers when all he had done was consult. Most irritating to Ira was the fact Dr. Kurtz had become Kent's mentor, and now when Kent came to Kurtz's lab he walked around as if he were Ira's supervisor.

Arrogant and condescending, Kent was hapless with his peers, and Ira suspected he had never experienced a true friendship, let alone had a girlfriend, so everyone including Kent Thorpe was surprised when Constance Wong agreed to date him. When they dated a second time, Ira lost twenty dollars in a bet with another graduate student and Kent Thorpe lost his heart. The relationship mystified everyone in the department and even Constance could not explain the attraction. "I know he's not all that good-looking, or anything," she told Ira one day. Kent was average height, with curly brown hair that was long and unkempt. His head was wide in the back, then narrowed to the front, giving his head the shape of an ax. With little neck and wide shoulders, he looked slightly abnormal.

"He's kind to me, and he does something to me no one else does," Constance continued. Ira didn't know what "does something to me" meant, but it explained their relationship as well as anything could. Kent was smart enough to know he wasn't lovable and the miracle Constance represented, so Kent treated her like a queen, becoming protective and jealous. He wouldn't be happy to see Ira alone with Constance.

Constance worked at the computer updating the lab report while Ira reviewed the night's work. Kent arrived a few minutes later, staring coldly at Ira and then smiling warmly at Constance. They left for a break, Kent's arm around her waist.

The matrices they were synthesizing for Kurtz could be constructed out of a variety of metals and glass and they were in the midst of creating twenty-five experimental composites under a Defense Department grant. Setting up a run was complex. The metalo-ceramics they were melding were layered molecule by molecule, but to assure purity the bonding took place in a near perfect vacuum. To align polarity the particle guns were fired under an intense magnetic field. Each piece of equipment had to be recalibrated between runs and the chamber thoroughly cleaned.

Ira removed the metalo-ceramic alloy Constance had just finished, transferring it to a nitrogen chamber to prevent it from reacting with free elements in the atmosphere. He then cleaned the chamber, finding his mind drifting back to Ruth, worrying about her. She said she was bleeding. He should have called her. He did care for her, even if he didn't love her. He wouldn't want anything to happen to her.

His mind on autopilot, he found himself loading the particle guns, forgetting if he had finished cleaning the chamber. He couldn't remember doing the nitrogen flush. He cursed himself, doubling back, looking over his checklist. Then his thoughts drifted back to Ruth, her tear-stained face haunting him. He forced his mind back to his work, checking the calibrations on the particle guns and the magnetic field generator. An image of Ruth distracted him again. She was walking out of the women's clinic, through the protesters, held by the arm of one of the escorts. Someone in the crowd shouted at her, holding up a picture of a three-month-old fetus—Ruth had been three months along. Ruth burst into tears when she saw the human features of the fetus. Another escort quickly stepped in front, blocking the sign. He started the car, pulling forward as instructed by the clinic staff. Then they hurried Ruth out the door and into the car. He would never forget the look she gave him then—a mix of anger and hate.

Ira snapped back to the present, finding himself staring at the terminal. He had been working on a subconscious level, but all the parameters appeared nominal and he was ready to trigger the layering. He punched a key and the vacuum pump thumped away as it emptied the chamber. While he waited, Ruth's face came back—the look of hatred. She blamed him, but he wouldn't accept the blame. "It
was the right thing to do,"
he repeated to himself, realizing he had been telling himself that every few minutes since Ruth had come out of the clinic.

Focusing again on the screen, he clicked a key and powered up the magnetic field generator. The vacuum pump turned off before the magnetic field was to full strength. The sound of a door announced that Constance had returned. Ira realized he had been dawdling. She'd taken a break and he didn't even have the next sequence under way. The field was at full strength so he punched return and the particle guns went to work embedding metal molecules in the glass matrix. As his eyes drifted down the screen he saw his mistake, but it was too late.

Suddenly the hairs on his head and skin stood up—his eyes felt as if they had been blasted by a desert wind. Constance froze, her blond hair spraying out around her head. She reached up, pushing the hair away from her face. When she'd cleared her face she shouted to Ira.

"Shut it down!"

Ira hit the interrupt key—nothing happened. Constance pushed at her static-charged hair, struggling to keep her face clear. Suddenly her hair fell to her shoulders and with a swing of her head she swept the hair from her face. They had only a second to look at each other before they were suddenly slammed to the ground. Ira was smashed into his chair and over backward. One leg of the console collapsed, cables were ripped loose, and the computer crashed to the floor, the monitor imploding.

BOOK: Judgment Day
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