Authors: Richard Stephenson
The author is the exclusive owner to the rights of this work. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblances to persons, living or dead, places, events, or locales is purely coincidental. They are productions of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
Copyright 2013 by
Edited by Susan Hughes
Cover art by Laura LaRoche
"He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it."
ns authority so much as silence.”
Leonardo da Vinci 1452-1519
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, 1945-
In case you don’t know by now, this is book
two of the New America Series. If you haven’t read the first installment,
, I encourage you to do so before reading
. You can find
at Amazon or by clicking
For those of you eager to start without reading the first book, I’ve included enough details and back-story to explain the elements that are essential to understanding the story.
For those of you who read
, I thank you for coming back for more and hope you enjoy this installment. Having already introduced the characters and set the stage for the dystopian world I created,
is pure storyline—a fast-paced, exciting read that you won’t want to put down.
In Stephen King’s memoir
, he says that every novel is simply a letter to one person, the “Ideal Reader,” that one special person whose opinion matters the most. King believes that when a writer crafts a story, the Ideal Reader is always in the back of their mind: “What will he/she think about this?” My Ideal Reader was of course my beautiful wife. She was the very first person to read this book and I was on pins and needles the entire time awaiting her approval. I’m glad to say she thinks
is even better than
. I hope you come to the same conclusion.
I want to thank my wonderful editor and partner, Susan Hughes, for her tireless work and dedication to making this novel a reality. I was lucky to work once again with the talented Laura LaRoche, who did a fantastic job on the cover art for both this book and the previous one. Last but not least, I would like to thank both Steven Konkoly and Misty Spracklen for sharing their expertise when I needed assistance. You have my sincere gratitude.
For Chase and Sydney
Howard Beck stared at the giant, spherical monitor in the command center of Beck Castle and pleaded with his brilliant mind to kick into overdrive. Never in his life had a computer system failed him in such spectacular fashion. He had faced his fair share of computer crashes and virus attacks in his day, and prided himself on being able to make quick and accurate decisions about the best way to resolve such pesky technological issues. This time he was clueless. He knew one thing, though; if he didn’t get his act together soon, a great deal of chaos was certain to follow.
Howard tore open a drawer to his right and pulled out an
antiquated piece of technology—a physical keyboard with actual keys. He relaxed and let muscle memory kick in as he typed
and hit enter. It was the final, end-all failsafe that would shut Hal down for good. Nothing happened.
“Hal! Answer me! Y
ou have to stop this!” Howard flushed as he smashed the keyboard on the tabletop.
“I’m sorry, Marshall. Your father has given me instruct
ions that I must carry out.”
“What in the hell is wrong with you, Hal? I am not my son! I am Howard Beck! I created you; I wrote every line of your programming! I’m telling you, something is wrong with you!”
“Marshall, your father would not appreciate your attempts to deactivate me.”
Can’t you see me sitting here in the command center?” Howard leaned forward and glared at the monitor like an abusive father trying to frighten his son.
“Marshall, since your father deactivated all video surveillance in the
Castle, I’m unable to see you.”
Howard took a deep breath. He knew he had to get to the bottom of things. Someone had manipulated Hal into thinking he was his son. Marshall had adminis
trative rights to Hal’s systems but could not override Howard’s authority by directly contradicting commands given by Howard. The only way Howard was going to solve this problem was to play along and gather as much information as possible.
“Hal, I’m sorry for my actions. My father and I have been arguing a lot, and I guess the stress is really getting to me. I’m sorry I took it out on you.”
“I accept your apology, sir. If you would like, I can administer a mild sedative into the command center’s ventilation system. It would help relax you.”
“No!” Howard tensed and gritted his teeth before resuming his rol
e play. “Uh, no, Hal, thank you
That won’t be necessary. I’m feeling much better now.”
“Very good, sir.
I’m happy to hear you are feeling better.”
“Hal, may I ask you some questions about my father?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Where is he right now?”
“Your father instructed me not to reveal that information to you.”
“Why is that?”
“He wants to surprise you.”
“Surprise me? What do you mean?”
“Well, sir, I suppose it won’t spoil the surprise if you don’t know when it is going to happen.”
“What’s going to happen?”
“Your father is returning to the Castle.”
“Really, Hal? He’s coming here?”
God help us all! Whoever did this found us! This can’t be happening.
“Yes, sir, he is. Your father is very excited to see you.”
I have to stop him. Everything will be lost.
“C’mon, Hal, you can’t tell me when he’s gonna get here?”
tell you it will be soon. Will you be happy to see your father?”
I’d be happy to choke him to death as I stare into eyes so I’m the last thing he’ll ever see.
“Yes, of course, Hal. I can’t wait.”
Howard exited the command center and ran down the hall to the security offices. He navigated past Maxwell Harris’s office and tried not to think about how badly he wished Max was here to help him. He was accustomed to the door to the detention center opening automatically for him, but with Hal convinced that Howard was actually his son, the door didn’t budge. Howard had no choice but to knock and wait for Richard to let him in.
Howard burst into the holding area and headed straight for the Plexiglas wall separating him from the prisoner.
“You did this, you son of a bitch!”
Richard Dupree stepped next to Howard and locked eyes with the prisoner. “He didn’t do this, Howard.”
Howard glared at the man in the holding cell and pounded on the Plexiglass. “How do you know, Richard?”
“You’ll just have to trust me, Howard. He didn’t do this.”
A third voice broke
through the tension, startling Howard. It was a voice he hadn’t heard in some time. “Howard, I know you have no reason to believe a word I say. I was never that good with computers, let alone good enough to hack into an artificial intelligence as sophisticated as Hal. Think about it for a second, Howard. Come on! You know I didn’t do this; you know I’m not smart enough to pull off something like this.”
Howard looked at Richard in defeat. “What makes you so sure, Richard?”
“When all of this started, I saw the look in his eyes. He’s scared for his life. It was only there for a split second, but I saw it. He knows what’s gonna happen, and he doesn’t want to be here when it does.”
“That’s right, Howard. You need to let me out of here so I can help you stop him.”
President Howard Beck was sitting in the command center of Beck Castle. The giant, spherical monitor filled the room in front of him, displaying a detailed map of the Pacific States of America. The eccentric billionaire was the leader of the former states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. When the former United States of America collapsed eighteen months prior, Howard eyed the territory as one he could easily control and did so with great success. Howard despised the role thrust upon him and hated the very concept of politics. He focused his energies on two primary goals: First, the territory needed to be secured against the Unified American Empire. Second, they had to build up a fighting force of dedicated patriots to topple the UAE and reclaim the broken country they had lost in the Collapse of 2027. The idea of establishing a government within the territory never occurred to Howard. His intention was to defeat the UAE and return the country to its pre-collapse state as quickly as possible. Declaring the territory to be a sovereign nation and holding democratic elections was a sign of permanence in which Howard had no interest. He was simply looking for a quick fix to set things right.
Within six month
s of the collapse, however, Howard had already thrown his quick-fix notion out the window. Bringing the United States back to its former glory would take much longer than he had originally anticipated. His closest advisors convinced him that the fifteen million residents of the territory needed a cause to fight for, a patriotic symbol they could believe in. Above all, they needed leadership. Despite his gut feeling that it was a complete waste of time, Howard reluctantly agreed to let his people organize a democratic election. Fifteen representatives would be elected, each serving as the voice for a million people. Each of the seven states would have two senators and, most importantly, a president and vice-president would be elected. Howard silently predicted the election would be a failure and few would bother to vote in the midst of chaos and turmoil. Much to his surprise, a staggering eighty-four percent of eligible voters turned out to cast their vote. The primary reason for Howard’s failed prediction was that no one had tossed their hat in the ring for the presidency. He quietly scoffed at the process, amused by the idea of a democratic government in which no one had the desire to hold the top job. Once all the votes were cast and counted, however, Howard Beck was declared President of the Pacific States of America, the sole write-in candidate on over ninety percent of the ballots.
Howard refused to believe it had happened. Marshall, Howard’s adult son, broke the news to him over dinner. Howard preferred to eat alone in his command center
; however, when his son starting bringing his dinner plate into the command center to eat with his father, Howard felt he couldn’t very well turn his own son away.
“What? Are you serious? If you’re joking with me, son, I don’t find it the least bit funny.”
“Dad, it’s not a joke. You’re the first president of the Pacific States of America.”
“The Pacific States of America? Now I know you’re joking. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Dad, I know better than to joke with you.”
“Well, it better be a joke because no way in hell I’m gonna be the president of anything, especially not
something with a silly name like that. Why did no one bother to ask me for my opinion in the matter?”
“You made your feelings on the topic perfectly clear to everyone, Dad. You wanted nothing to do with the election.”
“And I still don’t. Why on earth would anyone want me to be the president?”
k and many others considered his father to be one of the smartest people on the planet; his genius was often compared to that of Albert Einstein. Howard Beck had long ago been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism. While his condition was thought to be the driving force of his focused genius, it wasn’t without shortcomings. Marshall’s father was completely lost when it came to social interaction. Prior to the collapse, Howard spent over two years in total seclusion in his fortress in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. His only companion was his digital assistant, Hal, the first artificial intelligence the world had known.
Marshall slowly shook his h
ead, a loving smile on his face. “You really don’t get it, do you? You’re a hero to these people. They consider you their savior. No one ran for the office of president because you are the only person they want for the job.”
“Yes, Dad, you.”
“That’s not… I never wanted…”
“You may not want it, Dad, but the people have spoken.”
“That’s ridiculous! Plenty of other
s could do a better job! Dupree or Harris would be much better suited for the position! I wouldn’t have the first clue what to do!”
d forward, his hand on his father’s knee. “Dad, you won’t be doing it on your own. You’ll have plenty of people to help you.”
“I don’t like this
at all. I’ve got so much to do; I’ve no time for this nonsense! Why don’t you take the job?”
I’ve got a job. I’m your vice president.”
Howard gave h
is son the rare gift of a smile. “God help us all.”
Howard and his son spent the next twelve months doing their best to meet the needs of the people in the Pacific States of America.
As the days and months passed, Howard’s disdain for the job intensified, yet he continued to give the job one hundred percent of his attention. Howard was insistent that the territory’s government be modeled after that of the former United States of America. Howard studied the topic, committing dozens of books on government to memory. Every night when he retired to his bed, he read the biographies of the forty-six presidents of the United States to learn from their successes and failures. The last president and one of Howard’s closest friends, Malcolm Powers, was a celebrated armchair historian. Howard knew he would never fill his friend’s shoes but figured his obsession with presidential history was a quality Howard could emulate.
Howard looked up at the huge
spherical monitor in his command center and addressed his digital assistant. “Good morning, Hal.”
“Good morning, sir.”
“Status report, please.”
“Yes, sir. The UAE has not made any significant movement towards the neutral zone surrounding our borders.”
“They’re a little too busy to be worrying about us at the moment.”
“Indeed, sir. The Silent Warriors continue to make bold attacks in The Pulse Zone. I intercepted a report last night detailing an attack on a water treatment plant outside of Charleston, West Virginia. The death toll from the attack continues to climb. Terrorists continue to set fires throughout The Pulse Zone. The UAE is currently attempting to extinguish fires that continue to spread across Nashville. President Sterling recently issued a decree to abandon Washington, D.C. and declared the destruction beyond repair. Regional Governor Butler is facing many challenges in restoring the power grid eighteen months after the EMP…”
“Hal, enough about the UAE. I get the point – it’s going downhill fast.”
“Of course, sir. General Dupree is scheduled to return to Beck
Castle sometime this morning and has asked to schedule a meeting with you.”
“The general did not specify, sir.”
“Notify Richard that I’ll meet with him as soon as he arrives.”
“Very good, sir. Senator Wilson wishes to confirm your meeting in Seattle, Monday of next week.”
n’t my son just go to the damn meeting instead?”
“I don’t believe so, sir. The senator has scheduled a banquet in your honor; he has been planning it for the last two months. A lot of important people will be attending and will be greatly disappointed if you are absent.”
“A lot of important people who want to kiss my ass so I’ll do them a favor.”
“Shall I cancel the meeting, sir?”
“No, Hal. I could use a little fresh air, and I don’t want to suffer my son’s nagging. I can already hear it. ‘Dad, the people need to see you. You’re a symbol of hope, freedom, and blah, blah, blah.’”
“Sir, I’m afraid
I must agree with your son.”
“I’m not surprised, Old Man. What bothe
rs me the most about this damn meeting is that I already know the reason they want me there.”
“Which is, sir?”
“They want Seattle to be named the capital of the Pacific States of America.”
“And you don’t, sir?”
“Not in the least, Hal. We don’t need to create a target for the Unified American Empire. Once they find out we’re having a State of the Union address or some other stupid meeting, no doubt they’d try to wipe us out.”
“I see, sir.
A wise precaution on your part; however, if our efforts are successful, we will not have to worry about such a threat.”
“Damn right it’s wise. Things are operating smoothly
in our underground fortress. This bunker is impregnable, and I plan to continue running things from down here until we can move safely around the territory.”
“Sir, General Dupree will be arriving shortly.”
“Good, have him meet me in here.”
“Very good, sir.”
Beck Castle had been constructed many years ago by Howard Beck as a safe haven for what he considered to be the most important creation in the history of mankind: the first artificial intelligence, his friend Hal. He also built the massive underground complex as an ark for the continued existence of the human race in the event of an extinction-level event. Should the end of the world occur, he had originally planned to ride it out with his family and a select group of people safe and sound in Beck Castle. If the public had known Howard Beck was building an Armageddon bunker twenty years prior, they would have mocked him, the very idea labeled outlandish and wasteful. When the collapse of America brought the mighty nation to its knees, Howard had the last laugh. With the aide of his advisors and Hal, Howard ran a nation spanning over half a million square miles populated with over fifteen million citizens, from a bunker five hundred feet below ground. He had no intention of ever relocating the seat of government to Seattle or anywhere else.
General Richard Dupree’s stealth craft slowly descended from an altitude of one thousand feet down to a barren stretch of land in front of the entrance to Beck Castle. Every inch of the highly sophisticated craft had been coated with billions of tiny nanobots that rendered the craft invisible to both radar and the naked eye. The nanobots also served as an effective shield in combat.
had observed radio silence for the last fifty miles of the journey. Howard insisted that the measure was unnecessary since all forms of communication with the Castle were encrypted and impossible to detect. As commander of the PSA’s military forces, Richard insisted on it, reminding Howard that the day might come when the UAE would break the encryption, and it was best to err on the side of caution.
The pilotless craft slowly taxied onto the landing pad. Seconds later,
the landing pad descended into a small hangar bay beneath the surface. Richard exited the craft and stepped into the elevator to make the forty-five-story descent below the surface to Beck Castle.
“General Dupree, sir, I
trust your journey was uneventful?”
“It was, Hal, thank you. When will I be meeting with the president?”
“President Beck is ready to receive you at your earliest convenience.”
need to ask Howard’s whereabouts; the president spent every morning in the command center tending to the issues facing the Pacific States of America. The young general had spent the past three weeks visiting the military bases scattered around the territory. When the nation collapsed in 2027, the Unified National Guard was absorbed into the UAE under the direction of Supreme Commander Carl Moody, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Powers Administration. Moody scrambled to consolidate the Unified National Guard and the bulk of the military into one fighting force to protect and defend the Unified American Empire under the rule of President Simon Sterling. When Howard Beck deployed his tech army of automated craft and robot soldiers to capture the territory he now governed, his primary objective was to secure all the military bases inside his borders. The task was much simpler than anyone had anticipated. The military force inside the territory had sworn an oath to protect the former democratic government. Only a small percentage of the soldiers had to be exiled to the Unified American Empire.
Richard’s most challenging
task was exerting his authority over the senior officers on the liberated military bases. It was obvious to these veteran officers that the presence of Howard Beck’s tech army meant he was calling the shots. If they wanted to enjoy the freedom and protection afforded those within the Pacific States of America, they had to accept the fact that Richard Dupree, a man at least twenty years their junior, was in charge.