« Peacemaker », Chapter Twenty Four   

Chapter Twenty Four

Our preliminary estimate is approximately 170,000 casualties in the US, including 19,000 fatalities, due to PeaceMaker. Financial losses will be in excess of $800B. These figures are appalling, yet consider what the consequences might have been if the netwar had continued a few more days.

----from a classified FBI report, March 4, 2012

 

Monday, late morning, January 30, 2012

Paul and Ray, followed by two guards, walked down the front steps of Dianne’s mansion toward the car parked at the side of the building. The sun provided little warmth, drifting between scattered gray clouds. In the distance, Ray saw Dianne leaning against the side of the car with her security man, Murphy, standing next to her. When she saw Ray coming, she took a last drag on a cigarette, tossed it on the driveway and crushed it out with her heel.

Ray thought about the long discussion with Dianne last night, but they had not really resolved anything. He knew she still felt strongly about the Domain.

“Let me make sure I understand this,” Paul said. “Dianne is going to let the two of us go free as long as we agree to keep quiet about the Domain. The Domain will be watching us and will kill our families and us if we talk about what happened.”

“She’ll do it, too,” Ray said. “We’ll have to be careful.”

“She’s going to make sure Goldman gets blamed for everything.” Paul shook his head. “Fucking incredible. Not that I am shedding any tears for Goldman.”

As they continued walking, Paul said, “Well, let’s look on the bright side of things. I have been telling you for years to start dating, to get out more. However, I think you overdid it just a teensy bit. Dianne is attractive, but she seems to have this world domination fetish. Have you noticed that?”

“Nobody’s perfect,” Ray answered. “Your taste in women leaves something to be desired, too. I remember that rocket scientist you dated last year – what was her name – Debbie Woodhead?”

“Woodhouse, Debbie Woodhouse. She was a sweetheart, and I’ll not have you disparage her.”

Ray chuckled. “When I asked her what kind of a job she had, she couldn’t remember. She said she worked in an office and the job began with a C.”

Defensively, Paul said, “Well, she was right.”

Ray laughed. “We finally figured it out. She was a clerk.”

Ray saw Dianne say something to Murphy and walk toward them.

“Time to shut up, but I haven’t forgotten these insults,” Paul said.

As he watched Dianne approach, Ray said, “Paul, however this finally works out, thank you.”

Dianne was upon him, her arms around his neck, kissing him lightly on the lips. Her face was puffy and bruised, and he knew she must be in a great deal of pain.

“Let’s take a brief walk in the garden before you leave,” she said.

Without waiting for an answer, Dianne took his hand and led him away. He knew she would try to convince him to stay with her.

*

After Ray and Dianne disappeared from view, Murphy pulled out his pistol and pointed it at Paul. Paul stared at the gun, shocked.

“Don’t make a sound, and you may live through this,” Murphy said. Two security guards suddenly appeared behind Paul and quickly gagged and handcuffed him. Murphy put away his weapon and said to Paul, “It all depends on your friend.”

*

Holding hands, Ray and Dianne silently walked in the garden behind the facility. The sun darted between clouds on this crisp, cold winter day. Ray fought back a sinking feeling as he looked into the pale eyes of this strange, charismatic woman. He decided to take the initiative.

“PeaceMaker is gone and so are most of your people. The damage caused by the virus was terrible. The TV news last night said thousands of people died. For one day, civilization reverted to wildness. What would have happened if it had gone on?”

A mild breeze caressed them as they walked. “You have to see now that this is all wrong. The power of the Domain will corrupt anyone who embraces it.”

She was quiet. His words were not getting through to her.

How can I reach this woman?

“Dammit, what about us? We have something special. I’ve never felt this way about another woman. I love you, and yet, I don’t really know you. We – .”

Dianne interrupted, “That’s the first time you said it. That you love me.”

“I do love you. We can start over. We can make Atlas the wonderful gift to humanity that it should be. We could live our lives together. Maybe we could even make each other happy.”

A long, wooden bench rested in the soil on the edge of a patio. They walked together in silence and sat down on the bench. She seemed lost. He looked at her and felt a terrible anger building within.

Dianne finally looked at him and said, “You mean more to me than anyone I have ever known. You bring out emotions I didn’t know I had. You make me happy, but it’s more than that.” She reached out and stroked his face. “You make me human, and I thank you for that gift.”

Her eyes held him. Ray could see the emotion in those eyes. Her hand left his face.

“I’m going to rebuild the Domain, and I want you with me. I know you feel strongly the Domain is flawed, but you can guide me to make it work. The Domain is our last, best opportunity to gain power.” She paused, searching his face. “Peace and freedom, at last. It’s my dream.”

Ray stared at her for a long moment. “You’re throwing away everything we could be to each other. I can’t believe you think this Domain …” His voice trailed off as he realized this was who she was. Although he would always love her, he clearly saw the deep and permanent flaw within her.

Power; it was all about power, only about power. She would pursue this sick dream until she was stopped.

I will have to go to the FBI.

Beating down his anger, Ray stood up and said, “Let’s walk back.”

She nodded, stood up, and embraced him. He felt her shudder and drew her close, burying his cheek in her hair. He pressed against her, pretending for a moment everything would be all right.

Dianne’s voice came to him as a whisper. “I love you.”

Before Ray could respond, she took his hand and led him back through the garden to the front of the building.

*

Walking back to the building, Murphy was surprised to find Dianne still sitting on the front steps. She seemed dazed, her hair blowing gently in the cold breeze. He sat next to her, looking out over the road where the truck had disappeared.

“He’s on his way,” Murphy said. “We locked him in the truck. Martino, too.”

He waited for her to speak, but the only sound was the wind finding its way through the trees.

“We’ll have them in a cell tonight,” he said. “Nobody will find them.”

Murphy leaned back, rested on his elbows, and turned to study her profile. Almost beautiful, he thought.

“Letting him live is a mistake, you know,” he said.

Dianne turned to him, but for once, there was no power in those eyes.

“Well,” she shrugged, “I’m only human.”

 

THE END

*

Thank you for reading PeaceMaker. I’m thrilled that so many people have read all the way through the on-line version. If you enjoyed the novel, please support the author by spreading the word to your friends or posting a review on the net. And don’t forget, the story continues with Unholy Domain, which is now available to order.

 

Dan Ronco