Co-written with Marina.
Presidential Mansion, Adams Capitol District
"Mister President, you're scheduled to leave in twenty minutes."
The voice cut through the large bearded man's mind. Away was a fairly roomy bedroom in a second-floor apartment overlooking the rainswept parking lot from that tenacious, unmoving lumbering tropical system named "Fay", replaced by a fairly and richly furnished office. The desk was made of fine wood with only papers and a stack of pens upon it. The center of the floor's carpet had a stylized horizontal tricolor of white, blue, and green, one that was easily recognized by him as the prefered colors of the Cascadian Independence movement... save, of course, the absence of "The Doug", the Douglas fir tree that said movement imposed upon their tricolor.
He had never stepped foot in the region called Cascadia, honestly, but the pictures he'd seen of it from friends, hell, even the "Ax-Men" program on History Channel and the long establishing shots of the Oregon countryside, had made him begin to appreciate the region far more than his hot, humid subtropical birthplace of Florida.
The sensation of wearing different clothing was next. Instead of a plain red T-shirt and cotton jogging shorts he was now richly attired in business jacket, black, with a business shirt and green tie. A pair of elegant business shoes were on his feet, easily US size 23 by the space he felt within them, enough to wiggle his toes.
He picked up and turned the nameplate on the desk. It was his name engraved in gold lettering upon a wood panel: Stephen T. Garrett. A glance to a paper on the desk confirmed the suspicion beginning to form through the confusion of the sudden change. A paper bearing his name accompanyed by the seal of "The President of the Republic of Cascadia".
Just what the hell is going on?
The woman's voice spoke up again. "Mister President?"
He fumbled around for a moment. He found the plain phone - contrasting to the ominous red one -and quickly scanned the labels of the buttons on it. He hit the intercom button. "Yes, I heard you. I'll be out soon," he answered.
Where am I going? The question went through his head. It felt too real to be a dream, and if it wasn't, if he was really a President of some strange alternate-reality republic, what was he going to do? A President was expected to know all matters of protocols and information that he did not. He didn't know the members of his Cabinent, the leading legislators... for Christ's sake, he didn't even know what his political party was! What was he going to do if this was a trip to some speech or public outing where his ignorance of these things would be pretty blatantly obvious.
"I've missed you, Steve," the soft soprano offered from the far side of the room as the clocks stopped ticking. "Welcome to the game, by the way, as evil as it is." She approached, lurching a bit on account of the energy she could exert incredibly for brief periods of time having been largely expended. Her heart only beat for a few hours of the day, and beyond those, she could scarcely move, and it showed. The wall provided some blessed support, and a hacking cough brought mucus out of the throat and into the wastebin, larval and writhing as it fell, very much filled with living things; and it revealed her teeth, as well, sharp and perfect fangs. The clothes she wore were handmade, a black leather lady's duster over a sleeveless blouse and trousers, both black; the former was silken, and there were arm warmers coming out of the coat to cover the palms of her hands. On the fingers, the nails had hardened and looked easily like they could rend flesh.
The flesh, though, that was the most horrible part, the perfect colour of death, simultaneously pallid white and yet darkened by the hints of the bileous, dead blood that swelled everywhere underneath her skin. The pockmarks of random, poorly healed scars in a few places contrasted with eyes as blue and clear and intense as the day they had been made; and that perfect blonde hair hanging long to the small of her back. "Yeah, you know who I am I think, old friend. You disappeared from Earth six hundred years ago. Q took you, and sent you here. This is his Game. You weren't in the original and I'm not sure why he selected you to just be in this one, especially since you disappeared at the same time as everyone else. And by Q I do indeed mean the character from Star Trek. The bastard is real, and, well, so are a bunch of other preternatural things. Like me, though I do have a scientific basis. Q, a while after you all disappeared, gave me some information on paranormal events which led to my discovering that some vampires did in fact exist. They got me." Another round of coughing followed. "And as you can unfortunately see, real vampirism isn't as glamorous as what Anne Rice wrought about, that's for hell sure."
"Marina." He had initially moved forward, almost as if to instinctively hug the emaciated figure, only stopping at the last moment as the sight really began to enter his consciousness. He listened to her story and, perhaps in a bad display of priorities, said, "I'd hoped to meet under better conditions. My God, what's happened to you?"
"You can hug me. I am safe, really," the voice came with a hint of distance--she was used to that sort of reaction. "Six centuries has worn long on me, of course. Everyone else, though, is dead. Well, almost everyone, but you'll understand if I don't elaborate on the choices I made for my personal life. At least now--I'm supposed to be impartial. It may be in the future when things are settled that Q will just let me wander and make some time with old friends. But there's also the recovery of civilization on Earth that I have to attend to. Prove him wrong about humanity, mostly. I'm rather determined to do that. I think it's because of that that.. He gave me certain powers over this world to make sure things stay in balance. Remember LOG?" She spread her hands in a warding gesture. "Don't wince. I'm in the same place you wrote yourself into in that story, though, okay?"
"You remember that even after six hundred years?" He let out a short, amused laugh and stepped forward to give a hug to Marina, trying not to be too tight in the embrace given how fragile she looked. "Recovery of civilization on Earth? I take it your worst predictions mostly came to pass."
"Worse, actually; global warming was a tad worse than we expected, though the hyper-storms which everyone predicted didn't prove to last for more than a period of fifty years or so, not long enough to completely destroy things. On the other hand, technological civilization didn't completely collapse, either. I was trying to set up a base for rocketry in the Siberian jungles--not quite the word for them, they're more a temperate rainforest like Cascadia--since they're the most intact people. Russians are used to hardship; there's more assertive things I can do with them than with anyone else." She leaned into the embrace for a moment, smiling sadly. "I'll keep doing my best, anyway. The more crucial thing is that you're here right now.. And you need to know what to do. I think the best way to do it is to just dump the info directly into your brain, which will hurt a little, but let you recall it instantly--all perfect memories. Are you ready for it? And remember, Steve, these are real people you're controlling. They have their own history, legacy, past, present, and aspirations for the future. I wish I could offer you something better than 'fuck up and you'll be killing real people', but those are just the goddamned facts."
"So I expected," was the reply. "Get to work then."
"Hang on..." The memory dump that followed was the perfect and complete life of the politician who had made himself the newly-elected head of Cascadia; he was, in all respects, Steve, but different, raised better and given a better life, and with more successes. Older too, of course, but that was to be taken for granted, though Steve's life, the information strongly hinted, would go from the point he was snatched; he would likely live to be a centenarian by the local calculation, but to his normal lifespan from when he was born on Earth. The crucial thing is that all the information there, down to the appearance at the local childrens' hospital, was there. As the flash of more or less overwhelming information finished, Marina smiled rather sadly. "I know you'll do your best. I'll keep everyone honest, at least, so just remember what you've learned in your lives and never give up."
The flood of memories were causing quite a headache, as was to be expected. But that was not what came to mind. He moved back toward the desk. "My family wasn't brought with me, were they?"
"It was just significant others and children who also disappeared, and you were single.." Marina smiled softly. "But they did alright. When I ended up chief project engineer for Areva Canada I had enough money to go around settling accounts--since you were missing, I bought your father a country mansion for his retirement up in western Maryland, which was still economically prosperous in those days. Your brother ultimately married--I am not sure how.." she smiled vaguely, "and I arranged for his family to come to Quebec, which is not substantially worse off than Siberia these days. Since Q didn't tell me I couldn't, I can track down their descendants if you like. I've been checking, and I can use this nifty teleporting power back on Earth, too. Saves like a thirty-two hour train ride followed by an eighteen hour flying boat flight to get from Omsk to Saguenay, and I feel guilty using so much energy even if it's trivial to my funds."
He slumped into the nearby chair. "That's... that's fine. Thank you. You did far more for them than I probably would've been able to." The idea that they at least ended well clashed with the stark knowledge that he would never, ever see his family again. He had a replacement family, certainly, if different in an altogether stressing way. But there was a part of him that rejected that idea. They ARE my family! the voice said, almost in a split-personality fashion. "This other me, the politician me, isn't just memories. He's simply being forced to share his body and life with a younger, far less capable version of himself," he mused aloud. "Just what gave Q the right to do this again?"
"Whatever gives the stronger the right to do as they please with the weaker? Remember the Melian Dialogues, Steve. They do as they please, and the weak endure what they must. Fortunately for us, Q is a trickster rather than a genuine Power, for evil or his own ambition. He can be reasoned with. And you can, to some extent, stand up to him. Do you think he would have chosen me otherwise? I have spent the last six hundred years playing word-games with him. Sometimes I win. Remember that, and take heart." She stepped closer, grabbing one of the President's hands and clasping it for a moment. "Good luck, and I'm sure you'll do well. You had so much potential that would have been wasted on Earth, anyway; perhaps it is unfair for it to be tested like this, but I know you can hold your own, Steve."
The gesture was welcome, though Marina's hands felt rather cold. "I'm sorry this had to happen to you," the President sighed. The feeling within him was that of resignation, perhaps even a tad of fatalism to it. "Well, I am here. I may as well do my new part. When you have time, I believe I have some local South Cascadian port in my private home's wine cellar made in, well, I believe back home it was Northern California, but the climate is slightly different here. And in this world I'm apparently not as temperate as I would have been back on Earth. So...." He put a hand on her shoulder. "Perhaps we should share a bottle of port as we once talked of doing?"
"Have it ready the next time I come; I can't keep time frozen for every much longer, unfortunately," she answered with a fond smile, turning away as another cough took her. "And don't worry about me. I have seen things that can scarcely be imagined, Steve--the flooding of the Caspian from the Black Sea, the ruins of New York rising out of the ocean, and warships alight on the night. Terrible but beautiful things, and I have seen, too, those that are simply beautiful; I have seen people come together to build cities anew, and I have watched the first twist of a waterwheel flicker life into the first lightbulb in a region in four hundred years. I started fission in the first pile of a thorium reactor, and soon enough I'll see that power send us to the stars again, once and for all, and show Q what we are indeed made of. And I've seen mystical things, too, hints of beliefs and knowledge about which even the Q might fear. Perhaps if your scientists are proficient enough they shall bore a way through reality in time, beyond your life, but in that of your children, and meet me and the ships I have sent to the stars. I will not mince words with you--my existence is a fairly miserable one. Vampires, as it turns out, are quite.. Marginal creatures, barely able to stay alive, for all our incredible feats in some areas. But I have been alive for six hundred years." She smiled. "That's made it worth it to me. Good luck, Steve--I have to go now."
"Good luck to you, old friend. I look forward to meeting you again." There was one last goodbye hug.
"As I, you." She stepped away, smiled tiredly, and turned to the side, vanishing in a distortion of blackness as she did. Time itself snapped back into existence like a rubber band being released, and the game was on.
For several minutes he sat in that chair. He was still absorbing all of the information suddenly plunged into his mind along with the strange feeling of being two versions of the same basic human being in one body. This counterpart of his had grown up in slightly different circumstances, with a slightly-less dysfunctional family though similar economic situation. He could now remember a different schooling, a better one than what he'd had on Earth that had encouraged his natural love and desire for historical learning and government operation. He remembered a short stint in the Cascadian Army, realizing his Republic here had a draft in the process, and... marriage? Children, one of them already an adult, with grandchildren a possible in the immediate future?
His musings were interrupted by the secretary. She called to him, reminding he was supposed to leave in three minutes. He reached for the intercom button again. "I'll be out in a couple seconds, Mrs. Rawlings." Taking one last look at the office before him, President Garrett drew in a sigh and silently resolved to make the best of what he'd been given before stepping out to this strange new life.