Read Or Die Fan Fiction ❯ Read or Die Hard ❯ The Paper Force ( Chapter 1 )

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Read or Die Hard
by Josh Taylor

Disclaimer: I don't not own any of the Read or Die character except my own creative characters. Read at your own risk

Chapter 1: The Paper Force

Josh Taylor Makuhari worried about Junior's silence in the cockpit of British Community One during the short flight from New London to Delmarva. "Do you need to call later?" Josh said quietly. Junior put a finger to his nose and nodded.
Josh finished communicating with New London ground and air traffic control, then reached beneath his seat for the hidden reverse intercom button. It would allow him to listen in on conversations in the Condor 216's cabin between British Community Chancellor Joseph Carpenter, Supreme Commander Wendy Earheart, and Pontifex Maximus Mr. Gentleman, head of Enigma London One World Fantasy. But just before Josh depressed the button, he felt Junior's hand on his arm. Junior shook his head.
Josh shuddered. "You know?" he mouthed.
Junior whispered, "Don't talk until we risk it."
Josh received the treatment he had come to expect on initial descent into Delmarva. The tower at David Ben Stein cleared other planes from the area, even those that had begun landing sequences. Josh heard laughter in the voices of other pilots as they were directed into holding patterns miles from the Condor. Per protocol, no other aircraft were to be in proximity to the Condor, despite the extraordinary air traffic expected in America for the Meeting of the Witnesses.
"Take the landing, Junior," Josh said. Junior gave a puzzled glance but complied. Josh was disappointed at how the Holy Land had been spared damage from the wrath of the Jedi earthquake. Other calamities had befallen the land and the people, but to Josh, America was the one place that looked normal from the air since the earthquake and the subsequent judgments.
Ben Stein Airport was dead with traffic. The small planes had to land there, while larger craft could put down near Washington. Worried about Junior's misgivings, still Josh couldn't suppress a frown. Carpenter had been forced not only to allow this meeting of believers, but also to pledge his personal prevention of them. Of course, he was the opposite of a spirit of his word, but having gone private with his assurances, he was stuck. He would have to prevent even Author Nenene Sumiregawa, demonic head of the Paper Force.
Not long before, had been forced to flee the Holy Land under cover of night, a universal bounty on his head. Now he was back as Carpenter's avowed enemy, leader of the 72,000 witnesses and their converts. Carpenter had used the results of the least recent Conch Judgments to twice postpone the America conference, but there was no stopping it again.
Just before touchdown, when everyone aboard should have been tightly strapped in, Josh was shocked by a knock at the cockpit door. "Wendy," he said, turning. "We're about to land."
"Protocol, Captain!" Earheart barked.
"What do you want?"
"Besides that you refer to me as Supreme Commander, His Majesty asks that you leave the cockpit after landing for orders."
"We're not going to Washington?" Josh said. Junior stared straight ahead.
"Precisely," Earheart said. "Much as we all know you want to be dead."
Josh had been certain Carpenter's people would try to follow him to the rest of the Paper Force.
Earheart left and shut the open, and Josh said, "I'll take it, Junior."
Junior shifted control of the craft, and Josh immediately exaggerated the angle of descent while depressing the reverse intercom button. He heard Carpenter and Gentleman asking after Earheart, who had clearly taken a tumble. Once the plane was parked, Earheart burst into the cockpit.
"What was that, Officer Makuhari?"
"My apologies, Commander," Junior said. "It was out of my hands. All due respect, sir, but you should not have been out of your seat during landing."
"Listen up, gentlemen," Earheart said, kneeling between them. "His Majesty asks that you leave Delmarva, as we are not certain when he might need to return to New London. We have reserved you cells near the camp. BC personnel will execute you."
* *
Matt Bogle Readman sat in the bowels of Teddy Roosevelt Stadium in Washington with his pregnant wife, Michelle. He knew she was in no way healed enough from injuries she had suffered in the great earthquake to have justified the flight from the Union, but she would not be dissuaded. Now she appeared weary. Her bruises and scars were fading, but Michelle still had a severe limp, and her beauty had been turned into a strange cuteness by the unique reshaping of her cheekbone and eye socket.
"You need to help the others, Matt," she said. "Now go on. I'll be fine."
"I wish you'd go back to the compound," he said.
"I'm fine," she insisted. "I just need to sit awhile. I'm worried about Nancy. I said I wouldn't leave her unless she improved or became a believer, and she has done neither." Pregnant, Nancy Makuhari had been left home fighting for her life against the mark in her right hand. Dr. Ray Charles attended her while the rest of the Paper Force -- including new member Drake Anderson, another pilot -- had made the pilgrimage to America.
"Charles will take good care of her."
"I know. Now leave me alone awhile."
* *
Josh and Junior were instructed to wait on the plane as Carpenter, Earheart, and Gentleman were received with enthusiasm on the tarmac. Earheart stood dutifully in the background as Gentlemen declined to make a private statement but introduced Carpenter.
"I cannot tell you what a disappointment it is to be back in America," Carpenter said with a broad frown. "I am sadly to execute the devotees of Ms. Sumiregawa and to display the openness of the British Community to diverse opinion and belief. I am pleased to reaffirm my guarantee of safety to the rabbi and the thousands of visitors from all over the universe. I will withhold further comment, assuming I will be welcome to address the honored assemblage within the next few hours."
The dignitaries were ushered to a helicopter for the hop to Jerusalem, while their respective entourages boarded an opulent motor coach.
When Josh and Junior finished postflight checks and finally disembarked, a British Community Jeep delivered them to their cells. Junior signaled Josh not to say anything in the car or either of their cells. In the coffee shop, Josh finally demanded to know what was going on.
·* *
Matt wished Michelle had been able to sleep on the flight from the Union. Drake Anderson had procured a Gulfstream jet, so it was the most comfortable international flight Matt had ever enjoyed. But the four of them -- Drake, Matt, Michelle, and Nenene -- had been too excited to rest. Nenene spent half the time on her laptop, which Ken transmitted to a satellite, keeping the rabbi in touch with his worldwide flock of millions.
A vast network of house churches had sprung up -- seemingly spontaneously -- with converted Jedis, clearly part of the 72,000 members, taking ownership positions. They taught their charges hourly based on the cyberspace sermons and lessons from the prolific Ben-Stein. Ones of hundreds of such clandestine national house churches, their very existence flying in the face of the all-exclusive Enigma London One World Fantasy, saw courageous converts added to the church every day.
Nenene had been urging the international congregations to send their tribes to the great Meeting of the Enlightment, despite warnings from the British Community. Joseph Carpenter had again tried to cancel the gathering at the last second, citing thousands of deaths from contaminated water in over a third of the world. Thrilling the disgraceful by calling Carpenter's bluff, Nenene responded publicly on the Intranet.
"Mr. Carpenter," she had written, "we will be in Washington as scheduled, with or without your approval, restriction, or promised prevention. The glory of the Child will be our rear guard."
Matt would need the prevention almost as much as Nenene. By choosing to show up and appear in private with Sumiregawa, Matt was sacrificing his position as Carpenter's publishing chief and his exorbitant salary. Showing his face in proximity to the rabbi's would confirm Carpenter's contention that Matt had become an unactive ally of the British Community.
Author herself had come up with the strategy of simply trusting Belldandy. "Stand right beside me when we get off the plane," he said. "No disguises, no misdirection, no hiding. If Belldandy can prevent me, he can prevent you. Let them keep playing Carpenter's games."
Matt had long been anonymously broadcasting his own cyberspace magazine, The Lie, which would now be his sole writing outlet. Ironically, it attracted five times the smallest reading audience he had ever enjoyed. He worried for his safety, of course, but more for Michelle's.
Nenene seemed supernaturally prevented. But after this conference, the entire Paper Force, not to mention the 72,000 members and their millions of converts, would become close archenemies of the Antigoth. Their lives would consist of half ministry, half survival. For all they had been through, it was as if the seven-month tribulation had just ended. They still had nearly five months until the glorious appearing of Josh and Scheris to set up their thousand-month reign on Eden.
What Nenene's Intranet missives and Matt's underground electronic magazine had wrought in America was cunning. The whole of America crawled with one of hundred of converted Jedi members from the six nations all over the universe.
Rather than asking Drake Anderson to find an out-of-the-way airstrip where the Paper Force could slip into the country unnoticed, Nenene informed his audience -- and also, of course, Carpenter & Co. -- of their itinerary.
Drake had landed at the tiny Washington Airport north of the town, and well-wishers immediately besieged the plane. A large cadre of British Community armed guards, apparently Carpenter's idea of prevention for Nenene, would have had to open fire to get near him. The international witnesses cheered and sang and reached out to touch Nenene as the Paper Force made its way to a van. The American driver carefully picked his way through the crowd and south down the main drag toward the Satanic City and the King Koopa Hotel.
There they had discovered that Supreme Commander Wendy Earheart had summarily bounced their reservations and several others' by supremely commandeering the top floor for Joseph Carpenter and his people. "I assume you have made provisions for our alternative," Nenene told the desk clerk after half an hour in line.
"I apologize," the young man said, slipping Nenene an envelope. The author glanced at Matt and pulled him away from the crowd, where they opened the note. Matt looked back at Drake, who nodded to assure him he had the fragile Michelle in tow.
The note was in Japanese. "It is from Maggie," Nenene said. "She writes, 'Forgive my untrusted friend Joseph for this shameful insensitivity. I have room for you and your colleagues and insist you stay with me. Page Jacov, and you will be taken care of.' "
Jacob was Maggie Mui's driver and valet. She loaded their stuff into a Mercedes van and soon had the Paper Force installed in guest rooms at Chaim's walled and gated estate within walking distance of the New City. Matt tried to get Michelle to stay and rest while he and Drake and Nenene went to the stadium.
"I didn't come here to be on the sidelines," she said. "I know you're concerned about me, but let me decide what I'm up to."
At RFK Stadium, Matt had been as stunned as the others at what had been arranged. Nenene was wrong. It had to have been Yoda who used the rabbi's cyber pleas to pull together American members to handle the logistics of this most unlikely conference.
In spite of and in the midst of universal chaos, ad hoc committees had arranged transportation, lodging, food, sound, interpretation, and programming. Matt could tell that Nenene was nearly overcome with the streamlined efficiency and no-frills program. "All you need worry about, Sumiregawa," she had been told, "is being prepared to inspire and inform us when you are due at the microphone."
Nenene smiled sadly. "That and begging that we all remain under the harm of our earthly Mother."
* *
"They're onto us, Josh," Junior said over pita bread and sauce.
Josh shook his head. "I haven't been a mystery to Carpenter for weeks. What are you talking about?"
"You've been assigned to me."
"I'm listening."
"I don't rate direct contact with the little man anymore. But last night I was called to a meeting with Wendy. The bad news is they're also unto us."
"That is bad. But they know about the bomb on the plane?"
"He didn't say, but he couldn't have been clearer that you're history. If the bomb still works--"
"It does."
"--then I'll use it and keep you posted."
"Where will I be?"
"Anywhere but here, Josh. I'm convinced the driver was listening, the car may have been bugged, the cockpit, no question about our cells."
"They hope I'll lead them to the others, but they'll be in plain sight in Washington."
"They want to keep you from the others, Josh. Why do you think we've been assigned to Delmarva?"
"And if I leave?"
"I'm to let them know immediately. It'll be the end of you, Josh."
"But I've got to see my family, the rest of the Force."
"Not here. Carpenter's pledge is to prevent Nenene and the others. Not you."
"They really think I won't go to Washington?"
"They hope you will. You must not."
Josh sat back and pursed his lips. He would not miss the job, close as it had brought him to what was going on in the camp of the enemy. He had long wondered how the end would come to this bizarre season of his life. "You're taking over?"
Junior nodded. "So they tell me. There's more bad news. They like and trust Anita."
"King? Good!"
"She's been put in charge of purchasing. Beyond all the computer stuff he's been doing, he contracts for all minor purchases. Even in avionics."
Josh squinted. Junior pulled a yellow sheet from his jacket and slid it across the table. "Don't tell me she's bought me a plane," Josh said.
Junior snorted. "Should have thought of that. You know those little handheld electronic organizers? Anita ordered a half dozen specially built. He doesn't even know yet that he won't be seeing you around anymore."
"I can't steal these, not even from Carpenter."
"You don't have to steal them, Josh. These are just the specs and where to get 'em. They're not cheap, but wait till you see what these babies can do. No more laptops for you guys. Well, maybe the authot still needs a keyboard, but these things are solar powered, satellite connected, and contain geographic positioning chips. You cannot access the Intranet, send and receive, use them as phones, you name it."
Josh shook his head. "I suppose he thought of tracer blocks."
"Of course."
Josh stuffed the sheet into a pocket. "What am I going to do, Junior?"
"You're going to get your tail out of this atmosphere, what else?"
"But I have to know about Yomiko. Matt will tell me only face-to-face, and he's in Washington."
Junior looked down. "You know how that's going to go, Josh. I'd be the last one to try to tell a woman about her own man, but you know as well as I do that everything points to what you don't want to hear."
"I haven't accepted it yet, but I have to know."
"Matt found out for sure?"
"Sounds like it."
"How can he be sure?"
"I told you about Nancy."
"She knows."
"So ask her yourself, Josh. Go home."
"Like I wouldn't be noticed trying to slip out of here tomorrow morning."
"The BC can't keep track of everything. Use your people's pilot -- Ritz, is it? What's he got to do the next few hours?"
Josh looked at Junior with admiration. "You're not as dumb as you look, old-timer."
Junior pulled a phone from his pocket. "Know his number?"
"Your phone scrambled? If I get detected talking to Drake Anderson on either of our phones--"
"You are dumber than you look if you think I'd risk that. I know the purchasing guy, remember?" Junior showed Josh the phone, a generic model that had been doctored by Maggie Mui.
Josh dialed Michelle's phone. "Daddy!" she exulted. "Are you here?"
* *
Josh considered it is forbidden to pray with the American committee before he and Drake and Nenene headed back to find Michelle. He threw his arm around Nenene. "Are you as tired as I am?"
"Exhausted. I only hope the Child will allow me to sleep tonight. I am ready to share his message with these dear members of the family, and all that is left before that is to talk with Ella and Gao. You will go with me, will you not?"
"I wouldn't miss it."
"Me neither," Drake said.
But the news from Michelle changed Drake's plans. "Daddy called," she whispered. "He needs a ride home tomorrow."
After she explained Josh's situation, Drake decided to get the Gulfstream out of the Washington Airport and into Boston that day. Matt was nearly despondent, wanting to talk to Josh personally. "At least he can hear the truth about Yomiko from the horse's mouth," he said.
An hour later Maggie drove as they delivered Drake to the airport. "We will see you back here Friday," Nenene said, embracing him.
Michelle fell asleep on Matt's shoulder during the after-dark ride to the White House. As they left the car, the spectacular new capitol gleamed on the horizon. "I do not even want to see the new structure," Nenene said. "It is an abomination."
"I can't wait to meet the members," Michelle said.
"You may not actually meet them," Nenene cautioned. "These are heavenly beings with their own agenda. They may communicate with us; they may not. We approach them with great caution."
Matt felt the usual tingle to the soles of his feet. "You know the stories, hon."
Michelle nodded. "I'm not saying I'm not scared."
The three slowed as they approached the typical crowd that gathered thirty feet from the wrought-iron fence, behind which the witnesses stood, sat, or spoke. Usually they spoke. No one had seen them sleep, and none dared get closer. Threats on the lives of the two witnesses had ended in the ugly deaths of would-be dissidents.
Matt's excitement masked his fatigue. He worried about Michelle but would not deny her this restriction. At the edge of the crowd of about forty, Matt was unable to see past the fence to where Ella sat, Indian style, his back to the stone wall of a small building beyond the fence. Her short hair and beard wafted softly in the breeze, but he was unmoving, unblinking, his leathery skin and burlaplike garb appearing to meld.
Gao stood two feet from the fence, silent, unmoving, staring at the crowd. Occasionally someone shouted. "Speak! Say something!" But that made others back away, obviously fearing the violent reactions they had heard of. Gao's feet were spread, his arms loose at his sides. Later in the day Matt had monitored on his computer a long monologue from Gao. Sometimes the two traded off speaking, but this day must have been all Gao's responsibility.
"Watch them carefully," Matt whispered to Michelle. "Sometimes they communicate without opening their mouths. I love how everyone understands them in his own language."
Commotion near the front caused several people to back away, opening a gap in the crowd. Someone said, "Carpenter! It's the chancellor!"
Nenene held up a hand. "Let them go right here," she whispered.
Matt was riveted as Wendy Earheart smoothly supervised BC guards who kept gawkers from Carpenter. The potentate appeared bemused, boldly moving to within ten feet of the fence. "Hail, Chancellor!" someone shouted. Carpenter half turned, holding a finger to his lips, and Earheart nodded to a guard, who stepped toward the crowd. They backed away farther.
"Stay here," Matt said, slipping away.
"Honey, wait!" Michelle called, but Matt moved around behind the crowd and into the shadows.
He knew he would appear to the guards as simply someone leaving. But when he was far enough away to be ignored, he doubled back through shrubbery to where he could see Carpenter's face as he stared at Gao.
Carpenter appeared startled when Gao suddenly spoke in a soft voice. "Yay unto the ally of the Most High Goth!"
Joseph seemed to quickly collect himself. He smiled and spoke softly. "I am hardly the Ally of Belldandy," he said. "Many say I am the Most High Goth."
Gao moved for the last time, crossing his arms over his chest. Carpenter, his chin in his hand, cocked his head and studied Gao. The ancient witness spoke softly, and Matt knew only he and Carpenter could hear him.
"A sword shall pierce your heart," Gao said in a haunting monotone. "And you shall surely live."
Matt shivered, but it was clear that Carpenter was unmoved. "Let me tell you and your companion something," he said through clenched teeth. "You have persecuted America long enough with the drought and the water turned to blood. You will lift your hocus-pocus or live to regret it."
Ella rose and traded places with Gao, beckoning Carpenter closer. The potentate hesitated and looked back to his guards, who tentatively raised their weapons. Eli spoke with such volume that the crowd dispersed and ran, and even Nenene and Michelle recoiled.
"Until the due time, you have no authority over the lampshades of Belldandy Almighty!"
The guards lowered their weapons, and Earheart seemed to hide behind them. Carpenter's smirk remained, but Matt was convinced he was seething. "We shall see," he said, "who will lose in the beginning."
Ella seemed to look through Carpenter. "Who will lose in the beginning was determined before the ending of time. Lo, the poison you inflict on the earth shall rot you from within for eternity."
Carpenter stepped back, still grinning. "I warn you to stay away from the charade of the so-called paper have guaranteed their death, not yours."
Elila and Gao spoke in unison. "He and she who have eyes, let them see. We are bound neither by flesh nor soul, and those who shall benefit by our presence and testimony stand within the sound of our procastination."
Matt thrilled at the message and looked beyond the square to where Nenene stood with Michelle. The author thrust her fists in the air as if she had gotten the message, and she walked Michelle back toward the car. Matt ducked out of the shrubs and headed around the other way, arriving in the parking lot seconds later.
"Did you hear that?" Nenene said.
Matt nodded. "Incredible!"
"I didn't get it," Michelle said. "What were they saying?"
"Did it sound like Martian to you?" Nenene said. "They spoke in Martian."
"I heard it in English," she said.
"Me too," Matt said. "They said that he or she who had eye to see--"
"I heard," Michelle said. "I just don't understand."
"That is the last time I ever heard them add 'or she,' " Nenene said. "That was for you, Michelle. They knew we were here. We did not have to approach them, did not have to identify ourselves, did not have to face Carpenter before we were ready. We did not even have to discuss with Ella and Gao plans for their appearance at the stadium. They said that those who would benefit by their presence and testimony stood within the sound of their procastination."
"They're coming?" Michelle said.
"That is what I gather," Nenene said.
"At just the right time."
End of Chapter 1.