AF One

~ a short story

There was a time for waiting, and then a time for more than waiting. Murphy hunched over his chair sidelong, uncomfortably, while tapping his pen on the notepad. He gripped it with impatience, readying for attentiveness, for more. The truth was that he was getting much too old for this. Dying art for a dying profession. Partly of his own doing. So was he. Also his own doing. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t make this last one count. That’s why this’d be his last assignment. He was particularly passionate about this one, this moment. It was quite fortunate to get a semblance of closure. A finale worthy of an illustrious career. Who gets that? The bell was tolling, retirement loomed. And despite some conflicting feelings on it all, Murphy actually wanted to retire.

Alright old man, just have to get this over with, he thought to himself. Last one. Last one.

A deep breath released on its own. It came in the form a calming sigh. He sighted the airtight door unseal itself. Right on cue, the cabinet members flooded out of the room and into the hallway next to his seat. The meeting was over and all the non-essential personnel were now heading back to their posts, or whatever it is they were supposed to be doing on this rather complex aircraft and its many seen and unseen machinations.

Murphy scratched at his grey stubble and took note of their demeanors. He figured it might inform him somewhat of the character of his counterpart at this point in time. A crucial component to the work to be done. But Murphy wasn’t too worried. He already knew what this man was. Nevertheless, he inspected these folk. Their faces were stern, some hung their heads below their shoulders. But upon closer inspection, Murphy discerned it was just as likely from boredom as it was from bad news, or from being berated. Of course, he hadn’t heard anything from within the room where the briefing had been held. Despite sitting just outside the room, he had no idea what the meeting was about. Everything in there was soundproof. Neat, Murphy mused.

He wore a cardigan. He had been told it was cold on Air Force One. Comfortably tempered under its tightening folds, Murphy found he wasn’t lied to. As he arose to take his scheduled interview with the President, he put his hands into his large side pockets and smiled warmly to all who looked his way as they stepped out. He noted recognition in some of their eyes. Of course, they’ve seen me skulking about these last few days, taking notes, listening to correspondents. No one approached him though. That was good. Murphy did not have the time or the inclination to converse with these people. Not now, or ever. He had enough problems of his own. Nerves must increase with age. And the complexity of the job, Murphy guessed. And this one wouldn’t be easy.

The last of the cabinet, the advisors, and the other journalists made their way out as Murphy stepped into the President’s office. Or conference, he wasn’t sure what this room was called. It didn’t matter, it would suit his purposes well enough. It was moderately large, housed a desk for the man to sit in in the back corner and an elongated couch across the side walls and table for everyone else to occupy as needed. Considering the room for seating and standing in here, Murphy could not understand how all those people he just saw exit could fit inside of here at once. Given the area, it would be rather uncomfortable. There was no way the fire code would suffer this many bodies. But was there even a fire code on a plane? Probably called it something else. Air code? Flight code? Damn, this room is smaller than it should be. Maybe it was like a clown car effect — 

“Oh damn, I suppose it is time for that isn’t it?”

Murphy’s reflection was interrupted by the hardy, golden voice of the President speaking to him. He was about to stand from his seat, motioning to extend his hand, before he decided to sit back down and lower it. Decided against it, perhaps. Fine. Contact won’t even be necessary on this one. He’s weakened by his career, more than he’ll ever know.

A relatively young man, his age had begun to show. Grey hairs were taking hold at the roots. Deepening lines in the face accentuated an admirable portrayal of gruff caucasity. The type of face a charismatic socio might wear, Murphy considered candidly. A couple years into term and the job was taking its full toll. Each monumental decision acted as a coin, and as a sin. The President sighed and put his hands behind his head, grimacing as he did, motioning his hand towards the main seat before his desk when Murphy stood unmoving for a spell.

“Well go on and sit. Let’s get this little thing over with,” the President swung around in his seat and reached down to grab something from the mini fridge conveniently located beneath him, within arm’s reach.

Murphy wondered what the man might do if he just did it now. His reaction. Or how he’d respond to Murphy’s assessment of his too sly grinning face. Not yet. Work to be done. I’ll need at least a few minutes, Murphy reminded himself. Not a young one anymore.

“Yes, let’s,” Murphy responded, complying. He finally seated himself and took a deep breath, steadying him in his purpose here.

He pulled his pen and pad, but then realized the last few individuals in the room weren’t moving. Not alone yet even … That would’ve been bad. To his back right there was a secret serviceman, given away by the suit and his stolid stance. And by the fact that he retained his shades despite being indoors. He stood with his hands before his crotch, facing forward towards the center of the room and back to the door, looking at nothing in particular.

The chief of staff sat at the window to his left, drinking some liquor from a larger glass than was accustomed. He didn’t seem to notice or care that anyone had left the room or that Murphy had entered. He stared out the window pensively, stirring the remaining in his glass with his left index finger. The red setting sun blazed against his spectacles, his eyes also hidden from view. I gotta get me some of these shades, Murphy thought to himself.

And finally, one of his advisors continued to type away fastidiously on her laptop. She was seated directly behind Murphy and he had to turn completely around in his new seat to get a look at her. She wore her hair up in a ponytail, chewed on a pencil in her mouth, and seemed completely enthralled in her work. Whatever it was she was currently doing, she seemed to be good at it. Taking the minutes, probably. Murphy didn’t recognize her. She is quite beautiful, he mused.

But of course, he didn’t pay nearly as much attention to this administration as his “job” warranted. A few of his colleagues had accused him of ‘mailing it in.’ Murphy had never refuted such a thing because it was true. He didn’t give a shit about this President, or this administration, or what was happening politically in this country, or this — 

She took notice of him taking notice, looking up at him. But she didn’t smile. It broke his train of thought. Murphy spoke while continuing to look at her, turned around in his chair with his arm draped over the backside of the seat.

“Mr. President, I thought you wanted this to be a true one-on-one?”

The woman continued chewing on her pencil, making eye contact with Murphy. Nothing behind the eyes here. Lost in thought or yet another socio-crat? Murphy couldn’t determine where he fell on that dictate. He’d need more time with her. Time he wouldn’t get today.

“Yeah, yeah. Alright, guys clear out,” the President spoke lazily, “Yeah even you, Captain spook. This shouldn’t take more than a half hour, by my estimation. Hopefully less.”

Murphy turned back around and drew forth his large notepad. The woman left with her laptop held aloft, back to furiously reading something on the screen. The serviceman waited for a moment and then went over to grab the chief of staff by his arm, wresting him free of his reverie at the window. Together, with the nigh-empty glass of liquor, they headed out the door all the others had.

The President had been scribbling something on a piece of paper at his desk, he called out to the serviceman before he had fully stepped out. He reached over, while remaining seated, to hand it off to him without another word. The President winked at the large man. It was subtle, as if he wished it hidden from view. However, Murphy could see it because he had winked with the eye that was clearly visible from his vantage.

Murphy began to twirl his pen just above his hand. He gripped the notepad and stared down at it, at the words making up his progressions. He smirked as he sat back comfortably into his seat. Murphy looked forward to the interview.

“By your estimation?” Murphy finally spoke a few moments later when the others had left and his target had returned to his original location. The door was closed and the President sipped from some drink he had made for himself during the exit.

“Yeah you just want some quotes about the latest thing or some shit right?” Once again the President spoke nonchalantly. His tie was loosened. He slouched in his seat. His words dribbled out of his mouth without candor. It was late in the day, what was no doubt a long day for him in particular.

This was going to be too easy, Murphy mused.

It was about to become a bit longer.

“No, this is a profile,” Murphy said.

“A profile? Well hell, that’s like a whole deal right?” The President was visibly agitated.

“Yes, it certainly is,” Murphy began to consult the notes on his notepad. “But I have already begun my work, I am pretty far along actually. I’ve been observing your administration for some time. This trip, being here, has proved especially fruitful.”

“Yeah? How about that. What do you want to ask me then?” he said. He pulled back his shirt sleeve, staring down at his watch but so fast that he probably didn’t even read the time. Beads of sweat dripped down his widow’s peak and onto the desk. He took a pull from his glass, now nearing empty.

For the first time so far in their interaction, eye contact is made between the two gentlemen. The President’s gaze was failing him. His mind was already shifting.

Murphy once again mused on the psyche of the man. What it took him to get here, what such a man had to sacrifice, it was astounding. Before even entering the manifolds of these spaces… his psyche was cooked. Incredible, Murphy couldn’t help but keep smiling.

And this is one of the best that they have? Their chosen leader, by the people, for the people. What is wrong with this place?

Unblinking and taking this in, Murphy’s eyes were calming. His mind worked through the progressions, unmoving from their target. The incantations he had been sketching out in the notepad while waiting in the hall certainly helped. Even in his advanced age, and being out of practice for so many years, he found it all coming back to him. The motion of the mind, the repetitions, the focus upon the target.

Murphy moved his eyes back and forth, back and forth, in a hypnotic and quite steady pattern. Soon enough, the target’s eyes were moving alongside his. The eye contact became perfectly cadenced, permanent.

He was in.

“Quite the imagination you have, Mr. President. So much chaos, so much fear…” Murphy remarked, beginning to draw on and populate the room with the phantoms of their shared cognition. Thoughts became amplified and were manifested in the darkest possible light of their imaginings. Together, Murphy and the target crafted a shared extra-sensory experience. Visually, they were both in the cabin of the One and elsewhere, within some nightmare. A nightmare made personal, and quite real.

“Wha… What is happening — ,” the President breathed. His head began to sway, but his eyes remained wide open. He could see them all quite clearly now.

Around them, the world filled up with the shadows of the jungle. A jungle both near and far, but quite present in its profundity. And its dangers. The sweaty plants and the breathing creatures and the fully enveloping night sky dropped down all around them. In their seats at thirty-thousand feet, the darkness of the arborous crucible dipped down into their midst in wispy emanations soon coalescing into a shared, and profound, new reality. It was deep night, no moon. The ambient sounds of an environment alive with coming violence populated the silence. Hungering insects and hungrier shadows beckoned both men’s attention. The target squirmed while Murphy smirked.

The two men, interviewer and interviewee, found themselves in the beating heart of a wilderness neither of them recognize. But it is one that one of them fears above all else.

The terror in the President’s mind space began to swell into dangerous territory as he stared up into the trees towering overhead. He leaned backward in his chair, perhaps in an attempt to sink below his desk. He reached for a pen in thoughtless desperation, but grabbed nothing. Panthers prowled about in the crooks of the branches, invisible outside of their deep blue eyes. There were several. Altogether it was a fearsome sight, unforgettable terror made its entry. One of these creatures in particular brought tremendous stress to the Commander-in-chief’s heart.

Murphy stands, ready to move the subject of his final manifestation.

“Come it’s time to end this,” he says. The President is almost laughing, to fend off the terror. The mania would make him more compliant, but not completely so. Murphy walks around the desk, grabbing the President’s arm, picking him up. He groans, but rises and begins to walk alongside Murphy. The President finds himself opening the door out into the hallway, cautiously, as if thinking of every twitch of his arms and legs. Murphy willed him to pick up the pace.

The secret serviceman turns, startled. He reaches for his weapon but finds himself staring into Murphy’s stark gaze. Murphy speaks in a whisper, nodding back towards the conference as they walk out.

“Do it quietly.”

The shaded, suited man returns his hand to his side expressionlessly, and quickly shuffles into the room behind the two of them, closing the door behind him. The President and Murphy begin to walk down the hall before them.

“Get us to the room, old man. It’s your time to shine.”

Behind them, a muffled gunshot resounds within the air tight conference for clowns.

~

Murphy and the Pres weave through the corridors of the aircraft. The war room, the situation room, the room with the buttons… Murphy imparts. On the way, they are repeatedly encountered by cabinet members or accosted by servicemen, journalists, other correspondents. Each time, Murphy repels them with a word, quietly and with restraint. No reason to cause a fuss. He had more than enough time, more than enough etchings to last him unto completion.

“Kiss him, but over there.”

“Go try to find your father.”

“Go to the engine room and count to Google.”

“Go to the bathroom.”

“Go find the parachutes and put one of ’em on. Find a jumping off point. Take as many friends as you can with you, whether they wish to go or not.”

Nearly all of the listening passengers comply without pause. All except for one. The advisor he saw in the conference earlier, the liquored one, wasn’t quite paying attention to his call to go away. Perhaps it is the liquor. When confronted with the two of them trudging down to the war room, the advisor scrunches his face, pushing his glasses against his face with consternation.

“Ehhh what are d-doing..” The advisor slurs.

“We are going to find a nice place to drink some tea. Would you like to come with us?” Murphy asks pleasantly. He looks back around from whence they have come. They have not been followed nor had they disturbed more than they absolutely had to. The flight path continues unchecked, on time. The setting sun peaks over the horizon and into the reflections on the advisor’s glasses as they edge down his crinkling face.

“…No.” The advisor responds at length with gusto.

“Well come anyway. C’mon,” Murphy urges. The advisor continues to scrunch his face, but follows along dutifully, carefully stepping down the narrow stairwell behind the President. With one last look, Murphy follows them down into the secret belly of the craft.

~

The President continues to sweat. His eyes begin to bleed with the consumption of the effect. He runs his hands fearfully over the ferns around his ankles, his eyes dart from tree to tree across the canopy. He searches for the beast and its deathly eyes he can feel upon his back. But he does not find it. His anxiety increases as the starlight fades on his horizon.

Murphy sighs, “Alright then, let’s do this fast. It looks like you don’t have a ton of time left.” The panther nears the end of its hunt. A short hunt, Murphy laments.

“What in the… hell… are you…” The advisor sets his drink down on the panel before them. Radar screens, clocks, and all manner of buttons and keyholes make up the sights. The sounds of the President’s labored breathing reverberates in the massive room.

Murphy, eyes closed, answers, “I am here to shut this all down.”

“You can’t shut down America… you fucking spy! You goddamned terrorist! That’s what you are! Hahah,” the advisor has his drink again but there’s nothing in it. He’s manically laughing all his own. Murphy squints at the scene. This is all him.

“I am not here for America. I’m here for everything. This world, its time has ended. And I am the one that will do it,” Murphy places his hand upon the President’s shoulder. He reaches down towards the panel, slowly but surely. During the effort, the President lets out a groan.

“World domination eh? Is that it? The world order has beaten back greater ones than you. And we own the world order… we created it… Who do you work for? Russia? China? Some leftist commie org? Ha! This will never work…” the advisor lets out a snarl and some more chuckles, wheeling his empty drink around in half-hearted circles. There’s no rage in his voice, only mirth.

Too late, Mike. Like always. Murphy finds himself sighing unconsciously, “Please be quiet now.” Instead, the advisor continues to rant.

The President goes through the motions of the biometrics, a fingerprint here, an eye scan there, a vocal recognition in the form of another groan. The President puts in a rather long key code, consolidated and extracted by the work being done in his mind by Murphy. Each man spits up some blood, in unison but remain standing. This power does not come without cost, Murphy coughs. Finally, there is a key placed into a slot within the panel. The vast arsenal of weapons is armed and ready for launch. It was Murphy’s understanding that all of them were available, from this seat of command and with only the President’s behest truly necessary. The circumstances are irrelevant, Murphy’s heart beats with expectant resolution. Such a foolish system for a realm of them.

Murphy compels the President to fire everything. At all possible targets upon the grid. The expected targets and even the unexpected ones. Quantity was key. He needed to ensure complete devastation.

“What in the hell is this room… where are we?… I didn’t have that much to drink…” The advisor’s ire finally lulls as he observes his surroundings apparently for the first time. “Where is the tea…” he finishes, whispering quietly.

Murphy speaks over his shoulder, “It will be here any minute. It’s certainly time…” He feels the familiar distortions around his space. Time to go soon. He keeps his eyes peeled and pouring over the screen marking missile trajectories across the globe.

“Why-why are you here man…” the advisor almost sounded sad. Murphy finally turned to look him in the eyes, for the first time. Nothing worth looking at. The man is washing away, living in the midst of a reality he himself barely believes or resides within. Overworked and underappreciated, the man is living contentedly as a ghost. Placidly idle, raucously arrogant and full of gas he releases without any compunction. He cannot perceive just how much he does not understand; those he trusts betray him at every instance. His family doesn’t quite despise him, but they do not respect his words, actions, presence. This man is already lost. Murphy honestly believes no time need be spent in consideration of such a man, soon to be destroyed himself.

But in spite of all this, Murphy starts to speak, unconsciously but truthfully.

“You want to know, don’t you? No one ever tells you anything, at least, not anything valuable or meaningful,” Murphy looks back over to the console and sees some of the missiles have begun touching down. Return fire from the other thermonuclear-capable superpowers begins en masse.

He looks back over to Mike with a plaintive look on his face, before continuing,

“Truth be told this was the easiest job yet. It only took me four years. Four years and here I am, standing in the shadows of a launch room, looking over the shoulder of the most powerful man in the world. Four years to be able to materially wipe out all sentient life on an entire planet. For beasts of the mind like us, all it takes is a little suggestion, some mental enhancements of the natural and unnatural kind for the user and you can find yourself psychically gaslighting the Commander-In-Chief quietly, easily, at any time and in any place. This wasn’t the only way to do it, just the one with the least real resistance.

The advisor stares breathlessly at nothing in particular. The empty glass remains well in hand, gripped with whitening knuckles. A chuckle remained somehow, within the advisor named Mike.

“Four years to learn to write about your strange politics in a stranger land. Four years to get good enough at it within one of your media conglomerates to justify an in-person interview with this particular man, in this particular country — this purveyor of the world order as you proclaim — on this particular craft, whom has nearly unchecked power. To do a many, many things. To swiftly end the world? Check. From the seat of his pants. You know this, yes? It wouldn’t even be that incalculably hard to do it on accident, from a variety of origin points across the globe, in the hands of much less powerful, less competent ones. I do not know if I can accurately convey just how astounding this situation we find ourselves is. It’s actually sickening to consider, so I try not to. The less time I spend here, the better.”

Murphy steps back, away from the President, now collapsing upon the panel. He is drenched in sweat, his face a bloody and incoherent mess. It didn’t really matter anymore that he was dead, the work was done. Murphy places one hand in his pocket. With the other, he begins to stroke his chin in contemplation. The plane begins to experience turbulence, shaking to and fro. Murphy and Mike stand across from one another, one breathing quickly and the other slowly; both men’s concentration is not broken. They continue to lock expressions upon one another in the silence.

“Out of everywhere I have been, the multitudes of worlds, of realities, of possible outcomes for sentient peoples — most of them like you and me — this is the only one I have seen with this setup. It’s astronomically improbable this didn’t happen sooner. Perhaps I am doing someone like you a favor. Now you won’t have anything to worry about… and oh you worry. So. Damn. Much,” Murphy looks down at his watch. “No more nothing to worry about,” he says thoughtlessly.

“I would love to continue speaking to you — about how ironic this is that this will be my final mission. I get to rest now. But I really do not wish to, not after seeing this place — 

“But why? Why do this?” Mike interrupts. He doesn’t look sad anymore. He looks sober, scared. Mike has pissed himself, soon to do more damage.

“A good question. I don’t have an answer for you,” Murphy responded instantly. “But I want to reward you in some way for the asking. If only I could rebirth you as a newborn among the stars, like some of my brethren. Or gift you with my own powers. You could do all that traveling you’ve been meaning to. With or without your wife. But alas, I can do neither. There are limitations to my role. Just like yours. So here’s what I say to you — go get with ponytail-pencil-chewer, find some parachutes, and get off this thing.”

“I instructed the pilot,” Murphy looks down at his watch once more, “to start to try to fly Air Force One into … the Sun. This is your head start,” Murphy starts to motion and stretch his arms in unison.

“But what do I do? What will happen to the world? Who — “ The advisor starts forward, but chokes on his questions.

“I don’t know. Try to survive. Do better,” Murphy says simply. Then, taking a moment to gather his thoughts once more, he speaks with gusto, with a verbal flourish to invariably settle upon his doomed counterpart, “You see Mike, I really think you are a man worthy of the apocalypse.” Murphy claps him upon the shoulder quickly, to which Mike starts with a blink and blank expression, mouth hanging open and breathing with strained, conscious effort.

After the final word, the man’s eyes — the man who was Murphy — burn white and the body collapses to the ground in a heap. It rolls over next to the President’s own, as the plane’s turbulence ramps up and puts everything off balance.

Mike stares at the bodies, unthinking, bracing himself. Turning the other way, the plane shakes with intensifying violence. He turns away, his eyes enlightened with newfound inspiration, and as of yet, unfound competence.

A phrase, spoken with the gusto of a professional voiceover from somewhere deep within his impassioned youth, resounds repeatedly within his little mind:

“Mike McClocklan! A man worthy of the apocalypse.”

In a flash, he runs up and out of the room, into the chaos of his new, jumbling reality, looking for Kate, the pencil-chewing vixen, and a pair of parachutes. ~