READER SUGGESTION: “Larger than Life” by Backstreet Boys
“Tell me again, slowly this time, what exactly is happening here,” General Bunchen sighed, the previous three hours stripping him of his ability or inclination to be pleasant
Around him the room—and indeed the entire floor—buzzed with movement and nervous energy. Men and women in a nearly even mix of suits and army uniforms weaved in and out and past each other, each with a task, a thought, a theory, that needed immediate addressing.
General Bunchen was trying to keep up.
Craig breathed in to begin again. For some reason Craig reminded the General of his nephew. He still wasn’t sure if that made him like Craig more or less.
“Sir, the Just Folks were created with the express intent of creating a fighting force that would feed off the country’s morale and vice versa. No one anticipated how popular they would be out of the gate.”
“You created a fighting force charged by popularity that you didn’t expect to be popular?”
Craig resisted rolling his eyes as hard as he could or telling the General to let him finish and maybe he’d get his answer. Craig was a civilian but he still recognized talking back to the general was not a solid long term career play.
“Our goal was to make them popular, sir. We just did not anticipate their immediate level of popularity. None of our predictive models showed that. Marketing did not believe they could ‘sell’ Folks to the people that quickly in the roll out.”
Bunchen grimaced and sighed in exasperation. His body language not so subtly suggested, “Get on with it.”
“The point is, sir, the apparatuses were not created for that much energy to be gained that quickly. It redirected it in ways we did not expect. It changed the Folks. Far more than any of us had modeled.”
“Strength, speed, flight—all as expected. But also telepathy. One has a tail now. Another exists as a gas. General Marquez’s daughter is covered in spikes that she can grow and fire at will, seemingly.”
The General rubbed his temples. “This all sounds incredible. A benefit to our country.”
Craig steadied himself and then confessed, “They escaped. This morning, they left barracks at approximately 0530 and have not been seen or heard from since. No one has any idea where they are. We only have their last communique.”
Craig gestured to Denise who brought up the video on the main monitor. She had been watching it and re-watching it for hours. Looking for any signs that might hint at their whereabouts. Listening for any sounds that might point towards some lead. All she had was a headache and a nosebleed now. The nosebleed concerned her but she couldn’t place why.
“People of the country that created us, that we protect, that love us!” Clara, General Marquez’s daughter, growled at the camera. “We’ve been misled. You’ve been misled. The Just Folks program is not about ideals. It’s not about spreading humanity and freedom throughout the globe. It’s just another attempt at a special ops team designed to kill our country’s way to safety, to control. So we are escaping. And we will soon return to rave our corrupt system and leave it a smoldering pile of cinder.”
“What the hell are they on about?” Bunchen barked at the room when the video went to black, “When did we even activate them for more than a parade?”
Valmont Boone, the project’s head scientist and founder of BoldCorp, the bankrollers of the project eased into the room, smiling. He moved not unlike oil over water.
“We’ve been using them in the field for 9 months. Brought down Raafen in Uzbek, stabilized Cuba, eliminated Alsace—”
“What?” the General spat. “The…the virus?”
Boone shook his head, lips pulled back in a contemptuous grin, “Not a virus. Poision.”
“They’re our allies!”
“Mouthy allies. Fairweather allies. They needed a little slap back into line. We were happy to provide it.”
“On who’s authority?”
“I didn’t need anyone’s authority!” Boone bellowed back, suddenly, “I have the most powerful set of soldiers in the history of the world in my command. That’s all the authority I require!”
“You don’t have them anymore,” Bunchen asserted in return.
Boone waved him off with a hand. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to give a moment’s notice to.
“Why is she addressing the country if she sent this tape to us?” Heather piped up in the back corner of the room.
“Wouldn’t she have called out Dr. Boone or me or the General or her dad or anyone else? She’s talking directly the country though,” she continued to assert.
Alarm bells interrupted her almost immediately.
“What the hell is that?” Bunchen yelled at no one in particular.
“It’s an energy transfer. When the Folks are receiving power above a certain level, it goes off. Even with them off base, we can still monitor it,” someone replied, rushing over to the screen.
“Why is it going off no—” Boone began to demand until each monitor roared to life with the video. Uploaded to Youtube, to Facebook, to Twitter…
“Dear God… they’ve weaponized anti-government anger,” a broken voice whispered in the chaos.
That’s when the Just Folks returned.