Bad News

Shelly prodded Morgan’s prone form with the tip of her boot. “How long’s he been dead?”

“What?” Eli asked and knelt to examine the body. A few moments later he looked up at the rest of them and shook his head. “She’s right.”

“Oh, that’s just great!” Stanley shouted. “As if being locked in here with no food or water wasn’t bad enough, now we’ve got a corpse we can’t get rid of. Fan-fucking-tastic.”

“At least no one’s had to go to the toilet yet,” Harry said, and slumped against a wall. The chill of the metal plates cut right through his t-shirt, and he thought he felt a faint vibration.

“Now why’d you have to go and mention that for?” Shelly asked, sucking her teeth in frustration. “Now I’ve gotta go.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, with genuine regret.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Stanley asked, and Harry saw that Eli was going through the dead man’s pockets.

“Remember how he wouldn’t tell us anything while he was alive? Maybe there’s something on him that’ll give us a clue as to who he was. I’m not robbing him, if that’s what you were thinking. Ah, here we are.” Eli produced a wallet and flipped it open. “Let’s see. What looks like a driver’s license: ‘Mark Roburg’. Resident of Appalachia City, New South Virginia.”

“What was that? Did you say, ‘New South Virginia’?” Stanley asked.

“That’s what it says here.”

“There’s no such place.”

“Of course there is,” Shelly said.

“Not in the United States, there isn’t,” Stanley said, a little too firmly.

“Any fourth grader who’s passed geography knows there is,” Shelly insisted. “And once you pass history you know that it was formed when Virginia was split in two during government restructuring after the first round of President Tomlin’s granting of autonomy. You should know that; he was president before you.”

Stanley just gaped. Harry sighed. He knew that the older man would never accept Shelly’s version of reality, even if it was in line with the politician’s long-term goals. As for Harry, he had decided hours earlier that resisting wasn’t worth the mental stain. In his timeline Tomlin was still president, and it was only the early days of restructuring. He could have added what he knew to the discussion but didn’t feel like contributing to Stanley’s unhinging. And it was clear that the older man was getting closer to the limits of his self-control.

“This is insane. It must be a set up. I’m being pranked, right?” Stanley slapped a palm on the wall and shouted into a corner, “Okay, I get it! You can come out now.”

“This is no prank,” Eli said, standing up and offering the license to Stanley. He stared at it as though it was a handful of maggots, then slapped it away. It went skittering into the gloom of the chamber, and Eli just frowned and shook his head.

“Was there anything else on him?” Harry asked, the question almost a sigh.

“Just this. It was pinned to his lapel.” Eli tossed something to Harry, who deftly caught it. He turned it over and saw that it was a metal insignia, a six-pointed star with a gemstone in the middle. “You know what it means?”

“Nope,” Harry said, and Shelly snatched it out of his hand.

“I do,” she said. “It’s bad news, is what it is.”

2015.03.29 – 2023.10.20

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