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The acronyms DECON stood for Domestic Enemies Containment, Observation, and Neutralization. The containment part was handled at Yellow Mountain in Nebraska, a thousand-foot tall butte on the great plains near the place where the corner of the state met the Wyoming and South Dakota borders. It had been hollowed out like Cheyenne Mountain for NORAD, but at great expense, without the benefit of the Golden Gift.

Hunky’s cell was lit with a sickly red light that evoked mental images of blood, part of DECON’s standard psychological procedure to break down the prisoner for interrogation. Hunky had been around the block. Such tricks were simple jokes to her.

Hunky’s dress was of Barbelo make, satiny and white under normal light, but with a hint of metallic reds and greens shifting on its surface, like the colors of an oil stain floating on a puddle. In the light of the cell it looked like a dark rag. Under normal circumstances, Hunky wouldn’t touch a dress with a 3.048 meter pole, but it had been required as part of her role as a credentialed White House reporter.

She took off her dress and began ripping out the hem to obtain objects she had hidden there before embarking on the operation, small tools made of a polymer whose structure would not be synthesized on Earth for at least another forty years. There was a plastic jeweler’s screwdriver almost as hard as steel, but perfectly invisible to the metal detector that had been waved over her body. Also there was a dental pick and a very thin scalpel.

Hunky didn’t get very far with these, because the guards busted in and took them from her, along with her dress. Hunky didn’t care one way or another. That was simply confirmation that she was being watched.

After that Vice-President Earl Roland and President-elect Henry Jackson entered the cell and saw Hunky standing there wearing nothing but her bright yellow panties and a matching bra. Roland ordered Hunky to reveal what was hiding underneath her hair. “What the hell are you talking about, Earl?” came Hunky’s reply.

Roland was already bored. “Shall I have the guards come back in here and hold you down, do it anyway?”

Hunky sighed, did an about-face, and lifted her ponytail, allowing the Vice-President and the President-elect to see a thing there like a little white mushroom.

Roland said, “What you see right there, Henry, is some kind of implant linked to Neutrinonet. Sitting here deep inside a small mountain makes no difference. Hunky is still linked to the Swarm as long as it’s plugged in.”

Roland removed the plug, revealing a white cup with fifty-five black pins, each one like the lead in a mechanical pencil. “We have found that pulling the Plug results in a Church of End Dome over-reaction, every single time.”

Jackson said, “So we can expect them to come calling here shortly?”

“Every single time,” Roland repeated. “Please tell us a little about yourself, Miss Hunky.”

“I’m cold.”

“We will provide you with nice international orange clothes without any little surprises sewn into them.”

“In that case get me a clean pair of panties.”

“Request denied.”


“Because you want it.”

Hunky, realizing she was getting nowhere, turned to the President-elect. “My name, originally, was Sophie Krause. I was born in the State of Washington in 1925.”

The President-elect looked at the mannish woman, who nevertheless looked half her stated age, and said, “Bullshit!”

Hunky continued without a beat. “My father Karl Krause was a German-American immigrant who moved to Washington from Pennsylvania before the First World War to work the coal mines around there. My mother was his first cousin Erika Zinter. But let me ask something about you, Scoop. Round Robyn has a theory that says whatever little committee a Senator chairs in Congress, be it the Committee on Military Kickbacks, or the Committee on Porking Little Boys, or what-have-you, the chairman is really doing that thing and just wants a little cover. I’m sure you’ve seen what DECON can do by now. So reviewing the rise of one Henry Jackson to the presidency, and putting two-and-two together, what’s the scoop, Scoop?’”

“We’ll see if you mouth off like that after the traditional attention-grab,” Roland said. He called for some DECON guards to come into the cell. One of them had a bucket with white electrolyte paste which he painted on the bare metal bed that was the sole piece of furniture in the cell, and Hunky was secured to the bed at four points with tie-wraps at he wrists and ankles.

Hunky was rather calm, considering she was about to be brutally tortured with electricity. Turning to the President-elect she said, “You know what motivated our Vice-President to become such an expert in producing pain? It’s a pronounced fear of death. Earl is obsessed with it. Earl is terrified by the inevitability of the end. It’s going to happen to all of us, and there absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. Most people drown such fears in this or that religion which provide sure answers that remain constant throughout the centuries, or even in my own religion where we have a rather unique solution. But Earl specializes in taking victims to a level of pain that simply overrides their dread of death, to that point where they just beg to die. It sickens me to think about it, but that moment, which is clearly evident in the victim’s eyes, is some kind of religious experience for Vice-President Roland.”

“I have to admit you are pretty close to the mark, Miss Hunky. And here at DECON there has always been plenty of work for someone like me to do. Someone who, as you say, finds it to be such a spiritual thing.” The President motioned for a switch to be thrown.

There was a hum. Hunky’s body convulsed on the metal cot, thrashing wildly within the limits imposed by her physical constraints. Hunky bit through her tongue and urinated, but there were no moans or screams, which was puzzling.

“Tough broad,” the President-elect said, trying to keep from fainting at the horrifying sight as it went on for about a minute.

The President ordered the current cut. “Not so tough. They have some way of electing to anesthetize themselves. Her consciousness cut out at the first jolt, what you saw was just the involuntary jerk of muscles. But when she wakes up again she will be very sore. She’ll feel just like she beat herself up. It’s a lot better to use a whip for this sort of thing but I didn’t want to get her blood all over you. Cut the dyke loose.”

When Hunky woke up later she was alone, and as Roland promised, unbelievably sore. But she knew the drill, it wasn’t the first time it had happened to her. She spent some time massaging herself. Then she took off her panties and began picking at the thread stitching of the decorative pattern embroidered on them. Her guards watched all this on their closed-circuit television screen, but assumed she was just idly trying to fill in time with something to do. Hunky accumulated the thread from her panties into a big tangled pile of stuff resembling spider’s silk.

The stitching Hunky had dug out from the fabric of her panties was a polymer chain from Barbelo finer than a newborn’s hair, yet stronger than steel wire. Robyn called the stuff Polywire, and it was just one of the millions of deadly things to be found on Barbelo.

Her undies were shredded and Hunky’s fingers grew bloody from lacing the stuff through little vent holes around the cell door. A small piece of one thumb, in fact, had been sliced clean off and the floor was slippery with her blood. It hurt like hell, but she knew she had to work fast.

Her watchers grew alarmed at the blood, and guessed she had found a way to commit suicide. Roland saw the scene on closed-circuit television and ran down to her cell.

The door opened and the Vice-President walked halfway, stopped and stood there looking at her in total disbelief that slowly turned to belief. Roland realized death would follow in mere seconds, with no chance of reprieve, and he wasn’t ready. That stark fact was clearly evident in his eyes. Hunky didn’t find it to be a spiritual moment, but she smiled, knowing he would get to think about it for the short span of life that remained. And Roland saw her break out into a gloating smile.

Immediately after that Roland’s legs buckled. The Vice-President jerked and bounced down on Hunky’s deadly web, letting gravity finish the grisly job. After his spinal cord was severed many slices of Vice-Presidential meat plopped down in a wet pile at the door like so many bony ingredients for pork stew.

The DECON guards were furious. They tried to cut the web down but only succeeded in slicing their own knives into little razor blades. Hunky began to laugh hysterically. Finally they used their handguns to blow chunks out of the door frame where the wire was slung. The web drifted down to the floor and the guards stepped through aiming their weapons directly at Hunky. The Secret Service agents guarding the President-elect followed, and when they motioned it was clear the actual President-elect stepped through into the cell after them.

“Gun mentality,” she sneered at the DECON guards, lisping the second word with her injured tongue. She stood there nude except for her bra, but was victorious and unashamed.

“You’ve assassinated the Vice-President of the United States!” said the President-elect.

“Self-defense,” Hunky replied. “The Vice-President of the United States tortured me with electric shock. But right now you’ve got much, much bigger things on your plate. You might want to take me somewhere where we can at least pretend we aren’t being overheard.”

The President-elect paused, then agreed with a nod of his head.

Hunky’s tongue was stitched up by a physician and she was given her promised set of prison clothing, then was left alone in the glassed-in alcove overlooking the cell bank with the President-elect but at the insistence of the Secret Service her hands were bound to her chair with tie-wraps.

“Why this place?”

“The Vice-President seemed to think it was sufficiently secure to lay some compromising shit on me,” the President-elect said. “State your piece.”

“I don’t think the late Vice-President gave you a very good understanding of what happens when one of us are captured, especially someone of my rank. You might remember that I said I was the number two gal.””

“We’re supposed to expect your people to come rescue you shortly. I didn’t give it much credence. The cell bank down there is full of inmates, after all.”

“Members of the Church of End Dome are not the only domestic enemies of our dear departed Vice-President. But look around. You’ll find I’m the only CoED you got here, and that not for very much longer. Seriously. Del is coming, do you know what that means? No? This is, I believe, the first and last time we’ve allowed any one of our people to be held here for any substantial length of time.”


“The thinking was that if we could get to you we could end the war.”

“What, get to me? Kill me? The country can make more Presidents you know.”

“Not kill you. Talk to you. Like right now. What did the Vice-President have on you?”

“Sex videos. Same sex videos, if you must know.”

“That’s the stupidest thing. Not stupid that you let yourself be filmed having sex with someone of the same gender, but stupid that anyone cares. That’s all that DECON is really doing you know. Provide both the disease and the cure. Let’s have done with all that crap.”

“What do I have to do?”

“End the war. That’s all.”

“What, the Barbuda thing?”

“All of it, the whole stupid war that’s been going on between America and my church since 1943, the one that you’ve been losing badly from the gitgo by the way. If not we’ll end it ourselves but if it comes to that there won’t be an America anymore, not like the one we grew up in. It might seem strange to you, Scoop, but the folks in the Church of End Dome are actually loyal Americans who loved what this country was and should be again. So we don’t want it to come to an end, and neither would you, if you knew everything.”

“But I don’t know everything. Tell me everything.”


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