The Pile – Chapter Nine

Summer had descended on DC and the days were saturated with humidity and exhaustion. The air conditioning of the Red Roof Inn was on the fritz, plunging their rooms into an abysmal and suffocating heat that battered their bodies with relentless waves of stagnant air. Asher and Raymond could no longer work long hours within the confines of their rooms, and as Anacostia lacked a café culture to support their needs, the pair was forced to furtively slip into suburban coffee chains whenever they posted. Nico was found sweating at various construction sites around the district or cooling herself in her architect’s offices downtown. Though Chandra had spent a considerable portion of her life lacking climate control in the slums of Dhaka, she was now acclimatized to comfort. Her escape was her pleasantly cool laboratory where, to Asher’s great displeasure, she was now spending the majority of her nights.

But Chandra was furious. Working with Dr. Slovache was proving exceptionally difficult, particularly when his ludicrous hypotheses were corroborated by her rigorous experimentation. His unorthodox methods, which included staging fights between burly men and injecting the world’s deadliest diseases into human test subjects, were producing clear and respectable results. The tests were also exceedingly media friendly, allowing the surprisingly camera savvy Slovache to bill himself as America’s preeminent scientific mind. His teleconferenced guest appearances on news outlets invariably produced an outbreak of widely shared quotes and too-fantastic-to-be-real video clips. Chandra’s own experiments, by contrast, were far too technical and lacking in shirtless men pummeling one another to capture the public’s imagination or explain over a talking head accusing her of “playing God”. Her stints in mass media, often arranged by Asher, were consistently characterized by two aspects; her obvious scientific brilliance, and the obvious confusion her obvious scientific brilliance inflicted on the program’s host.  This earned her a public reputation for standoffish elitism and arrogance.

The usual bile-filled internet commentariat developed a special sort of hatred for Dr. Sen. As an attractive minority woman who was clearly more intelligent than everyone around her and didn’t attempt to hide it, the wrath she faced from the resentful masses was fierce. It seemed open season for racist and sexist remarks on any article that mentioned her name even in passing. Though Chandra was far too busy to spend any time reading the vileness spewed across the fiber-optic landscape, the concerned looks from the other scientists at the NFVS project did occasionally disturb her concentration.

Her curiosity eventually got the better of her and she read an article on a conservative news source detailing her most recent interview. The article itself was insulting, with coded usage of “frigid” and “feisty” as descriptors of her demeanor, and the strange inclusion of her marital status in a column where the topic was an interview on her new method of mapping electron distribution in alkali metals. But the comment section was what truly seared her spirit. The white-hot hatred espoused by people who, as far as Chandra knew, she’d never met or done anything particularly nasty to, was startling. How could a person hate someone they’d only seen a handful of times in media reports?

But hate they did. The most common word used to describe her, “Bitch”, was disappointingly uncreative. “Terrorist” was equally mundane. She’d grown accustomed to western media portraying anyone with her skin color as threatening. “Terrorist Bitch” was a bit better; at least it showed a neuronal spark. As she waded through comment after comment attacking her, reply after reply agreeing with or cheering on the hatred, she began to feel a weight sag within her. Though she’d initially felt some amusement over the time and energy these poor souls put into hating her for whatever petty reason they’d contrived, reading thousands of anonymous voices calling for someone to “rape the monkey with a splintered cross” or to “do what her barbarian family should have done and stone her to death” soon found Chandra trembling alone at her desk. After a moment of wondering at the base nature of humanity, she turned off her computer and went back to work.

Chandra’s growing negative public profile eventually consummated in the bluster of a porkish, red-faced conservative television host who interrupted her while she was calmly trying to break down the role quarks played in preventing an atom’s transmission of violence to demand she scale back her “uppity tone” while she was a guest in his country and on his program. When Chandra spoke to him harshly over his outrageously sexist tone and racist declaration, the host defended himself by claiming nothing he’d said was remotely racist or sexist and that she was being an overly sensitive enforcer of Politically Correct fascism. He then ambushed her with a question on a sexual assault case she’d filed against a professor during her days at Yale.

“You accused this man of sexually assaulting you, but the allegation was never proven. However, you continued to hound and attack this man as part of your prestigious university’s “institutionalized misogyny” in an op-ed you penned for your campus paper. Even after the university convened a panel and dropped the case, you took part in a rally against men. Are you a radical feminist? And don’t you feel the need to apologize to this man, whose name you dragged through the mud with allegations that were proven false?”

Rather than respond, the good Dr. Sen promptly walked off the set and refused to participate in any further interviews with “these dark-age cretins,” as she lamented to a righteously enraged Asher on their trip back to Anacostia. Any future mention of Dr. Sen within popular culture was always prefaced with the video and a description of her final, controversial interview. The swine-infused host used the media’s temporary focus on the event to make the rounds on sympathetic talk shows to defend his position and promote his new book, How We Defend Us: The Growing Threat of Multiculturalism in the Age of Non-Violence.

Now that the public was reassured that important people were making important progress on this important situation, Modern Issue’s influence saw a marked decline in daily readership. Their promotion of Dr. Sen, in conjunction with their daily discussion of controversial topics, began to turn readers off due to the site’s “negative vibes.” Their name was suddenly synonymous with troublemaking and boat-rocking. Conservative pundits began smearing their liberal colleagues as “Modern Issue readers” to signify their target was disruptive to the good order of their newly stable society. The liberal talking heads defined so responded by vehemently denying their association with the fringe publication. Now was a time for stability and business as usual, institutional editorials proclaimed, failing to cite Asher’s original articles for the creation of the idea. The media’s mantra was clear: dissenting voices were unwelcome and unwanted.

Modern Issue’s new place in the political lexicon frustrated both Asher and Raymond, though not enough to change the content of their posts. Chandra urged Asher to abandon his public defense of her qualities, insisting she was happy to stay out of the spotlight and simply utilize the limitless resources provided to the NFVS project to conduct personal research. But Asher steadfastly refused to comply, believing that pragmatism was not an adequate course of action in this particular situation. There were certain positions, he stated, that could not be compromised. Therefore, between Asher’s increasing vitriol and Raymond’s constant stream of contentious columns, Modern Issue returned to the periphery of the public’s consciousness.

Chandra’s guilt at being a contributing factor in Modern Issue’s decline, along with the incorporation of the accumulation of the population’s directed hatred into her psyche, increased her tension at work. Though she privately considered Dr. Slovache an idiot, she maintained an amiable working relationship with the eccentric scientist by adopting a pliant and submissive façade that bowed to his nonsensical whims with the goal of getting him to leave her office as quickly as possible. This front was severely debilitated as her personal turmoil took a toll on her energy. His intrusions into her workspace begging her to explain basic scientific principles hindered her progress and tested her patience. On more than one occasion she barely stopped herself from mercilessly berating his abilities and driving him from her sight. Only the joy she experienced in relation to her work’s rapid advancement, despite Dr. Slovache’s occasional incursions, allowed Chandra to endure the incompetence of her superior.

Dr. Sen’s support staff continued to shock her with their usefulness. During her exile, she’d adapted to running a lab by herself; performing every task in every experiment with tedious precision. With competent assistants, however, Chandra found she had more time to develop theories. Though it was initially difficult to trust in the abilities of the other scientists, her subordinates gradually proved their general aptitude. Some of her colleagues even went as far as mildly impressing her when asked to employ advanced laboratory techniques. She was further surprised when a few of the more experienced members of her staff proved capable of offering intelligent suggestions and feedback on the course of their current project. Chandra, for the first time, began to enjoy working with a team of people who, while not exactly her peers, had something to offer her beyond the limited capacity she’d come to expect from other human beings. Her most advanced research however, which she defined as anything that would lead a reasonable person to conclude the supernatural nature of violence, was kept closely guarded at her private workstation.

Though outside her field of expertise, Chandra had begun an inquiry into the biological effects of NFVS. After weeks of testing samples for levels of violence during the process of mitosis, she’d reached a startling conclusion; human cells were now, for lack of a better term, immortal. The full implications for the human process of aging was uncovered when Chandra witnessed the complete reparation of a human cell within twenty replications. By the twentieth cycle, the health of the genetic code and length of the telomeres taken from an eighty-year old subject had returned to peak levels of efficiency, similar to something one might expect in a healthy twenty-three year old. Upon further testing from every scientific angle she could imagine, Dr. Sen concluded that human beings could still be born and grow older, but as they approached the age of optimal cell health, somewhere around twenty-three-years-old, the cell’s would reach an equilibrium and future replications would merely produce equally healthy copies. The lack of available violence meant human cells could only improve and never degrade. Her research also implied that human beings older than twenty-three would see their corporeal form gradually return to the zenith of physical health as their cells replicated. In the coming years, Chandra foresaw an unprecedented and catastrophic population explosion among the human race unless dramatic measures were taken.

As Dr. Sen was finalizing the notes from her private research to present to Nico, Asher, and Raymond so the group could decide on the best course of action to account for this shocking new information, Dr. Slovache strolled into her office unannounced. He was nearly next to her before she noticed his wheezing presence.

Existing near Hubert Slovache’s physical form was decidedly unpleasant. He seemed to ooze an aura that soaked the nearby recipient with the feeling that a shower was the most vital action they could take in the next half-hour. The jowls weighing down his sagging features were folded an incalculable number of times and always shiny with perspiration. Two strands of hair lay psychotically across the otherwise smooth dome of his cranium, linking each unkempt tuft of greying auburn hair like a stereotypical rope bridge unimaginative action movies set in distant jungles use to heighten tension. When observing these narrow threads of hope, one couldn’t help but imagine the curator carefully arranging their placement each morning in a delusional attempt to reclaim ground lost long ago to age and the scourge of male-pattern baldness. With so much of his body protected from soap by other parts of his body, Slovache also carried an array of unspeakable odors, infecting and tainting every surrounding surface.

His recent acumen in media relations, incomprehensible to those who knew Dr. Slovache personally, was due in great measure to his insistence on being interviewed via satellite from his office after ample preparation and a miraculous transformation involving a finely-crafted, all-natural, diminished male follicle assistance apparatus and the heroic efforts of his personal assistant/make-up magician. The smell was avoided and his limited charm could shine through the layers of caked beauty masking his flaccid countenance.

Unfortunately for Chandra, her interaction with Hubert Slovache on this occasion was sans satellite and the smell couldn’t be avoided. It was always a surprise which genre of rot he’d bring along. It constantly changed and rarely repeated. Chandra wasn’t previously aware there were so many different olfactory variations in the sensation of spoilage. At least the open sewers in Dhaka were consistent; an odor you could grow accustomed to and count on welcoming you home after a long journey to less pungent portions of the city. The constant cycling in Slovache’s stench meant adaptation was impossible; and every day brought new rank suffering.

Today her nostrils filled with the unmistakable smell of over-ripe durian. She was amazed that a man who prided himself on sticking to “All-American” fare, no matter what part of the world his search for mythological truth brought him to, could be blessed with the ability to acquire such internationally diverse aromas.

Chandra suppressed a gag and looked up, “Oh, Dr. Slovache, I did not hear you come in. I am just finishing for today,” she said as she attempted to stash her notes.

“Dr. Sen,” Slovache rasped in his guttural grumble of a voice, “How is your research into NFVS’s effect on the ageing progressing?”

“Oh!” Chandra started. She’d forgotten she’d mentioned the research to a curdled cottage-cheese scented Slovache one day in desperation to remove him from the range of her nostrils, “It is going well, but there are complications. It is a very difficult process. I have to measure the varying length of the telomeres in cells and compare that to the frequency of mitosis, but we are slogging on.”

“Well I’m sure you’re doing the best you can. I’d be happy to assist, but I just can’t find the time to get down here too often. We’ve got the quarterfinal bouts coming up, you know. Speaking of, were you interested in placing bets? Just between you and me, my money’s on Abrahams. Murrey has a mean right hook, but as it doesn’t really do anything on the violent side anymore, the fights are wars of attrition now. Abrahams has the patience to sit there and wait it out.”

Eyes watering, Chandra declined, “No…no I think not. I have never been a fan of bloodsport. I should be getting home I think.”

Chandra stood up to leave, grabbing the file to take back to Anacostia. Either she stood up too fast or Slovache’s durian flavoring proved too much for her. She awoke moments later having crumpled back into her chair, papers scattered across the floor.

“Oh dear! Are you alright? Feeling a little under the weather? Maybe you should take some time off? I know the press can be rough sometimes, and that last interview was awfully unfair,” Slovache said in the kindest tone he believed he could manage. He bent to gather the fallen sheets of paper.

Chandra was recovering her senses and panicking, “I am sorry; I am not sure what happened. Please do not trouble yourself, Dr. Slovache. I can pick those up.”

But it was too late. Slovache had seen the title of her report, “Immortality induced when cells lack the necessary Spirit of Violence? What does this mean Dr. Sen? The Spirit of Violence?”

“Just a theory, Dr. Slovache, just a theory,” Chandra attempted to assuage his curiosity.

“Please fill me in. It sounds fascinating.”

Half-terrified and half-relieved she was forced to reveal her work, Chandra related the details of her studies. While it was clear Dr. Slovache couldn’t follow the data, he jumped at the idea of a supernatural force.

When she finished, Slovache was giddy, “We must tell people!”

Chandra balked, “Well, sir, I am afraid the data is not quite ready yet. I still need to run a few more…”

“I’m convinced! I’m head of this project and I think we should all refocus our efforts on your research.”

“But…sir…the implications…if this got out now…”

“The truth is what the public deserves! I’ve spent my whole career trying to bring the truth to light. I’ll not compromise now!”

Chandra berated herself silently for her olfactory sensitivity, but she was tired of being attacked while uncovering the secrets of NFVS. She strove to help her species, but she’d been painted as a villain. Sharing her data felt like unburdening her soul during confessional, but here her priest was an inquisitor, and his zealotry condemned her to persecution. Chandra was momentarily abandoned by her robust mental faculties and dutifully followed a manic Dr. Slovache to the atrium.

After gathering their staff for a general meeting, Dr. Slovache presented, in his limited capacity, Chandra’s new research. His conclusion was met with pronounced silence.

“You mean, we won’t age?” a curious intern asked in the stillness.

“That’s right, once we reach the age of…what is it? 23?” Slovache looked at Chandra, who nodded, “We’ll no longer physically age.”

“So…if violence can’t kill us, diseases can’t kill us…and now we don’t age, how do we die?” an elderly biologist asked.

Slovache looked at Chandra, urging her to respond. Mechanically, Chandra stated, “At this point, I do not see death as a functional possibility. However it may be that we have not exhausted every possible avenue.”

“What you’re saying is…it’s possible humans are now immortal?” another young intern ventured.

“That is possible,” Chandra conceded.

“So I think that just about proves it!” Slovache spoke triumphantly, “There is a force at work here from beyond the physical realm. We’re now dealing with spiritual matters, people. The esteemed Dr. Sen has shown us the way.”

“I’m simply presenting my findings,” Chandra stated.

“These are more than findings, Dr. Sen, this is a new doctrine! You’ve introduced us to the way of the Spirit of Violence! We must understand our spiritual nature if we’re to understand violence,” Slovache said in a voice that’d taken the tenor of a Sunday sermon.

“…This is just Science,” Chandra said, annoyed her biological extrapolations were having a greater impact than her well-plotted physics data sets, “If you want to talk about supernatural evidence, we have to talk about the unknown force acting on our atoms, not your idea of a ‘Spirit’”

The room began to murmur, with most veteran scientists scoffing at the notion of a spiritual force at work in the violence issue.

“Why’re we talking about ghosts and goblins? We’re a serious and vital research facility. We’re here to use real Science to understand,” a pudgy physicist called out in anger.

“We’re wasting time! Let’s review your findings, Dr. Sen. That’s what real scientists do,” the elderly biologist stated, shooting Slovache a poisoned glance around the word ‘real’.

“Stop! I’m the lead researcher here! And Dr. Sen’s findings have convinced me!” Slovache shouted in a frothy zeal. His carefully placed strands of hair were displaced by the force of his movements and swung down from the crown of his head, where they hung precariously over his face, stretching from his temple all the way down to his collar.

“You haven’t even tested her data!” a lanky botanist yelled.

“I don’t need to! I have faith in Dr. Sen, and there can be no other explanation!” Slovache responded, his face and jowls reddening with rage.

“Wait a moment…” attempted Chandra.

“This is insane. This is not science. I’ll not be part of such an absurd project!” the physicist retorted as he stomped out.

“Don’t worry! We don’t require any of you! If you refuse to take this leap of faith by accepting hard scientific evidence, you have no place on this project!” His tenuous strands of hair flapped and flopped from the side of his head as his spittle laced diatribe attacked the assemblage.

The entirety of the scientific team, save for two interns, left muttering mutinously. The interns cautiously approached a seething Dr. Slovache.

“Excuse me, sir. If we stay can we get promoted and paid like real scientists?” one of the women asked timidly.

“No! You’re interns!” Slovache yelled back.

“Oh, well then fuck you, asshole,” she spat as both followed the exodus.

Slovache turned to Chandra, “Good. Now we can get some actual work done. We need to prepare this for my upcoming monthly congressional progress report.”

“Dr. Slovache, I don’t know if we should unveil this quite yet. The public’s reaction…”

“Baloney! With your data we’ve got all the evidence we need,” Slovache dismissed her, then paused, considering her point a second time, “Actually, I think it’d be best if you take the lead on this, Dr. Sen. I want you to present the testimony.”

“But Dr. Slovache! You are the lead researcher! This is your project! Congress expects the testimony to come from you.”

“Yes…well…I think because you discovered it, you should have the honor of presenting it to the world! You deserve it!” Slovache said, nervously observing her reaction.

“Very well then. I will begin preparations tomorrow,” Chandra responded stiffly, understanding her situation.

After this unfortunate detour, Dr. Sen gathered her summarized data once again and left for the day.

Back at the Red Roof Inn, an exhausted Chandra walked met with a cheery Nico, Asher, and Raymond. Since Nico’s shift in tactics, a decision that initially infuriated Asher, there’d been a marked improvement in the group’s overall morale. This climb in spirit came despite the recent decline in the popularity of Modern Issue[1].

Nico and Raymond, to all outward appearances, seemed an idyllic, blissfully happy young couple. When not busy working on their own projects, they were occupied with teasing and debating one another on all manner of issues with a gaiety usually reserved for fictionalized cinema romances. Their happiness and enthusiasm were infectious, making each return to the succor of the motel refuge a rejuvenating experience after Chandra’s strain with the media and at work.

“I have what might be considered a bit of news,” she announced as the group turned to greet her return.

“Welcome back! I’m always a fan of news,” Raymond answered her.

Chandra proceeded to relate the recent laboratorial happenings to her shocked congregation.

“Slovache wants you to testify?” Nico questioned, “But why?”

Asher appeared pensive, “I think he realized the potential political fallout and doesn’t want to be the face of the theory. Chandra has a pretty questionable reputation on the Hill, so he figures she can bear the brunt of the criticism.”

“That is my thinking as well,” Chandra agreed, “I do not believe the public is ready for this concept. I…I am sorry to you all…”

“Oh no! Please Chandra, don’t be. We understand how you must have felt. It had to happen eventually. We’ll all deal with this together,” Nico comforted her.

“Raymond was probably going to slip up and spill the beans sooner or later, so it’s better it happened like this,” Asher joked.

“Hey! I’ve been exceedingly careful with our beans, thank you. But yeah Chandra, I’m glad you did it! Any change is exciting change! Besides, you wanted to go public with this months ago, didn’t you?”

“I did. But after witnessing the reactions of my colleagues, people who have been exposed to a great deal of research that might lead to these conclusions; I am highly concerned.”

“How’re we going to handle this?” Raymond asked.

They each weighed various options. After an extended period of group contemplation, it was Asher who spoke, “Let’s just present the full, unadulterated theory and let the chips fall where they may.”

The other three looked at one another with concern. “Doesn’t that seem a bit reckless, Asher? And this is me asking.” Raymond said.

“Would not such a shock plunge society back into chaos?” Chandra wondered.

“Probably, But so what?” Asher said casually, smiling at them placidly.

“Asher! What’s wrong with you!?” Raymond was aghast at his friend’s uncharacteristic demeanor.

“Look, we’ve been charting a pragmatic course this entire time, and it’s gotten us nowhere. We bungled the Slovache thing and Modern Issue is on life-support In terms of influence. A little chaos might throw us back into the mix, especially when the catalyst is coming from our happy little band.”

“Is this about personal power, Asher?” Nico asked. The room was strangely tense.

“No. It’s not about your power or my power,” Asher responded tersely, “It’s about what’s good for the world. Raymond’s been rattling off columns about the positives of enlightened dictatorship, and I think he’s right.”

“But that’s just theory, Asher! Who’d be qualified to rule?” Raymond was upset at the thought of his theories being put into practice.

“Who better than us?” Asher asked the three rigid faces following his words, “I’m not saying we should be a bunch of power mad wanna-be dictators; I’m saying the perspective and balance of power we have in this group would serve the world well if it were applied to the global policymaking process.”

“You want to use my theory to destabilize the world, and then use Raymond’s theory after we chart a path to power?” Chandra asked skeptically.

“Your theory is valid, correct?” Asher asked intently.

“Yes…but…”

“Then all we’re doing is telling people the truth. Whatever happens after that is human nature.”

“But you know what will happen!” Nico protested.

“Probably, but why should we keep this from the public? Nobody can be hurt anyways, at least not physically, right? The stakes and risks are significantly lower.”

“I…guess,” Raymond allowed.

“Don’t you want to try out one of your theories for real? On the national stage?” Asher pushed Raymond.

“I suppose I do…but…”

“I’m not doing this for myself! We can make a better world, but only if we work together.”

“I’m not sure about this, Asher. Humanity is unpredictable when it comes to spirituality,” Nico warned.

“What’s gonna happen? The Crusades?” laughed Asher, “An inquisition? There’s no violence anymore. The only way to control people is through ideas. And there’s no one in the world with better ideas than us.”

They each agreed with him, but not one of them had even admitted this thought to themselves, let alone another human being. They felt violated; as if Asher had broken the cardinal rule of their existence. Their entire lives had been a balance between their absolute belief in their personal superiority and their unwavering commitment to egalitarianism. With this levy breached, they were terrified where their impulses would lead them.

“If we’re going down this road we have to take real steps to make sure we’re working for the good of our species. The glory of our personal egos can’t cloud that.” Nico insisted.

“Of course! Besides, how’d we feel glorified anyways? It’s not like we care about the opinions of the peasantry.”

Uncomfortable silence.

“I’m joking! Jesus! You know we’re all committed to the general welfare of humanity. Power is pointless. The real rush comes from knowing we’re advancing our species by seeing policies we created work effectively on the macro level.”

“My god, I was worried,” Raymond sighed in relief, “I thought we’d lost you to megalomania.”

“I don’t think we need worry about that,” Asher grinned at them, “I really don’t see how people get so hopped up on the idea of power and control. If you consider yourself better than the people you’ve designated as your rightful subjects, how is it stimulating to wield power over them? Wouldn’t it just feel like the natural order?”

“People derive pleasure from absolute power scenarios. Children enjoy the power they possess when destroying an ant colony, regardless of how the ants feel about this use of power. Impunity from repercussions when committing such an act on creatures considered powerless is what enhances their enjoyment,” Chandra responded.

“I suppose that could be true. I think it’s a shallow and unfulfilling impulse. Isn’t it more satisfying to exist amongst respected peers?”

The group continued their pleasant debate on the nature of power having unanimously, though uneasily, decided to seize it.

They spent the days leading up to Chandra’s testimony positioning their ideas. Asher and Raymond published and prepared a litany of articles extolling Dr. Sen’s countless virtues. Nico secured the acquisition of numerous media outlets the group could steer to subtly promote their interests after the revelations of Chandra Sen rocked society. Raymond also brought Dr. DeMasters into their scheme, insisting his perspective was a crucial missing ingredient. DeMasters was highly ambivalent as to their bid for power, but the thought of passing uncompromised reforms once they held sway was too tempting a proposition to oppose.

On the day of the testimony, having prepared as well as possible, the troupe escorted Chandra to the hearing on the Hill.

While the others waited outside the classified hearing, Chanda assumed her place in front of the panel of politicians. The room was crowded with security personnel and aides[2].

The committee chairperson, Senator Stovall (R-OK), welcomed Chandra with his contrived rustic mannerism, “We’re grateful you could fill in for Dr. Slovache today and are sure you’ll do your best.”

Chandra looked annoyed but maintained her professionalism, “Thank you for having me, it is a pleasure to be here and I do apologize for the absence of Dr. Slovache. Our revered head researcher felt I was the most qualified individual to testify today. It was my research that led to our most recent discovery.”

The Senator smiled condescendingly, “Yes, I’m sure. Please proceed with your progress report.”

Chandra detailed the specifics of her research in highly technical language. The committee was lost after her first sentence and frequently interrupted her to ask for “less science-y” terms. Chandra endeavored to oblige, but found difficulty in attempting to simplify her advanced research into the single-syllable rhetoric the committee required. By the time she reached her findings, the entire panel was thoroughly exasperated. However, when she launched into the portion of her conclusion Asher had written for the occasion, the panel’s mood became downright cantankerous. Upon the use of the phrase “Spirit of Violence,” near pandemonium broke out within the chamber.

“Stop! What in the world are you saying?” demanded a furious Senator Stovall, “What’s this pagan nonsense you’re spouting off?”

“I am simply relating to the panel the conclusions and findings of my research. The Spirit of Violence is a scientifically verifiable force related to…”

“We’ll not continue this blasphemy in the hallowed halls of Congress!” Stovall shouted, “You’re removed from this project!”

“Very well.  We have our data. And we have already released this to the press.”

Stovall was stunned, “Your research is classified! You‘ve committed treason!”

“Treason?”

“You’ve betrayed the interests of this nation!”

“This nation has betrayed the interests of our species, but I do not call you traitors. You are ignorant cowards and fools.”

“Arrest her!”

Personnel from the Secret Service and Federal Bureau of Investigations descended on Chandra, who languorously thwarted their adamant efforts to seize her by walking out of their ineffective grasp as a frothing Stovall screamed, “Seize that terrorist bitch!” The hapless agents desperately wished to comply with their orders but were powerless without access to violence. Asher and Raymond quickly joined Chandra as she strode out of the chamber and the three of them ran to a waiting vehicle. Nico slipped out a separate entrance to avoid public association.

They spent the next few hours ensuring they’d lost their tails, finally returning to Anacostia in high and hopeful spirits, ready to begin their ascent.

[1] Asher dismissed the downward trend in readership, believing the next inevitable crisis would see their numbers rise once more.

[2] The Hill had recently implemented its “Take an Intern, Leave an Intern” program to great fanfare and general acclaim. Whenever an aide required additional assistance, they could call the Hill Intern Pool (HIP), which would miraculously deliver a new intern. Ostensibly the program was supposed to allow interns an opportunity to see all sides of Congress by loaning them out to various offices, which would return them so they could be loaned again. In reality, offices only took interns, never left, and congressional intern staffs had swelled well into the hundreds. No one knew where the HIP kept finding fresh, qualified bodies* for the Hill’s infinite and delicate purposes, but everyone was too busy with work to check.

*HIP found these interns fairly easily by hiring thousands of previously rejected applicants who’d been equally qualified in every way other than their family connections.

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