by: CJ Fogarty
Viewing Jeanne-Claude from my position still standing in the parlor while he sits with D.B. and R.S. across the room, I find myself questioning just how aware or unaware I might have been about Jeanne-Claude’s testimony. When I’d first heard of the term, “Great Guardians”, it had come from him, in a classroom one day, when Philippe and I were around fifteen. Over the years, as the stories multiplied, so did their overall incredulity, one story about accompanying the Jason and the Argonauts on their mystical quest in Ancient Greece, another about their bitter rivalry during which time R.S. was a British officer and D.B. a pirate, apparently? Of course, they were all good stories, don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not wholly beyond taking a creative, fictional lens on history, only, that’s where it ought to stay, as fiction. So, when John insisted that the Great Guardians were real, dropping the biggest fucking bomb he’s probably ever deployed since the one and only time I heard him use the N’ word. Funny, why did I think of that just now?
Hm, anyway, I can conclude from what I’m observing, there is a deep-seated familiarity between my mentor and these two boys. Their close contact, boisterous laughter, and their friendly gestures of touching-wait, no that came out wrong! What I mean to say is that there are several factors that speak of a level of comfort and fondness between them. Yet, on one end, Jeanne-Claude always insisted that he hadn’t seen D.B. and R.S. in many, many years. A relationship of their kind affords a level of comfort seen between equals, just by the way Jeanne-Claude embraced them earlier, and the free way in which they talk, compared to Jeanne-Claude’s normal mannerisms with pupils, which, yes, I would know. Now, you’re probably thinking I’m over-thinking far too much from one situation, and you’d be right in one respect: I over-think. But, that’s what sets me apart, in a way, puts me further ahead and, arguably, is why I’m able to tell so much about people through deduction. I….guess, I’ll admit that it’s a curse as much as it is a benefit sometimes. Plus, it takes a certain level of concentration on my part, which is hard to put out with Philippe constantly flirting.
“Madamoiselle, has anyone said how sexy you look when trying to peer into another man’s soul?”, he says to me, playfully placing his hand on my shoulder, his fingers trying to dance their way downward.
I retort with, “God, Philippe, you’re such a stereotype, you know that?”
“Oh come on”, he inquires, feigning innocence, “I haven’t seen you in so long, and are gone most of the time. If our sexes were reversed, and I were the woman, I would never let you live this down.”
There he goes talking like we’re some type of couple. He’s been like that for years, ever since we were kids. That’s just his character, all liberated spirit and free-love. I mean, yeah, of course I’ve thought about it, but, he’s like that one guy every girl fantasizes about, and those who believe pray to God that he isn’t already taken or gay. Since he and I were close, that often meant I was unwillingly in the crossfire between his playfully hostile affairs, everybody always assuming that we’d end up together. But, more often, I was kinda his third wheel, unless he matched me up with one of his well-meaning but outwardly repulsive and intellectually-devoid friends. But, at the heart of it, Philippe was a Trenaux, an intensely hard worker when it came to it, a proficient combatant and bodyguard, and was no stranger to getting his hands dirty when he needed to. He was a good handyman if you needed something done right, be it driving twelve kilometers to fix your aerocar, quickly clearing a jam on a pulse rifle, staying by your bed when you break your arm, picking you up from the dance after your date leaves drunk, it’s midnight and raining. What more could a girl want, right? Hm.
I’m brought out of my reverie when my nerves suddenly notice Philippe’s hand moving too close to my ass, and I take his hand away.
“Please, Philippe, I’ve had a helluva day and it’s not over yet.”
He obediently takes his hand away, then, feigning innocence once more, “Aw, is this the part were you say, ‘I’m too tired’?”
After he flashes a smile, I reply, relenting my seriousness, “Oui, Philippe. I have a lot more to do tonight.”
I decide it’s finally time for me and my quarries to do what we came here for, so I start walking over to the three reminiscers across the room.
“Do you need me for anything more, mon amor?”, Philippe replies evenly. Do note that he refers to every girl as, “my love”. It’s really nothing special.
“No, that’s alright. Merci beaucoup.”, I reply, turning around.
Then, letting out a yawn he looked like he’d been suppressing, he concludes with, “Ah, très bien (very good). I’ve been dying to sleep. I missed my nap today. Bonsoir, Miri!”
Hm, Europeans. They go to bed at sunset and rise when convenient. I make my way over to the other end of the room. The three are still talking with jovial familiarity, D.B. and R.S. often drilling Jeanne-Claude with queries about the status of certain people I’m only guessing are related to the Order, only, I’ve not heard of them really. Jeanne-Claude, for his part, looks more animated than I’ve ever seen. Unusual.
“And how are the Redfields doing, Jeanne-Claude?”, D.B., or rather, Duke asks.
“They are well”, Jeanne-Claude replies, “although, James himself seems to be less than willing to come out of retirement, and his daughters don’t appear to be very active in the Order. More concerned with their own lives unfortunately. I myself only saw James several years ago.”
“So, Jimmy’s retired, then.”, R.S., or rather, Rich laments, “a bloody shame. Give that man an old piston and fishing line and he could make you a grapple gun, in an hour or less.”
“That’s true”, Duke chimes in, “I never saw a handyman better than Jim Redfield. Not in a while, anyway.”
“Still”, Rich adds, “the man’s got daughters? Well, that makes sense considering the Redfields.”
“Yeah”, Rich’s significant other replies, “I’ll bet they’re taking the world by storm now! The Redfield girls don’t take anything from anybody.”
There is a general nod among the three.
Then, after a slight pause, “So, um, has there been any contact with Elle?”, Duke asks, almost hesitatingly.
Jeanne-Claude rolls his eyes, then, “Oh please. That woman. We don’t contact her, she contacts us when it’s convenient, no?”
“Yeah, that’s true”, Duke consents.
“But, what about the Three Families”, Rich asks, “I mean-“
“Pardon me, boys”, I finally state, feeling the necessity to move along, “I know you’ve probably got a lot to catch up on, but we’ve got a job to do. Jeanne-Claude, would you be so kind as to show us downstairs?”
Jeanne-Claude looks at me hard for a moment, and I almost think I shouldn’t have interrupted. But, his face melts into that smile of his, then, “Désolé (I’m sorry) Miri. I’ve been caught up so much in nostalgia, I’ve actually started to feel younger. Look at me, I feel I can ride the Tour de France!”
Jeanne-Claude jumps up with remarkable speed, placing his fists on in front of him, swiveling side to side, pretending to be on a bicycle. D.B. and R.S. start laughing, and I’ll admit I let a smile escape as well.
Ending his charade, Jeanne-Claude says, “Okay then, let’s go.”
We make our way deeper into the house, into the apartment of the Emperor. Arriving in the room titled, “The Emperor’s Study”, in French, Jeanne-Claude gestures for us to stand in the center of the room, Jeanne-Claude leaning his back against the wall, next to the two dials: one for the lights, the other for something else.
“Ah, Duke and Rich”, Jeanne-Claude says, shaking his head and smiling, “I-we truly thought we’d never see you two again. It’s been……eh, difficult, and we’ve some hard times. But, we’ve still out our mission, eh, your mission, I should say. And we’re still here through it all and-um,well, we…”
“Don’t worry, Jeanne-Claude”, Duke holds up a reassuring hand, “We have all faith you guys have done your jobs well.”
“But you’re only human….”, Rich replies
“And we don’t expect the world to be perfect when we wake up….”
“We’re just happy that people can move closer to a world….”
“….in which they no longer have to live in fear….”
“….of things beyond their power”.
“And we’re also glad that you’re all still alive!”, Rich retorts, as him and Duke glance at one another with childish smiles.
The same smile crosses Jeanne-Claude’s face, and I try and wonder what exactly their words mean. Jeanne-Claude flips the switch next to the one that simply turns the lights. The piece of ground we’re standing on suddenly shifts, moving downward, like it always has. Going down into the depths of the island, where Guardian HQ is located.
Just before our vision of the surface disappears, Jeanne-Claude peers over the edge, shouting, “Miri! Stick with these two! And they’ll show you a world that can’t be taught in a classroom, learned in the workplace, experienced by visions, nor fully rationalized! And when they do, you’ll probably see more than you expected in live, yet, you’ll have the courage and strength to live it well! Bonne chance (Good luck)!”
And with my mentor’s pleasant laughter, the door is sealed from the surface. Down the rail in front of us, the lights suddenly turn on, a stream of steady yellow slight accompanying us as we descend down the elevator.
As Duke and Rich stare what I suppose must be totally new to them, I feel compelled to ask, “I rarely see Jeanne-Claude sound so…enigmatic. What’d he mean by that?”
The two of them look at each other, smile, and then back at me.
Rich goes first with, “that’s our recruiting slogan”, to my obvious confusion.
“You see Miri”, Duke continues, oddly placing his arms behind his head while standing, “there are monsters in the world..”
“Sometimes human”, Rich adds.
“Sometimes otherwise”, Duke finishes, “but we, as Guardians, don’t fear them.”
“Nor do we deny their existence.”
“Instead”, they begin together, “we fight them. And we win.”
It’s times like this I am struck with the queerness of it all. Just listening to Duke, Rich, and Jeanne-Claude talk, reminds me of what I’ve been trying to determine about the Order. It’s really just the people I deal with in the Order, the way the see the world, the way the live and do things. Each recruited Guardian comes in bringing their own ideals, attitudes and creeds, their own personalities and dispositions. I’ve observed those whom I lead, and I find that our organization is unique, in the way that there is no tenet ideal binding each Guardian together. Sure, we have out rituals and processes, the clandestine greeting dialogue between operatives and, I distastefully admit, matching uniforms.
But, at its heart, we’re a group numbering just over two-thousand on St. Helena itself, with an inestimable number of outside members and operatives, active and retired, around the world. I say ‘inestimable’ simply because I haven’t had time to sit down and really analyze the data. I remember I told myself a few years ago that I’d sit down and count just how many members make up the Order of Godeseye. When I was younger, I thought I’d have time for everything I wanted to do: go into research and development for some government, develop a new personal cloaking system or a glove that could short out a prisoner’s handcuffs. You know, secret agent stuff. I’d go out there, be with who I’d want to be with, pursue my own ventures, in a group of people to who didn’t ask me to compare myself to the Great Guardians and shit.
I look back at those two, D.B. and R.S. I look at them and, despite their outward quirks and internal problems, they are, at heart, good soldiers and, once they’re sober, fairly stable people, if not horridly impaired technologically for some reason. If I ever held these two in contempt, it was nothing personal. I’ll admit it, I pretty much disdained the whole concept of worshipping these the Great Guardians, but two men who weren’t even around to hear their own compliments above all the rest. Thus, I refused to believe in such concepts, even though I had been raised since I was about ten with legends of these two. They certainly are very capable operatives, and perhaps there’s more to them than I can see, but, they’re certainly not gods.
And what’s with this hinting about, “monsters” anyway? I had been told flat out that there were many secrets of this Order that I would have to learn on my own. But, that shouldn’t mean-
“So, Miri”, Rich suddenly cuts into my contemplations, “what exactly will we be doing when we get down there?”
I am suddenly brought back to the long elevator making its way down deep into the ground, the red lines signifying that we are nearing the bottom. The elevator stops, and the doors open to a platform, opening up into a subterranean room, with a high, rounded ceiling of rock, reinforced with giant beams of bronze-glowing Cortasteel. Down below is a rounded platform, around which are lined several semicircular rows of chrome platforms, each row seating about thirty people. Taking up the center of the room and all the attention was a large, thin computer screen. Kyle, er, Sage I mean, used to joke that the REAL United Nations met down here, given that it looked a lot like the UN meeting in New Danzig and that the decisions made here affected much of the world around us. Which is part of why we’ve gotten in trouble in the past, but, as you’ve seen, that crisis has been averted and the international intelligence authority isn’t cracking down on us…..and I hope to keep it that way.
I make my way out of the elevator, the Guardians following behind me, their eyes gazing around at the entire room.
“Hasn’t changed a bit”, Duke quips.
“Aye”, concurs Rich, “but the people sure have. Anyone who knew us is probably retired or dead.”
The people he’s referring to, are the various Guardian personnel moving about the compound. There are young boys with rolled up sleeves moving about with boxes with the serial numbers R2300 and above, meaning that whatever they’re delivering is going to research and development, old machine parts maybe or perhaps electron cylinder.
“That’s good”, Duke retorts, “I’m still to damn tired to come with a conversation with someone I haven’t seen in decades.”
A few women in casual blouses and heels walk by looking over holopads, which appear to be keeping track of Guardian reports from around the world, their importance being ordered before the essentials are brought before me. Why do I know so much about what everybody’s doing? I know it because I must. Still, looking at them in their more comfortable outfits, it makes me so very glad that I eased up on the uniform policy. God was that a pain.
“Miri, you’ve been awfully quiet”, I hear Rich reply evenly, “what are we doing down here exactly?”
He’s right, I’ve been thinking a lot to myself recently, barely noticing the smiling Guardians who greeted me as they walked by.
“Right”, I respond, turning around and gesturing for the boys to follow me. Walking down the stairs to the main platform, I explain, “when John died and passed his office onto me, he left his final directive, which told me two things: one, to find and locate Michael ‘Duke’ Bishop and Richard Saint, the Great Guardians, and two: to play the rest of his recording ONLY after you two had been found.”
“And so, you had to find us all by yourself?”, Duke inquires.
“I took it upon myself to lead the operation, yes. But, I certainly wasn’t alone, as you’ve seen Duke.”
“Oh yeah”, he replies affirmatively, then, to Rich, “you’ve gotta meet the kid, Kyle Lawson, eh Sage I think his codename was.”
“Since when the hell did we start using code names?”, Rich asks incredulously.
I reply, matter-of-factly, “since Interpol’s been keeping its big eye on us and our operations. Given the powers they’ve been vested, it’s hard to exist without them knowing something about us and what we do, even if they don’t exactly know where we are. Naturally we have our ways of striking back, as you’ve seen.”
“Aye, that’s another point, lass”, Rich ventures, “I still don’t really understand how you pulled it off. Saving our arses with a mere two hours of dirt-digging.”
Making our way to the central platform, I stop and turn around, one hand on my side while the other one gestures, and, “Well, thanks, but I assure you it wasn’t just those two hours. Angeline Cromwell, born Gina St. Clair, has been on my radar for weeks now. I just needed to get close enough to her, and have Sage leak the information. When you spend so much time learning about others’ secrets, it’s only a matter of time before your’s pop up somewhere you don’t want ‘em.”
“That sounds like something Johnny boy would say”, Duke states, crossing his arms while he smiles.
“Hmph, actually he did say that”, I reply.
I wonder just how long these guys have known John.
“Anyway, though, let’s get started. Direct your attention to the screen boys. Hopefully, once we hear what John has had to say, this’ll all make more sense”.
For the me especially, I silently state.
I call up to the window in the center of the platforms, directly opposite of us facing the screen but a row above our heads. Through a large window, three figures illumined in light green sit, operating the digital controls.
“Good evening, Grandmaster”, I hear a voice state in British from over the telecom, “I feel I should tell you that Carson wished to speak with you right when you got back, as well as talk with your quarries. Also, how are you feeling tonight?”
“Tell Carson I will speak with him later, and will bring D.B. and R.S. Right now, initiate the transmission, we need to watch this.”
“Yes mum”, the operator replies.
The luminescent beams around the interior of the ceiling begin to dim, as the entire great room fades into darkness. From the darkness, I start to see people gathering around us on the platform. This time of night is very slow, since most Guardians here have day jobs and families to consider and the operatives need to rest for training. So, I have no problem allowing the working people to stop what they’re doing and watch with us. I deduce that the night shifters saw our entry, and quickly put on hold whatever they were doing, because it means getting to hear or see John again. Everyone missed him in their own way. Even if he was ridiculously old-fashioned.
“And to answer your question, Nick”, I call to the considerate English operator. Nick’s a good kid after all, “I could really use a cigarette right now.”
“On its way, mum”, he replies.
“Interpol confiscated my smokes when we were captured”, I explain to Duke and Rich, “guess they couldn’t let us go without taking something.”
“That’s a damn shame”, Rich sympathizes, Duke keeping his eyes locked onto the giant screen.
He and Rich must have been expecting something to pop up on the screen because I could make out their expressions of surprise in the dark when a beam suddenly opened on the floor, casting a spectral image of John Morris via hologram. The tall but figure in a red suit stoops over his cane, the hologram going so far as to highlight every detail of John as we knew him, from the thin, gray hair haphazardly combed over his bald spot to the double scars on the left side of his jaw. To me and any other Guardian, this type of recording seems commonplace, but to those two, for whatever reason, it appears to be out of their grasp.
“What the hell is this?”, Duke inquires, exacerbated.
Before I can respond, the hologram does, “I know this seems outta your touch, boys, and a nice, long explanation would probably do you well, but right now isn’t the time.”
John has prerecorded all of these lines as his sort of will. It was a common practice among people who could afford the technology as to leave an interactive final testament to their loved ones, which John had in the thousands.
“Hm, I see”, Duke answers, then turning to me, “so, are we supposed to talk to him?”
“Yes”, I reply, the holographic John’s eyes staring ahead blankly, “however, there are only are specific set of questions to which this program can respond.
“Very well”, Rich continues, “so, uh, John, this is kinda eerie by the way, um, what-uhm, what’re orders for us?”
“Sorry boys”, the hologram replies, “but there is another question you have to ask first.
“What could that be?”, Rich asks Duke, who shrugs his shoulders, “do you know?”, he then asks me.
“I imagine it has something to do with what you two don’t know about yet”, I reply, “and Nick! I thought I asked for some cigarettes earlier.”
“Sorry, mum. It’ll be right there”.
“Or about what we do know”, Duke suddenly clarifies, then, “John”, and with that the hologram perks up and looks at Duke and smiles, a proponent of the program triggered by Duke’s voice. That’s funny considering I knew of few people who could make John smile when he was alive. Most recently, I wasn’t one of them.
“John, how come there’s so much that the new grandmaster doesn’t know about us? About the nature of the Order?”
“To answer your second question first”, the holographic John replies, “it’s because the nature of the Order itself has changed. In the years of your absence, globalization has brought upon an age of information sharing, technological advancement, and social change even more potent than the world you two remember. Thus, the Order was obliged to abandon its original founding missions as the world changed greatly. Guardian families now educated their children with different ideas about the Order of Godeseye, ideas that were more practical, suitable to the way the world has changed, and better to respond to what has occurred.”
Watching John droll on, I see the faces of both Duke and Rich becoming more and more grimacing, almost in resignation or perhaps irritation.
“Why, though”, Rich inquires to himself, a hard look on his face, which is resting on his right hand, “why doesn’t even the new grandmaster know of our true existence?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”, Duke retorts, “it’s because we’ve become worthless. Obsolete.”
“Haven’t we been over this already?”, Rich fires back.
“Yeah, but this different! This plus the state the world is in proves what you and I determined long ago. The world no longer needs us.”
At this, Rich’s eyes are downcast, as if this were powerful news.
“But I’m not saying that’s a bad thing”, Duke softens, placing his arm around his comrade, “it’s what we’ve always wanted isn’t it? It’s what we’ve always dreamed about.”
Shaking his head and looking up, Rich replies, “I’m not so sure”, then, to the hologram, “John. What has happened since we left?”
Holographic John’s face changes from a smile to a stern look.
“Execute informative 4232069”, he replies, and suddenly, a separate holoscreen appears with a newspaper article on the Associated Post, America’s highest-grossing newsmaking conglomerate rivaling the Rosen Post and Atlantic Daily. It is dated November 5, 2061. The title of the article brings on a dread silence in the entire large room, emphasizing the weight of what is being shown to us.
The face on the cover of the article, that stern, taut face with the squinting, dark eyes, long blond hair, lips demonically curled into smile. I don’t know exactly what Duke and Rich meant about fighting monsters, but, if they meant anything, they would be referring to Graham Winthrop, the man who single-handedly delivered this world into chaos eight years ago.
The title of the article reads in bold black font,
“The President has been shot. New York burns. Winthrop claims, ‘None of you will be safe’.”
“Yep”, Rich states, as downcast as the rest of the room, “that answers the question.”
“What the hell do you mean!?”, Duke shouts, “The President was shot!? As in the president of the United States!? When did this happen!?”
He looks around the room, getting more frantic as he demands answers, gesturing to the hologram, “Who the fuck is that!? What’s going on here!? What did we miss!? I need answers dammit!”
He looks around the room again, his panic level increasing as he clenches his fists, ready to lash out it seems. Suddenly, he turns to me and seizes my collar before I am able to stop him. I figured he was gonna react like this, but I should’ve guessed it would be at me.
Lifting me a few inches off the grounds so that my eyes are at his level, I didn’t calculate him being this strong, his wild eyes stare straight into mine, and states harshly, “Miri, what the hell happened while we were asleep?”
Looking to my right, I see several guardians move their hands to their sides or into their shirts, reaching, I presume, for sidearms and or stun batons. To my left, the hologram of John stares ahead placidly, still balanced on his cane, with the dreadful article still suspended next to him. I myself, am surprisingly calm. I of course have no idea what he means by being asleep and also how he couldn’t possibly know about the war instigated by that one man which nearly took out the major cities of the world. It was a war that, truly, every person in that room had some sort of sacrifice in. So, if Duke hasn’t lived through that, not sacrificed anyone in it, why is he the angriest person here?
“Duke”, I hear Rich implore behind the big guy, calm but stern, “Please Duke-”
“When the fuck was anybody gonna tell me about this?”
“I expected you to act this way, which is why I didn’t tell you.”, Rich continues,”We just need to accept that many bad things have happened. The cycle goes on, an old monster is defeated, a new one rises to replace it. That’s the way it’s always been. I know you can accept that. So put Miri down.”
With his face softening, Duke puts me down and releases his grip, muttering an apology with downcast eyes. Looking to my right again, I find a boy at my side, about half of Duke’s size, with his left hand on his holster, the other reaching out to me, with a green and blue pack of Pall Mall Q cigarettes. My favorite.
Releasing a sigh and feeling goosebumps suddenly spring up, I guess my body was more nervous that I was, I take the pack from Nick’s hand, and gesture for him to stand at ease. I sharply take out a single cigarette, and the red glow of my lighter contrasts the blue of the hologram.
I take a drag, then, “I take it nobody has to stick around to hear this message, given its content, and that you all have jobs to do.”
There is a quiet affirmation, and I continue with, “Nick, cut the transmission and thensend it to my holowatch, okay? Clearly it was a bad idea playing this here. Everyone else, you all have jobs to do, please do not let this hinder you in any way. You two”, pointing to Duke and Rich as the crowd around gradually peters out, “come with me. I guess this message is best viewed in private.”
The two of them silently follow, as the light gradually fills the room again and the hologram disappears. I suddenly remember what Nick had said to me right before I’d left for New York.
It was just after Carson Morris, John’s son, had given me his pep talk before I’d left to pursue my final lead on the Guardians. This was about two months ago. Carson had walked out and Nick, who was the data handler for Guardian HQ, second in his field only to his superior Intelligence Gatherer and fellow-gaming-buddy, Sage, had walked in.
He said to me, in his shy, sing-songy, British tone, “Say, um, Miri. Or rather, Grandmaster Larkin, sorry mum, eh, you said that when you got back, you’d play the rest of John’s will, right?”
I nodded, and asked what he was getting at.
“Well, I know it’s not my place to ask this, but, do you think that when you get back, you could play John’s transmission for all of us here? It would mean the world to us if you did, particularly most of the more elderly chaps. If that’s alright with you, of course, mum. I know your business ought to be kept private so this is merely a suggestion.”
Like I said, interactive holograms are often ways in which the deceased can communicate their final wishes in a more familiar, intimate way with their loved ones. There’s been controversy that people just ought to accept that those who are dead remain so, and we should simply let that go. But, if it came to down either being able to talk with him in a limited, digital manner or hoping that he’s gone to some kind of Heaven, I’d choose the former. Thus, I rescinded my usual sternness and granted Nick his request.
Now, of course, I suppose I messed that up and it should’ve been kept private right when we got back. But, as John would say, ‘Should is a shitty word, Miri’. It makes me laugh, remembering him talking like that.
Walking deeper into the corridors of the base, we finally get to the end of a long hall, where I open the aged wooden door into the grandmaster’s office. My cigarette has already burned out in a span of simply ten minutes. The Pall Mall Q’s, the letter signifying a quarter of tobacco content, means that the other ingredients, which no longer include tar and artificial ingredients according to the FDA, don’t stay burnt as quickly, even if the cigarette itself could still go for a little longer.
Why do I know all of this about these minute things? Again, like I said, I know it because of I must. I’m in the business of knowing just about everything I need to. That is, I guess, until I met these two.