This is the chapter that I wrote for the Baker’s Dozen collaborative story that Joe Owens has been moderating. Mine is the second-last chapter, so if you want, go read the other chapters.
But, if you are short on time, or just can’t muster the energy to click the link, here’s a synopsis.
Synopsis: Forrest is an average guy with an average job. Except he’s not. You find that out when he gets a mysterious message telling him to get out of the building and then just as he does, the building blows up. Tanks and aircraft start roaring around; it’s a sudden war zone. He escapes with Angie, a co-worker. They meet her father, who says he’s NSA and helps them escape.
Ah, but did they really escape?
The whole thing revolves around a medallion that Forrest’s father gave him before he killed himself. Forrest is really Jewish and his father was a former Mossad agent. Ross finally takes the medallion from Forrest, who gives it to him because it apparently has powers and he wants to keep it out of the wrong hands. Then things seem to be heating up with Angie, until later, when she seems to betray him and he ends up in a prison next to Christina, his former girlfriend. Then they get out and Angie burst in on them and fights Christina until another Angie comes in and shoots the first Angie and Christina with a crossbow. He’s confused. What’s up with these girls?
The point is, it’s very complicated, and you’re asking a lot to make me sum up the previously written 10,000 words in a short synopsis. The last chapter ended with Forrest and the second Angie escaping and finding Forrest’s brother and sister and an old Asian man. The man pours hot water on his brother and sister’s shoulders and a symbol appears, like that on the amulet.
Chapter 12: The Ultimate Penultimate
“This must be a lot to take in all at once,” Forrest’s sister Anna said. She laid her hand on his arm. “Still, it’s good to see you again, Ananiah. I haven’t seen you since just after David died.”
“My name’s Forrest now,” he said, stiffening at the mention of his older brother. “None of this makes any sense. What are you doing here, Anna, and with Benjamin too?” He turned from his younger brother and sister to the elderly Asian man. “I don’t know who you are and you, Angie—I sure as hell don’t know who you are anymore.” His furious glare was locked on Angie’s face. She merely nodded.
“I won’t ask what you’ve been told over the last few days,” she said. “I know parts of it, but it doesn’t matter. I am the one who you’ve gotten to know over the last few months at work, but I’m not the one you’ve been with for the last few days. That was my twin sister. Up until today, we both worked for the CIA. Twins are of immense value in the intelligence business—misdirection, confusion, chaos. Neither of our names is really Angie, but you can still think of me that way, if you want.”
“You killed her,” Forrest said. “You killed your sister, and Christina too. I suppose she was a spy too—probably never really loved me, right? I suppose everyone I know is a spy.” He suddenly felt very tired, as if another revelation would send him to his knees.
“I didn’t want to kill them,” Angie said. “I loved my sister, at one time, but I was desperate. It was probably a mistake. As for Christina, I don’t know how she felt about you, but she was a spy. Not with us though. Another group.”
“Who? The Chinese?”
“No, the US military,” Angie said.
“But you’re on the same team!” Forrest said. “Aren’t you?”
“Let me try to explain,” the elderly man said, stepping forward. “The situation is, uh . . . complex.” He had a gentle, soothing voice with just a hint of a British accent. He sat down at the table nearby and motioned for Forrest to sit. Angie, Anna, and Benjamin all sat down as well.
“My name is Mr. Xia,” the man said. He pronounced it like sha. “I am the leader of this group, which we call Mechilah. It is a Hebrew word, just like its founder, your mother.”
“My mother,” Forrest repeated. Benjamin nodded; Anna smiled encouragingly.
“The medallion you carried around for most of your life; do you know what it does?” Xia asked. “Has it ever shown any, uh, unusual properties?”
“I don’t know what it does but it seems to be immensely important to everyone but me,” Forrest said. “It has gotten suddenly warm before, but that’s it.”
“Your father was understandably quiet about its nature, but let me give you a quick history lesson,” Xia said. “It is said—in legend, mind you—that during the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, a group of priests was trapped inside the temple. One prayed for a miracle, laying the only thing he had on him, a revolt shekel, on the altar. The legend says that that one priest gained great powers when he was holding the coin and through those powers, he saved himself and his fellow priests from the pillaging Romans. The coin was made into a medallion and handed down from father to son, although the knowledge of its powers was lost to time.”
“What sorts of powers?” Forrest asked.
“The ability to pass through walls and walk unseen,” the old man said. “It was your father who rediscovered them and put them to good use—or not so good use.”
“Our father was a hero,” Forrest said. He looked unconsciously to his sister and brother for support.
“He was,” Xia said. “He is responsible for a great deal of Israel’s success in the wars of the 60s and 70s, both through intelligence gathering and, well, elimination of key enemies. He once told me that he had killed 1,482 people. Mostly men—mostly soldiers, but not all. The covert medals and commendations did nothing for his conscience and that is why he ultimately killed himself.”
“But then why didn’t he just destroy the medal, if he hated it so much?” Forrest asked.
“He did not hate the medallion; he hated himself for how he had used it. He saved his country, but he could not save himself. Still, he was too much of a traditionalist to destroy such an heirloom. That is why he passed it on to you, but did not explain its power.”
“So what is happening now?”
“Even allies spy on each other,” Xia said. “Israel could not keep its secret weapon totally secret and soon the rest of the covert world got wind of it, both allies and enemies. The vultures began to circle around you, looking for evidence that you were using the medallion and how you used it. An international covert coalition was formed to keep this technology out of the hands of ‘enemies.’”
“But who is the enemy?” Forrest asked. Xia merely smiled and nodded, as if Forrest had hit on the crux of the matter.
“Sometimes people form alliances even when they know that there can only be one winner,” Angie said, breaking in. “The alliance exists only to the point where one individual can betray his allies and seize victory alone. The Israelis may have been the first to respond to the attack on your office building, but Ross—my father—made sure the Americans grabbed you first. Now that we are in America, even national unity is breaking down as each group tries to grab the power for themselves: the military, the CIA, even political parties. This kind of power is divisive. People would kill without hesitation for it.”
“So whose side are you on, your little Mechilah group here?”
“We’re not on anyone’s side,” Benjamin said. “Mother knew all about the medallion and she formed this group to keep the power safe from people who would misuse it. Mechilah means “cave” because we want to bury the medallion, to keep it safe. But the word can also mean “forgiveness.” I do not know if the power of the medallion can ever be used for peace and forgiveness, but it is our hope. Until then, we need to keep it safe.”
Forrest gave a bitter laugh. “Well, that’s admirable, but it doesn’t change the fact that you failed. The medallion is gone. Ross has it now, although he says it’s a fake.”
“It’s not a fake,” Xia said. “You see, the medallion is only a key.”
“To you, Mr. Ananiah Yedidya, or Forrest Graham, if you prefer. You and your brother and sister. Only descendants of that original priest can use it.”
“Then there is no problem,” Forrest said. “They can’t use it and they think it is a fake. Can’t we just forget about it?”
“We could, for now,” Xia said. “But it may not always be that way. It may be that one day they will find a way to use it, even in ways we cannot anticipate. It is not safe with anyone but us.”
“Then what do you propose we do?”
“I want you to go back and get it.”
Forrest jumped up. “Are you crazy? I’m not a spy. I was a prisoner in that place and now you want me to walk up the front door and ask for the medallion back?”
Mr. Xia stood up and gave a slow, almost ceremonious nod. “That, son of my dear friend, is exactly what I want you to do.”
* * *
Ross Hammerstein sat behind his desk with his legs propped up and slowly turned the medallion between his fingers. It was not fake, he knew, but still they could not figure out how to use it. He had acquired it thanks to luck and ingenuity, just ahead of a clamoring mob of other interested parties. Now he needed to find out how to use it, quickly and before the winds of fortune changed direction yet again.
The phone rang and he grabbed it. “Ross here.”
“This is the front gate, sir. We have Forrest Graham here. He just walked out of the darkness and asked for you.”
Ross sat up. “Is he alone? Armed?”
“Totally alone and unarmed. We searched him thoroughly. Should I let him in?”
“Bring him, captain, but under guard.” He hung up and smiled to himself. This was a wind he hadn’t anticipated. He sensed unseen stratagems at work. A trap? Possibly, but this was his base and he was in control.
A moment later, Forrest Graham walked in, surrounded by four armed guards. “What do you want, Forrest?” Ross asked. “You got balls, coming back here like this.”
“I want to help you,” Forrest said.
“Sure you do,” Ross said with a leonine smile. “And how are you going to do that?”
“The medallion you have isn’t a fake but only I can use it. Just like my father.”
“You know what it does?”
“It increases the user’s strength a hundred times,” Forrest said. “That’s where the Jewish legend of the golem comes from. You didn’t know?”
Ross said nothing. That was not what he had been told, although it seemed plausible. He gazed at Forrest, looking for signs of lying, but the younger man’s face was impassive.
“Fine, show us,” he said at last. It was a risk, but it had to come to it sometime. “Not here, though.” He turned to the captain in charge. “Vault B.”
* * *
Forrest was stripped and dressed in a white cotton jumpsuit and slippers. Then he was led into a steel chamber with windows high up on all sides. The medallion was lying in the middle of the chamber.
Ross’ voice came through a speaker. “Pick up the medallion and demonstrate its use. You are currently being covered by a wide variety of powerful ordinance, so don’t try anything.”
Forrest picked up the medallion and held it in his fist, trying to stop himself from trembling. Mr. Xia’s plan seemed insane now. He closed his eyes, trying to remember how he had felt when it had gotten hot before. He thought of his father, willing himself to do this for him, willing the medallion to show its power.
He felt it, a growing heat in the palm of his hand. He opened his eyes in time to see the steel wall in front of him fade slightly. He could still see it, but he saw the room beyond it as well, as if he were looking through thin tissue paper.
There was an exclamation from the speaker. “You faded from sight for a moment. How did you do it? Tell me, quickly.”
Forrest did not answer. He was breathing hard; the mental effort he had needed to exert was staggering. He heard a hiss and saw that gas was pouring into the room from overhead vents. It was now or never. He stared at the wall in front of him until it faded again and then he lunged through, running as fast as he could in those ridiculous slippers.
He tripped and lost concentration, sprawling to the floor of an empty corridor. Then he was up again, desperately trying to make the medallion work again. It was easier this time, but already exhaustion was creeping in.
He ran again and suddenly found himself outside. The outer fence was only a hundred feet away. Behind him, alarms were going off. Shucking the slippers and gritting his teeth, he sprinted towards the fence just as gunfire erupted behind him.