“Mel, come take a look at this.”
“Not now, Asher, I’m busy.”
“Asher, not now.”
“Mel! You really need to look at th…”
“Dammit, Asher! I said I can’t! I have to finish this report for Elias.”
She lets out a sigh of exasperation then adopts her sarcastic “I know you won’t let me be until I do what you want” tone and gives in. “Ok, Asher, what is it?”
“It’s just that special news segment on Brotherhood Corp you said you wanted to see.”
“Oh…” Her expression softens slightly as she strides across the cluttered apartment, stopping right in front of me, and turning to face the television. “Hey, can you turn it up?” she says without a glance.
I grab the remote and turn the volume up a few clicks, not minding that Mel’s in the way. She’s still wearing her tight pants and sports bra from her workout earlier and I’m only too happy to admire the change in scenery.
“…having risen out of complete obscurity to financial powerhouse status in just 10 years, Brotherhood Corporation is leading the way in the race for alternative energy amidst what has become a global economic crisis. I’m here in New York City with Brotherhood CEO and founder Doran Jacobs at the former home of the World Trade Center. Just a few decades ago, this was the site of a devastating tragedy, but now, it promises to become a beacon of hope, not just for America, but the world.”
“Behind me, a gigantic white enclosure conceals the top-secret construction of what is to become the new headquarters for Brotherhood Corp’s global operations – and the single tallest building ever constructed. Doran, what can you tell us about this massive undertaking?”
“Thank you, Julie. This site was once a burgeoning center of world commerce, but violence and hatred turned it into a scar upon our nation. Brotherhood Corporation is erasing that scar and, in its place, erecting a monument to the unfailing endurance of the human spirit – a reminder to all that we refuse to simply lie down and be overrun by adversity but, instead, meet it head on and emerge victorious! Targeted for completion on New Year’s Day 2027, this structure will serve, not only as the global headquarters of Brotherhood Corporation but also as the single largest generator of clean sustainable energy in the world.”
“When I founded Brotherhood Corp, I had but one goal in mind. I foresaw the coming energy crisis and set about finding a way to overcome it – to protect our society, yes, but more than that, to protect an idea. The idea that every person has the ability to rise above his or her circumstances and achieve their dreams. All of our innovations to date were created to fund research for this greater purpose, and now, I am pleased to tell you and all those watching that we have succeeded!”
“Brotherhood Corp scientists have identified an abundant mineral deep in the earth’s crust known as Revilium. This mineral, when refined, provides completely clean energy that is exponentially more powerful than both fossil fuels and electricity. By our estimates, even the relatively modest deposits we have tapped thus far have the potential to supply the world’s energy needs for the next thousand years, and we have barely scratched the surface. Brotherhood Corp’s motto since our beginning has been ‘For all mankind.’ To that end, I announce publicly today that we will provide this energy to all…free of charge.”
A chorus of gasps and exclamations sweeps through the crowd. I can’t see Melanie’s expression but the way her hind-quarters sinks as she settles back onto her heels tells me all I need to know – she’s just as dumbfounded as I am. In my case, however, the gravity of what I’ve just heard is diminished somewhat as I sit, still mesmerized by the wonderfully round shape of Melanie’s behind.
“Free? How can they do that?” says Melanie in earnest.
“Asher?” She turns slightly and catches my eyes still trained on her rear. “Asher!” she says reproachfully as she slaps the side of my head.
“Ouch! What’s that for?!” Of course I know, but I still try to play it off despite my obvious guilt.
“Can you just focus for a second? Something isn’t right about this,” she says. “Shhh! Listen!” Melanie takes a few steps to the left, allowing an unobstructed view of the TV, and turns back to watch the broadcast.
“I’m sorry. Did you just say ‘free of charge’?” says the reporter, characteristically overemphasizing the last three words.
“That’s correct, Julie. Free of charge to all.”
“But how can you afford that?”
“As I mentioned earlier, Brotherhood Corp’s previous innovations were created for the singular purpose of funding research on alternative energy, however, the amount of revenue generated by those innovations has grown to far exceed the requirements of that research. Now that the research has concluded, we’ve found ourselves with a huge surplus of capital and have been able to divert funds to the building of RED facilities in major cities across the world.”
“Yes, Revilium Energy Delivery facilities. Practically emissions free refineries that both generate and distribute energy to surrounding communities. The first and largest RED facility will be on-site here – actually under the very ground we’re standing on – but construction of 50 more RED facilities worldwide is already under way. We’ve partnered with governing bodies across the globe to ensure that everyone will have access to Revilium power by the year 2028.”
“That’s just six years away! How are you able to complete construction on that scale in such a short time?”
“Well, Julie, to put it simply, Brotherhood Corp’s abundant resources have allowed us to put substantial funds into the development of the advanced construction techniques and equipment needed for the eventual roll-out of Revilium power to the world.”
“Truly amazing! Now, as I understand it, the US government signed the charter for you to begin construction here just 3 months ago – is that right?”
“That’s correct, Julie. Shortly after the founding of Brotherhood Corporation, the government issued a challenge to find a sustainable solution to address the coming energy crisis. The promised reward for the chosen solution was exclusive power and fuel distribution rights in the US. Naturally, a vast number of companies rallied to the cause, but as alternative energy was the goal of my company from its inception, I simply continued in my research…and was fortunate enough to arrive at a viable solution ahead of my competitors.”
“So you put everything you had into the development of Revilium power without any kind of contract? That’s quite a bold gamble!”
“Well, Julie, I guess you could say I’m a bold kind of guy.” Doran and Julie chuckle together.
“Give me a break!” blurts Melanie. “What an ass this guy is!”
“OK then!” Julie continues. “I’ve been told you have a small demonstration prepared for our viewers today.”
“Ah, yes! I suppose it is that time…” Doran motions to someone off camera and, in seconds, a brand new black BMW 535i pulls in just behind Doran and Julie.
“Julie, my friends at BMW have been kind enough to supply this wonderful car for our demonstration. Now, take note that this car is completely new, fresh off the assembly line, and it has not been altered in any way. It is powered with a standard internal combustion engine, just like most automobiles. The difference, Julie, lies in this.” Doran produces what appears to be a large syringe-like device containing a curious purple fluid and holds it aloft. The crowd audibly marvels at the way the liquid swirls, casting an eerie glow all around.
Julie’s mouth hangs open a few seconds as she stares at the fluid before being prompted, apparently by her camera man, to resume the interview. “Ummm, right! So… what exactly is that?” she says, clearly at a loss for words.
“‘What is that’ is right!” exclaims Melanie.
“It sort of looks like that Rockstar drink that makes my pee glow in the dark” I offer with a grin.
“A potentially life-altering event is occurring before your eyes, and you’re thinking about glow-in-the-dark pee?!”
“Actually, I was thinking what an amazing rack that reporter has…the pee thing was more of a side note” I say with a smirk.
Melanie jerks her head back toward me with a look of thorough disgust. I focus my attention several inches below her face for added effect. She catches the line of my eyes, looks down at her chest then quickly back up at me, her face red with dawning comprehension. She abruptly crosses her arms more tightly than necessary, lets out the most indignant “hmmmph!” she can muster, and faces the TV once more.
“This, Julie, is liquefied Revilium. As I’m about to demonstrate, it can be used in any gasoline burning car, as well as planes, ocean freighters, lawn mowers, and anything else that would normally use fuel refined from oil. The best part of the deal, though, is that Revilium is 99.8% efficient, meaning it produces almost no emissions. Consequently, it also increases the mileage achieved by your average car by roughly one-thousand percent.” More shock and amazement sweeps through the crowd.
“Now, if you’ll please stand back so the camera has an unobstructed view, I’m going to simply insert this RDD, Revilium Delivery Device, into the fuel tank, press the inject button like so, and voila! A Revilium powered driving experience ready for you to enjoy!”
“Excuse me?” says Julie, looking suddenly fearful.
“My apologies for springing this on you, Julie. Would you do me the honor of being the first member of the public to give liquid Revilium a try? I’ve arranged for traffic to be closed off for several blocks, a mobile camera feed from the passenger side, and of course, I will ride along as well to prove my absolute faith in the safety of Revilium.” Doran politely opens the driver’s side door and motions for Julie to get in.
“Wow…” Julie is visibly impressed. “Well, what the heck, how can I refuse?” She sits down in the driver’s seat and looks over the controls excitedly.
“They are SO, gettin’ it on later!” I blurt adolescently. Melanie turns her head back just far enough to roll her eyes at me then turns back.
Doran shuts Julie’s door and opens the passenger door behind her but then looks up toward the camera. “Jim, aren’t you coming along? We’ve got a mobile camera feed all set for you in the front passenger seat.”
The shot bobs up and down – the camera changing hands, I assume – and then Jim, the camera man, comes into view, jogging happily over to the passenger side of the shiny BMW. Just seconds after Jim gets in the video feed switches seamlessly to the view from inside the car.
“OK, Julie,” says Doran enthusiastically “whenever you’re ready.”
Julie puts her hand at the ignition switch, gives an uncertain smile, and turns the key. In a split second, a bright purple flash shoots out from the car in all directions, sending the crowd of onlookers into a panic.
“What the hell was that?” Melanie utters each word with measured weight.
“What’s going on?! WHAT HAPPENED?!” Julie looks expectantly back at Doran.
“Julie, everyone, please remain calm. The flash you just witnessed is a harmless expulsion of light that occurs at the moment liquid Revilium combusts – hence the .2% inefficiency. As the engine temperature approaches normal operating range, the effect will diminish to a faint glow surrounding the vehicle.”
“Huh, that was weird…” I say flatly. “I did a quick search from my laptop: REVILIUM COMBUSTION PHENOMENA. Hey Mel, listen to this, ‘Revilium, being, in essence, light energy in solid or liquid form, causes a reaction in light particles in the surrounding atmosphere when combusted. This energy echo, as it’s called by Brotherhood Corp scientists, is actually the refraction of light at wavelengths between 350 and 400 nanometers on the electromagnetic spectrum – the same spectrum in which Revilium exists. In much the same way as white light passing through a prism is separated into its colored components, the violet component of white light passing through trace amounts of Revilium that is diffused into the air during combustion is made momentarily visible to the human eye, creating a wavelike effect that emanates from the point of combustion. As a greater amount of Revilium is diffused into the air at the initial moment of combustion, the effect expands widely at first and then contracts to faintly surround the combustion source. This effect, though visually spectacular to witness, has been tested extensively in Brotherhood Corp labs and found to be harmless.’”
“Did you say that Revilium stuff is solid light energy?” Mel turns to me, looking deep in thought.
“Well, in this case, liquid, but yeah.”
“But I thought this guy said they found it in the earth’s crust…what the hell is solidified light energy doing deep underground?”
She definitely has a point, I think to myself. “Hey, check it out! They’re driving!”
“Huh?” Melanie turns abruptly to the TV again. “Why is she shouting? Bimbo…” she mutters the last part under her breath.
“If you’re just joining us, this is Julie Tanaka broadcasting live from the inside of a brand new BMW 535i powered by liquid Revilium, the revolutionary alternative energy source discovered by Brotherhood Corporation. With me is Doran Jacobs, founder and CEO of Brotherhood. I have to tell you, I can’t believe how smooth the acceleration is with the Revilium fuel! I push down on the pedal and the car goes faster, but there’s no discernible change in the sound of the engine and I can’t even feel the gear shifts! Mr. Jacobs, why is that?” she shouts as if speaking over the noise of a helicopter propeller.
Doran winces as she utters the final syllables. “The enhanced ride, Julie, is due to the extreme efficiency of the Revilium fuel. Once burning, the diffused Revilium is not simply consumed like regular gasoline. Instead, it loses density slowly, releasing energy over a prolonged period of time. In this diffused state, the fuel fills the entire combustion chamber but leaves tiny air pockets, allowing combustion to continue. This makes for a more steady energy supply to the engine and more even shifting of gears. The light energy expelled by the Revilium also provides a gentle boost to system electronics without overwhelming them. Notice, for example, how the lights on the instrument panel are brighter than normal.”
“Folks, this is nothing short of incredible!” shouts Julie as she speeds along the closed-off city streets. “Mr. Jacobs, when can the public expect Revilium fuel to be available?”
“Plans are to begin opening filling stations in 3 months time, beginning here in Downtown New York. And, remember, Brotherhood Corp will be providing this fuel to all free of charge,” Doran says enthusiastically.
Just then, the video feed switches back outside to capture the Revilium powered BMW coming around the corner and back into the spot it left from. Julie exits the car with a look of sheer exhilaration, followed by Doran Jacobs, who stands at her left. Jim, the camera man, comes around the front and stands on her right.
“Well, there you have it! Look for FREE Revilium fuel at a filling station near you in just three months time!” Julie extends her hand and Doran shakes it firmly. “Thank you so much, Mr. Jacobs, for your time and your uncommon generosity!” She turns instinctively to face the camera. “It turns out Brotherhood Corporation really is…for all mankind. This is Julie Tanaka. Back to you in the studio.”
Can it really be over this easily? In walks Doran Jacobs with this Revilium stuff and, boom, no more energy crisis? My parents – my little sister – and so many others on the verge of losing their homes, things have gotten so bad. I want to believe it with everything in me, but something doesn’t seem right about it all.
I start to speak, but before I can, Mel grabs the remote from my hand, mutes the TV, and turns to me with a look of uncharacteristic distress on her face.
“Asher, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“I know. It seems too good to be true, right?”
“Yes, that too, but didn’t you see the people in the crowd when that purple flash happened?”
“No. That’s when I was looking up what happened online. Why?”
“Some of them looked like they were going to pass out…”
“What?!” I say skeptically. “Rewind it.”
“Here, look.” Mel rewinds the broadcast to the moment just before the flash. “Keep an eye on that older lady several rows back on the far left. See! Right there!”
“Yeah, I saw, but she’s an old lady, Mel. It looks like she was just surprised by the light and stumbled a little when she covered her eyes. See?” I point to a tall man in dark sunglasses just to her left, “her son put his arm around her shoulder and now she’s fine.”
“Who? That guy? Where’d he come from? He wasn’t standing there a few seconds ago…and look at the lady’s face. She looks odd, like she just forgot where she was or something.”
“Mel, I know we’re conspiracy theorists and all, and I know Elias wants us to keep tabs on Brotherhood Corp, but don’t you think you’re reaching just a little with this one?”
“Just look!” Mel says persistently. “I’ll rewind it a little further. Play it in slow motion, and zoom in.”
To my surprise, as the footage crawls along, I see the flash then the man I assumed was the old woman’s son come quickly from out of the frame and put his arm around her. Immediately after, her expression goes blank for a moment then returns to normal.
“OK, I’ll admit that’s a little weird, but maybe he was just coming back from the bathroom.”
“Yeah, but what about the look on her face?”
“I don’t know…maybe she just got really freaked out by the flash, but the rest of the people around her look OK.”
“Hmmm…I guess so.” Mel concedes, clearly frustrated.
The broadcast is still playing in slow motion. I watch it absent-mindedly for a few seconds, but then something strikes me. “Hey! What happened to that guy?”
“What guy?” Mel replies mechanically.
“You know what guy! The guy!!!”
Mel looks up from her thoughts. “You mean the guy you thought was the old lady’s son?” She quickly scours the screen with her eyes. “Where’d he go? Did you see him leave?”
“No, I just looked down for a second and then he was gone. Rewind it again.”
Mel clicks the remote to rewind again, but this time, the screen displays an error message: WE’RE SORRY. THIS FOOTAGE IS CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE. PLEASE TRY AGAIN LATER. “What the hell? It’s gone…”
Technical difficulties aren’t anything out of the ordinary, but this doesn’t make sense. The footage should be stored locally on the DVR, regardless of whatever may have happened with the TV network or reception, but it’s not. It’s almost like it’s been accidentally wiped something. “Hang on. Let me hook up my laptop and see if I can recover the footage.”
“Asher, you’re not supposed to mess with that thing! What if you break it?!” Melanie protests.
“Do you want to see the footage again or not?”
“OK, fine. Just do it.”
I disconnect the DVR from the TV and turn it around. “Service only, my ass” I scoff as I take the small Phillips screwdriver I always carry in my right pocket and deftly remove the back panel. “USB? It’s like they’re begging me to mess with this thing!”
Melanie rolls her eyes.
I pull the short USB cable I always keep in my left back pocket and connect the DVR to my laptop.
“OK, the screwdriver I understand, but you carry a USB cable in your back pocket?”
“Hey!” I look up at her and pause for effect, “They don’t call it universal for nothing.”
“Oh, my God…” Melanie shakes her head.
I laugh loudly as I begin accessing the DVR’s files. “Oh, look – security protocols! How cute!” I have to give the TV company credit for trying, but I’ve yet to encounter the computer I couldn’t hack. I type happily, adding commentary as the feeble security measures crumble before me. “Do you like that, baby? How about this?! Just…right…in……there!” I unnecessarily hit the ENTER key with my left index finger, looking up at Melanie and winking as I do.
“Asher! Would you quit screwing around!”
“There! I’m in. Now, let’s just scroll through the most recent files and…hey, it’s not here!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, look! Everything else before and after the time of that broadcast is here but that entire 15 minute segment is gone! I don’t even understand how that’s possible…someone would have had to hack the provider’s customer database and deploy a script to remove that footage from every single box it had downloaded to in a matter of minutes!”
“Could you do it?” asks Melanie pointedly.
“Well, yes, of course, but there are very few people that could.” I type feverishly as I speak, looking for signs of intrusion, but after a few minutes, it’s clear there’s nothing to find. “Whoever did this knew exactly what they were looking for how to cover their tracks. I think we should call…”
Just then, my cell phone rings. “…Elias. How DOES he do that?!”
Melanie grabs the phone from my hand before I can put it up to my ear. “Hey, Elias, it’s Melanie. Yes, we were just watching it. Did you see that old woman almost faint? Yeah, we tried that too, but the footage has been wiped from the DVR. This is really weird…OK, hang on a sec. There, you’re on speaker.”
“Asher, Melanie, can you both hear me? What’s going on here is no accident. That footage was wiped by someone attached to Brotherhood Corp. We believe that the ‘energy echo’ we witnessed during the Revilium demo today may have harmful effects with prolonged exposure.”
“So why did it only effect that old woman?” interjects Melanie.
“Did you notice how all the people around her were much younger than she was? We’re not sure why, exactly, but we think the echo may have more of an effect on the elderly – as our bodies age, they naturally deteriorate, thus, the older someone is, the less physical strength and resilience they generally possess.”
“Asher, by now the footage has been wiped completely from the network and provider databases, but we need you to double-check.”
“I’m already on it, Elias,” I say as I pound away on my laptop, “but whoever did this is really good. They didn’t leave a trace on the DVR…”
“Yes, well, you’d better make sure you do the same. We have a feeling this goes deeper than any of us had previously guessed. Brotherhood Corp is up to no good and if either of you are found to have knowledge of it, your lives will be in danger. Keep the doors locked, close the blinds, use as little light as you can manage with and stay out of sight! I’m sending some people to see if they can get their hands on the news cameras before they can be tampered with. You two just see what you can find out and wait for me to call you back.”
“Elias, what’s going on? You’re kinda freaking me out.” Suddenly, the cluttered apartment seems much smaller than it did a minute ago. My hands start sweating profusely.
“I’m sorry, Asher. I can’t explain right now. Just lay low and wait for my call.” The unmistakable beeping sound follows.
“He hung up,” I say nervously.
“Ash, don’t worry about this,” Melanie says reassuringly as she sits beside me on the couch. “Whatever happens, I’ve got your back, and you’ve got mine, right?”
“Yeah, Mel. Of course.” Melanie’s not usually the comforting type, but, in the moment, I just accept the change. I take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and start typing again.
“OK, then. So we have nothing to worry about!” she slaps my leg like an older sibling might. “Besides, Elias and his people will look out for us.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Hey, how did you meet Elias anyway?”
“Same way you and I met: through that online ad I posted. Remember? ‘Ever notice that certain things just don’t add up? The truth is out there; you just have to know where to look.’”
“Ha! That ad was pretty cheesy!” I chuckle.
“So then why’d you answer it?” Melanie says, suddenly reserved.
“Because you’re right – the truth is out there. But what use is finding it if nobody else will believe you?”
“Good point…that’s the same reason I placed the ad” she smiles.
“So when did Elias come into the picture?”
“He answered my ad a few months before you did…said he was with an organization called the Seekers. He said they had resources and connections – he somehow managed to get my rent and utilities paid indefinitely – but that they needed more ‘agents on the ground’ to help them investigate.”
“Huh, that’s kind of weird. So, have you ever actually met him?”
“We’ve video-chatted a few times, but he says it better to not be seen together in case anything ever happens…I’m starting to see what he meant by that.”
“Well, as long as you trust him…”
“I do,” she says confidently.
“Then, we’re all good. Now, let’s see if we can find that video…”