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2206 : Window Onto A New World Book I in The Threshold

Chapter XVIII – Lightning Strikes

By

Christopher Stewart ★ Bookcast Edition – June 2012


Copyright © 2012 by Christopher Stewart

★ All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

★ Bookcast Edition - June 2012

★ This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Chapter XVIII

Lightning Strikes

« I must admit that I'm tempted to stay, but as much as I've had enough of the games that go on behind the scenes, for a while at least, the job wouldn't be the same without them. I don't mind working as an assistant for a while, but becoming some sort of butler holds little interest to me. Though having access to the world of rulers and diplomats definitely has its advantages and its attractions. In fact, perhaps it's time I dive in and try my luck at journalism. It has always been a childhood dream of mine, and I certainly can afford to take the leap now. Perhaps if I were a spectator rather than one of the actors, the play would be as entertaining, but without the inconveniences. » – Excerpted from Peter Conrad's blog entry on Lords Of The Backstage for 14.1.2207


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XVIII. Lightning Strikes

R

ichard Ramsay reflected that the days were still not in such a hurry to move on.

Although his circumstances had altered beyond recognition, he couldn't but notice that he was again reminiscing and staring outwards from the windows of yet another transportation. Standing in the sky lounge of his yacht, facing the Eurybic Ocean, he was trying to remember what could have made him insist on Bahía Alegría, which was proving to be anything but a place of joy. { There are so many exotic locations we could have visited, why have I chosen Bahía Alegría ? } he wondered, irritated and disappointed. The former Chancellor had needed to take a short vacation from all the craziness, to let the dust settle after the spectacular collapse of the schemes of his party. But apparently, even right in the heart of the bay of joy, satisfaction didn't come easy for him. The ordinarily hot and sunny resort had been showered by storms ever since the luxury vessel had moored in the small inlet after which the popular holiday spot had been named. And so, instead of savouring a fun escape in the sunshine in the company of some of the people he truly appreciated, he had spent most of his time ruminating. He had voyaged all the way across the globe only to ponder the events of the recent years, and how they had ultimately culminated in his defeat in the Federal election. The week was almost over, and there hadn't been a single occasion for the septuagenarian to go out fishing, to dive in the water for a swim, or even to sunbathe. His idea of amusement obviously didn't include gazing at the dark clouds and the grey skies, listening to the constant battering of the rain, the waves, and the wind on the boat, and being startled by the frequent streaks of lightning and roars of thunder. If he had really wanted to read, or to watch movies, or to surf the network, staying at home would have been a much more appropriate option. Still, manifestly, staying at home hadn't really been an option either. At home, the politician would always stumble upon one of the too numerous reminders of his public life. Whether they were newspapers old and new, correspondence past and present, pictures of him and his fellows, mementos both tangible and virtual, wherever he would glance, his eyes would discern cues that prompted him to think about the issues of yesterday. And his psyche would then be invaded by remnants of heated debates and discussions, denigrating personal attacks and allegations, and other such unpleasant memories. Not that all of them were disagreeable, but some of them were, and it often took just one to ruin significant parts of his daily activities. When he dressed up in the morning, even some of his own clothes could trigger some recollection or another, and that could be sufficient to make him falter and force him to withdraw to himself for a few hours, and sometimes more. Worse, when he lay down in bed at night, he still dreaded possible late calls from Conservative advisers. Patently, rest didn't come any easier than gratification. The Threshold

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The once world leader mused that the stressful stages of the transition process were already behind him, and the only thing left to do until Jake Harvey's inauguration was to wait. Perhaps this was why the break had become a necessity. It was an insurance that he would make it through the transfer of powers serenely, at least, as much as such an occurrence could allow. He had immediately chosen Bahía Alegría when he had decided to depart. This was where his now deceased wife and him had celebrated their idyllic elopement, and where they had known the most delightful time of their entire existence. Back then, travellers could plan for leisure trips and stand good chances of actually relishing the adventure, as the weather was predictable enough, and not seemingly totally random like it had now become. Clearly, when even a tropical paradise such as the coast of Psamaluki was receiving torrential amounts of precipitation out of the monsoon season, those days were over, and something was evidently wrong with the climate of the planet. { Of all the places we could have gone to, why have I insisted to come back here ? } he questioned again, upset and guilty. – –

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« Ahem... excuse me sir » tentatively uttered a quizzical Peter Conrad, seeking to draw the attention of his employer. « Oh ! » exclaimed the balding man, surprised by the unanticipated sounds, « I'm sorry Peter » he respectfully apologized as he looked over his shoulder in embarrassment, « I've been absent haven't I ? » he queried, chortling as he turned to his interlocutor. « Yes ! » confirmed the assistant, deeming the lapse humorous. « And... what were we saying ? » wondered the veteran statesman, frowning as he tried to recall their conversation. « We were talking about... » answered the tricenarian, stopping as he attempted to find the words that best summarized their chat, « about how things were when you hired me, and how much they've changed since the beginning of 2207 – » « Oh, yeah ! » interrupted the thin elder, finally remembering, « they have indeed » he remarked with an eloquent expression of amazement, « I'm not Chancellor anymore, I'm not leader of the Conservatives anymore, and I'm not even a representative anymore ! » he cheerfully enumerated, reflecting that it was the first time since the big day that he was exchanging views with his attendant regarding the results of the election, « how's that for a lame duck ! » joked the politician as he carefully walked towards the center of the room, wary that the raging storm might shake the boat while he advanced, and peering around for his cane. « I bet nobody else will ever repeat this feat ! » bantered the trustworthy helper, seeing that his host was in the mood for laughter, « why didn't you stay as head of the party ? » he inquired, joining the other where the seats were located. « After such a hammering ? » Ramsay responded at once, « and those rumours about my... health ? » he noted hesitantly, « no way I could have stayed » he declared earnestly as he sat down on a couch, next to his handheld and close to a glass of scotch, « anyhow, my decision is made, and my time is done » the former ruler continued, « those who have...

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vested interests in the party will certainly demand that someone else represent them » he insinuated, « someone saner » he commented in a sarcastic manner. « Why do you say hammering ? » asked the young man, incredulous, « we're still strong » he asserted enthusiastically as he sat on one of the recliners so as to face his boss, « we still have fifty-seven seats » he stressed resolutely, « who knows when the Coalition will fall apart ? » he ultimately suggested. « Oh, but there's no doubt about that ! » the experienced Conservative passionately went on, « and most of the officials of the Federation are still our people, and will remain our allies in the quarters to come too » he observed in the same forceful fashion, « and when the Progressives slip and fall down their high wire, we can form a minority government in a matter of a few weeks » he submitted, visibly appreciative, « I'm obviously aware of all that, but that's beside the point » the septuagenarian carried on, in a calmer tone, « the point is, the party just doesn't want me anymore » he announced, grinning as if he was completely at peace with the idea. « And what makes you so certain of that ? » the curious assistant countered, « if it's not too indiscreet » he added right away, realizing that he might be unwillingly prying into personal issues. « Suffice it to say that I've been shown the door politely » the politician revealed after a short deliberation, smiling enigmatically. « Okay » Conrad tersely accepted, nodding to the side, somewhat unsatisfied by the vague allusion, « but it's not like you to – » « Anyhow » the veteran statesman promptly proceeded, hoping to avert the touchy topic altogether, « it was high time for me to move on, don't you think ? » he serenely offered. « Possibly » pensively replied the attendant, « perhaps it was time... or perhaps it wasn't yet time » he tried to clarify his sentiment, emphasizing the latter alternative. « Or perhaps it was time to see if others are any good at stumbling and being laugh at ! » the outgoing Chancellor cynically proposed. « No doubt they've been asking for it ! » the tricenarian retorted in the same spirit. « Oh, I meant that for some of our people too ! » the thin elder chortled, to the surprise of his employee, « but as far as the Coalition is concerned, yes, they obviously have nurtured very high expectations » he pointed out, looking skeptical, « Ovelians will want results » he confidently predicted, « and Ovelians are not renowned for their patience » hinted the balding man, « it's quite an adventure we're embarking upon » he maintained following a moment of silence, suddenly seeming preoccupied. « It certainly is » the reliable helper readily agreed, with an expression of disbelief, taking an instant to further consider the question, « do you think their settlement plans stand a chance of working ? » he eventually inquired. « I don't know, quite frankly » Ramsay admitted after a brief reflection, « as far as I know, those plans are merely outlines at this point » he mentioned, evidently partial, « I'm far

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from an expert of the domain » he acknowledged without reservations, « but I don't see why it wouldn't work » the former chief of the Conservatives finally answered, « I mean, I believe it's possible as far as the technological aspects are concerned » he quickly nuanced his statement. « I think so too » the young man concurred, clearly pleased by the prospect. « That doesn't mean it isn't the most far-fetched notion I've heard my whole life ! » joked the retiring representative, « but yes, sure » he continued his assent once the merriment had subsided, « the experts of the GSA and the RDA agree too » he commented to support his opinion, « but that being said, Chancellor Harvey should soon discover that his biggest problems won't be technological » he insinuated wryly. « Obviously » corroborated the assistant, « but people seem to be willing to follow him » he immediately noted, « that's one significant obstacle out of the way already » he argued tentatively. « Of course » granted the septuagenarian, staying quiet for a few seconds as he attempted to formulate an explanation that wouldn't disclose too much of matters he thought were better left unspoken, « I've already briefed him, as much as I possibly could, about the... pressures that come with the functions of Chancellor » he suggested cryptically, « I think the next five years are going to be full of astonishing revelations for him ! » he remarked lastly, appearing perversely amused. « I bet they will ! » Conrad reacted, with a slightly puzzled grin, not quite convinced he had grasped the full extent of the affirmation. « And no doubt there will be even more pressures considering the peculiar situation he's in » the politician stressed right away. « You mean, pressures from within the Coalition » supposed the trustworthy attendant. « Precisely, yes » asserted the once world leader, « Harvey needs the cooperation of the three parties to remain in power » he calmly observed, « he can no more afford to lose the support of the Greens than he can afford to lose that of the Liberals » he submitted in an authoritative tone, « the Progressives can stumble at any time, and even on the simplest issues » he ultimately proposed. « With sixty-one seats they would still be in power » the tricenarian objected, « I mean, if the Greens were to leave for instance » he clarified his conjecture. « In power yes, but without a majority » insisted the veteran statesman, « mathematically, we could overturn them » he pointed out hastily. « In the unlikely event that the Greens would agree to join us » the helper emphasized, chuckling and looking particularly skeptical, « and we would also need one of the three Children of Ovel ! » he added, laughing at the dubious possibility. « Ahem... well... » mumbled the outgoing federal ruler, embarrassed, « one never knows, it can happen » he yet maintained. « Mathematically ! » replied the employee, entertained by the scenario, « I would never

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have thought that the Neolits could get thirty-seven representatives elected » he offered after a short pause, staring blankly at the couch, to the side of his interlocutor. « Neither would I » readily admitted the former official. « That's really impressive ! » the young man went on, manifestly amazed by the total. « It is, it is » Ramsay sustained pensively, nodding in agreement, « that reminds me, have you examined the results in details ? » he asked out of the blue. « Ahem... I've checked how our candidates have done » the assistant ventured, unsettled about the intent behind the question. « Have you noticed how most of the gains of the Neolits happen to be states where the independentists are well established ? » the retiring Chancellor inquired. « Oh ! I did not notice myself » Conrad first answered, realizing what his boss was getting at, « but I've read a post about it » he then mentioned. « It's undeniable ! » the career representative confidently opined, « and that might very well play against them » he further insinuated. « I'm not sure I'm following you » noted the perplexed attendant. « It looks as if the majority of the Coalition will necessarily be weakened should some of those states leave the Federation » the septuagenarian commented, evidently appreciative. « Oh, I see » acknowledged the reliable helper, « and you think that might happen during their term ? » he wondered after a brief reflection. « You certainly have heard the rumours about Atlantia ? » hazarded the politician, « and the Fidelistanis are almost there » he immediately remarked. « Of course, I'm aware of that » concurred the employee, « but electing an independentist government doesn't necessarily lead to secession » he argued with conviction. « No, but still, it's a first step » the experienced Conservative stressed. « Obviously » granted the young man, « but it wouldn't be the first time a state tried to leave only to bite the dust on referendum day » he reminded his host. « Nor would it be the last ! » the veteran statesman chortled, « the independentists always bear the burden of change » he carried on in a more serious tone, « they always have to fight inertia, and people tend to be attached to what they know » he said with a knowing expression, « still, if it should happen that those states choose independence, then chances are, we will gain from it » he finally proposed. « In terms of power, possibly » submitted the guest, « but with a weakened Federation » he pointed out, frowning slightly.

Pondering the prospects, the assistant mused that, more troubling than the persistent rumours about Fidelistan and the Atlantians, the whole concept of sovereignty was progressively emerging as a trendy topic all over the globe. And that particular social movement was greatly upsetting to him as he firmly believed that each and every Ovelians could only profit from a stronger Federation. If one of the two nations were to be successful in its attempt to quit the union, then who knew how many The Threshold

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others would be tempted to follow suit ? Wouldn't that entail a degradation of circumstances already demanding enough as they were ? { Can't they see that stability is the best solution ? Can't they see that supporting the Global Government only increases this stability ? } he thought, growingly disconcerted. Still, further disquieting Conrad was his own indecision regarding where his allegiance truly lay. He was a Conservative, yet he was also a federalist. Which loyalty should be considered the most important wasn't obvious to him. His sentiment wasn't definite. Being relegated to the role of Official Opposition was indubitably unpleasant. However, having to witness the Federation crumble in order to regain power wasn't such an attractive option either. { Manifestly, Mister Ramsay doesn't seem to have much scruples about it though } he reckoned with lessened respect towards the Ex-Chancellor. A sudden burst of wind then violently rocked the vessel, startling the contemplative attendant out of his ruminations. As a big wave crashed loudly against the hull and shook the boat some more, he looked around him to assess the situation, and ascertained that there was nothing to worry about. The motions had been sharper than the disturbances constantly assailing the yacht, but no damage had been incurred. The glass of scotch had even been salvaged. Aware again of his surroundings, he glanced at his boss and recalled their conversation.

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« And what do you make of the performance of the Liberals ? » inquired the tricenarian, still recovering from the unexpected event. « I'm not the least bit surprised » announced the thin elder, apparently not bothered at all by the storm, « well, I would never have guessed that they would lose so many seats » he went on, nuancing his position, « but Rogers shouldn't be their leader » he suggested in an almost contemptuous manner, « the man is obviously not suited for politics, anybody can see that » he resolutely opined. « That's what many people seem to be saying » the reliable helper simply noted. « Looks like it doesn't run in the family after all ! » chuckled the former official, « that's not to say he's not an able administrator though » he immediately observed. « In any case, we should know for sure pretty soon » replied the guest, taking a moment to mull over the new political landscape.

The septuagenarian reflected that inviting his employee along hadn't been his brightest idea. Not if they were to end up discussing politics. Thankfully, they hadn't evoked the sensitive past, and hopefully, their exchange would soon evolve towards a less potentially upsetting theme. Surely, the young man deserved a vacation too. After all he had done for him, that was the very least he could offer as a parting gift. If the weather had collaborated, chances are they wouldn't have been forced to even bring up the subject. Bahía Alegría had the reputation of being a lot more entertaining than this, so they wouldn't have spent much time together in the first place. { Why insist on Bahía Alegría ? } he questioned yet again.

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« And how about the Traditionalists being wiped out ? » the assistant then wondered. « The Traditionalists ? It was only a matter of time if you ask me » responded the retiring Chancellor. « My thoughts exactly » Conrad promptly agreed, « they could have helped us though » he remarked pensively. « You think so ? » reacted the veteran statesman, « perhaps in a sense » he conceded after some deliberation, « but their support would have been more a liability than an asset » he continued in a solemn tone, « I mean, some of their views are indefensible in our day and age » he asserted, appalled as he recollected some of the stances of the formation. « They are the closest to us in terms of ideology however » countered the attendant. « You mean they were » Ramsay retorted with a soft laugh, « but enough about politics if you don't mind » he proposed at once, « have you settled on what you want to do next ? » he asked, seeming eager to switch the topic out of a sudden. « Ahem... no, not yet, I'm still thinking » the helper answered hesitatingly, pausing as he pondered the interrogation, « I have a standing offer from a well-known communications firm » he added casually, manifestly not too enthusiastic about the prospect. « That sounds interesting ! » the once party leader declared in an encouraging fashion, noticing the apathetic expression of his interlocutor, « you would rather stay involved in politics ? » he hazarded after a time. « I don't know... possibly » the tricenarian revealed tentatively, « although I believe I've had my fill of power games for a while » he chortled cynically. « I can imagine ! » the outgoing representative commented in amusement, « isn't that the problem with politics ? » he carried on, still jesting, « we have no choice but to vote for politicians ! » he stated half-jokingly, « and politicians are only ever interested in power » he submitted in a graver manner, the two men chuckling before further meditating on the suggestion. « And how about you ? What are your plans ? » eventually inquired the guest. « Well... few people know about this » the balding elder began, « but lately, I've become quite interested in the occult » he confided, smiling proudly, « and once the transition is officially completed, and some other personal issues are finally sorted out, I think I'll be exploring the avenue a lot more seriously » he pointed out, keen to delve into the matter. « I would never have guessed » replied the surprised employee, incredulous, « that's truly fascinating » he observed right away, « do you have any particular center of interest ? » he queried, sincerely curious. « Well, it might be too soon to tell you this » noted the politician, evidently flattered by the attention, « but I think I'm going to try and join the Community » he announced with a wide grin, « some say their disciples are custodians of an ancient knowledge that can allow us to release our innate magical abilities » he explained, looking almost hypnotized, « you must have heard the stories » he lastly supposed.

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« Of course » the assistant confirmed, « but I'm not quite sure I believe in such things » he mentioned, voicing his reservations to distance himself from the ill-reputed order. « Oh, but neither do I ! » quickly reacted the septuagenarian, concerned he might appear naive, « but I believe it's time I found out for myself » he then argued, self-assured again. « Religious matters... » uttered the young man after a moment, nodding as he mused on the disclosure, « well, who would have known ? » he offered, uncertain of what to make of the whole situation, « it seems like an interesting pursuit in any case ! » he remarked, unintentionally offending the other.

The former Chancellor thought it wasn't as much the words as the nonchalant way in which Conrad had discounted his aspiration that had annoyed him. His trustworthy attendant had made it sound as if it were nothing more than some kind of pastime. But the endeavour was far more than a mere hobby. He genuinely wanted to invest himself in the adventure. –

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« Oh, that reminds me » curtly responded the veteran statesman, « I have an important call to make if you don't mind » he hinted, his tone indicating that he expected his helper to get out of the room on the spot. « Oh, of course » humbly obeyed the employee as he rose, « I'll be in my cabin if you need me » he continued, manifestly unfazed by the sharp change of attitude of his host. « By the way, did you talk with the captain ? » Ramsay added as the assistant headed for the lower decks, « what are the forecasts ? » he asked in a friendlier fashion. « Ahem... he said it might take a few more days before the storm clears out » reported the tricenarian, visibly disappointed as he turned to face his interlocutor. « Isn't that what he's been saying since the beginning of the week ? » the elder retorted half-jokingly. « As a matter of fact it is, yes ! » chortled the young man. « Okay, that's it, I've had enough ! » exclaimed the retiring world ruler, exasperated, « tell him we're going south ! » he commanded authoritatively, yet with humour. « Ahem... that might not be such a good idea, sir » Conrad objected immediately. « And why not ? » inquired the experienced Conservative. « Because the weather is not better over there » the attendant submitted, « the climate of the entire region is disturbed, remember ? The storms cover the whole archipelago » he carried on insistently, « the captain said it might be dangerous to venture too far from the coast » he finally recounted, resigned. « Okay then, tell him to go north and to follow the coast until the sun shines ! » instructed the outgoing official, clearly unwilling to suffer the awful weather any longer. « Aye aye, sir ! » cheerfully acknowledged the guest, walking towards the captain's cabin.

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he would miss him after all. Granted, the two of them didn't have much in common, yet the conduct of the young man had always been beyond reproach, and his company was generally enjoyable. All in all, the reliable employee definitely stood among the members of his entourage he valued the most, and that meant a lot. However, the politician had no plans of returning to public life once his duties would be over, following Inauguration Day, and thus Conrad had decided that staying as personal assistant of a former statesman couldn't be exciting enough for his taste. With only a few more days left until their parting of ways, the retiring Chancellor figured that he could make an extra effort to appreciate his presence and ensure that they remained on amicable terms. The balding elder reached to his side and grabbed his uDev. First checking his inbox, he saw that nobody had tried to contact him while the handheld had been muted. He then queried the Global Communication Services to find out the location of Bruno Gray, in order to determine if it would be a proper moment to phone him. A few seconds only after having sent the request, he was delighted to learn that the bureaucrat was on his way to Harmonia Three, which happened to be positioned over a neighbouring time zone. He leaned towards his glass and swallowed a sip of scotch. Enthusiastic about the prospect of pursuing his quest to unearth the secrets of the Community, he proceeded to make the call, dismissing fleeting feelings that the hour was poorly chosen, and that he should wait. – – – – – – – –

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« Hello Richard » greeted the president of the Civil Servant Syndicate, forcing a smile that contrasted with his otherwise stern expression. « Bruno ! » the once representative began in an upbeat manner, « it's always a pleasure to see you » he stated politely, « I hope your flight is uneventful ? » he promptly offered. « So far so good » the public worker confirmed. « Great, and how are you ? » the defeated Conservative chief continued in a friendly tone. « Couldn't be better ! » the quinquagenarian answered, seemingly not much inclined to converse. « I'm calling you from Psamaluki ! » Ramsay happily declared. « Oh, good for you Richard ! » reacted the functionary, « I hear the weather is lovely over there at this time of the year » he commented without emotion. « Usually, yes, but not this week I'm afraid » replied the politician, chuckling though he was manifestly annoyed, « in fact, it's so bad we're getting ready to leave as we speak » he added, laughing some more. « I'm sorry to hear this » Gray immediately responded, « I had no idea » he remarked, at last showing a little consideration. « The typhoon season is early all over Enneanesia » the veteran statesman informed his interlocutor. « You mean the monsoon season » recognized the bureaucrat, « ahem... listen Richard, I think we're about to dock now » he announced deceitfully, seeking to cut the exchange short, « is there anything in particular you wanted to discuss ? » he inquired in a pressing

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voice. « Oh... yes » mumbled the former federal ruler, « I... I just wanted to assure you, and your organization, that you still have my collaboration regarding our... common interests » he proposed hesitatingly, sensing that the other wasn't as receptive as he had expected. « I see » acknowledged the civil servant, taking an instant to prepare himself to break the news, « well, as I've already mentioned, Richard, we're very grateful for what you've – » « It was a pleasure, Bruno » the septuagenarian interrupted, « but, I was musing on what the next step should be » he stressed, as kindly as he could, « perhaps we should schedule a meeting so we can share our respective discoveries ? » he suggested, lively again. « Ahem... I was going to contact you about this » the president of the CSS lied following an awkward silence, « I'm sorry but there's been a change of plans » he bluntly revealed. « A change of plans ? » the retiring Chancellor repeated, surprised. « Yes... in light of the recent... ahem... developments » the dark haired official carried on, as diplomatically as he could, « the advisory board has reviewed its evaluation » he briefly explained. « What do you mean reviewed ? » wondered the elder, offended and aggressive, « what developments ? » he insisted, increasingly bothered. « Obviously Richard, you're... not in power anymore » pointed out the functionary. « I might not be in power anymore » readily admitted the outgoing world leader, « but I still have access to some of the most influential individuals on Ovel » he asserted, plainly upset. « I'm sure you do » conceded the public worker, apologetically, « there are also rumours about your health » he observed tentatively, « your reputation is not what it used to be » he strengthened his justification. « Not what it used to be ? My reputation didn't change that much since we last spoke if you ask me » retorted the career representative, « if you want the truth about my mental health, just ask the people around me ! » he submitted, on the verge of anger, « they'll tell you about my mental health ! » he ultimately affirmed. « Sorry if I have insulted you » Gray quickly offered, « I personally have no doubt about your health » he clarified at once, « but I'm not making the decisions here however » he emphasized with conviction, « I'm bound to the recommendations of the advisory board » maintained the president of the CSS, « and they have decided we should not run the risk of being associated with you » he finally announced. « The risk ? » reacted the veteran statesman, shocked by the verdict, « but what risk ? » he asked in exasperation. « Ahem... sorry... we're about to ahem... » muttered the quinquagenarian, « I have to get ready for docking » he declared after a moment of confusion, in an attempt to conclude the argument, « hang on a second » he instructed, suspending the communication while he figured out how to handle the situation, hoping his interlocutor would calm down.

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« Sure » Ramsay assented, frustrated as he saw the screen of his handheld go black.

Aggravated, the former federal ruler could barely control his temper. How could the Syndicate do this to him ? Hadn't he upheld his part of the bargain ? Manifestly, something had happened after his last conversation with the functionary. Someone had probably influenced the decision. Could one of the Conservative dynasties have intervened against him ? But then, how could they have learned about the budding collaboration ? { Perhaps the damage to my reputation has been more considerable than I've thought } he reflected, growingly furious. Thoughts were racing in the mind of the outgoing Chancellor, and he suddenly realized that he had again drifted in the place he was trying to escape once and for all. In the kingdom of intrigues and never-ending interrogations where disarray reigned mercilessly, he was a mere starving peasant longing for a peaceful existence. Furthermore, ironically enough, he had ended up there through his own efforts to obtain knowledge he believed would allow him to avert the undesirable occurrences altogether. And just as he imagined that the unexpected change of plans, as Gray had referred to it, could in fact turn out to be a blessing in disguise, his sister entered the sky lounge, on her way from the lower decks. « I'll be right with you » tersely greeted the septuagenarian, showing his device to signify he was busy with a call, before getting up and heading cautiously to the windows farthest from the seating area. Nodding and smiling in acknowledgement of the gesture, the woman proceeded directly to the couches, sitting at right angles to the sofa her brother had just left. She watched the politician in silence, neither of them uttering another word for what seemed like a minute or so, while the noises of the raging storm resounded inside the room. Wondering why her relative was remaining quiet as he rested against one of the vertical frames that separated the large window panes, patiently staring at his gadget, Chloe Nowak couldn't help but doubt his health. Despite the official statements and the denials, she was yet unsettled. { He has failed the tests, I've double checked the documents with my own eyes } she recalled, appearing concerned, { he has been acting strangely at times on the cruise... it can't be the stress of the campaign anymore } she opined, increasingly skeptical. She was very well aware of the connection between alcohol consumption and the degenerative syndrome. { What if he's actually losing it ? How can I make sure ? Just hinting at more examinations would definitely insult him ! } she mused, seeking options. Thankfully, the voice of the bureaucrat soon comforted her. – – –

« Okay, I'm back, sorry about the interruption » politely began the dark haired man. « No problem, Bruno » accepted the thin elder, « isn't there something I can do to make the advisory board reconsider its decision ? » he quickly inquired. « Ahem... no, I'm afraid not » the civil servant immediately responded in an authoritative manner, « but you never know, I guess we might contact you in the future should there be

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another... change of plans » he submitted hesitatingly and in the friendliest tone he could summon so the suggestion wouldn't be interpreted as sarcasm, « ahem... listen Richard, I really must go, we're docking now » he continued following a brief pause, lying again so as to avoid having to face more questions, « I hope you find the remainder of your holiday enjoyable, and that the weather improves soon » he finally bade in a cold, hurried fashion. « Okay then » Ramsay replied calmly, unwilling to confront the public worker who he felt was being dishonest, « thank you, Bruno, I wish you a pleasant stay onboard Harmonia Three » he courteously offered, lacking genuine intent, « farewell Mister Gray » he added, insincerely cheerful. « Goodbye Mister Chancellor » mechanically concluded the functionary. « Clown ! » exclaimed the veteran Conservative after verifying that the communication had effectively been cut.

The retiring statesman stayed at the windows and gazed outwards for a moment as he further pondered the conversation. He could definitely do without the Bruno Grays of the world. And he was surely better off without the fellowship, especially if the conduct of its president were an indication of how its members behaved. Who needed them and their advisory board anyhow ? There obviously were other avenues to explore, and after all, he had already made some progress on his own, without any collaborators. Although his attempt to work alongside the bureaucrats had clearly been a waste of time, as they had never reciprocated his contribution to their plot, at any rate, he knew where he stood with them. Still, one issue was bothering him greatly. The thought that he had underestimated the impact of the allegations of dementia had nagged him ever since the civil servant had commented about his reputation. Manifestly, the public perception was worse than he had reckoned it would be, and he wasn't certain how to best address the annoyance. – – –

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« Are you alright ? » the lady asked after a while, startling the pensive septuagenarian. « Oh... yes... sorry Chlo » apologized the former Chancellor, muting the handheld at once and dropping it on a recliner as he returned to his seat. « You seem worried » observed the retired nurse, also appearing preoccupied, « who was this... clown ? this Mister Gray ? » she queried, curious to know what could trouble her brother. « Gray ? Ah... he's no one » first dismissed the outgoing federal ruler, evidently reluctant to talk about the disquieting circumstances, « I don't think you know him » he remarked a few seconds later, deflecting the interrogation, « that was nothing important, really, forget it » he then proposed, seeking to downplay the matter. « Are you sure ? » insisted the woman, « because you seem concerned, really » she noted, mimicking the phrasing of her interlocutor. « Yes, I'm sure » sedately reacted the experienced politician, grinning as he made an effort to look unfazed, « by the way, I've decided we're leaving » he promptly announced with enthusiasm, wanting to change the subject.

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« Peter just told me so » the widow mentioned happily, « he said you've reached the end of your tether » she reported in a humorous tone. « Exactly ! » readily corroborated the Conservative, « the forecasts haven't changed one iota since we got here » he railed bitterly, « I can't stand this crazy weather any longer ! » he ultimately explained. « I totally agree ! » the jolly sexagenarian responded, « it's about time we left too ! » she carried on in mock anger, « we've been stuck here for so long ! » she bantered, feigning irritation to make fun of the attitude of her relative. « Chlo... you know how I feel about this place » stressed the balding elder, unable to hold back a smile despite trying to express indignation. « I know... I'm only teasing you » the retired nurse offered, « I guess I'm just saying we could have left earlier » she continued in a more serious voice. « I know, I know » granted the veteran statesman, visibly supposing that he deserved part of the blame for the disappointing situation, « I had hoped we could enjoy Bahía Alegría in the sun before the end of the week » he justified the tardy departure, « now I just hope we get to see the sun before the end of the trip » he insinuated sombrely, peering outside the yacht in apprehension. « Would it hurt you to tell me what's upsetting you ? » inquired the sister after a while, noticing the man wasn't being his usual self. « No, I guess it won't » finally consented the once world leader, « something didn't turn out as planned » he vaguely confirmed, « and I don't know what to do about it » he then admitted. « And what are you scheming again ? » the lady suggested, « I hope you're not planning your reelection ! » she opined half-jokingly. « No, not at all ! » the career representative ensured with a cynical chuckle, « you know how relieved I am that my public life is behind me » he immediately emphasized. « Or so you claimed, yes » the insightful woman concurred right away, « but now you're talking about plans... tell me you won't meddle in politics again » she requested, evidently worried. « Rest assured ! » the former Chancellor answered in amusement, « this has very little to do with my plans for the future » he guaranteed resolutely, « rather, it would seem that something I did is having... unfortunate consequences » he hinted enigmatically. « I see » replied the perplexed sexagenarian, nodding in understanding yet frowning to signify she needed additional details, « and you can't tell me more about it » she hazarded after a moment, attempting to make her brother talk. « I guess I can » at last yielded the outgoing federal ruler, « can you keep a secret ? » he proceeded, suddenly appearing grave. « You know I can » simply asserted the widow. « No, I mean... not just any secret » insisted the politician.

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« Oh ! » reacted the retired nurse, recognizing the importance of the requirement, « you can trust me » she promised following some consideration. « I failed those tests deliberately » the Conservative revealed bluntly with a proud grin after a suspenseful silence. « What !? » exclaimed the lady, aghast. « The tests I took at your clinic » the balding elder reiterated, « I – » « But why ? » interrupted the woman in disbelief. « I wanted out » explained the veteran statesman, « I spent my entire life in politics » he calmly carried on, « it had to happen one way or another » he observed, clearly at peace with the matter, « I just accelerated the inevitable » he ultimately noted. « Why didn't you just quit ? » asked the shocked sexagenarian, gradually recovering from the unexpected disclosure. « I would never have heard the end of it ! » the once party leader argued more nervously, « it would have looked as if I was conceding defeat » he maintained arrogantly, « I'm sure my adversaries would have interpreted it as an admission of the wrongdoings they're so keen to accuse me of » he proposed conviction. « Oh, right, and having half the world think you're senile is a much better idea ! » quickly objected the widow, exaggerating to make her point yet repressing a smile with difficulty. « Half the world already thought I was some kind of maniac anyhow ! » Ramsay brushed off, the duo chortling at the caricature, « but, you're right » he eventually acknowledged, « I never thought my reputation would suffer that much » he commented, regretful, « I figured the rumours would do the trick and prevent my reelection » justified the career representative, « but it seems that the official denials and the public appearances haven't redressed the perception » he then announced, « it was just a whim, really, I didn't plan anything before asking you to book me in » he finally emphasized.

The retiring federal ruler was reminded that this wasn't the only unfortunate consequence of his deed. The strategy had worked insofar as his fate was concerned, but the Progressives had also profited from his scheme. They were in power, his party wasn't, and he had never anticipated that. – –

« That's why you chose the community center » inferred the pensive woman after some deliberation. « If the party had learned about it first, they would have tried to bury the story, at least until the election » speculated the former Chancellor, « with you accompanying me at the clinic, I was pretty sure that my identity wouldn't remain secret for long » he continued reflectively, « could the staff have learned that the man running the Federation was senile and do nothing about it ? » he suggested persuasively, « I gambled that given my approval rate, there was bound to be at least one person who wouldn't resist leaking the results » the aging politician declared, plainly gratified, « having enemies has its advantages » he

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concluded in a humorous manner. « Just like having friends has its inconveniences » the nurse remarked in a serious tone. « Why do you say that ? » the puzzled Conservative inquired. « I know who did it » the dignified lady shared, « I know who released the documents » she clarified solemnly. « How come you know about this ? » the balding elder replied, amazed, « who did it ? » he queried, suddenly frowning, « did you – » « It's not important who did it » the sexagenarian asserted, « and no, I didn't do it... but I could have stopped it and I didn't » she confessed apologetically. « What !? » reacted the veteran statesman. « I thought it was for the better » the widow began, « I believed you really were... sick » she mentioned, genuinely sorry, « considering your drinking habits, it made sense » she went on with more self-assurance, « I thought it was high time you stepped down and did something else, like rest for a change » the woman submitted after a brief silence, « and I guess you're already aware of what I think of your party and how you guys ran things » she candidly hinted. « Yes, obviously » confirmed the outgoing world leader, visibly disappointed. « Why are you like this ? » wondered the nurse, « isn't that exactly what you wanted ? » she stressed, perplexed. « Yes... of course » concurred the career official, discomfited, « I just never thought you could be involved » he noted right away. « I did what I thought was best for everybody » the lady confidently maintained, « does it really matter that I knew about it ? » she argued more calmly following a short pause. « Well... no... you're right » Ramsay reluctantly agreed, « I guess it doesn't really matter » he observed philosophically. « I would never have imagined ! » the sexagenarian exclaimed after a while, digesting the revelation, still under the surprise, « do you realize you've fooled the whole of Ovel ? » she pointed out with amusement, « who else knows about this ? » she then asked. « No one » answered the retiring representative, raising a finger to his lips to inform his sister to keep the story to herself. « And now you're concerned about the consequences » the widow recognized following more deliberation, « but what's the problem ? » she questioned, skeptical, « didn't you say your public life was over ? What is it you plan to do next ? You still haven't told me » she inquired insistently. « Something else entirely » emphasized the former Chancellor, « I'm thinking of writing my memoirs » he offered in jest, « I already have a title, Sins of a Senile Statesman, a sure best-seller, don't you think ? » he added, clearly deeming the gag quite funny. « I wouldn't laugh about this if I were you » the confidante warned gravely, nodding and appearing offended and worried.

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« No, I'm serious » the elder continued, « I mean, not about the title, obviously, but I may do it eventually » he suggested sincerely, « but before I attempt that, I have other plans » he proudly commented, « I've taken an interest in spiritual matters lately » he cheerfully announced. « Really ? » reacted the woman, showing appreciation at the unexpected statement. « I want to discover the secrets of the Community ! » the politician carried on, « oh, and that reminds me, I have a call to make ! » he declared enthusiastically, standing up at once to grab his uDev, « locate Bruno Gray » he commanded in a joyful voice. « Bruno Gray ? » the nurse immediately responded, « the clown ? Didn't you just talk to him ? » she remarked, smiling.

Chloe Nowak's expression quickly turned to shock as she witnessed her brother staring at her with evident embarrassment. { I knew it ! } she reflected, vindicated in her sentiment, and yet sad for her relative. Increasingly confused and afraid as he collapsed inwardly, Richard Ramsay was horrified at the realization that he was unable to remember speaking to the bureaucrat, even though his handheld was manifestly confirming their conversation. –

[ CONTACT NAME : BRUNO GRAY LAST COMMUNICATION : outgoing video call - less than 1 hour ago ( details ) LOCATION : Localization in progress... LAST KNOWN LOCATION : approaching Harmonia Three ( details ) - less than 1 hour ago ( details ) REDIAL ? YES / NO ]

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About the Series

A

t the turn of the century, Ovel must face the consequences of its accelerated growth. One

hundred and twenty seven federated countries and eleven sovereign nations, spread across the homeland and in colonies settled onboard orbiting stations and on a nearby planet. Fourteen billion inhabitants struggling to thrive under the rule of a corrupted Global Government, in power for over forty years. Fuelled by a recent scientific finding, the once in a lifetime discovery of a discontinuity in the cosmic fabric of the neighbouring space, a coalition of politicians is willing to stand up for the people and radically change things. Now relegated to the ranks of an obscure sect, the once dominant Community and its disciples must effectively handle the requirements of the Celestials to ensure that the most favourable of all possible destinies comes to pass. Meanwhile, halfway across the world, a young monk must learn to collaborate with the Enlightened Ones in order to successfully discharge the essential task he has accepted to fulfil in behalf of his monastery. Will the crucial 2206 electoral campaign climax on the emergence of a charismatic Progressive leader, or will the decried Chancellor prevail despite the many forces scheming for his downfall ? On a background of environmental and financial crises, and religious influences intertwining with political manoeuvres to determine the fate of the overpopulated orb, The Threshold chronicles the evolution of the Ovelian civilization as it heads towards unprecedented upheaval.

★ Contact Facebook Profile : https://www.facebook.com/the.threshold.2206 Google Plus Profile : https://plus.google.com/u/0/104660427672333556879

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About the Author

C

hristopher Stewart loves to try his hand at various artistic endeavours, but if there's one discipline he's perfecting, it must be the art of blooming late.

He has studied for a long time, played football even longer, spent a significant part of his adult life developing software on a full-time basis and invested what remained in the pursuit of his ideal of creating meaningful music in the context of a rock ensemble. He has founded the prolific yet still album-less Quebec-based progressive rock outfit Poligraf in 1998 and has never been quite the same since. He has been practising Buddhism dead-seriously since the mid 90s, until he finally awakened to the fact that it teaches living happiness. His interests range from psychology, physics, and philosophy, to mysticism, divination, the arts and the creative process, and, obviously, multitasking and clichés. Pick any task, tag it with the word « impossible, » assign it to him, and he’ll be hard at work for years before the first suspicion finally pops in his mind.

★ Contact Email : christopher.stewart@gmail.com Facebook Profile : https://www.facebook.com/christopher.andrew.stewart Google Plus Profile : https://plus.google.com/114005406455037130049 Twitter Profile : https://twitter.com/poligraf

★ Also Available as eBooks On the Meaning of Sin


Credits Chapter Titles The titles are meant as a tribute to the musicians. Special thanks to the members of Yes for their musical genius, and to Jon Anderson in particular for sharing his vision with the world. Fonts Linux Libertine : http://www.linuxlibertine.org/ Vollkorn : http://friedrichalthausen.de/ Philosopher : http://jovanny.ru/ BorisBlackBoxx : http://manfred-klein.ina-mar.com/ Quirkus : http://www.peter-wiegel.de/ Ubuntu : http://font.ubuntu.com/ Liberation : from the Fedora Linux Distribution : http://fedoraproject.org/ Images Pavel Ranik : Sunrise from the resort at Miniloc island, Palawan Mariluna : Lightning, Essentuki, Stavropol Territory, Russia Datawizz : Pelorus harboring in Rovinj, Croatia Software Open Office : http://www.openoffice.org/ FreeMind : http://freemind.sourceforge.net/ The Timeline Project : http://thetimelineproj.sourceforge.net/ Gimp : http://www.gimp.org/ Blender : http://www.blender.org/ References Most of my book design questions have found an answer on Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer : http://www.thebookdesigner.com/

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The Threshold Bookcast : Chapter 18 – Lightning Strikes