A Prologue by KR Wilde
“… College is free. No more student loans, financial aid, or scholarships necessary to pursue higher education. At least that’s what the amended Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2025 promises,” announces a voice, its pragmatic tone coming from the television perched on the kitchen counter.
In response, Richard Zedler, Sr. grunts in disgust, and mutes the television as he dumps pork and beans into a bowl. The food splatters on to the table, but he ignores it. There’s only one thing on his mind right now, and it’s not cleaning. Earlier today, he’d been promised information regarding a certain individual’s whereabouts. However, it was due two hours ago, and there’s still no sign of the messenger.
This has never happened before.
Unsettling thoughts, each worse than the last, crowd Zedler’s mind as he struggles to focus on his dinner.
“Any news yet?”
Zedler glances over his shoulder at an elderly man in his late eighties, not quite as old as himself, leaning heavily on a wooden cane. “If you’re referring to the new legislation passed today by our foolhardy congress, than yes.” He’s not quite ready to address the real problem at hand. Discussing the United States’ inability to perceive how wrong handouts are for its well-being is far easier than the latter.
The man frowns. “What have they done this time?”
“Free college,” Zedler says simply. He balances the bowl on his lap, and maneuvers his wheelchair to the outdated microwave. He moves effortlessly across the tile.
Meanwhile, the man shakes his head, not surprised at all by the news. “So we’ve finally achieved unlimited welfare. The whole country will be celebrating tonight, I’m sure.”
Zedler nods in agreement, and remarks dryly, “Remind me to formally thank the president.” He finishes placing the food in the microwave, sets the timer, and presses start. It comes to life with a loud whir sound. Inside, the food begins to spin slowly as it cooks, all the while being watched by the elderly man. His steel grey eyes take on a mischievous glint.
With an ironic smile, he nods towards the microwave, and says, “We could always send the president a steaming bowl of your famous pork and beans.”
Zedler raises a bushy, whiter than snow eyebrow. “Sure, Rick. I’ll just walk up to the White House’s front gate, and hand over canned food, claiming it’s my Oma’s recipe.” He rolls his eyes, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards.
“Well you could disguise it in some respectable china… Possibly adorned with red hearts,” Rick says with a shrug. He does his best to act indifferent, but one look from Zedler sends them doubling over in laughter.
Suddenly, a series of knocks cuts them off.
Both men’s bodies stiffen. Rick glances at the back door a ways down the hallway. It’s visibly shaking on its hinges from the beating it’s receiving. Swallowing once, he turns to Zedler, and whispers, “You don’t think—“
“Please, let me in! Mr. Pierre, I know you’re in there!” The slightly muffled, but clearly terrified woman’s voice cries out. She beats on the door harder than before, even tries the locked doorknob.
“Open the door, Rick,” Zedler says in a sharp tone. “Now.” His breathing has gone shallow, and his heartbeat races out of control. The unsettling thoughts are back, and they all ask the same thing: What makes a woman scream for protection in a relatively crime-free city?
The banging has finally stopped, and Rick returns with a familiar looking young woman on his arm. He’s whispering in her ear, most likely words of comfort, but Zedler can see they’re not working. The woman can’t stop rubbing her arms with trembling hands, or tugging at her hair. Even her once tan skin is remarkably pale.
“I need you to tell us what happened, Ms. Drake.”
She turns towards Zedler, eyes wild with fear. “Mr. Pierre, or whatever your real name is, I just ran over three miles to get here. I even lost my shoes!” Drake points at her torn stocking feet where bleeding sores prove her claim. “There’s someone out there who really doesn’t want this information getting out.”
Zedler gives Drake a sharp look, and wheels closer to her, his blue eyes darkening ever so slightly. “You were followed?”
“By a short-tempered brute with a Ripper for a friend,” Drake says.
Rick groans, rubbing his forehead. “Not one of those.”
Frowning, Zedler ignores his protest, and asks, “You’re sure he was carrying a Ripper?”
“Definitely.” There’s no hesitation.
Zedler turns inward, and begins mulling over what this new detail means. It’s certainly not good news, but it’s better than a heavily modified P08 Lugar.
“What are you thinking, papa?” Rick asks.
“That our mystery friend is American, and not our problem.”
Drake shoots Zedler an incredulous look, her mouth hanging partially open. “Not your problem? This is everyone’s problem, like everyone in the U.S.A. kind of problem.” A snort of derision comes from behind her, but she pushes on like nothing happened, the fear in her eyes more pronounced than ever before. “You guys don’t understand. President Hart is planning the extermination of the American people!”
Silence follows. The men exchange guarded looks.
“You’re absolutely sure on this?” Rick asks, taking the lead.
Drake nods emphatically. “I was there.”
Rick looks at her strangely. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but when we hired you, we were sure you worked for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”
“And I still do,” she says in a reassuring tone. “But I was chosen to accept an award on behalf of the association earlier today. Had I known I’d play witness to a bunch of corrupt politicians planning our demise, I would’ve spent the day packing instead.”
Struck by a sudden thought, Zedler stops listening, and lets their voices fade in the background. Turning in his chair, he stares at the muted television. The same headline regarding free college still dominates the better part of the screen.
“Interessant,” he says.
The German phrase catches Rick’s attention, and he waves Drake to be quiet. He hobbles over to Zedler, and places a gentle hand on his shoulder. “What is it, papa?”
Zedler doesn’t seem to hear, and instead turns back around, his eyes locked on Drake. It’s a moment before he says anything, but when he does, Zedler points a finger at the television, asking, “Would Hart’s plans have anything to do with that?”
Her pretty features darken. “I’m afraid so. Who would’ve ever thought our political leaders were this attached to their money.” She shakes her head, and glances over her shoulder at the door. “I better get going. There’s a ticket for Neptune with my name on it.”
She turns to leave, but Zedler stops her. “One last thing, Ms. Drake. Were you able to shake him off?”
“The American,” he says impatiently.
Drake considers his question, but her next words are far from convincing. “After I’d abandoned my car on Glenarden Parkway, I ran through several backyards, sometimes backtracking before coming here. I thought I saw him head the other way, but…” She trails off, and shrugs apologetically. “I’m really sorry.”
No one bothers to respond. Taking the silence as her cue to leave, Drake heads for the door; however, once again, she’s stopped this time by Rick.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Momentarily confused, Drake scrunches her eyebrows, unsure of what she’s forgotten. Then her green eyes light up. “Oh, right.” She digs into her jacket pocket, pulls out a piece of paper, and presses it into his hand. “I hope you find her in time, Mr.—“ She leaves it hanging, waiting for Rick to give her his real name.
He doesn’t, and merely says, “Goodbye, Ms. Drake.” Once the door closes behind her, he hands over the paper. Zedler gladly takes it, and starts unfolding it. However, about halfway through, he changes his mind, and tucks it into his shirt pocket.
Off Rick’s look of perplexity, Zedler explains, “We have more pressing items to worry about than my eighty-four year long obsession.” He then smiles sadly. “This old man can wait. Besides, President Hart has taken the vision of Hitler to a new level. We simply can’t ignore this.”
“But, papa! What about the plan to restore your family? My family?” Rick kneels in front of Zedler with some effort, and grips the armrests of the wheelchair. His face glows with righteous indignation. “Haven’t we waited long enough?”
Tears well up in Zedler’s eyes, and he nods once. “Yes, yes we have, mein Sohn. But we mustn’t be selfish, and leave this country to fall while we are spared. It’s not how I was raised, nor how I raised you.”
Rick slumps over, defeated, and rests his head on Zedler’s lap. They stay like that for a while in anguished silence, both lost in their thoughts of what could’ve been. Suddenly, Rick sits upright as fast as his frail body will let him.
“What if we used the machine to eliminate the common denominator to both problems?”
A thoughtful expression replaces his sadness as Zedler contemplates this new idea. “If you’re insinuating what I think you are, than we just might have ourselves a solution. A complicating one, but a solution nonetheless.”
Rick grins. “Nothing’s too complicating for your scientific brain, papa.” As he struggles to stand up, he nods at the paper tucked away in Zedler’s shirt pocket. “You do realize this means we’ll need a safe place to stay after tonight’s events. Why don’t we take a trip?”
End of Prologue
This material is copyrighted by KR Wilde. Any retranscription or reproduction is illegal.