“If you do this, you won’t end up in prime time, you’ll only end up in Palookaville!” the elderly woman on the other line chided.
“Okay, Mother!” Joanette sighed into the telephone. Gwynivara exchanged grimaces with John, Naama, and Kierram. They came to her house to gain a perspective new ally, and this discussion did not bode well for their chances!
Joanette’s mother went on, “Palookaville if you’re lucky! What if one of those nuts follows through on their threats?”
Hearing this shifted Joanette’s mood completely, and she shouted, “If you think they’re nuts, then why do you continue to support that crap?”
“Watch your language, young lady!” Joanette’s mother scolded.
“I’m not a child, Mother! I’m almost fifty, isn’t it time for us to finally have an adult conversation?” Joanette shot back.
Joanette’s mother retorted, “If you want to have an adult conversation, then start acting like one! You’re a grandmother, you should be mature enough not to use obscenities! You-!”
Interrupting her mother mid sentence, Joanette exclaimed, “Really? People are dying, my own life got threatened, and you’re worried about a swear word?” Her mother fell silent for a moment, and so Joanette countered with, “Don’t change the subject! You’re avoiding my question for a reason, aren’t you? You feel guilty about supporting a group of thugs, don’t you?”
“I don’t support violence!” her mother differed. “Some people go too far, but it happens with any cause! Do you remember when the Save the Dolphins activists beat up those fishermen? You condemned what those people did even though you still want to save those animals! I don’t want anyone to get hurt, but I still support Rialowe’s cause! This government is obviously exaggerating the amount of people who die from Venenatus Sanguis! A surgeon botches an operation, so they blame the virus! A man could strangle his wife to death and blame a manifestation! And no one checks the validity of these claims! They’d rather just perpetrate this narrative about this disease killing everyone! It’s all a hoax, and Rialowe is the only one who’s telling the truth! These lies have to stop, and no one should resort to murder to do that, but I don’t blame them for that level of anger! If they keep facing this kind of oppression, of course people will have drastic reactions! They can only take so much!”
“Oh Mother, you’re not being oppressed, you’re being brainwashed!” Joanette argued. “I mean, really? You think all the scientists, all the doctors, most of the news outlets, and-!”
“Even Hollywood is involved in this scheme, yes I do!” her mother affirmed. “They’re all desperate to destroy Rialowe’s reputation because they want to hold to their power!”
Joanette puzzled, “What power? Yes, movie stars have a lot of money and fame, but what exactly do you think scientists are getting out of this? It’s not like you see researchers riding around in Rolls Royces!”
Her mother didn’t have an explanation for that, but she stayed adamant on her stance, “Look, all I know is that Rialowe is a millionaire willing to sacrifice his fortune to save this country. I like him, but that doesn’t take away my love for you! You can believe what you want, but please don’t talk about politics on the air anymore! You’ll lose your job and maybe even your life!”
Gwynivara began to worry again. Clearly, Joanette didn’t share her mother’s views, but she could see that she deeply cared for her mom. She hoped that her desire to appease a parent wouldn’t dissuade her from speaking about Venenatus Sanguis during her broadcast! She may want to reassure her family, but with so much at stake, she hoped that Joanette would still feel willing to take on the risks and help save humanity!
Before Joanette could reply to her mother’s heartfelt sentiments, the doorbell rang, and she told her, “I got someone at the door! I’ll call you back later!” Her mother tried to persuade her to continue the conversation, but Joanette hung up on her. She then yelled, “Kurtis! Can you get that?” She turned back to the Rebels in her living room and let them know, “That’s the handyman. He’s here to fix a broken window. My husband put some furniture in front of it, but I don’t know what this person is capable of, so I’m not taking any chances!”
“Yeah, when we came by the other day, you mentioned that someone left an intimidating message for you, so I don’t blame you for being cautious!” John acknowledged.
“It was one thing when they sent letters to the station, but someone actually figured out where I live and broke into my house to try and scare me into submission!” Joanette shuddered at the memory of it.
Gwynivara responded encouragingly, “Key word, try! You’re not gonna let them do that to you, right?”
Joanette’s hands grew shaky, and she croaked out, “I don’t know! Do you mind if I smoke?” Her four guests permitted it, but right after she lit her cigarette, she immediately put it out. She then cradled her head in her hands and explained, “I quit years ago, but with all this crap going on, I…!”
“It’s understandable!” Naama sympathized. “My mom used to smoke when she felt stressed too.”
“No, it’s not that!” Joanette took a big gulp and then confessed, “I know that cigarettes are deadly, but lately I’ve just got this feeling that someone is trying to kill me, and I figured that if I’m gonna die, I may as well have a cigarette!”
Kierram attempted to shake that thought from her mind, “Don’t think like that! When I served in ‘Nam, I had a lot of people who wanted to kill me! After I left, nothing changed. But I never focused on that, well, except for tactical reasons. I’ve survived by focusing on the people who depended on me! If I keep my on taking care of my troops, I don’t have time to feel scared! Besides, the enemy wants me to buckle into the pressure, and I won’t give them the satisfaction!”
His advice seemed to embolden her spirits somewhat, but her curiosity picked up on something that seemed more pertinent for her attention. Joanette inquired, “People are still trying to kill you? Why?”
It appeared that the time had come for them to disclose the true nature of their visit! Gwynivara knew that she would never agree to do them any favors if they didn’t give her the full story, so she revealed, “We know who’s after you ’cause they’re after us too! They’re part of a movement that’s trying to suppress the truth, and we’re part of the resistance!”
“Is that why you’re on the most wanted list?” Joanette probed. The Rebels all looked surprised to hear her say that, so she filled them in, “Oh yes, I know! A lot of things just aren’t making sense right now. The FBI has one version of events, and the medical community has another. Politicians and law enforcement are divided on the topic, and there’s holes in everyone’s version of the dilemma. I’m tired of it! I just wanna know the truth! A lot of people paint you guys as criminals, but I’m looking at people of all different races, ages, and sexes, and it just seems so uncharacteristic of a typical group of insurgents! Something more is going on then what we’re being told! Please, just tell me what’s happening!”
“The truth is…” Gwynivara briefly hesitated. Joanette recognized them as sought after fugitives, and she had to make sure that Joanette didn’t have ulterior motives for entertaining them. She seemed eager to get an honest understanding of the matter, but she wondered what she would do with the story they gave her once it got out there. If she wanted to turn them in, she would have take measures to avoid capture for the umpteenth time! She also considered that she just wanted to write a sensational headline, and she didn’t want to give her that gratification if that were the case! Gwynivara looked into her eyes, and she saw a lot of hurt and desperation. Joanette gave off the aura of sheer earnestness, so she decided to trust her. “The truth is we all came together because we have one thing in common- we’re human and we wanna live! The people after us work for the one who created Venenatus Sanguis, and while they’re fighting to spread the virus, we’re fighting to get the cure out there before humanity gets destroyed!”
Joanette’s eyes widened in shock, but after she absorbed it more, she wanted to know, “Why has it fallen on you guys to do this? You don’t trust the Public Health Center?”
John educated her, “The enemy infiltrated the PHC. Any time their researchers came close to the cure or information that could help them, the enemy would destroy the evidence. Those same people formed the Disease Safety Unit in Great Dismal Falls, and while they claim to save people from Venenatus Sanguis, they’re actually trying to spread it! They keep manifestations on chains and sic ’em on healthy people! They even set fire to our quarantine building we had down there! They wanted to set infected people free to widen the spread! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be out of that hellhole, but…”
“Rialowe did tell the truth about one thing, those quarantines do imprison innocent people!” Kierram had said that in jest, but Gwynivara detected a kernel of genuineness to his voice that made her very suspicious of his mindset. She sincerely hoped that the short time he had spent in Vulpes Press hadn’t swayed him to their vulgar viewpoints!
“Speaking of Rialowe…” Naama introduced another aspect of this, “He’s convinced his followers that Venenatus Sanguis doesn’t exist so that people let their guards down. A lot have stopped doing the proper safety measures, making themselves more vulnerable to contract it! If that wasn’t bad enough, we think his supposed first lady is actually the origin of the virus!”
Joanette nodded in comprehension. “That would explain why no one knows anything about her! But who is this woman? She obviously has a lot of power over a lot of people, but why? Why do they wanna work for someone who’s killing everybody?”
Kierram took the reins on this one, “Her name is Rafeneita, and she’s some military leader from another planet. Yes, I know, that sounds far fetched, but where else would a disease like this come from?”
“An alien?” Joanette appeared very skeptical about the concept, but it did seem to square off with all that transpired. Gwynivara didnt’ get the impression that she totally bought the assertion yet, but she did hanker for further details on this. “So, she came to Earth to destroy it?”
“Yes,” Gwynivara confirmed. “We confronted her not so long ago, and she told us that her planet was on the brink of destruction, so she’s trying to wipe out humanity so her people can populate our world. She has humans helping her ’cause she promised to spare them once she succeeds. She tried to recruit us too, and she even gave us this as a bribe.”
Gwynivara held up the cure, and Joanette stared at it curiously. “What is it?” she asked.
John proclaimed, “It’s the cure! Apparently, she thought if we could help ourselves out, we would leave her alone.”
“She also kept us busy while she moved on to the next phase of her plot,” Kierram added. “She didn’t give us any clues how to use it, and she also had no idea that if we refused her that we would elude capture and find a person who could tell us how it works!”
“We wanted to find someone with credibility to take credit for it since the FBI is painting us murderous cult members!” Naama threw in. “We found an anatomy professor who gave us a lot of knowledge on it, but unfortunately, he can’t give us anything else! Rafeneita’s people killed him!”
Joanette recalled, “Are you talking about Professor Chadron? We just covered that story! So, he got killed so he couldn’t get the cure out?”
Gwynivara certified this, “Exactly! We tested it ourselves, but no one is gonna trust us or take our word on it. That’s where you come in…”
“You want me to talk about it on the air?” Joanette surmised. After Gwynivara gave her nod, Joanette frantically uttered, “I can’t do that! The station is already getting attacked for what I’ve already said! I’ll end up just like that professor if I do! I’m sorry, I want to help, but I wanna live too!”
“If Rafeneita wins, you’re gonna die anyways!” Gwynivara avowed. “None of us will survive! The longer we wait, the further Venenatus Sanguis will spread! Yes, there’s a risk in telling the truth, but withholding this information comes with a guarantee- humanity won’t last! You can put as much protection around you as possible that day, but if you don’t do this, the virus will take over and no one can save you! You know exactly where this is heading, don’t let it go there! You and everyone you know is safer by doing this! Please, help us!” Joanette gave this issue serious contemplation…
President Ford came on the television. “My fellow Americans, I’m here to announce that many of you have been lied to! Don John Rialowe has made a lot of dangerous claims, the worst of which involves the false notion that a deadly disease doesn’t exist! It is real, and millions of people have died from it! His rallies have been linked to thousands of new cases, and it’s encouraging a lot of Americans to disregard practices that keep them safe! Please, don’t fall victim to this ploy! Don’t let yourself become a victim! Stay out of large gatherings, and remember to vote with your conscious at the ballot box! Thank you!”
“Wow, that was nice of him to do!” Cedric reacted to what he and Easton just witnessed on the TV.
“Yeah, that’s great! Too bad it doesn’t solve our problem!” Susie resumed her pacing throughout the lounge. “They’re closing in on us! How are we supposed to get dozens of people out without anyone noticing?”
Agnes entered the room, and she tentatively announced, “There’s a man at the door. He says he’s a friend and he can help.” Susie, Cedric, and Easton gave each other leery look, and then they cautiously made their way towards the front door…