by Bill Kowaleski
Creative Destruction is a sequel to the novel Brighter Than the Stars, in which Earthlings meet technologically advanced space aliens. The Cygnians come only to do business, but their schemes to sell fusion-powered generators become contentious and competitive.
Many human and alien characters return from the previous novel, including Jim McDermott and his team, who try to reduce the risk of societal upheaval that the new technologies threaten. Meanwhile, many different groups are either plotting to steal the technical advances for their own purposes or trying to destroy it and drive the Cygnians off of Earth.
|Cast of Characters and Species||Table of Contents|
Part 5: Miles, Jason, and Maria
Chapter 32: Miles Escapes
“I need to go back home for a while, Maria,”. Miles said. “I should be back by Monday after next.”
She’d encountered him stuffing his backpack with clothes and immediately demanded to know what was happening. “Why didn’t I know about this sooner?”
She stood, hands on hips, her frumpy brown cargo shorts hanging even more loosely now that she’d lost ten pounds. “I thought we were going to New York together this weekend. After the rally we could have gone to—”
“Look, my father wants me to sign some papers. He’s making me a full partner in the business. It’s really important. New York will still be there when I get back.”
“You can sign papers in a day. Why do you need over two weeks?”
“He wants to transition the business to me.”
She let out a long sigh, shook her head. Her face was full of disapproval.
“Come on! He wants me there. He’s my father, he’s providing a lot of our funding. Give me a break!”
“Are you sure you’re just going to be in West Virginia?”
Miles stopped packing, glared at her. Was now the moment? No, not yet. The papers weren’t signed. But the second they were...
“Maria, if you don’t trust me, just break it off now. Without trust, no relationship can last.”
She had no choice but to back down. The thing she feared most was losing him. It haunted her thoughts every minute he was out of her sight. She needed him more than she’d ever needed her causes. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I just hate the thought of being here without you. I’ll miss you so much.”
He grunted, but the words wouldn’t come out. He couldn’t say that he’d miss her. He just couldn’t tell her such a blatant lie. Instead he said, “You’ll hardly know I’m gone. A little separation is a good thing. You’ll be able to regain your perspective. Trust me. You’ll be glad we did this.”
She sighed. “Maybe you’re right. Do we have time for—”
“No, got to go right now. Sorry, should have told you sooner but Dad wants me there ASAP.” He zipped the backpack and escaped out the front door, down the musty, dark hallway, down the creaky stairs.
Once inside his BMW he finally relaxed. Yes, he would be going to West Virginia, but he wouldn’t be staying in his father’s house the entire time. Instead he’d also be going on a fishing trip with Jason, a guy he’d present to his father as a buddy, a guy he knew his father would like right away.
Jason could talk fishing for hours, in fact he’d never met another gay guy who knew anything at all about fishing, but Jason could have written the World Encyclopedia of Fishing. And he was also an expert on wildlife, edible forest plants, and trees. My, did he know trees! He had told Miles everything about the trees that thickly surrounded the remote cabin they’d rented.
Of course, this trip wasn’t about fishing. It was about being alone with Jason: twelve glorious days of unbroken bliss. He deserved it. The past year with Maria had gone from unpleasant to unendurable. With any luck, he’d never have to look at her again.
He parked in the garage of Jason’s Lake Shore Drive building. As the elevator rose to the penthouse level, he floated in a fog of infatuation, as though he were rising without the aid of the lift. He stepped into the entry foyer. Jason stood in the open penthouse doorway wearing only his spandex bicycle shorts, holding two full wine glasses, grinning in his impish way. God, life was good!
“How’s the fanatic? Did she take it pretty hard?”
“Oh, the usual interrogation. Nothing I can’t handle.”
Miles wrapped his arm around Jason’s waist and whispered into his ear, “Is there anyone in the world as beautiful as you?”
“Oh, I seriously doubt that,” Jason said with a wry laugh. He tilted his head, as though he’d just had a profound thought. “But then there’s you. You could be serious competition for that honor. Most beautiful in the world? Yes, I think you would definitely be a finalist.”
Their mouths met. Jason, reaching behind Miles, placed the wine glasses on a table displaying a large oak sculpture of something that looked like a boat, or maybe a spaceship. Then he wrapped his arms tightly around Miles. They fell to the floor. He ripped off Miles’ clothes. They never made it to the bed.
Maria Learns the Truth
“Maria, come on! You haven’t heard a word I’ve said! The rally’s in just two hours. We’ve got to get this wording right.”
Darrell sat in an easy chair next to the bed in Maria’s Times Square hotel room. The papers filling his lap prevented him from standing, something he felt a strong need to do.
“Sorry.” She shifted on the unmade bed, crossed her legs and turned to more directly face him. “I wonder what he’s doing down there in West Virginia. I can’t get his cell; it tells me that he’s not in a service area.”
“Who are you talking about?”
“Miles, who else?”
“Miles? Who cares about him? God, you’re stuck on that poof. I don’t get it.”
“What do you mean poof? Just because he’s good-looking and you’re a lumpy, balding fatso doesn’t mean you have to run him down!”
“I’m stating facts, Maria.”
“You don’t know anything about him. You’re just some guy I hired to do a job, so shut up and do what I tell you.”
Nobody talked to Darrell Worth like that. He’d put up with enough from her. It was time to take off the gloves.
“OK, I guess Her Royal Highness needs proof. You can check this out with Patrick McHugh if you’d like. He’ll confirm it. When he was helping out with the Grant Park rally, he told me he’d seen Miles in a gay bar. I knew Patrick was gay, no big deal. But Miles, well, that was a bit of a surprise, but I decided not to say anything—”
“What? You shithead! You didn’t tell me! How could you do that?”
Darrell shoved the papers to the floor and stood. “Look, bitch, it’s hard enough keeping you on message. The last thing I needed was for you to get crazy about your lover boy. Guys can swing both ways. It happens. No big thing.”
“Couldn’t this Patrick have maybe made a mistake?”
He was so sick of her, pretending to be his boss, shouting demeaning commands at him, the Darrell Worth, someone who’d advised presidents, written federal laws, steered mass political movements. Now, finally, he could stick the knife in. It was going to feel great.
“Oh, I don’t think so. He said Miles was really good sex. Told me they had a laugh about how you’d react if you found out.”
A haze of shock and tears filled her eyes. Her stomach knotted, her heart raced, for a moment she couldn’t even breathe. All her fears had come true. Her world had ended. But it couldn’t be. Not Miles, no, she knew him too well. Darryl was just trying to hurt her. He’d always been jealous of her, always wanted the spotlight that she had. How she hated him! She shot to her feet, stuck her arm straight out, pointing at the door.
“I’ve had it with you!” she screamed. “I can’t trust someone who keeps secrets from me. I’m firing you from this movement right now. Get out of here!”
He kicked at the papers and smiled. His voice was calm, quiet, full of confidence. “Actually, only Miles’ father could fire me. But I wouldn’t want to intrude on your delusions. The Alien Repatriation Act is law, and this rally is nothing more than a victory party. I’ve done my job. You can say whatever you want at the rally, you scaggy bitch. I’m through taking your shit.” He turned calmly and deliberately walked out the door, shutting it quietly behind him.
She sat on the bed, frozen, staring out her window at the narrow slice of Times Square neon. She’d never really noticed just how elegantly it flashed, repainted, recycled. She watched it cycle again and again, endlessly entertaining the throngs far below. She mused about the thousands of people down there, happy, busy, doing whatever it was that mattered to them. She envied them all. They had purpose in their lives, and now she had none.
She should be happy. She’d won. The aliens were repulsed, nuclear fusion was back in its box. But, during the course of her crusade, she’d changed, and now all she wanted was Miles. Was it possible that he was gone too? How could her life, so full just a few days ago, have so suddenly become so empty?
She just couldn’t accept it. Darrell was a jerk; someone she’d never trusted. She had to be sure. Miles was unreachable, but perhaps she could reach his father. James Martin had given her his private cell phone number way back when this all had started, telling her she could always call him. It was still in her phone’s contacts. She wiped away her tears and found her phone.
She reached him on the third ring. At first, he didn’t seem sure who she was but then his voice rose in recognition.
“Oh, sure, young lady. Of course, I remember you now. Been a while. You can’t reach Miles? Well, of course not. He and Jason are at a cabin way out in the wilderness. Why, they had to backpack to it; there’s no road. Next to a great stream. I’ve fished it myself. Let me tell you, that Jason knows his fishing. We talked for two hours about it. Never met a guy so young who knew so much about it.”
That sounded reassuring. “So he’s on a fishing trip.”
“Yeah, didn’t he tell you? They left yesterday, after he signed the papers here and we set him up to start running the business when he gets back. I made Miles full partner in the company. I’m so happy that’s done. We’d made a deal...”
He went silent a second then continued. “But you wouldn’t be interested in all those business details. It’s enough to say that I’m retiring at the end of this year, and he’s taking over.”
“Listen, Mr. Martin, could you maybe tell me where that cabin is? I’d love to surprise him.”
“Well, now, let me tell you something about men, young lady. They like to get away from their womenfolk sometimes. A fishing trip is pretty much a sure-fire indication that that’s what he’s doing. It’s guy stuff. I’d leave him be if I were you.”
“OK, sure. Thanks so much, Mr. Martin.”
She needed to get back to Chicago as soon as possible. Perhaps she’d find a clue to the cabin’s location there, among Miles’ papers, or on her computer, which he’d used more himself than she had. And maybe she’d learn more about Jason, too. She rebooked her flight online, then threw her clothes in her bag, rushed downstairs, checked out, and grabbed a taxi.
Only after she’d settled in her flight’s waiting lounge at La Guardia did she realize that she was missing the rally.
The Truth Hurts
She’d barely entered her apartment when she knew something was different. He’d been back since she’d left for New York. Miles always kept a room at the Hyatt by the airport, but over time more and more of his things had found a home in her spare drawers. But now, all of those drawers were empty. She searched frantically for any remaining trace of him, finding nothing.
And then she thought of the computer. She brought up the browser history. After scrolling through dozens of entries, she found one from the day before she’d left for New York for a flower delivery site and the site of a very posh restaurant on the Gold Coast. She’d received no flowers, nor had they ever gone to that restaurant.
Then she thought of email. There was nothing unusual in his inbox, or in his sent messages. She went to the trash folder. There she found dozens of emails to and from firstname.lastname@example.org. This must be the guy he went fishing with, she thought. She opened one at random.
I ache with loneliness. Every moment away from you is a wasted moment. Only two days until we are together always. It will seem like two years.
All my love, Miles.
Her heart raced, the room spun, tears filled her eyes. But she couldn’t stop torturing herself. She had to read every message. She had to wallow in her pain, feel it fully. The fifth message contained the most hurtful revelation of all.
The Fanatic has me on the brink of insanity. Her body disgusts me, her fawning attention revolts me, her relentless condescension makes me burn with anger. Never again will I take on a job like this. It’s truly not worth it.
I spilled it all to Dad yesterday. He was sympathetic, said that he’d make it worth my while. He says he’s just bought into UZPG so that means that when I take over I’ll be in the fusion power business!
You’ll meet Dad in just a few days. He’s a great guy. How I wish I could tell him how I feel about you, but I don’t think he’s ready yet.
Her cell phone rang. She put it to her ear without checking the number.
“Maria, this is Darrell.”
“I never thought I’d hear from you again. What do you want?”
“You sound like you’ve been crying.”
She cleared her throat, took a deep breath. “Just tell me why you’re calling, Darrell.”
“OK, so you never showed up at the rally. I winged it, no problem. I suppose you were mooning about Miles.”
“Sorry, you’re right. I got pretty emotional.”
“Well, I thought we were done, but something’s happened. The Chinese and most of Africa are in love with the Cygnians and their generators. They’re going to do an end run around us, let the Cygnians bring in all the product they want, put the U.S. in a situation where we’ll have no choice but to rescind the ARA. We’re assembling a multinational team to spread fear and doubt in Africa. China’s going to be tougher. But we sure could use you to write some more screeds like on your Facebook page. Interested?”
Darrell’s voice reminded her that it was he who had demolished her fantasy, he who had shoved the brutal truth about Miles down her throat. A very small part of her knew she should be thanking him for that, but a much larger part of her hated him for it.
“No, I’m not going to do that. You and Miles just used me. I was the innocent citizen frightened by the evil aliens and their dangerous technology. Well, screw that! I’m going to expose you assholes, tell the world what you did to me. That’s what I’m going to put on my Facebook page, and that’s what I’m going to say to all the reporters I’ve gotten to know.”
She shut off her phone before he could respond. Yes, that was the solution. Revenge. Let the world know how she’d been mistreated, especially what Miles had done to her. She would destroy what she’d started. It wasn’t hers anymore anyway.
The apartment was painfully empty without Miles. She could hardly bear being there knowing that he was in an isolated cabin with his boyfriend. Boyfriend! She tried to console herself by thinking about exposing his evil manipulation of her to the world, but the more she thought about it, the more she began to think that most people would probably just see her as a fool who’d got taken by a handsome, charming, young man; a story as old as the human race.
No, it wasn’t going to be enough. She had to hurt him. He’d withdrawn his affection from her, so why not take away the object of his affection? She didn’t even know what Jason looked like, had no idea what kind of person he was, but she knew, as surely as she knew that the Cygnians were planning an invasion of the Earth through Africa, that she had to kill Jason Wise. And soon.
Copyright © 2019 by Bill Kowaleski