Every person popped to attention when Daniel Trapp walked into a room. He’d been president now for almost three years, and this salutation should’ve stopped giving him pause a few years ago, but he still fought the urge to look over his shoulder. He waved off the people sitting around the large table in the War Room. As they took their seats, he took several deep breaths, an attempt to put his public face on, a facade for his people. He wanted to seem unwavering, strong, and decisive. In the past, this hadn’t been a problem. That had been who he was, until the world started to shift under him. He’d never been faced with a decision of this magnitude before. No one had, as far as he knew.
Several massive climate catastrophes had left the world in shambles. There were millions of people with nowhere to go, struggling to stay alive. He’d made America a refuge, a place where the people of the world who’d been affected could make their new home. This was met with such severe backlash that there was a constant stream of protesters at the gates of the White House. At first, he thought it was growing pains, people adjusting to what would be their new normal. Despite their initial reactions, he believed the spirit of the American people would eventually find its way into the light to do their duty.
Then the protests started to become more violent and new leadership began to emerge. Frank MacLeod had managed to manipulate and lie his way into the hearts of the people. It didn’t matter how many of his statements were proven as lies, or how horrible his remarks about women and minorities, people rallied around his pervasive ideas of nationalism and isolationism. He laid the issues of the world at the feet of innocent people, insinuating that they somehow deserved what was happening to them.
Frank MacLeod seemed to be the backlash of a world that had started to turn toward humanity and progress. He gave a voice to people who’d been pushed into the shadows to harbor their bigotry and hatred in isolation. Now they’d all found each other and wanted revenge for their humiliation. The recent insurgence of refugees and the financial assistance the government was providing was the perfect catalyst to help convince people to join their side. The whole situation was unnerving, problematic, and sickening. Lines were being drawn, and the idea of being on the right side of history seemed to no longer matter.
Their forces were gaining momentum and talks of convening a constitutional convention once they were in power no longer seemed like a fevered dream. For this reason and the possibility of threats that weren’t currently perceivable, the Phoenix Project was created. There would be four Phoenix total, each with their prescribed area of expertise. Each had a skill set that could help to bring unity and peace to the country if the unthinkable happened. If America fell, and it seemed there was no question they were headed that direction, eventually, these four people would be the last hope, a glimmer of what America once stood for and what it could be again. They would work together to restore the country to what it was supposed to be, when whoever was in charge deemed the time was right. The idea was brilliant, but the fact that his thirty-four-year-old daughter, Kaelyn, had been selected as one of the Phoenix, took the shine out of the prospect for him.
He was fully aware of her capabilities. Kaelyn had a broad and incredible understanding of American history and strategy. In fact, she taught American history at Duke University. All of this didn’t help to squelch the fear of putting his daughter through the process. She would be cryogenically frozen until a time where there was an opening for the people to take the country back, once again. She would emerge as an immediate leader and a target. What hurt his heart the most was that she’d wake up and not know her surroundings. There’d be no familiar faces, no one to recount her childhood, no one who would understand her experiences the way a family member could. She’d have no one.
“Mr. President?” the army general asked. “We’d like to proceed.”
He nodded, uncertain he could keep his voice steady if he answered aloud.
The Four Phoenix were brought into the room, each taking a place around the table. Daniel saw the others, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Kaelyn. It seemed like just yesterday he had twirled her in circles at the park, watched her kick her first goal, and attended her high school and college graduations. She looked so much like her mother—elegant, confident, and beautiful. But right now all he could see was the little girl who would curl up in his lap and fall asleep after begging to watch a movie. The child who had stayed up far past her bedtime to finish her favorite book, Peter Pan, even though she had read it a hundred times before. He saw the best decision he’d ever made by creating her and now the hardest decision he’d ever made by giving her up to a plan he wouldn’t see come to fruition. His heart ached at the gravity of the situation and he fought back tears when she straightened her back when the admiral addressed her.
“Ms. Trapp, you do understand what we are asking you to do? That you’re agreeing to leave this time and the life that you know?”
“Yes, sir.” She laced her fingers on top of the table. “I understand the importance of this project and what my role will be in the future.”
The secretary of defense stood and paced, as was his habit. “Could you please explain the roles you will each play, for the official record.”
Kaelyn stood and moved to the woman a few seats down from her, placing her hands on her shoulders. “Phoenix Two is a research professor for the military profession and ethics at the Army War College.”
The professor beamed with excitement. “I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and economics from Washington and Lee University, where I graduated cum laude with honors in philosophy, a master’s degree in philosophy from Stanford University, with a concentration in the history and philosophy of science. I also received a graduate fellowship at the Center for Conflict and Negotiation. I have a master’s in national resource management from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, where I was a distinguished graduate. I received a doctorate in philosophy from Georgetown University. My objective is to hold our future government to the highest of standards and to ensure the ends always justify the means.”
Kaelyn moved on to the next woman. “Phoenix Three is the executive director of the leadership center at MIT.”
Phoenix Three pushed her glasses up on her nose. “I’m a senior lecturer in leadership and innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management where I’ve pursued my vocation of executive teaching, coaching, and research by exploring how leaders in business, government, and society discover provocative new ideas, develop the human and organizational capacity to realize those ideas, and ultimately deliver positive, powerful results. There’ll be a lot to rebuild in the future, and we’ll already be behind the curve. It will be my job to catch us up and to make sure we’ll be deploying the most effective techniques.”
Kaelyn motioned to the only male Phoenix amongst them, Four. “The head of psychology at Howard University.”
“I was the first in my family to attend college and the son of immigrants. I have a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, and the focus of my research is the development of young children. Though most of my research has been devoted to the academic development of African American children, I fear that many will join this persecuted class in the future. Skin color won’t play as prominent a role because too many will have been placed into the ‘other’ category. My job will be to help bridge the gap between us and them, in hopes that we finally create a ‘we.’”
Kaelyn dipped her head to the people around the table, and her eyes were alive and excited. “And as you all know, I’m the First Daughter, but after today, simply Phoenix One. I have an MBA in strategy and leadership from George Washington University and a Ph.D. in American history with a concentration on constitutional law from Duke University, where I now teach. Prior to that, I was a researcher at the RAND Corporation, where I focused on national security, strategic planning, risk management, force planning, and workforce development issues. During my time with RAND, I contributed to several publications where we developed philosophies on improving government process, presidential appointments, and broadening public leadership in a globalized world. By all accounts, my life has been one of privilege and very little struggle. I’ve never fought in a war, nor am I the daughter of immigrants. But I’ve watched my parents spend every day of my life fighting for the people of this country and all around the world. It has become our family legacy, a legacy I happily take my place in today. My job will be to bring the soul of the American people into the future. To remind us what we stand for, what we sacrificed, and what we can achieve. I have all our history living in my head, without the distortion MacLeod is trying to create, the details he’s trying to change. The good, the bad, and the ugly should and will be remembered so we can do better and avoid the mistakes of our past.”
Daniel watched his daughter as she took her seat. She was full of hope and determination. He wanted to siphon some of that from her, put it in a bottle to drink later or dole out to people as necessary. But that was the point of having her here, wasn’t it? Long after he was gone, the Phoenix Project would be gifted to the future generation. Until that time, they’d be kept in their locations, a symbol of hope, a driving force to keep people focused on an objective, a mission.
Daniel leaned forward on the table, took off his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose where the stress of the day had manifested into pain. “The country and the world are in debt to all of you. Please, go get your affairs in order and we will notify you when it’s time. We’re hoping to put it off as long as possible, but it is inevitable.”
The four filed out of the room, and he turned his attention back to the table. “Have we decided on the final locations that we’ll place them?”
An army general pulled a box from under the table. “Each of these sixteen folders holds a possible location. Depending how the next several months or years unfold will determine optimal placement. We have teams in place to secure each of them, depending on the location that’s chosen. However, for security reasons, the teams will only be familiar with their target location and will not be privy to the others. They will, in a sense, be the guardians of their assigned Phoenix. Per your instructions, they won’t be awakened until the three protocols have been met: the people need to be ready and willing to support the effort, there must be instability within the reigning government, and there must be a military force that can back up their efforts.”
The throbbing in Daniel’s head was spreading. He could feel it moving down his neck and into his shoulders. “How will we assure that MacLeod doesn’t find out about them?”
The Joint Chiefs all looked at each other, seemingly confused by his question. “The same way we’ve always kept secrets: we have to trust our people.”
Someone from the other side of the table started talking, and Daniel didn’t bother to look up from his folded hands to see who it was. “Sir, please remember, this is just a precaution. We may never need the Phoenix Project.”
This was the attitude that infuriated him the most. He stood, slamming his hands on the table. “Do not try to placate me. We just had a midterm election. They placed enough people in power to call for a constitutional convention, and they have the votes to throw me out of office. Their followers don’t care if what they’re saying is true. They’ve convinced the American people that their fear is righteous, virtuous, and that there’s only one way to stop it. There are people dying in the streets, people of color being brutalized, the LGBTQ community are being fired from their jobs and beaten to death. I’ve activated the National Guard, but all our resistance will come to a crashing halt if they have their way. The pillars are crashing down around us, and you think this is all a precaution? No, it’s our Hail Mary, our last apology to the future generations, and it’s all we have left.”
“When do you want to call them in to begin the cryo process?” the admiral asked.
Daniel shook his head at his own realization. He hadn’t picked a date until this moment. “The day before they remove me from office.”
The army general stood. “Sir, we don’t know—”
Daniel cut him off, finding himself annoyed for having to explain to these people what seemed so obvious. “They’ll call the convention. They’ll change the Constitution so they’ll be able to elect whomever they want, and then they’ll impeach me. It won’t be my vice president taking my spot. It will be Frank MacLeod.”
He walked out of the room before anyone had a chance to argue with him or to try to change his mind. It didn’t bother him that people wanted him thrown out of office; that was part of the job. What scared him was who they’d replace him with. He continued to walk down the hallway, then stopped in front of a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. He paused, staring at the ill-fated president. Daniel had written his dissertation on Lincoln, who he believed was the greatest president who had ever lived. Daniel had always felt sorry for Lincoln, not knowing what would happen to him. If he’d known he could’ve made a plethora of different decisions that day, including the decision to attend the play. But now, in this moment, Daniel envied him. Unlike Lincoln, Daniel could see what was happening. That same evil that had lived inside John Wilkes Booth was alive and well again in America. Booth, like MacLeod, had believed there were certain people more deserving than others. Booth didn’t want the newly freed slaves to have a vote in the country, much like MacLeod didn’t want to accept the refugees from around the world. Booth had believed in isolationism for the South, MacLeod for America. Neither could accept change was part of growth and that the America they each longed for was only great for white male Americans.
He hadn’t realized how long he’d been staring until he felt a hand on his arm. “Honey?”
He turned to look at his wife, Dorothy. He’d loved her since the first day they’d met in college and had loved her every day since. She was strong, smart, articulate, and beautiful. These were the same traits he now saw in his daughter, and the idea of losing her washed over him again.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and tried to focus on not letting the tears welling up in his eyes fall. “I don’t know how to stop it.”
She wrapped her arm around his. “I don’t think you can. Sometimes, things need to be completely broken to heal, just like our bones.”
“I won’t be able to protect her,” he whispered.
Dorothy put her hand on his cheek. “Did you ever think it will be them who will need protection from her?”
He leaned into her hand, allowing himself this moment. There might not be many more in their future, and he wanted to remember the small bit of beauty left in the world.
Arrow Steele glanced up at the monitor, watching the line seesaw along the screen, marking her heart rate. “Decrease oxygen level to six.”
The soothing and familiar voice of the Computer Analysis Monitoring System answered. “That is not advised. Your current running speed is seven. Lowering the oxygen level in the room could have adverse effects.” The voice had been a constant in her life since the day she was born. It belonged to the artificial intelligence server that monitored the compound. It was affectionately known to everyone as CAM.
“Advisement noted. Please lower the level to six. I need to simulate the western territory air quality.” She had been born for this mission. Arrogance hadn’t placed that thought in her head, nor was it some misguided musing. No, it was something she’d been told since she was old enough to understand words and their implications. Every day of training since her childhood had led to this week. Phoenix One was her destiny. Or that’s what she would call it, if she believed in things like destiny.
Arrow heard the overhead exhaust fans click on as CAM’s voice filled the room. “Oxygen level at nine…eight…seven…six. I have also notified Captain Markinson of your current training session, as he asked me to disengage the track once you have been on it for ninety minutes.”
Arrow shook her head, annoyed with Valor Markinson for once again trying to dictate her training regimen. “CAM, I still outrank Valor. Is your system glitched?” The words were more difficult to choke out than she’d hoped, a direct effect of the decrease in oxygen.
“There is no glitch, Major Steele. General Steele instructed me to notify the captain whenever you step outside safety protocol.”
She opened her mouth to argue, but it was becoming more difficult to breathe by the second. Her hands were beginning to tingle, and her chest burned. She blinked hard and tried to refocus the discomfort she felt on the fact that this was precisely what it would feel like in the western territory, and she needed to be ready. If she couldn’t push her body past its normal limits, what use would she be to Phoenix One? It didn’t matter what her father or Valor thought; she knew what her body was capable of, and she wanted more from it.
An alarm from the sensor pinged, and she looked up. The oxygen level in her body had decreased from ninety-eight to eighty-seven percent. If it dropped to eighty-five, the training session would end automatically. She reached down to her wrist and pushed the glowing blue button, releasing the monitoring bracelet. The monitor stopped beeping at her, and she smiled at her small victory. She’d tossed the bracelet over to the corner of the room when she heard the door slide open, and CAM’s voice announced the entrance of the man now standing in front of her.
“Good morning, General Steele.”
Her father had his arms crossed across his chest, pushing his muscles forward. His jaw clenched, and he was squinting, a positive indication that he was less than thrilled with her.
“You’re being reckless.” His voice was even and controlled.
“I’m training.” Arrow was surprised she managed to muster the ability to get the words out through the burning sensation.
“CAM, terminate the session.”
The track began to slow, and although Arrow’s immediate thought was to say she could do another five minutes, her quivering legs didn’t agree. She tried not to gasp for the air that had started to be pumped back into the room, but her body couldn’t help itself.
“I could’ve gone longer.” She had her hands on her knees and was trying to focus her vision, which had become blotted with small dots.
“What were you thinking? Level six? That’s not an altitude you’ll encounter, much less at the speed you were running.”
She was still bent over. Proper etiquette required her to stand at attention while addressing a general. But this wasn’t just a general; this was her father. She kept her eyes focused on his perfectly shined boots. “I just want to be ready for anything.”
“You’re ready. You’ve been ready. I’m very proud of you.” His voice cracked at the end. Showing emotion had never been a strong suit of her father’s, and she was caught off guard.
She stood and made eye contact. “Thank you.”
She thought for a moment that he was going to hug her. But even as she thought it, she knew it was foolish. She could count on one hand the number of times he had embraced her in all her twenty-eight years. He nodded at her once and walked past her. “You’re due in the control center in forty-five minutes.”
“I know. I’ll be there.”
“See you then.” The door slid open, and he walked out.
Arrow grabbed a towel from the neatly folded pile in the corner of the room. She blotted her face and stared at herself in the mirror. There were still blotchy patches of red on her neck and cheeks.
“Please put your monitoring device back on, Major Steele,” CAM said.
Arrow grabbed the small bracelet from the corner of the room and put it back on her wrist. “You didn’t have to call the general. I would’ve stopped eventually.”
“General Steele asked for your location. I gave it to him as well as an update on your activity.”
Arrow was in the process of stripping the clothes from her body, but she paused, surprised by this information. “How often does he check on me?” She wasn’t aware that her father was all that concerned with her day-to-day happenings.
“Two to three times a day.”
She tapped the monitor on the shower, dictating the temperature she wanted the water to be, along with the combination of soap she wanted to be included. “I didn’t realize he cared that much.”
She didn’t expect CAM to answer. She’d been speaking to herself. “You’re one of two Guardians assigned to Phoenix One. Your whereabouts and happenings are of the utmost importance.”
This clarification made much more sense than the idea her father was concerned about her. It was about the mission. It was always about the mission. She hadn’t picked it for herself, but now she believed that had she been given a choice like others in the colony, she would have taken it. There had been two Guardians assigned to Phoenix One before her and Valor. They had retired from their positions ten years ago when she and Valor were old enough to relieve them. Arrow wasn’t sure how they did it, since she couldn’t imagine a life outside of this.
The shower was hot and relaxing, precisely the combination she was seeking. She ran a rag over her chest and arms. The soap and cloth momentarily hid the tattoos on her arms that signified her place in the world. Her upper left arm wore the insignia of the Guardian class, Level One. On the right, her barcode. They were used to identify her—the Guardian insignia to her people and the barcode to her enemy. The Hand of God had perfected the brutal art of stripping away a person’s uniqueness, which was what the barcode intended to achieve, and was given to every person at birth. But her Guardian insignia was a beacon of hope and safety for the people who entrusted her with their lives. To the Hand of God, it meant she was tasked with keeping the peace. But to anyone else, Level One Guardians were the keepers of the Phoenix.
“Arrow?” The voice echoed through the shower area.
She wiped away the condensation on the glass. “Hey, Valor. You checking up on me too?”
He shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall. “Well, you do stupid things sometimes. But no, I wasn’t checking on you. I figured we could head up to control center together.”
She turned the shower off and grabbed the towel off the hook, then wrapped it around her body. She stepped out of the steaming cube and looked up at Valor. He towered over her five-foot-six frame by a full nine inches. He had smooth black skin and a dimple in his left cheek. His slow and easy smile was reassuring and welcome.
She turned her back to him and pulled her underwear up under her towel. “Did you get any sleep last night?”
She heard him move around and then sit down, the squeaking material giving away his position. “Not really. I feel like we’ve been waiting for this day our entire lives.”
She tucked her shirt into her pants and sat down to tie her boots. “It feels that way because it’s true.”
He leaned forward in his chair, his hands in perfect steeples. “Do you ever wish we had been Twos or Threes, maybe even just villagers?”
She faced the mirror and put her hat on and straightened it. “No, never.”
He walked over to her, his face behind her in the mirror. “I knew you’d say that.”
She tucked away the tiny bit of hair that stuck out under her hat. “Then why’d you ask?”
“Because your confidence gives me confidence.”
She turned to face him. She reached up and placed her hands on his broad, muscular shoulders. “There’s no one better trained for this than us. We’ve been preparing for this since the day we could hold a weapon.”
He shook his head. “You started even before that.”
She smiled at him and shrugged. “True. Sometimes I think my parents had me just for this purpose.”
“I’d like to argue with you, but I think you’re right.”
She put her forearm out, an indication for him to bump it with his own. They’d practiced this friendly and straightforward maneuver since they were children. It was something they shared only with each other. He bumped her arm with his. “We’ve got this.”
Arrow had never seen so many people in the control center. There were people buzzing around every piece of equipment. The main screen took up forty feet of the front wall and typically had the locations and happenings of the Hand of God and its soldiers. Today, it listed all the necessary characteristics of the Phoenix Project and its status. There was always at least one general in the room tasked with the watch for six hours at a time. Today, all twelve generals were in the room. Four from Guardian One, four from Guardian Two, and four from Guardian Three.
Arrow and Valor found seats next to each other in the gallery and awaited further instructions. The door beeped and slid open. “Attention on deck,” said a voice from another corner of the room.
CAM’s voice made the official declaration. “Good afternoon, Madam President.”
Macy Steele was smart, compassionate, capable, and beautiful. She was the best person Arrow had ever met, and she would’ve told anyone that, even if she wasn’t her mother. She was six years into her term as president of the Resistance and her people adored her, but none more than Arrow. She made eye contact with Arrow and winked as she made her way to the front of the room.
She stood at the podium placed there for today’s announcement. Typically, there would be cameras hovering in the air to broadcast her remarks. But today, they couldn’t risk the possibility of the transmission being intercepted. Over the years, their scrambling abilities had become almost impenetrable. But almostwasn’t good enough for today.
Her mother put her hands on the podium, and Arrow knew they were folded together. This was her mom’s normal speaking position. Her face was calm and comforting, the epitome of class and reliability. She saw her gaze travel over to her father, who was sitting in the front row to her left. He beamed at her, just as proud of her as Arrow.
“Thank you all for coming. Today, we gather for the realization of a promise. A promise that was made to all of us sixty-seven years ago. The Resistance was created out of necessity. A necessity for a free people, a fair and just government, and a country that sought to heal, to help, and to be a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. The government that calls itself the Hand of God is the antithesis of everything we hold dear and even of its very name. Our parents and grandparents saw the need to create a force that would stand up to this evil, with the conviction that only a free society can offer. Today, we take a step toward bringing that promise to fruition. The success of the Phoenix Project will be the bridge to bring us together once again. It will no longer be us versus them. We’ll be one people once more. We’ll be met with confusion and disbelief, but we can’t let that deter us from our goals. Our people will no longer stand on the outside. We’ll no longer be kept from our relatives within the Hand of God, and we’ll no longer remain in the shadows. Today will mark the beginning of a reckoning and the starting point of a prophecy spoken by the last real president the United States ever had, Daniel Trapp. It is all of you in this room who make this possible. You’re the heart and soul of the Resistance, and I’m going to let you get to work. I just wanted to personally thank you for what you’re doing. A grateful colony thanks you, and eventually, a grateful nation.”
Her mother’s remarks were met with a burst of applause. The typically stoic people in the room were smiling and smacking each other on the back. It was the first time in Arrow’s life where she could taste the excitement in the air. It was heavy and sweet. It sat in her mouth like something that could be chewed on and enjoyed. She knew the road ahead of them was long and undoubtedly dangerous, but it did nothing to sour the excitement of the right now. The world was about to change.
Kaelyn Trapp knew she was awake, but she couldn’t move a single muscle in her body. Voices were coming in and out of the room, and the light shifted behind her eyelids. The blanket draped over her was heavy and hot. It wasn’t like any heat she’d ever felt. She understood that it was warm enough to create sweat, but there was none. She wanted to understand why, but her brain wasn’t allowing her to put the pieces together. The soft lull of the beeping monitors was pushing her back to sleep, but she was desperately fighting the sensation.
Sleep was on the verge of claiming her. She knew she was losing the fight when she heard her. It was a voice she recognized, but she didn’t know from where. The voice was moving closer. The person attached to the voice knew her name; the person even seemed to know her. Kaelyn wanted desperately to open her eyes to this familiarity. She willed her body to work.
“Kaelyn, whenever you’re ready, we’re here waiting,” said the familiar voice.
Kaelyn sifted through her memory. It wasn’t her mother, and it wasn’t any of her female friends. She needed to know. She pushed and willed her eyes to open. Then slowly, more light started to slip in. The light hurt. It was bright, harsh, and unwelcoming. She must have worn the pain on her face because the voice spoke again.
“Turn down the lights,” she said.
Then, Kaelyn felt her eyes blink. She couldn’t make them focus yet, but they were blinking. Then a thirst she’d never felt before consumed her. She felt as if she’d been in a desert for a hundred years. Her throat, chest, and even her tongue hurt. She wanted to ask for water, but she couldn’t make her mouth move to form words. The stickiness clung to her cheeks and tongue, making it impossible to vocalize her need.
She heard movement next to her, and then a straw was in her mouth. Her body responded with muscle memory, sucking down all the cool liquid the straw would offer. When the slurping sound started, the straw was removed from her mouth, only to be back a few moments later with more marvelous water. The blurry images of the room were starting to take shape, her focus becoming sharper. She saw the person holding the cup and straw to her mouth.
“That’s all I can give you for now.”
Kaelyn didn’t know how she did it, but she felt her head nod her understanding. Her vision was becoming clearer now, and she could see the woman in front of her. She wore a uniform that Kaelyn didn’t recognize. It was all black with unfamiliar insignias sewn on the collar and sleeves. Kaelyn decided to focus on the face, hoping there’d be something familiar there instead. The woman had short black hair, cut the way a man would wear it. Her eyes looked like a storm, gray and full of energy. Her lips started to turn up in a smile clearly intended for Kaelyn.
Kaelyn looked down at the woman’s nametag and managed to repeat the word she read. “Steele.”
Steele’s smile widened, and her slightly tanned skin showed bits of red at her cheeks. “Yes, that’s right. I’m Major Arrow Steele, and I’m the Guardian assigned to you.”
Guardian? Am I dead?
Kaelyn’s eyes must have shown her confusion and fear because Arrow followed up her initial introduction.
“Don’t worry. You’re okay. I know this is all going to be a lot for you to take in, but you’re okay. I’m here to protect you.”
Kaelyn wanted to ask her what she needed protection from. She wanted to know where her parents were. She wanted to know where she was and what had happened. She needed answers to a million different questions. But she didn’t get the chance to ask them. A woman in a lab coat, whom she assumed was a doctor, came in and asked Major Steele to wait outside. The major looked like she was going to object but backed away from the bed anyway. Then, there were lights being flashed in her eyes and questions being lobbed at her in rapid succession. She tried to sit up; she wanted to see Arrow. She wanted to feel that familiarity again, but she was already gone.
Arrow stood in front of the interactive map in the control center. She traced the magnetic pen over another route, and the possible issues they could encounter appeared on a list on the side of the screen. She made a wiping motion with her hand, and the information disappeared, and she started over again.
“We’ve gone over these routes a hundred times. We have the best one mapped out,” Valor said from behind her.
She ran the pen over a different area. “I know. I’m looking for an alternative route, just in case.”
“We have one of those too.”
“We need a third, fourth, and fifth plan,” Arrow said to herself as much as Valor.
She thought for a moment he might argue, but a retort didn’t come. Instead, he appeared beside her. “You should get some sleep. We have a long few days ahead of us, and we’re going to need our rest.”
She didn’t bother looking over at him. She put her fingers to a point and drew them outward, causing the map to zoom in further. “I’m fine. I’m going to wait for the doctor to say it’s okay to talk to Phoenix One.”
“Maybe we should start calling her Kaelyn. According to her psychological workup, we’ll make more progress that way.”
“Yes, of course, Kaelyn. I knew that.”
He touched her arm. “Of course you did. You’re tired. You’ve been at this for hours. Let’s get some rest.”
CAM’s voice filled the room. “Kaelyn Trapp won’t be available until tomorrow morning. According to your stats, Major Steele, you need at least five hours of sleep to be at your optimal efficiency. I can notify you in the morning when she’s ready.”
Valor wiggled his eyebrows. “See.”
She put the pen down. “Fine, you win. I’m sure a little sleep would be good for me.”
It wasn’t far to their assigned dwellings, and once they arrived at Arrow’s, Valor said good night and retreated into his, directly across the hall.
She changed her clothes, brushed her teeth, and made sure her uniform for the next day was pressed and ready for wear. Then, she sat back on her bed and pulled out her computer station. She’d looked through the photos and information on Kaelyn Trapp thousands of times before, but this time was different. She’d met her now, had made eye contact with her, knew what her voice sounded like in person.
She swiped through the photos. They began when Kaelyn was a child and went all the way through to a few weeks before her cryogenic state. She understood Kaelyn would be overwhelmed by the world now. It was vastly different from the last time she was conscious, nearly seven decades ago. When Kaelyn had entered her cryo state, the air was still breathable without the protective barrier that had to be created, governments around the world were still intact, and her parents were still alive. She didn’t yet realize that science no longer held a place in the regular world and that she technically was no longer in the United States.
Arrow couldn’t imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and have everything she’d ever known be nonexistent or completely different. There’d be no way to center herself because the center of everything she knew would be gone.
What she needed Kaelyn to understand was that this would be her purpose. Phoenix One was the key to restoring a sense of normal for herself and the rest of the world. The world needed her. The people under the Hand of God needed her, even if they didn’t realize it. The Resistance needed her. Arrow was going to make sure that was entirely clear.
Kaelyn opened her eyes. The room was mostly dark except for the light that crept in through the cracked door. Her sleep had been fitful at best. There were so many images in her mind, memories that were coming to the surface of everything that had happened. Even with those images bubbling up, she still had questions that needed to be answered.
She looked around her room for a TV but didn’t see one. “How can there be no TV?”
Then a voice that seemed to seep through the ceiling answered. “Good morning, Kaelyn. What can I help you with?”
Kaelyn wasn’t sure what was happening, but the voice seemed to know her, which was odd. But it couldn’t hurt to answer. “Who are you?”
“I’m an artificially intelligent computer analysis system, but people call me CAM.”
Kaelyn looked down at her hands, straining her eyes in the light. No, this wasn’t a dream. She could see, feel, and hear. “Nice to meet you, CAM.”
“Introductions aren’t necessary for my system. However, if it makes you comfortable, we can continue in this way,” CAM said.
“Um, no. I guess that’s okay. Is there a TV in here?” Kaelyn pushed herself up on her bed. Her arms shook from the minimal effort, but she was tired of lying down.
“I cannot make that available to you until you’re caught up with all pertinent information. I have notified the doctors that you’re awake. They’ll be here momentarily.”
Just as CAM finished, the door slid open, and a doctor walked in. “CAM, activate the lights but keep them at a lower level. I want her eyes to adjust.”
The doctor walked over to her and grabbed her hands. “Can you squeeze for me, please?”
Kaelyn did as she was asked while studying the man in front of her.
“Very good.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small metal bracelet with a glowing blue button. He unhooked it and slipped it on her wrist. “My name is Dr. Hyde. How are you feeling?”
“What is that?” She used her head to motion to her wrist.
He showed her his wrist where a matching bracelet glowed back at her. “It monitors all your internal functions. Everything from your hydration levels, to your heart rate, to your need for sleep, food, or assistance. They’re standard issue. CAM keeps track of all of that information. You just need to ask, and she’ll tell you or notify someone to help you.”
Kaelyn focused on her other wrist, noticing something she hadn’t before. Wrapped around like a watch was a red and blue flame tattoo. The flame took the shape of a bird at its apex, reaching up toward the back of her hand. Underneath the wrist were two characters. P1. She didn’t remember wanting this tattoo, much less receiving it. Everything was still so blurry in her head. Too many memories overlapping, bumping up against each other, layering themselves like soft sand against sharp rocks.
The doctor mumbled something as he ran his finger over his tablet. He looked to be only about twenty-two years old, just a baby. “Where did you go to medical school?”
He smiled down at her while using a handheld device to scan her body. “That’s not how things are done anymore. But don’t worry. I was born into the healing class. I have been training for this job since I was old enough to walk.”
Healing class? Glowing bracelets? Artificial intelligence oversight? The questions were mounting in her head, and she was finding it difficult to breathe. She’d never had a panic attack, but she’d read enough about them to assume that she might be having one.
He put his hand on her shoulder. “I know you have a lot of questions and you’re going to get answers to all of them. Can you tell me what you remember?”
She took deep breaths in and out. She tried to focus on the things she could see and touch, things she knew were real. She knew the doctor was asking her the right questions, but she couldn’t bring herself to answer.
He must have seen her hesitation because his voice became even calmer than it had been moments before. “On second thought, let’s wait. I’m going to get you with people that will be able to answer your questions much better than I can. Do you feel up for a walk?”
A walk sounded wonderful. Kaelyn wanted to move around; her body felt as if it had been stationary for years. That would help clear her head, and if it brought her to people that could help her remember what happened, that would be even better.
“Yes, I would like that,” she said.
Arrow hurriedly put her uniform on and rushed to the Guardian lounge. CAM had woken her and told her that Kaelyn was awake and available. The doctor was bringing her to the lounge to make her more comfortable. She didn’t bother to knock on Valor’s door; CAM would let him know too.
The door slid open, and she heard CAM announce her arrival, but it was muffled by the buzz of excitement. Her parents were sitting in the lounge, along with a general from Level Two and Kaelyn. Kaelyn’s face was pale, and she looked overwhelmed. Arrow looked at the tablet she was swiping through and wanted to take it from her. No one should be catching up on so much history and destruction like that.
Kaelyn looked at her from her seat and seemed relieved to see her. Arrow’s need to protect Kaelyn had been ingrained in her training, and it showed itself now. Her hand twitched with the urge to go to her, to block her from the thoughts and feelings she must be experiencing. Arrow took a seat next to her mother instead.
Her mom put a hand on top of Kaelyn’s. “Kaelyn, I’m sure you have many questions, and we want to answer them. I just want to make sure we start in the right place. So, why don’t you go ahead and start.”
Kaelyn leaned forward on the table, hands flat. “Who are you and where am I?”
Her mom nodded, probably trying to figure out where to start. “We are part of a government that is known as the Resistance. It was your father that gave us the name. The part that is going to take you a minute to process is that he gave us the name sixty-seven years ago.”
Her mom turned. “CAM, please show us the footage from President Trapp and Kaelyn on her cryo date.”
A few moments later, the screen fluttered with a few grainy images, and then Kaelyn and President Trapp appeared. They were sitting at a table with the cryo system in the background. Arrow had watched this video a hundred times; she knew it word for word. She’d always found herself transfixed by Kaelyn, and today was no different. Except now it was Kaelyn in front of her, not on the screen. She watched as Kaelyn’s face changed, the emotions she felt making her jaw clench and causing her eyes to water.
“To whoever is watching this, I’m President Daniel Trapp, and this is my daughter, Kaelyn. If this recording is being viewed, then we’ve fallen further behind than we ever imagined. In fact, if you see this, I’m on the verge of no longer being the president, and our very way of life is in grave danger. An undeniable force has infected our nation and may bring all of us to our knees. A pervasive cancer has poisoned the minds of our country. I’m confident that although we have lost several of the battles, we will undoubtedly win the war.” He faltered and looked at Kaelyn.
Kaelyn put her hand on his back and continued for him. “We are enacting something called the Phoenix Project. There are four of us in all, four Phoenix fail-safes. The details have been outlined in the files given to a few chosen individuals. We’ll all be entering a cryogenically frozen state, until the time we can best be utilized to help us take back our country. Each of us holds a special significance to our value system, our history, and the soul of what our forefathers intended.”
The image cut out, and a black screen appeared for a few moments before the picture reappeared. President Trapp was standing next to Kaelyn, who was lying in a clear tube. Doctors were pushing buttons on the screen as the glass casing became crystallized.
President Trapp looked back at the camera, and there were tears in his eyes. “The Phoenix Project will undoubtedly be our last hope. If you’ve chosen to activate the project, please make sure you can use it as it is intended. The timing must be perfect. I don’t want to give my daughter up in vain. All three of the outlined protocols musthave been met prior to you enacting the Phoenix project: the people need to be ready and willing to support the effort, there must be instability within the reigning government, and there must be a military force that can back up their efforts. And, Kaelyn, if you’re finally watching this, I love you. Remember who you are and who raised you. You can do this. You all can.”