The next day, Peter and Michelle were in their apartment watching the news on TV. President Price was in the Oval Office, at her desk, frowning as she spoke.
“New video has been sent to us from the City-States of Venezuela,” she said. “This video was taken by a member of the underground resistance there who, as a spy, has put himself at great risk to give us this information.”
“Translation: this propaganda,” Peter said with a sneer.
“Shh!” Michelle said.
“The video we’re about to show you will be disturbing to watch,” Price said, “but it’s proof that must be given the widest circulation, proof of the danger that the aliens present to our freedom. Proof that they must be stopped.”
“Get ready for state-of-the-art production values,” Peter said.
“Peter, we all know it’s lies,” Michelle said. “But we’ve gotta listen to know what they’re planning.”
“Apologists of the aliens, preferring to call them ‘Bolshivarians,’ to make us want to sympathize with beings that shouldn’t be sympathized with, claim they’re trying to improve life on our Earth,” Price said. “But does this look like an improvement?”
The video switched from Price to a group of people, about fifty in number, seen from a bird’s-eye-view in a forest…a forest in which a wildfire could be seen blazing. The flames were surrounding the group of people, closing in on them, though they didn’t seem at all concerned.
The video cut to a closeup of the people. They looked as if they were in a trancelike state. The flames could be seen in the background, though the zombie-like people were showing no awareness of the burning trees, or the smoke in the evening sky. The entranced people seemed to be chanting something.
“As you can see,” Price said in a voiceover, “the aliens aren’t keeping their promise to reverse climate change.”
“Wait a minute,” Michelle said, leaning closer to the TV. “One or two of those faces look familiar.”
“Yeah,” Peter said, also leaning closer. “This is supposed to be in Venezuela, right? Hey! That’s Wendy! Recognize her, Michelle?”
“Oh, my God!” Michelle said. “Yes, that’s her! Wendy Callaghan!”
“And there’s Pat! And Valerie! And Sid!”
“They’re all people from our group in the gym basement. We never meet in the woods, let alone in a wildfire.”
“This is obviously faked,” Peter said. “Yet faked well. The editing is seamless. It really looks as if we’re in the w–“
“We are in it!” Michelle said. “Look!”
Indeed, they saw themselves among the mesmerized–far off in the background, yet close enough to be recognized.
“Whoever got this video obviously got it when we were meditating with the Bolshivarians,” Michelle said. “That’s why we all look so spaced out, mumbling.”
“And there’s Lenny and George,” Peter said. “This is an older video, taken before the assassination, and visually manipulated since.”
“Before the Bolshivarians got suspicious of everyone. While their guard was still down, and they trusted us.”
“Hey, there’s Karen’s face…but where’s Tory?“
“This video was taken while Lenny Van der Meer was still alive, as you can see,” Price said in the voiceover. “Note the man with the moustache, next to Lenny. George Villiers-Joseph, their new leader. He’s a man much more ruthless than Lenny ever was. Beware of George. He’s very dangerous. He’s why we must go to war in South America.”
Peter ruminated on these words.
“Well, I don’t really like George all that much either, but still…,” he said.
“Peter?” Michelle said.
“I have an idea,” he said, then went over to the bedroom to get his cellphone.
“What are you gonna do?” she asked.
“I can’t explain right now, but trust me,” he said, dialling Tory’s number. “Hi, Tory? It’s Peter. How are you doing?…Yeah? Good. Look, I’ve been thinking about your criticisms of George Villiers-Joseph, and I must say that I agree with you. He’s messing everything up. If we let him continue leading everything, he’s going to get us all into a nasty war with the UCSA…Yeah, I was thinking that, too. I don’t have a weapon–well, there’s an axe in our closet, but I don’t have a gun…You have a gun? Good. I’ll come over to your place and we can work out a plan…Good. See you in ten minutes. Bye.” He hung up.
“My God, Peter!” she said, having listened to his end of the conversation. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking of…”
“Don’t worry, Michelle,” he said, then kissed her on the cheek. “I know what I’m doing. I’ll explain everything later. For now, just trust me.” He went out the door.
She just stood by the door, stunned.