As the car came to a stop in the parking lot, Kelly Watson reached for her bag. Before she could open the door, the man behind the steering wheel grabbed her by the wrist. She frowned at him. “What is it? We’ll be late for the press conference!”
Jeff nodded, but did not let go.
“What? Why are you holding me back?”
“You know why we’re here, don’t you?”
“Of course I know, we’ve come to cover the press conference.”
“No, not just any press conference. The press conference hosted by Senator Mathews.”
“Yes, I know. He’s announcing his candidacy for state governorship. Isn’t that why we’re here, like all the other reporters in town?” Kelly flickered a strand of her long brown hair off of her face.
“Promise me that you’re not going to bring up any of your crazy theories with him.”
“Theories? What are you talking about?”
“Kelly, you know damn well what I’m talking about! Your conspiracy theories. You and I both know that Mr. Edwards does not want to hear that we asked the Senator about your crazy ideas about him.”
“Crazy? My concerns about the Senator aren’t crazy! Do you know how long I’ve been investigating my suspicions? I’m a professional reporter. I’ve been researching him for months now.”
“But the paper isn’t aware of your investigations. Not our editor and not the editorial board, for that matter. Do you know what they’d do if they heard that you confronted the Senator at this press conference?”
“Yes, I know,” Kelly replied quietly. “And I don’t blame them. Every one of our competitors is eager to publish his campaign ads.”
“And you know how well-connected the Senator is in this state and beyond. He can literally shut down our newspaper with a snap of his fingers! Not to mention making life miserable for anyone who disagrees with him.”
“Look, you don’t have to tell me how ruthless and well-connected Senator Mathews is. I know that already, and that’s why people should know who he really is. That’s why–”
“That’s why you need to calm down and shut your mouth, Kelly! If you can’t do that, then you’d better just stay out of this.”
Kelly watched him adjust his eyeglasses with his free hand. He was still holding onto her wrist. “You can’t stop me from coming with you!”
“Of course I can.”
“Okay, okay, fine! I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
Kelly felt his grip on her wrist loosen. She picked her bag and turned to look at him. “Well? Are you going to keep staring at me, or are you going to join the other reporters?”
Jeff grabbed the camera and tripod from the backseat. They both walked towards the main lobby of the Palms Hotel.
The reception was a beehive of activity. Several reporters and staff from different TV stations were moving around, positioning their cameras, and talking to one another. The crowd was huge, many people from around the state had come to witness Senator Mathews’ big announcement.
“We’re quite late,” Jeff admitted as he scanned the crowded lobby.
“Of course we are. If only you’d listened to me!”
“So now you’re blaming me?” Jeff squinted through his glasses at her.
“I’m not blaming you for anything, Jeff, and I appreciate you speaking out and warning me to be careful.”
“You really mean that?”
“Sure I do.”
Suddenly, there was an uproar as people began to point and cameras began to snap repeatedly. Kelly did not have to search for the reason why the crowd was suddenly agitated. In the foyer outside the main entrance, a black limousine had just pulled up. Behind it were several black SUVs. Several men dressed in black suits alighted from them and seemed to fill up the entire foyer like a swarm of bees. No one needed a seer to be told that those men were members of Senator Mathew’s security detail.
One of the men opened the door of the limousine. Senator Mathews emerged, and was greeted by another round of uproar and cheering.
The Senator waved at the onlookers and visitors to the hotel. The grey streaks in his black hair told any observer that he was fairly old, yet a handsome man. As he walked, his oozing confidence and charm distracted the crowd of supporters from his limp. They obviously were drawn to him as they continued to chant his name and clap their hands.
Someone grabbed Kelly by the wrist. It was Jeff. “Come on,” he said hurriedly as he dragged her into the conference room. “We’re not here to party! We need to find the best vantage point to cover his speech.”
As expected, the conference room was already crowded, but they managed to get a spot in the middle. Jeff was still positioning his camera when the Senator and his entourage came in.
He was led to the elevated podium. As soon as Senator Mathews mounted the podium and turned to face the crowd, the cheering grew louder.
At that point, Jeff became conscious of the scowl on Kelly’s face. “What?”
“What? You are asking me ‘what’ as if you don’t know that you’re acting unprofessionally.”
“Unprofessionally? How am I acting ‘unprofessionally’?” he asked, gazing around the hall. Other reporters seemed to be acting just like him—pumping their fist in the air, clapping and cheering at the Senator. It was obvious that he was not the only one who was excited.
Kelly could not hide her disdain and disappointment. “Are you here to cheer the Senator or to cover the press conference? How can you just clap along with the rest of the crowd?”
Jeff made a face at her. “Why don’t you just relax? It’s not as if the man isn’t good at what he does! Just take a look around this hall, he might as well leave without saying anything and everyone will still vote for him. He is virtually infectious and full of charm.”
“He’s full of evil,” Kelly hissed. “And all these people are too blind to see through the façade.”
Jeff smirked at her. “Just admit it: you’re simply jealous of his popularity. You can’t stand his clout and all his success in the Senate. And soon he’ll have even more power.”
Kelly shook her head in disgust. “You don’t know what you’re saying. If you all knew what he’s really about, I doubt you’d be cheering and making all this noise.”
Jeff nodded and clapped some more. “Well, until you can prove anything against this man, you might as well join us and celebrate him.”
Kelly cursed and looked away. She could not resist the feeling of annoyance and bitterness that raged through her.
How could she ever prove to anyone what she had suspected all along?
A couple of months ago, she had made a startling discovery about Senator Mathews. She vividly recalled when she had rushed into her editor’s office that afternoon.
“What is it?” Mr. Edwards had asked her. “And why are you all drenched? It’s not even raining!”
Kelly had remained silent as she closed the door behind her. She then peered into the editorial hall just outside the editor’s office. It was full of the usual reporters and staff working at their computers, while others were in groups discussing the latest articles. No one had paid any attention to her when she had rushed into the office. They all seemed far too engrossed in their work to notice.
“Kelly,” Mr. Edwards had called. She turned to meet her boss’s stern gaze. He was no longer seated behind his desk, but was now standing and glaring at her. “Why did you barge into my office like this?”
Kelly had looked back into the hall one more time, as if she was searching for something. Or someone.
“Well, since you don’t have anything to say, maybe you should leave my office now,” Mr. Edwards had said.
“I really have to tell you something.”
“Then speak up and stop spying on the others.”
Kelly stepped away from the glass. Mr. Edwards watched as she came towards his desk. “What’s going on, and why are you wet?”
Kelly wiped away her face with the back of her sleeve. Water was still streaming down her face from her damp hair. “It’s nothing. I tripped on something.”
“Ok, talk. What is it?”
“It’s about Senator Mathews.”
“Senator Mathews? Do you mean the Senator Mathews, or someone else?”
“No, the same Senator Mathews.”
Mr. Edwards had folded his arms across his chest. “Let me guess: he’s no longer running for state governorship but is now considering the presidency?”
“No, that’s not it.”
Mr. Edwards had shaken his head. “Too bad, because that would have been some news. Well, then what is your interesting news about him?”
“He’s not human.”
After her revelation, it was as if several years had passed without a single word exchanged. Kelly had been waiting for her boss to say something. But instead, Mr. Edwards had just stood there, watching her with his arms still folded across his chest. After a while, Kelly had become uncomfortable at his continued staring and lack of response.
“Did you hear me?”
Mr. Edwards had blinked. “I’m sorry, I’m not quite sure I understood you, Kelly. Did you just say that Senator Mathews – that is, the Senator Mathews – is not human?”
“Yes, and I saw it today when–”
Kelly never got around to finishing her statement, as the door opened and Jeff came into the office. As he did, Mr. Edwards turned to him. “And you believe this?”
Jeff had stared from Mr. Edwards to Kelly. “Believe what?”
“What Kelly was just telling me. Do you also believe it?”
Jeff was still in the dark and his expression proved as much. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m only here because I’ve been looking all over for Kelly – she wasn’t answering her phone and I was wondering if she might have been sent on an assignment.”
“Sent on an assignment without you?” Mr. Edwards asked.
Jeff shrugged. “I didn’t know what to think. That’s why I hurried here as soon as I heard she was in your office.”
“Well, she’s in my office because she just came barging in as if the devil was chasing her and apparently she’s been doing some digging on Senator Mathews.”
Jeff frowned. He turned to Kelly. “And you didn’t think to tell me? Aren’t we supposed to be a team?”
Kelly had raised her hands in defense. “No, it wasn’t like that. I actually stumbled on this piece of information by accident.”
It was now Jeff’s turn to cross his arms across his chest. “Really? But you still didn’t call me to join you?”
“Look, it came out of nowhere,” Kelly argued. “Besides, it was a difficult situation – look, there just wasn’t enough time to call you.”
“Oh? You say there wasn’t enough time, but you still had time to go swimming or something?”
Kelly had gritted her teeth. “There’s a reason why I’m all wet.”
Jeff had grunted. “I presume there’s also a reason why I couldn’t reach you on your phone this whole time?”
“Yes, and that’s also related to why I’m all wet.”
Jeff had rubbed his chin. “I see. But clearly none of these explanations prevented you from going after your scoop on Senator Mathews without me.”
“Jeff, what’s wrong with you?” Kelly had demanded. “Don’t you think I would’ve called you if I had the chance?”
“Alright, that’s enough!” Mr. Edwards had interrupted.
“No, it’s not enough, Mr. Edwards,” Jeff had replied. “Clearly, she wants to take the full glory for this scoop she was after.”
“That is, if there’s even a scoop in the first place,” Mr. Edwards had added sarcastically.
“You don’t think there’s a story?”
Mr. Edwards was now shaking his head. “She thinks that Senator Mathews isn’t human.”
Jeff had turned to Kelly “That’s your scoop? That’s why you didn’t call me, and that’s why you’re drenched from head to toe?”
Before Kelly could respond, both Mr. Edwards and Jeff had burst into a round of laughter.
The sound of their laughter seemed to reverberate all through Mr. Edwards’ office.
She blinked and turned to see Jeff frowning at her. His call had snapped her out of her reverie.
“Did you hear what I just said?”
Back in the Palms Hotel, the guests were all sitting down and there now seemed to be a sense of order. At the podium, Senator Mathews was talking and gesticulating to a rapt audience.
“Kelly!” Even though he was whispering to avoid attracting attention, the urgency in Jeff’s voice was undeniable.
She turned to look at him. “What?”
He frowned at her. “Are you alright?”
“Of course I’m alright.”
“I’ve been trying to get your attention this whole time, but it seemed like you were lost in thought or something.”
She remembered the incident in Mr. Edwards’ office that afternoon. Since she had been rebuffed and jeered at that day, she had lost the chance to share her discovery.
“It’s nothing,” she whispered back at him.
“Fine. But remember why we’re here. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Senator is already taking questions from the audience. I would’ve thought you’d already have something to ask him.”
Kelly frowned. “Ask him about what”
“You don’t have any questions for our article?”
“Here? Come on, you know that any answers he gives me will be noted by the other reporters anyway.”
“But if you ask, we’ll still get credit for it.”
“It’s not an exclusive,” she pointed out.
“Just ask,” Jeff whispered back. “He’s just finished an answer. Go on and ask something. Go on, Kelly.”
She turned and saw the Senator smiling around at the crowd. “So, are there any other questions for me?”
Kelly felt Jeff’s elbow nudging her. She frowned at him. “We just came to cover this press conference. I didn’t prepare any questions!”
“But you’ve been doing your research on him, haven’t you? Surely, there must be something you can ask.”
Kelly thought quickly about it.
“Well, it seems like there are no more questions for me at this moment,” Senator Matthews was saying. “Perhaps I should –”
“I do have something to ask you, Senator,” Kelly called out loudly.
She was very much aware of the several hundreds of pairs of eyes that zeroed in on her at that moment.
The Senator smiled, “Please, go on. Ask anything you want.”
Kelly cleared her throat. “Why are you running for Governor?”
There was a slight murmur from the crowd. She could feel Jeff nudging her again. The expression on his face revealed the level of disappointment he felt.
Another reporter near the front stood up. “But the Senator has been talking about that for the good part of the day. We all heard him outline his policies and plans. Were you not paying attention?”
“Yes, I was, but I want to hear the real reason.”
There was another round of murmuring through the crowd.
“Please calm down,” Senator Mathews reassured his audience as he smiled at Kelly. “What exactly would you like to know?”
“The reason, Senator,” Kelly said slowly and clearly, ensuring that her every word was audible. “Tell us the real reason why you want to become the Governor.”
Senator Mathews’ hand was already in the air, as he urged the crowd to remain calm. He turned to Kelly. “Isn’t it obvious to everyone? I want to serve you all, my dear people.”
“Serve?” Kelly repeated. “Are you really sure you want to serve us? Or are you serving your kind?”
More murmuring ensued. Now, Kelly could feel Jeff tugging on her sleeve, but she ignored him.
The Senator was chuckling heartily. “My kind? I do not understand what you’re driving at. What kind is that? Please tell us.”
“You know very well what I’m talking about, Senator,” Kelly said firmly. “You and your kind want to take over this state first, then the entire country.”
Someone gasped and another shouted, while others began to chatter and whisper amongst themselves.
It was the Senator who finally calmed everyone down again. “Please, let’s give this reporter a chance to explain herself.”
“You clearly know what I’m talking about, Senator Mathews, but I assure you that you and your kind are never going to succeed. Never.”
“I assure you, miss, that my kind and I are going to succeed in our quest and by my kind, I am referring to those who want to create a better life for humankind.”
The crowd cheered at his remark. “So, if you are saying that you will not allow us to give people the chance to live a better life under my administration as future governor, then I think you are going to have a lot of enemies and do you know why?”
There was silence now as everyone waited for Kelly to say something. She looked around the hall, conscious of everyone’s gaze as well as the cameras that would be beaming her image across the state. “No, I don’t know why. Maybe you can tell us, Senator,” she finally responded.
Senator Mathews smiled. “It is because our kind – that is, the humankind – wants to be free. Free from oppression, free from scarcity and free from the policies, institutions and systems that hold us down. Frankly, if you do not stand for such freedom then I don’t know what you stand for. I still pray, though, that one day you will come to your senses and vote for me, because voting for me is the right thing to do.”
There was an uproar as everyone in the crowd clapped and cheered at his remark. Kelly could feel her face redden with anger and shame. She watched the Senator leave the podium. It was obvious that he was done with the interview session. He was now leaving the conference hall.
She felt a hand on her arm. It was Jeff. He was frowning at her. “Where do you think you’re going? You’re not thinking of confronting him again, are you?”
Kelly smiled. “No, of course not. Why would I?”
At that moment, the Senator was coming through the crowd. As he walked through, he shook the hands of some of his supporters and the reporters. He was full of smiles and charm.
Jeff saw Kelly rush towards the Senator.
The security detail around him tried to stop her from getting too close. But the Senator was not going to have any of that. “Come on, let her be,” Senator Mathews admonished them. “She is a reporter and I need people like her to vote for me.”
Kelly smiled as she was let through. “So you really think I can convince people to vote for you, Senator?”
Senator Mathews chuckled. “I don’t think – I know. And this is in spite of whatever you might have said earlier on.”
“You sound too confident, Senator,” Kelly said, quite aware that all the other reporters were listening and recording their exchange of words.
“In my career, I have come to realize that we find some of the best allies in those who initially opposed our ideals and our plans. Once we can convince such difficult opposition to see things our way, then we have succeeded in gaining a valuable ally for life.”
Kelly smiled again. “And you really think you can find an ally in me?”
“I just said so, I don’t think, I –”
Before the Senator could finish his statement, Kelly had reached into her bag. Then there were several gun shots.
It all happened so fast.
As multiple shots rang out, pandemonium broke loose inside the conference hall. People screamed and began to run in all directions. Jeff’s first reaction was to duck behind one of the chairs with his camera. He then peered to see if Kelly was safe. He saw that she didn’t run or hide like the others. Instead, she was holding her arms up while the Senator’s security guards were pointing their guns at her. Other security guards started scanning the hall with their guns while people were still running and screaming.
Kelly was standing with her arms in the air and a smile on her face. One of the security guards approached to subdue her, while others gathered around the Senator, who was struggling to breathe as he gasped and spat out blood.
“Where is the medical team that’s supposed to be on standby?” a guard shouted. “Someone call an ambulance!”
A team of medics ran into the hall with a stretcher and first aid kits. One of them unbuttoned the Senator’s blood-stained shirt while another checked his pulse.
“How is he?” one of the security guards asked.
The medic checking the Senator’s pulse shook her head. “His pulse is very low.”
“You’re all wasting your time!” Kelly shouted from behind two of the Senator’s security men.
By now, the pandemonium had quietened as reporters began to capture the unfolding scene. Jeff stood up with his camera just in time to catch the moment a security guard hit Kelly across the face with the butt of his pistol.
“Are you crazy?” Jeff demanded as he rushed towards her.
Two of the security guards pointed their guns at him. “Don’t take another step closer,” one of them warned.
“But that’s my colleague,” Jeff explained. “Why are you treating her like this?”
“Because she just tried to assassinate the Senator,” another replied.
Jeff shook his head. “No, that’s not possible.” When no one said anything, Jeff turned to Kelly. He was shocked at what he saw. Even though her upper lip had been cut by the blow and there was blood all over her lower jaw and neck, she was smiling at him.
She smiled again. “It had to be done, Jeff. Everyone needs to know.”
Jeff could not understand what just happened. Neither could he wrap his head around the fact that his colleague tried to assassinate a prominent politician.
To make matters worse, Kelly was still smiling as if she was proud of what she did. “You guys don’t understand. I did the right thing. That man had to die, they all have to die.”
By now, the medics had finished assessing the Senator’s condition. He needs surgery urgently. He must be evacuated to a nearby hospital now.
But before they could move the Senator, there was a loud rumble. It was so loud and disconcerting that the entire floor shook.
Everyone in the conference hall held onto something to stop themselves from falling over.
“What was that?” a reporter asked.
“Perhaps it was an earthquake,” another suggested.
“Earthquake?” someone wondered. “But we’ve never had an earthquake before.”
“It’s him!” Kelly shouted. “They’re coming for him.”
All attention turned to Kelly. No one understood what she was talking about, but before anyone could ask another question, there was another rumble. This time it was so strong that people toppled over.
“What the hell is going on?” someone shouted as people began to scream in fear.
“They’re coming for him,” Kelly said again.
Jeff turned to her. “What are you talking about? Who are they?”
Then one of the medics jumped backwards, away from Senator Mathew’s body. She was visibly frightened. She was pointing at his still form. “It’s impossible,” she said in a quivering voice.
“What happened?” a reporter asked.
The medic was wide-eyed staring at the Senator. “His body…it is cold, very cold!”
All eyes fell on the Senator. One of the guards bent over to touch his body, then quickly yanked away his hand. “What the hell? How can he be so cold?”
That was when they saw mist rising from the Senator’s body.
If anyone thought that this was weird, they were dumbfounded by what they saw next. It seemed as if a transparent bubble had appeared around the Senator. Somehow, he was no longer lying on the floor, but was now standing inside the bubble. Soon enough, the Senator appeared to be floating within the odd bubble.
Reporters who had initially been apprehensive were now capturing the strange incident on their cameras.
Senator Mathews was no longer unconscious. He was smiling at everyone in the hall as he continued to float inside the bubble.
Then the bubble burst with a loud bang. In the process, a watery fluid was strewn across the hall, splattering on several people.
In the place where the Senator had once stood, there was no one. All that remained was a small puddle of water.
The Senator’s security became agitated. They searched everywhere for Senator Mathews, but were not successful in locating him.
By now, there were sirens blaring outside, announcing the arrival of policemen at the hotel. Soon, the cops were inside the hall. They asked what had happened and it was established that Kelly had tried to assassinate the Senator, who was no longer there and could not be found.
A couple of hours later, Jeff walked up to where Kelly was seated. There was a team of policemen with her. “Is she under arrest?”
One of the police officers looked at him. “For what? No one can hold her for anything. Despite whatever the witnesses claim that she did, there is no body to prove that she did anything at all.”
“Really?” Jeff asked.
“Yes, she’s free to go,” the police officer replied. “I’ve heard weird stories before, but this here tops it all.”
Jeff turned to Kelly, speechless.
“Now you believe me?” Kelly asked him.
Jeff ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t know what to say. Everyone will believe you now, Kelly. Everything was recorded.”
“Yes, I wanted everything to be recorded. Unlike the first time, when I failed to prove what had happened.”
Jeff frowned at her. “The first time?”
“Yes, that day when I was all wet in Mr. Edwards’ office. Do you remember?”
Jeff nodded. “How could I ever forget?”