The Prodigal Son

BEEP BEEP BEEP! The heartbeat monitor echoes around the room. An old man, Armando, lays in a bed with IVs in his veins and a breathing mask on his face. His body is frail and liver spots and scars coating his body.

A nurse walks up to the IV and adjusts the dosage. “This should help with the pain a bit,” the nurse assures, putting a hand on Armando’s shoulder. “Cortez is outside. Would you like me to let him in?” the nurse asks. Armando gives a slow nod and the nurse opens up the door.

Cortez takes a long look at the old man before taking a step into the room. He is much younger than Armando and is of English descent. Cortez adjusts a few stray hairs on his head to make sure he looks presentable as he enters.

Cortez pulls up a chair and sits next to the bed. He knows this is the final time he will see Armando. “Does it…” Cortez begins to say but Armando interrupts.

“Stop it! We don’t have time to waste,” Armando exclaims coughing a bit.

Cortez says while quickly looking down, “Sorry sir,”

“There isn’t much time left,” Armando informs taking off his mask. “I need you to be strong and lead this army,” Armando says struggling with his last words.

Cortez pleads, “Why me? Why not Edgar, he wants this more than I do,” hoping Armando is going take this all back.

“Edgar is a brute and that’s all. I need you to lead this army,” Armando forcefully pokes his finger into Cortez’s chest.

“You know, I don’t know the first thing about war,” Cortez says, wondering why he is in this position.

“I have groomed you for this. Even when I found you, I named you after one of the great conquerors to be the heir to my vision. You were bred for this moment,” Armando conveys.

Cortez begins, “You want me to kill millions of people to,”

“To save billions! You must change things, and the only way you can do that is to tear down the walls that have been already built. Will you do it?” Armando asks in anticipation for the right response.

“I will,” Cortez confirms quietly looking down.

Armando sits up, “Promise me boy!” he yells.

Cortez looks up into Armando’s eyes, “I promise,”

“Good. The plan is almost done, all we need are the other groups to finish their work. When that happens, just lead what forces you have gathered,” Armando gasping on his words. He puts his mask back on and takes several slow breaths.

“Now I don’t have much time left. I don’t want you to see me die like this,” Armando speaks as though this isn’t a big deal. “Go!” Armando commands.

Cortez remembers, “Should I send in Edgar?”

“No,” Armando says, leaning back in his pillow.

Cortez wants to hug Armando, but knows that’s not what his dying mentor would want his last moment to be. He doesn’t even take a last glance. Cortez gets up and makes his way for the door. “Thank you,” Cortez whispers as he walks out.

Cortez takes a deep breath as the door closes behind him. “Did the old man kick the bucket yet?” Edgar asks from across the hall.

Cortez walks right past him saying, “Someone sounds bitter,” hoping that would annoy Edgar.

“Why would I be bitter?” Edgar asks while walking behind Cortez. “I’ve known him longer, served under his command for longer, killed more people than you, but somehow he picked you to lead. The son he never had,” Edgar jabs at Cortez.

“You’re adopted too, remember?” Cortez rubs the tension out of his neck, thinking about his next move. He had never led a full army before. Armando has an army of loyal soldiers who all know Cortez is in charge and will not try to supersede him.

“Nothing’s stopping you from going off on your own,” Cortez hopes Edgar would take his advice. Edgar is always in a bitter dispute for Armando’s affection over Cortez.

“Just remember something,” Edgar says pulling Cortez’s arm to stop him. Cortez turns and looks at Edgar’s hand on him. “I’m not going to lick your boots or be your lap dog. You’re in charge, but I will take over if you don’t have it in you to do what’s necessary,” Edgar sternly puts it.

“You’re right,” Cortez concurs and then punches Edgar in the face. Edgar drops to a knee and covers his nose. Cortez walks down the hall, “I am in charge,” he says with a smirk feeling confident about his first act of leadership.

A few soldiers move to the side of the walls to let Cortez pass. “Sir,” they simultaneously say as they stand at attention. Cortez pauses for a moment before continuing on. Word of Armando’s death is already going through the army. Even though Armando isn’t in the grave yet, he still said his goodbyes and made sure the chain of command didn’t come to a halt

I can sure get used to this,” Cortez laughs to himself as he walks up the hallway, but then recalls he has things to do.

I should call Lucas and get an update on his progress,” Cortez thinks as he enters Armando’s office. Cortez flicks on the lights and takes a quick look around before sitting down. The room is mostly a cluttered mess. Books and papers litter the floor. White boards are covered in numbers that nobody other than a select few know what they mean.

Cortez sits at the desk and opens up a laptop. He starts to scroll through a few icons and presses one which reads, “Lucas”. Cortez presses it and sits back in his chair. “He probably won’t even pick up,” Cortez ponders as he waits for a response.

“Hey, hold on one second,” a voice says from the computer. Cortez glances over at the computer screen and sees a fuzzy image. The image starts to clear up. Lucas turns the screen on himself. He is around Cortez’s age, but his hair is more unkempt and looks like he’s been in a room working for weeks.

Lucas looks over at Cortez. “Hey buddy, got something cool to show you. Take out your phone,” Lucas informs Cortez as he starts typing on another computer next to him.

Cortez reaches into his pocket and looks at his phone screen. “Do you see anything yet?” Lucas inquires.

Cortez shakes his head. “Looks normal to me,” he responds.

“How about,” Lucas begins to type, “Now?” he asks pressing a few last buttons. Cortez’s phone quickly flashes and looks back to normal.

“You must be losing your touch, Lucas. It just blinked and that’s it,” Cortez jokes as he puts his phone down.

“I made it blink and extracted every piece of data and messages you’ve ever sent. It even hacked into your emails and the ones you’ve deleted,” Lucas says moving his second computer in front of the one he is video chatting with Cortez on. A list generates on the screen with numbers and text messages. Lucas puts the screen back on the table. “Wow, you take a lot of naked pics man,” Lucas chuckles.

“And that’s just yours and it loaded in a second,” Lucas yawns as he speaks. “I can have every phone in North America done by the end of the week. We can then pull the codes from all the bases and get ready to launch,” Lucas gazes back over at the screen.

“I’m sorry to hear what happened to your friend. Before he said his goodbyes, he communicated that you’re taking over for his outlet and that we are on schedule,” Lucas assumes they aren’t going to be held up.

“All good on our end. We’re stockpiled with enough weapons and ammo to combat any army we’d face,” Cortez starts to think over the list of things to get done. “The underground bunkers are nearly finished. We have actually acquired another group recently,” Cortez says rubbing his eyes. He hasn’t slept well in days and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

“That’s really good. The plan is in motion. I’m really surprised you’re choosing to go to North America. You know we can house you guys in Paradise until things settle down,” Lucas looks concerned.

“I want to be there when it happens. I can build a massive force out of the ones who are scattered around, rather than wait until they form their own little groups,” Cortez looks down for a moment and pauses. “Do you think this is the wrong thing to do?” Cortez questions, hoping he isn’t alone.

Lucas turns and looks at the screen. “Don’t worry about it too much. All we’re doing is destroying the world.”

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