Today on PositivePerspectives, we begin a journey set in a not-so-distant future - The first chapter of Reconstruction. The Inaugural Meeting has been set up to take place in secret between a trio of friends, and some of their coworkers who have also expressed interest in the ideas of Reconstruction. But not everything goes as planned...

“I knew you’re paranoid Paul, but this--“

Carroll Bowie erupted in hearty laughter as he entered the stark underground room. If it wasn’t for the sound-deadening material covering every surface, the reverberation of the noise would have made the room an even more uncomfortable place to be than it already was.

Smirking, Paul stood with his hands behind his back waiting for Carroll to enter his dungeon. “With a mouth the size of yours, Carroll, I decided that caution was in order.”

Carroll surveyed the bizarre walls of the room, his mouth still gaping open from his laughter. “Surely this isn’t really necessary?”

“Perhaps not today, but you never know when this faraday cage might prevent some careless buffoon from accidentally bringing their phone down here and betraying us to the Overworlders.” Paul shifted his weight forward, leaning on the clearly out-of-service billiards table in front of him. “You did leave your phone upstairs like my sign said, right?” In reality, Paul didn’t really know how a faraday cage worked, or if it would protect against such a case at all, but it made him feel better nevertheless.

Carroll turned his attention to Paul, feigning ignorance. “Sign? Upstairs? I didn’t see any sign!” His laughter continued as he turned to make the climb back up the stairs and actually obey the impossible-to-miss sign.

“Oh uh… ‘scuse me.” Carroll’s voice trailed back down the steps, just loud enough for Paul to make out.

“Is Paul down here?” A different voice asked.

“Mm-hmm, yeah.”

It only took a moment for Paul to find out who had arrived. “Oh, Alice, Leeroy, welcome - I’m glad you came. I think we’re just waiting for Benjamin, then we can get started. You did leave your devices upstairs, right?”

The couple nodded in reply, trying not to look too uncomfortable in the bunker-like basement. They avoided the risk of offense posed by commenting on the odd interior, unlike Carroll. However, they still seemed visibly surprised at the lengths Paul had gone to in order to ensure total secrecy.

It was less than five minutes later, and exactly when the meeting was scheduled to take place, that Benjamin entered the basement in a peculiarly nonchalant way. “Hello Carroll, Paul,” nodding to his friends before noticing the newcomers. “Hello there, I’m Benjamin Ulrich. What are your names?” The  new couple had positioned themselves somewhat away from the billiards table – the only piece of furniture or equipment in the room.

“Nice to meet you, Benjamin. I’m Leeroy, and this is my wife Alice.”

Hardly a moment passed after the pleasantries before Benjamin turned his attention towards Paul, which seemed to signal that the meeting was starting.

“I suppose you're wondering why I gathered you here today.” The old trope was an obvious attempt to make the newcomers more comfortable, as it was evident that the trio of friends already knew why they had come. The humor was met with a toned-down version of Carroll’s usual bellow, mixed with the still nervous chuckle from Leeroy and Alice.

“Oh, Carroll, would you mind shutting the door before we start?” The repurposed gun safe door was heavy enough that it was only natural to pick Carroll over Benjamin due to Carroll’s significantly larger size. “Just turn the handle to seal it, please.”

Leeroy shifted nervously, nearly voicing protest, but was cut off by Carroll’s deep voice.

“So, are you locking us in, or the police out?” Carroll said teasingly, grinning back at Paul.

“Actually, it’s to complete the faraday cage and sound-proofing,” Paul retorted, entirely ignoring Carroll’s humor.  From the corner of his eye, Paul noticed the glisten of sweat beginning to appear on Leeroy’s forehead. “Is his breathing increased as well?” Paul thought. Paul smiled reassuringly at Leeroy, but the tension was not aswagued. As soon as the door was locked, Paul reached underneath the billiards table to retrieve a handheld device.

“Oh, it’s just a scanner - a precaution to make sure nobody here is working for the Overworlders.” Paul said with a laugh, in response to his visitors’ concerned gaze.

Leeroy shifted even more, not knowing what to do. There wasn’t much time for him to figure it out, either. Paul aimed the scanner Alice first, panning the device over Alice’s body, about a foot away from her.

“This scanner will simply reveal any magnetic fields - phones, recorders, tech in general... All clear!”

Leeroy was next. He froze. His left hand moved slowly behind him - reaching.

Paul examined the screen attached to the device as he scanned Leeroy.

“All clear.” Paul said, turning to Benjamin presumably to scan him next. Leeroy eased a bit. All eyes were on Paul, expecting him to continue scanning. Decisively, Paul looked at Benjamin’s head, then his feet, and back at his eyes. The signal was discrete enough to make Leeroy hesitate, but not quite discrete enough for Benjamin and Paul to have a real advantage.

Leeroy managed to yank the gun from the holster in the small of his back as Benjamin and Paul rushed him.  He frantically attempted to turn the gun on Benjamin. The gunshot cracked powerfully in the small room.

Alice screamed.

The bullet missed its intended target, wreaking havoc on the billiards table rather than in Benjamin’s chest. Benjamin and Paul struggled to gain control of Leeroy’s arms. Carroll lunged at their attacker a moment after his friends, body-slamming Leeroy against the wall. His head hit hard and Leeroy fell to the floor, rendered harmless by the three men.

Paul turned his attention to Alice, who had shrunk to a corner of the room, sobbing.

“What? Leeroy, NO! Leeroy?!” She blubbered as Paul tried to calm her, and himself. Carefully, still not knowing if she was also a spy, he guided her gently to sit down next to the now-harmless Leeroy. She clutched at her husband, who was still reeling from the blow to his head. Benjamin had taken a wary seat on the billiards table, facing the couple. He carefully grasped the gun in his hands, though he didn’t bother aiming it at its previous owner. Carroll and Paul soon joined him on the side of the table, each of them trying to catch their breath and process the adrenaline from the dangerous situation which they had just defused.

Some minutes passed as Leeroy attempted an apology to Alice for the violence, and mostly for his deception. Paul and Benjamin became acutely aware that this situation was far from over. What now? Why had they been accosted like this? What company had paid Leeroy to do this? Was Alice also involved - her tears merely an elaborate act?

Benjamin shifted his weight from the billiards table to the floor. “I’ve seen enough of this. It’s time to separate them.”  The gun he still held added authority to his already authoritative statement. “Let’s work with him here. Carroll, you should take her upstairs.”

The coldness of his tone snapped Alice and Leeroy out of their self-pity and dismay. Paul hadn't seen Benjamin like this before - impersonal, harsh, pragmatic. It was convincing enough that he didn’t dare question it. Carroll took Alice upstairs.

Benjamin examined Leeroy for several moments after the others left before speaking. Tears had run down the pitiful man’s puffy, red cheeks. He looked at the floor, or at his hands, and sat silently except for his stuffy breathing.

“Leeroy,” Benjamin said compassionately, in stark contrast to his previously harsh tone. “Is that your real name?”

Leeroy looked up at Benjamin, clutching his knees with sweaty palms. His dilated pupils met Benjamin’s steady gaze, only for a moment. Paul’s keen eye caught Leeroy’s painful glance at the gun, now cradled in Benjamin’s grasp, and the way his muscles tightened at Benjamin’s every move.

He is expecting to be killed, Paul realized. Any fear that may have remained in Paul’s mind from the recent events dissipated, and he regarded Leeroy with curiosity and sympathy. Leeroy seemed to be not only drained from his recent brush with violence, but also rattled to his core.

Leeroy was not a murderer or an assassin. No, this man, frail and helpless before him, could never be a killer.  Paul looked towards Benjamin, and met his gaze. Though it was only a brief moment, he knew Benjamin had reached the same conclusion.  

“Please. Don’t kill me,” Leeroy pleaded. “This is just a mistake. I’m sure we can come to an understanding…”His voice trailed off miserably.

Benjamin placed the gun on the billiards table behind him, without turning his gaze from the pitiful man. “I don’t intend to kill you, yet. Just don’t give me a reason to, and I won’t.“

Leeroy looked up, shaking his head in despair.  “They’ll kill me. They will! I can’t tell you anything! Just please...don’t kill me.”

Benjamin stood in silence, wondering what could bring a man to this wretched state.

“Who are they? Who will kill you?” Paul asked, innocently.

Leeroy covered his face with his hands hopelessly. “You don’t understand. I can’t say, I’ll be killed. I can’t even go back to my old life. I’ll be killed. I’ll do anything you ask, run away, live off-grid, find a cave a million miles away—just please, let me go.”  He continued in an unintelligible mix of fear, sorrow, and guilt. It was clear to Paul that they would have an easier time getting information out of Leeroy after he had cooled off a bit, so after a brief conversation with Benjamin, he left the basement to join Carroll.

“I will press charges! I swear! I’ll scream and the police will be here in an instant! Let me go now, you thug!” Alice’s harsh tone surprised Paul as he ascended into the main living area in his house.

“Paul! Thank goodness you’re here. I was about to come get you, but I didn’t want to interrupt. Our guest is slightly disgruntled, as you can see,” Carroll said with a bit of sarcasm, exasperated after dealing with the irate woman.

“Oh, Paul. please let me go! I’ve already explained to this ignorant goon that I’m innocent! I had no idea Leeroy was working for the overworlders! You have to let me go! I won’t press charges if you let me go now! Pl--” She was at Paul’s feet now, truly begging to be released.

Paul looked at Carroll, just as confused as he was.

“I believe her, I think.” Carroll said.

It was then that Benjamin joined the group, after hearing some of the noise from upstairs. The three men deliberated for a minute, and ultimately decided to let Alice go.

It was Benjamin who convinced the group. “Regardless of whether or not she’s a spy, we have to let her go or else we really will be holding her against her will.” None of the men were convinced of her innocence; however, they lacked any real evidence to the contrary.

Seconds later, Alice took her phone and practically ran out the door.

“Well, I guess our meeting is cancelled.” Carroll said, attempting dry humor. The trio laughed together - a  moment of relief from the intensity of the last hour.