Storm Systems

By Bryan Alston Patrick

Part 1

Kelly sneers in the other direction.  The reaction is almost involuntary at hearing for the nth time about the “new order.”  The first time had been during the interview.  Kelly thought it sounded stupid then but he had to appear cool with it to get the job.  After he got the job, it had been one utterance after the next from his boss, Jonathan, who had either adopted the term from his father, McAllen, or pitched it to him.  Either way, both of them said it regularly, that is until big daddy accidentally slipped into a liminal state while attempting to transfer his consciousness into a machine, leaving junior to handle most of the day to day and chant the family slogan.

“Some people just take time to accept new things,” Jonathan tells his 9-year-old daughter, Chloe.  She’s upset because Kelly and his team have taken positions around the property with assault rifles and body armor.  Kelly’s not surprised to see her upset.  Small kids in his experience—especially small female kids—get freaked when the firepower comes out.  Chloe’s older brother, Niv, isn’t as freaked.  He’s gotten used to it and watches from the section of wraparound terrace off his bedroom.

Niv waves at Kelly.  Kelly smiles at him and follows up with the hand signal they practiced instructing Niv to go inside his room.  Niv shrugs, palms out, as if to say, “you never let me have any fun.”

“Who are the people, daddy?” Chloe asks.  “Why are they coming here?”

“Sweetie, I told you—they’re people who don’t want to follow the rule of law.  We have to protect our property until such time as everyone accepts the way of things.”

Kelly rolls his eyes.  The audience is with him already, just from his facial expressions alone.  His physical swagger appeals to women and men alike, straight and gay.  The actor playing Jonathan is naturally annoying and easily irritates new audiences every night with his condescending tone of voice and foppish body language.  The close-up of Kelly on the monitor above the stage allows the audience to see his eyes and read the visual details projected on to his baldhead by the state-of-the-art lighting system in the theater.  They can see his cognitive map of Jonathan’s property, rotating as he thinks through strategic maneuvers, zooming in on key tactical strike points.

They can also hear the feed into his earpiece.  “I’ve got one male, eighteen to twenty-four, approaching the west wall.  He’s stopped behind a tree, fifty meters out from the perimeter.  I think he’s scared to move any closer,” Reese tells Kelly, editorializing.

“I’m sure he is,” Kelly agrees, “I know I would be if I were him.  Dixon—talk to me.”

“I’ve got a white or Hispanic male coming in on the south wall, looks to be in his twenties or early thirties.  He’s crouching down behind a small hill, sir,” Dixon is cracking a smile, as the audience sees on one of the monitors mounted at the edge of stage left.  The screen splits with Dixon’s eyes on one side and his POV of the crouching man on the other.  “I guess he thinks I don’t see him, sir.”

“James.”  Kelly moves on.  “Tell me what you see.”

“Whole lotta nothin’, boss.”  James has a pair of computer-assisted binoculars to his face, through which the audience can see via the monitor mounted stage right.  They share his realization when a human form moves into frame and the smart-lens brings her into focus.  “Scratch that.  I’ve got a woman sixty meters out from the north wall, African-American, late teens, early twenties.  She’s wearing woodland camo.  She just ducked behind some brush and I think she’s looking at us through a detached riflescope.  Could be ex-military.”

“Morris,” Kelly moves on, “what’s it look like?”

“I’ve got fifty or sixty people gathered down by the road around three pickup trucks and an RV.”  Melissa Morris is Kelly’s tech and intel coordinator.  She’s working from the central command station abutting the panic chamber at the center of the mansion.  The audience hears her voice over the PA but they can’t see her.  Instead, they see what she sees on the large monitor above center stage: a small mob of people clustered around their vehicles on the side of a farm road, drinking water from plastic cups and gallon containers.

“They armed, Morris?”

“I can’t tell with any certainty.  I assume they have weapons in their vehicles.  Two of the pickups have camper enclosures mounted on the flatbeds.  My guess is they’re hiding their firepower for the time being, boss.”

“I agree, Morris.  They don’t want to tip their hand.  You see the three closing in break off from that group?”

“No, sir.  The other three appeared from outside our ground visual range.”

“They’re getting better at this,” Kelly concludes.  “Reese, Dixon, James: line up your targets and pulse them as soon as they’re in range.  Morris: launch an aerial out past the camera radii and see who else is out there.”

“Yes, sir,” Morris says, “what about the group on the road? Shall I buzz them as well?”

“Do that last.  I want them to know how far we can see but not until we’ve already seen what there is to see.”

“Understood, sir.  I’m sending the aerial up now.”

“Daddy,” Chloe tugs at Jonathan’s fingers.  “Maybe the police can help.  We could call and see if they can help so no people will get hurt.”

Jonathan smiles at his daughter because she’s smart and goodhearted.  He kneels to make eye contact with her.  “Sweetheart, the police have their hands full in the cities and towns.  Out here, we have to be the police to make sure people don’t break the law.”

“But why do people break the law, daddy? Why don’t they want to follow what the law says?”

Jonathan sighs.  “It’s complicated, Chloe.  Some people don’t want to be told what to do.  They want to do things their own way even if someone else has a better way.  They would rather do things the hard way than go along with someone else.”

“I don’t understand,” Chloe says, starting to cry from frustration.  “Why doesn’t everyone want a better way? Why would they want a hard way? Why don’t they follow the law?”

“Sir,” Dixon says, “I have this guy in range.  It’s almost like he wants me to do it.”

“Give him what he wants,” Kelly orders, “fire when ready.”

Dixon pulls the trigger and hits the intruder with an invisible, silent pulse that knocks him backward and down with the apparent force of a city bus.  “He’s neutralized, sir.”

A look of terrified overwhelm reddens Chloe’s face.  “Oh.  Is the man dead, daddy? Did Mr. Dixon kill him?”

“No, sweetie.  The man is fine.  He’ll be weak for a little while but he’s fine.  Mr. Dixon used a special beam to stop him from coming closer to our house, honey.”

“But does it hurt?”

Jonathan sighs.  “I suppose it probably does hurt somewhat.”

“No!” Chloe stamps her feet, tears fully streaming.  “Why? Why does he want to get hurt? Why can’t he just follow the law?”

Jonathan shrugs, searching his mind for another way to placate his daughter.

“Why daddy?”

Kelly can’t take it any more.  His close-up is back on the main monitor.  “Because he’s hungry, Chloe.”

Jonathan glares at Kelly like a soap-star in a close-up from the monitor stage left.

Chloe stops crying, finally getting an answer she can process.

“They’re all hungry,” Kelly reiterates, glaring black at Jonathan with eyes that say, fuck you, fire me.




The second act always wows the audience with sheer visual bravado in a groundbreaking rear-screen projection sequence from which the character, Kari Beck, emerges seamlessly.  It’s war-torn Corpus Christi.  Cacophonous gunfire and engine roar fill the streets.  Beck steps out of a convenience store sipping a Gatorade as a van speeds by with a gunman standing up through the sunroof, aiming a flagrantly illegal machine gun upward at a chopper flying just behind the roofline of a row of low-rise mixed-use buildings erected during the ten-year narcotics boom that made Cali, Medellin and Miami look like grant-funded socioeconomic experiments.  As Beck moves closer to the foreground, her recorded likeness merges with the actress portraying her, who’s been camouflaged by a synchronous projection from the catwalk above the audience until the moments she appears to step right off the rear-screen on to the stage.  Some audience members begin to applaud but restrain themselves before disrupting the moment.

Beck’s partner, Guy Paulson, waits for her behind the wheel of the loaded SUV they get to drive as members of the state task force that was until weeks ago a federal task force.  Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Agency had put together a team pointed by the best federal agents working Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico with the best of local law enforcement in those states to take on the new multi-national cartels operating on both sides of the US-Mexico border and throughout the Gulf of Mexico.  Some of the interdiction strategies worked better than others but federal funding dried up before anything major was accomplished and left the State of Texas to deal with the full scale hot war raging on its southern border and in its coastal cities.  The US government let the Texas government keep some vehicles, weapons and equipment while reclaiming much of it for other operations.

Paulson was an Army Ranger who joined the DEA as an attempt to live a normal life above ground with a wife and children and a three or four bedroom home in suburban somewhere. He’s been partnered up with Beck since the inception of the task force and stayed on largely out of loyalty to her.  The task force recruited Beck from the Houston PD.  She was a homicide detective before moving into vice where she headed a strike team until getting the call from Homeland.  She hates what the job has become but thinks Paulson’s the shit and sometimes gets off on the action when she’s not thinking about what it’s cost her.

The chopper fires back at the van from side-mounted canons.  The first fifty-caliber stream shreds the gunman and practically cuts the van in half.  The driver takes a desperate left turn on a side street just on the off chance of getting outside the chopper’s range but it’s a feckless move.  Another round from the sky tears up the van’s front end, taking the engine and the front axel.  It stops and drops.  The driver spills out to make a run for it but two or three heavy bullets blast him into pulp on black asphalt, shiny and gooey on a late summer afternoon nearing a forecast high of 112 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beck watches the chopper fly off toward the coast and climbs in the passenger door of the SUV, handing Paulson a Gatorade from a bag of several more.  She sticks the rest in a small ice chest behind her seat.  “You’d think Garza would have seen this coming, no?”

“You’d think,” Paulson agrees, twisting the top of his cold drink.  “He’s either seeing farther down the chess board than we are or he’s as impulsive and short-sighted as he looks.”

Alejandro Garza had broken all the rules two days earlier when he hit Laredo boss, Manuel Ortega.  If Garza was thinking Ortega’s death would split his cartel in two and weaken it, he appeared to have miscalculated in the short term.  Ortega’s top two lieutenants had long been his nephew, Carlos Ortega, and an American-Mexican named Pax Corbitt.

“Maybe Garza was thinking Pax and Carlos would go to war with each other for control of the cartel,” Beck speculates, climbing into the passenger seat.  “He could still be right.”

“He could,” Paulson agrees.  “But if that’s his game, he must’ve prepared himself for a bloodbath between now and then.”

“Or he didn’t prepare himself,” Beck allows.  “Everybody says he’s a total hothead, maybe he really is.”

“If he has the firepower to back it up, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do about it.”  Paulson checks the rear and side view mirrors for oncoming vehicles and or fifty-cal-toting choppers.  He accelerates into traffic and takes his next right, heading down a long stretch of roadway toward the coast.  The visual effect is seamless, dazzling the audience as the SUV becomes one of many tiny vehicles in the distance, nearing a vanishing point.




The next visual transition is at once smooth and disorienting, treating the audience to a dreamy view of the ocean from an apparently tranquil stretch of beach.  For a moment, it’s as though they’ve followed Beck and Paulson to land’s end but it’s too quiet and removed.  Waves slapping the shore and seagulls squeaking overhead make up the sparse soundtrack.  Powerful convection fans offstage blow over saltwater vats, adding the feel and smell of the Gulf Coast.  The entire theater is instantly on vacation.  A few audience members even nod off momentarily before waking up to feverish applause at the entrance of international stage and screen star Axel Morales, starring as Alejandro Garza.

Garza’s dressed in sexy aristocratic Mexican beachwear.  His pornographically expensive white cotton shirt is open, floating on the ocean breeze and showing off Morales’ world-famous abs.  He’s relaxed and smiling, as far removed as the idyllic coastal scenery from the tumult and bloodshed he’s authored less than a hundred miles away on the other side of the border.  The audience applauds again as they see the inspiration for Garza’s laidback happiness.  His lover, Raquel Ibanez, has come down from the villa to join him.  Raquel is currently being portrayed by Spanish-Indian omnistar, Rani Fernandez, a casting coup on the part of the producers that’s sold-out shows for three consecutive weeks.

“Hola, chico,” Raquel says, sidestepping a man-o-war glistening a little too close to her bare feet.

She throws her arms around Alejandro’s neck and he pulls her in close and tight with a firm embrace around her lower back.  They smooch passionately, tongue wrestling in extreme-close-ups on the monitors.  Finally, their mouths part and they rest their foreheads together.  Raquel is a model standing at equal height to Alejandro.  They breathe together, winding down.

“Hola, chica,” Alejandro says.

Three-dimensional subtitles float at the front of the stage translating their Spanish dialogue into English.

“It’s nice to see you in the morning for a change,” he says, kissing her forehead and face, worshipping her with his lips.

She gasps and giggles.  “I know, I just woke up and couldn’t wait to see you.”  She licks his chin.  “My early riser.  So disciplined.”

He tongues her ear.

“So passionate,” she continues.

“You inspire me,” he tells her.

“You electrify me,” she tells him.

He licks her neck and collar bone hungrily, pulling at her bikini top to expose her left nipple as he works his way down to suck it.  She gasps and rakes his hair with her long, elegant fingers, eventually pushing his face away from her breast.  He fights her for a moment before relenting.  She straightens her bikini.

“I want you here and now,” he tells her.

“I want you too, my beautiful lover,” she turns away dramatically.  “But I can’t, not now, not here.”

“Why not?” He gestures at the stunning expanse.  “This is the perfect place for passion.”

“It’s not the place,” she admits.

“Then what?”

“I really have to pee, Alejandro.  I drank a big glass of water before running out to see you.  Now my bladder is full.”

“So pee.”

“Okay,” she says, starting back toward the house.  “I’ll be right back.”

“Just pee here,” he tells her, “in the sand.”

Audience members brace themselves for the forthcoming scenes that have generated intense controversy in the media since previews began.  Crosshairs appear in front of Alejandro’s face in the monitor stage left.  The ambient soundtrack is still ocean, breeze and seagulls.

“Right here?” She asks bashfully, her womanly confidence suddenly replaced by a girlish vulnerability.  Raquel enjoys these moments of discomfort that typically arise from Alejandro’s disarming attempts to dominate her.  “Out in the open?”

“This is my beach,” he says with his arms wide.  “There’s no one else for miles and miles.  We do what we want here.”

“And you want me to pee?”

“I do.”

“Okay,” Raquel says, squatting so there’s a small dune between her and the audience.  “Look the other way,” she tells Alejandro.

“But I want to look at you,” he says.  “I want to watch you.”

Raquel blushes in a moment that’s earned Rani raves from critics.  She lifts her transparent skirt and slides her bikini bottoms down her thighs.  Alejandro watches her, his face still centered in crosshairs on the monitor.

“How’s the world domination plan coming?” She asks him, easing her own tension.

“Excellent,” he answers with unblinking eyes fixed on her.  “Everybody thinks I’m a reckless madman.  I have them precisely where I want them.”

Almost inaudibly, helicopter blades rise into the sound mix.  Raquel finishes and starts pulling up her bikini bottoms.  Alejandro moves toward her.

“Leave them,” he says, dropping to his knees in front of Raquel.

A murmur rolls through the audience.  They’ve been waiting for this moment.  Alejandro pushes Raquel’s legs back and dives face first between her thighs.  The strings on her bikini bottoms untie themselves in the frenzy, falling away as he works her to climax with his mouth.  She writhes and pulls him toward her, pushing his drawstring linen pants off with her toes.

They’re both in the crosshairs on the monitor as the chopper noise rises to the top of the mix.  Alejandro and Raquel lose themselves in lovemaking as though they can’t even hear it.  The center stage monitor shows the same chopper and gunman from Corpus.  He steadies his aim on the couple.

Stage right, the monitor follows a zoom on the roof of Alejandro’s villa.  The red ceramic roof tiles retract as a high tech weapon emerges from an opening hatch.  It fires a bright orange laser the diameter of a telephone pole that bores through the chopper, sending it into free fall.

The couple continues making love as the chopper crashes into the ocean far offshore.  The effects are clean to the extent that no one in the audience can tell when the actors were replaced with body doubles for the explicit love scene.  Mexican pornstar Taco Velasquez fills in as Alejandro while Brooklyn’s own Dominican-American sex symbol, Tara Haze, steps in for Rani.  It’s every bit as hot as the hype suggests.  The audience is riveted—nothing in the media could have prepared them for the impact.  The entire transition is invisible with shifts in the lighting design that leave the couple in silhouette as the entire stage appears to become a convex section of satellite photography red-dotting Garza’s off-the-grid compound on a fortified sandbar 120 miles southeast of Matamoras.




The satellite image rotates on a northwestern axis, rolling to a stop on a different red dot near the start of the Texas panhandle.  A drop-zoom effect plunges the audience into an establishing overheard shot of the vagabond rovers encamped along the farm road just beyond the perimeter of the Byrd estate.  Some of them are gathered, talking discreetly into each other’s ears or covering their lips, glancing up occasionally at the lens.  Others in the group have climbed into the camper enclosures on their trucks to stay out of view.

The scrim projection dissolves to reveal Jonathan and Chloe in her bedroom.  She sits on the edge of her bed while he sits on the floor with his legs crossed.  She won’t quit despite this gentle timeout imposed by her strict yet loving father.

“But we have food,” she persists.  “Maybe we can give some of our food to the people and they can go home.”

Jonathan drops his head momentarily, stuffing his frustration.  He can’t stand raising his voice to his children although they do drive him to that on occasion.  “Sweetheart,” he starts, searching for words he hopes will satisfy her bottomless appetite for resolution.  “You are an angel.  You have such a wonderful heart.  Please don’t ever lose that.”

“Daddy.”  She’s not buying it.

“You’re right that we have food and I would love to feed everyone but we don’t have enough food for that, honey.  We really don’t.  Not yet.  We want to grow more and more food so eventually people won’t have to be hungry.  But if we give food away every time people threaten us, we won’t even have enough for ourselves to eat.  Then we can’t help anyone.  What good will that do?”

New sympathy for Jonathan Byrd ripples through the audience as they see his compassionate, thoughtful side.  He’s more than just a rich douche with his own private military.  He has some kind of a vision—one that’s taken him years to develop and convince his ultra-conservative father to pursue.

Jonathan’s original plan had featured an inconspicuous farm with invisible security.  He didn’t want a wall around an opulent mansion.  All that went by the wayside as exceptional drought and extreme weather ravaged farms across the heartland of the US, forcing Jonathan to accelerate his operation.  He had planned from the beginning to grow underground with geothermal and photovoltaic energy driving a state of the art hydroponic operation.  There was also to be a traditional above ground farm with organic crops and grass-fed animals.  The latter part of the plan had been almost completely unraveled by drastic climate changes.

Making matters worse, flooding, drought and a variety of nuclear and non-nuclear contamination disasters around the world caused a massive food shortage nearly overnight, leaving over 5 billion people with less than adequate food and water provisions, 3 billion (conservatively) of whom are starving to death.  “There can be no law without the basic necessities of life,” Jonathan told McAllen in one of his many pledge drives to ramp up the operation.

McAllen Byrd had gone by “Mac” his entire life and took his own reputation as a bottom-line cowboy in the oil and weapons industries with a parodical seriousness.  He liked that Jonathan had a patent pending on his farming model with the long-term plan of licensing it out to create a network of sustainable farms capable of feeding most or even all of North America.  It was Jonathan who had steered Mac toward sustainable energy, a move that would never be as profitable as oil in its halcyon days but had been good business and landed the two of them on the cover of Texan Magazine, which appears at one point during an expositional montage on the center stage monitor, providing the audience with additional background.  The wide-angle cover photo shows father and son as benevolently imposing with mischievous smiles, giving “thumbs up” near the bottom of the frame.  Jonathan’s thumb is green while Mac’s is painted red, white and blue in oblique reference to the iconic American Pie album art.  “The Byrd Boys Reinvent the American Farm and Themselves.”

The PR was nice and the parties were even nicer but Mac’s conditions were never negotiable and once social conditions took a sharp turn for the terrifying, the wall went up simultaneously with a compound for the whole family and Mac exercised final approval on the security team, all of whom came highly recommended by his deep connections in the military-industrial-complex.   The audience knows all this from the Lucasean prologue that rolls up the scrim at the top.

“And we can’t just give them a little food?” Chloe tries one more time.

Jonathan shakes his head.  “I’m sorry, angel.” And he really is.  The audience knows from the effects sequence on the monitor depicting Jonathan’s thought process that he’s visualized possible scenarios involving either some of Kelly’s men or a couple of his partially operational robots carrying food packages to the ramblers.  He got tangled up quickly in the logistics of carefully harvesting the food, preparing it, creating the packages, putting Kelly’s men at risk or trapping the robots at the bottom of the hill if they couldn’t make it back up—that along many other aspects of the plan was an untested gamble and the potential payoff was vague at best.  “Please trust daddy when I tell you we can’t afford to do that.”

“Would you do it if grandpa wasn’t here?”

Jonathan rolls his eyes and cracks a smile.  His little girl is too sharp.  “Yes.  I’m doing what I know is the best thing, angel.  I mean it.  But you’re right that grandpa would probably do the same thing.”

There’s a tap on the door.  Jonathan finds Kelly standing across the hallway, deliberately keeping himself out of earshot.  The two men aren’t crazy about each other but Kelly’s a total pro and Jonathan knows that.  There’s a level of respect.

“Sir,” Kelly calls him, “I’m sorry to interrupt but we need you downstairs.”

Jonathan nods.  He backs into Chloe’s and lets her know he’s sorry to end their conversation.  He’ll come back in a little while he tells her.

He follows Kelly down the hall a ways before speaking.  “What’s going on?”

“Morris got an angle into one of the truck windows.”  Kelly tells him.  “These people have considerable munitions.  We should discuss action.”

They’re on the circular staircase descending toward the entrance.  Jonathan stops on a middle stair and looks up at Kelly.  “What do you have in mind?”

“The ramblers appear to have at least one grenade launcher, sir.  In my opinion they’re already too close.  I feel we should back them up.”

“And you have a means of doing that?”

“Several.”  Kelly’s started down the stairs again without waiting for Jonathan.  “Follow me.”