I’ve been neglecting you of late, and I wish I could share happy thoughts with you, as I should. I’ve racked my brain all morning to come up with something bright and cheery I could share with you, but instead of ideas, I just had a headache. Everyone I see just seems to unload their baggage on me because they know I can take it. I’m immortal, right? By extension, that also makes me immune to drama, depression and interpersonal troubles. Or so they seem to believe.
Yesterday evening, I picked up a book on Greek mythology. I couldn’t help but recognize myself in some of the characters. Do you know what I realized as I leafed through the pages? I’m the lead character in a Greek play, and the AAC is my stage.
I have to get out of here. I just don’t know if I can.
Dear diary. The next time I pick you up, I want to have an answer and write it down inside of you. I want to flip you shut and feel certain about it, about myself.
“I’m so glad you could fit the appointment into your busy schedule!“
Jessica moved to sit herself in the all too familiar couch across from her red-haired doctor and friend, dropping down to lean back against the comfortable cushions. “I’m the one who called, so the schedule bending was considerably easier than convincing Colonel Burgess to give me a break.“
Heidi attempted to stifle a giggle, her amused expression fading after a moment to be replaced by a wide-eyed look of incredulous shock. “I have it on good authority that the Colonel has not been seeing HIS therapist of late. Maybe he needs to start keeping a diary.“
Jessica managed to keep a perfectly neutral expression, feigned disinterest written across her features to match her deadpan voice. “I don’t think you are supposed to tell me this, DOCTOR Heidi Carpenter.“
“Tell you what? I would never do anything like that, COLONEL Lawson.“ Heidi plopped down on her armchair and fixed a mirthful gaze on her patient, fingers laced together over her knee. The two women maintained eye contact for a moment, and the mirth faded away until the redhead sighed with deep exasperation. “There’s a real shock coming this time, isn’t there? Just when I was thinking you had spilled all the beans during our last session.“
“Maybe we should just cut the session short today, and I’ll come back when I ONLY need to vent?“ Jessica finished her dour-voiced statement with a glance to the door, ready to stand and make her way there.
“No, no. It is FAR too late for that, my friend.“ The taller woman wagged her finger as she spoke with a schoolmasterly tone. “We have an appointment, and I am not letting you out of here until we get to the bottom of your deepest, most haunting troubles.“
“Can I request a therapist who isn’t an empath?“
“You wouldn’t have the time to do the required paperwork. You are far too old and powerful to be this much of a sissy, Jessica. You have faced far greater monsters than yourself, you can endure my curiosity for another thirty minutes. I believe in you!“
A tiny grin flickered across the brunette’s lips, then she winced, settling back a bit. “This time, I really AM going insane. I’m not sure I’m in a position to retire.“
“You’ll need to give me a bit more than that.“
“Fine.“ Jessica exhaled. “I feel like I’m not primarily an AAC colonel, or the woman at the forefront of PR concerns. I’m not the volunteer on monitoring duty or the oldie veteran putting the rookies in their places. I’m… Atlas. And you know the thing that’s weighing down on me the most? I’ll be Atlas FOREVER.“
Heidi sat up straighter, sensing the built up frustration behind her patient’s words, but also the weariness of a century of unabated, unshared responsibility. “The Atlas from Greek mythology, who bears the world on his back?“
“Yes. If I step away for a second, it’s all going to come crumbling down around me. And if I retire…“
Heidi sat in contemplative silence, tapping a finger to her cheek while the shorter woman studied her features in anticipation of the answer. Suddenly she jumped to her feet and moved to loom over her friend, arms outstretched as if to embrace the world the brunette woman was speaking of. “We’ve been over this already! What did we say about holding yourself up to impossibly high standards you can’t hope to accomplish? You can’t carry that kind of burden alone!“
“Atlas didn’t CHOOSE his role. Nor did he have the opportunity to take a timeout. Someone had to be the poor sob who carried the world on his back.“ Jessica made it a solemn statement, arms crossing over her chest.
“Atlas didn’t have FRIENDS, and he never called for help!“ Heidi paused to mock glare at the sitting woman. “Admit it, Jessica. You don’t trust anyone, least of all yourself.“
“No. Let’s face it, I have no reason to. Colonel Burgess couldn’t even be trusted to keep the media inside the safety perimeter, or to stay behind the line.“ Jessica closed her eyes with her fingers massaging at her temples, struggling to hide her scowl. “Robbins was a disaster waiting to happen from the instant they excluded me from the San Diego mission. During Trevor Trott’s return, neither Field nor Grace managed to respond in time to prevent a disaster.“
“But you did. You were there, fulfilling your promise to your friend.“
But I’ll never be free of this hell. I can’t allow myself even one misstep, can’t withdraw into my vault for ten minutes of peace without fearing that someone, somewhere, is going to screw up when I’m not looking. Jessica didn’t bother voicing her train of thought, she opted to address a different point instead. “But will they actually call me for situations they can’t handle? What if they just create an epic clusterfuck before I even hear about it? You keep telling me I’m one woman among billions, and that I can’t possibly hope to do everything on my own. But I can’t trust anyone else not to screw up.“
“Do you trust me, Jessica?“
The petite woman sat unmoving for several seconds, meeting her psychiatrist’s eyes with a piercing gaze of her own before she broke the silence that hung between them. “That’s not a fair question.“
The red-haired doctor beamed a wide, disarming smile, lowering her hands onto Jessica’s shoulders to grip them firmly. “As your counselor and friend, it is my duty to confront you with the improbable, the uncomfortable and all the questions you’d never think to ask yourself.“
Jessica couldn’t help but smile back at the almost childlike cheer in her friend’s tone and expression. “Out with the answers, then. I expect them to be deep and wise.“
“Oh.“ Heidi’s expression shifted in best Master Yoda impersonation, eyebrows furrowed in deep contemplation. Her fingers pressed into the shorter woman’s shoulders, feeling out the muscles and bone structure. “You would make a poor Atlas, I’m afraid. You’re far too SMALL.“
Jessica shot her psychiatrist an incredulous look, soon replaced by a sardonic smile. “That’s what you think of me? REALLY?“
“No. But you stopped thinking of yourself as Atlas, didn’t you?“
“You’re supposed to provide deeply founded counsel, not manipulate me.“ Jessica tried to force harshness into her words, but failed to contain the chuckle that tickled the back of her throat.
The taller woman moved to reclaim her chair. “Let’s get on with the counseling, then. If you could wish for anything at all, what would it be?“
“That’s a tough one. I’ve never had the time or opportunity to think about it.“
“We have just over twenty minutes until my appointment with the next client!“
Jessica couldn’t keep the grin off her face. She relaxed into the cushions at her back, eyes flicking back and forth between her friend and the painting of a sunset beach that adorned the wall behind her. “I’d like to know, without a doubt, that I can retire and trust the AAC to do its damned job in my absence. Christ, I’d like to have some time to myself. I’m one of the oldest people in the world, and I don’t even know myself well enough to have a favorite style of music. I know I’m good at KILLING people, or yelling them, or… both.“ The humor faded from the petite woman’s face at her own words. I know how to be a monster, and not much else.
“If I had a solution, right here and now, would you trust me and accept it?“ Jessica’s gaze flicked to the side, considering the validity of the statement.
“I’m serious, Jessica. I have the solution right here.“ The red-haired psychologist dug a paper from her pocket and unfurled it, wagging it in the air to display the AAC seal. “Already approved by the general. Everyone cares about your well-being, and we are well beyond the timeframe for Lunatic Returns. You’ll find that things are in order and under control!“
“What has been approved, exactly?“ The petite woman jumped up from her cushions, ready to snatch up the paper and examine it for herself.
“It’s finally happening!“ Heidi declared, quite cheerfully and clearly pleased as a punch. “Consider it a trial retirement. The army is sending you on vacation.“
“Welcome to Hawaii, Colonel Lawson! I trust you had a pleasant flight?“ Jessica swiveled her head to see the speaker, a frizz-haired, deeply tanned man wearing the insignia of a Lieutenant Colonel. The cloth-wrapped packet he kept tucked beneath one arm filled her with a vague, inexplicable sense of unease.
“If we disregard the fact that I could have made the trip more quickly on my own, I suppose it was acceptable, Lieutenant Colonel…“
“Robinson,“ the man declared, flashing a smile that revealed very white teeth. “I am so pleased to meet the Cha… to meet you, Colonel.“ He tugged the wrapped bundle from beneath his arm and offered it to the shorter woman. “Your uniform, assigned for the duration of your stay on the Big Island.“
“Assigned by WHO?“ Jessica snapped, unable to contain her suspicion. This must be a joke, or general Mathis getting back at me for some kind of slight. Or maybe I’m going insane after all.
“The Uniform Code of Military Justice, Ma’am.“ He paused to clear his throat. “An addendum, actually. Added very recently.“
“Is this a joke?“ The petite brunette kept her piercing gaze firmly lodged on the Lieutenant Colonel’s face, waiting for him to wither beneath her commanding presence. The uniform bundle in his hands looked impossibly SMALL.
To his credit, the man didn’t flinch. “No, Ma’am. I was assigned the task of showing you around. If you would follow me, I’ll show you where to get changed.“
Jessica swept a glance over the scenery she had been dropped into – the tall palm trees that gently swayed in the wind, the colorfully blossoming vegetation, the sapphire blue ocean that sparkled like a gem. A rich and earthy permeated the air, filling her lungs with a promise of time spent without schedule. Slowly, she felt her resistance melt away in the warm sunlight. “Fine. Let’s get going.“
“Heidi, you’re INSANE. I wouldn’t have fled from your office if I had any idea what you were scheming!“
“You and I both know you NEEDED this, Jessica. You had to escape the hell of incompetence you braved every day of your life for eight decades.“ Heidi’s voice trickled from the cell phone with a playful cheer, her inflection brightened by a hint of barely contained mirth.
Jessica tried to assemble the same kind of enthusiasm as she peered down at herself, eyeing the army camouflaged bikini that looked so out of place on her petite body. Back in the day, women wore one-piece wool jersey swimsuits with attached frocks and knickers, and she hadn’t had the time or interest to pay attention to fashion developments since.
“You’ll get used to it in no time at all. Before you know it, you might even enjoy yourself a little! How does that sound?“
“I still think you’re insane, but I’ll give it a try.“ Jessica switched the phone to her left hand to accept a cocktail, complete with drinking straw, a tiny paper umbrella and a couple of ice cubes. She let her sunglasses slide down over her eyes, trying to dismiss the sight of the serving officer’s buttocks from her mind.
“Are you enjoying the scenery?“ The psychiatrist said through the phone, sounding shamelessly amused.
“Whoever decreed that soldiers on Hawaii wear camouflage thongs should be court martialed,“ the sun-basking brunette replied, trying her hardest to counter Heidi’s mirth with dry sarcasm. “Wait. PLEASE tell me you can’t pull any empath shenanigans over a phone line.“
“No. However, you DID maybe gasp. A little.“
“Colonel Lawson?“ The voice came from somewhere up and to the left, speaking with a deep, vibrant timbre that raised the hairs at Jessica’s nape. The speaker was in his late twenties or early thirties, dark-haired, broad-shouldered and sporting a healthy tan. And properly dressed, thank god.
“Yes? Do you have something to report?“
His dark eyes twinkled at her words. “No, Ma’am. I am to deliver a shoulder rub to help you make the most of your time off duty.“
Jessica remembered the coolness of the drink in her hand and took a sip, giving herself a few precious seconds to figure out a proper response. She knew how to deal with war, with Lunatics, with chronically incompetent colleagues and a wide array of disasters. She’d never received a shoulder rub, though, and she was afraid she’d forgotten how to be NORMAL.
No, she corrected herself. I just need familiar grounds.
“Wait a moment.“ The short brunette set her drink down on the sand and picked the phone back up. “Heidi? I’d like to request someone be flown in to Hawaii. If anyone protests, tell them I’ve been on duty for EIGHT DECADES. I’ve never asked a fucking favor, not once.“
“I believe that could be arranged,“ the psychiatrist replied, with unmistakable eagerness. “Who is it?“
The answer required no time to consider. “Jean Aaron.“
The crazy, zany, and completely NOT CANON! interlude you’ve just read is part of the Serial Fiction April Fool’s Day Swap, 2015 Edition. The mindblowing gag post you’ve just read was written by Celes Tial, who normally writes the story Anathema, found at https://anathemaserial.wordpress.com/ .
Chad Haakenson, who normally writes this story, today has created their own piece of tomfoolery for Umbra found at https://umbrawebserial.wordpress.com/ (Readers take note: Umbra contains much more graphic language and sexual content than the stories on this site, discretion is advised!).
For a full list of all our April Fool’s Swappers and their stories, as well as dozens of other serial novels that will tickle your fancy, check out The Web Fiction Guide at
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