Bill Petrocelli

Excerpt – Dedication Ceremony

Monday, May 4, 2082
New York City
United Nations Headquarters

Where’s Julia?

Uneasiness had wormed its way inside her, but Madeleine told herself to stay calm. She knew how to keep a lid on her emotions. And when she did so, she saw things that others might miss. That had been her edge throughout her career. It was that kind of self-control that allowed her to work her way to the top of the United Nations organization.

Now she was angry at herself for being so nervous. Quit pacing around like a bloody fool!

Her discussions with Julia Moro, her handpicked U.N. Security Director, had her rattled. The dedication ceremonies for the new U.N. headquarters were less than an hour away. And the closer those
ceremonies got, the antsier she seemed to get. There was no reason for that, she kept telling herself. She looked around the big rotunda where all the dignitaries were gathering and saw that everything was calm. There’d been anonymous warnings of a possible attack, and there’d been incidents in New York City that may have been related to the United Nations. But that may was important. There was no real proof of anything. Those rumors and theories had taken on a life of their own, but Madeleine Boissart had to remind herself that none of them had checked out. There wasn’t a single hard fact to suggest that the ceremony would be anything other than a great success. She could discount all of the worriers—all of them, except Julia.

“Madeleine, I have a bad feeling.”

Two days earlier they’d been making another security review, going over every detail of their protection plan for the new U.N. headquarters. It was probably the hundredth time they’d done it. They’d
been at it for hours, and they were both tired. But then Julia edged herself forward in her chair and repeated her warning. “I know we haven’t isolated a specific threat,” Julia said, “but every
instinct tells me something’s wrong. It’s too tempting. It’s the gathering of world leaders, it’s the dedication of the new building, it’s the unveiling of the sculpture of the Women for Peace leaders—the whole thing is just a big, ripe target for anyone who wants to do us harm.”

Madeleine didn’t know how to deal with that. Even if Julia’s warnings were true, what more could they do that they weren’t already doing? If she got caught up in Julia’s sense of danger, she risked being
frozen with panic and indecision. And where was Julia at that moment? She said she was chasing after something important, but Madeleine would have felt more reassured if she were somewhere where
she could see her. In the meantime, she knew they had to move ahead with the ceremony. The dedication was starting in a few minutes, and Madeleine had to trust that their security measures would keep things running smoothly.


Madeleine stared at the Circle of Thirteen—the huge sculpture of the thirteen leaders of Women for Peace that stood in the middle of the rotunda. This large, bronze statue had been inspired by the scene from the final, tragic moments of that group of women. Now it dominated the main floor of the new U.N. building. Once it had finally been unveiled, Madeleine was startled by its power. She found herself choking back emotions that she hadn’t felt in decades. She forgot heranxieties for a few moments and just tried to absorb it.

For the last several weeks Laria Kwon, the artist who had created it, had insisted that her large, bronze artwork be covered up to protect it from all the construction work in the building. Kwon’s grandmother, Marta Kwon, was one of the thirteen women depicted in the sculpture, so she had a special reason for wanting everything done just right. The workers had unveiled it just before dawn. Now, Madeleine could see it in the way that was intended: bathed in morning sunlight from the large clerestory windows on Fifth Avenue and accented with multicolored beams streaming down from the huge chandelier that was hanging above. The dramatic lighting created a rhythmic pattern over the polished surface. At nearly four meters in height, the sculpture was the dramatic focal point of the building.

This was no ordinary statue. Everyone knew where they’d been at the moment depicted in this sculpture, when the captivity of The Thirteen had reached its tragic climax. In Madeleine’s case, it was a café
in Perugia where she and her fellow postdoctoral students watched in horror as the events unfolded on the vid-screen in front of them. Kwon’s sculpture had captured the immediacy of that moment. The
thirteen women were gripping each other in what would be the last seconds of their lives. The emotions in their faces were raw. Fear was mixed with hope; resignation was side by side with defiance. Aayan Yusuf was holding her head high in the way everyone seemed to remember. Wang-li Minh was still deep in meditation, while Magdalena Garcia was forever bowed in prayer. At the top of the circle, Deva Chandri was embracing the women by her side, her eyes staring straight ahead, looking somewhere beyond the agony of the moment. The rest of The Thirteen—the original leaders of Women for Peace— held expressions that became seared into the minds of millions on that day twenty-five years earlier. It was an unforgettable moment that had
now been captured in bronze—the instant just before catastrophe.

The dignitaries filing in for the New Charter Day ceremony were not the type to be easily impressed, but they all seemed moved by Kwon’s statue. Many stopped to admire it, taking time to walk around
and view it from different angles. Seen up close, the sculpture was a clear success. But Madeleine wanted to be sure the rest of the world would be getting the same view. She activated one of the flash-screens floating above her to get a quick video-image. The picture looked good, but it was only a pre-showing. The screen wasn’t yet displaying the full depth of image that the omni-cameras would be transmitting. That test would come a few minutes later, when those self-propelled devices moved themselves into position to transmit images from multiple angles. Once Madeleine gave the signal, the cameras would send out pictures in full, three-dimensional holography. When that happened, more than five billion people worldwide would have an intimate view
of the sculpture and the gathering of world leaders. For many viewers, the event would seem to be happening in their own living rooms.

Madeleine wanted everyone in the rotunda to quickly sit down in their reserved seats circling the sculpture, but hardly any of the guests were cooperating. That made her uneasy. The entire history of
the United Nations seemed suddenly piled on her shoulders. The last two decades of that history were the heaviest. For the last twenty-four years, since its re-founding in 2058, the U.N. had functioned as the nerve center of a world that had been on the verge of collapse. Any breakdown now, any security breach—any disruption of this anniversary celebration—could have catastrophic consequences.

Few of the guests, however, seemed fazed by the importance of the occasion. The schedule called for the world leaders gathered in the rotunda to move to their seats, but Madeleine was dealing with
people who couldn’t resist an outstretched hand or an opportunity to schmooze. She’d have more luck, she thought, with a roomful of preening cats.

She tried urging the dignitaries to get to their chairs. Some leaders of the U.N. Legislative Assembly cooperated, but others paid little attention to her. The heads of the Social-Democratic bloc wandered
off to the far end of the rotunda to peek into their new meeting chambers before sauntering back. Other members just wandered around as they pleased. The Archbishop of Canterbury was telling a long story to the President of the European Union about her days at the university with Bishop Maria Balewa. To make her point, she pointed up at the bronze figure of her friend, one of the Thirteen portrayed in the sculpture. Madeleine tried to interrupt the story, but they both ignored her. She turned her attention instead to the President of China, a balding, slightly overweight man with a brittle smile. He seemed ready to follow her to his seat, but then apparently decided he needed to say something to his presidential counterpart from the United States. To get her attention, he reached over a couple of people to tug at her sleeve. The security details from both countries moved in nervously around them.

This is hopeless, Madeleine thought. She looked around and found the President of the Russian Federation; he, at least, seemed happy to cooperate. He had his arm around the Prime Minister of the Caribbean Union, and the two of them headed for their seats, laughing as they walked. Madeleine knew there were rumors of a personal relationship between them, but that didn’t bother her. She just wanted them to sit down.


Madeleine tried to calm her fears. Nothing was out of place, she kept telling herself. The guards were pacing slowly around the entrances, as they had been for the last few hours; none of them looked
agitated. The electronic identification badges on the guests seemed to be flashing properly. The micro-signaling devices built into the walls and roof weren’t showing any problem. The Mother Grid was monitoring computers around the world, and none of them was reporting any unusual military activity or anything out of the ordinary. None of the aerial or ground surveillance units outside the building had reported anything amiss. The national security teams were all moving calmly around the perimeter of the invited guests. Clearly, they hadn’t seen anything that had them alarmed.

But her anxiety kept growing. There’d been warnings in the last few weeks—many of them. But none of the anonymous electronic messages could be pinned down to a source. Julia and her team had worked with the security services around the world and failed to find anything to verify that there was a real danger. More worrisome were the acts of vandalism and violence that had hit New York in the last few weeks. Two weeks earlier, a firebomb had exploded in Union Square at 3:00 a.m. after a timer had apparently malfunctioned. A few days later, an unexploded bomb had been found in a trash can across from Washington Square. After that, a bomb intended for the Grand Central Market exploded on a train. Nobody had been killed in any of the incidents, but that was more a function of luck than anything else. A wave of graffiti with an ugly, fascist theme had hit the city. Crude drawings of an arrow and circle, the mark of Patria, had been etched on several walls. Even though that terrorist organization had disappeared years earlier, their hateful symbol seemed to show up whenever right-wing gangs wanted to intimidate people. Julia seemed to think this was related to
today’s United Nations gathering, but Madeleine wasn’t so sure.

Madeleine was born in France, but she’d lived in New York for almost thirty years. She knew how tough New Yorkers could be. The weather disasters and other environmental disruptions of the 2030s
had hit their city with a greater ferocity than most places, but they had bounced back. And New Yorkers hadn’t been spared any of the other problems that had followed in the wake of the storms and droughts, either. The cartel that had seized control of the world’s food supply had squeezed the life out of New York’s economy just like it had everywhere else. But when the power of that criminal enterprise was finally broken, New York had come back stronger than ever. Still, as resilient as New Yorkers might be, Madeleine knew they could be as jumpy as anyone else. There’d been an undercurrent of anxiety in the city in the last couple of weeks. Every rumor of violent activity brought an outpouring of anguished messages on networking screens on the walls of buildings throughout the city. In a couple of locations the postings were so voluminous that they filled up the message area, forcing some of the responses on to impromptu flash screens. Passersby stopping to read the messages sometimes got into arguments with each other. One argument got so heated that it held up traffic on the transit grid for twenty minutes at Broadway and E. 34th.

Madeleine tried to keep this all in perspective, recognizing it for what it was: a generalized sense of fear that often accompanied any major event. Part of her job was to keep the lid on things, calming
the concerns of her boss, the Secretary-General, and easing any anxiety among her subordinates. She’d been Military-Legal Director of the United Nations for almost a decade, and there’d been incidents almost every year that didn’t amount to anything. Right-wing demagogues from around the world, who seemed continually angry at the U.N.’s social policies, would make some wild denunciations, and then other fringe groups would pick up on them. All of their ranting would work its way down to the lunatic fringe in different corners of the globe, butusually the threats ended right there. She’d seen this before, she told herself. This wasn’t anything new.

But Julia thought differently. Madeleine remembered how she’d said it.

“We’re dedicating a new building with all the world’s leaders here. That’s reason enough to be concerned. But there’s more to it than that. It’s the unveiling of the statue of the leaders of Women for Peace that has me the most uneasy.”

Julia hadn’t budged from the edge of her chair as she laid out her thoughts.

“It’s been twenty-five years since the Thirteen were killed. Their story is all over the media. You can’t walk down the street without some new commentary about them trailing along beside you on the
news-screens. Most of the stories are upbeat—I’ll grant you that. But you and I both know there’s an undercurrent to all this. There’s still a lot of anger and resentment hiding in dark corners.”

“Twenty-five years is a nice round number. It’s the kind of number that captures everyone’s attention. It’s just the right number of years for a lifetime of hate to bubble over in someone’s mind.”

Madeleine remembered Julia staring off at some inner thought as she spoke.

“If I were going to do something, this is when I would do it.”


Madeleine watched Thabo Nyrere, President of the South Africa Federation, shuffle over to his seat in the first row of dignitaries. He sat down, carefully placing his cane on the floor beside his chair. Nyrere was the only current world leader who had spoken at the original signing ceremony for the New Charter at the San Francisco Opera House in 2058. On that bright morning he had talked about his friends within the Women for Peace leadership and how their sacrifice had made the new United Nations possible. There were tears in his eyes that day. Now, twenty-four years later, he was getting ready to speak again, and the tears had returned.

Everyone was finally seated. It was time to activate the omnicameras. Madeleine gave the signal to the Secretary-General. The dedication ceremony was about to begin.

She felt the buzz of a message on her vid-phone. Was it from Julia?


Julia’s mind was racing, far out in front of her feet. As she cut across Madison Avenue, she spun to avoid a taxi that was honking madly at her. But that maneuver forced her into a near
collision with a bicycle that sent the rider careening across the pavement. Julia yelled back an apology, but she couldn’t stop. Right now, time was everything.

She reached the other side of the street near E. 84th and began weaving her way down the sidewalk, dodging baby carriages, people with walkers, and dogs on leashes. Every New Yorker who wasn’t at home watching the U.N. ceremonies seemed to be out on the streets, determined to get in her way. She pushed through the crowd, mumbling excuses, poking furiously at her vid-phone as she tried to make emergency calls.

Her brain was flying in multiple directions. Dark alleyways from her past had suddenly been illuminated, and she wanted to explore them, to find answers to questions that had been gnawing at her for a lifetime. But all of that was for later. For now, she allowed herself only one quick thought: the nightmares that had plagued her for years might not be the dead hand of the past trying to hold her back. Maybe they were the hand of the future pulling her towards this moment.

She had to find Jesse and stop him.


The blast hit with a roar.

The omni-cameras that had been focused on the dedication speeches were knocked out immediately. People around the world who had been watching the holo-cast of the U.N. ceremonies reacted
in horror as a fireball seemed to spread across their living rooms. When that terrible image dissipated, there was a blank, eerie emptiness. Only a few cameras remained functioning. What they showed
was a scene of chaos at the new United Nations headquarters. All that was visible were the bright tongues of flame that licked their way across the bronze surfaces of the thirteen Women for Peace leaders.