1. An Unhappy New Year – Wednesday: January 2, 2086
In the early morning hours of January 2, 2086 a lonely white Ford made its way West down a secluded road in the desert South West of the United States. Twenty-seven-year-old Jillian Cage was behind the wheel and as strange as it may seem, she was on her way to work. It was only the second day of the new year but already Jillian could tell that 2086 was going to be a difficult year for her.
The year got off to a decent start. After spending the Christmas holiday with her brother Jack, his wife Melissa and their son Ethan over in Houston, Jillian had returned home to celebrate the new year. She called her older sister Jane to wish her a happy forty-sixth birthday as Jane was a new year’s baby. Jane was nineteen years Jillian’s senior and despite that they had managed to grow closer when Jillian entered adulthood.
Jane was pretty unique, Jillian supposed. She also supposed that unique was an adjective not often used to describe an identical twin. Jane was the younger of two identical twin girls but despite being identical, they were really quite different. In the first place, they were born in different years. Technically, they were born in different decades. Janna arrived very late in the evening on December 31, 2039 and Jane didn’t make it until the early morning of January 1, 2040. Their differences did not end there, however.
In terms of personality, they were both similar in that they were both loud and bombastic. But Jane was more fun loving than her slightly older sibling. Janna was ruthless in business and stubborn in relationships. Jillian and Jane were close despite the gap in their age but the same was not true of Janna and Jillian. Jillian didn’t even bother to call and wish her oldest sister a happy birthday the day before, it would have just led to an argument. And who wants to end the year with an argument?
There was another way in which the two twins were different. Janna was married to her second husband after her first husband had died in an auto accident a decade earlier. Jane was also married but unlike Jonna she was still on her first marriage and married to a woman named Amanda.
Jillian liked Amanda and was thankful for the chance to converse with her and their three little girls. But the ever-observant Jillian couldn’t help but notice the family dynamic that existed. Jane was confident and assertive and both of those traits served her well as a motivational speaker. Amanda was thoughtful, reserved and pretty sure. Jillian thought she was intimidated by Jane but she couldn’t decide how much of that was because of their different personalities and how much was a result of Jane being thirteen years her senior.
But Jane was definitely the alpha in the relationship. One needed only to look at the children to see that it was true. After they had gotten married eleven years ago, Jane had decided that she wanted to get pregnant with their first child. After their daughter Alecia was born, Jane had decided that any future children would be carried by Amanda. Amanda had given birth to now six-year-old Alexandra and Stephanie, who was about to turn four, she had mentioned to Jillian that she wanted to try again in hopes of having a son. As of now, she had been unable to talk Jane into it and suspected that she probably never would. Despite all of that, Jillian knew that they did love one another deeply and were good parents to the girls.
But as happy as she was to talk to Jane and her family, the conversation was the catalyst for why Jillian’s day ended so badly. Jane had mentioned that their father, James Cage Sr., would be turning seventy this year and that Jillian’s sister Janelle was already planning the party. Jane gently suggested that Jillian should get in touch with Janelle to see what she had in mind for the party. As close as Jillian was to Jane, that’s how far apart she was from Janelle. Despite the fact that Janelle was closer to Jillian in age than any of her other twelve siblings, they had very little in common.
Janelle was thirty-years-old and had achieved some fame as a musician and actress. She traveled the world with her husband and lived the musician lifestyle. Meanwhile a paid staff was in charge of staying home with the couple’s children. Jane traveled a lot in her work as a motivational speaker but Jillian gave her credit for being actively involved in the lives of her children as was possible. Janelle treated her children like they were outfits meant only to be seen at special events. Janelle was thoughtless and reckless in Jillian’s opinion. Janelle’s opinion of Jillian was that she was “too rigid and an underachiever”. Janelle had often said that Jill needed to “loosen up and learn to have fun” if she ever wanted to get married and have a family of her own.
The phone call got off to a good enough start when they exchanged pleasantries. However, when the subject of their father’s birthday came up things got a lot more animated and in a hurry. “We’re going to have his birthday party on July fifth and sixth at the farm,” Janelle had said. “We’ll be celebrating his birthday and mine,” she went on to explain. “I wanted you to know now so that you would have no excuse not to attend Dad only turns seventy once and the least you could do is be there when he does, Jill”.
“You travel a lot for work too Janelle. Why is it that it is okay for you to skip out on as many family functions as you want but when I miss one or two I get the huge guilt trip”? “Oh, come on Jill, you and I both know that our situations aren’t the same. I’m a famous musician and I make my money by touring. You’re just a reporter who writes stories
about cats going missing. That’s hardly something that is so urgent as to require you to be away from your family on special occasions.”
“First of all”, Jillian had snapped “I don’t write about disappearing cats, I write about world affairs. And second of all, what makes you think that what you do is any more important than my career?” Janelle broke in: “what you do is hardly a career. I don’t even know how you ended up in journalism in the first place. You were military and a hell of an athlete growing up. You could have been an Olympian if you wanted it enough but you went for something that was much easier. You’re twenty-seven-years-old and have absolutely no ambition!” Janelle feumed. “You’re one to talk about ambition,” Jillian said. “All you do is sit around and smoke pot with your husband. By the way, has he legally changed his name to “firepick” like he planned? You pay no attention to your kids, unless of course, you need them for a photo shoot.” The conversation just got worse from there until Jillian hung up in a rage and nearly crushed the phone in her hand.
Thinking about that phone conversation was why Jillian was still in a bad mood. She was frustrated that she could not simply set her sister straight once and for all. For there were several things that Janelle cage did not know about her younger sister. In fact, there were several things that none of her siblings and their families knew about Jillian, not even her parents. The truth was that Jillian Cage was not a journalist and that Jillian Cage was anything but lazy.
In reality, Jillian Cage was a special agent for a secret government agency known as Scourge. Scourge was the name given to the organization by the special agents themselves. They called it the Scourge because they were a Scourge to bad guys all over the world. The organization did not have an official government name because officially, it did not exist at all. So Jillian’s stated occupation of journalist was just a cover since she couldn’t very well tell people that she worked for an organization that didn’t exist.
The other wrong assumption was that she had underachieved. Jillian had been recruited into Scourge from the ranks of the Navy. Scourge only wanted the best of the best, the top one percent of the top one percent as it was often said. Jillian had traveled the world trying to keep it safe for potheads like her sister to continue to do their jobs and lie on the beach getting a tan.
Fame and success could be found throughout the Cage family. There was:: a talent agent (Janna), a motivational speaker (Jane), a highly regarded academic (oldest brother John), a successful farmer (James Jr.), a Physician (Jeff), a sky-rocketing state politician (Julie), a NASA Scientist (Jack), a best selling author (Jessica), two lawyers (fraternal twins Joey and Jodi), an executive on Wall Street (brother Jordan) and a musician/actress (Janelle). The only one besides Jillian who wasn’t currently considered a success was Jamie and that was because she was barely a teenager. When Jillian was eighteen and left home for the military, her parents decided to adopt a child and took in four-year-old Jamie after her parents both died in an auto accident. But Jamie was a bright young girl who loved technology and it seemed likely that she was also on a path to success.
In actuality, Jillian had probably accomplished more by the time she hit twenty-seven than the rest of her siblings would in their entire lives…combined. Unfortunately, she couldn’t talk about any of it. So to most of her family she was just the journalist who nobody had heard of that had never been able to land a husband or have children. Her parents were harder on her for not being married and a mother than they were over her career. That’s what happens when all of your older siblings are married and all have given their parents grandchildren, thirty-three in total…and counting.
But it was the job that made it nearly impossible for Jillian to marry. Anyone who had to be to work at three o’clock in the morning obviously kept some pretty odd hours. She traveled constantly and could never be truly honest about her line of work. Although Jillian did have to admit, if only to herself, that her intense competitiveness didn’t help her in the romance department. Jillian loved her work but the reality that she would never be able to put Janelle or her other critical siblings in their proper place was frustrating.
Recalling the phone call from the previous day and the stress of her secret life, Jillian’s anger was only growing worse. She decided the most important thing for her to do today at work would be to find someone to practice combat training exercises with her and release her frustrations that way. She felt really sorry for whomever would be unwise enough to take her up on her offer.