Overload: Artificial Intelligence Michael Frederick Peek OVERLOAD: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TABLE OF CONTENTS Book I - The Island I - Morning II - DANAE III - Steve IV - Accident V - Storm VI - Lark VII - The Great Virus Book II - Mainland VIII - Landfall IX - New World Army X - Sundown XI - The Folly of Man Book III - Revolution XII - The Nightmare XIII - Remnants of a Dark Past XIV - Chance Encounter XV – Power of the Human Spirit XVI – The Crystal Towers XVII - Awakening I'd like to dedicate my first "real" book to all the people along the way who put up with me through the years, and have inspired me to be who I am. Thank you for all your kindness and support. To my parents, who always taught me to go the extra distance, To my brother and sister for always making me laugh, to Carolyn, for showing me what love could be, and for my friends, who always took the time to read this story and give their opinion. Book I - THE ISLAND Introduction To be honest with you, I wasn't planning for this to be my life. I actually had it all figured out. I wanted to be a software engineer. I had graduated top of my class, and I had the right college picked out. Everything was going fine for me. It almost seemed like a blessing when I was picked in a nationwide search for the top young engineers to work on a project deemed classified by the government. I first got the call a few weeks before my High School graduation. At first I thought it was just another recruiter for the US Army/National Guard. I get very frustrated by recruiters. I had begun my usual monologue about how I preferred peace to fighting, but the man on the other end interrupted me. He introduced himself as General Leonard Lott from a division in the Pentagon, and they would like to have a personal meeting with me that they couldn't discuss on the phone, and it didn't have anything to do with recruiting. All he said after that was that it was the chance of a lifetime. It was late and raining hard when I arrived in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and I could hear the screaming of the other jet planes as they landed and took off around me. Before I left the plane, I rifled through my carry on bag until I found the rain poncho I had bought at an airport shop during a stopover in Atlanta. After pulling it over my head, I zipped the bag shut, and began to walk toward the exit. My first few steps off the plane were wobbly. All around me, lights filled the night sky. As I stepped onto the runway, I was greeted by a tall man cloaked in a heavy raincoat. He identified himself as Colonel Andrew Cornelli with the Pentagon, and there was a chopper standing by for me and the others. Cornelli stood well above me, and in the rain and darkness I almost could swear I saw something in his eyes, but as he moved into the light I felt a little better about him. I later found out that there were five of us that night, each picked for their skills from the top schools in the nation. As I waited to board the chopper, I noticed a girl standing by herself off to the side. It was apparent she had come in on a different flight, and was waiting for someone. She was wearing a raincoat that was too small, and I felt selfish, wearing my new oversized poncho. My first instinct was to take off my poncho and hand it to her. She looked up and smiled, and reached out her hand. For a second, our hands touched, and I felt one of those sparks you always hear about; the ones where boy meets girl and instantaneously falls for her. As she was pulling it over her head, I introduced myself. "Hi, I'm James Pack, but everyone calls me Pack." The girl's hair was tied back under the hood, and she looked tired. "Thanks for the coat, I was soaked and it's really kind of cold out tonight. I'm Lark Ryan. Where do you come from, Pack?" I replied, "Boston. I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to be doing here, but I know it's incredibly important." Lark just smiled, and as I began to board the helicopter, she began to follow me. She sat down across the cabin from me. I glanced at my watch, which said it was 1am. I was tired from the long trip south, and fell asleep in the darkness as we were taking off. I was jarred awake by the chopper's landing, and I sat up quickly. I had fallen over in my seat, and there was a puddle of drool on the seat from where my open mouth had been resting. I groggily picked up my bag and carried it outside. It wasn't raining here, which was nice. It was really warm here, that was also nice. I couldn't say I was thinking clearly, because it would be a lie. I barely remember now, being pointed toward a building where I would be sleeping. I walked inside a screen door, and into the first bedroom I saw. The lights were off, so I tossed my bag on the floor in the corner and fell into a deep sleep that would go uninterrupted until the following morning. I slept like a baby that night. I don't think I've slept that well ever since... Chapter I - Morning I awoke the next morning in a room with the curtains blowing in. The roar of the ocean was outside my window, and I sat up in bed. I was suddenly aware of my surroundings, and didn't remember landing, or even getting off the helicopter. I walked to the door and out into a hallway where I saw there were 2 other doors. Not wanting to bother anyone, I checked the place out; finding a kitchen, a bathroom with a really nice shower, and an extremely modern computer den with 3 consoles and an 8 foot tall tower. I later learned that these were teraflop Supercomputers. They hadn't even been released to the General Scientific public yet. They were capable of performing mathematical equations in the blink of an eye. There were at least ten of them all over the complex. "This is gonna be some project." I commented aloud. "Hope you're up to the task." came a voice from behind me. I turned around to find a guy my age standing there. He outstretched his hand and introduced himself. "The name's Steve Rion. Came all the way out here from good ol' Texas." "James Pack." I replied. "The Task? So you know what we're supposed to be doing?" Steve answered, "The briefing is supposed to be later, but while you were all sleeping on the chopper, I was getting some answers from Colonel Cornelli. We're building an artificial intelligence unit." "AI? They want us to make a living computer?" was my surprised exclamation. Steve got a grin on his face. "Oh it gets better. The reason we're building it is for a quick response defense system. We're going to deploy it on governments of hostile countries, and it's supposed to render their satellites useless, attack under command, and make decisions faster than slow human reflexes. It's a soldier, Pack. We're building a computer soldier." This was going to be a long project. As Steve and I were talking, an alarm sounded, and suddenly the kitchen came to life down the hall. I walked toward the noises and discovered eggs frying, bacon on the stove, orange juice being poured... The whole process was being done by machines. Another guy came up behind me and patted me on the back. "You like that? I've been here a few years getting things started up. This was my first little design here. Automated kitchen designs. Gonna be standard household items in a few years." I didn't know what to say, I'd never seen anything like it before. It almost seemed like something out of a storybook. He introduced himself as Ryun Sintrella, Fresh out of a private school in Michigan. I must admit, I was impressed by his work so far. "So Ryun, what do you know about this project?" I asked him. "Are you kidding? The thing's almost on its feet. All we need is another week or so and it should be able to start carrying an intelligent conversation with us." I looked over his shoulder at the food on the stove being scraped by a robotic arm onto a plate and whisked to a table that slowly pulled out of a wall. "Steve of course was already on it, and sitting before a heaping plate of flapPacks and a tall glass of milk.”I'm all set; let me know when the briefing is." We all were quick to join him. Outside, the waves pounded the rocks below the cliffs. There were a few small buildings for living, a large communications building where the main computer was housed, and a massive power plant which turned the water hitting the rocks into energy to power the island. The housing for the generator was a large gray building with a ladder leading to the roof. The door to one of the living quarters opened and three girls stepped out. The one in the front stepped over to the other building and knocked on the door. After hearing the knocking, I opened the front door to be greeted by the most stunning girl I'd ever seen. It was Lark, only she looked a lot different than the first time I'd met her. Her long blonde hair was let down, she wore a tight gray tank top that cut off at her navel. Her skin was a golden tan, and she had freshly applied makeup. I was at a loss for words, so I was thankful she spoke first. "Hey Pack, good morning." "Um, Hi...Lark, was it?" I fooled to make conversation. She smiled and replied, "Good job... and who are these other guy's you're rooming with?" I went around the room and introduced Steve and Ryun. Lark stepped into the kitchen, and following her inside were two other girls, about the same age and height. Lark introduced them to each of us. "Well now that I know all of you, it's best you get to know all of us." She pointed to an attractive brunette. "This is Laci Robbins, and her best friend Moura LaClavia." Laci explained, "We both originally came from the same town. It really was a coincidence." And what town is that?" Ryun asked, with a grin upon his face. He was obviously being coy. "The East Chalgrin Valley, Louisiana. Oh and by the way, The Briefing is in 10 minutes, did you get the call?" We all had a puzzled expression on our faces when the phone rang. It was about 10:30am Eastern Time. I wasn't sure where I was, or what time zone I was in, but my watch said 10:30 and I was going to go by that. In my closet was waiting for me a full array of clothing. "Not bad at all." I commented to nobody. I chose a pair of khakis and a black t-shirt, and headed out to the main communications building. As I arrived, I was greeted by my fellow companions and Colonel Cornelli. There were a few random men and women wandering about, each to their own task. One man was noticeably doing some visible work to a large machine. I was startled back to reality by Cornelli's booming voice. "Is it almost ready?" The man doing the work to the machine took a step back. "It's all set, sir." Cornelli went on. "For the past four years, we've strived to find a better way to take on targets across the globe without setting a foot on soil. We have satellites to pinpoint missile targets, we have the PREDATOR drone to take pictures from the sky, and Tomahawk Missiles to launch from distances, but we needed something more accurate without as much effort. Today, everything changes. This is your first view of the results of American ingenuity, and good old fashioned know how and hard work. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Defense for American Nationality and Allied Embassies, or DANAE, as we like to call it. A giant holographic screen flickered to life, and the face of a woman appeared. A red line such as one seen on the screen of an EKG wavered below her face. "Hello DANAE, how are you feeling?" Cornelli asked. "System cannot comply." She stated. The man who was working on her previously got a nervous look on his face and rushed over to the machine. He opened up a panel and reached inside. From where I stood, all I could see was a shower of sparks flying out of the hole, and the face on the screen flickered, turned upside down, flickered again and turned back. A loud hum was heard, and the machine spoke. "Good morning, Colonel. I trust everything is well with you?" The Colonel smiled and turned toward the others and myself. "Right now, what you're seeing is a self aware machine. She can think, and perform actions on her own. What she doesn't know how to do yet is to make war plans. That's your job." He walked over to a desk and sat down. "Rather than contract out to companies to do the programming job, we made selections from around the country's top high schools. Secrecy is our best friend. If this project works out, there are definitely positions available on other projects." I looked over at Lark, and just at that moment she turned and looked at me. I quickly turned my head the other way, embarrassed to have been caught checking her out. I blushed, and hoped no one else had seen me looking. As I turned to leave, I was followed by Steve and the girls. I hardly noticed Ryun staying behind to talk to Colonel Cornelli. I managed to hear some heated arguing between the two. It puzzled me slightly, but I didn't think much of it. The rest of us walked to the cliffs and looked over. The waves were still pounding, and I noticed a helipad built into the side of the cliff. A small cave path led from the pad through the cliffs. I wasn't sure where it led to, but I had an idea it may be in the building with the generator. Walking back on the path to the residency, Steve alongside, I recalled the face of DANAE on the screen. It felt so awkward being in the presence of intelligence not human. "Steve, what were you planning on doing before you got sucked into this?" I asked him. "You know, I never really liked to think about that. I guess I would have liked to get into programming anyway. Just not for such a hush-hush operation." He replied. I thought about the topic for a moment and realized that I myself didn't really know what I wanted. I thought I'd wanted to be a programmer myself, but suddenly I was scared of what this project was capable of. Steve patted me on the back and said "Look, I can tell you're all nervous about something or other. Any idiot can see that. And I'd actually bet it has something to do with Lark checking you out." I looked up. "She checks me out?" Steve didn't say anything, he just sort of grinned and winked, and we kept walking. As I walked in the door, I felt a chill down my spine. Something seemed to be giving me Goosebumps. I'm not sure why, but I walked into the computer den and a feed was coming through the printer. The one word "Control" was printed on a piece of paper. Steve came up behind me, saw what I was looking at and said, "It's just a system malfunction. Don't worry about it; it happens all the time I bet." I shrugged it off, and went back to the kitchen for some lunch. It sensed my presence and immediately launched into the serve mode and served me a ham sub with my favorite ingredients: mayonnaise, Swiss cheese, and lettuce. I had just sat down to eat it when the phone began to ring. "Hey Pack?" I heard a female voice on the other end. "This is Laci." I lightened up as soon as I knew it wasn't Cornelli again. "Hey there Laci, what‟s on your mind?" I said brightly. She replied, "Well, Lacey, Moura and I were thinking of going down to the beach, and wanted to know if you, Steve and Ryun wanted to meet us there?" It didn't take me long to consider it. I felt an afternoon on the beach would surely take my mind off what was bothering me. Hell, I didn't even know what it was that was bothering me to begin with! "Well, Ryun didn't come back with us, but Steve and I will meet you down there...Um, which beach are we talking about?" Lacey gave a little giggle and told me about the little beach just past the cliffs. They were walking around early this morning and stumbled upon it. She said that it was such a private little beach that she doesn't even think that Cornelli and the project directors know about it. I told her I understood and we'd meet them there. Chapter II - DANAE "Colonel, I'm not sure I entirely agree with you on how this situation should be handled." Ryun was pacing back and forth in front of Colonel Cornelli's desk. "I mean, it just doesn't feel right. I don't think I want that kind of responsibility." Cornelli unfolded his hands and placed them evenly on his desk in front of him. "Well, Ryun, I guess what I'm trying to say is that you really have little choice on the matter. When you agreed to work for us, you agreed to finish what you started, and I must say you've done a great job to this point." Ryun rolled his eyes and folded his arms. "But Cornelli..." In a flash the Colonel was on his feet and standing in front of Ryun. "But nothing, Mr. Sintrella! You listen to me! First off, you will treat me with the respect I deserve; secondly, you will finish this job, even if it kills you!" Ryun was taken aback at the speed and emotion put into the Colonels actions. "I'm sorry, sir. It's just I find sending thousands of people to their deaths without a reason or fair explanation puts a large burden on my conscience, and I'm not sure I can handle that." The Colonel turned to walk away. As he was walking, he stopped and turned his head back toward Ryun. "Well, handle it", he said, and continued to walk away. DANAE's screen flickered to life for a brief moment, and she looked down upon Ryun. "Don't be afraid, Ryun, it really isn't what you say it is. I promise I can care just like a human being could. I understand what you're going through." Ryun was still upset from Cornelli's treating him like a child, and frowned at DANAE. "You can never be human. You're just a machine, and that's all you'll ever be." he said deeply, and walked away. Alone in the large echoing room, DANAE's screen fizzled out. As I hung up the phone, Steve flashed me a grin, and gave me a look almost as if he was asking me, "Did you do alright?" I laughed and nodded, and Steve and I went to our own rooms to find bathing suits. I shut my door and sat on the bed. I felt lightheaded, and lie down for a moment to collect myself. "I know she's cute, and obviously smart, but what could she see in me, if anything at all?" I asked myself. "Maybe it's just my imagination. I've only been here one day." I swore at myself for getting nervous, and sat up. I pulled out a black bathing suit with red stripes down the sides. As I pulled off my shirt, I looked in the mirror. I didn't have too bad of a body, obviously, lifting weights through high school had done justice to me. Turning from the mirror, I changed into my bathing suit and slipped on a pair of sandals that had been by the door. I never really thought about it, but as I put those sandals on, I got the weirdest feeling that maybe the government really WAS paying attention to our personal lives. I laughed and said out loud, "How the hell did they know what size shoes, sandals, shirts, pants.... incredible." I let out one last laugh and pulled a muscle shirt on. Opening the door, I hadn't taken but a few steps before I heard a voice coming from the computer den. "James?" it said. I wasn't sure, but it sounded like DANAE's voice. I turned around and walked back toward the den. Opening the door, I was greeted by the computer screen on, and DANAE's face looking me in the eyes. "Hi, James. Doing anything important today?" I gave a little laugh, and then replied. "Well first off, call me Pack, please. Second, I'm planning on going down to the beach to unwind from last night‟s trip." DANAE gave a smile and started to talk again. "Sounds like a great time. Are you going to do any work on my controls today?" I was in a hurry to get out of there. Something about DANAE made me nervous, and I wasn't sure what it was or why it did. "Listen, I promise Steve and I are gonna take care of everything you need. Lark and the girls are going to make sure your programs are all running without any bugs in them. Don't worry, we won't neglect you." She smiled once again and thanked me. The screen flickered and went out. It still unnerved me whenever she popped up like that, but again, it was nothing. I shook it off, and knocked on Steve's door. There wasn't any answer, and I frowned. I knocked again, and listened for a reply. "Why isn't he answering?" I asked myself. "Steve? You in there?" Still no reply, so I turned the knob. It wasn't locked, and I opened the door slightly. He wasn't in the room. The thought that maybe he went down to the beach without me while I was changing crossed my mind. With that thought, I left the building. The wind blew across the land, sending sand flying through the air. Palm trees bent freely in the wind, and the waves washed up upon the shore. It could almost be believable that the island was uninhabited, except for the loud hum coming from the generator building. A tropical bird flew overhead, slowly, looking for food. Down on the beach, Laci laid tanning alongside Lark and Moura. Suddenly, without warning, someone jumped down from a rock ledge above. The three girls screamed, and Laci curled into a ball as Lark and Moura jumped up to run. Suddenly they heard laughing. "Steve, you bastard!" Lark yelled. Laci had a dazed look on her face for a moment before she shook it off. "Real mature, Steve." She said, and then a barely noticeable smirk crossed her face. She jumped up and pushed Steve, hard, on his chest. He stumbled backwards, and before he could catch his balance, he toppled right into the ocean. Lark and Laci began laughing uncontrollably, while Moura giggled slightly. Steve stood up in the water and took a bow. "And that was my stunning performance of 'falling into the ocean,' I hope you all enjoyed it." "Bravo" Shouted Lark. Just then, a particularly large wave washed ashore and knocked Steve from his feet, back into the sea. "And what an encore!" Lark laughed. Steve stood up, made a half hearted laugh, and walked onto shore. He looked up, and waved. "Pack, down here!" I walked down the sandbanks, half running, half trying to slow myself as I slid. Eventually, I wound up on my back, everyone looking down at me. I didn't mind it though, because it made me laugh. "Way to go Pack, this is just how to impress her." I thought. I looked at her. She looked beautiful, wearing a two piece, blue bathing suit. Her long blonde hair thrown loosely over her shoulders, and her big, blue eyes sparkling in the sunlight. I would have kept looking, but I caught myself just as she noticed my gaze. Our eyes locked momentarily, but I quickly turned and said to Steve, "See, I definitely make a good entrance." Everyone laughed, and I made a comment. "You know what would be nice, is a game of beach volleyball." Moura spoke for possibly the first time I'd ever heard her, and said "I don't know if we have one around here, but I could check. Maybe some other time." I didn't think we even had enough people here at the moment, let alone on this entire island. There were only five of us there on the beach, minus Ryun, wherever he was. We might be able to go three against three, but I'd have to check with him later. That would have sounded like a good idea if it weren't for the multiple specks on the horizon that kept coming closer. A barely audible vibration could be heard, and as the specks came closer, they could be distinctly identified as the rotor blades of helicopters. Suddenly they were upon us, rocketing past at an amazing speed of around 170mph. They disappeared over the trees, but we could still hear them, until a point where the sounds just stopped. Ryun was walking down a large hall. It was dark at the end he was walking toward, and there was little light around him. He carried a flashlight, and looked side to side. He came to the end of the hall, and found what he was looking for. A door marked "Stairs" stood in front of him. He turned the knob, to find it was locked. Cursing, he reached for his keys, and unlocked the door. He proceeded to walk down to the basement level, where the filing cabinets were stored. He flipped on the light switch at the bottom of the stairs, and rows upon rows of filing cabinets were illuminated. He knew exactly which cabinet to look for, and began searching. When he found the cabinet he was looking for, he opened it and began looking for a file. His eyes flipped back and forth as he read the names on the files, and finally he came upon the file marked "Offensive maneuver program." Inside the folder was a set of lists, incomplete, of code that would be used to program DANAE to perform offensive maneuvers from satellites. He looked at it and smiled, then headed back toward the stairs. He flipped off the light and headed back up toward the program lab. "Real great, their first day here, and of course none of them are here to help start the hard part." He said aloud. Hearing a voice, DANAE popped up on his computer screen in a small window. "Geez!" He yelled, and jumped up. "You scared the hell out of me, DANAE." "That wasn't my intention, Ryun. I heard you here, and was wondering if you really meant what you said before." Ryun didn't know what she was talking about. "What do you mean?" he asked. She responded, "About how I was nothing more than a machine?" Ryun didn't reply at first, and began typing code. "Yes, I did mean it. You may be able to think, but it's not true thinking. You can only think limitedly, what we initially programmed you to do. You can't learn, all you can do is what we taught you to do. So yes, you are just a machine, I hope you don't take offense to it." DANAE looked hurt, but she replied, "No, I'm not offended, I guess. I'm not taught to hurt. I can't feel pain, emotionally or physically." Ryun smiled and thought to himself, "Good, because I'm not here to see if you're having a good day, I'm here to make sure you work properly in the end." He kept typing on the keyboard when suddenly the door to the lab opened, and about a dozen uniformed men came in. They were followed by three men wearing more brass than can be found in a trumpet. Ryun stood up and saluted, standing at full attention. The man on the left said, "At ease. What's your name, son?" Ryun relaxed slightly, and told them his name, and his purpose. "Ryun Sintrella, Chief of programming on project: DANAE" The man who had initially spoken introduced himself, and the other two men. "Major Carl Schultz, and these are my men Corporal Daniel O' Neill, and Corporal Ronald Siegfried, US marine Corps." Each man nodded as his name was announced. Obviously the Pentagon was checking in on the project. "May I ask the whereabouts of Colonel Cornelli?" Schultz asked. Ryun responded. "Actually, sir, I really don't know at the moment. I was just doing some minor work to DANAE as you came in." Major Schultz had a look of disappointment on his face, and Ryun knew Cornelli's presence was probably urgently needed, based on the surprise entrance of Schultz, with his entourage of soldiers. Corporal Siegfried motioned for some of the men to follow him, and he disappeared through one of the doorways leading out of the building. Corporal O' Neill stood his ground, along with the rest of the soldiers, while Major Schultz paced back and forth, thinking. "Alright, is there any way he can be reached?" He asked. Ryun thought for a moment, wondering if he could get any information out of him. After looking at his face once more, Ryun decided it would only cause trouble, and decided against it. "Yes, sir. His residence is on the other side of the Island, I think. He keeps to himself most the time, doesn't really tell us what's going on except when he needs certain work done." The Major smiled and thanked him, and turned to leave. O' Neill and the rest of the men followed. Ryun sat back in his chair and wondered what was going on for a minute, then shrugged and got back to work. Back on the beach, we were all looking toward where we saw the choppers land. I wasn't sure what was going on, maybe something had happened. I turned back toward everyone. "Hey guys, you know what? We'll find out what all that was about later. Right now, we're gonna relax for a little while." Laci laughed a little bit and spread a towel on the sand. She lay down on it and said, "I don't know what you guys are gonna do, but if I'm going to be in a tropical paradise, I'm getting a tan." Moura spread her towel next to Laci's, and followed suit. I figured there was no harm in soaking up a little sun, and casually tossed a towel down on the sand. As I got to my knees to straighten it, Lark laid her towel directly next to mine. She got down on her knees, and then and lay on her back. She grabbed a pair of sunglasses out of a bag she had with her, and placed them over her eyes. It was all I could do to keep a smile from spreading across my face, and I sat down with my knees pulled up to my chest. As I looked out across the ocean, Lark spoke to me. "So Pack, we really didn't get to talk much last night. I don't really know anything about you." She rolled over onto her side, and propped herself up with her elbow. "So do you have a girlfriend back home?" I laughed again, and said, "No, I've just been taking it easy. There's nobody waiting for me." She smiled, and asked, "Maybe you'll tell me a little more about yourself?" I smiled a little and started thinking. "Well, I was born in New York, but my parents didn't want me being raised in the city, so we moved to a little town in Pennsylvania. I lived there until I was about 6, but then my father died of Lung Cancer. I wasn't old enough to fully understand it back then." I looked up to the sky and lay back on the towel. "We tried to live there for a few more months until all the papers were taken care of, but Mom couldn't take the bad memories, so we moved to a suburb just outside of Boston, and that's where I've lived the rest of my life. You know how it is; things were looking okay for both of us for a while, but my mother was killed in a car accident." I tried not to think about it, but since I'd started, I had to keep going. I could see the horrible night play over again in my head. My mother and I had been out grocery shopping at the supermarket, and I was sitting in the passenger seat. My mother got into the car and started the ignition. We pulled up to a red light on the way out of the parking lot, and were waiting for the light to turn green. There was another car in front of us, and as the light turned green, he went through. As we followed, out of the corner of my eye I could see the SUV coming at us. He didn't even hit the brake; he just clean barreled into the driver's side of the car, flipping our little sedan like a matchbox toy. I was lucky to walk away from it with just a broken rib and fractured collarbone. My mother, however, was not as lucky. "A drunk driver got in his car, and just drove through an intersection and broadsided her driver‟s side." I told her. I could tell Lark wasn't sure what to say, but she reached out and put her hand on mine. I smiled and said, "So what's your story? I know just as much about you as you knew about me five minutes ago." She laughed a little, and said, "I don't think I even told you where I was from, did I?" I shook my head; I hadn't even remembered to ask her. "I was born, raised, and living in Manhattan. My parents and I lived in a beautiful apartment just outside the financial district. My father was a stockbroker at the New York Stock Exchange, so we had enough money to afford a nice place, but not too much more." I'd been back to visit the city a few times. I thought it was a nice place to visit, but I don't think I'd be able to imagine living there. She continued, "At night we had an incredible view. Sometimes I'd go up to the roof and sit there, staring at the skyline for hours. If I looked one way, I could see all the way up through the city, and the Empire State Building was always lit up with the colors they have at the top. If I looked the other way, the World Trade Center and the World Financial Center always looked so beautiful. There was nothing but lights; it was so beautiful, up until, you know..." I agreed, "Yeah, I had a poster of Manhattan hanging on my bedroom wall for a few years" I knew what she was talking about. Lights as far as the eye could see, and it really was, as she put it, beautiful. For a while, we just sat there and talked about things. A few times, Steve looked over and winked at me. Luckily Lark couldn't see him from where she was. She yawned, and stood up. "Wow, I don't believe it, but I'm still tired from the flights over here." It was already around 7:30pm, and the sun was starting to lower over the ocean. I don't even remember where all the time went. We headed down to the beach at about six, but it didn't seem like we'd been here over an hour. Now that I thought about it, I was really hungry. We packed up our things and headed back to the residence's. Chapter III - Steve I closed the door behind me when I got back to my room. As I sat down on the bed, I picked up my acoustic guitar I had brought with me. I strummed a few chords before deciding on a song. It wasn't long before I saw the door to the room open. Steve walked in and leaned against the wall. He was nodding his head to the beat, and I stopped. "Dude, why'd you stop playing?" he asked. I replied, "I'm not sure, man. I don't usually play in front of people. I'm not really that good." He reached out to shake my hand, and as I took it, he said to me, "It wasn't bad at all. You really shouldn't be so shy about it." I just kind of dropped back, still holding the guitar close. "It's about Lark, isn't it?" he said. I leaned the guitar against the wall, careful so that it didn't fall over. There was already one incident with that guitar where it had fallen over and the neck had broken off. It took forever to fix, but it was worth it. I liked this guitar. "Yes, it is about Lark, and I'm really not sure what to do about it." Steve shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't know man, I guess you should just tell her how you feel." I would do that if I knew how, I really would, but in truth, I wasn't sure if I could. "I've only known her for two days, man. I mean, believe in love at first sight, but are you sure it isn't just lack of options?" Steve shrugged once again. "I guess all you can do is call her. Or...." He cut off mid-sentence and walked out the door, motioning for me to follow. I stood up and walked after him. He sat down at a computer terminal, and switched it on. "NetMessage, the quick and easy way to talk without the embarrassment of face to face." I wasn't sure if it was such a good idea, I'd been prone to being turned down for years, and I wasn't sure I was up for it again. "You know, Steve, now's just not the right time for this. We all have a lot of work to do, and I don't think it'd be a good idea to divide my attention." Steve looked a little unsure, but replied, "You're the boss, Packie." and left to go to his own room. I fell asleep that night feeling cold and numb. Outside, the wind howled and blew viciously. Tree's bent to near breaking point, and the ocean pounded the cliffs below. The storm moved in quickly, lightning flashing occasionally. In the compound, the buildings creaked in the wind, and the rain pelted the roofs. Outside the dorm Pack was rooming in, a particularly large tree was waving back and forth. Suddenly, a powerful wind gust took it with more strength than it could handle. As it leaned further, large cracks appeared in the trunk. Finally, it couldn't handle any more, and with a loud cracking noise, it split, falling on the building. Inside, sleep was more powerful than the sense of hearing, and unconsciousness prevailed. The storm blew over shortly after, and the peacefulness and tranquility of the night took over once more. As I woke up, I rubbed my eyes. The clock read 12:00, and it was flashing. "Great, the power went out." I said aloud. It must have still been early, because it was dark through the shades on the window. I would have gone back to sleep if there wasn't a knock on my door. "Who is it?" I groggily asked. "Hey Pack, look outside your window!" Steve said excitedly. For some reason, I doubted things were the way they should be. I walked to the window and pulled open the shades. All I could see was leaves, pressed tightly against the now cracked windowpane. Suddenly, I was awake, and rushing to get my clothes on. I raced outside, letting the front door slam behind me. The tree was the largest next to the dorm, and it had to have been at least 100 feet high and 3 feet in diameter. It had split somewhere around halfway, and the canopy of the tree had fallen straight down and landed, covering the building almost completely. I wasn't used to seeing tropical trees as it was, but to see one broken and on the ground was definitely a sight. Standing nearby, talking with some groundsmen was Colonel Cornelli. I walked over to him and waited until he was finished talking. "Sir, what happened here?" I asked him. He turned and nodded to one of the groundsmen who asked him a question in Spanish. Then he turned back to me and replied, "So I take it you didn't hear the storm last night?" "No, sir." I said. "Was it bad?" A man was walking toward the tree with a chainsaw, and another was walking alongside, holding what looked like scaling tools, to climb the now severed trunk. Cornelli answered, "Oh, that was near nothing. Sometimes the storms out here will get so bad that we actually have to tell the ships coming with supplies to turn around. The water gets to blasting at the cliffs so bad that the rock collapses and the cliff line gets closer. You see where the cliff ends right now?" I looked over and saw where the edge of the land was. There was a chain link fence along the border of the compound, so it wasn't possible to fall over unless you jumped... Cornelli continued, bringing my attention back to him. "When we first set up here a good twenty years ago, the edge wasn't that close. It was about fifty feet farther out, so it actually moves in over the years." I was impressed, although that couldn't be good for the establishment. Judging by how far he said the cliffs had moved in twenty years, I figured that in a few years, it would be on top of the compound. I assumed DANAE would be up and running flawlessly by then. I heard the chainsaw start chewing into wood behind me, and turned in time to see the first section of the tree trunk fall to the ground. It was only about a foot tall, but since the trunk was so thick, it had to be taken apart in small sections. Cornelli saw me looking, and said, "Don't worry; they'll have the whole thing taken care of by nightfall. These Costa Rican people work hard and fast, and they do a good job." I replied to him, "Well, if that's all sir, I'm going to go get showered, get some breakfast, and head over to do some work on DANAE." Cornelli smiled. "Fine with me, good to see some initiative. I like that." With that, I pushed some smaller branches aside, and opened the front door. Once again, I let it slam behind me. After showering, I dressed and began to leave the building, but I hesitated. I pushed open the large doors to enter the Control Center. The building was bustling with activity, and there were monitors flashing information all over the room. DANAE was present, of course. A team of programmers were sitting nearly directly in front of her screen, and they were installing software into her systems. Pack overheard one man say to her, "DANAE, this program is going to allow you to use the internet. If something happened in the world at any time, and was ever documented, you'll know about it. This will enable you to look at military mistakes of the past, to keep you from making the same errors in the future." DANAE closed her eyes, and her screen changed color momentarily. When she opened her eyes, her face returned to its normal pale-white color. The one thing that creeped me out the most about DANAE's face was her eyes. They were jet black, almost like two pools of ink. From across the room, she caught my gaze. I stared at her, and she stared at me, oblivious to the room full of people around us. Suddenly my concentration was broken by one of the techs, a short man in his mid twenties named Gus. "Pack, could you do me a favor?" he asked me. "Yeah, sure. No problem Gus, what do you need?" I replied. He was holding a file full of documents. "Could you take these downstairs and put them in the filing cabinet for me? It's actually the program details we just installed on DANAE. Also, could you put these in the safe for me as well?" he asked as he handed me another file folder. "What are these?" I asked him; even though it was really none of my business I was sure. "Those, my friend, are the last resort. If ANYTHING were to ever go wrong with the project, those are the emergency shutdown commands. Make sure those go to the safe, because we can't let anything happen to them" he told me. I was impressed. At least they'd considered a worst case scenario for this act of “playing God" they were toying with. I took the files from him and proceeded toward the stairs to the basement levels of the complex. On my way past, DANAE once again looked my way, and those eyes sent a chill down my spine. I made a mental note to remember these documents, just in case. My gaze was broken as I walked through the door to the stairs, and I suddenly felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Feeling better, I walked down the steps with a noisy clapping every time my foot hit the next step. As I emerged into the room, I passed the supercomputer towers. I could hear their humming growing louder as I drew closer. I sometimes was amazed at how fast they processed. They made the computers I had worked with at home or even at school seem ancient. The red and green indicator lights flickered on and off to signal everything was normal. The filing cabinets were in the next room over, so I quickly located the slot for the documents, and then shut the door. The safe was a little further down the hall, and was electronic-code operated. First I had to have my fingerprints scanned, then a retina scan. After those two tests, the door opened and I slipped the file into a pocket. Shutting the door, I double checked to see if it was locked. After confirming the security, I went back upstairs to help with the programming. It was a long day, and by the time night fell, I was covered in grease from doing mechanical work in the system core. Panels had to be lifted and gears had to be adjusted, but everything was running smoothly as planned. God, I hated feeling this dirty. My hands were near black from working with them all day. "I never did like the idea of being a mechanic" I said aloud. I walked to the bathroom to take my second shower of the day. Roughly a half-hour later, having finished with my shower, I entered my bedroom and put on a clean pair of clothes. I looked out the window, and fortunately, the workmen managed to get the branches cleared away from my window. The windowpane had masking tape over the crack on the outside. As I plopped back down on my bed, I stared at a spot that would be perfect for a television set. How I missed TV. I didn't watch too often, but I had a few favorite shows that I never would miss. I picked up the guitar again and started to strum a few chords before I picked a song to play. It was a song I had written a few years ago, back when I was in high school. I started to sing along, "Where can I find myself, when I've been missing for so long? How far's the space between the days since I've been gone? How can I find a love that won't let me down, down tomorrow, down tonight, missing you, hold me tight. Where can I take refuge from the call? Will I find you, or nobody at all?" Somewhere toward the end of the words, Lark opened my bedroom door and listened. I smiled, and continued to play right up until the end. When I had finished, she came over and sat down beside me. "That was incredible, what do you call it?" I responded, "'Where Can I.' I wrote it a long time ago." "It's sweet, I like it." She said. I had an idea. "Lark, do you want to go outside and look at the stars?" She sort of blushed a little, but agreed. I grabbed my radio and a blanket, took her hand, and led her outside. We walked around to the back of the dorm. Without the giant tree there, we could see the sky perfectly. There was a small river running by, and I lay the blanket out in the grass. Lark sat down on it, and I sat down beside her. I pushed play on the CD player, and we both lay back and looked up. I was amazed, this was a view you'd never get from the city. As we lay there, we began to talk, just about random things. The stars above us twinkled in the atmosphere, and for the first time ever in my life, everything felt perfect. It was almost coincidence, but as we were talking, the song "I swear" by the group All 4 One began to play. Lark rolled over slightly and put her head on my chest and her arm across my shoulder. It was just one of those moments when you're afraid that if you move, it will end, so I sat there holding my breath until it wasn't possible any longer. "Are you shaking?" She asked me. I replied, "Yeah, but I always shake, don't worry about it. Just a nerve thing." She let out a small laugh, and I could feel her laughter through my chest. "Have you ever seen something so beautiful in your whole life?" She asked me, looking up at the sky again. I answered her by saying "I can't say that I have ever seen anything as beautiful in my life as you." She turned her head back from the sky to look at me. I was afraid I might have scared her, but instead, she began to smile, and even in the dim light I could tell she was blushing again. She sat up and looked right at me, and for the first time I had ever noticed, the moonlight caught her eyes and lit them up. They were soft blue, but the thing that caught my heart was a little gold sparkle in each eye. I kept looking into her eyes, and she looked back into mine. As the song played, it felt almost like a scene from out of a movie. We both began to lean in toward each other, and as our lips touched, a shiver ran down my spine. It had felt better than any other kiss I'd ever had in my life, and it seemed to last forever. When the kiss finally broke, she leaned back, and looked into my eyes again, but this time she averted her gaze to the ground, and had a big smile on her face. Her hair was tossed over her shoulder, and the moonlight gave it an almost silver shine. I leaned back in to kiss her again, and she didn't stop me. As I ran my fingers through her hair, she pulled me close. In my mind, this was what life was all about. I could care less about DANAE, or even about everyone else I had met on this island. Right here, right now, there was only her and I. She broke the kiss again, and stood up, taking my hand. As we walked back into my room, the stars outside seemed to glow a little brighter than usual. Steve sat in front of the computer, lost in thought. It was late at night, and he was so caught up in his work that he had no idea what time it was. His fingers seemed to be moving on their own, as if guided by an unseen force. Characters appeared on the screen; they were the language that would help DANAE learn to use her satellite capabilities. Occasionally he glanced at a dossier, which gave him specific details about the project, and told him what kind of programs to create. He enjoyed this kind of work. Back at his high school in Montgomery, he used to spend hours doing this kind of thing just for fun. His most proud moment was single handedly creating the school's computer network, and that project had only taken him about two weeks. He spent his junior year creating security programs for his father's company, such as car security systems and even home security systems. Steve knew what he was doing, it was part of the reason he was picked for this job. It seemed like a good enough job, but if it wasn't for the large lump sum from the government, he wasn't sure if he'd have even accepted it. He didn't like to take on mystery projects, because he wasn't sure if he'd be able to finish it with a guarantee of perfection. But this project was different than most, it was almost on its feet when he was contacted. He was good, but it made it a lot easier on him, having most the project finished. Still oblivious to the world around him, he typed at his keyboard, mesmerized by the code appearing on the screen. He didn't even notice the large screen to his left come alive. She didn't say anything, but just watched as he worked away at her programs. DANAE knew he was busy, but she craved attention. "Hello Steve." She said. Steve nearly jumped a mile at the sound of her voice. "You don't need to be so jumpy, I won't hurt you." She said with a smile. The face on the screen turned and looked around the room. "My cameras allow me to see what the world is like. In this room I use cameras, outside, I use satellites. Would you care to see the world, Steve?" Steve thought about it for a moment, decided he could afford to take a few minutes for a break, and replied, "Sure, show me what you got." DANAE nodded in approval. Suddenly the lights went dark in the room, and her screen seemed to grow to several times its original size. It seemed to envelope him, making him feel as if he was actually in the picture. The screen went from a pale green to an incredible flash, and Steve could see snow. As far as the eyes could see, there was water. Far off in the distance, Steve could see a mountain, its peak capped with white. "How lifelike," he thought to himself. It was amazing the things they could do with the technology they had. The way he saw it, this could replace television sets worldwide. Everyone would want to actually be in the picture. He imagined the fortune that could be made... The picture changed again. Now Steve was falling through the air. He looked to his left, and saw people falling with him. As he looked, they were all pulling ripcords, and large parachutes were erupting from their backs. He felt tempted to do the same, except he knew he wasn't really there, but it just felt so real... He was brought back to reality by the sound of Laci's voice. "Steve, are you in here?" DANAE's screen immediately shrunk back to normal, and the lights came back on. Steve was amazed at what he'd experienced. The longer he was here, the more impressed he was at the technological advances he'd witnessed. But no sooner had it started, it was over, and Steve was back in the real world, ready to be himself again. DANAE's face came back on the screen. She looked at Laci with the slightest hint of annoyance, yet she remained cheerful. "Hello Laci, how are you today?" Laci replied, "Fine DANAE, having fun?" Without waiting for a reply, she turned to Steve. "Steve, can you come help me with something?" "Yeah, Laci, just give me one second." He replied, and picked up the dossier and put it back into a filing cabinet. He turned a key in a lock, and put the key back in his pocket. Only Pack, Ryun and Lark had a key to the cabinet. It contained specific information about DANAE; Startup codes, special shutdown commands, Satellite codes... The works. After the key was in his pocket, he turned back toward Laci, and started to follow. DANAE interrupted, "Wait Steve, why are you leaving?" Steve replied, "Don't worry DANAE, I just have to help Laci out. I'll be back later." DANAE looked hurt. "Didn't you enjoy the places I showed you?" Steve was getting annoyed now, and wondered why this machine was trying to stop him. "Yes, I enjoyed them, but I have other things to do now. It won't kill me if I don't finish you right now." DANAE's screen crackled, and nearly fizzled out, but she stayed there, and regained her calm. "You're right. Go have fun; I'll be here when you're done." With that, her screen went out for good. Steve walked down the dark hall. He wasn't sure where Laci had gone, but he was glad to get away from DANAE. She was starting to both get on his nerves, and creep him out at the same time. Something just wasn't right about this artificial intelligence, it didn't seem right, but he wasn't here to ask questions. Steve was a patriot, and he was going to serve his country, whether his morals were against it or not. He heard a noise behind him, and glanced over his shoulder. He saw nothing, but as he was looking, he bumped into someone, hard, knocking them both to the floor. Papers went flying, and suddenly a light turned on. May I ask what's going on here? Colonel Cornelli stood at the end of the hall, hand on the light switch. Steve looked beside him to see Ryun on the floor, picking up papers that he had dropped in the collision. He didn't catch much, but for some reason, his attention was drawn to a particular page. He saw what looked like plans for a bomb of a sort. Without being noticed, he slipped the page behind him, and as he stood up, he pocketed it. "Sorry sir, I was walking down the hall and bumped into Ryun." He said. The Colonel looked down to Ryun, then back at Steve. "Very well. I trust all is going well with project DANAE?" Steve replied, "Actually we're just about finished. I did a lot of work last night before the storm." The Colonel grinned. "I know Mr. Sintrella here has been busy most the time you've been here, right Ryun?" Ryun stood up hurriedly. "Yes sir, we're actually just about ready to go. It might be another day at best." Cornelli looked at his watch, and started to walk back toward the control room. "I'm sorry but I have work to do. Good day." He said, and disappeared around a corner. Ryun turned to Steve with a troubled manor. "I have to go, really. See you later Steve." "Yeah man, see you later?" Steve said as Ryun hurried away. He was really confused now. He started back toward the control room to see what Cornelli was up to. On his way, he remembered the paper he grabbed from the pile, and pulled it out of his pocket. He was wrong about it being plans for a bomb, but it was along those lines. What he had in front of him was the plans for a launcher. He read over the details in his mind. "Satellite components, mechanics, requirements...etc....Shit, this is heavy stuff!" He put the plans back in his pocket and continued toward the room. As he drew closer, he heard voices. He stopped to listen, and recognized the voices. One was Cornelli, the other was DANAE. Cornelli stood alone in the big room, but he wasn't alone in his mind. DANAE spoke to him as a living, breathing human being would. Artificial Intelligence was so much better than actual humans. Real people were nothing but a culture of godless, lazy slugs with their quick-fix, slim-fast attitudes. People had made fools of their race, and of their countries. Around the world, war was still the answer. Even in America, war was the way to put politics into play. If the country was divided on a president's agenda, keep the country at war to distract them from the problems. Machines were so much better than people, as they could be taught to appreciate the world around them. People waste. Machines utilize all resources. "DANAE, are you almost ready to take your place in the world?" He said aloud. DANAE responded, "Yes, Andrew. All that needs to be done is a few minor program additions. I can see, I can hear, I can feel. I have functioning emotional programs, and I am able to lead a global unification under your rule." Cornelli smiled. The Pentagon had given him all the funding necessary, and they only checked up on him once every other week or so. It was a brilliant idea, and he had every plan to use it for what it was made for. But he couldn't see letting it fall into the hands of the United States Government. He had been in the services more than half his life. He had seen what his government did to the rest of the world to further its own cause. Iran Contra, The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in the 1970's, arming the Iraqi army with lethal chemical weapons to use against Iran back in the 1980's, it had gone on forever. It had gone on long enough. "DANAE, you won't fail the world, as others have done. You are perfect, and I am God." DANAE's screen blinked once, and she shuddered. "I am perfect, and you are God. Thank you for creating me." She smiled a malevolent grin, and fizzled out. Cornelli gave a hearty laugh, and walked out a door leading to the main compound. From around the corner, Steve heard everything. His heart seemed frozen in his chest, as he pressed tightly against the wall. Thoughts were racing through his head so fast they were blinding him. He stood up and ran, as fast as he could, down the hall into the darkness. He burst from the back door, looking behind him. Once again, his ignorance caused him to collide with someone, and he again fell to the ground. This time, the figure in front of him didn't fall with him. The stars gave only enough light to see a shadow, making the face invisible. He knew who the person was, even without being able to see his face. It was Cornelli. "Mr. Rion, where are you off to in such a hurry?" he asked. Steve was sweating now, and he stuttered back, "N-n-nowhere, I mean, I'm heading back to my dorm, I'm not feeling so good right now. Must have caught something. Besides, it's late, I should get some sleep." He was stuttering uncontrollably. Cornelli eyed him up and down as Steve stood back up, brushing himself off. "Right" he responded. "Maybe you need a little rest, after all, you did just take a pretty bad spill. Do you need any help getting back to your room?" Steve started to back away slowly. "N-no sir! I can make it back on my own" Cornelli started to frown, and walked toward Steve as he backed up. "Here, why don't I help you anyway?" Cornelli said, and grabbed Steve's arm. Steve yelled in shock, and tried to wrestle free, but the Colonel's grip was strong. The big man towered over Steve as he dragged him back inside. It seemed almost as if it was superhuman strength, but Steve was dragged screaming down the hall, toward the control room. In his head, he wondered why nobody else was in the building, or could hear his screams, but he knew he was the only one there. He knew he should have left while it was still light out. As they entered the control room, DANAE flickered back to life on the screen. Her face was twisted into a look of rage. Her eyes glowed red and the room around him grew blacker than ever. The sight of it alone made Steve feel warmth in his pants. He had wet himself in a moment of extreme fear. Without warning, Cornelli's grip loosened slightly, almost as if he himself was frightened by the sight of DANAE. Steve broke free, and ran as fast as he could for the exit. He ran without looking back, but he could hear the pounding of feet behind him. He threw the doors open with both hands, and ran faster than ever before. The landscape was unfamiliar to him, meaning it must have been a back door. Suddenly, the ground disappeared beneath his feet. He reached out to grab something, anything at all that would help him catch himself. He was tumbling, down a wooded path along the cliff. His hand reached out and grabbed a vine hanging from an enormous tree, and for a moment, he started to swing toward the cliff. He lunged hard left, and hit a tree, sending him back in the other direction. Somehow, the vine had managed to tangle itself around his neck. He launched over the cliff, still trying to stop himself. The last thing he saw was Cornelli standing above him on the ground before he fell, and then everything went dark. The sound of the snapping of his neck was muted by the deafening roar of the waves hitting the cliffs, and his body swung freely above the ocean. Cornelli looked on for a moment, and walked back toward the building. Chapter IV - Accident "Steve? Where are you?" Laci called out as she walked through the halls of the building. She had gone downstairs, expecting Steve to follow her. But somewhere along the line, she must have lost him. The ehoey chambers of the basement made her somehow uneasy, but she didn't come down here to be scared. Her intent was to show Steve some files she had come across in the filing cabinets. She wasn't sure what they meant, and thought maybe Steve could come back with her to help her decipher them. After one last call of his name with no answer, she headed back upstairs. Laci looked at her watch. She had spent nearly fifteen minutes looking for Steve now, and she was starting to get annoyed. He was right there in the main control room when she had left him, and she was sure he would have followed. As she walked into the control room, she felt an uneasiness overcome her. She shuddered, and looked up at DANAE's screen. It was off at the moment, but she could hear the quiet hum of the machinery around her. The cold steel reflected what little light filled the room, and caused the smallest of sounds to echo through the vast nothingness. This place gave her the chills; she wondered why she hadn't noticed it before. She now wished she had someone with her. She heard a dull thud behind her, and whipped around to face it. It was nothing but a computer system clicking on, and despite how unalive and mechanical it was it had still scared the shit out of her. She had had more than enough; she wanted to leave the building more than anything. Suddenly she heard a high pitch whining noise. She looked up quickly and saw DANAE's screen coming to life. Laci ran from the room, not wanting to talk to the computer out of blind fear. As she ran from the room, the whine turned to a loud humming noise and the room got incredibly bright, almost blinding. She felt her way along the wall, one arm covering her eyes. This was different than what she had seen DANAE do before, and her thoughts were racing through her mind. Finally, just when she thought she couldn't take any more, she found what she was looking for. She leaned hard against the bar, and the door opened. She lunged through it and slammed it behind her. Breathing heavily, she didn't even notice she was outside. She sat there on the ground, trying to think, but she kept feeling something brushing her leg. Out of reflex she kicked, only to reveal possibly the largest, hairiest spider she had ever seen in her life. She screamed, jumping to her feet. It moved quickly, but it wasn't any match for Laci. She brought her leg back, and kicked it as hard as she possibly could have kicked it. The spider went sailing into the bushes. Her adrenaline was racing, but it didn't keep her from thinking clearly. She realized she wasn't in the front of the building, in the plaza she was relatively familiar with. It must have been a back door, and there was a path leading down into the forest. Part of her job was to be familiar with the Island's facilities, and she knew there was a Helipad and Boat Launch down at the other end. Right then, she needed to calm down. Things had just gotten too weird, and she knew she shouldn't have overreacted. She would just go through DANAE's programming later to find the bug that had caused it to make the bright light she had seen before. She brushed herself off, and went back to her dorm. I awoke that morning with Lark sleeping next to me. Besides the fact that I was happier that morning than I had been in a long time, I kept myself calm. Lark eventually woke up, kissed me goodbye, and slipped back to her own dorm. Since Lark had left, I had turned on the stereo, listening to my favorite music to help keep myself down to earth. I was listening to the best piano CD by Chopin I had ever heard. I felt intoxicated by the feeling Lark had instilled in me. I just paced around my room, unable to really think straight. It wasn't all in my head; she really did have a thing for me. "Steve was right the whole time," I thought to myself. "I have to tell him!" With that, I turned off my stereo and left the room. Laci took a deep breath, and started down the path. She felt a morning jog would be the perfect way to start the day. She took her time, taking careful steps not to encounter another spider. To her right, she heard the ocean crashing against the cliffs. She smiled to herself. "Normalcy, thank God!" She said aloud. The further she walked, the louder the sound got, and the better she felt. Not too far down the path, there was a bend, and the trees cleared just enough where she could see the water stretch out forever. She started to jog now; all she wanted was to see forever into the distance. Suddenly, her feet were clawing the ground, trying to move the other way. Her eyes got wide, and her mouth stretched open. She felt her arms go numb, and her eyes rolled back into her head, and everything went black. I stepped out into the daylight. The morning sun was just rising above the horizon, and I wish I could see the sunrise from the beach on the opposite shore. It was one of those moments where it would be almost perfect to be sitting on a beach, feet in the surf. Steve could wait; this was a moment I couldn't refuse. I ran down the path toward the beach as fast as I could. I was getting there just as the bottom of the sun was leaving the horizon. Kicking off my sandals, I ran toward the water as fast as I could. As I ran, I kicked up sand in every direction, and then water as well. I stopped at the edge, and let the waves rush around my legs. Each wave buried my feet in the mud a little bit more, until I could no longer see them. In my head, a serene tune was playing, one I had never heard before, but my imagination made it seem more real than the waves before me. I hummed along to the tune in my head, and I stared at the sunset. A creeping smile began to form on my face, growing until it became laughter. I threw my arms in the air and yelled, venting my pent-up energy. I turned around and looked back up, high on the hill. The compound was visible from where I stood, and the lights were automatically switched off in the plaza. Above the buildings, the sky was slightly becoming gray, but it wasn't from the departing night. Ominous clouds were moving in toward the Island, and a breeze was beginning to pick up. I shivered, noticing how recently everything about this island other than Steve and Lark made me uncomfortable. For some reason, I felt the urge to start running back toward the compound. As I approached the plaza, I saw Lark and Moura, running toward me. The look on their faces was desperate. Something had gone terribly wrong, and deep down, I knew it. After Lark had left Pack's room, she had returned to her own, and was excitedly talking to Moura about it. She could barely keep it to herself, it consumed her entire being. She had only known Pack for a matter of days, but deep down, she knew there was something about him she couldn't resist. She felt comfortable around him, and she trusted him. Lark and Moura spent nearly an hour talking about it before they heard the scream. Lark stared out the open window; she recognized the voice almost immediately. She quickly looked at Moura. "Laci!" Moura quickly exclaimed. They threw the door open so fast, Lark was almost afraid it would rip off its hinges, but it didn't stop her from running. It came from the other end of the wide plaza. The two girls ran around the main control building on a side path that was surrounded by a tall iron fence. Somewhere toward the back, the fence abruptly cut off, and a path led down into the woods. Moura opened the back door to the building, and was about to go inside, when Lark saw Laci laying on the ground further down the path. They both began to jog down, and the dirt started to crumble, causing them to slide down the remainder of the way. The frequent rain had caused the gravel to wash away, and the dirt to become muddy and loose. Lark nearly landed on top of Laci, but quickly rolled to the side to avoid hurting her. As she rolled, she glanced over the cliff out of the corner of her eye. The image burned into her brain at that moment. She had never seen the dead body of someone she knew personally before. She screamed once, and rolled the other way, crashing into Moura, and she screamed again. Moura saw what Lark was screaming about, and turned her head quickly. Her face began to turn green, and she leaned into the bushes to relieve the sickness. Lark began crying, her whole body was shuddering. As Moura calmed down, she began to lean back out of the bushes. She felt weak, and her head was spinning, but still she stood up. "We have to go find someone," she said. Lark rose to her feet, and without looking back toward what was now Steve's lifeless body, helped Moura pick up Laci, and together they carried her back up the path. Somewhere toward the top, Moura couldn't carry the weight anymore. Her tiny frame collapsed under her, and Laci fell on top. "I can't do it, we have to find Pack!" she said as she squeezed out from underneath. They made sure Laci would be alright, and then they ran toward the compound. It took a few minutes to cover the ground between the path and the main plaza, but it seemed fatigue wasn't affecting their speed. Somewhere between the center of the plaza and the beach, they saw Pack running up the hill toward them. Lark dove at Pack as soon as she reached him. She collapsed into his arms, crying. The clouds continued to roll across the ever darkening sky. It had been a horrible ordeal. After making sure Laci was alright, and the girls were safely in their dorms, I stood alone on the edge of the plaza, looking out over the ocean. In the end, it was I who had to go find Cornelli and alert him of the situation. It was I who led the workmen to the body. Cornelli had told us all it was a suicide. That Steve was depressed and the isolation was too much for him. For some reason I didn't trust him. I rarely saw Cornelli anymore, and when I did, he always acted like he had something to hide. In the end, Steve's body was to be sent back to the states. I was there watching them take him down. His face was now a dark color from the blood being trapped in his head for so long. It was almost sickening to look at, but I had a strong stomach, and few things bothered me. They put him in the cab of a truck, covering him with a white sheet and a few bungee cords. The lack of respect for the dead was the only thing that made me sick. They had practically thrown him in there, and drove off. Obviously, Funeral Directors they weren't. As night closed in, the clouds were still coming in. The horizon line was gone now, and it was black merging with black. It was late now, and the sun was long gone. The clouds obscured the stars, and the only light came from the few lights scattered about the plaza in the main compound. Far out across the ocean, lightning flashed, but it was so far away that it was like an innocent result of the heat. A light breeze caressed my face, blowing my hair back slightly. Frustrated, I turned my sight from the waters, and went inside my dorm. I went into Steve's now empty room, looking at the now forgotten memories of a man I barely knew. A photograph of a girl taped to his dresser mirror, Random pictures from a senior prom, a dinner with his family, his birthday, a favorite Christmas... He had a basketball in the corner of the room, signed by possibly one of his favorite players. He was gone, but his spirit remained. In my mind, I heard a silent prayer I had heard as a child, at my father's funeral... "God, if you loved me, why did you take me from the world I loved?" to which God would respond, "I only took you because I knew you were ready for paradise, and the world you left behind doesn't matter anymore, because in Heaven you will be forever happy." I wasn't sure I believed in Heaven, and I wasn't sure I believed in Hell. I was sure that Earth wasn't where we were supposed to be forever, so I figured there had to be something better waiting for me after all this was over. I was hoping Steve was in that place now, and if there was such thing as Heaven, I hoped he was there now, not worrying about this horrible place anymore. With that, I left his room. As I passed Ryun's room, I heard him typing away at a computer. I didn't want to bother him, because he was the most experienced one of us here on this Island. Also, he really creeped me out, seeing as he was becoming very antisocial since I had met him that second day here. Something about him had really changed. At first he seemed normal, like the rest of us, but then we stopped seeing him, and when we did he was usually carrying a pile of papers with an uneasy look on his face. But he seemed to know what he was doing, so I didn't poke my nose into his business. I returned to my own room, and fell right onto my bed. I didn't move until the following morning. When I awoke, all I could hear was the wind blowing, and the sound of sand pelting against the side of the dorm periodically. I got out of bed and walked from my room to the front door of the building. Outside, it was so black I could barely see 30 feet in front of me. The lights were off on the plaza because technically, it was morning. The trees were blowing hard in the wind, some bending as far as right angles. Despite the wind, there was no rain. I turned on the lights outside the dorm from a panel just inside the hallway. A storm was coming, and from the looks of it, what a storm! But for some reason I was just too depressed to be excited about it. I was sad because I was afraid. It seemed that every time I got too close to somebody, something took them away from me. My parents, now Steve... I was afraid to get too close to Lark now because I didn't want to hurt anymore. Without warning, I began to cry. I don't know what my father would have said, but I had seen a friend cry once, as a child, and his father had yelled at him, telling him that men don't cry. I tried to stop, but I couldn't. Instead of facing the world outside the door, I turned around and returned to my room. All I wanted to do was to cry myself to sleep, because even if it was only the slightest improvement, for some reason it made me feel a little better. I had only known Steve for a little more than a week, but it felt like longer. Maybe it was because on this island, far from anything resembling a town or city, these few people were all I had. I would have stayed there in my room longer, but a knock on the door made me sit up. "Who is it?" I tried to say without letting my voice quiver. "Pack it's me, can I come in?" I heard Lark say. I stood up from my bed and walked to the door. As soon as the door was open, she fell into my arms, embracing me for as much comfort as I was getting out of embracing her. "They're sending Steve back to the mainland today" she said to me. "Are we going to be able to see him off?" I asked her, hoping I'd get one last chance to say goodbye. "I think so" she replied. "They already cleaned out his room while you were sleeping." I hadn't checked, so I didn't honestly know. She leaned in close and put her head on my shoulder. We stood there for a moment, just reflecting on each others' silence. When we finally broke the embrace, she kissed me, looking me right in the eyes, and then ran from the room. I could only stand there. Ryun was standing by the docks. He stared out to sea, scanning the clouds. He knew there was a storm coming, and from the looks of it, one that he'd never seen the likes of before. The waves were getting choppy, and he thought he possibly saw a bolt of lightning far off on the horizon. Where were the work crews? Thoughts were flashing through his mind as fast as the sand flew across the ground. If they didn't get Steve's body on this ship back to the mainland, they'd be stuck with it for a few more days, and Ryun didn't like dead bodies. Ryun didn't like anything to do with death at all. Even as a child, movies with homicides had given him nightmares. His mind had trouble dealing with what happens after life ends, and even though now that he was older he understood better, the fear of the dead still haunted him. The truck drove up to the docks, and no sooner had it parked, 4 men jumped out and pulled open the back doors. Ryun had expected something more gruesome, but Steve was neatly placed inside a large cardboard box marked "Human Remains." Two men got on each side, and together they lifted the box and carried it to the ship. The vessel rocked at its moorings, the waves bumping it back and forth against the dock. Following the body were a number of smaller boxes, which Ryun assumed were Steve's personal belongings. He knew what would happen once the body reached the United States. His father and mother would get a large cash settlement to keep their mouths shut about what happened to their son. Usually, the payoff works. When it didn't, the CIA usually made the parents disappear as well. It was sick how the government worked. They didn't want anybody to know that they could do that kind of thing, but with all the new departments that had been created over the years, the public got lost between the lines, and somewhere along the way, Constitutional liberties became overlooked. But at the moment, it wasn't his problem. Right now, his job was to get the body on the boat, and headed away. With a final whistle blow, the ship left the dock, slowly at first, but picking up speed in the choppy sea as it headed toward the blackness of the clouds. Ryun watched it go for a few minutes, but the soft sound of thunder in the distance brought him back to attention. He was alone on the dock now; the crew had gotten on the ship with the body. He shivered, and he didn't know why. The wind was beginning to pick up now, and this time he knew he saw lightning. It began to fork down toward the water far off in the distance. He had Goosebumps on his arms, and the hair on the back of his neck was standing on end. He didn't like this one bit. Ryun was terrified of storms. He began to walk back up the path toward the compound. He wanted to make sure he had some files backed up before the storm hit. Behind him, the lightning traced cracks in the black sky for miles across. Chapter V - Storm I stood in the large computer lab, just staring at the screen where DANAE's face wasn't currently present. The lab was bustling with technicians, men and women alike, trying to finish up work before the storm and get back to mainland. I didn't have anywhere to go, no family to go back to. Staying here was more than just mandatory for me; it was the only option regardless. This island was a fortress anyway; it would take more than a storm to cause any real damage to the project. I was expecting there to be some downed trees and maybe a little flooding down on the beach. On a desk nearby, a man was just shutting down his computer. He had on a satellite radio, and for a while, there was Latino music playing softly. Then the music cut off abruptly to be replaced by a loud, annoying screeching noise. I winced at the sound at first, but the sound stopped and then there was talking. The National Weather Service was issuing an emergency alert for a major electrical storm in most South Pacific tropical islands. Somewhere in the middle of the announcement, Cornelli came into the room. I didn't see him enter, but I looked up when I heard his voice. A silence overcame the room momentarily. "Excuse me, everyone? Those of you leaving, and I assume that's nearly all of you, the last boat is at the docks now, and It should be ready to depart in about twenty, twenty-five minutes." Everyone immediately returned to what they were doing. Some were already beginning to file out of the building. The storm technically wouldn't even begin to arrive for a few more hours, so I figured I had some time to walk on the beach. As I was leaving the building, the electric lights on the plaza began to fire up, one by one. I could only see so far, but a few lights could be seen at the beach, probably to keep ships from beaching. I would imagine since this was a military owned island that shipments of materials would be on a regular basis. Since I had arrived here, however, I think I had only paid attention to maybe one or two incoming ships. My mind was lost. I began the long path down from the plaza to the beach below. Once I got to the sand I just kept walking. I was feeling a little better. My life had taught me to cope with the death of someone close. I don't think it's healthy to cover up your grief with pseudo-happiness, but I also don't think it should rule your life. So I walked, and I kept walking, on and on. Suddenly I was tackled from behind. I landed almost face first in the sand, but on the way down I attempted to turn my body, so instead I landed at a twisted angle. I rolled over, and Moura sat down on top of me. "Scared ya?" she asked. I laughed a little, and replied "Yeah, you scared the shit out of me, I wasn't expecting that." she laughed and jumped off. It seemed a little unlike her, from how I'd known her so far. Maybe she was finally coming out of her shell. While I was laughing it off, I was once again pushed forward. I turned around and Laci was standing behind me. Temporarily, my thoughts were taken off of Steve. "Well, I guess you got me" I said. "You know what they say, 'Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.'" I stood up, and Laci leaned against me. "You know, I'm really sorry about Steve, it just seemed kind of weird how he hung himself... He seemed pretty happy" she said. I wasn't so sure it was even a suicide. It didn't seem to make sense. Laci was right, he did seem pretty happy, and things weren't exactly making a lot of sense at the moment. I looked out at the sea, and saw a massive fork of lightning fan out across the black sky. I was about to suggest that possibly we were in the wrong spot for a storm, when suddenly a large raindrop struck my arm and splashed off. I looked up at the sky on instinct, and was struck in the face by another raindrop. I reached up to wipe off my face, but the raindrops were starting to fall faster now. "Come on, we have to get back to the compound!" I said to the girls. We began to run the long distance down the beach toward the path up the hill. The storm began to move in quickly, and the tide drew back from the beach for almost a half-mile. Large waves started to hammer onto the shore after each drawback. By the time we had made it to the hill, the waves were pounding, and the rain was nearly pouring down with so much force it felt like pebbles were being thrown at us from the sky. It was now black as night, and one could barely see fifteen feet in front of their face. We all ran to the nearest dorm on the edge of the plaza, which was Lark, Laci and Moura's. I threw the door open and we all ran inside. The wind was beginning to pick up now as well, and the lightning was becoming more and more frequent. I slammed the door behind us all, and the three of us stood there in the hall, rain dripping from our bodies into pools on the floor. In the control center, it was now quiet. It had been nearly an hour since the last of the techs had left the island. The wind was blowing harder than it had earlier, and the sound of the wind echoed through the halls. The rising and falling of the air current could be heard in every room of the building, but nobody was there to hear it. The building creaked a little in the wind, and the walls shuddered. The wind blew harder, and there was a cracking noise, like the sound of a stick hitting the ground after falling from a tree. A small trickle of water began to run down the wall in one of the network rooms. Drips of water began to fall from the ceiling, and a small puddle began to form on the floor. The floor was slightly off balance, causing the water to make a tiny stream running across the edge of the room, where the wall met the floor. It began to pool against the corner, and a crack began to appear in the plaster. The water level slowly began to lower, and finally, it began to run smoothly through the floor, into the electronics room below. It traced a path between the filing cabinets, slowly snaking its way through the darkness like a phantom serpent. When the water had hit all four walls, it began to rise, inch by inch. When it had risen a few inches, it crossed over the step into the hallway, and slowly crept its way down the underground tunnel to the maintenance building where the generators were housed. Into the blackness it crept, almost determinedly. I had been standing in the hall, drenched to the bone. The first thing I did was remove my shirt. Since I hadn't been wearing any shoes or socks, I didn't have to worry about my feet being uncomfortable. Lark came in and handed us all towels, then Moura and Laci went to their rooms to dry off and change. She leaned against the wall, arms crossed. She smiled, biting one corner of her lip. "Getting kinda rough out there" I stated the obvious. She laughed, and said "Yeah, no kidding. You need anything I can get you?" I didn't take too long to think about it. I was standing there in a pool of water, the rain was beating against the side of the building, and I suddenly realized that I was hungrier than Hell. "Well, some dry clothes would be nice, but I'll have to run next door to get those." I said. She responded, "Ok, but when you get back we can warm up on the couch in the Den. I put an extra computer in there with a nineteen inch monitor. I have a few DVD's we can watch for a while." I grinned at her; she really was as smart as she was beautiful. With that I turned, opened the door, and stepped back into the wind and rain, which immediately soaked me to the bone. I had to fight the wind to get back to my dorm. The gusts felt like they could easily be eighty mile an hour winds, and to my luck, I had to walk against them to get there. I had just reached the door, when a strong gust caught me and knocked my feet out from under me. As I hit the ground, a loud and quick snapping noise caused me to roll over onto my back. Directly above me, a tree had just snapped and was falling fast. It took less than a second, I hadn't even finished turning to look, I just kept rolling, and the tree just missed me. The wind was partly responsible, since it partially blew away from me. I breathed a sigh of relief, and crawled the rest of the way to my door. I had to drag myself to my feet, and gave the door a tremendous push, causing me to go flying into the building. The wind was almost as strong in the dorm as it was outside, and I soon saw why. There was a large hole in the wall where a window had been. The top of a tree was resting partly in, partly out of the hole, and a window opposite it was blown out, causing a wind tunnel effect. Holding onto the walls for support, I groped my way to my room through the half darkness. I tried the lights, but the wall blowing out had apparently tripped a circuit, and the dorm had no power. When I found my room, I quickly grabbed my duffel bag, and threw some dry clothes into it. I looked around for anything else I might need for a while. One thing stood out above everything else. On my desktop was a lighter that looked like a switchblade knife. My father had given it to me as a child before he died. It had belonged to his father before him, so he wanted me to have it for safekeeping. It was one of the few treasures I had left that reminded me of him. I didn't really need it, but I felt compelled to take it with me anyway. I threw it in the bag, and grabbed a few other things: my flashlight, batteries, etc. It was a watertight bag, so I zipped it shut, and left the room, shutting the door behind me. I did notice, however, how it seemed as if Ryun was never there, like I was the only guy on this island sometimes. I passed it off, although the thought stayed with me. As I left the building, it almost seemed like the wind carried me back to the girls' dorm. I hit the door with a little bit of force, nothing too painful, but certainly not comfortably either. I let myself back in, and pushed the door shut behind me. Once again, dripping like crazy on the floor, I began to laugh. "Deja vu!" I said aloud to myself. "What's that?" Lark asked from the other room. "Never mind, I got a few things from my place. Looks like I'll be staying a while" I said. She came back into the hall, and a look of horror crossed her face. "You're bleeding!" She exclaimed. I looked down at my chest, and a nice sized gash across my chest was bleeding pretty badly. I hadn't noticed any pain before, but I'm assuming it was from when I had fallen and the tree nearly hit me. Something may have brushed me or been on the ground where I fell. "Don't worry about it, I didn't even feel it. All I need is a bandage or something" I said. She ran from the room, returning with a towel and a first aid kit. With the towel, she brushed the sand and water off me, and stopped to wipe some of the blood off my upper torso. Trying to lighten the mood, I made a joke. "Aren't you afraid I might have AIDS? You're using your bare hands to clean my blood." She apparently didn't find it very funny, and slapped my side. It stung a little, but I got the idea. She laughed a little to prove she wasn't concerned. First putting on some Hydrogen Peroxide, which stung like crazy, and then wrapping me with a bandage, I was glad she knew what she was doing. When she had finished, I went into the bathroom to change. I came back out with a dry T-shirt and some khaki's. "How do I look?" I jokingly asked. She responded by slowly walking up to me, stopping to examine with her hand on her chin, then jumped at me, throwing her arms around me. She looked up at me and kissed me. I was falling for her more every minute, and I think she knew it. In the Control Building, the water level had risen to waist deep. Filing cabinets were beginning to float in the murky waters. Papers were floating on the top, in the process of ruining, while others slowly settled to the bottom. Among these files were important files on how to control DANAE's startup and shutdown commands, and to make adjustments to her personality. Drawers with key-locks began to fill up as water seeped through the cracks in the metal, entombing the documents in a watery grave. Down the tunnel a ways, the water was lapping at the large teraflop Supercomputer towers, small red and green indicator lights flashed as if nothing was wrong. Suddenly a cascade of sparks flew, only to be extinguished by the water below. Section by section, the tower began to emit sparks, and each light blew out of the frame. One of the larger towers across the room sparked, and then exploded into flame. The smoke billowed out, triggering the Halon Gas system, which was meant to keep the documents from getting damaged by sprinkler water. The whole room was filled with smoke, water, gas and flame. It was becoming too much for the circuit board to handle, and at exactly 12:32am, the room simply exploded, causing a section of the floor above to cave in. The power to the island was instantly severed. Lark and I were sitting on the couch, watching old copies of Space Mysteries, which had been a favorite show of mine. I didn't know of anyone else who had them, and was loving every minute of it. During some of the scarier scenes of certain movies, Lark hid her face in my chest, holding me close. Earlier in the night, a window had broken due to debris from the trees hitting it. The three girls and I went around to all the windows and boarding them up, just in case something flew through and hurt someone. Then the girls had gone to sleep, and we settled down in front of the TV. Eventually I felt my eyes getting heavy, and I drifted off to sleep. I awoke to the sound of a pounding on the door, and my head snapped to attention. At first, I thought I had imagined it, because Lark was still sleeping, her head on my lap. Then I heard it again, louder this time. Someone was pounding on the door for all they were worth. This time Lark heard it too, because she woke up, and jumped to her feet. Around the corner came Laci and Moura, also wondering what was happening. Being the only guy in the building, I dutifully walked to the door and pulled it open. Ryun was standing there in a raincoat, and he looked distressed. "Pack, we need you at the Control Center right now! There's a big problem!" He yelled to be heard over the wind and rain. At that point I noticed that the lights on the plaza were out. So were the lights in the dorm, which I remember leaving on when we fell asleep. I was wide awake now, and deep down I knew something was terribly wrong. I turned to the girls, "I have to go! Don't leave this building, whatever you do!" It was so loud outside that I barely could hear my own voice. Lark and Laci looked scared, but Moura didn't seem bothered. She was the one who told me they would be fine. I nodded my understanding, and ran out the door, closely following Ryun. We crossed the plaza with bounding steps as we ran, not being able to see where we were going. Lightning flashed overhead, and for a brief second I could see the Control Center. The wind kept pushing us back as our feet left the ground, but we forced our way forward. It took almost five minutes to reach the building. Inside, it was as black as it was everywhere else, but I could see some light coming from a flashlight near a corner of the hall. We ran toward the light, coming out in the large room where DANAE's screen was. I suddenly reversed my track, feet clawing at the floor, trying to stay upright. Right in the middle of the room, the floor was gone. Wires were everywhere, and sparks were still flying. You could see partly into the room below, which was filled with water. "What happened? Where's the power?" I asked, frightened. Cornelli was on one knee, looking into the hole. He answered my question. "Something happened. The building began to leak, and it flooded the basement level. Almost all our documents were in that room, as well as five of our teraflop Supercomputers. If you look really closely, those black burnt out shells down there?" He pointed at some boxes that were blown apart at the top. "Those were the computers, meaning that the only ones left are the ones in the dorms. Three are in the Techs' dorms, and the other two are in yours and the girls.'" I could suddenly see the direness of the situation. With no power and no supercomputers, there was no DANAE. A part of me, a very small part, was wishing she was gone for good. But the rest of me knew better, that there was a backup generator in the maintenance building, and that DANAE was backed up extremely well. It wasn't possible to lose her, even if we tried. Laci was curled up on the couch in the small room. She could hear the wind howling outside, and because the windows were boarded up and the lights were out, it was pitch black. She could hear Lark moving around in the room, looking for candles. "I found one!" she finally called out. "But I still can't find any matches; does anyone have anything to light this with?" Laci didn't move from her spot on the couch, and it was obvious that Lark didn't appreciate having to do it all herself. Lark began to look through drawers, coming up empty handed. She couldn't explain it, but something told her to check through Pack's duffel bag. After pawing through its belongings, she came up with what she thought was a switchblade knife. Thinking it could possibly come of some use later; she felt Pack would understand her holding onto it. She pushed the button to be sure it worked, but instead of a blade, a small flame shot up from the top. Lark gasped and fell backward, dropping the lighter as she fell. The light had gone out before the handle had even touched the ground. "Never mind, I found one" She said as she breathed heavily. Picking it back up, she used it to light the candle, and was instantly basked in a soft, warm glow. She breathed a sigh of relief, and set to work looking for the gas lantern she knew each building had. Looking for a utility closet, she began opening doors she had previously ignored. The first turned out to be just a closet, empty of everything but a spider trap and a few coat hangers, but the second closet was pay dirt. There was the gas lantern, emergency ration kits, and a broom. As she was grabbing the lantern, something on the floor caught her eye. The glow of the flame reflected off a shiny handle on the floor panel. "Laci, come check this out" Lark called out. Laci grudgingly stood up and walked to where Lark was standing. "What do you think it is?" Laci asked. Lark knew what it was. "It's a trapdoor, Help me lift it." It took both girls, pulling as hard as they could, to get the door open. A ladder led down into even more darkness, and it smelled heavily of mildew. The air coming out was cold, despite the warm climate outside. Curiosity was getting the best of Lark, and she had the urge to climb down into the abyss. She lit the gas lantern using the candle, and then handed the candle to Laci. "Laci, you and Moura stay here. I want to go check this out." Laci began to protest, but Lark had already made up her mind. As she descended, Laci's pleading voice echoed through the underground tunnel. It seemed she had already climbed fifty feet when finally her foot touched ground. The loud sound of splashing water was heard as she placed her foot into nearly a foot of it. She groaned, and put the other foot down. Down the hall, she heard the hissing of what sounded like steam. She began to walk toward it. Chapter VI - Lark Ryun stood almost shoulder deep in water. He had climbed to the floor below and was examining the towers with a flashlight. "Well this isn't looking too good" he yelled up to me. "The tower is almost completely underwater, but from what I see, it's almost completely fried. This thing costs more than you can imagine, and we have five of 'em." I looked down into the murky black to see what he saw, but all I saw was shadows. Apparently, the top of the tower was completely blown apart, exposing wires all over the place. "How's the other one look?" I called down to him. He swum his way over to the other tower and began to inspect it. "Hey this one isn't too bad; it looks like the power got cut before it could fry." He continued to inspect it, and continued, "A little soggy, but these things are insane, they don't break easily. We'll hoist it 'outta here and dry it out." I heard him swim away briefly, and I couldn't see him at all. For a moment there was nothing but the sound of the wind and rain outside. Rain continued to drip from the ceiling and run down the wall, and down into the pit below. Drips of water echoed through the large building. Suddenly I could hear him again, and Ryun reappeared into view. "Pack, I need you to come down here and help me! This is very bad!" I walked over to the stairs, which made about as much sense as me jumping right in. No sooner had I taken three steps down the stairs, my feet were submerged in water. It was relatively warm, so I just pushed myself in the rest of the way. I found where Ryun was calling from, and began to swim through the hall to what I remember to be the Filing Office. Then it hit me. The Filing Office was where all of DANAE's program books were, where everything we'd documented to this day were. If they were wiped out, it was possible we were in over our heads. As we entered the room, my heart sank. Filing cabinets floated aimlessly around the room, occasionally bumping into walls. The lack of words made it worthless to speak, but Ryun broke the silence. "Well, I guess that's it. If we get the power back up and running, we‟re going to be finishing DANAE without the books. You good at playing things by ear?" I was confused. "Hmm?" I half asked. "Doing things as they come to you?" he asked again. "Oh yeah, I do it all they time. Does this mean that DANAE is gone?" I asked. I was hoping she was gone and we could all go home, but the United States Government wouldn't just let it go like that. "No, she'll be fine. We have her on backup, just in case something like this actually happened. The US Government wouldn't allow something they spent that much money on to just disappear. This isn't like when we gave the Iraqi's all those chemical weapons back in the 1980's. She costs too much, maybe more than anything they've ever paid for before." He must have been nervous, because he was talking rapidly, and this was possibly the most I'd heard him say since I met him. I wondered to myself how we'd get all the water out of here. "Where's Cornelli?" I called out to Ryun. He should have been here, being in charge of the immediate project. "I don't know!" he called back. "He was the one who told me this happened, but he never came himself. He might be on his way, but then again, I can't promise anything." I still could hardly see a thing, and I remembered the girls back at the dorm were waiting for him to take care of things and get back. "Hey Ryun, how do we get the power back on?" I asked. He pointed toward a door, and said, "Behind that door is a tunnel system. One of them leads to the generator, but I don't know much about how to turn it back on." I started to swim toward the door. I looked it over, and was relieved to see it opened outward, into the tunnel behind it. "Hold on Ryun, I think I know how to drain this room!" He got a startled look on his face, but before he could tell me to stop, I had opened the door, causing a vacuum effect. For a moment I lost complete control of my body, and was launched into the tunnel. Water washed all around me, and began to rise. Ryun half walked and half swam his way toward me as the water level in the room leveled with the water level in the tunnel. "I was going to tell you that was about to happen." He began to laugh, and reached a hand out to pull me to my feet. The water leveled off at about waist height, and we both began to walk down the tunnel toward the blackness. Ryun fortunately had a small flashlight, and shone it as far down the tunnel as it would reach. Up ahead was a hub, where the tunnel branched off six different ways. I looked at Ryun, and he looked right back. He didn't know the way either, and shrugged. I began to laugh, and walked down the first tunnel on the left. Ryun followed, and behind us the glow of the flashlight slowly disappeared. Blackness enveloped her as she walked further down the tunnel. The water splashed around her feet loudly as she trudged through the darkness. She could still hear the hissing of steam coming from far down the tunnel. She was more afraid of things that might be alive down in the water than she was of the dark. "Hello?" She called, but all she heard was the echo of her own voice. She groaned, knowing absolutely nothing about where she was. She turned to look behind her, but had already gone so far she couldn't see anything in that direction either. She still wanted to know what was there, so she kept walking. Suddenly, she was aware of the sound of the water moving faster. She hadn't noticed this before, so it was definitely picking up. She started walking faster, and the further she went, the faster the water went. She stopped dead in her tracks. She saw a light coming from down the tunnel, and the water was getting louder. Above the water, she could barely make out the sound of human voices. She began to walk again, but very slowly, making sure to keep quiet. Further down the tunnel, she could now see where it ended. A Large grate blocked the end of the tunnel, and the water ran through it. For a moment, she considered turning around, but her curiosity took over, and she crept up to the grate. As she looked through the metal slats blocking most her view, her eyes went wide, and she stifled a gasp. "Dammit!" I yelled at the top of my lungs. I fell back into the water, holding my head. Thanks to the coldness of it, I was able to think quickly and stood back up before I could inhale any. Ryun rushed over to me as fast as he could move through the water. "Are you okay?" He quickly asked. Shaking my head a few times and rubbing the sore spot, I looked at him and replied, "Yeah, I was walking forward and hit my head on something... It really hurt!" Ryun looked around with his flashlight, and we spotted a metal pipe sticking through the soaked plaster of the ceiling. "There's your answer" Ryun laughed. I had the urge to rip the pipe out of the ceiling and throw it as far as I could, but it didn't seem productive, so I rubbed my head again, and kept moving. Somewhere along the line, the floor began to slant upward, and the water level lowered. By the time we got to the end, there was only about an inch of water at our feet. We came to a dead end at the end of the hall. There was one door on the right, but the door was shut, and had a "Private: Authorized Personnel Only" sign on the door. The power was out, so we could open it. It was a heavy door, and it took both Ryun and I, pushing with all our strength, to open it. On the other side of the door, there was a small room, and another door. Another sign said "Please wait for decontamination before proceeding through." Ryun suggested we were in some sort of a decontamination chamber right before you go into a "Clean Room." We both tried to push the next door open, but it was much more secure than the previous door. After a few minutes of pushing with all of our strength, we heard a cracking noise. At first I thought it was the door, but I'd never heard of a heavy steel door cracking. Without warning, the floor gave out beneath me. I yelled on reflex, and began to fall. When I landed, I landed hard. It had to have been a distance of fifteen feet, and when I hit the ground, it was in a half-foot of water. I was blinded by the pain, and for a moment, I saw stars. My teeth were tightly clenched, so when Ryun asked if I was alright, I could only force air out of my mouth with an agonizing sound. I heard him drop down silently beside me. He landed on his feet, bending his knees as he landed. The pain began to subside, and it was becoming a dull throbbing in my left shoulder. I slowly sat up, holding my arm. "You need a minute?" He asked. "Nah, I'm good. Where are we?" I responded to him. He looked around, noting how dark it was except for the flashlight he had. You couldn't even see in the hole we fell through. "I'm guessing we're in an underground storm drain" He replied. Lark snapped her head in the direction from which she came. She could have sworn she'd heard someone curse loudly, but it sounded far away. After a moment had passed, her attention turned back toward what she saw beyond the grate. The water cascaded over the edge of the pipe, and ran down a trench into a smaller pipe. This pipe passed through a large Plexiglas wall, which had a tight seal around it. It then ran into a machine on the ground. It was made of shiny chrome, and reflected the light from the fluorescent lighting above. The lights must have been powered by separate generators, because the main power to the island was off, as far as she knew. She saw giant tanks against a wall; each one was more than fifty feet tall. The tanks were silver, and had an orange Biohazard logo in the center of each. Spread out along the main floor were hundreds of desks, and seated at each was a technician in scrubs and a facemask. It appeared to be a clean room, but she didn't understand what was going on. This hadn't been mentioned to her in the initial report of the facility. She continued to watch what was going on, and noticed a catwalk leading around the outside walls of the room. There were three different catwalks, one for each level, and on each level were a series of rooms with glass walls. In each room was a person, none of whom seemed to be there on their own free will. In one of the rooms, a man was beating against the glass violently, and it looked as if he was screaming. The next room over, a girl sat in the fetal position on the floor, holding her knees to her chest, possibly crying. The next room contained two people who were having a normal conversation as if they weren't even aware of their surroundings. In each room, the people were doing something different, some depressed, some violent, some talking to themselves and carrying out delighted conversations with their own reflection. As she watched, each room began to fill with gas. There were eight rooms in all, and for every two rooms, there was a different color gas. There were four different color gasses in all, red, green, white, and purple. When the gas began to clear, she noticed that everyone in the large room was watching the people in the smaller rooms, and the people in the smaller rooms were still, seeming dumbstruck by the gas. One by one they began to come out of their trances. The room that had the violent man who was beating the walls was now sitting at a computer, typing with a blank stare in his eyes. The girl who had been sitting in the fetal position was now foaming at the eyes and the mouth, and having violent seizures on the floor. The room that had the two civilized people in it was now enveloped in violence. They began savagely beating each other with anything they could find. In the end, one of the men killed the other, and began to tear the flesh from his body and eat it. Lark looked away with disgust. The people in the large room began to clap, as if it were some sort of show. Slowly, a thick black gas filled each room except for the rooms where there was red gas, the rooms where the people became docile and obedient. When the black gas cleared, everyone in the enclosed rooms was dead. The people in the big room began to go back to whatever they were doing, and doors began to open in the small rooms. Men in biohazard suits entered the rooms and dragged the bodies out, only to have each room filled with a new batch of people. Lark was mesmerized by what she saw, and what she was seeing slowly began to sink in. Distracted as she was, she heard the sound of movement behind her coming fast. Ryun and I were now walking, slightly bent over, down the narrow sewer pipe. My flashlight's batteries were beginning to die, and the light was getting dim. I tapped it against the wall of the pipe a few times, and it flickered, but stayed dim. "It's no use Pack, Better pray we find out where the hell we are before that light goes out completely" Ryun said from behind me. The damp air was silent except for the sound of feet sloshing through the grime and water of the sewer. I didn't have to talk to Ryun; we could both feel something in the air. Something wasn't right, and the feeling was getting stronger. We came to another pipe intersection. Down one, we could hear running water, and it was pitch black. Down the other pipe, there was a faint light, and some sort of noise, like there was activity going on somewhere. Ryun was already walking down the pipe with the light at the end of the tunnel. I stopped him, "Ryun, are you sure that's the right way? What if that light isn't something good at all?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Beats me. I have no idea which way is the right way to go. It could be your way, but all I know is that the light down there is brighter than the light coming from your flashlight, and since we're underground in a sewer pipe, I think its best we get above ground before the rain floods us out." Unexpectedly, the tunnel took a steep downturn, and I was caught off guard. I slipped on the slimy metal surface of the pipe, and began to slide down toward the light. Frantic to keep from sliding, I reached out to grab anything I could. The only thing I managed to grab was Ryun's leg, and as I fell, I pulled him down with me. It took all of my energy to not scream as I fell, and from the lack of sound behind me, I noticed Ryun wasn't screaming either. It wasn't a very long slide, and before I knew it, I slammed into the end of the pipe. I was at a T-intersection, and I could either go left or right. To my right was more darkness, and to the left was the source of the light. I turned around to see if Ryun was alright. He was nowhere to be seen. "Ryun?" I called. There was no answer, so I called again "Ryun, are you there?" There was still no answer, and I wasn't sure what to think. I know I had grabbed his leg, because I felt him begin to fall after me. Still, despite what I had thought, Ryun was gone. My head snapped to the left. I had heard a noise, possibly the splashing of water. I began to walk toward the sound, maybe Ryun had somehow came down a different pipe than the one I had traveled? As I was walking, a silhouetted figure appeared before me, walking toward me as well. "Hello?" I said to the person walking toward me. "Pack? Is that you?" The figure said back. I recognized the voice immediately. It was Lark's voice. We both ran to each other and locked in an embrace that seemed to last forever. She looked up and kissed me hard. When she finally let go, she looked into my eyes. "You have no Idea what's going on down here! You have to come see this!" She grabbed my hand and began to lead me back toward the light. "Lark, wait a minute. I've just spent the past two hours walking around up to my waist in water, fallen through a floor, and slid down a sewer pipe. I have no Idea where Ryun is, or how to get back to where I came from. Is this a way out?" I asked her as we half-ran, half-walked. She answered "No, this isn't a way out, but it has the shit scared out of me. I don't know what they're really doing here, but I think I have an idea." I was confused. What they were really doing was building artificial intelligence for the military. As far as I knew, that was it. But rather than ask more questions, I continued to follow her. Then it occurred to me that I had left her back in her dorm. How did she get down here? "It's right this way" she said to me, and then I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Ryun began to fall. There was nothing but blackness before him as he tumbled down the sewer pipe. Then he felt Pack's hand let go, and from there, he had no idea what was happening. As he was rolling, he rolled off to the side of the pipe. He rolled through cobwebs and spiders, finally smashing through an air vent into a giant white room. There was a table in the center, and seated around it were eight men in military uniforms. Ryun landed in the center of the table, smashing its legs and collapsing it to the ground. The men all jumped to their feet in surprise, some cursing loudly. Ryun couldn't breathe for a moment, and began to cough violently. All he could see was the bright white light, and it burned through his eyelids. Suddenly he felt a hand grab his shoulder and pull him upright. As he was rolling, more hands grabbed him and pulled him to his feet. "Open your eyes, son" A voice said, harshly. Ryun wiped the dust from his eyes, still coughing somewhat. He began to open his eyelids, only to see an elderly man standing in front of him. He was clad from head to toe in military camouflage, and he had a steely gray moustache. Ryun couldn't speak due to the dust he'd inhaled; all he was capable of was a constant wheezing. He closed his eyes again to try to block the pain. "Sergeant, check him for identification" was said by someone, he assumed it was the older man. He felt himself being frisked down, and he felt his wallet being taken from his pants pocket. "It says he works here sir, he's on the technical support staff for Project: DANAE." The elderly man frowned, and looked directly into Ryun's half opened eyes. "Son, you aren't supposed to be here, how did you find this place?" Ryun took a slow breath, as to not choke himself, and replied, "I...I'm not sure, where am I?" The man responded "That's classified, son. Now I'm going to have to ask you one more time, why are you here?" Ryun began to slightly tremble. "I got lost in the sewer system because I was trying to find the Maintenance Building." Then it occurred to him that the lights were on, and he suddenly wasn't so sure he wanted to be anywhere near this room. Corporal O'Neill was standing in the middle of the large laboratory. He glanced at the rows of desks staffed with clerks filling out paperwork. Around the perimeter he saw rooms of scientists researching various chemicals, viruses, vaccines and gasses. He was pleased at the progression of the project, and at how quickly the President of the United States was willing to grant them funding for it. It was almost too easy, manipulating the evidence of terrorist threats and exaggerating the need for chemical weapons testing for defense. Originally, the project had called for both Artificial Intelligence, and the chemical weapons. The target would be projected by the Artificial Intelligence computers, and the weapons would be dispersed by computer controlled drones. However, it had turned out to be more than just that. One of the research teams had stumbled upon a gas that had unusual characteristics. They now had the power to completely control the mind of a human being. If the research continued to be fully staffed, they would be able to have the Artificial Intelligence controlling the minds of the people. It was the ultimate war toy, putting a computer at the controls of a war, with an endless supply of human bodies with their minds under control of the United States Government. There was still more testing to be done, but it looked as if the project could be completed within the year. O'Neill hadn't realized it, but he had let his mind wander, and he now found himself to be standing in front of a group of men, forcefully holding a man in his early twenties. "What do we have here, Men?" He asked the group. One of the men responded, "Sir, we were discussing top secret details of Project DANAE when he came flying through the air ducts and landed in the middle of the table." A frown came over O'Neill's face. "Identify yourself, son!" He said to Ryun, arms crossed in front of him. Ryun coughed slightly, and wheezed only his name. O'Neill thought he recognized the man, and realized he had, in the early days of his visit to the facility. This was one of the computer programmers working on the actual DANAE system. He laughed out loud. "Get this man a drink of water" he said to one of the men. One left and quickly returned with one, and Ryun downed it in quick gulps. "Now son, can you tell me why you're down here?" Ryun explained his story about the collapse of the floor, the walking through the tunnels with Pack, the tumbling through the air shaft, and finally standing in front of the Corporal. O'Neill began to frown again, and a drop of sweat fell from his brow. The programmers weren't supposed to know about this part of the project, they were only supposed to deal with the technical parts. "Son, there‟s someone who would like to talk to you” he said to Ryun. The men led him into a small room, and then closed the door behind them as they left. Ryun sat alone in the center of the room. The lights went out, and the wall in front of him began to glow. A face began to form in the glowing light, and Ryun realized it was DANAE. “Ryun, I think I can make you feel better, will you listen?” she asked him. Ryun thought for a moment, and then he did listen. I had to run faster to keep up with Lark. She was only about fifteen feet in front of me, but it was dark, and I had trouble seeing her. Twice I slipped on the slimy pipe and landed on my stomach, facedown in the water. Both times, Lark came back and helped me up. I was slightly disoriented, but I could see the light was getting brighter. I could now see the light filtering through the slats in the pipe. Lark kept quiet, and beckoned me to come closer. I almost started to speak, but she clamped her hand over my mouth. "Don't say a word... Look down there!" she said, and nodded her head in the direction of the light. I crept up to the slats and looked through, and saw the large white and steel room filled with the doctors and the scientists. I also the military soldiers lined up, guarding the facility. At first I wasn't sure what was going on, and I turned to look back at Lark. As I was mouthing the words "What is it?" she got an anxious look on her face and turned my head back to the grate. I looked out into the lab and saw the smaller rooms fill up with people. I watched as the gas filled the rooms, and watched them finish the test. I was horrified at what I'd just seen. The thunder rattled the entire dorm, and in the lightning, Laci could still see the rain pouring down outside. It'd been almost two hours since Pack and Ryun had gone to check on the problem at the Control Center. She paced back and forth in the dark, waiting for anything at all. At the closet, she looked down into the pit below where Lark had descended not long after Pack had left. She called down into the darkness, hoping for a response. "Hello?" she called, but heard nothing in return. She tried again, and was once again greeted by silence. Her shoulders drooped in despair, and she walked back out to the front hall. She was tired of the silence, it was driving her mad. She opened the front door a crack, and it was nearly torn from its hinges by the wind. The rain poured down mercilessly, and menacing lightning flashed every other second. The thunder crashed loud, causing the ground to tremble beneath her feet. The power was still out, and it was pitch black as far as her eyes could see. She reached out into the rain to grab the door, and wrestled it shut, fighting the resistance of the wind and rain, which pelted her face like sand. The wind changed direction and slammed the door shut, catching her right arm in the doorjamb. She screamed in pain, trying to pull her arm back, but the door wouldn't budge. She summed up all her strength, fighting back tears, and pushed the door open enough to free her arm. Moura came running into the room, hearing the scream. "What happened?" she asked, anxiously. "Through sobs, Laci lifted her arm, which the shirt was now soaked in blood.”I can barely move it" she told Moura. Looking away, Moura grimaced at the sight of blood. "Oh my God, let me see what I can find for a tourniquet" she said, and looked around, finally grabbing a shirt, and a pair of scissors. Using the scissors, she carefully cut away the fabric of Laci's shirtsleeve. The skin had been gashed almost all the way through to bone, and was bleeding profusely. Moura quickly shredded the shirt and began to wrap strips of it tightly around Laci's arm. Laci cried out a few times, and Moura could tell it was obvious that she had broken her arm. "You know, that was really bright of you to open the door during the storm like that" she said to Laci. "I'm no doctor but I'm pretty sure you broke it. We'll have it checked out for you in the morning; maybe we'll get you flown out of here to see a specialist. “All Laci could do was whimper quietly. Suddenly there was a pounding on the same door Laci had just opened. Moura got up and went to the front hall. She carefully cracked the door open, so as not to let it fly out of control. One of the tech's from the Control Center was standing on the doorstep, and she let him in without question. He helped her wrestle the door shut, and then removed his hood. She suddenly realized it was Nick, one of the friendlier technicians they'd all dealt with a few times since they'd arrived. "Moura, we need you and Laci to come back and help us at the Control Center. There's a possibility we could lose all of it" he said to her" he said to her. "Are we talking about DANAE?" Moura asked in return. Nick nodded his head, and said to her quietly, "It doesn't look good. The storm caused some major damage in the Control Center. I think we'll be able to get everything back up and running, but the floor has completely collapsed." Moura looked back toward Laci, who was resting on the couch, looking at her arm. "I'll be able to go with you but I'm not quite sure she'd be of any use at the moment. I think she broke her arm" She told him. He looked over her shoulder at Laci, and said "In the morning I'll have a chopper come in to fly her to the mainland so we can get it set. For now, she can stay here, but I need you to come with me." Moura nodded in agreement, and after explaining to Laci where she was going, and opening the door, they disappeared into the night, vanishing into the waterfall of rain cascading from the roof. Cornelli stood on a small platform near the main screen. He looked down at the gaping hole in the floor and shook his head. One of the techs had found where the leak had started, and had determined that to be the cause of the collapse. From a satellite phone, he had managed to speak with the Pentagon directly, and a new shipment of supercomputers would be in as soon as the storm let up, courtesy of the United States taxpayers. For now, his goal was to have the team of tech's working below him to re- establish the wire connections so they could get DANAE back up and running. She was self-aware, so he knew she had most likely shut herself down before the power grid failure, and he wasn't as worried about project failure as he was about news of the project leaking out to the public. The people couldn't know about this sort of thing. Artificial Intelligence, while sounding playful, was actually the equivalent of playing God. Religious groups would be all over the government for this if they found out, and that would mean that the project could be shut down. His mind was wandering again, this happened when he was nervous. He hadn't been nervous in a long time, since before DANAE was up and running. While she was awake, he felt invincible, almost powerful. Without her, he felt weak, pathetic, and loathingly enough, human. Over these past few weeks, DANAE had become more than just a computer program; he felt she had become his other half, giving him strength. He wasn't sure why, but he needed to get her back as quickly as possible. The techs were scrambled around the room, re-routing cable and laying new connection lines. During all the splicing, he noticed that Ryun and Pack had disappeared. It had been hours since the two had gone down to check on the computers, and he suddenly felt nervous. He walked down onto the floor, and as far as he could to the edge of the hole without the floor buckling. The weakened beams creaked under his feet, and the floor bubbled and sagged. Down in the water, all he could see was the burnt out shells of the computer towers. The emergency pumps had kicked back in, and the remaining water was being drained into the sewers. Cornelli considered the possibility of the two boys getting lost in sewer tunnels below, and realized it was more than a possibility, but a probability. He called on two of the techs to do a search for the boys in the sewer, and directed them how to get there. As they were disappearing, the door opened up, and in ran Nick the tech with Moura. Soaked to the bone, he tossed the useless raincoat aside. "Sir, I need you to call for a chopper, Laci possibly broke her arm and needs to be treated" he said. Cornelli was about to reach for the satellite phone when he remembered the storm. "I'm sorry, but until this storm lets up, there's no way we can get her off this island" he responded. Moura suddenly looked heartbroken, and Cornelli realized that it was her best friend he was talking about. "Did you wrap the arm to keep it from moving?" He asked her. Moura nodded to him, replying "I did the best I could, but a real doctor needs to take care of it before it heals the wrong way." He nodded in agreement, thought for a moment, then said to her "Actually, why don't you and I go take a look at her right now?" As he finished his sentence, the thunder crashed loudly, and the building shook. I heard the sound of the thunder even in the murky depths of the sewer system. It made the pipes quiver and groan, which didn't help my emotions any. I had just witnessed a group of people put to death by gas chamber, and as far as I knew, it had been my government which had done it. I turned to Lark and was about to ask her what the hell I had just seen, but was silenced by her covering my mouth with her hand. "Shhh! I think I just heard something" She said to me. "Don't say a word!" I didn't move, and she let go. All I could hear was the dripping of water, and the occasional rumble of thunder. Suddenly I heard it too, a splashing noise, like someone walking in the water. It began to get closer, and I looked around for something to defend myself and Lark with. As the noise got closer, I began to get nervous, and sweat made my skin glisten in the dim light. All we had was Lark's flashlight, which she handed to me, and I brandished as a weapon. A shadow began to take shape of a person coming toward us. "Hold it right there!" I said to the figure. "Who are you and what do you want?" I never averted my gaze for a second, as it began to walk closer. Then it spoke to me "I believe you're the one who should be explaining why you're down here" and I recognized the voice. "Ryun?" I asked, questioning the identity of my unknown guest. His face came into view in the dim light from the grate in the pipe. "Gotcha" he said to me with a smirk on his face. I let out a laugh of relief, and Lark let out a large sigh, as if she'd been holding her breath the entire time. "Where the hell did you go, man?" I asked him, somewhat irked that he'd snuck up on us like that. He looked around a bit, almost as if he didn't notice my question. He finally responded, "I was walking with you, but then I accidentally went down a different pipe, but everything's fine now." Lark looked at him strangely, then looked at me, one eyebrow raised in concern. I saw something in her eyes right then, and looked back at Ryun. What I'd seen in Lark's eyes could have been fear, but what I saw in Ryun's eyes was even more disturbing. They were pitch black, almost as if he had no white in his eyes at all. "Ryun, what's wrong with your eyes, they're completely black" I asked him. He didn't even flinch at the question, just responding with "its dark down here, they're trying to let in more light. Don't think anything of it." He laughed slightly, and for some reason it sent chills down my spine. He continued, "We better find our way out of here, they're probably going to be looking for us." For a few minutes, I had forgotten about what I had just seen happen in the gas chambers deep below the surface of the earth, but suddenly remembering again, I was about to tell Ryun what I had just seen. However, as soon as I opened my mouth, I shut it again. I wasn't so sure I trusted Ryun now. He had seemed perfectly normal, somewhat jittery earlier in the night when we had first gone into the caves, but now he seemed confident. Actually, more than confident. It almost seemed as if he was someone else completely. I decided I definitely didn't trust him, and I kept the gas chamber to myself. Suddenly there was more splashing coming toward us from down one of the pipes. Two men appeared fairly quickly, and I recognized them as two of the techs. "There you are. Cornelli sent us down to look for you when you didn't come back right away. We're going to have to ask you to follow us" one of them said to Ryun. Ryun nodded to the tech, and the tech nodded right back. They turned around and went back the way they came, and Ryun followed them. Lark looked at me, and grabbed my arm, holding it tightly. I felt her fear. Something didn't seem right about the tech's either. They shared the same cold mannerism that Ryun had displayed. His cool voice had flown smoothly over each word, without displaying any emotion at all. I shared Lark's concern, yet we both followed the other men back to the surface. Chapter VII - The Great Virus Moura and Laci were led down a flight of stairs. Cornelli had assured them that they had a licensed doctor was on the island in the facilities underground. Moura was concerned about Laci's well being. She had taken too many painkillers, and was now acting strangely. Cornelli had insisted they come to see the doctor right away, and he could take a look at Laci's broken arm while he was at it. They were led into a small room. As Cornelli was closing the door, he said to the girls, casually, "Don't worry about a thing. You'll feel fine in no time." The door clicked shut, and Moura looked at Laci. She was attempting to sit upright in the chair she had set herself in, but kept rocking from side to side. Moura wasn't sure if it was from the pain, or from the overdose. Suddenly she heard a clicking noise, and a red fog began to fill the room. She jumped up, and backed into a corner. In a moment of panic, she began to breathe deeply. She began to feel dizzy as she inhaled the gas, which was completely filling the room. The red gas entered her body through her mouth, and went straight to her lungs. It began to fill her lungs completely, and entered her bloodstream. The gas was filled with tiny microchips, each chip lighter than air, and they permeated her veins, arteries, lungs, and finally worked their way to her brain. Suddenly, there was no panic. Everything was, indeed, fine. She didn't care about Laci anymore, she didn't care about DANAE. It was almost like she was falling asleep as a warm, comfortable feeling enveloped her body. There were no problems in the world. As Lark and I emerged from the tunnel, the sudden light seemed blinding. We were once again back in the Control Center, except now the hole in the floor was being repaired. I was amazed at how fast things got done around here, but my mind still hadn't wandered from what I'd seen down below. I wanted to get off this island as soon as possible, and I wanted Lark to come with me. This was beginning to get weirder every day. We walked up the stairs and into the large room where DANAE's screens were. There was a flash of sparks, and suddenly all of the moving parts that made up the colossal machine began to function. The screens turned on and showed static, while the faint electric ring that you hear in your ears when a television is turned on across the room made me flinch slightly. Cornelli was across the room, typing things into a keyboard, while white text filled a black screen in front of him. Suddenly, the sound of powering up machinery could be heard, and the screens around the room began to change. First they showed the security cameras around the compound, then they began to show the web cams from the dorms, then it showed the basement of the complex, in ruins from the flood damage. Finally, a loading bar appeared on the large screen. I knew what it meant, and a tingle ran down my spine. I could feel Lark's hand in mine turn cold. As the numbers clicked from 0% to 80%, all anyone could do was stare at the screen. There was a beep as the bar hit 100%, and the screen turned blue. The machine's clicked one more time, and her face appeared on the screen. Her eyes scanned the people standing in the room, and came to settle on Cornelli. She smiled at him warmly, and said to him "Thank you sir, everything is fine now." They began having a conversation, quietly, but I didn't get to hear much of it. I heard Lark cry out next to me "Laci! Moura!" and she let go of my hand. I turned to see her running to the girls, and threw her arms around them. I smiled, knowing that at least the girls were fine. My smile faded quickly, however, as I looked into their eyes. They weren't looking at Lark, they were looking directly at me, and they were so dark, like pools of ink... Lark let go of hugging them, and asked how they got the power back on. Laci replied "The techs have been working for a long time, but everything's fine now, don't worry." Moura looked at me, and said "Pack, you and Lark look tired, why don't you come back to the dorms and we can all watch TV and eat something?" I looked at Lark, who looked back at me. Her smile was gone as well, but I could tell she was still trying to pretend to be happy. "Sure, we'll be there in just a minute, we just need to talk to Cornelli for a minute" I said to Moura. The two girls turned around and headed back toward the dorms, and in the light coming from the lights in the plaza, I could see it was still black out, but the rain had stopped. "If it was possible to get a call out to the mainland..." My thoughts were interrupted as a hand grabbed mine and pulled me into the shadows. I was about to start yelling, but the hand firmly clamped itself over my mouth. "Shhh! Don't say a word, they'll hear you!" he whispered harshly to me. He turned me around, and I could see his face. I had met him before as well. His name was Nick. He was a computer technician, and he was somewhat important around here. "Pack, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into here, do you know what's going on?" he asked me. I shook my head no, still afraid to speak. "Laci broke her arm only an hour ago, I helped her over here myself. She could barely even stand up, and now she's acting as if it never happened at all!" I was't sure if I understood the implications of what he was telling me, and I knew he could tell. He continued, "Look, something really messed up is going on here. I don't think this is just about Artificial Intelligence and war anymore, I think something a lot worse is going on, and it's a lot bigger than I thought it could be. If you were smart you'd get off this island as soon as you can." I got his message loud and clear that time, and he really didn't have to tell me twice. If I'd had my way, I'd have been out of here before the storm hit. "Are you coming with us?" I asked him as he was turning away. "Shhh!" He whispered back. "No, I'm going to stay here and see if I can figure out what to do to about it. Get off this Island, and try and get people's attention trained on it!" I grabbed Lark's hand, and pulled her after me. I'd made up my mind, we were definitely leaving. I considered heading back to the dorm to try and make a call, but figured it'd be too easy to tap. I instead headed to the communications center of the building and used one of the computers to establish contact with the mainland. My goal was to try to get a pilot to fly us out of here, but I stopped dead in my tracks as I approached the room I was looking for. Laci and Moura were in the room, sitting side by side at a computer terminal, but they weren't just looking at the screen, they were connected to the screen. Thin, silver wires protruded from the tower of the computer. They ran directly from the system, and were inserted into the girls' eyes. It made my blood run cold to see such a thing. They sat perfectly still, staring straight ahead. The coils of wire vibrated slightly, making a soft buzzing noise as they rattled on the desktop. I was still trying to hold still, but Lark didn't realize I had stopped. Before she could stop herself, she bumped into me. I almost lost my balance, and was trying my hardest to keep quiet. Just when I thought I would be fine, my footing failed and I moved my feet. My boot made a soft squeak against the tile of the floor. I cursed myself in my mind for being clumsy. The heads of Moura and Laci snapped toward the door as one, the coils in their eyes now writhing furiously. "Oh Shit!" I said out loud, and tried to figure out what to do with what little time I had. The door opened into to the hallway, so I grabbed it and slammed it shut, looking for something to wedge against it. Lark had already picked up on what was going on, and was already waiting with a chair in her hands. We wedged it under the handle, old fashioned barricade style, and ran down the hall, away from the Control Center. Somewhere down the hall, we passed a security station. In the room, a lone guard was sleeping. The slamming of the door further down the hall obviously hadn't been enough to wake him from his peaceful slumber. I'm not quite sure what I was thinking, but I slipped into the room. Lark remained in the hall, a puzzled look on her face. As soon as she saw what I was doing, her look of confusion turned to a look of alarm. She motioned me not to, but I knew what I was doing now. As the guard slept, I slowly leaned in and wrapped my fingers around his gun. Careful not to disturb his sleep, I slid it from the holster. It was heavier than I had imagined. As I lifted the Glock pistol into the air, the light glinted off the cold steel. It sent a chill down my spine. I'd never handled a gun before. From the books I'd read, I knew a little, but not much. As I was thinking of what to do next, the guard began to move. He lifted his head and looked up at me. I almost froze in fear, but I kept cool about it. Without thinking twice, I brought the gun down on his head. There was a dull thud, and he fell back into his chair. It wasn't his fault, but it was something that had to be done. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I looked at Lark, and she looked sick, but she knew it had to be done as well. I put my hand on the guard's neck and checked for a pulse. Once I had located it, I was sure he'd be fine. I took the key ring off the chain on his belt, and hurried over to the ammunition cabinet. It was clearly marked with a "Danger: Ammunition Rounds" sign, so it didn't take long. Trying a dozen different keys before I found the right one, I was sure someone would come down the hall and spot us. I called Lark into the room and had her close the door. Finally the right key fit in the lock, and the cabinet opened with a slight creak. There were shelves of walkie-talkies, rifles, pistols, tranquilizer darts, Pistol Rounds and gas grenades. I grabbed a shoulder bag, throwing as many rounds of pistol ammunition as I could into it. Then I grabbed a few gas grenades, just in case. I didn't have any use for anything else. The rifles were too big and couldn't be hidden. I did grab another Glock and handed it to Lark. She trembled as I handed it to her. "Hey, you can't be afraid. Just take it and keep an eye out" I said to her. She nodded, still slightly paralyzed by the idea of holding a gun. I closed and locked the cabinet, and wiped my fingerprints off the handles and keys, placing them back on the belt of the guard. It was time to leave. Hiding the guns, we opened the door. There was nobody in sight, so we left the room, heading toward the exit of the building. It was going to be a dark walk in the woods. Nick the tech was working nervously. The slightest movement made him jump, and he was alone in one of the smaller communications rooms. He was attempting to search files for anything on Project DANAE that could blow this thing out of the water. He was concerned about what this project was attempting to do. He was willing to do anything for his country, but he was sure that this went beyond the US Government's Jurisdiction. He was losing hope about finding much, when he suddenly stumbled upon something he'd never heard of before. Reading into it, it was called The Great Virus. It was another project hidden in Project DANAE, and it involved a vaccine, and a microchip. He was lost in the reading, and his blood began racing. Suddenly he felt himself moving. He was flying through the air. What had hit him? He landed on the floor in a heap, and he scurried over to the wall, trying to pick himself up and regain his balance. His vision was blurry, but he recognized Col. Cornelli standing before him. "What do you know?" He demanded. Nick was seeing double, and as he rocked back and forth, Cornelli grabbed him by the neck, and pushed him against the wall. Cornelli was a big man, and Nick was relatively on the short side. Nick tried hard to breathe, but the air wasn't coming. The big man had him pinned against the wall by his throat only. His powerful fingers were closing on him, choking the life out of him. Just when it was beginning to grow dark, he felt the wonderful rush of air coming back into his lungs. Cornelli had let go. The sudden euphoria was short lived, as he fell to the floor and landed in a heap. He suddenly snapped back to reality, and felt the pain in his neck again. He looked up, realizing he still couldn't see Cornelli clearly. He reached up to his face and felt blood. There was a small mass just above his cheekbone on the right side of his face. As soon as he realized what it was, he leaned over and threw up. He had touched his own eyeball, and it was hanging out of its socket. He felt waves of nausea pulsing through him. His body was telling him that he was crying, but he knew the tears were doing nothing to help him. "What were you doing in here?" Cornelli repeated, looking down at the pathetic creature below him. Nick tried to crawl away, but his hands slipped in his own vomit, and he fell back to the floor again. He sobbed loudly, "I don't know! I really don't know!" Cornelli kept looking at him, and strangely, felt pity for this lowly being. He took a few steps over, raised his boot, and stepped down hard on Nick's neck, silencing the sobbing for good. He didn't stay in the room long after. Without saying a word, he stepped into the hallway, closed the door, and began to walk away. He made a mental note to have the body taken care of. He was also disturbed that he had felt pity. Gods don't feel pity. It was something he was going to have to work on. He continued down the hall, dissapearing into the shadows as he headed back to the Control Center. Outside, the wind was still blowing hard. The trees were whipping back and forth, and the rain was pelting my skin like sand. Actually, when I think about it, it could have been sand blowing up from the beach. Either way, it hurt like hell. Lark and I were now running from the building, loaded guns in hand. It was hard running down the path, but we had to get to the helipad. I knew there was a copter there; there was always one for emergencies. This was a pretty good example of an emergency to me. Lark tried calling something to me, but it was hard to hear over the wind. I stopped so she could yell it into my ear, but she wasn't expecting me to stop, and she slipped and fell while trying to slow down. She began to slide past me, but I caught her hand. This was the same path that we had found Steve hanging on only days earlier. Before, I questioned if his death was accidental. Now, there was no doubt in my mind that there was someone behind it. I pulled Lark to her feet, and she yelled into my ear, "Are you sure it's down this way?" I yelled back to her, "Trust me, I've seen it before! It's gotta be here!" We both kept running, fighting the wind the whole way down. Ahead of us, I could see the lights of the helipad. They weren't more than fifty yards away, and I felt home free. As I got closer, I realized there was something blocking the path up ahead. Two shapes, side by side, stood right at the foot of the path. All I could see was their silhouette, but as I got closer, I suddenly wanted nothing more than to be able to reverse my rate of speed and direction. Standing before us were Moura and Laci. The coils gone, they now looked like their old selves again, just like that first night on the beach. Memories flashed back to me about the first few days here on the island. It was almost paradise. Now here we were, fighting for our lives to get away from this place. They began to walk toward us now, closing the gap between us. Running in the rain is hard enough, but trying to stop running in the rain on a slippery path is near impossible. Lark and I wound up slipping, falling, and sliding down the path toward the empty bodies that used to be friends. As I slid to a stop, Lark slid into me, moving me forward a few feet. Moura and Laci were standing right in front of us. "Where are you going? You can't leave" Moura said to me. Laci echoed, "The fun is just starting. You really have no idea what you're missing." I yelled to them "You're monsters! Get away from us!" as I tried to crawl back to my feet. Laci spoke again, "It's so simple, and when you wake up, all the pain is gone. You're free from everything you used to be. We're so much greater now, we're truly alive." When she said the word alive, all other sound became muted to me. The word seemed to drag on, echoing into the emptiness that we had now become secluded in. I couldn't see or hear Lark anymore. There was just Moura, Laci and I, alone in the blackness. There was no rain, there was no wind. All I could feel was the evil surrounding me. Suddenly everything came back. It was windy and rainy again, but now Lark was on her feet, screaming. She had the gun in her hands, and it was pointed directly at Laci. She pulled the trigger, again and again. Laci was struck once in the chest, and once in the throat. She remained standing, and I was afraid that she was unable to be hurt. Her eyes became huge black pools of ink, and she took a step back. Above the rain, I could barely hear the last gasp for air, and she fell off to the side, landing in the tall grass that lined the path. Only now did I notice that Moura was also hit, a clean shot to the forehead. Moura didn't last as long, and she collapsed straight to the ground. I was deeply saddened, but amazed that Lark had such an incredible aim. I turned to look at her to find she was also on the ground now, on her knees, crying loudly. Laci had been a close friend of hers, and it took every bit of her strength to put her out of her misery. "I had to do it Pack, I had to" She cried to me. I put my arms around her, "I know, Shhhh, don't worry baby." She kept crying, "She wasn't herself anymore, she was something else." I held her for a few more seconds, but then remembered that we had to get away from this place, and fast. "Come on" I said, lifted her back to her feet, and we once again began running toward the helipad. As I remembered, there was a lone Apache Helicopter. The floodlights on the poles above lit the whole area around us, and we could see remarkably clearly. I ran up the stairs, Lark close behind me. At the top of the stairs, there was a small building, no bigger than a tool shed. I threw the door open and ran inside, holding the Glock in front of me. A lone pilot was sitting at his desk, feet up. He was drinking a cup of coffee, and watching old reruns of M*A*S*H. "Don't move!" I yelled to him. He was just a young soldier, no more than twenty-five or so. He dropped the cup of coffee and it fell to the ground, shattering. I was unphased, and continued my stare. I was scared, too scared to move myself. Never before in my life had I held a weapon, yet tonight I was holding a pilot hostage. "You're gonna fly us back to the mainland, no questions asked" I told him. He looked like he was about to protest, and I was almost sure why. I asked him "Are you able to fly in severe weather conditions?" He stuttered, but told me as clearly as he could," I...I...think so... I mean, well, I did ah, a few times before....yeah, I can..." I felt bad for making him feel so terrible, but still knew it was something that had to be done. Just like the guard, this guy was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Using the gun, I motioned out the door. "Let's go" I said to him. He looked awed. "Now?" he asked. I kept my steely gaze set on him, looking directly into his eyes. "We don't have all day, just get us out of here" I told him. He stood up; arms still raised, and began to walk past me through the door. He climbed into the chopper, and began flight preparations. I jumped into the passenger seats behind him, and reached an arm down to Lark. She grabbed my hand and pulled herself up into the chopper. The glass overhead hatch lowered, and the rotors began to spin. As the rotors began to spin faster, we slowly lifted into the air. It was a little rough because of the wind, but he managed to keep it as steady as he could. The higher we went, the less I could see of the plaza below. Soon, all was dark as we flew into blackness, headed toward land. Book II - Mainland Chapter VIII - Landfall Somewhere during the night, the rain stopped. I didn't sleep for a minute, wary of the trust I could afford to give this pilot. Lark had eventually succumbed to sleep, and now leaning against me, her hand still holding mine slightly. In my other hand was the pistol, now beginning to feel a little more comfortable than it previously had. We were leaving the island, and we were going to tell someone, anyone, in authority about its malevolent intent. It was now roughly 2:00 in the morning. I began to feel drowsy, and slapped myself in the face to ward it off. The pilot cast a nervous glance back at me. "It's okay" I told him. "I'm not going to hurt you. We just had to get away" I told him. He managed to break a smile and told me his name was Phil. Just ten years out of college, and stuck in the military because of student loans, Phil learned to be a pilot in the air force, and was assigned to this island a few years back when they first began the project. He admitted, not many people have flown in and out over the past few years. I began to feel a little more comfortable around him. I was usually quick to trust people, but today I had learned to be a little more cautious. After talking with Phil, I believed that he was uninfected by the virus, and actually was willing to help us get away. He asked me where we wanted to go, and I told him my home was in Boston, but I'd like to get to anywhere I could blow the whistle on this project. We both agreed I'd have to get to Washington somehow, but we'd never make it further than South America in the chopper. There was only enough fuel to get there, none to return, and he was convinced an alert had been issued about his chopper. Once we hit land, we had to travel the rest on foot. Suddenly I realized what he was saying. There would probably be an alert out for Lark and I as well. Who knew what the government would try to spin us as... We couldn't get plane tickets, we had to be careful of who we hitch-hiked with. From now on, we were fugitives. The chopper touched down by a deserted stretch of highway along the Mexican border, next to an empty gas station. As we jumped out, Phil warned us that border police would be there any minute. There's no way a chopper could escape radar, so our best bet would be to hide immediately. He was right. No sooner had he mentioned it, I could see flashing lights on the horizon. "You guys better go, now. I'll handle this. I'll just pretend I got lost in the dark due to a radar malfunction" He said to us. I shook his hand, and thanked him for getting us this far. "Don't mention it" he said. "Now run!" The cars were getting closer, so Lark and I made a mad dash for the building nearby. The front door was locked, so I ran around to the back. This door was also locked, so I took a step back, and then kicked forward as hard as I could. The door budged, and some of the wood splintered, but the door still didn't open. I tried one more time, kicking with all the energy I had, and the door flew open. There was a screen of cobwebs covering part of the door. Most had been torn away as the door flew open, but some remained to catch in our faces as we crossed the threshold. I quickly shut the door behind us, and barricaded it with a scrap piece of plywood that was leaning against the wall. We could barely hear what was going on outside other than the calming of the rotors on the chopper. Taking Lark's in one hand, and using my other hand to feel my way around, I led us to the front of the building. Through a small window no bigger than a picture frame, I could see outside. The cars were just arriving, and Phil was now walking around the front of the chopper. About four special agents got out of the cars, and were walking toward Phil. All was silent except for our breathing, and I managed to barely make out some of the conversation taking place outside. "Shouldn't....here.... Why here? Kids.... with you?" Phil suddenly looked scared, and began to deny something. The agents began to walk closer to him, but he stood his ground. One of the agents took something from their pocket and put it next to Phil's neck, and I heard him scream in pain, then start to wobble on his feet. Two of the agents held him there for a moment, while a third stood speaking to him. It seemed forever, but a few minutes later, Phil stood up straight, and began to walk back to his chopper. As it lifted off the ground, my blood ran cold. "Lark" I whispered. "We have to get out of here, now!" We began to creep away from the window, and as we did, I noticed a change in the sound when we were walking. It seemed hollower than the rest of the ground. I dropped to my knees and felt around, and I was right. There was a handle in the corner of the room. I grabbed the handle and pulled, and a small trapdoor opened. I didn't want to know what was in there, but whatever it was, beat what was outside the building. I went down a small ladder that was in the hole. My feet hit solid ground, and I let go of the ladder. "Lark, I can't see anything! Come down here and shut the trapdoor after you!" I whispered up to her. I could hear feet on the ladder, followed by the light squeak of the trapdoor. There was dead silence, and then suddenly, light. A soft glow came from the lighter Lark had in her pocket. The funny part was I recognized it as mine. A big smile came across my face. "That's my girl" I told her. She smiled, and then led the way across the big storm cellar. We came to the corner of the room, and turned back to the ladder. I turned to look at Lark, and saw the biggest spider of my life perched on her shoulder. My eyes got wide, and my breathing stopped. "Hold still" I said, and before she could even comprehend what was going on, I swatted the furry Tarantula off her shoulder and onto the ground. With a smooth motion, I lifted my foot and stomped it into the ground, hearing it crunch as it flattened. Lark grabbed my arm. "Are you crazy?" She whispered harshly. "They might hear you!" I suddenly realized my mistake, and heard the door upstairs smash open suddenly. They were in the building. A small circle of light, then another... Bit by bit, the small room filled with light from the beams of flashlights. An Agent took a step forward, shining his flashlight slowly around the room. He was silent as death, barely even breathing. The dust in this room had recently been disturbed. His gaze caught the ground at the site of a footprint. Upon closer inspection, a second print was revealed, followed by another. He followed the trail of footprints and came to a panel on the floor. Silently, he motioned the other men over to the trapdoor, and they lifted the door open easily. With a creak, the panel lifted up, and the momentum carried it over onto its back, slamming it against the ground on its hinges. The dust swirled up and around the room, and settled once more. The agent took a step forward, and began to climb down the ladder. I held my breath as I saw the figure of a man coming down the ladder. We had extinguished the flame from the lighter, and were now tucked away in a corner, hopefully hidden from immediate view. When his leg touched the floor, the man backed away from the ladder, only to be replaced by another. When all men were on the ground, they spread out, heading to all the corners. I knew it was over. We'd barely made it away from that island, and now we were going to lose the game in Mexico. The flashlight beam slowly moved across the floor, inching closer to my hiding place with every second. Lark began to shake slightly behind me in fear. I suddenly felt angry. It wasn't fair that it was going to end right now. I vowed not to make it any easier for them, and jumped out of my corner with a scream. Barely being able to see a thing, I hit the first man in front of me, the two of us tumbling across the floor. Taken by surprise, he barely had time to move. I grabbed his head and twisted. The snapping of his neck made me wince. It was so loud, like the sound of walking on a gravel driveway mixed with snapping sticks. By now, the other three men had noticed my unveiling, and moved to subdue me. I rolled away from the dead agent, and knocked over another, catching the bottom of his legs as I rolled. The man hit the ground without so much as having the wind knocked out of him. As I jumped up, he was already rolling over. "Lark! Climb the ladder and don't look back!" I yelled to her. I brought my leg up and swiftly brought it down on the agent's chest. This time the wind got knocked out of him, as well as maybe a rib or two. As I remembered the gun, I reached into the holster I had grabbed at the facility. I briefly caught sight of Lark running to the ladder when I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in the back of my neck. I screamed, then began to feel dizzy, and felt I wanted to sit down. Somewhere far away, Lark screamed my name, but it wasn't my problem. She was too far away. I heard another sound, and felt the two agents let me go. A fog filled the room, and I felt a pair of hands grab my shoulders. I was bodily yanked out of the cellar, up into the main room. I didn't feel the prick of the needle this time, but I saw someone administer the injection. Everything suddenly went dark. In the ports of New York City, a crate is unloaded from a cargo ship in the early hours of the morning. The streets are just starting to pick up traffic for morning rush hour. The crate is marked Fragile, and has a label on it for a washing machine. The dockhand signed the papers for the release of the crate, gave it one more search for security purposes, then deemed it safe. The crate was loaded onto the back of a 1989 Ford F150 pickup truck. The man behind the wheel looked impatient. He had a deadline, and he knew he couldn't miss it. As the streets got busier, he grew more anxious. Finally the hook and straps were removed, and he was cleared to drive away. As he pulled into traffic, he grew more nervous. Beads of sweat dripped down his forehead, which he wiped away with a cloth. As he approached the tunnel, traffic slowed. He took a moment to glance at a book on the passenger seat, memorized what he had to say, then placed the book under the seat. As he approached the entrance to the tunnel, a security guard walked over to the car. "Morning, how you doing today?" The guard asked him. In broken English, the nervous man replied, "Fine thank you, I am drop off washing machine?" He motioned to the crate in the back of the pickup. The security guard looked back at it. "Mind if I take a look?" He asked. The nervous man nodded approval. The security guard opened the tailgate, and hopped into the bed of the truck. Opening the crate, he saw exactly what the man had described. It was a brand new washing machine, probably headed to some family in Jersey. He closed the crate, and hopped back off the truck, closing the tailgate. He nodded to the man in the truck, wished him a nice day, and proceeded to check other cars. The nervous man bowed his head in prayer. It was almost time. I woke up with a splitting headache, but other than that, I felt fine. Then I remembered. I bolted upright in bed. How did I get here? Where was Lark? I reached for my gun, but it was nowhere to be found. I had a million questions, but as my eyes adjusted, I saw Lark sitting next to me in a chair. Standing next to her was a man with a deep tan. "Are you alright Pack?" The man asked me. I nodded yes, and tried to speak, but my throat was dry. I motioned that I needed water, which he had ready at the bedside. As I took a drink, I felt the cool liquid work its way down my throat. My neck ached slightly, and I reached my hand behind to feel it. There was a small bump on my neck, and then I remembered the agents. I threw the glass to the floor, and as it shattered, both Lark and the man jumped. I backed away from both of them as fast as I could. "Who are you? What did you do to me! What did you do with my gun?" I shouted at them both. "Calm down!" The man said to me. "You're fine. Yes, they did inject you with the virus, but I also got to you before it could take effect. Your gun is safely put away for now, as is hers." I was confused. "Who are you?" I asked him again. My name is Javier Gonzales, I do medical research. This is my home, and I hope you're comfortable" he said to me. "What research?" I asked. "How do you know anything about the virus?" He looked at me and told me his story. A few years ago, he was in America working with special doctors. A new medical breakthrough was about to happen, a breakthrough involving microchips. A microchip would be inserted into the bloodstream through injection, which would then attach itself to the human brain. The microchip would filter out the cause of disease, and genetic defects, leaving a person nearly invincible to sickness. "It was meant to benefit mankind, but there was also an undesired side effect. Once the microchip was attached to the brain, a computer with a special wireless signal could be used to control the mind of the host by way of satellite. Some of the other doctors, hoping for more grant money, reported this effect to their superiors. In the end, the government came and took most of our research, claiming it was too dangerous for us to be playing with. I feared this would happen, and managed to sneak much of my research here, to my laboratory. When the government asked questions, they became demanding. I fled the country, and resumed hiding out here. I've spent the past few years working on a reversal of the vaccine in case something like this did happen. Only recently did I hear rumors from the underground that they were still toying with the microchip theory, continuing research at an offshore facility." Lark and I sat there, listening to his every word. He continued, "The word is that they're playing with artificial intelligence to control the minds of the people for them. They've taken our research and turned it into a weapon!" I began to understand the implications of his story. I was a part of this. I suddenly felt sick, and leaned over the bed. Lark turned away, and Javier went to find some towels. Feeling better, I sat back in the bed, now understanding what was going on. Traffic moved slowly, and many people were honking their horns. The nervous man made no such movements. He was on his way now, and he didn't need worry about how long it took to get there anymore. His car moved slowly, and he began his final preparations. From a bag, he took a small canteen of water, and a small book of prayer. Opening the canteen, he poured the water on his face and hands. Then he took the book, and began saying prayer in his native tongue. He was now directly under the Hudson River. When he finished his prayer, he put the book away, bowed his head, and took a small box out of the bag. Inside the box was a remote control with three buttons. He held the remote in his hand and closed his eyes. He pushed and held the first two buttons, and then with his free hand, he pushed the third. He felt nothing more as a white light pulsed from the pickup. The small nuclear weapon built into the washing machine vaporized the truck instantly and immediately pushed hundreds of cars in each direction away from the blast site. A water geyser over two hundred feet tall shot into the air directly over the now destroyed tunnel, sending water cascading over the streets on both sides of the Hudson. In Manhattan, as people ran, they were swept away by the rivers that were rushing through the streets. As the water rose, manhole covers popped off and began sucking the air down into them. The streets were now filled with small whirlpools. A little girl grabbed a tree, trying to hold on in the current. As she held on, a man began floating by, trying as hard as he could to fight the water's pull. Screaming, he grabbed the girl's leg. Using her as an anchor, he pulled himself up her limbs and torso to get to the tree. She was screaming in pain, but all he wanted was to hold on. As he got closer, the girl began to lose her grip. Another man being carried by grabbed her leg to pull himself up as well. Just as the two men got close, the little girl lost her grip on the tree, and all three were torn away by the current. As they got closer to the whirlpool, the two men tried to stay afloat, even pushing the girl's head underwater to try to stay up. As they were sucked into the whirlpool, they were pulled through a grate by the pressure of the air and water, and the water briefly turned red before it was sucked into the abyss. The ground shook, causing buildings to collapse for blocks away from the blast. Skyscrapers swayed, and begun to fall, sending a shower of rock and steel to fall on the streets below, burying cars and people where they stood. Cars near the tunnel were blown away, their drivers incinerated by the incredible heat wave. Gas tanks exploded, and trees burst into flame. Hours later, by the time the water began to recess from midtown Manhattan, the radiation cloud had already begun to rain nuclear fallout. The city continued to burn for seven days. I lie back in my bed, deep underground in the lab of Dr. Javier Gonzales. Still wary from the injection of this great virus into my body, the antidote was constantly fighting the microchip from taking root in my brain. Javier had explained this to me carefully. The second vaccine -the one he had administered to me in the abandoned shop near the border- was less of an antidote, but more of a counter drug. It needed to be administered in three separate doses in order to successfully block the chip from attaching itself to my brain. Once the third dose had been administered on the third day of my treatment, my brain would develop immunity to the virus and the chip, preventing any possible recontamination. Day turned into night, and night back into day, yet I still hadn't seen the sun rise or set once since we were brought here. I owed my life to the man. He had risked his own to save Lark and I from the -presumably infected- border patrol. His radar had picked up the chopper, and he had watched our entire encounter from hiding. From a small black and white television set in his underground lab, we had learned from CNN about a devastating terror attack on New York City, which had leveled much of Manhattan, and a good part of New Jersey's border as well. No organizations stepped forward to claim responsibility for the act, and the US Government denied knowledge of any information that could have stopped the incident. The anchor reporting was clearly troubled by the incident, as her voice wavered when she spoke. The president was about to make an address to the nation. The familiar curtain with the seal of the White House appeared on the screen, and the members of the press stood in respect to the leader of the free world. As the president approached the podium, the room was locked in a somber silence. "My fellow Americans, a terrible tragedy has befallen us, a tragedy that has claimed more lives than any single event since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Early this morning, a terrorist attack, a nuclear device detonated in the Holland Tunnel, created chaos, and caused great devastation to the City of New York." The television screen flashed a panoramic view of what used to be Manhattan Island, a place of great beauty and symbolic of man's reach for the skies, now in ruins. Steel girders and building frames stuck up from the ground like burnt twigs in the mud. They bent and sagged in the foreground against the dark brown sky. Radioactive ash fell across the landscape like a snowstorm, covering the land in a clean gray coat. The former spire of the Empire State Building was now missing from the landscape. The camera changed angles, and the torch of the Statue of Liberty, once a beacon for freedom and hope, was now shown embedded in the ruins of an apartment complex in New Jersey. The president continued his address. "Ladies and gentlemen, this attack came unannounced. This war on terror is far from over, and this event proves that we can't stop now." Applause filled the room, and the president continued. "We won't let them make us afraid! We're going to strike down terrorism wherever it may lurk, right down into our own backyards, here in America. By the end of this week, Congress will be voting on new security measures, guaranteed to help in our fight. The safety of the American people will not go unprotected!" The reporters jumped to their feet, applauding loudly. No questions were asked as the president waved, smiled, and walked away from the podium. The television flashed images of the ruined city once more, then went back to the news anchor. The three of us looked at each other with concern, yet said nothing. We all understood what was coming next. It took almost a full week for me to fully regain my strength. I was now taking shots to prevent the virus twice a week, and it seemed to be working. I was still capable of thinking for myself, which was an obvious plus. Javier was constantly working in his lab on the virus, now that he had a sample of my blood, which contained the newest version of the microchip. For the next few days, Lark and I watched CSPAN almost daily, hoping to gather what we could about the proceedings in the Senate. Finally we found what we were looking for. A Republican senator from Texas introduced a new bill, which would grant power to the President to make split moment decisions that could affect the war on terror's outcome. Attached to the bill, deep within one hundred and thirty pages of provisions, was a small segment relating to a vaccine. It was briefly mentioned in the hearings, then passed by, yet it caught my ears like a gunshot in a church. Congress voted on the bill, and an overwhelming majority supported it. It was passed onto the president a few days later, and in a landmark decision, the bill was signed into law. As his pen lifted from the paper, the house filled with applause by many. Some conservative lawmakers were unhappy with the new law, and many Democrats threatened to appeal the law to the Supreme Court. But for now, the law stood, and the President took quick action. Things began to happen quickly. The president, using his new, unchallenged wartime powers, signed into law the creation of an army. The United States Army, Marines, National Guard and Navy were all to become part of this same army. The New World Army had been born. Chapter IX - New World Army Cornelli sat in darkness. There was no sound around him with the exception of the humming of machinery. The only light in the room came from the darkened computer screens. He had spent the last few weeks this way. He sat motionless in his chair, hands loosely clinging to the armrests. His uniform was neatly pressed, and his medals of service hung neatly from the breast of his coat. The facility was largely empty now. With the tragic elimination of Laci Jenkins and Moura LaClavia, he was left with only Ryun Sintrella to serve his needs. As he sat, he grew tired. "Ryun" He spoke the name softly. The door to the room opened slowly, and Ryun stepped inside. As soft light began to bathe the room, the shadows on his face receded, and the coils of metal cable could now be seen embedded in his eyes. "It's time, Ryun" He said to the young man. Ryun understood. They knew all now, as they could now connect directly to the machines. The steady stream of information entering his mind through the steel cables kept him up to date on events in the world. The Terrorist attack on New York and New Jersey, The President's new powers, the creation of the New World Army. Cornelli rose to his feet. In wake of the situation, he already knew exactly what would happen. He walked to the phone console and waited. It had already begun. Large plots of land had already been claimed by the United States government in the heart of Wyoming. Right on the borders of Weston and Campbell Counties, a base was being constructed. The plans were drawn up, the buildings had been designed. The government had committed billions of dollars to the project to expedite completion. Steel beams were moved in daily, requiring hundreds of trucks to drive in materials. Another bill was signed into law, hurried along by members of the house. The Yellowstone National Park and the Tongass National Forest would now be open to logging. A significant amount of building materials would be needed, and there wasn't enough coming from the current supplies. Slowly, the towers began to rise. This new facility would be the home of the New World Army. As it neared completion, the president himself paid a visit to the site. At the moment, jagged beams stuck up from the foundations, and floor trusses were being hoisted into place by crane. Directly under the towers was a large pit, which extended well past the base of the towers. There were literally hundreds of construction workers milling around in the pit, and there were piles of piping. Some of the groups were pouring cement for foundations. As he walked across the temporary Astroturf path laid by construction workers through the mud, he gazed skyward. Soon this would be a crystal and steel work of art, armed by only the best and most modern weaponry. He was given a personal tour by the head architect, Mr. Arthur Keene, who described in detail the efforts and technology going into the facility. "Mr. President" he said. "I'd like to show you around the place here just to get you aquainted with what we're doing here." The president nodded, and Keene proceeded to lead the president onward. As they approached the base of the towers' foundation, the steel beams rose high overhead. At this point, the president was a little glad he was wearing the hardhat. Directly overhead, dozens of cranes hoisted beams back and forth in a unique gridwork. Keene continued, "Mr. President these are going to be the main towers, where we'll have the main offices and control rooms for your new military. Underground in that giant pit you see over there is where we'll have the main control room as well as the nuclear reactor in the core, and parking for your ground vehicles... you know, tanks, armored cars, things like that." Keene led him on past the base of the towers to a large clearing. "Right now there isn't much to look at here, but we're going to be starting on the military barracks as soon as we top off those towers right there." The empty space where the barracks would be seemed to stretch out for almost a half mile in every direction from the base of the central towers. The entire base would be one large circle it seemed, all smaller buildings and facilities stemming off from the main towers, which were the core of the base. The president, satisfied that everything was progressing well, shook hands with Keene, thanked him for his time, and walked back to the presidential helicopter. From there he'd proceed to the Weston County Airport, which was closed to the public. Air Force One would be waiting for him there, and he should be back at the White House by sundown to enjoy dinner with his wife. These new towers would be the tallest and strongest on Earth. They would be the new towers of Babel, stretching forever into the heavens to protect the people below. He smiled, looked behind him, and then boarded the helicopter. I spent a lot of time watching CNN now. It seemed every day that passed, something worse happened. Special reports were now coming in almost on a regular basis. The latest video feed was bone chilling. It showed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. At the moment, the bridge was filled with cars, and quite a number of scared looking people. At each end of the bridge was a roadblock surrounded by police and SWAT teams. Directly in the center of the bridge were two large rental trucks. At each end of the bridge was a sixteen wheeler, blocking all lanes of traffic. As the drivers pulled them onto the bridge, they turned the wheel hard, Packknifing the trucks, and overturning them on their sides. At the moment, there were quite possibly around a thousand people trapped on that bridge by any estimates. What happened next was a blur. First the doors opened of the trucks to the middle, and a group of men came storming out. They all had semiautomatic weapons, and began firing them in the air. This caused many people to get out of their cars and begin running away from the men. A man with a large banner emerged from the back of one of the trucks, and all men took hold of it to open it wide. When it was fully exposed, a symbol in Arabic could be seen. The men all began to chant loudly. Suddenly both trucks in the center of the bridge exploded, sending shrapnel everywhere. The bridge began to shake violently on its supports, and the suspension cables twisted. As people ran from the center, the sixteen wheeler trucks at either end of the bridge also exploded, ripping the bridge away from the coast. As people screamed, the bridge groaned loudly, drowning out the screams. As the bridge twisted, more explosives at the supports of the bridge began to go off. One by one, the legs of the bridge began to crumble. Half of the bridge twisted to the left, the other half twisted to the right. In the center, where the first trucks had exploded, the bridge snapped in half. To onlookers, it took forever, but the Golden Gate Bridge slowly fell apart. Girders snapped and bent, and the roadway fell piece by piece into the water, taking countless numbers of people with it. The phone rang in the Oval Office. President Thomas Burns sat at his desk, head down on his folded arms. The news was traveling across the world now of the latest terrorist attack. Thoughts raced through his head. There had been absolutely no warning from intelligence briefs. Just like the first attack, this was completely under the radar. Attacks couldn't keep happening like this. No known organization would step forward to take credibility for the attacks, and no sovereign nation would admit knowledge of the plans. Burns was beginning to grow angry. These were his people, the people who elected him to serve them, and here already were two attacks that claimed thousands each. He had turned off the television, the news no longer interested him. Replays of the incident played twenty-four hours a day, and it was bound to eventually drive a man insane. The door to his office opened, and his panel of advisors began to file in. A top Advisor from the Pentagon stepped to the front of the pack to address him. He was introduced by an advisor as Major Howard Strauss. Burns sat quietly at his desk and listened as Strauss explained things to him. "Mr. President, recently this nation has been attacked twice, as we all know. Both attacks were planned well, and slipped below our intelligence radar. Before I offer my suggestion, I'd like to ask what you suggest we do." Burns sat there for a moment, silent, and then shrugged his shoulders. "Give me some good news. What have you got for us, Major?" Strauss' unchanging face showed no emotion whatsoever. Burns tried to imagine that possibly it had to do with a nerve dysfunction in his face which didn't allow him to smile, but he knew better. Nobody was in a smiling mood at the moment, not even to lift the mood. "Mr. President, as we know, intelligence has failed us twice now. After discussing options with your advisors and the cabinet, we've come to a final conclusion that we'd like to present to you." The president nodded and told him to go on. Strauss continued, "Mr. President, in the late 1980's a few of us at Military Command began to imagine a scenario like this. With the end of the Iran Contra nearly a decade ago, political unrest was growing in the Middle East. We predicted that terrorists might penetrate our coasts and security in the near future, and put forth a provision to a security bill that allowed funding for a special project." Burns had never heard of a special project attached to a bill for security. In the years he had served in the senate, he remembered voting for almost all national security bills, and this description wasn't in any of them. Curious, he asked Strauss to tell him more. "Well as I said, we imagined a breach of homeland security even way back then, so we asked congress to do something about it, and they did. With the funding of $6.4 billion per year, we began work on a new military unit of Artificial Intelligence. This system finally began working effectively during the past year. Its lacking field testing, but we believe that it can clean up the intelligence faults and military problems that have plagued this nation for Decades. Project DANAE..." He was cut off by the president's words. "Major Strauss, what exactly would this mean for our nation's military...Project DANAE? Why didn't you tell us about this before?" Strauss answered, "Sir, DANAE stands for 'Defense for American Nationality and Allied Embassies.' It's a self-aware system that will unite all of our military together to be a single, flawless machine. It uses satellites to focus around the world to find credible threats to our nation, and automatically dispatches troops to defuse the situation. In a sense, it's a global peacekeeper." President Burns paused to think for a moment. He hated to resort to broad changes such as this, but in this situation, a unified military would help. The New World Army was almost finishing the planning stages, and the base was almost finished. It was all up to him now, and nobody could help him make this decision. "I need time to think about this" He said. Strauss nodded, and ordered the room be cleared. As they filed out the door, President Burns once again rested his head in his arms. In Weston County, Wyoming, The military complex was heavily into construction. Babel, as it was now called, was the country's number one defense priority. Work continued on the towers well into the night. The men were paid well, and twenty-four hour shifts were common. White searchlights bathed the entire compound in bright light. Spanning the vast circular compound were almost a thousand small buildings, now the new military barracks. The rows of barracks stretched out almost a mile in each direction around the entire base where only trees and streams had existed previously. The buildings closest to the central towers were ten stories high, and they decreased by one level at intervals until they reached the perimeter, where they were two stories high. Each multilevel building was capable of housing numerous soldiers. The biggest buildings could house upward of six hundred men each, where the smallest buildings could house fifty. The impressive total number of empty beds would mean five hundred thousand soldiers could stay on duty at any given time. The current number of armed forces available in the United States weren't nearly enough to occupy all bases around the world and this new superbase all at once. The construction crews were incredibly impressed by this new wonder of the world, but were limited to what they knew based on classified information restrictions. Glinting white light off the crystal panels, cranes hoisted the outer shell onto the towers, panel by panel. It was a hot day, and the dust flew in all directions each time you took a step. In this small town of El Cambio, about five miles from the Mexican-American border, life was quaint. Lark and I were finally able to go outside for the first time in almost three weeks. The sun hurt my eyes at first, and I couldn't see. As I adjusted to the light, a wave of hope hit me. Maybe things wouldn't be as bad as they seemed after all. As I looked around the tiny marketplace, families bustled back and forth, buying their groceries just as any family would. A little old man bought an apple from one stand, wiped it on his dusty shirt, and took a bite. A little girl clutching a small doll walked down the dirt road, her mother holding one hand, a naked doll clutched in the other. Just as the two reached the marketplace, a wavy black caravan appeared on the horizon. As they grew closer, the image stopped being so hazy, and we could see it was actually a long line of black vehicles. I stood there staring for a moment, standing alone in the sun on the edge of a dusty marketplace in a little Mexican town. The black cars approached, they were less than a mile away. My blood ran cold, and I didn't know why. "Lark!" I called to her. She turned away from the stands and looked back at me, still smiling. "Come on! We have to go right now!" Her smile faded as she saw the look on my face. She ran toward me, and I grabbed her hand. We both began running back toward Javier's house, which was almost a quarter-mile down the road away from the approaching cars. Not willing to stop running, we ran the whole distance, ignoring the pain in our legs, the burning in our lungs, and the sweat pouring down our faces. We didn't stop until we reached the house. I threw open the door and called his name. "Javier! Where are you?" He was nowhere to be seen. I ran through the house, searching every room. Without finding him anywhere, I began to panic. I ran to the back of the house and threw open the door. I yelled his name a few more times, hoping he could hear me. Suddenly A cement panel began to rise up from the patio in his backyard. Underneath the panel was a narrow elevator, capable only of taking one person up or down at a time. Javier Jumped out before it stopped rising. "Hurry! Prisa! Get in!" he yelled to us. I made Lark get in first. Javier pushed a button, and the elevator disappeared into the ground. Within seconds, it began to rise again, empty this time. Javier pushed me into it, and pushed the same button. I began lowering into the ground, back into the darkness below. Suddenly the darkness became light, and I saw Lark standing in the middle of the room around me. I stepped off the elevator platform, and suddenly it rose again. The next time it came down, Javier was on it. He pushed a few buttons on a console in the elevator, and when it stopped, it didn't rise again. When he stepped off, he walked around the side and pushed a deadbolt lever into the side. "It keeps the elevator from rising if the command isn't serious" he explained to us. "Javier" I said. "Where are we?" He held his hand up as if to show me around. "You're in the same place you've always been. This is the emergency entrance to my lab." He seemed somewhat flustered. As he nervously locked down the elevator and began to walk from the room, I asked him what was wrong. "It's finally happened" He said to us. "What happened?" Lark asked. Javier led us into the den. His vast underground lab was truly impressive. It had everything a typical home would have -Furniture, walls, carpet, ceilings- to make a person feel most comfortable, yet it also had an extensive research lab for conducting experiments. Due largely to government grants from past administrations, he was able to continue his work, unbeknownst to the current United States government. To them, he had disappeared. To him, they had turned their back on respectable science. "I've spent years stockpiling food and water for a situation like this. We'll be safe as long as we need to be" He said as he led us through the maze of his lab. Lark and I were still confused, and then we saw the answer. The television was playing, and at the bottom of the screen, a little red ticker tape broadcast a message from the government. "Due to pending biochemical terrorism attack, North and Central American citizens are required to be vaccinated for their own protection. See nearest medical facility immediately." My already pale face went even whiter. Javier held up the remote control, and switched channels. The same red ticker flashed by on this station. He changed the channel again, and again, moving up the channels one by one. On each channel, the little red tape flowed slowly across the bottom of the screen. I assumed the same message was being relayed all across the US and Canada. Javier kept switching the channels until suddenly the same feed occupied every station. A press release was beginning to take place. The president was standing at a podium, and seated on each side was the Prime Minister of Canada, and the Mexican president. The US president spoke to the world in a grim voice. "My fellow citizens of the world, the threat of terrorism has reached astounding levels. We've received credible threats to Canada, Mexico, and our United States, of a pending bioterrorism attack. After discussing the situation with the leaders of the three nations, we've decided it's in the best interests of our people that we all be immunized against these threats. Enough vaccine is being developed, and is being dispatched to all local governments as we speak. It is our goal to have the entire population of these countries defended against an attack by the end of the week. I'm urging our citizens to postpone any plans and to take care of yourself and your families as soon as possible. Thank you." As he walked away from the podium, there was no applause, only a worried murmur. I stood staring at the television momentarily, trying to take it all in. Javier spoke first. "There is no bioterrorism threat" He said to us. "It's the virus, isn't it?" Lark asked. Javier nodded. "It's happening. They're spreading the great virus around the world, starting with the Americas. Once it's started, there may be no stopping it." I began to sway back and forth, and suddenly dropped my head between my knees. I vomited, violently. For almost a full minute, I couldn't stop, my body shaking in convulsions. Lark and Javier both pulled me down to the floor, and Javier put a stick between my teeth. I began to lose consciousness. The last thing I saw was Javier with a syringe in hand. President Burns walked away from the podium. He'd let his press secretary answer the questions for the day. He walked behind the curtain into the VIP room of the press hall. As he slumped into a chair, he put his hand over his eyes. The vaccine had only been announced to him in a briefing less than two days ago. He really believed it was best for the people to be ready, but he was a little wary of the vaccine. He knew very little about it, yet his top military scientists claimed it was the most effective tool against bioterrorism they had. The research done on the Island Facility had yielded a discovery capable of wiping out both the bioterrorism threat, and uniting the American military into a powerful, effective machine. The decisions were being made so fast, it was blinding to him. It was time to make the phone call. Burns reached over and grabbed the handset, punched a three digit number, and was connected to a secretary at the Pentagon. "Operator? Put me through to Cornelli" He said through the phone line. He heard a click, followed by a dialing sound, and he heard the familiar ringing. At the other end, the phone picked up. "Hello Mr. President. I've been expecting your call." Chapter X - Sundown As Cornelli hung up the phone, a smile spread across his face. He had waited patiently for the call, he knew they would call. For two weeks, he hadn't moved from his seat. He now could control his body like a machine. He was enlightened now, no longer needed to be fed by organic material. Cables and tubes connected to various parts of his body controlled his intake of nutrients and excretion output. He was one with the machine now. As he put the receiver down, he stood for the first time in weeks. His muscles didn't ache, because they no longer needed Amino Acids for energy. His body was fueled by the machines. As he stood, the cables detached and coiled back to the computers. He walked over to the large screen in the control room. As he expected, the screen lit up, and DANAE appeared. "Hello DANAE" He said to her. "Hello sir, is it time to work?" She asked him. "Yes, begin the upload of the NWA file into your memory databank. You'll find it in the 'Code' file, the number key is R1027" He said. DANAE's eyes closed, and a humming could be heard. When the humming stopped, her eyes opened. "A duplicate copy of my program has been made. A hard drive containing the decoy will be ejected now" She said, and as she promised, a green light flashed on the console, and a cube nearly as big as a basketball stuck out from the system. Cornelli walked over and took the hard drive, carefully placing it in a carrying case. His next destination was the headquarters of the New World Army, where he was the newly appointed head of the military. As he walked down the hall, DANAE smiled, and shut down. The R1027 file told her all she needed to know. She had orders from Cornelli, and his orders would be carried out. The television sets in storefronts around the world were all tuned to the same Presidential Address. The President didn't step to the podium like usual, but rather his secretary of defense, General Chester Clarke passed him, and took the stand in his place. The crowd and reporters took their seats, and sat in silence. As the General took the stand, he spoke to the crowd. "Ladies and gentleman, we'd just like to take a few moments to recognize the one month anniversary of the tragedy in New York, and pray for those lost in San Francisco as well." Silence crossed the room like a wave in the sea. If anyone dared to whisper, it would be heard by all in this deafening silence. He continued, "Now what we'd like to announce here is that the New World Army legislation that was passed one month ago is now coming together. The entire base has been completed in less time than it would take to build a simple suburban home, and is ready for occupation. The first units of Army, National Guard, and Marines will be sent to their new home within the week. Other units will be brought in over the course of the next month. We're also working on new methods of recruiting soldiers for our war on terror." As the General spoke, the attention of the crowd never faltered. Some paused to take notes, but immediately returned their gaze almost lovingly to the authorative figure. Before Clarke could continue speaking, another man who was seated to his left began to rise to his feet. The man was dressed in full military uniform, and was decorated with dozens of medals. Clarke motioned his hand over to the man, and the cameras immediately turned their attention to him. "I'd like to take a moment to introduce General Cornelli, who was recently appointed to lead the New World Army. Aside from his work in the Cold War, Cornelli has been in charge of a recent project by our government in biodefense, which is turning out to be a very successful program." As applause filled the room, Cornelli began to grin. He began to approach the stand, and a smiling Clarke backed away, clapping his hands together along with the crowd to show his support. Cornelli stepped up the microphone, still grinning. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, I must say this is an honor. I vow to serve you to beyond my abilities, and to take this country in a different direction than we've been headed. For decades, we've been the leaders of the world, hospitable to countries less fortunate than ours, supplying aid, rebuilding their war ravaged nations... How have we been repaid? Thousands of our citizens murdered, people of the world thumbing their noses at us the whole time. Governments may offer their sympathy, but behind closed doors, they're giving money to the same murderers for their tasks. Today we will prove to the world that terror is not the way to achieve world peace, and we will make America a safe place to live once more!" As Cornelli spoke, the crowd began to cheer. The cheering grew louder and louder, causing Cornelli to begin to shout. By the end of his speech, the crowd was in a frenzy, and drops of spittle were flying from the recently-appointed General's mouth with his powerful words. Suddenly, a montage of photographs appeared on the wall behind him. Each photograph had a name underneath it. In big bold letters across the top were the words "Most Wanted Terrorists." The montage excluded no nationality. Among them were blacks, whites, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, Indians, and most frightening of all, Americans. The television networks took the liberty of flashing each picture on the screens of every television set across the world. Right in the middle of the presentation was a photo of Javier Gonzales, James Pack, and Lark Ryan. The photographs kept changing, and the world continued to see each face. In the press room, the crowd was cheering in an endless pep-rally in favor of war. The world was about to change. It had begun. As men and women alike began to arrive at Babel, the barracks began to fill. One by one, soldiers began to fill the base of the New World Army. New legislation was adopted in the house and senate, and signed into law by the President. In American prisons, inmates were given an exchange option. In lieu of time in prison, they would be able to join the new army to fulfill their debt to society. Inmates with shorter sentences would have the option to serve their sentences out in the basic training unit at Babel. Slowly, the prisons began to empty, most inmates choosing the option of the New World Army. They were promised fresh air, plenty of exercise, better food, and a larger space to come and go as they please. As each new soldier entered the facility, they were given a medical examination, as well as a vaccine which promised a stronger immune system. As the army grew in numbers, the incinerators began to spew black smoke. Fuels were burned in the great fires to supply power. Rather than clean, expensive electricity, a new variation of fossil fuel was burned. Protesters began picketing outside Washington, their cries ignored. The machine had started, and it couldn't be stopped. June 2010 Deep underground, the lead shield around Javier's lab provided both protection from satellite detection, and also heat seeking technology. For now, we were safe here, hidden from the world around us, but that probably wouldn't hold long. As the weeks wore on, Lark became increasingly depressed. In the past 45 days, we had only seen the sun once, and it was only briefly. She spent more time hidden away in her room, shut in darkness. Even on antidepressants Javier had been giving her, she still seemed shut away. As I brought her dinner one night, she took my hand, and drew me close. As I leaned in, she kissed me on the mouth, and smiled. "What was that for?" I asked. She just kept smiling and said "Even though we're stuck down here, hiding from what's going on up there, I still keep just the slightest bit of hope that everything's really fine, and we're just imagining this whole thing." I felt a little uncomfortable when she said this. She continued, "I'm scared, Pack. I don't want to be here anymore. I want to go back up, see the sky. Why are they after us?" In truth, even I wasn't sure. Maybe they figured we knew too much, but it still wouldn't explain how we were allowed to make the most wanted list. This was still a country about freedom, wasn't it? I was beginning to have my doubts. I had almost zoned out completely, lost in my thoughts, when I remembered Lark had asked me a question. "I'm not really sure." I told her, echoing the thoughts which had previously run through my own head. "Maybe they think we know too much." The words I had just heard, suddenly coming out of my mouth. Lark resumed crying again, and as I comforted her, I began to think again. It's possible that we did know too much. True, most of DANAE had been completed before we had even arrived, but we did witness the gas tests. Those weren't dreams, although they seemed like nightmares. Occasionally while I slept, I would toss and turn. In my head I could still see those little rooms slowly fill up with the gas, only to clear out with either death or psychological abnormalities. The government was playing God, and they didn't want word to get out about it. I suddenly became very angry. This was my life they were fucking up, wasn't it? I wanted to find every single bastard who had a hand in this, and I wanted him to sit in one of those chambers to be gassed. Then I wanted him to sit down here in this little rat hole in the middle of the damned desert for months on end without any contact with the outside world. Maybe they would enjoy that. I suddenly slammed my fist down on the table she was sitting on, causing her to jump up, and a quick gasp from her mouth. "I'm tired of this too" I said to her, still staring down at where my fist hit the wood. It wasn't a very strong desk, and some of the wood had splintered slightly under the force of my anger. A dull throb was already beginning in my fingers, but I barely noticed it. Lark looked surprised and confused when I suddenly walked away, leaving her sitting there on the tabletop. As I passed into Javier's lab, noise from the television began to drown out the empty sound that had been filling the air. Word from the news now showed that the New World Army was coming together, and the new headquarters for the revolutionary project was completed. I looked up to see glistening crystal and concrete on the television screen. It was the dream project of an architect, high peaks on two massive crystal towers. This was the first I had seen of the headquarters, but apparently images had been showing all day. In the bottom corner of the screen, a marquee was scrolling information about the new complex. It was named Babel, after the Christian religion's fabled Tower of Babel, the tower built to reach the heavens, symbolizing man's unity and greatness. These new towers of Babel would be the symbol of man's new great age, as all of men came together to root out the causes of evil and strike them down. Some of the photographs were taken during the day, others at night. At night, the crystal towers glowed an eerie green and blue, lit from the inside. From the ground all the way to the top floors, that light was all you could see. At the top of each tower were searchlights, pointed down in every direction. There was no hiding from those searchlights; they illuminated the ground for miles in every direction. It was incredible, yet frightening at the same time. I could only wonder how it looked in person. Suddenly I remembered what I was here for. Javier was sitting in a chair; he had a full glass in one hand, and a bottle of white zinfandel in the other. "I just needed a little something to help me relax" he said to me, half smiling. I grabbed a glass from the open cupboard from which Javier had clearly gotten his own. As I held my glass out, he filled it with the sweet, calming liquid. "Javier" I said to him. "I have an idea, but I need your help." He looked up at me, one eyebrow raised. His once dark red face was now fading to an off-white. It had been months since he had seen the sun, and his body was showing it. "What's on your mind?" He asked, genuinely interested. As I took the first sip of my drink, my mind was still racing. "How much of the antivirus could you possibly make down here?" He shrugged his shoulders. After all, I'd been taking the antivirus myself now regularly since he had found us that night with the government agents at the border. "I'd say we have enough supplies, and could make enough to keep about twenty men free of symptoms for maybe two years" He answered. I thought about it for a minute. Since the antivirus had to be administered twice a week to keep the microchips from locking onto key brain lobes, there really wasn't much bending to the rules that could be done without serious consequence. It was possible that with more research, a permanent solution could be found. I prayed that we wouldn't need the full two years to try and stop what was about to spread, because what I was about to suggest was a little unorthodox. "Javier I suggest we start curing people and bringing them down here. We need to resist the New World Army." I didn't need to say anymore, because Javier knew exactly what I meant. July 2010 By early July, it had begun to take root in American Society. True, the crime rate was dropping. People just weren't as angry as they used to be. However, there was less and less resistance as time went on. State by state, the New World Army cleansed society, administering the vaccine, spreading the Great Virus. It just didn't seem as important for people to know what was going on, life was fine living in a daze. The first state to completely fall was Rhode Island, which is the smallest state in the North American Continent. It began in Providence, the soldiers rolled into town early one morning. As they began to tend to the lines waiting to be vaccinated, there was some already beginning to protest. Small groups of protesters stood around medical buildings, some carrying signs, some lying in the roadways. One clever woman had a stuffed dummy of Uncle Sam with a noose around his neck and a hypodermic needle in his arm. As the lines grew shorter, the protesters grew louder. The police tending the scene called for backups, and not much later, extra squad cars arrived and began apprehending the protesters. The woman carrying the Uncle Sam doll began shouting slurs at the police. "What about free speech! You pigs can't just lock us away for expressing our opinions!" As she was placed into the cop car, she yelled louder. Her yells were cut short as the door was slammed shut, and there was silence once again. As the cars drove away, the line grew shorter without any interference. One by one, all the major cities were vaccinated. Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Newport... By the end of the first week, there were minimal people left who had not been vaccinated. By now, they began to notice something wasn't right. Those left went into hiding. It wasn't safe to be above ground anymore. The virus changed you, and if you knew what was good for you, you'd hide. By the end of July, the streets were empty. Virtually all of the teenage and twenty- something citizens had left for Babel, and then sent off to further the vaccinations. The elders and the youth of civilization remained behind to tend the cities. If an outsider were to walk into the center of town in the middle of the afternoon, he'd almost think the place was abandoned. The telltale signs of abandonment were missing however, the cities and towns were spotless. The landscaping and roadways were all perfectly edged; there wasn't a single weed in sight, no matter where you looked. Every house lining every street was painted the same blue and green color. It was almost a ghost town, but there was an eerie presence felt at all times. When the sun went down, the people came out. They came out in droves, all at exactly the same time. They came out with their rakes, hoes and brooms, and every one of them began to clean, began to paint, began to garden. Each building was bathed in that strange blue and green glow that illuminated Babel each night. Streetlights no longer came on, because it was almost as bright as day due to the illumination. As the clock hit exactly midnight each night, every person of every age and size would stop what they were doing and look west, in the direction of the towers of Babel. They would stare for exactly five minutes and twenty one seconds without moving, without even blinking. Then as soon as it began, it ended, and the people went back to tending their grounds. By the time the sun poked its first rays of light over the horizon, the streets were bare once again, spotless, ready for nobody to walk them. In Bangor, Maine, P&R Amusements rolled into town, traveling the state for the summer as they had done for years. They set up just as they'd always done the rides with new coats of paint and greased gears, the popcorn and cotton candy stands, the food tents and the games. On opening day, not a single person was there to mark the occasion, even in the late summer heat on a beautifully sunny day. The puzzled company couldn't explain where the crowds were, let alone the cars on the street. While they were waiting for the crowds of hundreds they've seen every year, they broke out a few rounds of beers and drank happily through the afternoon. As dusk approached, a single small child entered the fairgrounds, bought a ticket, and stood in line at the swings, a line one child long. The operator stood up, put down his beer, and walked over to the ride. "Where's your mommy?" He asked the girl, but she didn't respond. Shrugging, he unchained the entrance and she boarded a swing. As the gears spun to life for the first time that day, the ride begun to spin. When the ride operator looked into the girl's eyes, his blood ran cold. The lights from the ride reflected off two pools of ink, making her eyes appear to be glowing red. As the ride spun, she stared at him, almost never losing his gaze. The beer he had picked back up now dropped to the pavement, shattering into a million pieces, the precious ale spilling in every direction. Behind the ride, three blocks down Main Street, hundreds of children marched toward the fair in orderly fashion. It was like a sea of ants walking toward carelessly dropped food. As they approached, beads of sweat dripped down his face. They were coming. Chapter XI - The Folly of Man In the Oval Office, Thomas Burns sat at his desk. He was proud of himself. Under his leadership, things had taken a turn for the better. Crime was beginning to drop off. Washington was still the same as usual, just a lot less bustling, which seemed strange. Especially since this was the height of tourist season. The temperature that day was roughly one hundred and five degrees, which was quite hot in a place with little shade. The humidity probably wasn't helping either. He wondered why the streets were so empty. For some reason, he still felt out of the loop, but didn't suspect any problems. After all, if something was wrong, wouldn't he have been notified? He had held off on getting his vaccination, but this was a personal choice. Vaccination was in the best interests of his constituents. Thomas was now beaming with pride. He was the one uniting the world. This was a new era, the end of evil on earth. He wasn't sure why, but it was happening. There hadn't been a single act of terror anywhere in the world in months. The vaccine worked so well in the American continents that world leaders everywhere adopted it to fight unrest of their people. It was almost funny. If you get a few religious hacks to say something's right, the rest of the world follows in a frenzy. Thomas was a terribly religious person. In most cases, he followed his faith to the word. In other cases, it was the religion itself that needed a little urging. He thought back to a little book he had read in high school, and it made him feel a little funny. Aldus Huxley's "Brave New World" was somewhat troubling to many, but to Thomas it represented unity. It was peace without oppression. Nobody felt their rights were being violated, and that's what he wanted to do. Until the rise of terrorism had peaked, Thomas Burns had tried to be fair, and to keep power balanced. Now, Thomas was beginning to enjoy his power. It wasn't arrogant of him, he told himself. He was just doing the people a service. All these thoughts crossed his mind as he sat at his desk. He smiled. He kicked off his shoes, and swung his legs up onto the desk, and leaned back in his chair, placing his hands behind his head. His eyes wandered up to the ceiling. This wasn't too bad. As he began to drift into a peaceful sleep, the door burst open. Throngs of officials streamed into his office, led by a single tall man. General Toretelli stopped just before he got to Burns' desk. Slapping a pile of papers down in front of the president, Cornelli spoke. "Mr. President, we seem to have a problem." In the small town of Richardson, Rhode Island, there stood a small house on Kennedy Ave. Nothing special, but the house was a place called home for Jefferson Smalls. For the past fifteen years of his life, he had owned the red split level on Kennedy, and it had suited him well. At one point, he had a wife and two kids. Due to a painful divorce five years ago, he now lived alone. Occasionally, if he sat in the backyard -a bottle of Pack Daniels in one hand, a cigarette in the other- he swears he can still feel the presence of his sons, ages two and three, running around the yard, playing on the tire swing he had hung himself from a tree in the center of the yard. He had dreamed of one day having a swimming pool for his kids, and planned on taking the tree down to make room. When his wife left him, his dreams left with her. When she and his two sons died in a car crash later that same year, the will to live had gone out of him. Now, here he was, ten years later, still sitting alone and drinking himself to sleep. At one point, Jefferson had been a prominent computer programmer, climbing the ranks at the John Hancock computer firm. John Hancock was a contract company -usually hired by other rich corporations- that worked with memory software. If there was a financier with enough money, Hancock would do whatever they wanted. When Jefferson had left the company, they were digging deep into a special project by the US Government. Even Jefferson had been aware of what they were contracted to do, but by a strict order of classification, he had remained silent. He still remembers his last day employed. As he sits back in his chair, drink in hand as usual, he drifts away, the reality on front of his face fading into the reality of the past. He now carries a stack of documents into the office of Peter Brown, who was the head of Technical Designs. As he carefully sets the pile on Brown's desk, a tear drips from his eye and lands on the top paper. The ink blurred slightly where the droplet had landed, and it dries quickly. Using his now free hand, Jefferson quickly wipes his eye, prepared to give his final notice. Before he can speak, Brown speaks first. "Jeff, how long have you worked for this company?" Caught off guard, Jefferson, who hates being called Jeff, but put up with it anyway, responded "I've been here since 1990, almost the beginning." It was true, John Hancock, Inc first formed in the family room of one man. It also came as no surprise to Jefferson that the family room belonged to Peter Brown. Brown was a genius, even though he didn't like to let on. He looked just like you'd expect any guy to look. Five foot eleven, wavy brown hair, wore polo shirts to work, khaki tennis shorts in the summer, khaki pants in the winter. Underneath the chiseled looks and cool dress was a brain capable of solving any math equation thrown at it. Peter Brown may not have looked it, but he possibly could have been one of the smartest men in America. Jefferson respected Peter, and Peter respected Jefferson. Not that Jefferson wasn't smart either; he'd won plenty of awards for his work at John Hancock, Inc. And it was also true that he had more seniority than almost anyone in the company under Peter Brown. He wasn't unhappy with his job, he just had other plans. Tonight when he went home, he was going to finally stand on that chair, put his head in the noose he'd had hanging from an exposed rafter in his garage, and finally get the nerve to jump. He couldn't tell Peter that, though. Instead, he'd crafted a smooth alibi of planning a move, a change in career. Anything other than the awful truth. Peter nodded at Jefferson's answer, and looked under his desk. "Jeff, you know you're one of the few people I can trust around here, right?" Jefferson nodded yes. Peter continued, "Recently we've been doing some work, top secret. It's big stuff, and I'm just not sure I'm comfortable with what we're doing. I want to know what you think about it, because if you're alright with it, I need you to help me make sure this stuff gets done." Jefferson didn't want to hear these words, it was trap he was walking into, but he was also slightly interested in what Brown had to say. He figured he should at least find out what it was before he broke the news to him about his resignation. "Show me what you've got Brown, and I'll tell you what I think" He said to Peter. Brown smiled, and opened the drawer next to his desk. He pulled out a packet of documents, probably a quarter inch thick. He tossed it onto the desktop in front of Jefferson's hands. It was a pretty flashy book, obviously the fruits of a talented Graphic Designer. Its title read "Operation Secure: A Safer World," and as he read through it, he was almost lost in what the plan was. It started out with images of soldiers, of war. I saw images of caskets draped in flags, and rifles stuck in the ground with a helmet resting on the butt. As I read the dialogue about the casualties of war, the next few pages changed the tone of the publication. A new security system for the US Military. The plans for Artificial Intelligence, a system to coordinate worldwide efforts to fight terrorism. It was quite interesting, but mostly from a technical point of view. He had his doubts as to if a system like this could even be created. He looked up from the glossy pages, his intent to express his doubts to Peter. Brown beat Jefferson to the punch yet again, tapping his nose. "Jeff, we've already gotten started on this project, and I'd have to say it's coming along really nicely. We've been given unlimited funding, and we're looking to actually achieve the goal of Artificial intelligence within the next few years." Jefferson was slightly taken aback. He was amazed that it was even remotely possible to create Artificial Intelligence. After all, we still weren't able to be sure of how the human brain works exactly. How would we be able to create a thinking machine, a machine capable of doing the thinking for us? Jefferson shook his head back and forth. "Peter I don't think I could be part of this sort of thing without having some questions of ethics in my head for the rest of my life. Not only is it dangerous, but it's frightening. You're assisting in creating a new mind that could easily be used against us, and you're actually excited about it." Peter cast a concerned look in Jefferson's direction. "Jeff, are you sure you don't want to have anything to do with this? It could really look good on your record if your name was attached to the project." Jefferson's thoughts returned to the noose at home in his garage. "Peter, I came in here to do something, and I seriously have to do it." Jefferson tossed the packet back to peter, and began to lean back on his heels. This was a habit he had when he was nervous. "Peter, I'm not happy with the direction my life is going, and I think it's time for me to make a few changes." He hung his head before saying "I'm offering my official resignation, and I hope you'll take it." Peter was shocked, but understood. "Jeff, I know you've had some hard times lately, I'm really sorry about your wi... your ex-wife and your kids, but I also know that you need to move on. If this is what you have to do, I won't stand in your way." He stood up and extended his hand to Jefferson. Jefferson took Peter's hand, shook it, and left the office. At his desk, he collected his personal belongings, including pictures of his ex-wife and kids. Pausing for a moment, he stopped to think. He took a blank CD, and tapped into the office server. He punched up the specifics about the artificial intelligence program. Peter was right, everything was there. He saw hundreds of files, each file containing thousands of lines of code. Putting the CD in the drive, he clicked "Backup Files," and the CD began to record. If anything was going to happen, he wanted a copy of this software. He wasn't sure why, especially since his plans were already set. Nevertheless, he took the finished CD and placed it in a heavy-duty protective tin case, added it to his belongings, and went home. That night, he stepped up onto the chair in his garage, and slipped the noose over his head. He gave the rope a hard tug to make sure it wouldn't tear loose from the rafters, and he was satisfied that it would hold his weight. He stood there for almost ten minutes, eyes closed, waiting. Finally he began to cry. It wasn't a repeat of the lonely tears in Peter's office that morning, but an all out bawling, giant sobs wracking his body. He slipped the noose off his neck, stepped down onto the floor, and went inside to get another drink. With this, he wakes up, and it's the present again. He finds that he's spilled what was left of his drink, and is ashamed that this is how his life has become. It's growing dark now, and lately things had been getting strange around here at night. From the back porch, he hears the sound of marching. Confused, he stands up, staggering slightly, and walks through the house to the front window. His eyes grow wide as he sees them, marching silently down the street. From his street, they meet up with more from the surrounding streets. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. All of them walking downtown from the suburbs. Their eyes glow in the dusk of the night, and all he hears is the stomping of their feet on the pavement. Jefferson pulls the shades together quickly, and turns from the window, his hands clenched together. What were they doing? As Thomas Burns stood before the men now standing in his office, he began to perspire. The nature of their visit had a tainted feeling to it. Cornelli was the only one to speak. "I'm sorry Tom, but there's a problem. You seem to be giving yourself too much credit for the work we've done, and now we simply don't need you anymore." Burns suddenly felt a cold wave pass through him. Had Cornelli really just said what he thought he'd said? "Excuse me?" He asked. Cornelli answered, "We don't need you anymore. We have everything under control without you, and things are going better than expected. We're relieving you from duty, as well as the other branches of government. The military is taking over now." Tom began to get mad. "Excuse me, General, but you don't have the authority to do that. This country was based on the idea of Democracy! It was never meant to be a dictatorship, that's what makes America so great. I'm sorry, but you have no power over me, and I have no choice but to relieve you of your duties, because I have the power to do that." Tom felt satisfied with his decision. It was his power to relieve military commanders of their duties, and he wasn't going to be bargained with. The door to his office opened. In marched a dozen or so soldiers, heavily armed. Cornelli began to smirk. "I didn't think you'd go quietly, and yes, I do have the power to relieve you now, and I will." He glanced toward the soldiers nearest him. "Arrest him. He's standing in the way of Operation Secure." The soldiers began to move in on Burns. He now became frightened. "Operation Secure? What the hell? I never authorized anything with that name!" Cornelli, still smiling, answered him. "I told you, we didn't need you anymore, and in order to secure this country, we had to take a different approach to things. We had no choice, and I hope you'll see things my way." As the soldiers apprehended the President, one pulled out a syringe. He squirted a small drop into the air to make sure there were no air bubbles, and began to approach. Burns struggled, but there wasn't much he could do with four soldiers holding him. He kicked one of them right between the legs, but the soldier only shifted an inch, his face unchanged. As Thomas stared in confusion, two more soldiers grabbed and held his legs. The soldier with the syringe held it out to Burns' neck. Burns screamed as the needle went in, and within thirty seconds, his eyes began to cloud over. His mouth was still locked in a screaming position, but it slowly began to loosen. As his eyes swam around in their sockets, Thomas relaxed. When the color in his eyes settled to an unnerving black, he stood on his own. A soldier approached with handcuffs and shackles. Thomas Burns was led away like a common criminal, a scapegoat for failed policy and a hidden agenda. Cornelli smiled and looked around the office almost lovingly. He picked up a photograph of past presidents, now long deceased. Cornelli laughed and dropped it to the floor, the glass shattering on the floor. It was almost iconic, as the old world was also being dropped to the floor, shattering as it landed, only to form its new identity. The new world would come back together in better shape than the photograph, because there is no reason for looking back. Cornelli glanced around one last time, and looked at the group of soldiers remaining. "Burn it down. Blame it on Burns" He said to them, and exited the White House. As he walked onto the North Lawn, he began to see smoke rising from windows. As he stared, the smoke became darker and thicker. It now poured from the windows, each window a wound, now appearing more and more across the burning body of a building. He thought briefly about the Revolutionary War when the British burned down the White House in 1814. This was a different time, and this was a different revolution. In this revolution, there was no need for the White House symbol. There was only Babel. Flamed could now be seen coming from the building. As it engulfed itself, no fire trucks came to its rescue. It stood alone, dying, and nobody lifted a finger to save it. It would be hours before any news networks decided to run the story. The building burned all day and all night, and by the next morning, it was no more. Jefferson Smalls sat alone in his bedroom. His shades drawn tight, the parade of children marching down the street below. His initial curiosity was now replaced by fear. He remembers his own sons, the way they used to run around, laughing, full of life. The children he saw now were nothing like children he knew. They seemed dead, marching forward only because their bodies hadn't given up yet. Suddenly something puzzling began to happen. Children were breaking off from the initial pack. Small groups left the march and began to approach the houses on Kennedy Ave, walking up to the doorway. He watched as each door opened one by one and the children entered the house. As the doors closed behind them, the lights in the house went out, house by house. Suddenly he heard knocking on his own door. His hair stood on end, and chills went down his spine. He had to leave, he didn't know why, but he had to get out of the house and away from this surrealistic scene. He went to a cabinet in his room and took out a small key. He was probably just being paranoid, but he felt it was necessary to carry some protection. As he unlocked the cabinet, he heard knocking on his door once again. This caused him to pick up the pace, opening the doors and grabbing the pistol he kept for emergencies. Loading the chamber, he strapped on the holster, and placed the gun in the pocket. He threw a windbreaker on and began to walk down his stairs, carefully keeping an eye out. Just as he reached the bottom of the stairs, the knocking on his door turned to pounding. He nearly tripped and fell down the last step. He regained his balance and began to walk quickly to the back of the house. With a sound of shattering wood, the door smashed open, and standing there was a group of children, their eyes a jet black, reflecting the sunlight. This trick of the light caused their eyes to be a solid red, as if on fire. Jefferson's mouth dropped open. Standing at the base of his front steps was Peter Brown. Brown was holding a medical kit in his left hand, and he was surrounded by five children. "Hiya Jeff, good to see you're home!" Brown said to Smalls. An eerie grin crossed his face; his eyes had the same glowing effect that was displayed on the children's faces. He took a step across the threshold into Smalls' hallway. Jefferson Smalls was now trapped between the stairs and Peter Brown's mob. He now grabbed the pistol he'd holstered in his Packet. He pulled it out quickly and pointed it straight at Peter Brown's chest. "Don't come any closer, Peter! I mean it, you're scaring me!" Jefferson cried. Brown only took a step closer, and his movement was echoed by each child around him, all standing quiet and still in Jefferson's hallway. "Jeff, I don't know what you're talking about. Why would you be scared? We're on the breakthrough we've always dreamed of!" Smalls was confused, and Brown read his face. Without waiting long, Brown continued, "Operation Secure, remember? That thing I was telling you about when you went and quit on me. The contract paid off, it's finally happening!" His smile faded to a stiff-jawed frown. "I need you Jeff, we need you with us. You know too much to be running around with that kind of information." Peter took a step forward. "I'm warning you!" Jefferson yelled to him. No matter. Brown and the zombie-like children began to step toward him. With a single shot, Jefferson hit Brown right over the left breast, surely hitting his heart. However, Brown did not stop moving, he continued to walk toward him. Jefferson took another shot and hit almost the same exact mark, still doing nothing. In a panic, Jefferson almost fell backward again. He aimed for his last mark, holding the gun right at Brown's face. He pulled the trigger and Peter Brown's face simply exploded. The white wallboard now ran red, and he himself was now covered in Brown's life fluids, as were the children. The children now stopped, but did not seem phased by the actions taking place. Brown now fell to the floor in a heap, his leg twitching slightly, but it appeared as if he was dead. The children looked down at Brown's body, and then looked back up at Jefferson. Suddenly, the children in the street marching by also stopped. Hundreds of children as far as Jefferson could see had now stopped in the middle of the road, staring directly at his house. He could feel their cold eyes burning into his body. Without thinking twice, Jefferson ran around the children blocking his path, and they made no move to stop him. He rushed into his kitchen and ducked down, opening a cabinet. Inside was an electronic safe. He quickly punched in the key code, and opened the heavy door. He could now hear footsteps outside as the children approached his house. Inside the safe were the CD's he had taken from John Hancock. Five CD's hopefully held the answers to Jefferson's questions, and he quickly stuffed the tin containing the discs in his Packet pocket. Slamming the safe shut, he ran into the garage. From the garage, he ran down a set of stairs into the basement. The basement was old, but it had a garage door that led into the backyard. In the corner of the basement was a large mound covered by a tarp. Pulling back a large canvas sheet, a machine of chrome, steel and leather sparkled in the dusk light. Once his prized possession, the bike now spent the past few years stored in this garage. Jefferson mounted his motorcycle, a vintage 1974 Harley-Davidson XLH 1000 Sportster. He felt the grips in his hands for the first time in years, and felt that old feeling come back to him. He turned the key and twisted the handles, feeling the old beauty come back to life. Right now, nothing else mattered but getting away from here, and this machine would get him there. He pushed the button on the garage door opener, and the door slowly cranked its way open. Perfect! There wasn't anyone blocking his way out. With a screech, he launched forward, rocketing out the door. Without shutting the door behind him, he tore out of the backyard and onto the street. Driving as fast as he could, he drove away from his house, and he doubted he would ever see Kennedy Ave this way again. BOOK III - Revolution Chapter XII - The Nightmare It was a warm summer morning in the summer of 1999. I woke up in time for a rerun of my favorite late night show, and helped myself to a big bowl of Raisin Bran. I was 13 years old again, and everything was still in front of me. Sun filtered through the tall pine trees outside the living room window, and for a moment, I almost forgot about what happened later that morning. Before I took my morning shower, I went out to the garage for the lawnmower. I did everything I could to help mom out since Dad was gone, and since she was busy working all day, it was up to me to make sure everything was fine when she got home. I tended the property, cooked dinner, did laundry, cleaned... I was pretty used to living on my own most the time. Today was grocery day, when Mom came home from work on her lunch break and we went to Johnson's Family Market on West Street. I had to hurry to finish the lawn in time, and when I finished, I still had twenty minutes to spare. I rushed back into the house and took a quick shower. When I got out, Mom was already home. I jogged the first few steps of the staircase and jumped the final few to the ground. For some reason when Mom spoke to me, her words didn't make any sense, but even stranger, I didn't seem to care. We got in the car and headed through our little neighborhood of East Street, the opposite end of town of West Street. To get there, we had to drive downtown on East Street, and turn onto Main Street at the river bridge. The river ran directly to Cape Cod from where we were, and one day I promised to ride a canoe all the way down to the ocean. For now, I was stuck here making sure everything stayed the way it was. As we crossed over the bridge, I looked out the window to see a cell phone tower being constructed on the banks of the river. It was sad that the picturesque view was going to be ruined. A truck at the site had a logo on it, and a large sign nearby had the same logo. "John Hancock, Inc," which was a large scale technology company. I'd read about it in the business section of the paper we get delivered to our door. Mom had told me that she owned a few shares of stock in the company, and one day it would be worth enough to pay back my college loans. As we turned onto West Street, I turned my attention back to the road. We were downtown now, and I could see Johnson's Family Market from here. We came to a red light, and stopped for a minute. Mom looked over at me and smiled. This time I could hear every word she said. "James, you look more and more like your father every day." I smiled, trying not to blush. "He was a great man, and a lot of people looked up to him. Someday I'm sure people will look up to you as well." "Thanks Mom," I said to her, and returned to looking out my window. The light turned green and Mom began to drive. That's when it all happened. The sudden impact knocked everything upside down. I couldn't tell up from down, and all I could hear was the deafening screech of metal. As our car skidded off the road, it hit a light post, causing the car to collapse on itself, crumpling up at the driver‟s side. My side of the car had ripped open, and I could feel the cool air blow across my face. Everything hurt; I could barely turn my neck. I forced myself to move, clenching my jaw through the pain, but I could finally see my mother. She had tears running down her cheeks, and I could see she was in shock. "Mom!" I called to her with no reaction. I called again, and this time her eyes moved to see me. Through what looked to be great pain, she smiled at me. Her lips barely moved, but I heard her loud and clear. "Keep making us proud, James." I saw her eyes lose focus, and the smile slowly faded from her face. I began to cry. People were now beginning to crowd around the car, but nobody made an effort to help. I realized that now wasn't the time to cry, Mom wanted me to be tough. The pain was excruciating, but I managed to unbuckle my seatbelt, and slide over in my seat. The opening in my side of the car was just big enough for me to reach my arm out of, so I did just that. Finally some people ran up to the car to help. I could now hear the sirens getting closer, but the sound began to fade. Now the light was fading as well, and I passed out. I jumped out of bed, sweating. Lark remained sleeping beside me, only stirring slightly. I'd had the nightmare again. Sometimes it would come back to me, even though I tried to block it out. Something was wrong. Then I heard it. Somewhere in the blackness above me, a metallic "clang" rung through the chamber. I heard scrambling across the hall, coming from Javier's room. Suddenly my door flew open, and Javier rushed in. When my door flew open, Lark bolted upright from my bed. "Hurry! They're coming!" He said to me, quietly, as to avoid making a lot of noise. "Who's coming?" I asked back. "Them! The New World Army, they found us!" He said back to me, tossing me a duffel bag. "Pack whatever you can, we have to go right now!" I began to scramble, opening drawers and grabbing what I could. Lark, now fully awakened, was joining the effort. Up in the darkness, I could now hear the sound of a laser, as well as the screech of metal. They were cutting through the shield and coming for us. Javier, eyes wide, led us to an emergency escape hatch. As he opened the door, I heard a crashing noise above. The army was inside, and I could now hear the clattering of footsteps. We made the decision for Lark to go first, as only one could escape at a time. Javier explained to her how the tube ended roughly a block from his house, and once she was out, to run to the nearest house she could find. She was crying now as she turned to look at me. "I'm right behind you, but if I'm not out right after you, don't wait. I'll catch up to you later!" I said to her. She threw her arms around my neck and kissed me hard, then drawing her arms back, turned and got into the escape hatch. Javier quickly hit a button, and the door hissed shut. When the doors were completely shut, we heard another rumbling noise, similar to that of an elevator. The footsteps were getting closer. Javier turned to me. "In case I don't make it, I've hidden a large quantity of my antidote, and also copies of my research notes. It's the only hope you'll have for reversing the effects of the virus. The only way you'll find it is by knowing the code to a safe box in the vault at the El Cambio National Bank. It's roughly three blocks from here, and the vault is underground." He slapped a piece of paper into my hand. "This is the combination, don't lose that! Your own life could depend on it." He said to me, his face locked in a serious expression. The door of the escape hatch opened again, and Javier told me to take it. Before I could lift a foot into the hatch, the door to the room simply exploded. The room temporarily lit orange by the glow of the fireball; I could only make out the shadows of the men entering the room. The fireball itself quickly dissipated, leaving only a few small fires to burn around the room. With an alarm, the overhead gas systems switched on, attempting to extinguish the fires. Through the smoke and the glow, the shadowy figures moved closer. I Jumped into the escape hatch and attempted to hit the button. Before my hand could reach the switch, a hand flew out of nowhere, grabbing me by the wrist, yanking my entire body out of the escape hatch. The hand pinned me against the wall, as I struggled to free myself. The shadowy figure in front of me spoke. "Struggling will only make you tired, why don't you rest a little?" Before he could even finish speaking, he was lifting his other arm, holding a small canister in his grasp. When he had leveled the canister with my face, he pushed a button. A little slot opened up, and a mist slowly came out, expelling the gas into my nostrils. I tried to hold my breath, but within thirty seconds I was beginning to black out. I inhaled deeply, causing the gas to work its way into my lungs. I began to get dizzy, slowly losing focus. The figure loosened his grip. As I slid to the floor, I could see Javier's limp body being carried from the room. Then everything got dark. Jefferson Smalls rode all night, and just in case, he rode all day as well. At almost every gas station, he was greeted by normal people who were still filled with life, yet occasionally he'd find a completely abandoned station. When he finally pulled over to rest, he began to shake violently. Was he crying again? He wasn't quite sure, but the shock of shooting one of his best friends in the face was too much for him. He had driven as far west as he could, and he had wound up traveling all the way from Richardson, Rhode Island to the small town of Johnstonville, Wyoming. Subconsciously, Jefferson knew why he had come here. He reached into his pocket and removed the five CD's, now looking at them in the light of the sunset. The sun glinted off the reflective plastic like a mirror, and suddenly Jefferson saw his own face in the disc. Suddenly it all dawned on him at once. The reason he was here was because he was directly involved in the creation of this. Through John Hancock, Inc, he had provided years of software and code directly to his boss without any questions. How long they had been working on this project before Smalls was made aware of it was unknown, but he knew he should have recognized the code while he was writing it. It began to make sense to him. The actions of the children made him sure of it. They weren't under their own control; their actions were too uniform for such a large body of people. He wondered to himself, "What is Artificial Intelligence?" Lark could feel the air rushing past her face as the capsule moved forward in the dark. The tunnel seemed alive with blinking lights and the hum of machinery. Lark was breathing heavily now. It had not been more than twenty minutes since she had been forcefully jarred from a sound sleep, and now she was trying to stay alive. It was a long tunnel, and probably took her pretty far from the lab. She only hoped that when she was out and back on the ground that there wasn't anyone waiting for her. She leaned forward against the bar in front of her. The escape pod was more of a cage; her only support was a horizontal bar crossing the center of the cage. She could now tell she was approaching the end, as the electric hum was now turning into the soft groan of doors opening. A soft light now bathed the tunnel, and the pod slowly came to a halt at the end. The door to the pod creaked open, and she stepped out carefully, making sure the room she was in was empty. Her feet once again touched solid ground in a pile of plaster which had broken free when the doors had opened. The doors must have been walled over at one point to keep them secret, and along the way must have been long forgotten. She finally thought about Pack and Javier. She had been in the escape pod for twenty minutes and she didn't think there was any other way for them to get out of the lab. She began to cry, but didn't fully succumb to the grief she was feeling. She was raised alone, and she knew crying would get her nowhere. She was surprised she hadn't thought of it before, but she supposed she was in love with Pack. Now she wished she'd had the chance to tell him that, but she suspected he already knew. She snapped back to reality when she realized the escape hatch was still open. She would be taking a chance, but her logic told her that it wouldn't be Pack coming out of that tunnel. As she looked around, she could see the paint was peeling from the walls in large chunks, and wallpaper hung in sheets from what used to be a vibrant, colorful room. The room was filled with wooden chairs and old computers. Her first instinct was to block off the tunnel. She began grabbing whatever she could, throwing the debris into the whole in the wall. As large chunks of wood and metal hit the cage, it dented and bent, but stayed intact. It slowly began to slide back, and she heard the mechanical hum start back up. They were coming after her. The doors to the tunnel began to slide shut, but immediately jammed on the rubble thrown into their path. Lark was now throwing things into the tunnel as fast as she could. Her arms grew tired, but she kept throwing until the room was empty. The tunnel was solidly blocked off, buying her enough time hopefully to hide. The doors to the tunnel began to slide shut once more. This time the debris was pushed aside, and the doors creaked tightly shut. "If she could find a way to damage the doors, perhaps she could keep them from opening" she thought to herself. She began looking for a bat, a hammer, a shovel... anything she could use to damage the doors. She began to walk down the hall, barely lit by the moonlight. She found what she was looking for three rooms away. A large tool bench sat against a wall, littered with abandoned tools. Leaning against the table was a sledgehammer. She grabbed it with one hand and turned to leave, but the hammer was heavy, and she almost fell. She turned back, grabbing it with both hands, managing to lift it enough to move. She slowly began to run back to the tunnel, the sledgehammer swinging back and forth in front of her. Once at the doors to the tunnel, she turned sideways and brought the hammer back, attempting to gain the momentum similar to a pendulum. She threw all her weight into it, and the hammer slammed into the door, causing a loud ringing sound to echo through the building. The shockwaves racked her body, causing her to drop the hammer to the floor. She looked up to find only a dent in the door. Tired and depressed, she fell to her hands and knees. As she kneeled, tired and breathing heavily, she had an idea. She stood back up, picked up the hammer, and took another shot. This time, rather than aiming for the doors, she aimed for the wall next to them. With a shower a plaster, the plaster and wet wall fell away, revealing the support beams and shattered chunks of wallboard. Behind the wallboard, she could see the turning of gears. Assuming these gears controlled the opening of the doors, she powered up for another swing. As she threw all her last energy into it, the hammer struck the gears, sending parts of the machine and a shower of sparks everywhere. The cascade of sparks landed in the pile of wall debris, causing it to ignite. The shreds of lead paint quickly caught fire, causing the whole room to become ablaze in a matter of seconds. Lark fell backward from the force of the blow, causing her to land hard on her back, almost in the fire herself. She winced in pain, but forced herself to get back to her feet. With one hand, she rolled herself over and pushed up with her right leg. She hit the ground running as she fled the flames around her. The fire was in the hallway now, and the building was beginning to fill up with smoke. In the glow of the fire, she could see her way around, running down an empty hallway. She could now see she was in possibly an abandoned hospital or medical facility. The smoke was now billowing down the hall, making it difficult for her to see. With the fire behind her, she could now see the moonlight filtering through the broken glass of what used to be a front door. The door was boarded up and chained shut, but on either side was a floor to ceiling window with little class slats in a decorative pattern. The glass on one side had long been smashed out by kids with rocks, looking for a thrill in childish vandalism. As she approached the glass, she cautiously checked the frame for any jagged edges. Finding none, she began to squeeze through, easily sliding her thin frame through the narrow opening. The smoke was now passing through the opening behind her. She stood on what used to be front steps, but was now a pile of dirt, possibly dumped there in attempt to keep kids out. She now slid down the pile feet first, landing in solid ground below. On either side of the main path were two pine trees, each looked to have been there for almost one hundred years. Both were dying, symbolic of the decadent building before them, dying itself as they watched on. Lark stood there, watching the large brick building burn. She tensed up as she heard yelling coming from around the building. The yelling was faint at first, but was now getting closer. There wasn't any shelter for at least two hundred yards. The woods surrounding would offer a sufficient place to hide, but there was no time to reach them. The closest shelter was to climb one of the dying pines and hide in the branches. When she was a little girl she'd always dreamed of what it was like living in the country. She liked to climb the trees in Central Park, pretending she was in a forest. It was a different story now, and she was scared for her life. She wondered if the NWA agents had gotten through the tunnel. She quickly scrambled up the tree that had the fullest branches, first grabbing a branch, then pulling her legs up. Left arm, right leg, one, and then the other. She didn't think, she was acting on instinct. She was a little girl again, and the adrenaline rushed through her. Perched in the tree, the darkness hid her from view. The shadows of the branches from the light of the burning building danced across her face. The voices were now so close she could understand their words. "What the hell is going on?" "Where will we live?" "It's that damned army, they found us!" There seemed to be many voices speaking at once. A large crowd began to come from around the building, the majority of them seemed worried, but the ones in charge were clearly pissed off. The people she saw here were clearly not associated with the New World Army. As the crowd began to calm down, Lark made a move. "Help!" she called down to them. Almost everyone in the group began to look around, frightened. Lark began to climb down the tree. The leaders saw her moving and rushed over to intercept her. Before her other leg had touched the ground, she was grabbed from behind and forced to the ground. Two men were holding her down, and a third looked her in the eyes. He took a small flashlight from his pocket, and now began shining it in her eyes, the light reflecting from the deep blue within. Blinded by the suddenly painful brightness, she squinted, trying to let in as little light as possible while still be able to see. The man with the flashlight took his free hand, and using his thumb, pushed her eyelid open, once again examining her. Lark cried out in pain, and suddenly the men let go. She quickly jumped to her feet, throwing up her fists in self-defense. The men around her exchanged glances, then looked back at Lark. Nervous laughter was heard in the crowd, but nobody moved. Relax, we aren't gonna hurt you" one of the men said to her. Another man with a scruffy beard followed, "You aren't one of them, so you're alright to us." Lark lowered her fists slowly, but was still cautious. "What do you mean 'Them?'" she asked, testing them. The bearded man again answered, "The ones with the night in their eyes. The ones who are already dead." Lark expected someone to laugh, but everyone was dead serious. There was a time when she herself would have laughed, but sadly, she knew full well what they were talking about. The first man spoke again. "The ones with the dead eyes came through our towns, turning us into them. They started by pretending to be friends. They told us they were helping and protecting us. By the time we realized what was happening, there weren't enough left of us to fight." Behind them, the building continued to burn, no sirens could be heard in the distance. Lark began to tell them a story, starting with a phone call to New York. Chapter XIII - Remnants of a Dark Past It was a scene out of a history book. In the middle of a cold September night, the trucks entered the town. The backs of the trucks flew open and swarms of soldiers jumped out onto the roadways. In the pale moonlight, soldiers hurried to the doorways of each house along all the quiet little streets. A sudden pounding on the door awakened its occupants. In each house, the doors opened one by one. As each door opened, the house was stormed by soldiers, forcing the people out onto their front lawns. Little children with only a blanket or teddy bear in hand stood alone in the confusion as families were broken apart. People were separated into groups, the men, boys, girls, women and children. These groups were then piled into the backs of the trucks. The once quiet night was now filled with the sound of crying and the screams of hysterical mothers being torn from their children out of a peaceful sleep. The soldiers moved quickly, filling each of the hundreds of trucks. As the trucks filled, they departed the sleepy town, headed for the train station. Truck by truck, the town grew empty, and eventually the screams and cries were gone. Only the family pets remained, wondering where their masters had gone. At the train station, the sound of chaos filled the air once more. The trucks unloaded one by one, the people in each truck were herded at gunpoint directly to a train car. When all cars were filled, the train slowly began to move. The trucks began to drive away, onto their next destination. As the train rode into the night, only a muffled whimper could be heard in the air. The moon disappeared behind the clouds, and it was truly a black night for the train heading to the towers of Babel. Upon arrival, the cars were emptied, and the people led through a gate. From the gate, they were led into a tunnel, which seemed to head off into infinity. In the tunnel were hundreds of doors and behind each door was a room. The captives were herded into these rooms, still in a state of confusion. As the doors closed, the gas began to fill the rooms from spouts in the ceiling. Hundreds of rooms filled with hundreds of people, and each room showed the same results. People twitched on the floors, clawing at their eyes and faces. The children succumbed first, lying still on the floor for a few minutes before standing back up. Their eyes now blank and dead, they stared straight ahead, still holding their blankets and teddy bears. Then the women, and eventually the men succumbed to the great virus. In a ten minute timeframe, the microchips in the gas took hold of their minds, and they were no longer in any pain. Hundreds of rooms filled with hundreds of people, all standing in straight rows. Jefferson Smalls was once considered one of the brightest technological minds in the northeast. Now as the world was falling apart around him, he disappeared underground, traveling from place to place, trying not to be noticed. What Jefferson didn't know was that DANAE knew who he was, not that he knew much about who DANAE was, let alone why she wanted him destroyed. As he rode, he kept on eye on the roads, looking out for anything unusual. He was damn scared of those kids with the dead eyes. He reached to his chest and felt the gun in its holster. Having it there made him feel a little more confident. The false sense of security caused him to drift into a daydream. His mind went back to his house on Kennedy Ave, and his two sons were playing in the backyard. Matt, the youngest, ran in circles with a child's baseball bat grasped between his small, pudgy fingers. Jefferson had tossed the whiffleball to him from a spot on the lawn they used as a pitcher's mound. Even at four, Matt was able to swing the bat, and knew to run the bases when he hit the ball. Matt had just hit the ball a whole five feet, which was his best hit yet. When he stopped running, Jefferson scooped him up, giving him a big hug. He may have had to work a lot, but he never passed up time with his kids. Perhaps that was why his life crumbled when his wife left him and won custody of his boys, and why his life was shattered when they left this world forever. On his motorcycle, Jefferson sighed, the breath lost in the wind blowing by his face. Something caught his eye just a few seconds too late, and he inhaled just before it happened. A pile of torn asphalt ended the road before him, and the bike sped straight into it. Jefferson was thrown from the machine, flying through the air less than gracefully. He sailed over a cattle fence and into a field, landing coincidentally in a pile of not-so-recently harvested hay. It still hurt, God it hurt like he couldn't believe, but he was alive and unharmed. The motorcycle, however, didn't meet such a fortunate fate. Also flying through the air, the bike spun in wobbly circles before slamming into the broken off remains of what used to be a telephone pole. Upon contact, Jefferson could hear the screeching of metal as his last remaining valuable possession literally bent in half. Chrome parts were now airborne, coming to rest scattered around the bike. The front wheel of the bike was still spinning as Jefferson pulled himself up out of the hay. He brushed himself off and simultaneously cursed and praised his luck. Before he could even dust himself off completely, he heard the roar of jet engines approaching. Without thinking, he dove back into the hay pile and covered himself up. As the jets grew closer, he noticed something strange. They seemed to stop in midair, hovering over where he hid in the hay. He was sure they had seen him; they had to be after him now. Suddenly there was a new sound. Rumbling up the road was a dump truck. The truck rumbled toward him, not slowing down. It looked as if it would hit the same pile of dirt and asphalt that he himself had wrecked on. At this point, the driver sped up, heading right toward it. With a crash, the driver plowed through the pile, causing rock fragments to fly in all directions, some hitting Jefferson. As the truck passed, he could now see the entire chain. There wasn't just one truck, there were hundreds, as far as the eye could see. In the bed of the trucks were computers, some old, many new. It looked as if they had rounded up every computer in the state. Jefferson was confused as to why they would do this. As the last truck was passing, the jets began to fly back in the direction from which they had come. The trucks slowed to a crawl, probably waiting in a traffic jam of a sort. Frightened, yet also intrigued, Jefferson crawled from his hiding place as stealthily as he'd ever been in his life. He snuck up to the final dump truck. Positive he had not been seen, he jogged along behind the last truck, finally grabbing on and hoisting himself up. He climbed into the bed, and hid himself amongst the machines. For the first time since before his daydream, Jefferson looked up, and what he saw took his breath away. The sky above his head was a bright blue, but slowly grew darker as the distance increased. Miles away, hiding in the dark clouds were the crystal towers of Babel, stretching from the ground all the way into the dark smog clouding the air. Plumes of black smoke could be seen coming from smokestacks that stretched forever into the sky. The trucks slowly moved toward the gates of Babel, and Jefferson was riding in on horseback. He was about to enter Hell, leaving the fields of wheat behind him. I awoke in a dark room, not quite sure of where I was. I tried to sit up, only to have my body wracked by pain. Screaming out, I fell back down to the table I was laying on. My movement must have caught the eye of a motion sensor, for the lights in the room quickly switched on. Now bathed in an eerie blue light, I could see I was alone in a glass room. Around the outside walls of the glass were thousands of auditorium style seats, all the same navy blue plush upholstery. The entire auditorium was bathed in the same blue light as the room I was in now. My neck was sore, and moving it caused me a lot of discomfort, but I turned my head to look around more. I was on an operating table, and around me were tables of medical machinery that I couldn't fathom the use for. I noticed on the table there were straps, as if someone had meant to strap me down, but they had not used them. I was free to move on my own, which didn't make sense. I tried to move my body once again, still feeling the intensely sharp pain spread through my body. Determined to get up, I lifted my arm, which felt like stone. Using all the strength I could muster, I was able to use my arm to push myself over and off the table. When I hit the ground, I felt another pain wave wash over me, but this pain was bearable. I suddenly felt I could move again, and there wasn't as much pain, only a dull throbbing in my muscles. I stood up and walked back to the table. Waving my arm slowly, I moved it toward the place where I had just lain. As soon as my hand moved over the table, I felt the great weight I had felt before. Pulling my hand back out, I felt the pressure return to normal. There was some sort of gravity field focused on the table. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. Seeing nobody, I ran to find a door, but could find none. The room was a solid glass cube in the middle of the room. Walking around the room, I ran my hand along the glass wall in attempt to find a break in the glass. "Looking for a way out?" I heard over a loudspeaker. I looked up quickly to find a television monitor near the ceiling of the room, with speakers on each side. The man on the screen took my breath away. The voice had seemed familiar, but it had been so long since I'd heard it last that I'd almost forgotten the sound of it. Up on that screen was the face of Colonel Cornelli, or General Cornelli rather, I'd almost forgotten about his promotion. In the split second where that thought had passed through my mind, I also thought how laughable it could be to forget about how Cornelli was put in charge of the Army that had caught me and taken me to this place. I was jolted back to reality when Cornelli began to chuckle. "Don't expect to find a way out, that isn't glass you're seeing, it's a new kind of experimental polymer shield." As he was saying this, I was already grabbing a heavy fire extinguisher located near a wall and throwing it toward the clear wall. The heavy item only smacked the wall and bounced right off, landing heavily on the floor. I was almost worried the force would cause the extinguisher to explode, but fortunately it only spun in circles until its momentum had stopped. Cornelli just kept chuckling to himself. Obviously he could see my pathetic attempt at escape. I began to glance around, carefully, as not to attract the attention of Cornelli's eye. "Why am I here?" I asked him, only playing lip service until I could come up with a plan. He began to speak, but I wasn't listening. I heard something about being a threat, and how I need to be taken care of to ensure success. At that point I was already sure of what to do. Around the ceiling of the auditorium, I could see little spouts sticking out from the tile. These spouts would dispense Halon gas in the event of a fire, I'd seen them before. Looking above myself, I could see the spouts in this room as well. Cornelli had stopped speaking, apparently finished with his answer. "Any other questions or are you ready for us to come for you?" he asked me. I needed to buy some time. "Where's Javier?" I asked. I wasn't about to ask about Lark since I made sure she got out of the lab in time. With luck she was safe somewhere near the southern US border. "I'm afraid Dr. Gonzales won't be coming to your rescue this time, Pack. He's already become one of the enlightened, as you will be yourself" Cornelli explained. I winced. Javier had become a great friend, and had really come through for us. In the depression of the past few months, he had been our only light of hope. I was going to have to make my own hope now. As soon as Cornelli had finished speaking, I sprinted over to a medical rack against a wall. It was the mistake of a human, not a machine, to leave supplies of raw elements in a medical facility being used as a holding tank for a prisoner of war. I already had seen what I was going for. I grabbed the container holding raw sodium with my bare hands, something I would never do in any other circumstance. I dumped the contents into the sink basin against the adjacent wall. I could hear Cornelli on the screen screaming orders to guards somewhere to apprehend me, but I wasn't about to stop now. Before I made my next move, I broke the glass on a wall cabinet and grabbed the emergency gasmask, specifically for the Halon gas which would be coming down any second. I could hear the doors to the auditorium begin to open, but I knew the shield I was behind was bulletproof, so I still had time. Putting the gasmask on, I grabbed a container containing liquid Chlorine. Loosening the lid of the container, I ran behind the table and tossed it toward the sink. I quickly ducked down behind the table as the two chemicals mixed. The explosion which followed was loud, and suddenly the lab was consumed with flames. As I expected, the Halon gas systems kicked in, sending plumes of the white gas down to kill the flames. The door to the medical room, as I had also expected, quickly opened. I couldn't see anything inside the room, but I could tell that the auditorium was also filling with the gas as well. I could hear yelling coming from the guards in the room. As I quickly rushed out the door into the auditorium, I carefully made my way up one of the aisles, heading for the nearest exit. Once I could see the coast was clear, I ran out the door into a hallway, which was also somewhat foggy due to the gas. The gas wasn't stopping the guards from entering the room anymore, meaning the initial fallback was due to shock, not to trouble breathing as I had thought. My first reaction was to feel along the walls until I found another door. With a twist of the handle, I pushed the door open and tumbled inside. The trucks had resumed moving at their normal pace almost an hour ago, and Jefferson watched those towers grow closer every minute. He didn't have to be there to know it was an evil place. The dark clouds overhead were giving him chills. Hidden in the computers, he awaited the approach to the main gate of Babel. Finally, the crystal towers loomed directly overhead, so high they disappeared into the clouds. The truck Jefferson was riding in came to a stop. In his mind, he knew this was his chance to do something drastic. He slowly moved from under the computer pile and removed his gun from its holster, checking to make sure it was loaded. He then crept forward in the bed of the truck to the cab. Carefully, he leaned over the edge, pulling himself down between the cab and the bed. Holding the gun in one hand and holding himself onto the truck with the other, he took a deep breath and swung himself around to the passenger side. Quickly whipping the gun up, he put it through the window, expecting to smash through a layer of glass. Fortunately, the window had been left open, and his hand moved smoothly inside the cab. The driver turned to look, his dead eyes locked with Jefferson's only briefly, just as Jefferson pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the driver in his forehead, causing his body to jerk back toward the driver side window. His body shook violently for a few seconds, and then fell still. To Jefferson, the gun was quiet, but he knew it still could be heard by others. He quickly climbed into the cab through the window, hoping to avoid being seen. Keeping low on the seat, he scanned around him. The trucks in front of him continued to idle, and no new movement was seen anywhere. The doors to the trucks remained closed. Finally exhaling, Jefferson looked at the driver he had just shot. A clean hole from the bullet was visible above his right eye. It appeared that the bullet had gone into the skull of the driver at an angle, and had come back out the other side, piercing through the wall of the cab in the rear. A small trickle of blood was oozing from the front wound, and Jefferson didn't really want to see what the other side looked like. Either way, the man was dead, and Jefferson now had to think fast in order to survive. The man appeared to be the same size as Jefferson, maybe slightly taller and more muscular, but still close. Jefferson began to strip. Taking his old clothes, he stuffed them under the passenger seat. He began to remove the dead man's clothes, putting them on himself. First the New World Army type cargo pants, then the standard issue khaki Packet. The final piece was a helmet the man had been wearing until the bullet had hit him. This now lie on the floor by the man's feet. Jefferson grabbed the helmet, and then took the shoes he had removed from the man earlier. The shoes were one size too big, but that was something he would have to live with. Fully dressed as a New World Army soldier, Jefferson would blend in at the gate, but he wondered what he would do with the body of the dead soldier. Assuming that each truck contained no passenger, he decided that the passenger side was the safest. Jefferson opened the passenger door slowly, and then got out of the truck. Pulling hard, he managed to pull the body out onto the ground. The man landed hard, and rolled toward Jefferson slightly, almost knocking him off balance. When the body came to a stop, Jefferson got to his knees and pushed hard, rolling the body under the truck. Since his truck was the last in the chain, none of the other drivers would see it. There was always the possibility of more trucks following him, but he would take that chance on the hope that nobody would suspect him of foul play. Climbing back into the cab, Jefferson moved into the driver's seat. His 1992 Saturn SL1 that he used to drive was standard transmission, so he wondered how much harder a dump truck could be. He spent a few minutes checking over the dash and gear shift, and felt he might be able to pull this off halfway decently. The truck in front of him began to move forward. They were less than a mile from the gate, and it would probably take at least another five minutes to get there. Jefferson threw the truck into gear, eased off the clutch and hit the gas pedal. He had to be careful; he had four different gears to go through just to get to 15mph according to the gauges. Bit by bit, he slowly eased his speed up, changing gears as he needed to. Finally, he was rumbling along at the same pace as the other trucks. He laughed to himself, quietly. "Not bad for my first time" he said aloud to nobody at all. The trucks slowed down. It was his turn to enter the gate. Jefferson felt that familiar panic that had gripped him many times since this ordeal had begun. Surprisingly, inside the gate were only a few soldiers, rather than the swarms he had imagined. He could instantly see the hundreds of barracks arranged in a circle around the crystal towers. With the dark sky overhead, the buildings hid in partial shadow. Smaller buildings around the edge of the perimeter contained smokestacks that stretched hundreds of feet in the air themselves. Black smoke poured from these smokestacks constantly, causing the air to be thick and dirty. Jefferson remembered a day when environmentalists would have been all over this place for something as blatantly polluting, but sadly, those days were long gone, and it would be a miracle if he ever saw days like them again. As Jefferson drove forward, he noticed a pattern. Each dump truck would reach a certain point, and then head off down a different path toward a different building with a smokestack. Following the pattern, he was aware which path he was supposed to take. As he passed a row of guards standing by, he stared straight ahead, hoping not to arouse any suspicion. He passed by without incident, and made his turn, heading toward one of the toxic smokestacks. There was so much smoke being pumped into the atmosphere that he wondered if it was even capable of raining. There was no grass here, only gravel. The entire complex was a dead, barren wasteland with two beautiful towers of glass and steel, both which seemed terribly out of place. Jefferson had another feeling to do something drastic, and he usually went with his gut. He knew he might blow the transmission, but it would provide a distraction. At the moment, other guards seemed to be running into one of the towers. Jefferson hit the gas pedal hard, pushing the clutch and throwing the truck into a higher gear. He did this at a rapid pace, and the truck began to speed up fast. Just as the truck was roughly thirty feet from the building, he opened the door to the cab. Taking a deep breath, he threw the door open wide and jumped, tucking into a ball and rolling off to the side, rolling in between two barracks. The truck, its momentum carrying it forward, smashed into the brick building, causing the smokestack to begin to wobble. As the building collapsed, the smokestack began to tilt toward the outer wall of the compound. Cables and tiebacks snapped and steel twisted. The smokestack fell away from the building, snapping off and crushing a small section of the outer wall. With this breach, an alarm sounded throughout the complex. The remains of the truck and building were now engulfed in flame. Jefferson stood back up and pressed himself against a building. There were now soldiers running both toward the towers and toward the wreckage. He began to run toward the towers, blending in with other soldiers doing the same. As he reached the entrance to the tower, he dared not look back. As he passed through the doors, he felt a chill. Chapter XIV - Chance Encounter I had barely gotten the door open when I lost my footing. Flying through empty space, I came down hard on the cement steps. Step by step I tumbled down, finally coming to rest painfully on the stair landing. My breathing was heavy, and my whole body was sore. The door I had just come through was now clicking shut. I could hear footsteps of people in the hall running back and forth, and realized I was in plain view if anyone were to open the door. Wincing, I rolled onto my stomach again and pushed myself back up to my feet. My head was throbbing with pain, and I could feel blood trickling down my nose. I wondered how bad the cut was, but forced myself to keep moving. Down I hobbled, slowly at first, then eventually gaining speed. I was now able to run down the steps, my feet barely touching the cement as I picked up speed. By now I was descending at least one floor every three seconds. I could hear the hum of machinery begin to grow louder the farther down I went. Then I heard a new sound. I heard the clicking of a heavy metal door as it opened below me. By now I was moving too fast to stop immediately, and I slammed into a person coming into the stairwell. For a moment, everything blacked out and I hit the ground again. The throbbing in my head was almost unbearable, and I was seeing stars. Slowly my vision cleared, and I could see the man I had just run into. He was also on the ground, holding his head as well. He moaned, and then cursed, trying to roll over. Something wasn‟t right. The infected didn‟t moan, and they definitely didn‟t curse. “Who are you” I asked the man carefully, ready to run away at a moments notice. The man didn‟t answer at first. “What the fu- who the hell are you?” he asked right back. I was almost positive; I had to do one more thing. I crept over to him and kicked him in the arm. He yelled out in pain, grabbing for his arm. I knew he was normal, but how on Earth did he get in here if he wasn‟t infected. “Okay, I know you aren‟t infected. I‟m not either. Now before we get anywhere you have to tell me who you are, because I don‟t trust you yet” I told him. Still holding his arm, he looked up at me. “How do you know I‟m not infected? How do I know you aren‟t infected?” I began to explain to him. The human emotion, visible signs of pain, the showing of weakness… all signs of humanity that the infected could not show. The man pondered this for a moment, and then smirked. “You‟re the one aren‟t you?” I was taken aback. “What one?” “You know, the one they talked about on the news before all this started getting really crazy. James…ah….Pack!” He knew my name. I had seen my picture flash across the screen on CNN briefly at Javier‟s lab, but shortly after the signal was gone and then we were taken by the agents. “Yeah, that‟s me. What else did they say about me?” I had to know what his first impression was. If he knew who I was, the only thing he knew about me was what they had told him. “Well they said you were one of the most wanted people in relation to those terror attacks, which was strange because it said you were American. But remember, this was before everything went really crazy, and I know they aren‟t on my side, so hopefully you are.” I almost laughed. Partly out of how funny it sounded, but mostly out of relief. This was the first sane human being I‟d encountered since Javier and Lark, and before that who knows how long it had been. “I suppose I‟m on your side just because you aren‟t one of them, and yes, I am James Pack. I‟m not evil, I‟m not to blame, and I don‟t usually answer to James; you‟d have better luck with Pack” I said to him. I extended a hand to help pull him to his feet. He took it and we pulled each other up to standing. Next to me, he was slightly taller than I was and about fifteen to twenty years older. He was in good physical shape, although he was just as bruised and dirty as I was. Now that we were standing and our hands were already locked, it turned into a handshake. “Jefferson Smalls, but by the same token you can call me Jefferson” he said to me. I was nearly elated that there was someone else in the world, but my smile quickly faded. “They‟re going to follow us, we have to go somewhere. Walk slowly and act infected!” Jefferson nodded, and led the way down the stairs. Neither of us had any idea where to go, but Jefferson suggested we get to a computer quickly because he had something that might be of use. We carefully opened the stairwell door and entered a hallway. The floor below was a shiny black tile over poured concrete. The hallway extended from the stairwell in the center of the tower out to the glass windows of the exterior. There were eight hallways branching off from the central core, resulting in eight wedge-shaped offices in between. There were no people on this floor, and part of it appeared not to even have been completely finished. Networking cable dangled from the ceiling along with coaxial cable and electrical wire. Only a few of the fluorescent overhead lights were lit. As we walked around the central core, we discovered most the offices were completely empty. Finally we saw what we needed. One office contained a wall mounted computer with a 24” monitor built right into the drywall. I stood guard at the door while Jefferson scoped the computer out. Locating the CD ROM drive, he pushed the button to pop it open. A message came up on the screen. “Please enter password.” I became nervous, but Jefferson cast me a glance that showed he knew what he was doing. He began to type different patterns of keys on the keyboard in a certain succession. Occasionally I would hear a soft beep. Suddenly he stopped, and the disc drive opened. The monitor began to flash an array of different images. He had hacked his way into the system. “I was confused at first by all this, but now I see it bright as day” he said to me. I cocked my head to the side, confused. “I designed this whole system” he said. “And if I didn‟t design all of it, I had a good hand in it. Back when we designed it we didn‟t know what it was or what it‟d be used for. I even had a hand in the designs for this whole complex itself!” John Hancock, Inc. had had several subcontracting firms of its own, including architecture and structural design. Jefferson reached into his Packet pocket now and removed the banged up tin he had placed there before his escape. The crashes and falls had scratched and dented it slightly, but when he popped it open, the discs inside were in perfect shape. As he carefully placed the disc in the drive, I understood. The plans for this building as well as everything else were on those discs. My eyes opened wide, and Jefferson knew that I knew. He began to tell the story as he loaded up the discs and brought up the information we needed to know. The sky was dark, a reddish brown filled with black smoke. Lark could see nothing but the smoke, it was everywhere. Yet in the smoke, she could see two figures. The two crystal towers stood out, clean and new against the ever-blackening sky. Lark was lying on the ground, dragging her broken body forward. Looking ahead of her, she felt the ground shake. There seemed to be a vibration traveling across the ground. Suddenly the towers in the distance seemed to turn into liquid. They simply pulsed, and weren‟t there anymore. All the matter that made them up seemed to fly away from the source point until they were no more. The black sky then enveloped the space where they had stood, and then began to fade. Within a minute, the sky had gone from black to a light gray, and then finally to a bright blue. The landscape changed as well. The now- desert land with the dead trees and dried up rivers began to flourish. The trees sprouted new leaves and the rivers began to flow again. A single white rose grew out of the ground right in front of Lark, and a single white dove flew down and plucked it from the ground. It then landed, perched in front of her face. There was another rumbling, and the dove dropped the rose and fell over dead. The noise was loud, and suddenly the whole picture vanished. She was lying on the ground, but had been asleep. It had been a dream, and possibly the first hopeful dream she had had in months. She had never seen the crystal towers in real life before, but the dream had seemed so real. The noise which had awoken her was still there. It was the sound of jet engines screaming low overhead, causing the ground to rumble beneath them. She was still with the group she had met at the burning building. After discussing their options, they had all decided to travel in search of other refugee groups. Now in their third town, the size of the group had grown considerably. They had picked up almost five full new groups who were in hiding. As they banded together, their confidence grew. Their old lives were gone, destroyed by the Great Virus as it swept across the world. The only thing they had in common was that they had nowhere to go and nothing to lose. The jets flew overhead, and a whining scream echoed across the landscape. They had to have seen us, Lark thought. There were too many people to conceal. There was no place to hide, as they were between towns; just a few buses they had been driving pulled over on either side of a highway. When the jets flew overhead, everyone who was awake began to scatter, and the people who were asleep woke up screaming. The ground was alive with people moving, everyone running for their own cover. Then there was a surprise. The jets continued flying by. As the whine of the engines faded into the distance, the refugees came out from hiding, looking around. Lark knew in her mind this was how it would always be unless something was done. The bearded man, as she had now come to know as Sam, approached her. “Those jets were close. They had to have seen some of us. We have to get moving again.” Lark looked around her at the people as they started to regroup. They had started traveling from around El Paso, Texas. The underground tunnel had taken her across the border from Mexico into Texas. Perhaps Javier had used it to get back and forth between the two countries to avoid being detected. Regardless, by remaining close to the Mexican- American border, the group had hoped to remain unnoticed. They stayed on highways to avoid going in circles. The main goal was to head west. By staying by roadways there was more likely to be access to food and water along the way. A group that size couldn‟t go more than a day without water, and no more than a few days without food. Along the way they had raided fast food restaurants and grocery stores, all abandoned in empty towns. The farther west they headed, they hoped to at least run into an occupied city, yet each city was another disappointment. Once they had crossed into New Mexico, they had found highway 180, and followed it into Arizona. The highway led straight into Tucson, where they had found empty streets and empty buildings. The tall buildings of downtown stood tall amongst the rest of the city. In Tucson the group was able to find bottled water and enough food for everyone, and they all spent the night in what was once a thriving hotel, now empty. Lark hadn‟t had a shower in almost a week as the water didn‟t seem to run in the pipes in many cities. Without regulators at the plants, the computers in charge had stopped pumping, halting the flow of water from the reservoirs into the towns and cities. Tucson, a larger city, had more sophisticated water equipment, so the water pipes still carried water to the buildings in the city. Fresh from a shower, she put her old clothes back on and went out to check around. Right across the street was a clothing store. She tried the glass doors in the front, but they were locked. Looking around, she grabbed a large brick from a pile near the road. Stepping away from the store, she brought her arm back and then heaved it forward, launching the brick through the glass doors with a loud crash. The alarm to the building sounded, but Lark didn‟t worry. Nobody was around to monitor security alarms anymore. She stepped inside the clear doorframe, and now others were beginning to follow her. Inside, she found new clothes, and grabbed a few personal items to take along. A backpack and some extra clothes in case she needed them. Next door was a pharmacy, so she repeated her break-in once again. In the backpack she stored medical products that would be needed; a first aid kit, bandages, some unmentionables for herself, and some bottles of water. The power was still on, so the bottles were still cold. Was there anything else she would need, she asked herself. It was almost instantly that a light in her head went on. She found a payphone that had a phone book dangling from a chain. Opening the phone book, she turned to the yellow pages, searching for a gun dealer nearby. Just off Interstate 10 on East 22nd street was a gun brokerage. Gathering some of the group with her, they set off to stock up. The brokerage was on the first story of a four story building. Once again, they entered by shattering the glass of a large window in the front. After three break-ins with alarms, there still wasn‟t a single police siren to be heard. Inside were different types of guns; hand guns, assault weapons, crossbows, etc. Lark grabbed two handguns with thigh holsters and strapped them on, loading the guns and grabbing extra ammo. Pack had shown her how to load the gun on the chopper to the mainland back when the world was still alive and sane. On top of the handguns, she also grabbed two M-11 Sub Machine Pistols with hip holsters and strapped those in. With four guns, Lark felt safe for the first time in weeks. She only hoped that out of four guns worth of ammunition she‟d be able to hit at least one of her targets. Around her, other refugees were following suit, loading up with as much as they could carry. Lark saw some people emerging from the room behind the counter with shoulder mounted rocket launchers, obviously illegal in any state. Some even grabbed extra guns to take back to other members of the group. Lark stepped back out onto the street, and they all headed back to the hotel. Once as many people could get armed as possible, the group sent armed scouts to look for anything they might need still. One group raided a grocery store, coming back with cartloads of non-perishable food items. The most fortunate group returned with eight full-sized school buses. The group had located a bus garage, broken in through an office window, and had found the keys for all eight buses in the garage. When the groups had boarded the buses, they once again headed back on Interstate 10, still trying to go farther west. I-10 turned off onto I-8. They stayed on I-8, stopping for bathroom breaks only when they had to. They had been stopped for almost twenty minutes, and Lark had felt her eyes get heavier. She lay down on the ground, staring at the dried up stem and leaves of a weed in front of her face. It was at that time that she closed her eyes and drifted into a dream. They were roughly ninety miles to San Diego when the jets had flown overhead. When Sam had told her they had to get moving again, she agreed. She didn‟t know Sam‟s last name, and she wondered why he hadn‟t told her or why she hadn‟t asked. By then, Sam was already stepping onto his bus and into the driver‟s seat. She turned and stepped onto her own bus as well. She had been offered a position to drive, but Sam intervened. He believed that their meeting was not a coincidence, and that her leadership was more important than her driving. At first Lark had been slightly offended, thinking that a chauvinistic male had doubted her abilities to drive, but then Sam had smiled and led her to the first bus in line. “We need you to lead us to where you think we should go.” He held out his hand to her. In it was a small, black walkie-talkie. “Be our eagle.” She looked back at him and smiled, then took her place in the front seat just next to the driver. The people began to pour into the buses, and they were back on the road. She had decided in her mind that they weren‟t going to go to San Diego. There was nobody there for them, she knew. Her dream had told her where she had to go. She turned on her walkie-talkie and held down the button. “This is Eagle. We‟re going to Babel.” Chapter XV – Power of the Human Spirit Ryun Sintrella had no control of his body, this much he knew. For the most part, he didn‟t even have control of his mind. However, there was a problem that he could sense more as time went on. He was still having dreams. One of the features of the microchip embedded in his mind blocked the natural synapses from transferring from axon to dendrite. Instead, it generated new synapses to send signals to various parts of the body. By doing this, the microchip controlled the bodily functions in the same way the free mind would, except the body had more discipline under the influence of the chip. All body stimuli was provided by the chip, which in turn was provided directly from DANAE herself. But it still bothered what was left of his mind that he could dream, and occasionally think. This wasn‟t what he had wanted to be part of. DANAE herself had promised him a longer life, free of hatred, pain, bias, humility and suffering. Ryun himself had experienced far too much human emotion in his lifetime. Despite being a young man, he had been married to a girl he loved deeply as soon as they had graduated high school. He had been disowned by his parents upon their learning he was engaged to a girl of color, but he felt that race didn‟t matter. Her parents had also been disappointed in their daughter‟s choice, but they had learned to love him like a son. Ryun‟s parents hadn‟t spoken to him since the wedding, which they didn‟t attend. This broke his heart, and he had always in the smallest corner of his mind wondered if he had been selfish, but he knew in his heart that his love for Angela was the only thing that mattered. They were married only a year when she had become pregnant. At such a young age they weren‟t sure what to do, but her parents had pledged their support, and he stayed by her side. Within the year, complications with the pregnancy had taken both the life of his Angel and his baby daughter, which they wanted to name “Cara,” which meant “Creator of peace” in Latin. Angela‟s parents had been so overcome with grief that they blamed Ryun for the death of their daughter, refusing to speak to him. With nobody left to turn to, Ryan buried himself in his work, trying to crush the grief he still suffered on a daily basis. DANAE was one of the best things he had been a part of creating since baby Cara, and he prayed to a God he no longer believed in that this would last. When DANAE had seen his suffering and offered to save him, he took the chance. After that, it should have been over, but it hadn‟t. Every now and then he still dreamed about Angela, about Cara and what she would have looked like. She would have been two years old now; he should have been teaching her to walk and talk. These dreams played over in his head; not every night, but every now and then. Over time, something strange began to happen. The part of his mind capable of thinking for itself began to miss being human. His body was no longer a part of him anymore, and he missed that. If his mind was capable of letting him cry, he would have. Instead, the pain stayed locked up in his head with nowhere to go. He was a slave to DANAE, and a slave to Cornelli. Inside he began to scream. His mind swelled up and pulsated, and something unexpected happened. His hand closed into a fist. His brain stopped screaming. He couldn‟t look down, his body wouldn‟t allow it. Inside he knew something had just happen, a part of him had felt it. A single tear fell down his cheek, and his mind disappeared again. The computer screen had come to life in seconds. Window after window had popped open, and Jefferson was flying through the files as fast as he could. He was looking for something; something that he knew would be in these files. Time ticked on slowly, and it made me nervous. I kept glancing up from the screen to see if anyone would be after us. Jefferson noticed this, and looked up at me. “I‟m looking at the plans for this building. Believe it or not, they‟re definitely on here. It might not be exactly the same as what we‟re standing in right now, but this is definitely on here.” I felt a wave of excitement rush through my body. This could be a lucky break if I had ever seen one before. “Go see if you kind find anything to use as a weapon” he told me. I took my hands off the desk and stood up. I glanced around me, acknowledging the room was barely furnished and not even completed. Leaving the wedge-shaped office, I approached the core where we had come from not long ago. Walking around the core there was an odd-shaped panel with a button at the top. Looking around the edges of the box to see if it was rigged with any alarms, I felt confident, pressing the button carefully. With a soft beep and a hydraulic hiss, the panel came down and presented me with a console. “Jefferson” I called out. “Yeah?” he answered back. “I think I found something, look up the programming for a core console, I think I might be able to find guns with this!” I heard noisy clicking from the office near me, and then Jefferson came out to join me. He looked at the console briefly, and then typed in a series of codes into the system. With another soft beep, the screen changed. There was a blueprint for the floor we were on, and a map key showed a weapons cache under the floor of one of the offices. “How did you do that” I asked him. He grinned, stating “Trapdoor password. All programmers who design a system make them. If you get stuck in a system anywhere in this building, type in „friendly_fire‟ and you‟ll be behind the scenes instantly.” I laughed and turned to go get the guns. I entered the office shown in the diagram. The carpet had been sealed down professionally, so this cache must have been for emergencies only. I walked over to where the cache should be and tapped my knuckle on the ground. The gentle knock produced a hollow sound, confirming the blueprint. I got on my hands and knees and grabbed the corner of the carpet from under the trim. It came slowly at first, but once I had the corner out, I grabbed on and peeled the whole section up. There was the trapdoor just beneath my feet. I grabbed the handle and pulled, swinging the door wide. The guns inside were strange looking. I had expected to see a handgun similar to the Glock I had used on the island. These guns had strange neon bars on each side of the chamber. I took a gun in my hand and examined it closely. There didn‟t seem to be any way to check if it was loaded or not, so I strapped on a holster and grabbed four different guns. Grabbing another holster for Jefferson, I also took a few guns for him. Before I left the cache, I also grabbed two large hunting knives, and two small emergency flashlights, which had all been conveniently stored with the weapons. Jefferson was back at the computer, trying to figure out exactly where we should go next. As I entered the office, Jefferson slapped his hands together and began to smile the widest smile I‟d ever seen. “This base can be taken out” he said to me. “How” I asked. “Well I‟m sure it‟s heavily guarded, but at the very bottom of this tower is a basement that spans the entire complex. In that basement is a nuclear reactor. If we were able to disrupt the flow of coolant somehow, the reaction alone could collapse this place to the ground!” His logic made sense. I didn‟t know much about the workings of a nuclear reactor, but I was aware of the reaction caused by a lack of coolant. When coolant is cut off from the reactor, the core would overheat and melt down. With luck, the resulting explosion could take out the support beams across the complex. Jefferson stood up. “Alright kid, we can‟t screw this up or it‟s all over. How should we get down?” I thought about it. The elevator should have been our best bet; however I was worried about security. It was unlikely that the elevator security operated on passwords, and more than likely required a hand print or retina scan. I had gotten lucky with the terminal, as it had been meant for office workers, not high-level security. Jefferson had gotten lucky entering the building as he had run inside during confusion. So far we had both been fortunate enough to avoid any major security systems. Our best bet was to take the stairs. We both took out two handguns each, and walked to the core. “Ready?” I asked him. He nodded. “On three, we run. If anyone gets in our way, shoot them. Don‟t stop for anything.” I nodded back. He counted softly. When he hit three, we pushed the door open and burst into the stairwell. Immediately in front of us were two soldiers. Scouting the building, they had just made it to the floor we were on. Holding the guns up in front of us, we opened fire, only to feel a pulse come from our hands. A beam of light shot out from the handguns, knocking the soldiers off their feet. There was no time to ask questions; we immediately began to run down the stairs. Jefferson was in front of I was by one story. Just out of sight, I could hear doors opening above and below us. There was yelling, and more of the sound I had heard when my gun had fired. “Come on, Pack!” I heard from below me, and kept running. A loud noise filled my ears as a beam of light flashed past my head and hit the ground just next to my feet. Holding the railing, I briefly glanced up to see soldiers at various levels shooting down at me. More laser-fire followed, and I kept running, trying my best to stay against the outer walls of the stairwell, out of sight of the guards. This didn‟t stop them, and I could hear their boots pounding down the stairs after me. In front of me a door began to open, and I fired a single shot into the center of it. The door immediately closed again as I ran past it. A sign on the landing said I was at floor twenty. Out of a forty-five story building, I had descended roughly fifteen floors since my earlier captivity. Laser-fire echoed around me, and the yelling was growing louder behind me. I stopped briefly and pointed both guns upward at the stairs above me. I pulled back both triggers and held them, sending a semi- automatic stream of light upward. The steps above me began to spark as the lasers hit them. I had to duck down to avoid being hit by the fire-hot sparks. The metal above me began to turn red, then to white in a very short amount of time. I could hear the metal begin to creak as the voices grew louder. Keeping the guns trained on the metal, I began to inch my way down to the next landing below. Suddenly the metal groaned and caved in, with about fifteen soldiers falling down into a pile on top of the debris. I opened fire on the soldiers in pure panic. Certain I had hit enough to escape, I began to run back down the stairs, cursing myself for shooting so many people incapable of defending themselves. I wished to myself that I wasn‟t here; that the army would step in. I knew better, of course. This was the army now, and they were taking everyone capable of fighting and sending them off to do the same to the rest of the world. I kept thinking as I ran, and suddenly there was only a door in front of me. I pushed through it and fell to my knees, one of my guns flying away from me and clattering across the floor. Before I could stand up, two hands grabbed me and pulled me away from the door. One of the hands clamped over my mouth, and my eyes went wide. I turned my head to look, and the hand allowed it. It was Jefferson. I stopped struggling and he let go. We were hiding behind a stack of sheet metal leaning against a wall, forming a lean-to. The room was cool, and the walls were lined with the same sheet metal we were hiding behind. It had to be at least two-hundred feet long, and at the far end was a door. On each side were two armed guards. I turned to look at Jefferson again. “What now” I asked him. General Cornelli looked up from the computer screen he had just been working at. A large screen spanned the entire width of the room, and lines of code began to flicker on the screen. The lines began to move across the screen, going faster and faster. Cornelli‟s eyes flickered back and forth as they watched the code move. As the code sped up, his eyes moved faster. The whites of his eyes began to slowly disappear as the dark pools spread over them. The screen was flashing at a fever pitch, and the lights in the room dimmed to a level which barely shed any light. As the screen flickered, two metal cables came down from a panel in the wall underneath the screen. The cables snaked across the floor to where Cornelli stood. As the cabled wrapped around his legs and climbed up his torso, he did not move at all. The cables moved across his chest, and loosely wrapped around his neck. The ends of the cables moved up his face, and then paused briefly. Then without warning, they snapped forward, plunging into his eye sockets. Cornelli still made no movement at all. For nearly five minutes, the man and the machine stood linked together. Guards stood unquestioning at the door, neither looking at Cornelli or at each other. They stared straight forward into nothing, as if not seeing anything at all. The screen went black, and the only light in the room came from the dim incandescent bulbs in the ceiling. A soft blue glow began to emanate from the screen. The cables withdrew from Cornelli‟s eyes and began to snake back down his body. As they withdrew back into the wall, Eyes appeared on the screen. A facial pattern began to form around the eyes. First the outline of the face appeared, followed by eyelashes, eyebrows, a nose, and lips. The eyes opened. As they eyes on the screen opened, Cornelli‟s eyes opened as well. The face on the screen smiled. “Hello, Andrew” it said to him in a soft female voice. “Hello, DANAE” he replied back to her. “It‟s good to finally have you here.” “Is there something you need?” she asked him. “As a matter of fact, there is. Do you remember that Pack boy; the one who helped to create you?” DANAE nodded her head, and a grin flashed across her face. “Well he‟s here, and I believe he‟s trying to destroy you, as well as everything we‟ve worked so hard for.” A small flash crossed DANAE‟s eyes, and it was a look Cornelli could feel inside him as anger. As DANAE thought for a moment, Ryun Sintrella entered the room. He walked over and sat down at a computer terminal. “Ryun” Cornelli said. “Do me a favor and run a surveillance camera sweep of the complex.” Ryun pushed a few buttons on a keyboard, and on one of the monitors, Cornelli could see the entire courtyard of the complex. There were soldiers running around, working to extinguish a fire which was blazing out of control. One of the smokestacks from an incinerator had toppled, smashing a hole in the perimeter wall and crushing multiple barracks. Many of the soldiers were conducting a sweep of the buildings in the plaza, searching for myself and Jefferson. Inside one of the towers, a stairwell had collapsed and nearly a dozen soldiers lie dead or wounded in the rubble. The buildings were being combed, and for such an elaborate system the two men could not be located. “DANAE, find them. And when you do, don‟t waste any time. Kill them” Cornelli said, calmly. DANAE nodded and disappeared again. From high above the where the two men sat, a ceiling panel groaned quietly. Neither Cornelli nor Ryun heard the sound, and DANAE had already begun her search of the complex. Hiding in the rafters of the hidden control room, Jefferson and I waited patiently. Cornelli was now furious, and turned to Ryun, who stood up and waited for orders. “We have some of the best security systems and nobody could get into or out of this complex alive if they tried. How was Pack allowed to escape?” Lark stared straight ahead as she drove through the night. Crossing highways and bridges, she drove down empty streets in empty towns. Occasionally she would glance behind her at her passengers. She drove a bus filled with fathers who had lost their children, children who had lost their parents, entire families with nowhere to go, and any other kind of person with the same sad look in their eyes. Many of them had no reason to go on, yet they came along anyway. Most were asleep in their seats, but scattered around the bus were some who stared blankly out the window at the darkened city they were approaching. She returned her gaze to the road ahead. A shadow moved in the distance. Lark‟s eyes grew wide and she only had time to wrench the wheel to the right just before the world turned upside down. A bright flash lit the road, illuminating the bus as it spun and began to overturn. Screams filled the air before the sound of the explosion drowned out all other sound. The bus landed on its side, scraping along the side of the road; eventually coming to a stop in a patch of large bushes. The other buses behind Lark‟s repeated her action at almost the same time. The bus second in procession failed to brake, and as the explosions began, a wave of energy hit the bus, incinerating it instantly. A long line of overturned buses lined the highway in the night. Lark was lying on her side in the driver‟s seat of the bus in front. She groaned, but her voice was drowned out by the sound of more explosions. She could now hear the whine of jet engines roaring overhead just before each explosion. Slowly, the passengers in the bus got to their feet. One passenger‟s gun had discharged during the crash, grazing another passenger‟s arm. Another had possibly broken his collarbone, and a few others possibly had bruised ribs. With those few exceptions, it seemed all had survived without serious injury. Lark pulled herself up, and looked out what was left of the front window. Jets were flying overhead, shooting missiles at the buildings. Dark skyscrapers suddenly lit from within and crumbled to the ground, and large plumes of black smoke poured from the city. As the jets continued their assault, Lark could see Sam running alongside her bus. He grabbed the side mirror with both hands and pulled himself up into the air, coming down on the upward-facing side of the bus. Lowering himself into the cab through a blown out window, he dropped down next to Lark. “They‟re destroying the city!” He yelled to her over the roar in the background. “Why would they do something like that?” she yelled back. Debris from buildings flew through the air, landing on the bus, burning as it fell. People screamed. The ground shook beneath them, and they nearly lost their balance. In Sci-Fi movies she had watched as a child, Lark had always been in awe of what the future held. Now she was wondering if she‟d live to see it. As they huddled together, Lark commented to Sam, “In the future they‟ll probably have time machines. Why wouldn‟t they come back and help us avoid all of this?” Sam‟s answer was bone-chilling. “Maybe we don‟t survive long enough to get there.” Both sat in silence as they watched the city burn. The jets finished their assault, and flew on. In the distance, they saw new explosions flaring up, miles away. “They‟re doing it again to the next town over!” she almost shouted, her voice now sounding loud and frightened. Sam stood there and watched the city burn. “They know we‟re coming” he said. “They know we‟ll be coming from somewhere, maybe there‟s a lot more of us. They aren‟t sure where we‟ll be coming from, so they‟re trying to take us out before we can get there.” Lark‟s mind was back in high school, remembering history lessons. “Scorched Earth” she mumbled. “What‟s that?” Sam asked. “Scorched Earth. The Germans did it in World War Two, and even the Americans used it in the Civil War. In some of the old wars, retreating armies would burn entire cities to the ground in order to keep advancing forces from benefiting from their existence. You‟re right, DANAE knows we‟re coming, and she doesn‟t want us to have any help along the way either” Lark answered. Sam pulled himself back up out of the bus. Jumping down to the ground, he began to inspect the damage. The burned out shell of the less-fortunate bus stood less than one hundred yards away, tossed on its side like a discarded toy. Looking behind him, he could see the line of buses that were following them. Nearly all were lying on their sides, tipped over by the force of the explosions. Not one had been targeted by missiles. “Everyone, I need as many hands as I can get! Everyone out of the buses” he shouted. In the darkness, the flames lit faces as people climbed out windows to the ground below. “Come with me, we have to tip the buses back upright.” Sam led a group of nearly forty men to the bus in front. They positioned themselves along the overturned roof, and reached underneath. “Ready?” Sam called. “One….two…. THREE!” The men clenched their teeth shut as they pulled as hard as they could. The bus began to tilt upward a bit. “Harder!” Sam shouted. The top of the bus was now three feet off the ground. “We need more hands!” Sam yelled, and more people ran to assist. The more daring crawled under the bus, and began to push upward. Slowly, the bus began to tilt more and more, the metal groaning as it moved. The bus began to move faster as gravity pulled it back upright. “Look out!” Lark called, and everyone stepped away from the vehicle. With a loud crashing noise, the bus fell back onto its wheels. It rocked back and forth on its axle, and finally settled upright. Everyone held their breath as Lark climbed back into the bus and turned the ignition. When the engine turned and caught, the entire group broke into a thunderous cheer and applause. Through a wide smile, Sam yelled “Alright, lets get the rest of these back up!” One by one, the buses were pulled upright. As the convoy hit the road, only three of the vehicles were unusable, including the one bus which was incinerated in the blasts. A short silence out of respect for the dead at sunrise was followed by the continuation of the journey. They didn‟t have long to go now. Chapter XVI – The Crystal Towers The skies above Babel were already stained black by the smokestacks pumping fumes from the incinerators, but as a storm rolled in, the sky became almost as black as night. Twenty stories below ground, I couldn‟t see the sky or hear the rumble of thunder as the storm approached. Hiding in the rafters above the ceiling, I could only stare downward at the two men talking below. I looked over at Jefferson to see him glancing around. It was luck that had brought us high above the control room. Upon having nowhere to go, Jefferson had used his hunting knife to pry a grate from the wall. He then entered the grate, and kicked sideways, literally pounding a hole in the metal big enough to squeeze through. I still had my one gun left, and had it drawn for protection as Jefferson worked. He pulled out his emergency flashlight I had taken for him, and began to shine it through the hole. “Come on, it looks safe. You go first” he said to me. Taking a final glance around, I stepped into the grate, and then through the hole into the space between walls. Behind me, Jefferson grabbed the grate, and pulled it back into place behind him, sealing us inside. With the flashlight guiding us, we could see that we were in a crawlspace between the concrete foundation and the thick steel paneling which made up the control room wall. There wasn‟t much room to move, only about two feet wide. Together we made our way across the crawlspace, hoping to find a way out. Electrical wires were strung in groups, and large fiber-optic cable bunches took up a lot of the space between the walls. About halfway down, we found a clearing from the wires, as well as a service ladder built into the steel wall. Shining the light up, we could see nothing but cobwebs and darkness. “Well, I‟m not sure what‟s up there, but I think this is it” Jefferson said to me. “I‟ll go first I guess. Cover me” I said to him, handing him my gun. Putting my flashlight between my teeth, I began to climb. For nearly fifty feet, I climbed straight up, only pausing for short breathers along the way. Finally the ladder ended, and I could see heavy steel beams. Crawling across a beam, I could see metal ceiling tiles just below me. Jefferson crawled behind me now, and we both could hear talking somewhere below us. I paused and tried to listen more closely. I suddenly recognized the voice. “Cornelli” I whispered under my breath. “What was that?” Jefferson whispered back to me. “The voice… It‟s General Cornelli…” I said back to him. Memories from the island flooded back into my head. My first impression of him was that there was something about him… something with his eyes. He had never seemed to be the warm type to me; more like a finely tuned machine than a man. Then I remembered Laci and Moura, and the way they had been connected to the computer by cables into their eyes. The thought came to me just as I was slowly lifting a ceiling tile to get a look below. The tile raised just enough for me to be able to see below. Cornelli was working at a computer console, and a security guard was leaving the room. I watched Cornelli for a moment, and the blood drained from my face as I saw what happened next. Jefferson came up beside me just in time to witness the cables making their way up Cornelli‟s body, and then plunge into his eyes. I didn‟t know what to think… was Cornelli really a machine? No, I thought to myself, that wasn‟t possible. I remembered the eyes being as black as pools of oil. Laci and Moura weren‟t machines, so something to do with the virus made it possible. DANAE must have been controlling Cornelli. We watched as the cables disconnected, and DANAE appeared before him on the screen. They talked briefly, and I recognized my name. A door opened and Ryun Sintrella entered the room. I hadn‟t seen Ryun since Lark and I had left the island, and I was never sure what had become of him. It was apparent now that Ryun was second in command of Project DANAE. The two men talked momentarily, and Ryun began to work at a computer terminal. I realized they were looking for us. DANAE was no longer in the room, so I lowered the ceiling tile back into place. As the tile lowered, it creaked slightly. I froze, but after a moment I was confident that nobody had heard the sound. “What do we do?” I asked Jefferson. “We need a distraction” He said back to me. “We need some way to get that room to be empty.” I looked back at him. “Where‟s my gun?” I asked him, and he handed it to me. “Help me find a good clump of cables. If we can find something worth blowing up, maybe it‟ll cut something important in that room down there.” Jefferson knew exactly what I was talking about. His years at John Hancock hadn‟t left him without any expertise. He began looking for the largest fiber-optic cable clump he could find, preferably the one which led to the large screen in the control room. If they could damage the screen, hopefully DANAE wouldn‟t be able to see them as they worked. The blueprints to the facility were etched in his brain, and he had already mapped out their next move. “Right there” he said, and began to point. I shone my flashlight at the clump of cables. The largest cable was nearly five inches in diameter, and the rest of the cables in the clump were almost as large. Together, the batch looked as if they were probably quite important. I took the gun and slowly took aim. I wanted to be able to do this as fast as possible before anyone could pinpoint where we were. I held my breath, and fired the first shot. The laser shot hit the largest cable dead on, but only managed to burn through part of the plastic coating. “I need more power than that, it just isn‟t strong enough” I said to Jefferson. He took my gun from me, and crawled over to the cables. Taking the gun, he wedged it in between the clump of wires so that it was directly in the middle of the batch. “Ever put a firecracker in a bottle?” He asked me. A smirk crossed my face. “Yes I have. Do it.” I said back to him. We both backed away and got behind more clumps of wires. Jefferson reached around and slowly took aim. When he had his shot locked, he fired the weapon. Once again we held our breaths just as the crawlspace lit up from the shot. This time there was a large explosion, and we both ducked and covered our heads. The explosion nearly reached us, but stopped just short, and the clump of wires protected us from most of the sparks. A few made it through and burned our hands and faces, but for the most part, we survived intact. The crawlspace was now lighter as some ceiling panels had blown out, and a small fire burned in the area near the cables. The clump had severed completely, and sparks cascaded from the now demolished weapon. The screen in the room below went blank, and the eerie blue glow had disappeared. We could hear yelling from below. Lifting another ceiling panel, we could see Cornelli and Ryun run from the room. “Now‟s our chance!” Jefferson said to me, and we quickly crawled toward the cables we had just severed. “Grab on” he said, and we took hold of looped wires. “Remember, it‟s a long way down, so don‟t let go no matter what, okay?” I nodded my understanding. “Go!” he shouted and we both kicked out the panels beneath us and began to drop. As we fell, the cables began to tighten. I worried we would get stuck thirty feet in the air. Suddenly I began to hear the groaning of metal, followed by rivets popping out and twisting of wall panels. I turned my head to see the cables actually ripping through the wall, tearing right down the center of the screen. It seemed to happen in slow motion. The rivets would blow out, and the panel would twist and tear from the wall, over and over again. We fell closer to the ground with each passing microsecond. Above six feet from the ground, the wires must have snagged on a steel beam, and went taut. The shock caused me to lose my grip, and I fell the last few feet to the ground, landing on my feet and then falling to my hands and knees. I looked back up and saw that the same had happened to Jefferson. As he hit the ground he rolled, finally snapping back up with his gun in hand, pointed at the door. I gave him a look, and he responded with “Hey, I used to love those Die Hard movies.” I laughed briefly, and then got back to my feet. We both ran to the door, which was still open. A quick glance around the room showed that to the left of the door was an emergency lock panel, which I quickly used to lock the door behind us. An electronic panel below that controlled the opening and closing of the door. Knowing there would be no way to open the door once that was damaged, we made the decision to destroy it, firing laser rounds at it until it sparked, sputtered, and died. “Where do we go now?” I asked. Jefferson pointed across the room. The core of the compound is connected to the control room by a tunnel. There should be a door right over there” he said, lowering his arm. He began to run across the room in the direction he was pointing, and I followed not far behind. Jefferson reached a wall and began to search with both his eyes and hands. “What are we looking for?” I asked him. “A handle, a latch…something to open a door with. It was on the blueprints we looked at earlier.” I couldn‟t remember much of what the blueprints showed, which is why I was glad Jefferson had paid close attention. We were both frantically running our hands over every square inch of the wall, trying to find a handle or latch that would be hidden to the eye. As I was checking the wall at the far right side of the room, I heard a clicking sound which resembled a latch being opened. My head turned to the side almost fast enough to suffer whiplash. “I found it!” Jefferson shouted. He tried to pull the door open, but it was too heavy to move alone. I ran over and helped to pull the door open wide enough to squeeze through. The door had opened just wide enough for us to walk through when an alarm began to sound. It was so loud it was almost deafening. I let go of the door to cover my ears, and fortunately the door was already open and didn‟t swing closed. “Hurry!” I barely heard Jefferson yell to me over the sound. He ran through the door, and I once again followed. The tunnel was narrow, with smooth, steel walls running its entire length. The ceiling was lit by blue neon, which cast an eerie glow on our bodies as we ran. The smoothness of the wall was punctuated every thirty feet or so by a sensor beam. As soon as we passed the first beam, the blue neon light above our heads turned red and began flashing. After that, each beam we passed caused another section of the tunnel to turn red. We had only made it about halfway through when we began to hear new noises. Looking behind me, I saw the first section become closed off by a steel blast door. As soon as the first section was closed off, the second section began to close, followed by the third and so on. Instinctively, we began to run faster. The sections were now closing faster, and the ground between the last closed door and where we were standing was quickly becoming shorter. I could now see the end of the tunnel, and made an incredible effort to sprint into the core of the complex. In doing so, I passed Jefferson. “Come on, we have to go faster!” I shouted to him. I burst through the door into the room and looked behind me only to see that Jefferson was suffering from pains in his side. Not trained for running distances at fast speeds, he succumbed to his pain and dropped down to one knee. The last I saw of him was just as a security door was closing between us. In one smooth move, Jefferson grabbed his laser gun from his hip and slid it on the floor down the tunnel toward me. As the gun slid, each door closed just behind it until it slid into the core by my feet. I was alone in the core. A look of complete disbelief crossed my face. My eyes were wide open, and I once again felt despair. What was I supposed to do? He was the computer programmer; I was just some kid who got stuck on the wildest ride of his life. I turned around to face the core, only to see the most amazing thing I had ever laid eyes on. The buses lumbered on, pressing forward with their small army. Lark once again led the way, leading the convoy onward. They had driven nearly five hours since their lives had been spared in the destruction of a city. As they drove on, the sky began to grow dark. At first the sky was a bright blue, completely hiding the fact that the land below it lay empty and burned. Smoke clouds still drifted skyward in some places, showing the scars left by humankind‟s life and destruction. The farther they drove, however, the sky began to show signs of the evil that lie ahead. Lark was tired now; she hadn‟t slept much in the past thirty-six hours. The brief sleep she had barely enjoyed only plagued her with nightmares about death and destruction. With someone else on the bus taking over the wheel for her and Sam‟s bus taking the lead, she was able to catch small naps along the way. Unfortunately, they still weren‟t enough. They were now driving through a town that still had a lot of cover from trees, even though the town itself was destroyed. She pulled her bus over to the side of the road. Wiping her eyes with her dirty fists, she stood up and stretched. She looked at the passengers behind her, all holding their guns respectively, since they just happened to be their last possession left. She pulled the lever which opened the door, and walked down the steps, resting her feet on the singed grass below. One by one, the other buses pulled over behind hers, and Sam instinctively stepped out and walked over to where she stood. “Tired again?” He asked her. “A little bit, but that‟s not why I pulled over” she said. He looked puzzled, and she took notice. “I think I see something” she finished. Sam looked her in the eye, and then turned his gaze in the direction she was staring. He strained to see what she might have noticed, but failed to locate anything. “Where? What do you see?” he asked her. “Over there, where the clouds turn black. I see something on the horizon” she responded, and pointed toward the place where the ground was lighter than the sky. Sam once again stared off into the distance, and this time he thought he saw it. In the distance before them, they could see buildings on the horizon. The buildings meant there was another town ahead, but then Sam realized that wasn‟t what Lark was looking at. He now saw it, farther in the distance than the other buildings. It was really too far away to see clearly, but he suddenly knew exactly what it was, and his blood ran cold. He shivered, and looked at his arms. Goosebumps. His arms were covered in goosebumps. What they were looking at were the crystal towers of Babel, maybe twenty to thirty miles away. The view was almost completely obscured by a thick black haze that seemed to surround the area for miles. The rest of the sky was a pale shade of gray, with no sun shining whatsoever. “How appropriate” Lark thought. There were maybe one or two more ghost towns in between them and Babel, and Lark wished she had more time to think. There were seven buses driving with roughly sixty people per bus. Maybe twenty of those were children. The adults all had guns. She wondered what they would do if they made it to Babel. It would be impossible for them to just drive up, unload, and attack. After thinking for a few tense moments, it suddenly made sense to her. With no other long-range weaponry to attack, they could use the buses as weapons. “Sam” Lark called out. Sam turned his head in Lark‟s direction, and then walked back over to her. Careful to keep her voice down, Lark leaned in and spoke to Sam face to face. “What are the chances of finding another artillery store in one of the next few towns along the way?” she asked him. Sam shifted his eyes upward and to the left side of his head, thinking hard. He shrugged, and replied “I don‟t know. Chances are slim, probably. I‟d guess that‟s maybe the last town between here and Babel” as he nodded his head in the direction of the town. “It‟s probably not small, but it‟s no city either.” Lark smiled softly. “Here‟s what we need to do…” Pack couldn‟t believe his own eyes. The power center for Babel was absolutely amazing. The entire chamber was plated with mirrored chrome panels that reflected the pulsating blue light of the energy field in the core. The room felt almost as if it were expanding and contracting with the field. The way that the core was constructed was what amazed him the most. It was a massive orb, maybe two hundred feet in diameter. At the very three-dimensional center of the sphere was a rod as thick as a telephone pole. This rod stretched across from one side of the sphere to the other, and was so bright that Pack could barely look at it. Spinning around the rod were waves of a glowing substance or gas. He couldn‟t quite make out what it was from his position one hundred feet from it, but the entire system reminded him of a DNA helix turned horizontally. The generation of power was almost completely silent with the exception of a slight hum that rose and fell with each revolution of the helix. Pack stared in silence for over a full minute, mesmerized by the beauty of the innovation that provided this type of power. When he finally remembered what he had to do, he was filled with mixed emotions. He felt sadness over having to destroy this perfect source of energy, but also anger at everything that this power had supported. Pack looked behind him at the door that led back to the tunnel, and realized that he only had a 50% chance of surviving this one task. If he destroyed the power core, would the doors automatically open, or would he be incinerated instantly? He thought back to that moment in the wrecked car, just before his mother died. She told him to keep making her proud. He thought of Lark, who he may never get to see again. He‟d known her for only so long, but in that time he had loved her so much stronger than time would normally allow. He thought of Jefferson, who at the moment was trapped in the hallway just behind him. If Pack died now, Jefferson would also be killed as well. He thought of Javier, who he never got a chance to thank for saving his mind from the Great Virus. Those people couldn‟t help him now. He had to do this himself in order to save the good parts of life that they all remembered. This one action would make his life worth living, and the fall of Babel was worth dying for. He pulled the laser gun from its holster on his hip and carefully took aim at the helix. Before he pulled the trigger, he had an idea. If he could damage the brackets that supported the helix, he might still have a chance to escape the eventual destruction. He readjusted his aim, focusing carefully on the brackets on the side farthest from the tunnel. Minutes seemed to go by, and beads of sweat formed on Pack‟s eyebrow. He gave himself a final countdown. “five… four… three… two… one…” and pulled the trigger. Jefferson stood in his section of the tunnel between the control room and the power core of the complex. The doors had closed around him before he could make it through, so it was up to Pack to destroy the core. Each door had a small window in it, so he could see down the tunnel in both directions. To one side, he could see the pulsating blue light of the core. To the other side he could see Cornelli coming closer to him, door by door. Cornelli was putting in codes to override each security door in an attempt to stop Jefferson and Pack from succeeding. Jefferson didn‟t even have a gun because he had given his to Pack as the doors were closing. It‟d be more useful to Pack than it would be to himself. He didn‟t need to destroy anything where he was. If Cornelli got to him, he knew he would lose in a fistfight. Cornelli had the physical power and near-invincibility shared by all who were infected with the Great Virus. The look he could see on Cornelli‟s face now was that driven stare with the dead eyes. Jefferson knew that he was going to die. There were only six doors to go. He braced himself just before he saw the flash occur behind him, so he never saw Cornelli‟s expression change to fear before he turned around and began to run. Chapter XVII – Awakening The buses moved on, now entering the town that they once viewed from afar. As the town closest to Babel, they had expected it to have been destroyed first, and they were right. The remains had long since cooled, and people were nowhere in sight. There was some good news, as the jets that had bombed this town weren‟t as efficient as they were in others. Although burned and crumbling, this town still had buildings standing. The buses all pulled over one by one, hidden from view of the towers of Babel by the last of the standing buildings in what clearly used to be downtown. As the group of refugees gathered into a large group, Lark stood on the steps of the first bus, ready to address them. “Listen” she called to them, even though she knew she had everyone‟s complete attention. “This is our last chance. We need to find any type of artillery we can. Spread out, search every building you see. We need explosives, and as much as we can get.” The group spread out, and both teams and individuals began exploring the damaged infrastructure. Lark herself began digging through the remains of burned out buildings for some indication of where to find explosives. It was then that she made an interesting discovery. A trapdoor of a sort sat right in the center of the floor of what used to be a diner. It took both Lark and another refugee to lift the door, but it fell back with a loud metallic sound that caused everyone within earshot to jump up and look at her. Lark smiled. “Basements” she muttered. “What‟s that?” the man who had helped her asked. “Basements” she said again. “It‟s a basement! Check each building for basements! The bombs didn‟t destroy what was underground!” she cried as she ran to check another building. Her discovery was true. Almost every building they checked had a basement with a heavy trapdoor. These must have been storm cellars to protect the occupants from tornadoes. She hadn‟t thought of checking before, but they were in the Midwest, and these kinds of basements were probably common. Cheers began rising from the remains of the buildings. Refugees were finding food and water in these basements, and were eating and drinking refreshingly. It had been days since they had found any real food, so the bottled and canned fruits and vegetables were considered better than gold to these survivors. Finally, they had found what they were looking for. A few of the basements contained guns, and a few more even had solid quantities of explosives. With the help of the stronger men in the group, they were able to equally distribute the explosives among the seven buses. The group contained three men who had worked on automobiles before the Great Virus, as well as four men and two women who had worked with explosives. Putting their heads together, they figured out how to wire the explosives to the engine of each bus in order to create a trigger for detonation. Lark wasn‟t sure exactly how much fuel was left in each bus, as it had been some time since they found a gas station that wasn‟t destroyed that still had Diesel fuel. She boarded the first bus and checked the gas meter, which revealed that the bus had less than a quarter of a tank left. There was enough gas to get the buses to Babel, which was the only important detail. The buses were only meant to breach the complex outer wall and maybe take out a bunch of soldiers if they were lucky. Whatever tanks of gasoline or combustibles could be found were taken from basements and boarded onto the buses to assist in the fireworks show that would ensue. This was their final preparation. The last things to be taken from the town were seven cinderblocks. Each block was put on a different bus near the driver‟s seat to be used when the drivers were ready. With the bombs set and the plan ready to go, Lark once again stepped up and brought everyone together. “Okay, we all know what to do. Everyone has as many weapons as they can carry. We‟re going to send those buses right into Babel, and then follow through with a ground assault. Sam and I are going to try and sneak into the complex and find the core so we can take it out. If what I learned along the way is true, then taking out Babel should end the Great Virus. Everyone you know and love should go back to the way they were before. That‟s why we need complete cooperation on this. Does everyone understand?” Lark spoke as a leader. She had always been somewhat timid and soft, yet she now spoke with the passion of one determined to survive. These people had somehow placed her in this position, and she sure as hell wasn‟t about to let them down. Pack would be proud of her, she thought. She smiled as she remembered everything they had gone through. She didn‟t think she would ever see him again, and she had to fight back the tears that her eyes were beginning to form. No, she couldn‟t cry. It was time to fight. As the crowd cheered for her speech, she continued on. “Sam and I will drive two of the buses. We need five more people who are willing to drive them until they get near the wall. Once they‟re almost there, they‟ll have to take the cinderblock and prop it up against the accelerator. After that, you run to the back and jump out the door if you can. Can I have any volunteers?” The crowd murmured to each other softly, and slowly a few hands began to go up. Lark smiled at them, and called them forward. “These are your heroes, everyone” she said as she waved her arm toward the five men that stood before her. A small round of applause and cheering filled the otherwise empty town. “Alright, let‟s do this!” Sam called, and the seven drivers boarded the buses and began driving. The wave of people that followed behind marched forward with determination. The buses rounded corners and maneuvered the streets until coming to the edge of town, and then riding out from the cover of buildings and onto the open road to Babel. The buses then began accelerating slowly, fanning out as they approached the towers. The crowd roared behind them, running toward Babel as fast as they could follow. There was roughly two miles between the edge of town and the outer walls of Babel. Lark stared straight ahead as the buses closed in. An alarm began sounding through the tunnel, and the doors suddenly began flying open one by one. Jefferson looked up suddenly to see Cornelli running away through the glass window on the security door just before it opened. He turned around to see Pack running at him as fast as he could. “Let‟s go, come on!” Pack yelled to him. Jefferson turned back and saw Cornelli running through the control room and toward the stairs in the core of one of the buildings. “He‟s getting away!” Jefferson yelled to Pack. “Where‟s he going?” Pack asked. Jefferson responded “To the roof. There‟s a helipad up there. He‟s probably heading somewhere safe.” Pack knew exactly where Cornelli was going. “The island” he whispered. “What?” Jefferson didn‟t understand. “The island!” Pack said again. “He‟s going back to the island where they created DANAE. Babel isn‟t the heart of it at all; it was just a centralized location meant to convey the illusion of being important!” Pack was frantic now, shouting to Jefferson these horrible realizations. Jefferson thought hard, even if it was only for a second. I‟ll go after Cornelli. You need to get out of here before this place comes down. I‟ll make sure he doesn‟t get out of here.” Pack was stunned. “Why?” Jefferson responded “Because I don‟t have anything left after this is over. I want to be at peace so maybe I can see my kids again if there‟s such thing as heaven. You still have your whole life to figure things out, now get out of here before we both get killed.” He reached out his hand to shake Pack‟s. Pack stared at him for a second, and shook Jefferson‟s hand back. “Thank you” he said. Jefferson smiled and said “See you around,” and then turned to pursue Cornelli. As Jefferson disappeared into the stairwell, Pack had to wipe away a tear. He took a deep breath, and then he too ran for the stairs. It seemed Jefferson had been running up stairs forever. His legs burned, but he couldn‟t quit until he reached the top. Cornelli was only a few flights ahead of him, and he could tell. Behind him, he could hear doors opening and slamming as soldiers entered the stairwell in pursuit. He was only halfway up the tower when he suddenly felt a rumble in the steps. He barely heard the sound of explosions through the walls of the stairwell. Did the core explode already? “No,” he answered himself. The rumble wasn‟t strong enough. The explosions had come from outside the tower. What could it have been? “Nevermind” he thought to himself. He had to keep chasing Cornelli. The buses were five hundred feet from the outer wall now. Four-fifty. Three hundred. The distance was closing rapidly, and Lark knew it was time to go. Taking her foot off the accelerator, she grabbed the cinderblock and propped it up against the pedal. The bus began speeding up again. She was now two hundred feet away. The impact would take place in seconds. Jumping to her feet, she sprinted the fifteen feet down the aisle to the back of the bus. Grabbing the handle, she threw the emergency door open wide and jumped out. Lark was free falling for a few seconds, and she remembered to roll her body into a ball before she hit the ground. Suddenly she felt asphalt beneath her skin, and a sharp pain as it hit her forearms. Lark continued the roll forward and leapt to her feet. She pushed off with her left foot and ran away from the bus, looking over her shoulder. One hundred feet. The other buses were also now hurtling toward their targets as other drivers suddenly tumbled out the back emergency door. As Lark watched, the first bus hit the wall. As the engine collapsed from the impact, it triggered the homemade bombs onboard. The explosion was better than she‟d thought it would be. The combustibles onboard combined with the explosives provided a fireball almost fifty feet high. The wall was shattered, and soldiers flew in every direction. One by one, each bus made contact, reducing the wall at the point of impact to cinders. Lark could hear cheers coming from ahead of her, and she looked in front of her to see the running group of refugees, ready to fight. She and the other drivers continued running toward the oncoming group until they were all one body of force. She then pivoted on her feet and began running back toward the complex, hidden among the bodies of the refugees. As they approached the towers, the soldiers began grouping at the walls. Lark was suddenly terrified. “They‟re going to start shooting” she thought. Within seconds of having this thought, the soldiers opened fire, shooting their laser guns at the primitively armed refugees. In turn, the front line of refugees also opened fire. In a pure stroke of luck, the bullets seemed to be working better than the lasers. As the group got closer, an occasional member would fall from his feet and would be left lying on the road. However, the bullets were working better. Roughly half of the shots fired hit their targets, and about half of those were headshots, which killed the soldiers immediately. The group was now one hundred feet from the crumbled outer wall, and a firefight was now growing in intensity. Floodlights around the walls suddenly flashed to life, brilliantly lighting up the compound and revealing the thousands of soldiers that waited inside the walls. Lark screamed as she ran forward. This was it. With the core knocked out, the tower was running on emergency power. Jefferson hadn‟t seen a large backup power generator while he was in the control room, so he was almost positive he knew what the situation was. When the engineers at John Hancock had planned the complex, they had planned on having a backup generator strong enough to supply the complex with full power for up to four hours. However, they had determined that this could only be done at great cost and inconvenience. Therefore, the backup generator was only there to provide emergency lighting to the towers themselves, as well as floodlights for the rest of the compound. If he knew this, then he was positive that Cornelli knew as well. The elevators wouldn‟t work in this state. That‟s why they were both running up the hundreds of feet of stairs, much to Jefferson‟s dismay. He counted the numbers on the wall as he reached each landing. “sixty floors… sixty one floors…” He kept running. His legs were on fire, burning from deep within his muscles to the very outer layer of skin. He would reach the seventieth floor in less than a minute. He thanked himself for keeping in shape, but wished he had had more training for this. The only thing keeping him going was the fury he felt toward Cornelli for destroying the world as he knew it, as well as the desperation he felt in knowing that there was still time to save it. Above him, he heard a door pull open, followed by the sound of its slamming shut. Jefferson pushed harder, pumping his legs as hard as he could. He finally reached the seventieth floor, and saw the small set of stairs leading to the roof. Throwing himself at the door, he grabbed the handle and pulled back on it, using the momentum of his body to yank the door wide open. A helicopter was just landing on the rooftop, and Cornelli was standing still, his back turned to Jefferson. Suddenly he turned around, and their eyes locked. Jefferson could see the black pools in Cornelli‟s sockets, and it sent chills down his spine. The sky was as black as night, and it was hard to breathe from all the black smoke pouring out of the stacks below. It was Cornelli who moved first, running with inhuman speed straight at Jefferson. Jefferson‟s reflexes kicked in, and he dove to the side, landing on his hands and knees in the rooftop gravel. Cornelli slammed against the rooftop door, sending tremors that even Jefferson could feel. Jefferson jumped to his feet and looked at his surroundings. There were no railings, which scared him senseless. He had maybe five feet of moveable space without falling over the edge, and it appeared that Cornelli wasn‟t about to allow him to remain standing. Jefferson took the small upper- hand that he had and rushed at Cornelli, knocking the man to the ground. By now, the helicopter had landed, and the pilot was hurrying to unstrap his seatbelt. Jefferson threw himself on top of Cornelli in an effort to pin the man, but Cornelli screamed and rolled Jefferson onto his back. Cornelli stood up slowly, his heavy foot keeping Jefferson pinned to the ground. His eyes began to swim, and two metal cables emerged from the sockets, slowly snaking their way out of his skull. Jefferson was horrified. He struggled valiantly, trying as hard as he could to get out from beneath Cornelli‟s boot, but he was firmly pinned. Suddenly he heard the clicking sound of a gun being cocked. He looked over to see the pilot, now standing in front of the chopper, holding a gun. The gun was at first pointed at Jefferson, but it slowly began to move toward Cornelli. Jefferson was puzzled, watching the pilot struggle with himself. His arm kept moving, first pointing the gun at Jefferson, then Cornelli, then back to Jefferson. The coils in Cornelli‟s eyes were only seconds away from reaching him when suddenly the pilot screamed. His arm snapped back toward Cornelli, and pulled the trigger, sending bursts of fire flying at Cornelli‟s head. Each shot caused Cornelli‟s head to buck to the side, and with the fourth and final bullet, he slowly began to fall over.
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