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"I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity."

-Gilda Radner

Hartsdale Facility, 2:20 AM, Day 1

I sometimes wonder if we did the right thing for the lad, not leaving him alone when he'd asked. He said it wasn't any of our business, that we weren't his family. And a good thing too that we weren't his family, I knew the kid's father, still had the scar to show for it. The kid looked up at me with those shining dark brown watery eyes, as if pleading to all the stars in heaven for some understanding. I understood all right, understood all too well, like I said, I knew his father. However, I also had a job to do, and it had to be done.

Yeah, that's what I had told myself at the time when I'd done what I'd done, that I had a job to do, regardless of whatever I might be feeling. We were all young in those days, and followed orders without question, ignored our feelings for the sake of serving the greater good. Greater good, yeah that's a laugh.

Dreams, of the kid, always started out this way, with me back in the old neighborhood with Nicholas, only we're wearing the job's suits rather than the crew's fatigues. I'm there, and the kid starts looking at Nick and I, with those damned big brown eyes, weeping at the thought of being sent back home. Were I the kid, I'd have run away from his home too.

Then, as I take the kid by the shoulder and start leading him back, the scene changes, and I'm back in basic training, Nick is gone, and the kid has become my father. Same brown eyes though, and I ask him why? Why did it have to be done, surely there was another way? He shouldn't have died. And just when he begins to answer me, right on schedule every damn time in this point of the dream that I have about the kid and my father, just when I should get some answers, I wake up. The phone rings, and I answer. It's the boss, naptime's over, necessity calls. I have another damn job to do. At least these days I don't have to deal with kids.

-Rafael Ramirez, Senior Assessor, Introspection

Frowning at the old habit from his old job, senior assessor Rafael Ramirez deleted the log entry from his blackberry; Ramirez was trying to break himself of it. Personal sentiments coloring official records was just bad for business, especially when it was liable to be used against you, and extra especially when you work for clandestine organizations who are rather touchy about any records detailing their shadowy operations to begin with. It was two-twenty in the morning, here in Hartsdale, New York, and Rafael Ramirez had to make his final report to the Board in another two to four hours, which left him very little in the way of time to work. Entering a long hallway through vaunted double doors, Ramirez frowned again, far more darkly this time.

Broken bodies littered the corridor, piled in haphazard disarray like macabre beacons to some long forgotten pagan god of human sacrifice. The scent of them, there, corpses right before they begin to decay, oh so familiar, and yet still all too sickening for Ramirez to bear. Some of them were missing limbs, others faces; which made it easier for Ramirez, not to have those lifeless eyes staring up at him, judging him as if what has happened to them were somehow his fault. Some of them though, were missing most of themselves all together. Dismemberment was bad enough though,if only it had ended there as Ramirez wished, the dismembered were the lucky ones.

It got worse as he had to move on, and thereby encountering the not so lucky ones. Frozen sentinels guarded the main lobby, the corridor opening out onto these human statuaries of flesh and ice. An hour and a half old coating of frost still glistened off their frozen skin. The coldness of that room's electric lighting played across the shining dead faces somehow making being here all the more surreal. Human flesh wasn't meant to shine like that.

A click, clack of shod feet on lobby floor tiles saw Ramirez brought to the center of the room's mayhem, the lobby elevators. One of them was blown wide open, or maybe flown right open was a better term. For the metallic lift doors were doing exactly that, flowing out into the lobby as if comprised of mercury rather than steel. The thought of what that pink stuff mixed in with the metal pulp was made Ramirez dry gag, no piles of broken bodies to be had here, no, but rather pools of them, yes. One of the pools wasn't pink, and far too chunky, it was clear enough that one of the men securing the scene had sicked up before Ramirez could get there. He might have sicked up too, but having forgone dinner for an early night on what was supposed to have been his day off, his stomach was thankfully empty. Ramirez supposed he could have eaten on the flight over from Seattle, but then he definitely would have been sick now. Junior IA members often made that mistake, hence the not so pink puddle.

Stepping over the disconcerting pools of flesh and metal to get to the other, undamaged elevator, the senior assessor began to run the numbers in his head. It was far easier to think of the dead as numbers, otherwise he wouldn't be able to get a single night's sleep ever again. If he started thinking of them as people, (not that he was getting much shuteye as it was,) it would be taking the first steps on a road he had been down before, and he didn't like where it led. It was his job as an IA lackey to assess the totality of the situation, and then relay it back to the higher-ups as succinctly and accurately as possible. In which case for Ramirez, as he stood in the elevator counting, it made the total body count well over a hundred and for the first floor alone no less. Sixty-one male, fifty-seven female, and eleven indeterminate, give or take eleven as a conservative estimate, there just aren't enough pieces to account for everyone.

An irritably cheerful orchestral piece marked the passage of floors up to the top level, where the epicenter of the chaos had taken place, and where the most important elements of the assessment were located. No matter the body count on the rest of the floors or on the facility grounds, which Ramirez would still, have to assess regardless, his primary objectives lay with the senior executive offices on the top floor. It was here that the massacre had come to a climax, and where Ramirez's job got hard. The pristine doors of the undamaged elevator slid open as the lift chimed the final floor. Immediately to Ramirez's right lay the liquefied remains of the other elevator. Any security measures a part of these private executive lifts were not enough to stop the madness here. The metal door puddles were the least noteworthy sights to be seen, however.

Blackened scorch marks marred the floors here and there, raking gouges erupted into the walls and ceiling, and a part of the central floor wasn't even present. It was like the central floor had given way to a gigantic sinkhole, and as Ramirez stepped closer, he concluded that maybe it had. Ridiculous though it might be that a sinkhole should exist on the top floor of a multistoried complex such as this one, it was also ridiculous that so many should have had to die tonight, and for what, because they happened to be the janitorial staff for the wrong building? That they ended up working security detail this night rather than tomorrow? It was a damn good thing that the complex was so nearly empty at night, with only minimal people to occupy it. Had the massacre taken place during the day, the death toll would be closer to a thousand, like it had with the Deveaux attack, rather than this hundred or so; (still, a hundred too many as it was.)

Ramirez grimaced when he saw a particularly large scorch mark where an executive reception desk should have been. A techy was hunched over the spot with a Geiger counter nattering away like the devil set free in Georgia. Then again, that was a suitable image for the destruction here. Partition walls for private offices lay demolished, rubble and debris was scattered every which way, and what little furnishings still existed were far from being intact, or even recognizable.

The destruction became seemingly stranger when one drew closer to the sinkhole, that gaping hole in the center of the floor was more than thirty feet across, and one could see clear through to the level below this one. The offices down there were buried under heaps of sand. Some of that sand was blackened too, like someone had blasted his or her way out of a sand tomb. So where had the sand come from, and where was the missing section of floor? Buried beneath it?

There wasn't time to speculate, Ramirez began studying scorch marks for organic traces. Radioactive or not, some of those smears might have been people, and that made the count closer to two hundred, rather than just one hundred and some. The Board wasn't going to like this, no, not at all. It was a bad day to be with the IA division of the organization. However, bad or not, Ramirez thanked all the stars above that he hadn't been given the Deveaux assignment. This here was bad enough; at least Hartsdale was still standing. There had been nothing, nothing left of the Deveaux building after the raid there; it had all been leveled. Still, after the Deveaux theft, there shouldn't have been any reason for tonight's mess. None of it made any sense. It raised far too many questions to be considered at present, most of them beginning with a: why?

Edging around the rim of the sinkhole, and stepping over glass shards and wood splinters on his way to the latter half of the room, where the most unnerving sight was to be beheld, the senior assessor stopped short with a sudden realization looking down. The wooden pieces came from a fragmented chair. However, as the trail of wood fragments led away from the majority of ruins for the chair, they suddenly became glass shards. Not like from a shattered window, (though there were those too,) but rather as if the chair had been made partly of glass when it was shattered. Ramirez noted similar scatterings of wood to glass shards, as if much of the furnishings had been turned into glass shrapnel. All aimed at where the sinkhole was now.

That mystery aside, on the other end of the sinkhole was by far the most unnerving piece of the puzzle: the corner office where our man in charge should have been. The office was effectively gone now, with the walls collapsing outwards. Now, in an attack climaxing at this very spot, shouldn't an assault have blasted the office walls inward with the assailant trying to get into the office, rather than the reverse? What had pushed the walls outward became obvious however, and this was the unnerving bit rather than the walls themselves. The director of operation's desk was no longer even a desk. Yes, many desks could no longer rightly be called desks destroyed as they were, but this was different. The front of the ornate wooden desk grew into a series of many elongated spikes, which had blasted through the office walls and impaled something beyond in a pre-emptive strike. A desk (with spikes growing out of it) had collapsed those office walls, and now, whatever had been impaled on them was no longer present. Dried blood on the spikes and carpet beneath marked the presence, or lack thereof for the impaled.

Lastly, Ramirez found a solid metal dome formed over what remained of the executive office, with it situated well behind the spike-desk. The dome had many generous scorch markings and frost patches on it, yet remained otherwise intact despite this apparent beating it had taken. The dome looked like no metal Ramirez had ever seen before, and if he had to put a name to it, it was probably one of those man-made artificial elements way down at the bottom of the periodic table, with some name like Uuuium; lots of U's. Whatever force of nature had attacked the Hartsdale facility had busted its way: through a whole slew of people, up a secured elevator shaft, past shrapnel, sand, and spikes, and all to come to this very spot. Only to find this, the indurate dome. Ramirez guessed the failure to breach it wouldn't have made the force of nature happy.

With a four AM deadline drawing ever closer, Ramirez forwent more details and had the tech crew start working on finding a way to crack the mystery dome wide open. If they couldn't get into it, then no natural force on earth would either, (which seemed to be the point.)

It was nearly forty-five minutes later, (with Ramirez running the analysis for other floors as he waited,) when the techies at last carved a hole into the thing. From out of it were dragged the limp and unconscious forms of two people, one male and one female. Both appeared to be suffering from the initial stages of hypoxia, and in varying degrees of injury. The younger, the female, was blond and had been further into the dome than the male, as if being protected. Med Techs stated her as having several broken ribs, and massive bruising, but being otherwise okay, (other than the oxygen starvation, but brain damage assessment would have to wait.) Now the elder of the two, the male, was a balding man with glasses (one of the lenses cracked,) and he was by far the worse off. Massive internal damaging the MTs said, as if parts of him inside were missing. Critical elements in his blood were dangerously absent, and so the blood wouldn't clot, and if the internal bleeding went unchecked he'd die sooner rather than later.

When Ramirez went for a closer look at the balding male, he was careful to step around a largish, black scorch mark on the ground, barely paying it any attention with his concern on the identity of the dying man. Crunch. Ramirez paused to look down on what he had accidentally stepped on in his haste to avoid the man-sized black smear-stain on the ground. It was, or rather had been, a scorched pair of horn-rimmed glasses lying right next to the stain. Damn, concluded Ramirez, as he began thumbing this into his report for the Board, make that two hundred and one dead. Ramirez glanced over at the balding man, and another one to follow.