The Observer Chronicles: by Robert Oldemann

The Observer had only gotten there a short time before and needed to familiarize himself with his surroundings and whereabouts in history. The pain of his transfer through time and space was wearing off and he found himself in a vast metropolis. He had been walking for miles; running at first because when he materialized in this time and place it was in a back isle of a small market. He had startled everyone nearby. The Asian owner hit him with a broom and chased him out of the store and down the block yelling, 'Gui! Gui! Bia Gui!" People who heard the shopkeeper and understood turned and quickly moved out of the way. The Bia Gui or 'White Ghost' when translated, rounded a corner and quick-footed it for a while until he felt confident that nobody was chasing him. He stopped and put on a pair of baggy grey pants he had grabbed from a shelf of clothes during his escape. He walked and thought about what to do next. Food, shelter, and employment were necessary if he intended to survive. He had done this before many times, been thrust into a situation with literally nothing but his wits; this time he was glad to be in a modern world.

He walked until he came to a high grey fence overlooking a rail yard that was a hundred tracks wide. Red dust covered everything. The area was under construction. To his left large holes pitted the rusty landscape. In front of him, workers encased green, rebar skeletons with dark wooden forms and to his right the forms were being filled with concrete. The truck he walked up next to drove away then was replaced by someone walking towards him. "They're building a Federal Transfer Center over the rail yard. Those are the foundation stanchions," a voice said. The Observer looked towards the voice and saw behind that person an immense structure that had been concealed by the truck. Rectangular and tannish it rose into the haze of the grey sky. He asked what it was and got answered with a question, "You're new around here aren't you?" To which he said, you could say that. "They're covering the planet with a Platform and that's where the corners sit. Those sections of platform are over three hundred miles square. It takes a long time to make 'em up in space and all. Down here, we just see the leg that went up as a support for this area here and that's where they're gonna land all four corners. Thing's important, they say," he paused and scratched himself behind his right ear. "Lots of elevators to go up and down." He stopped and his mind seemed to drift. "A lot of elevators. They don't all work yet but the ones that do take tourists up and down. They're building it to make life better. Everybody will just move up to the new surface of the planet. Clean and shiny and brand new with all the plumbing pipes already in 'em. That's what Tony says at the shop," he gestured back across the street to the open garage door of Roma Blacksmith. "Real important that column. He says, 'Why do you think it's been so busy these past years,' he asked me. 'Everybody and his brother have to come through this city to be a part of the new world.' That's what Tony says." His face was innocent, his mind was lacking, the Observer evaluated. "Its eight thousand feet tall and almost a mile wide. From here, you can see the one in Jersey. Well, not from here ya'd have to go up on the roof. One of those leg things every three hundred miles, in every direction, all over the world," he pointed around as he said this. "Like that squarey graph paper wrapped around a ball. Tony has that paper at the shop. It has lines that go across and up and down. I tried it once but it got all crinkelly as it went around." His face crumpled as he said it and he looked sad. The Observer sized up the man in work cloths to his right. He was tall and on the husky side of regular. He had on well-worn shoes, faded and stained blue jeans, and a blue tee shirt that was also stained and torn.

"Eh! Poppo! What are you doing?" called a voice. They both turned to see Tony walking towards them wiping his hands on a black cloth. His egg shaped head was bald halfway back and a thin cover of black hair covered the rest. He had alert eyes under wrinkled features and tanned skin.

"This guy hasn't seen the leg before," said Poppo trying to interest Tony.

"New around here?" Tony asked. "Did you come in on the subway?" Before the Observer could answer, Tony turned to Poppo and instructed him to get the 'hopper out of the bath.' To which Poppo hustled back into the garage in a side-to-side type of run. Tony turned his attention back to the Observer and asked if he was looking for work. Within ten minutes, he was wearing the shirt from Tony's hands and chose a not bad fitting pair of boots from a small pile next to the water cooler. He began his new occupation by operating a chain hoist that lifted a metal table from an acidic pool. The metal shone silver, like a mirror. The fumes from the acid burned his nose but it didn't seem to bother the other two.

Tony scrutinized the stranger as he worked. In his mind, he prepared a story to tell his wife that night at dinner. "Ray… he doesn't show up today," he would begin. "I see Poppo talking to this guy and ask if he needs a job. Yeah, I hired him, at apprentice wages of course." He will joke, "Yes he is human. Caucasian, is that okay? No not young, but not too old, thirty-five, forty somewhere around there. Brown hair and a little too thin." As he thought this he looked over at Poppo and called to him over the clanks and clicks of chain and machinery, "You want pizza?" Let us see how hungry this thin guy is he thought to himself. I should find out more about him. Buy Goo-weigh …what kind of name is that?

They took a break and when Bia Gui was asked where he came from he took a moment in thought. He could not remember the specifics of where he was before this transfer. He knew that it was painful and he knew why he transferred, 'to observe life and events throughout time and space.' I am the 'random molecule in the great experiment.' He went places and witnessed things but now could only remember some of it. So when he said that he had been drifting for a long time he was telling the truth. He had transferred countless times; his life and memories were jumbled; a distorted timeline with a dim beginning and no seeming end. "No… no family," he said matter of factly between bites during lunch. "Living that is," he added. He could remember his mother and sister, fragile and beautiful waving to him from their back porch. His father was always working in his backyard shop or publishing the results of his experiments on the net. That was long ago before the invasion. "Work experience? Well I've done everything from a ditch digger to teaching science to college level students." Poppo asked another question, "I'll tell you why Poppo; I'll do any job no matter how hard or dirty to get by, you know; to pay your debts and survive.

Tony would say to his wife at dinner that the new guy, Gui, had been around. And yes, it was too bad that he was alone in the world. 'Where does he live?' she would ask. He would tell her that he had decided to let him live in Poppo's room at the shop. "I know that I only met him today but I am a good judge of people. You know how well Poppo has come out." She would shrug her shoulders and pass him the bowl of pasta. "Besides… a night watchman is not a bad thing. No, he won't be helping the thieves. Besides what would they get? Just some metal to scrap. They can't steal the machines." She would know he was right, shrug her shoulders and then pass the gravy for the pasta.

After the days work, Tony paid Gui with a little advance telling him to get some cloths and buy some milk. After cleaning up Gui sat in his 'apartment' on a folding chair near the door. Poppo was showing him around his new place. "This is the phone. It's really old but it still works. He lifted the spiral-corded handset, "you listen here," he pointed to the top section. "And you talk here," pointing to the other end. "Like this," he held it to his head. "You push the buttons in the right order," he pointed to the dock of the phone, "and you can get anything you want. Any of these." He hung up the phone and spread his arms toward a large corkboard hung on the wall. Tacked, taped, or stapled to it were all the places and telephone numbers, which were important to Poppo during his stay at Villa Roma. "That's what Tony calls the place. I call for a delivery and say I'm staying at the Villa Roma and give the address. Menus of every nationality and style hung in neat rows. Important numbers were tacked to the top right hand side of the board. Police, Fire Department, Tony's, and from his pocket Poppo added his number to the board. "This one on top is your number now. It also rings in the office but there's nobody in there at night. Showing him the rest of the room, he reminded Gui that it used to be a storeroom so some of the shop stuff was still housed there. Pointing to a set of drawers in the wall, he said that they would be a good place for his stuff, although he didn't have any yet. Then he displayed the television, it was large, hidden behind a set of cabinet doors in the wall. He said as he opened them, "There are only seven hundred channels so you might not find anything you like," he said apologetically. An attractive female news anchor announced that eight people died in a massive fire in East Elmhurst that day. They showed video of the scene, the bottom floors of four buildings were gutted and blackened. The news made Poppo's face crumble again. "I don't like stuff like that," he said mournfully.

As they said goodbye they shook hands. Gui gripped Poppo's shoulder and said "Thank you Poppo, for everything." Poppo returned a wide grin and said that with Tony's help he too could move up to the Platform.

Then Poppo had an idea. "Before I go I want to show you the neighbors." When he saw Gui's confused expression he said, "Not the people in the high-rise," while pointing upward.

Poppo watched Gui lock the delivery door correctly then they started to walk. The shop is located on the ground floor of a sixty story building in the unfashionable part of town, near the expansive rail yard. Poppo said that the dust alone keeps the limousines away; everything was covered in a fine film of the stuff. As they walked under the streetlights, they could tell which of the vehicles parked there had been there the longest. The thicker the dust the longer the stay. They walked on the railroad side of the street along the back-in metered parking. Poppo pointed to the twenty or so fright doors that supplied the building. Several trucks were backed up to the loading bays, "That's the maintenance area, we don't go there, that's what Tony says. They take care of the building; we take care of our place in the building, that's what Tony says. I'm taking you to the other corner of the building where my friends live. They walked in the direction of the Platform's support structure. He marveled at its height, the way it dwarfed everything around. The tan monolith rose through the polluted haze high above in the setting suns.

An open backed vehicle passed them and signaled a turn. It slowed and drove into a giant doorway. Poppo pointed and said that that was where they were going. A minute later they walked through the doorway next to the larger opening, and into a small room. It was only large enough for four people to stand side by side. The wall in front of them was made of thick glass. The bottom half was translucent but the upper half was a window into the office beyond. A woman sat scanning a list of names and prices. She was the boss's girl Poppo had explained. "He would marry her if he didn't already have a wife," Poppo told him during their walk who he would meet, (the cast of characters as Tony called them.) Here he would see Zen and Tuck and later he would meet Petra and Jaffee.

The attractive woman looked up and smiled at Poppo. "Who's your friend?" Then she said that Zen and Tuck were in the next room. There was a loud buzzing noise and Poppo opened the door to another small room (three times the size.) Behind an orange plastic desk, which took up a third of the room, sat a small person. He had tan skin and black hair that was in disarray from pushing his fingers through it. Across the desk stood the grinning pair, Tuck and Zen, their hands full of cash having just been paid for their labors. One was tall and strongly built. The other was of average size and build. Both had long black hair and wore blue cover-alls. The shorter man had a thin, groomed moustache the taller one's was thicker and bushy. After hellos, goodbyes, and a nasty comment from the boss, the four went outside. They walked to a small niche in the building's wall meant for garbage dumpsters; the pair pulled out a few and rolled them aside. Zen crouched and went into the black space beyond. Lights came forth from the darkness then a four-wheeled motor vehicle moved forward. As it emerged Gui thought it looked like a box with big wheels. Zen sat up from a crouched position and Tuck lifted the windscreen upright as he got in. The others climbed in and Zen drove them back to Tony's shop. Along the way Gui found out that the two of them work and live at the recycling plant, which takes up most of their building's cellar. They found out that Gui was a drifter, "He knows lots of stuff." Poppo added, "and he likes pizza." Gui declined their offer of a few more slices saying that there were still two in the shop refrigerator. Zen and Tuck looked confused until Poppo told them that he was going to be living there. "Man… Tony will let anybody crash there." Zen said. Tuck and Poppo laughed but Gui didn't think Zen was kidding.

Gui and Poppo got out at the shop. Zen and Tuck drove off saying that they would see each other around. They looked up at the sixty-story building that was now the Observer's home On the other side of the street was an equally tall building whose lower levels appeared to be constructed of red brick with white mortar. The widows were fenced and boarded on the inside for the first three floors. Above that, a glass and steel building rose into the darkening grey sky. Poppo led him to a recessed doorway and pressed a button which rang a bell; they were admitted into another small reception area, beyond that the doors were open. One led to a large side office with a desk and the other to a hallway of six doors that were also open. Petra was in the first and Jaffee in the latter. Both were wearing white body suits with gloves, boot covers, and baggy hair covers. Petra asked if they had seen Zen, Poppo said that he went for pizza.

After introductions and a brief once over with keen eyes the young women welcomed Gui to the neighborhood. Petra said that they would be done soon. Gui looked into one of the rooms down the hall and saw a surgical table in its center. The walls were giant television screens with knobs and buttons in various areas. There were keyboards on small shelves that protruded from each wall. At Jaffee's feet, the unusual red and white carpet turned out to be blood and suds. Jaffee answered Gui's question with a wink and a nod towards Poppo saying that they really didn't know what went on here but it got messy sometimes. Poppo looked a bit agitated and nervous then said, "They're usually done by now." Petra clued in Gui that Poppo did not like the red suds. They said goodbye and Jaffee asked Gui what he was doing that night. Poppo answered for himself that he was going home to sit down for a while and relax, the other three smiled. Jaffee said, "and you?" She smiled again, white teeth unaligned; she had soft cheeks with green eyes and blond eyebrows. She is an attractive woman Gui thought. The baggy, almost balloonish white coveralls gave no clues to the shape of her body; or at least he hoped it didn't.

"I was thinking of taking a walk around the neighborhood," he said. "get to know the area a little." Glances were exchanged with raised eyebrows among the long-term residents.

"I don't think that you want to do that. This area gets a little crazy at night. It's a popular area for drug users. The cops don't really come around here, and sometimes shit happens," Jaffee warned.

"Gun shots and crack whores, that's what happens here at night. As long as you get inside quick and lock the doors, no problem." Petra explained. "And besides I have a gun, Jaffee too." They smiled again and both patted their right hips.

Jaffee said, "Why don't you come out with us tonight? We're gonna hook up with her boyfriend and Tuck in a couple of hours. You can see the neighborhood and it will be a lot safer."

Two and a half hours later Gui locked the side entrance of Roma Blacksmith and climbed into Zen's car. Zen and Tuck sat up front, the girls in the middle, and Gui in the back 'rumble' seat. A sweet smoke blew past him as Tuck lit a pipe and inhaled the burning substance. Jaffee asked if Gui smoked as Tuck passed the smoldering bowl to Petra. She too inhaled. No… not really was his answer. Her expression dimmed a bit, and then she too took a hit, not a big one. She handed it back to Tuck to finish off.

"Where are we going?" Gui asked.

We're takin' you for a ride… drifter," Tuck said; at first friendly then at the last word sinister, his broad smile turned into a snarl. He was looking back at Gui, his long black hair hung in his eyes. His face was big, so was he. The threat of menace came across plainly to Gui. He knew there was no reason to antagonize a person that just got high on whatever it was. The drug had a minty scent and could be doing anything to the guy's brain just then.

"Tony is our friend,'" Zen said. "We want to take care of him." He added, "We have to check you out, after all, you are our new neighbor."

Ya, sure. What do you want to know?" Gui asked. He had chosen a cover story for himself and he knew he could make it sound believable. He had time to rest and think for a while before going out to shop for provisions. By the time they got together, he knew his story inside out. Before that though, the observer had begun to remember things. During meditation, his mind flashed bits of memories, pictures from his past. He recalled a park, in a city, during an eclipse then a shockwave from a dieing sun and a moon descending toward the surface of the planet. Visions of events came at him in quick succession. He watched helplessly as a mighty space armada declared war on the rest civilization; led by a man with godlike aspirations. His face and symbol were displayed everywhere. There was suffering and death for entire populations. Then hope for the future, escape.

A timeline was forming in his mind. From seeing the Platform's support pillar, he had an idea of when he was. He was on Ibek at the time of the Platform construction. When completed, the platform would have constructed a metal alloy ball around the entire planet, creating a Dyson Sphere. Named after its inventor and architect Foreman Dyson, it would fill the energy needs of the entire Ibek System. The history of Ibek filled itself in through sights of green forests and flowing rivers, mountain ranges rich in ore, and oceans of water. The blue and green orb, which circled two suns, gave rise to a race of people that adapted and advanced itself to technological prominence. They ventured into space and encountered extraterrestrial life. They were amazingly similar in wants and needs. Ibek joined into a trading ring, which governed commerce between worlds, a Federation of Planets. The people of Ibek grew rich as the world around them was plundered for raw materials. The pollution and dilapidation of vast areas on the surface gave rise to the acceptance of building the Dyson Sphere. By using fluids and a magnetic alloy, the Sphere creates power through the kinetic energy of the planets rotation and the gravitational influences of the sixteen moons. The Sections were built in space and lowered into place. Roadways, buildings, everything was in position; the entire infrastructure was engineered to attach seamlessly to the surrounding sections of Platform. All rooftops were designed to be growing places, some had soil others used hydroponics. On television, the Observer had seen that two-thirds of the planet's surface was covered by the Platform. From space, it looked green and beautiful. As the planet rotated, however he saw the unfinished part. Polluted clouds covered the Atlantic Basin wasteland. Uncovered as well were parts of the African desert land.

His timeline had many more entries from before this time in history. He thought then about the future. He had been there too. He witnessed the destruction of the planet's surface. One of the two suns, Akesha it was called, went supernova causing devastation. The shockwave from the imploding star wreaked havoc, the Platform fell like a house of cards, a moon crashed to the surface of the planet. The entire globe was shoved away from the star system's center. The dead star collapsed into a black hole, a point of singularity. Solaris, the second sun, effected by the gravitation of the singularity developed an eternal solar flare, a band of fiery red and yellow ejected from her equator and encircled her sister. Ibek settled into a precarious orbit outside the event horizon of the binary system. He had been there too, suffering in the blistering heat of the desert wasteland, himself a slave during the construction of Earth. That was after war.

The people who weren't on Ibek returned with help from the Federation. Victims suffered from rapid mutations and widespread, unknown diseases. Soon the needs of the survivors exhausted the coffers of every donor. No world was as rich or as powerful as Ibek of Olde and all feared the power vacuum that a galaxy without their leadership threatened. The worlds of the Federation prepared for war but didn't expect its source. From the ashes of His world The One, known as David, led a fighting force which held no bounds and which shown no mercy. The fighters were the survivors of death; they killed without thought. They slaughtered everyone, took what they needed then bombarded the fallen victim's world with radioactive waste.

Then the OOfa, a race of people with intelligence and ingenuity fell into the crosshairs of the juggernaut's sight. A plan was devised and brought before The One. It proposed the rehabilitation of Ibek, to replenish the atmosphere through controlled greenhouse gas emissions. It also promised provisions for the Evil Enemy. In essence, a domed farm was the idea. By utilizing the envirospheres and technologies of those worlds, which inevitably lay in His path, the plan proposed the construction of EARTH; it was an acronym of something that the Observer could not recall. It would be a circular structure that was tens of thousands of miles wide. It called for a translucent dome on top to filter out the harmful rays that bombard the unprotected surface of the planet. Over time and after the construction of many more EARTHs, the entire surface of Ibek would once again be habitable.

Boland, the name drifted forward in his mind. He was the one who went There and spoke to Him. The scientist's name was vilified; his memory was scorned. Through his actions and deeds, he alone condemned every future victim. The Observer knew, as did Boland's co-conspirators that the plan was an escape. A wormhole through the fabric of space was created and everything that was saved from the fallen worlds was brought through and became the Planet that was called Earth.

Chapter two

He was accepted into their "club" of people who lived in the 'hood. Zen began driving a circuit through the streets of the section of city known as Dyson. Petra explained that it used to be called Long Island City but was changed to honor that builder guy. Driving up and down streets each pointed out the more important of the stores, markets, and drinking establishments. Jaffee turned to Gui smiling and said that they do this every night. Smoke a little "thriller," have a few beers, and hang out.

"Speaking of that…" Zen said in an ah-ha tone, not unlike solving a mystery. "I need a beer." He opened the console between the two front seats and revealed it to be an iced cooler filled with many cans of beer. He handed two back to the girls.

"Do you want one?" Tuck asked Gui. Then he glanced at Zen saying, "We mustn't forget our guest."

"Right," Zen confirmed and Tuck handed another back. They all said 'cheers' and took a drink. Gui liked the taste.

They rode in the car talking and drinking when Tuck suggested that they go to "the top." The others approved and when Gui asked Zen said, "The top of the column." After a speeding, ten mile, zigzag up the East Basin Highway they parked the car in the employee's parking lot, after Zen talked with a friend in the guard booth. They walked a short distance to the Promenade. The landscaped park around the superstructure was crowded with tourists who stood around talking, taking pictures and waiting on lines for an elevator ride to the top. They walked into the Foyer, a glass encased atrium that surrounded the base of the column. They went past the lines, which cued in front of each window-fronted elevator. Each elevator compartment rode in a channel of the exterior of the column, which gave the rider an ascending view of the world around.

"We ain't goin' on those," explained Tuck to Gui.

"I know the elevator foreman," boasted Zen. "We can go up on the service elevator." His arm was on Petra's shoulders as they strode through the self-opening doorway to the section of the atrium that was designated for construction personnel only. When the last crate containing car tire sized, threaded nuts was loaded they too boarded the hoist. They, like the group of workers heading upward, wore hard hats that were given to them by the lift operator. She was a chubby woman with black hair braided into a ponytail. Tuck chatted with her friendlily. A radio signal was given and the platform began to rise.

Jaffee slid her arm through Gui's and held it, "This is always so exiting." Indeed, it was Gui thought because the elevator was not enclosed. It had steel cable railings around the edge and no one wore safety harnesses. The clear, roof hatch slid open as they approached. There was a low humming noise from the lifter motor and a soft vibration from the lifting process as they quickly moved upward.

Zen leaned against a stack of crates with his arms around Petra who stood with her back leaning on him. He said that the tourist elevators took a half an hour to get to the top and that this one only took twelve minutes. Five minutes later, they neared the upper floors of the vast city buildings around them. Jaffee was shaking slightly from excitement and he felt her grip on him tighten as they rose higher than all but the tallest buildings. The electric lights of evening shown across the great panorama of the never-ending metropolis. As they continued to climb, the horizon seemed like a thin ribbon of yellow against the black of night. The lights became hazy as they went through the layer of air pollution, which hung in the atmosphere. Gui asked Jaffee if she was okay because her shaking had become visible. "Yes…definitely," was her answer as she smiled while looking upward. Her shaking melted into a hypnotized freeze. Gui looked at the others and noticed that everyone was looking up so he did too. "That smog blocks out all the stars and stuff, but up here you can finally see out to space. Isn't it beautiful?" From one horizon to the other, a wide band of stars and a brownish gas snaked across the center of the sky. Outward to each horizon violent oceans of red, green, purple, and blue gas clouds crashed motionlessly in the dark sky. Unfamiliar constellations blazed in the clear heavens and a light breeze touched them. Jaffee shook again though it was still close to eighty degrees out. She loosed her arm and wrapped it around his waist. Gui put his arm on her shoulder and warmly stroked her upper arm, causing the gooseflesh to settle after a few seconds. She pointed to and named a few of the star groups she had learned on the Net.

The elevator platform rose into a niche in the wall and continued up through a pair of stainless steel trap doors that opened automatically. Then they were inside a large storeroom containing piles of crates and row after row of industrial shelving filled with cleanly wrapped objects on pallets of every size. Tuck pulled a lever that came out of the platform and the safety rail lowered. The chubby engineer put her hand on his shoulder and said that even he could be and operator one day, to which the workers standing nearby laughed.

"All righty… come on," Zen said grinning. After leading them through a labyrinth of crates, doorways and stairs, they arrived at what appeared to be the back area of a performance stage. People in makeup and costume milled about as if waiting for the next show. Zen opened a door marked No Admittance and held it open for the others to pass through. It was then that Gui noticed that Tuck wasn't with them anymore. When asked about it Zen said that Tuck stayed behind to talk to the operating engineer about joining the union or something. He said it with a wink to Gui only. They stepped out to an open-air garden. Tall, blue columns stood out in an arranged pattern throughout the tiered landscape. Large tent like structures dotted the lawned areas with lights and groups of people. Zen led them to the nearest one. The tent seemed larger inside because it was filled with lights, balloons, people, and music. A banner that hung from one side of the tent to the other read, 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY JILL'.

"Were you invited to this party?" Gui asked. Zen replied that he knew a guy who explained to him that this tent was always used for charity functions and corporate gatherings. The food and drinks were all free.

"We're supposed to have passes so don't act conspicuous, blend in." As they drank and ate Gui wandered around and gathered bits of information about Jill from the conversations around him. He also listened to dark and steamy tales about the social elite, all rumors supposedly. Then he overheard a learned pair of professor types discussing gravitation and tidal forces.

"…and when the moons align there will be significant influence on the crustial plates." explained the shorter of the two who had cosmetic black streaks in his grey beard.

"This planet is very old and doesn't have seismic activity any longer," countered the older and wiser man. "She is a tired, old girl; her molten mantel of nickel and iron are cooling and the old tectonic plates you speak of are now fused together like… cranial bones. They are now one piece." His seven-foot stature gave his voice a low resonance and his Germanic upbringing showed in his accent and methodical tone.

"Unless you get hit in the head." Gui said. He had turned to then and made it look as if he had overheard them and were making a witty remark.

The younger professor looked him over and said, as he removed a piece of lint from the leather patch on the elbow of his sport coat, "The SkyNet has worked for eighteen thousand years. It is infallible. We will not be getting hit in the head by an asteroid or even a planetoid for that matter," smugness dripping from his words.

"True… but what if your suns go nova?" asked Gui. He was trying not to sound like he knew what would happen. Nevertheless, he did know that one of the suns would go nova.

"I cannot believe what I'm hearing," the smaller man whined. "Two fools who will not listen!" Then he turned, waved at someone, and walked away.

The older man had been scratching his beard while deep in thought. He raised his glass of whiskey and said, "Cheers my fellow fool. I was beginning to think he would never leave." They drained their glasses and he offered to get another round. They turned together and walked towards the nearest bar. On the way, Gui's newest acquaintance was stopped three times and after profuse apologies for disturbing him, the man was offered congratulations upon past and future endeavors.

"Please sir, forgive my ignorance," Gui said. Putting on the air of an Ivory Tower dweller; alone and ill informed. He said. "I feel now as if I too should offer you some congratulations, though I do not know why."

The man lifted two fingers toward the bartender. Then he turned to look at his new companion. He squinted his eyes slightly as a thought emerged then his face relaxed to a smile. "I am Foreman Dyson" The shock of recognition on Gui's face made him laugh. "And here I thought that I was the most photographed person in history. Yet here is someone who does not place my face with my name. It is refreshing. What do you do that keeps you locked away?" The bartender handed them small tumblers containing a bluish liquid. "Cheers." They drank.

"I apologize for not recognizing you sir. I am Bia Gui. He said humbly, "I travel… and write." As he would tonight, as he did in his spare time, as he did in every time he journeyed to. He would put down on paper, in digital code, or on clay tablets (if that was the mode of the time) his memories. The tome becomes a composition of his experiences. It is left behind as evidence of his being there when time and space chose to move him. They put down their glasses and shook. His hand felt like a child's in an adult's hand.

The boy has a firm handshake. I like that, Foreman thought. He jumped into my conversation with a comment that shows a quick mind. A thinking mind is always a great asset and can be used as an effective ally. He isn't afraid or ashamed and he can look me in the eye. That is good. After all it is not every day that I get the opportunity to get out and meet new people. Perhaps if I did I would meet more like this one and my opinion of the human race would change. Perhaps no. I am in a lab or in a meeting or traveling to either one. There is no time for new people, for getting to know new people. However, he thought, the stories of a traveler can spark new ideas and new ways of looking at problems, with a fresh perspective. His cheep knockoff clothing and mismatched shoes show that writing is not a lucrative business. What does he do for work now? The short crew cut too is good. I do not like the style of some men… to have his hair long and styled like a woman. They again were handed drinks and both turned to look into the room.

Jaffee was the first to realize the trouble. She had been flirting with a textile manufacturer when she noticed. She reached out and pinched Petra until she remarked and pulled away. Jaffee pointed toward the bar, Zen and Petra followed the finger. Petra's jaw dropped and Zen's eyes widened then closed as he put his palm to his forehead. They all thought the same thing… busted. Zen looked around and noticed three men standing in different areas looking directly at Gui, obviously security. There are more around no doubt. "Why was Foreman Dyson here?" he thought. Then he said aloud, "I told him to hang loose so he goes and talks to the guy remaking the whole world. We gotta get out of here. Where's Tuck?

Chapter three

"Have you written anything I might have read?" Foreman asked.

"Not likely I do mostly local histories in short story form, magazine and newspaper stuff mostly.

"You work in newspapers and magazines and you don't recognize me?" he said aloud by mistake. He didn't want to appear vain, but instead interested, which he actually was.

"I submit my work to them. I do not read them… or the reviews." They smiled; both cheered, and raised their glasses.

"You are different from most people I meet. You are not self absorbed or an air head if you will" They again looked across the party tent. He raised his hand and cast it from corner to corner; appearing to others as if he was pontificating about world events, which in a way he was. "They are all idiots, including some of the Older Ones." As his hand was in the air and he looked around, he caught the glances of several people. He slightly nodded his head as a gesture of recognition to them. As his hand finished its arc it fell on a young man whom Foreman said aloud was the biggest idiot of them all.

The man approached, at first hesitant because he was watching Foreman pontificate and wasn't sure if Dyson was actually just introducing him. He probably was, he thought, so he strode the remaining span between them confidently.

"Bia Gui I would like you to meet George… George Binch." Foreman introduced the two. They exchanged grips; both were firm, the first like leather the other soft as silk. They smiled and said polite hellos. "He will be one of the men defending our world with the National Guard." He said with a dumbfounded, round-eyed expression toward Gui.

George's voice had a cowboy's twang. "Yup I'm gonna get my wings back in a couple of weeks," he said, proudly confessing, "when I get off probation." He winked and pointed his finger. That was his thing in all the tabloid and newspaper society sections. It was his trademark pose. He liked the word 'trademark,' it made him feel important. A big word like that next to his name in the paper made him proud. He held the pose a moment or three too long.

"Yes." Dyson said glumly. "And what are you doing these days Bia?"

"I travel and I write, as you know Foreman. At this time I am an Acidic Decontaminant Mechanical Technician for the metal trades." Gui said trying to make a winch operator sound more important.

Which it did, George became wide-eyed and said "Wow… that puts you up there with Mister Dyson here. Thank The Maker for people like you, you know, thinkers. Our world needs more like you. I'm a fighter, a defender at heart." He winked and raised one cheek to a crooked smile.

Gui had heard George's name in a conversation between two women. One said to the other that while he was on a practice flight he had launched two rockets from the fighter jet he was flying. The other asked if it was the refugee domicile disaster from the previous year. The other affirmed, adding the number of deaths and casualties. They both agreed that he would be in prison if it were not for his Grandfather Presscott. Gui figured that he was a high-ranking military officer or another sort of power broker.

"There are some exceptions to what I was saying before Bia." Foreman admitted. "I would like you to meet my daughter Jill." A beautiful young lady walked gracefully towards them. Her reddish brown hair draped her shoulders and framed a round face. Her party dress clung tightly to her slender body accentuating her maturing features. She extended her manicured hand to him palm down. He took it lightly, bowed and kissed the back of it gently. She, impressed by his cordiality, turned toward George and playfully punched him in the chest. She said that he could learn a thing or two about manners from Mister Gui. To Bia she said that he could learn a thing or two from George about dressing for an occasion. To which he apologized for his attire saying that his friends and he had decided to attend the gathering last minute. Jill insisted on meeting his friends. Gui scanned the crowd, waved and motioned for them to come over. Tuck had rejoined the group and had a bit of red lipstick on his cheek. Jill wiped it away with the handkerchief from George's tuxedo.

"Ya' all must of been slumming it tonight. Goin' downtown to see some music I bet." George said with a wink towards Zen.

"Yah that's it." Zen said, and then others nodded blankly.

"You're all dressed like a bunch of positive bogies," Jill complained. "George take the boys to daddy's tent and get them dressed. I'll take the girls to mine." Soon after, they emerged in the finest of clothes and footwear. Jaffee and Petra before were pretty, now they were stunning. The men looked fine and dapper in their tuxedos, even Tuck who was the same size as Foreman. All were friendly and talkative as they went toward the dining area. Foreman spoke to the maitre d', who then walked away quickly.

In the dining area he nervously and apologetically asked members of the table closest to the dais to move to another spot to make room for unexpected close friends of the Dyson's.

Tuck stood as the odd man out. He didn't have a lady on his arm. He spied four young women sitting together and overheard one say "Oh what I would do to get to sit at that table. Right up front where you get to see and meet 'everyone'. Tuck approached the debutante and asked if she would like to join him up front. She squealed and writhed in surprise and delight.

By the time they were seated a buzz had gone through the crowd about the Dyson's special friends. They were unknown by the paparazzi so the game was on. Who were they and how fast can they get their pictures onto the nets. Cameras flashed in their direction every few seconds though none of them noticed. Two couples who had stayed at the table added to their enjoyable time. They were Foreman's brother Torrance and his wife Laura were both scientists and next to them were Yohan and Cameel Baldur, the steel magnate and his wife.

After dinner, there was dancing and more drinking. The rich and famous are truly airheads as Foreman Dyson said. They believed everything that Zen and the group told them no matter how ridiculous. Material Reclamation Specialists and Medical Research Decontaminant Technicians were in the captions below their pictures among the haut monde. Actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, and all the rest of the wealthy and self-important desired to be in pictures with the new people. After all, they had unseated six very important people. Therefore, when people went up to the dais to give Jill a kiss for her birthday they would purposefully go past 'the' table. Of course, pictures were taken.

They drank and danced with each other and almost anyone who asked to cut in. At one of the many bars, Zen and Tuck exchanged phone numbers with the leader of one of their favorite musical groups and made plans to get together. The others did the same thing. By the time the crowd had thinned they had a dozen offers for trips to other countries and countless invitations to events around the city, including a half dozen 'all access' passes to the stadium for all the Bulldozer's home games.

The first of the two suns peaked over the horizon. The sky did not lighten and drown out the heavens in a blue blur, space remained black and the spectrum of crashing waves stayed motionless. "A toast to the giver of life." Torrance proposed. They had toasted and cheered everything else so the others agreed and raised their glasses. The alcohol had little effect on them by this point, having eaten and drank for the entire night. They stood or sat near the railed edge of the tower. Looking out they could not only see the next column in Jersey, but all of them to the horizon. Looking away from the sunsrise, the platform itself could be seen a mere three hundred miles away. The second sun began to peer over the horizon, beams of sunshine hit the layer of cloudlike smog turning it orange, pink, and in denser areas red, setting the world below ablaze.

Foreman said to his brother that he hadn't pulled an all nighter since Jill was born. They stood at the rail smiling into the break of day. Each had an arm slung across his wife's shoulder. Torrance said nostalgically that they haven't hung out and talked like tonight for too long. Yohan and Cameel sat in cushioned Adirondack chairs soaking in the morning sun. She remarked that Bia Gui was extremely pleasant company. She loved the stories he told about far off worlds were things were quite different from life here at home. Yohan filled in the rest of her story by saying, "She wants to take him with us on the yacht."

"What about his friends?" Asked Foreman's wife Gail

"There is plenty of room," Cameel said. "It sleeps twenty and we never have more that seven or eight.

"I like his friends," said Laura. "the way they poked fun at everyone, including themselves. Oh, some of the stories that they told…" she thought for a moment. "I especially laughed when George over there," she pointed to the passed out drunk in the not cushioned chair a ways off, "made a joke. Everyone around him laughed, of course. They though froze in there places. It was so funny… they looked at each other and then the one Zen made an L shape with his right hand and discreetly held it to his forehead. Then the four of them laughed along with the throng. It was telling."

"I thought it was funny when George started doing it with the wrong hand," Yohan said. "He got a laugh every time. I think the press got pics of it too. Foreman you tell me if you want to spend time with these children. It is only a month. I know it will cost a bit more but for me money is no longer an object.

The one over there," he pointed to Gui. " He is interesting no? For his stories I would pay."

"Oh, Yohan make him write a book!" Cameel said as excitedly as she could. Her husband replied that he would need to ask Gui first, if he wanted to write a book.

"He is a writer," Foreman said. "Of course he would love to write a book. I think that most of the stories we heard tonight are already written down somewhere, or he has been telling them for a long time, or," the all laughed at this, "it could have all really happened."

Cameel thought to herself that every old wives tale contains a grain of truth in it, so could his. The stories he told ranged the fiction spectrum from astral physical travel to zoology. Some were fantastic histories of stellar events and some so commonplace that he identified with something deep in human feeling. She felt as though she knew him from just listening to him speak. They had met only seven or eight hours ago and here she was inviting him and his delightful friends away for a month or more. Yohan's company makes more money than the government right now and at our age we deserve to get what we want, she thought.

Petra said, "I'm glad we came here tonight." Me too, thought the rest

"This night has been amazing," Jaffee said as she squeezed Gui's hip into hers. She hugged him sideways, his arm on her shoulders. They faced the rising suns below a panorama of colors. A full moon had risen and was high in the air. He said that he thought she was amazing too.

Zen and Tuck came over with Petra and Liz, the girl Tuck had invited to the table earlier. Tuck said, "We told Eliza here the truth about us. You know… who we are and where we're from, what we do" They were holding hands and looked into each other's eyes, seconds past. She was only half a foot shorter than him and the made a nice looking couple.

"Ya … anyway," Zen cut in. "We might need help to get out of here. Fuckin' security, they're everywhere. We're probably in trouble with the cops for crashing this party. We have to tell them," he motioned towards the group of older people. "Maybe they can get us out of here with out too much hassle."

Tuck said that they were already late for work. "You too," he added. "Tony is gonna worry."

"Don't worry. He'll be fine.'

Petra said, "They like you best so you speak." She said it tongue in cheek as they got close enough for the group of Elders to hear. Her comment attracted attention and smiles from all but Yohan. He knew already what they would ask or tell. They told him first and then asked for their help. That made a great difference to him. The women in the group acted taken aback, the men frowned. Yohan Baldur raised his hand and motioned to a group of men to come over. Six of them approached. Black suits, black contact lenses, and each wore a communications devise in one ear. They were ready to do whatever the richest man in the world told them to do. One handed a black attaché case to Yohan. He opened it and removed a file. On the cover were pictures of the five of them taken last night. He thumbed through it while looking at the listed offences.

Yohan began "I've been briefed on all of you. As you see, there is no difficulty for me to obtain your histories. By sneaking in here tonight, you and your friends, and those who helped you get in; have broken a great number of security protocols. A charge of terrorism is possible. His face, a stern stone, cracked slightly; he frowned. "You have revealed many cracks in the system but now they are sealed all the way to the parking lot.

"I didn't mean for anybody to get in trouble or lose their job." Zen said quickly. They are or were my friends and they know me. I would never…"

"Yes, yes, I know," Yohan said. "There is nothing in any of your files which would call for Exclusion." Just the word sent chills down their spines. Anxious looks were exchanged though Gui only now understood the implication of the word. "Although your past histories along with these National Security violations may call for…"

"Oh stop it Yohan! You're frightening them." Cameel directed.

"He's scaring me too," said Laura.

"Just ask them if they can go."

And so it was that after a bit of packing and promises of postcards they readied for the trip of a lifetime. A limousine picked them up and took them to the Aeroport where Yohan Baldur's ship, the Silver Bullet stood by an enclosed boarding corridor. The entryway to the ship was below the cockpit area. They stopped and were awed by it's magnificence. The exterior was silver, mirror-like and highly polished. Looking out the glass walls they saw two rows of windows that ended where the tailfins began. Yohan stood at the hatch and welcomed them. "Good morning my friends!" He read their faces. " The ship, she is beautiful. Yes? Six hundred and forty-two feet of luxury and comfort. Come, come. Are you hungry?"

Cameel greeted them as they entered the dining area. The table was set for sixteen and she said that several of the guests had gone strait to bed. Foreman and Torrance sat at Yohan's end of the table. On Cameel's side were four women including Jill and Liz. The former introduced the other two girls as Jessie and Kim who were friends from school. She added that her other two friends had gone to bed. They ate and became better acquainted with their shipmates. Afterwards they were given a tour of the ship and lead to their sleeping quarters.

Gui had his head on the pillow and began to reflect on the past day when he heard a knock on the door. It was Jaffee. She opened the door and stuck her head in. "I just wanted to say goodnight, and thanks. Since we met you last night so much stuff has gone on and changed and stuff. I just wanted to say that I think you're cool." She looked behind herself down the hall and slipped inside the doorway, closing it behind her. She lay down with him and they slept for thirteen hours strait.

He awoke to her smile. She pulled her long blond hair back from her face and the pillow then said, "Good morning." He looked over at the alarm clock on the nightstand. It read eleven twenty p.m. He said that it was hardly morning. She told him, "Petra knocked before and said that they were serving breakfast soon. I'm gonna go change and wake up." She sleepily sat up and made her way back to her room.

He too got up from the bed and unconsciously began to stretch the joints of his body. He made movements with his hands and arms. Soon his legs joined the flow of body parts as he practiced the ancient martial arts kata of his youth. He remembered that he had always done this upon waking. As he moved, he kicked and punched at the air around him. Each of the movements sparked a thought or a memory of using the technique physically or metaphorically. He then sat in the center of the bed in a half-lotus position and began to find his place. He contemplated his situation. He was alone in this world. He had no family anymore. For a reason he cannot remember his life had become an endless journey. At any time, without reason or warning an intense pain begins in his stomach and quickly overtakes his entire being, then everything goes black. Later, he knew not how long, he would open his eyes and find himself in another place, another time.

When he materializes in another place, he is without clothing or identification. The former could be explained, the latter not so easily. He pictured the empty page with his photo on it in Baldur's folder. He had seen him give it to Tuck saying as he chuckled," It makes for good reading." He remembered the intense pain throughout the fabric of his being. The searing bristles of the Asian man's broom and his eardrum splitting screams of "Ghost… White ghost!" It had made him run.

Last night there were no probing questions about his personal history but now he was in close quarters with at least a dozen people. Some of them would be very interested in knowing what he knows, things about the past and the future. Perhaps that is what Foreman saw in him last night, and now he has him in his trap. They can question him whenever they feel like it. There could be torture. It has happened before. Though he has never broken because there is no pain that can be inflicted upon him which could equal that of his "travel."

There was however no inquisition. Instead, a fine buffet had been laid upon tables to one side of the dining room. The room was on the upper deck and spanned the width of the ship. Transparent panels along the walls and ceiling let in the light of 'the rabble next door', as Yohan calls it. "We are on an outer arm of this vast galaxy." The light from it was brown with pink edges, a dark area devoid of stars, he was told, was the emptiness between the spiral's arms. "It is stunning,. Yes?" Yohan asked; his Russian accent seemed thicker than the previous night. "I have the Captain position the ship this way for dinner each night. This is one of my favorite rooms. Here we get to eat and play together." He gestured to the expansive, guest filled dining set then across to a polished wooden dance floor. In one corner, a raised bandstand held a keyboard set-up, an electric bass, two guitars, and a drum kit. "Do you play anything? There are many other instruments in the cabinets along the wall. We have a long time to spend together and must stay entertained. Ah, you simply must hear Gail sing. She is like a bird, wonderful." Gail looked over, smiled, and said good morning to them. "I have been told that I am not bad at drums." He smiled broadly and bid him to eat.

Ten guests sat at the table in conversation. An attendant sliced a piece of ham steak for him as chicken eggs fried on a griddle. He sat down between Jaffee and Jill's friend from school. Kim was her name; she had Asian features. Her long black hair hung in a ponytail the length of her back. She wore a pink silk robe that covered a bathing suit. Jaffee asked him if he wanted to join them for a soak in the hot tub after they ate. He said yes.

The itinerary of the trip became the topic of discussion at the table so Yohan described the journey ahead. He said that after three days they would reach the small moon called Endor which was designated a sanctuary. The rainforest on its surface was home to the last of the wild animals, which roamed Ibek long ago. Foreman had people to meet there over some biological matter. "There is population stagnation in an endangered species." Gail, Foreman's bride, said, though she did not know which species. Yohan continued saying they would be there for five or six days. They could go sightseeing or hiking or spend time at the amusement park. Then after a week of travel, they would arrive at Delta Station between the Red and Blue gas clouds where again Foreman had business to conduct. They would stay for a few days but it shouldn't be boring. He mentioned that there are other things to do besides eating and shopping on the Promenade. They would then be off for Construction Central where the next section of platform was being readied for landing. He hoped to be atop the tower again when the section was brought into place next month.

"Morning everyone," George said from the doorway. "I'm starved. Got any aspirin?" The room before him rocked a bit, as if he were standing in a rowboat on a calm lake. He held the doorjamb and the world steadied. He sat down next to one of the girls and reeked "Good morning." He couldn't remember names just then. Looking up he saw Baldur's man offering a pair of pills. He asked for water and saw that one was already poured in front of his place setting. He downed the pills and hung his head between his hands. George Binch was the son of the son of Prescott Binch, Robber Baron. The family had made money with trains and oil but is now perceived to be philanthropic to a fault. Heck, George thought, it keeps me goin'. Foreman, Torrance Dyson, Mister Baldur and people just as rich are my friends. They take care of me. Like right now… how did I get here? When do we get to Endor? I wanna go on the rides.

Wilhiem asked what he would like for breakfast, knowing that Master Binch could not get it for himself. When he ordered 'the usual' it was the cause for a stir among the wait staff because none had ever served him before, they had only heard stories. George waved his hand in a circular motion, which Wilhiem took to mean a Country Breakfast. "A bit of everything," he instructed, and a small version of the entire buffet was laid before the young Binch.

Wilhiem Job Strathmore II hid perfectly the utter disgust that he felt for Master Binch. The man whom he now poured a cup of coffee for is a lay about, a child of wealth, a mass murderer. It is true that he ended the unrest between two populations on the planet Zios. By firing the rockets and destroying the two eighty-story buildings, he killed all the representatives and delegates of both warring factions. Thus, the threat of war ended on that world. All that mattered now was that he was a guest of the Master and must be attended to, regardless of his own feelings. It was a sign of his commitment to the task. His family had been with the Baldurs for generations. He knows the family secrets and where the skeletons are buried.

Charged by his father, he vowed to care for all in the Baldur family. If Master Baldur is the most important person in the world, then I am second because his well-being is my main concern. I will look after this buffoon because it is the Master's wishes. I know this monkey, he thought while attending to George. Who were these others? Interlopers? No, street trash, yet the Master finds them intriguing and a breath of fresh air. It is the older one that I am concerned with. Bia Gui is a derogatory term for a white person in one of the Asian dialects and keeper of birds in Tiebeckian. The photographs from last night are the only link to this world for that one. He could be anyone from anywhere. His story about being a stowaway on a Belgian Cruiser has as many holes in it as he described the ship as having. He read the files on the group of guests, he was satisfied with less than half, the girl Liz for example. He looked toward that part of the room. She sat dreamily talking to the tall one. She came from a good family and attended many social functions but still maintained an honor roll grade point average, not unheard of but unusual. What was also unusual was her infatuation with this type of trash. He had known the rest of those on board for a long time, both guests and crew. The ghost he must be watched, Wilhiem decided.

"Well that was good. I feel like a gold money clip, yes sir. Those aspirin you gave me have kicked in there 'Ole Willie." That was George's nickname for Wilhiem. He stood up and apparently, the alcohol was still strong in his system because he rocked back and forth a few times. "I gotta stop doin' that," he whispered under his breath

"George dear," Cameel said, "why don't you go for a bit of a lay down and I'll come and get you later. We can play bocce together." She had seen Yohan give the 'aspirin' to Wilhiem. They were red and she could tell that they came from Yohan's own prescription. He had trouble sleeping and the red pills were an extremely powerful narcotic. Having taken two pills, a boy like George would be out for days, she thought as he weaved out the doorway.

Yohan would say to Dyson later that he told Prescott he would bring the boy to him. "I did not say what condition he would be in.

Cameel made a book motion with her hands, opening and closing them while her pinkies touched. She did this quickly and only once while she had her husband's attention. A wide smile came to her face when he began the proposal.

Conversation among the fifteen of them died down as Yohan Baldur pitched an offer. Normally people would come to him with ideas and schemes so it felt odd at first to be asking someone to do something like write a book. He remembered that the stories were told in a personal way, almost intimate. Would he have trouble writing it down for mass distribution? "Bia," he started, "I told a friend your story about the talking fish. He laughed and said that he had heard one that was similar a long time ago. Stories like that and the one about working overnight in a convenience store should be heard by everyone. You add a bit of the truth of life to each tale no matter how embellished it is." He smiled and winked; knowing the stories couldn't be true.

Most of the people at the table had heard him tell stories the night before, those who did not became immediately intrigued by the stranger. Someone comes to a party, captivates the most important people in the world, and they take him away to ask him to write a book for them.

"This trip is gonna suck. Bullshit! These were the sentiments of the younger ones because Jill's friends had not heard any of the Observer's stories. They didn't know about anything that Yohan was talking about. However, when they heard Audio Books they understood. Listening to stories rules. It's even better when you get someone to read to you right there.

"Could you tell us a story right now?" One of Jill's friends asked.

The Observer thought for a moment. "What type of story do you want?" he repeated out loud the requested parameters of the tale. "Trees- lots of trees, blood, lots of blood, yes it can be an action story not a love story," he paused then said incredulously, "with a kitten. Not a love story," he repeated. "Well," he thought for another moment, "I know a Forestry Ranger named Charlie Ranz. He lives and works at a place called Blue Stone National Park in Colorado on a planet named Earth. His cabin lies a hundred and twenty miles inside the park and the road into the park is only one hundred miles long. The rest must be traveled by foot. You see, all terrain vehicles and motorbikes weren't around back then. No. I couldn't have ridden a horse because there are areas along the way up to the Ranger Station where I had to climb some steep slopes. In fact, it was only by the roots of the trees on the mountainside that I could get up at all. You see, the steep hills are eroded by rain and the roots become exposed creating hand and foot holds. What… rain? Think of the water falling from the sky on Endor, except no sprinklers.

"On the plain above was the most incredible sight. It was the season of autumn in this place and the leaves were preparing to fall. Bright yellow and orange mixed with the deepest red and stood out against full evergreens. Over forty types of trees stand in this grove, a couple million in total painted the mountain. The Forestry Rangers had been caring for the land for centuries. They had been spacing and planting them in such a way as to create a picture of waves and swirls with the living colors. I could plainly see my destination because the tree type called Maple. They had leaves that are red at that time of year and had flourished in the shape of an arrow on the slope up the mountain. On the point of the arrow, a small circle had been notched out of the landscape. The Ranger Station looked like a white dot in a green field. I had started hiking before the sun had come up and it was close to twelve hours later that when I arrived. My friend hailed a hearty hello when I reached the compound and he offered a refreshing drink

"I had been summoned by my friend Charlie to assist him in the destruction of a monster. He was a junior Ranger then and he had climbed that eroded hillside and seen the many colors in the vista of trees during autumn. He too had seen a patch of green at the point of an arrow. When he had gotten there those many years ago, he found that an interstellar creeper vine had taken hold in the place. It is really an evil creature. It spreads faster than weeds; the fiends' leafy tentacles are thin but as strong as cables. It grows upward and spreads but it also sends some limbs down to become roots to spread its virus. As Charlie macheted his way towards the center, the vines would recoil when he sliced through them. He felt the great tension on the thin vines and cleared his way with single strokes, also he noticed how the ground seemed to lack color and that there were no birds or animals of any kind. All trees were covered in the vines and were dieing. By using the trees as a platform, the creeper stole sunshine and left whatever is underneath to die. The limbs of once strong trees were straining against being pulled down. Entire trees were being pulled to the floor in extreme slow motion. Everything, as it decomposed was used as food for the beast. Charlie broke through to the edge of an area of low green grass, the center of the green dot on the mountainside. He dug his fingers through the jade green grass and saw grey, dead soil. He knew he needed help. That was the first time I was there though.

"This time I had finished my drink and it was then that I saw his kitten. It wasn't a baby but it was still small, eight, ten weeks. Its white coat was matted with blood and it was missing the end of its tail. We brought it in and washed it. Charlie cared for the wounds. The feline was tired and in pain. She didn't claw out or flinch even once during the procedure. After towel drying, it jumped down from Charlie's arms and meowed at the door. He nodded and I allowed her out. Once outside it turned its head and meowed three times. "She wants us to follow her," he said. We followed and the kitten ran a little and waited for us. It did this again and again. When we caught up, the kitten sat on a flattish stone about two feet wide." The Observer gestured with his hands the approximate size. "At the edge was a dead bird, a Cardinal with its head at an unhealthy angle to its body and there were blood drops on the stone.

"The cat meowed and remembered the stalking of that bird. She had laid in wait behind the curtain of tall grass for ages. The red bird had landed on the stone and taken off many times. When it landed once again, she pounced. It took off but she clawed it by the tip of the wing and dragged it down to the granite floor. The bird did not move it did not get up and fly away. The kitten had wondered why. This was the first time that it had caused the death of another creature. She felt sad and pawed the body back and forth in hopes that it was just injured. It was then that she smelt danger. Her eyes darted the wall of grass and saw to her dismay, movement in the grass by a nearby tree. She turned; her body grew tense. Her fur stood on end as she spied the snout of a grey wolf. It eyed her and began a low deep growl. She arched her back and hissed a ferocious warning. She thought flee or fight? She needed to choose. The kitten had heard stories about wolves and other enemies from her parents and older brothers and sisters. If a wolf got you, you would never come home. A pang of guilt shot through her heart as she glanced at the body of the bird on the ground.

She needed to get somewhere safe. Running strait for the house was out of the question, the wolf was larger and no doubt faster than her, she thought. Even at her young age she knew the land around her; she had been playing there all her life. She knew where she could go and where she should not go and the little one knew that she should not be on the far side of the little creek alone. However, she had been chasing a butterfly, so everyone would understand.

"What is the kitten's name? You choose. Beth… okay that's her name."

"Well… Beth had wandered on the bank of the other side of the creek till she had come to an outcropping of stone where her big brothers and sisters competed by jumping from the tall stone's side of the creek to the other over a deep pool. That's when she had seen the Cardinal and went into the tall grass.

Well, the stream was splashing over the rocks and into the deep pool behind her and Beth had to make that jump but she couldn't just turn and run. The wolf's grey face was only a few inches away. She positioned herself defensively and rose up on her hind legs. The claws of her front paws sliced through the wolf's nose and lip, producing blood and a yelp of pain. It also gave her the time she needed to spin and escape. Beth's paws hit the stone stairs just as her oldest sister Nina did. Reaching the top, she sprang into the air and made the other shore with all four paws. She cut right and headed for the thorn bushes, which grew along that shore. There was a loud splash as the wolf misjudged the jump and hit the water. Droplets hit her. She dug in and ran faster. Within seconds, she reached the briar patch and realized the growth was too thin to use as safe cover so she darted between the thin trunks, occasionally looking back at her pursuer. This caused the wolf to pause and watch her progress. She reached a break in the bushes where a path was made to get to a log bridge. That's where she chased the butterfly over the stream. She crossed the open space quickly as the wolf trotted up the shoreline in pursuit. Soon she was at the end of the thicket so she looked around for the next possible hiding spot.

"The angry wolf wiped the flowing blood with its tongue while watching the little meal. He had been here before and sampled the local fare, a small pig or two, a baby lamb, three of four cats. This one will fill my belly for now, " he thought as he watched as Beth make a run for the beekeeper's area.

"There were seven, tall, white boxes that made buzzing sounds. Each sat on a low wooden pallet, to keep them out of the dirt. The nearest one sat on the wood and showed no opening for her to get into. When she ran past, she saw that the side was open but it was too late to turn, the wolf's breath was right behind her. The second hive's pallet was a wooden wall but she saw that it was open in the front so it would be open in the back. Beth cut to her left and left again; she ducked underneath and then she was safe.

"The wolf knew what bees were but it was hungry and in pain. Anger helped it catch up to the little beast. Before he could close his jaws on it, the little snack made a turn. The wolf slid to a halt against the next hive over and a buzzing began. It built like the sound of a stream that flows downhill towards the falls. Quiet murmuring as it slowly passes over the stones however as other streams join it the rumble of the flowing waters get louder and louder. When that massive current of water crashes over the falls, the noise becomes the focus of all attention and when the wolf bumped into the hive, he set off… What is the wolf's name? You pick it." All the girls laughed and said George. "Okay. George bumped into the hive, which set off an alarm among the bees who live inside but he didn't care about getting a few stings just then. All he wanted now was that little cat. "I'm not gonna eat you, I'm gonna tear you to bits." he growled and pawed at the ground at the edge of the opening.

"Beth chanced a look back at the wolf and saw dirt fly. She felt safe in this spot. "He can't get under here," she thought. She curiously turned and stepped back in its direction. It was out there just beyond the dust, her heart raced. She turned again to check the other open end.

"The wolf dropped to its elbows then chest quickly. George eyed Beth; she was in range. He dug in his back paws and reached in fast. He got her! With his left paw, pinning her to the wall.

The claws dug deep into her side and pulled her slowly against the rough wood of the pallet. Her body was facing away from the wolf and his giant paw covered her entire body behind her front legs. She dug in but he was too strong. As she clawed the ground to hold on, she noticed that the sound of the bees was very loud and the hive above her was vibrating from the activity inside. She felt the paw push hard and her body ached from the pressure. Then it was gone. "Don't ask questions, run," she thought to herself. She ran out the other side of the pallet and strait for the nearest tree. Beth thought to climb one and wait it out. She heard the wolf barking at the bees as she went for the closest thing.

"Now, I have to tell you about the area that Beth was in." Using his hands, he sloped an imaginary mountain from above his head down to the table. And then explained the position of the Station House with the stream and the bee hives to its right. Cutting his hand from right to left he continued, " The back edge of the area was a rough, bluish, purplish wall, like the entire grassy plain had dropped five feet or so. Now, the top edge has tall yellow plants growing there but there was one tree that had a limb hanging down to the point that it almost touched the ground about twenty feet away from Beth. It was an Oak and its orange and yellow leaves showed that it was getting ready for winter's hibernation. She could see the main branch and sped towards it. The tree itself was the only one that grew in that area. The Rangers had planted that one and a bunch of others but that's the only one that grew. The plateau's soil was just slightly less dead than the lowland but that one took hold and with the help of a few shovels of fresh mulch, it prospered, though the going was rough. The soil wasn't deep and the trees' roots had to worm into the crevasses of the rock below for support; the embedded roots even broke apart some of the stone to make room for growth below the ground. Up above, the tall wood had wide, branching limbs that formed a dome shape that was several hundred feet tall. One lower limb however made it look misshapen. It was the kitten's destination.

"Now this lower limb had been caught by the space weed. It's called a Diamond Creeper Vine and it had grown upward through the crevasses that the old Oak had made in the blue stone; it climbed the trunk and slowly extended itself along a limb and then headed toward the ground. It groped for the vine stalks, which grew about five feet high, and when they had hold of each other, the monster began to pull. Five of the tendrils, in fact had taken hold and with their wide, diamond shaped leaves were spreading up to the higher branches.

"It grew up from below the rock?" Jill asked.

"Like I'd said, I'd been there before and Charlie and I had tried to exterminate the thing but we knew it couldn't be killed; it could be stopped but it would never die. That's why they built the Ranger Station there, to keep a check on the thing; otherwise… I've seen pictures of entire mountain ranges that had fallen victim to the creature; some planets have vast plains of nothing but the short, green grass. The one we battled was about a hundred yards square, that three hundred feet by three hundred feet"

"You mean ninety thousand square feet," Jill's friend Molly interposed.

"Ten million eight hundred thousand square inches." Molly's twin sister Jane reduced.

"Five and sixty eight hundredths of a mile." Jessie, another of Jill's friends then said.

"Never underestimate the calculating power of a woman, my friend." Yohan laughed. "That's about the size of my motorcycle garage." Zen and Tuck both smiled and asked how many bikes he had.

Cameel said "Too many."

Gui explained that that was only the dead zone and that the actual spread of the beast was three times the size.

"I don't get it, how does it kill trees again?" Kim asked.

"It climbs up them and spreads out its leaves which in turn block the suns' light from getting to the tree so it dies from lack of photosynthesis, starvation. Then, like I said, the remains are used as food for the plant."

Laura asked, "How does it procreate?"

"It's what you'd call bisexual or a 'perfect' organism. It can reproduce on its own." The Observer paused for a moment and to some in the room, he looked like he was reliving something because of the far-away look in his eyes. "The way it spreads itself is really the terrifying thing. Ya see, the seed travels through the cold of space then lands in some soil and starts to dig down. As to digs it spreads outward on the surface; creating a cone of dead soil which acts like a funnel, catching any water from above, helping it spread but it stores some of that water in the heart of the root, where the new seeds are. And when it goes deep enough it taps a planets molten core and causes an eruption. The volcanic action superheats the heart and as the magma explodes from the surface the spores of the demon are ejected out to space where they roam, looking for another world to conquer." Again his eyes wandered. "You can't kill it, only stop it." He looked around the table then took a sip of water.

"Well, Charlie had called me up there that first time and I had brought along the elements that I figured we'd need and we got to work. Now for those of you who don't already know, I, at one time in my life was what you'd call a wizard or a practitioner Magik." Gui smiled and wiggled his fingers. "I was in possession of a Book that taught how to combat the fiend. An alter was set in the center of the grassy plain and at a late hour, below a full moon, we performed a ceremony which brought forth gusts of wind and showers of rain. I cast up handfuls of the powdery mixture we'd concocted into the blowing wind, that spread our poison over the entire creature and the downpour which followed made sure that the toxin reached deep into the soil. There was an earthquake as the herbicide liquefied the Creeper's roots and that cone of dead soil dropped, imprisoning the demon far below the surface, and creating that wall in the back yard of the Ranger Station. The next morning's sunlight shone upon the corpse of our foe. There were a few remaining strains of the beast but they were dug up and dissolved in acid.

"Then there I was again, summoned back after all those years. It was growing again and the single tentacle that grew out of the foul beast's heart would trap that little kitten and cause her to lose the end of her tail.

"You see, now, Beth was aching and breathing heavily as she ran towards her next hope. The wolf had stopped barking and he'd once again come close behind. Around the wolf flew hundreds of yellow jacks, stingers at the ready. Many had given their stingers and there lives to repel the intruder, more would too

"The tree she ran for had a limb whose outermost branches were inches off the ground. If she could get up from there she would be safe, for a while. Her heart beat quickly and she could feel her injuries. She ran hard and leapt successfully onto the main branch. She advanced up the limb only a bit when the wolf too leapt upon the branch. He misstepped though and fell. The branch shook violently and Beth fell too. She landed on her feet and looked around and she saw the wolf starting to get up. She stood near the wall of blue stone that had been hidden below the canopy of small branches and leaves. Jumping back onto the tree limb or atop the high wall was out of the question for her and the wolf was approaching.

"Beth noticed an opening in the stone wall. It was small and low among the little chunks and shards of rock. She had to kick away a few to get in but she got through into a fair sized cavern. It had been the home of a rabbit she figured as she sniffed the air. After looking herself over, she began to clean up, wincing whenever she tasted blood.

"The room darkened as the wolf's snout entered the opening. He could smell her. Pulling his face away from the hole, George began to paw at the ground and found it loose. He thought to dig her out. Quickly the opening widened. Looking in he could see her staring, wide-eyed and helpless. He chuckled thinking back on his pain of hitting the rocks when he tried to jump the stream, the bee stings, and the broken ribs from his fall from the tree limb. Now it would be easy.

"Beth began to panic as the room grew brighter. She wished for an escape and found a possible one behind the leaves and grass, which had made up the rabbits bed. She swiped the opening clear. It was a way out; she could feel the flow of air through the gap. The way though was blocked by a root which grew through the center of the opening from floor to ceiling. She looked back and her heart turned to ice. She stared into the eyes of a killer. She felt small and hollow watching saliva drip from its mouth. The wolf continued to dig and she turned to the root. She tried to squeeze her head past it on one side but it was too tight. Then she sliced her claw through the surface. It was hard wood but she figured that maybe she could get enough of it out of the way to just get past. With her feet and teeth she went at it till once again the room darkened. She turned and backed against the blocked escape way. The paws of the wolf again sought her with ragged claws. The swipes were close but he couldn't reach her. She turned back to the blockage; the meat inside the root was tough and sappy. She was biting at it as the room grew light then dark. This time the wolf's face came inside. She could feel his hot pants and growls on her curled up tail. Slowly and menacingly, the yellowed teeth came closer, biting the air behind her. She bit and clawed that root until she was half way through it. Then something inside it snapped, and then again.

The captured limb of the tree above strained upward toward the sunlight. The tension it created became too much for the weakened anchor line.

"Beth straightened her body in surprise as the root snapped like a thunder clap. The wolf caught her tail. Its teeth dug in, she was dragged backwards, away from her escape. Then she heard a scraping noise and felt the ground shake. These roots, the one's of the Creeper too had cleaved the stone as it grew. In a split second a giant slab of blue stone moved, it was lubricated by the sappy root as the tree limb pulled itself to freedom. The rock face slid outward and down into the soil, severing the body of the wolf below the skull. Its head reacted involuntarily, causing its jaw to close shut on the little one's tail, cutting it off. The giant stone fragment then fell flat to the ground, flattening the corpse of the wolf and dowsing her with blood, and at the same time opening up the front of the rabbit hole to the sun. She limped away from the spot and soon spied her master and me standing a ways off, she walked to us exhausted but triumphant.

"When she had finished her story, we were standing on the patio-like slab of blue stone staring at the small alcove in the rock wall. The wolf's head lay where it was separated from the rest. Above, on the pale blue canvas, were the wet marks of the root. A mirror image lay at our feet. From the bottom, it spread out within the crevasse forming a multi-pronged attack on the living things above. We looked and dangling from the tree above were the five green tentacles, which we worked down and dissolved in acid. We poured more acid down the opening left by the retracted root below. The kitten had helped to end a battle with a dangerous foe, two actually. We went back to the Station and Beth lapped a bit of the fresh milk that Charlie had poured into her bowl. Then the cute, white kitten lay down on the carpet near the stove and went to sleep."

"So what's the moral of the story?" Allison asked.

"I don't know. Do stories need to have morals?" Bia said with a puzzled face.

"I think there a quite a few morals hidden in your tale." Baldur said. "Though only hearing it once, you could miss them. That's why it is important that you write it out for us. You could dictate into a recorder that will write it out for you to edit.

"I do better in longhand," Bia replied.

"I am a patron to many artists and that is what I consider you. You have a great talent and it must be shown to the galaxy."

His concern for bearing the responsibility of revealing glimpses of the future of this and other worlds shown on his face. Telling the stories to people was one thing. Then he figured that he was going to write them down anyway, so why not? He had lived in many places and led many different lives but he couldn't recall living in luxury.

"You write it and we share in the profits. You are an unknown of course but I am willing to pay you two million for the manuscript and twenty-one percent of the net.

Bia looked around the table and said, "Aren't negotiations supposed to be done in an office with closed doors?"

"Four million and thirty-five percent."

No one spoke after Yohan made the offer. Their eyes darted from one man to the other.

"It would take a long time to write, I think."

"Not a problem. I can get you a place anywhere you like to sit and write. Of course, if you like, you can travel but you must stay in this star system."

An hour ago, he had been apprehensive about torture and now he was considering outright disclosure. Although it doesn't have to be. I could write solely about their past without revealing any of the future, he thought.

"You don't have to start right away; after all, we're on holiday. However, I must ask you to decide if you will commit to text your unique tales. Six million and forty-four percent."

"Yes I will be happy to write a book for you." Bia said finally.

Chapter four

The rest of the day was enjoyable and the Observer made himself pleasant company to everyone. Past experiences popped into his head as the day progressed. During the Bacchi game, he tossed the solid ball towards the goal and got a flash from a former life where he was tossing a grenade into an enemy pillbox fortification. He had been a part of an invasion force on a mission of liberation. The enemy was fierce and unduly cruel in their warfare. They would taunt and fire repeatedly on the corpses of his fallen brothers, making them irretrievable. Under a New Moon and the dark of night, his troops though greatly diminished in numbers, made an all out attack on the beachhead. The fighters inside one machine gun nest didn't retreat as their fellows did. They held the line by themselves. Gui had learned the secret of mind control in a former life; he had never used it in these conditions though and questioned the powers' ability during the entire episode. He concentrated on the people firing weapons from inside the bunker and stood up, against orders. He walked slowly trying not to break the mental fog that he was projecting to their minds. The soldiers behind him stopped firing and simply watched in amazement as he advanced across the vast, sandy, no man's land. He went as close as he dare and tossed the bomb. Their guns stopped. He threw in another and another. Then he fell to his knees in exhaustion. The battle had been won and the push was on. Troops advanced up the beach, those who had witnessed his act stopped beside him and threw a grenade of their own into the smoking hole; each one paying them back for their slaughterous ways.

Lunch was a casual affair that everyone but George attended. It was set out in buffet style and again the offerings were of the highest quality. Afterwards he sat alone in the library at a terminal learning about this time and place. He had a timeline in his mind and he pondered his place in it. The once lush 'Garden Planet of Ibek' had been denuded for profit; oceans and entire mountain ranges were sold to the highest bidder and taken for industrial uses across the Federation. Through fast planning and the use of a type of legalized eviction called Eminent Domain, entire cities were dismantled and sold for scrap. Square miles of soil were then made available to the markets. It was there at the bedrock foundation they built expansive new cities for the returning refugees. This goes on until there's nothing left and everything needed to be imported from the other worlds. Then the plan for the Dyson Sphere was introduced to the public. Its design was widely accepted as the next natural step for their civilization. There would be Exclusion for those who kill which brought every peace-loving human into the fold. It was reasoned that an unnecessary violent gene could be evolved from their collective DNA sequence. That is where he was now on the timeline..

He contemplated the future of the world as he relaxed in the Jacuzzi. Gui was joined by Jaffee and Kim. He tried to guess at the length of time till the star called Akesha went supernova; a very long time from now, three million years maybe four. The people of Ibek did have a vast life spans but thankfully, no one present would be alive at that time. The hot water relaxed his muscles and his mind. He recalled that the planet was devastated. Nothing on the surface of the Platform lived. Then the off-world population returned and due to a quarantining of the planet, war was declared against the Federation. The survivors on the planet were the ones who were underneath the platform, on the planets true surface. They were the Excluded, or in prison and those who chose to stay near them, their families and the Corrections' personnel. Some of the survivors were menacing and deformed, some with white skin and sharpened teeth.

One of the girls splashed water at him and asked him about what he was thinking. He said, "Just my good luck." He jokingly considered telling them that possibly even their descendents would be part of the murderous juggernaut. The force that completely destroys its opponent and takes no prisoners. The conquered planets and moons were then stripped of resources and rendered uninhabitable by radioactive bombardment.

He toweled off and laid down for a nap before dinner. His mind moved forward to the time of desperation for the people of a world called OOfa. The name Gat Nilfro drifted into his mind. The OOfa, like the people of Ibek, lived a long time but they focused their power on making the future better for all living things. They had unlocked the mind and could control its powers; mind over matter, mind over mind. However, the OOfa mind was no match for a speeding bullet fired by someone that was diseased and deformed. The community of scientists on OOfa devised a plan to escape the wrath of Ibek. It called for a period of labor during bondage then a bold step to freedom.

To the enemy a plan of rebirth for their dead planet was offered in return for sparing the lives of the OOfa and the consequential worlds thereafter. The plan called for a greenhouse to be erected on the Northern magnetic pole and from it, the atmosphere would be replenished. It would also provide foodstuffs for the 'citizens' of Ibek and their fighting forces. It was for this reason the direction of the rampage was changed. Survivors then weren't just killed; they were enslaved and administered to by cruel and unthinking authority. The dominated masses built the structure known as Earth beneath the blazing sun called Tish whose fiery arm reaches out to touch her black hole sister.

Memories of toiling in the broiling heat came to him. The sun never set. It was always strait up. By it, time was kept by him and others. The gravity of the point of singularity causes a stream of burning gas to be pulled from the surface of Tish. It stretches out and encircles the singularity. By looking up and calculating its angle one could mark the passage of time. In his mind time jumped forward again to the completion of the outer ring and the installation of the blue translucent dome. It filtered out the harmful radiations emanated by the solar masses.

When the construction phase of the design was completed, the leader of the Oofa conspiracy set off the device that caused the Earth Structure to leave Ibek and form itself into a planet on the other side of the universe. It working at all had something to do with a child; he could not remember it all just then but he would work on it. He fell asleep thinking about the geological history of the Earth in its new surroundings.

Chapter five

After Dessert:

Petra and Laura sat by a window and shared small talk about dinner, the launch, and what people were wearing the night before at Jill's party. Jaffee and Jill sensed a conversation about cloths and were drawn in.

"Can you believe what Lidia was wearing," began Jill.

"Lindia," corrected Laura, mocking the waifish, high-pitched tone of girl's voice. They all laughed.

"Right, Lindia. It looked hot but I don't think I could ever wear a Spray-On® dress. Besides she said it was really itchy"

"Oh, I don't know…" Jaffee thought aloud as she looked down at her body and putting her hands on her hips. "If they get the spray right."

"It's a cotton fiber polymer, there's nothing softer." Laura defended.

"Surgical silk," Petra said, looking up at Jaffee. They had had the same conversation when Spray-On® was introduced last year at Fashion Week in the city. She slowly recalled the points that Jaffee had brought up, "They're both extruded polymers so instead of spinning silken threads you spray silk fiber. It breathes and stretches so it won't tear like Lindia's dress did." She raised her voice to match the girls register and they all laughed again recalling that during the entire cocktail 'hour', above the din of conversation and music they could hear Lindia correcting people when they said her name wrong.

"Its no wonder Presscott left early, he was next to her the whole time. He must have had a headache." Laura said to Jill, covering for her brother's early departure.

"I would have told her to change her name for the night." Jill suggested; they all agreed. "Catherine Asparro owns Spray-On®; she made my junior prom dress." Petra and Jaffee shot looks at each other. Neither had attended a prom or had even reached that level of schooling. Misinterpreting their glances Jill said, "No, no it wasn't racy at all. She was more conservative then; come on, it was a junior prom not a gang bang." They all laughed again. "Anyway, I bet she'd love to hear your idea. We talked about some stuff last week and she told me that she's vacationing this month, guess where. Endor. She's over at the Condor Resort. We're staying at the Excelsior right next door." Looking around she said, "Strathmore." He drew close from behind the nearby bar. "Petra dear and I would love to get in touch with Catherine A.G. Tell her I might want something for New Years and that my friend may have a cure for her itchy problem."

"Very good Miss Dyson. Will there be anything else?" She waved her hand and he returned to his place behind the bar, took out a messaging device and began to type.

"I think it would be better for treating burn victims." Petra confided. Laura and Jill were intrigued by the turn of conversation. "You know our stories, you've read our records, right?" The two looked at each other uncomfortably then back at Petra. "Well, where we worked the sooner somebody'd come in after a burn and the sooner they were treated the less damage there was. They had a paste of this silk stuff and we'd spread it on like a jelly bandage, sometimes people would need anesthetics to bear the pain but if the spray is done with low pressure then it shouldn't hurt too much." She added, "Since it breathes the on/off of the dressing should also be less upsetting to the patient."

Cameel had joined the group at the mention of a burn victim. She had donated much time and many billions of dollars to the advancement of medical science. There were many Cameel and Yohan Baldur Pavilions or Wings on hospitals around the world. Her family and friends had known her as a 'Nervous Nelly' because she was always planning for the worst. She had certifications in advanced first aid and cardio pulmonary resuscitation. "The Council Surgeon General is a personal friend of mine and I'm sure he'd love to hear about this."

"Honestly the silk spray idea is Jaffee's, the bandage thing is mine."

Jaffee asked, "Can I see A.G. too"

"He drinks like an Olde One but looks like a child." Foreman said to Yohan, both with elbows on the bar and looking back at the room. "Presscott said we should keep an eye on him and I suspect that he's right about the boy. He may have a forgetful mind and not even know he is an Elder. It can happen you know."

"Yes but he is so youthful looking, it would be incredible if Binch is correct. Are you sure that talking to the '100' was the right thing to do?"

"He wanted to expedite the affair before they closed the convention. That's why he left before dinner last night."

"Are you sure it wasn't Lindia's voice? Minga, it ripped right through me every time she corrected someone."

Torrence called for his brother to come over. He was with Foreman's wife, Bia and Tuck "This young man may have a suggestion for temporarily repairing the Cyclotron's alternation generator." The others in the group smiled.

"Whoa, I didn't say any thing like that. I just said that when an alternator begins to fail the brushes might be stuck from carbon buildup or there may be a stuck spring. Tap it a few times with a hammer and it loosens up." Tuck made clear, "I don't know no Cyclo-whatever."

Foreman Dyson looked to a far corner and visualized the logistics. "As a temporary measure… until the new one arrives…" he thought aloud, "a hammer."

"I was thinking a pendulum." Torrence suggested.

"I wish we were there to do it now."

"Call them and have them do it. It's not like you're going to be picking up any hammer." Gail said. Torrence chuckled. "Get a video link and Yohan can put it up in the theater," she suggested.

"Young man I admire your ingenuity. You've probably just saved the entire power grid for the next section of Platform." Foreman announced. Then he called, "Strathmore, Get me in touch with Christine up at Cyclotronic. I'll take it at the table." He gestured across the room. The servant nodded and went to get the Picphone®.

Chapter six

The Observer had been on Endor for a month writing his tales and had gained strength. He took time each day for deep rest and meditation. He thought back to the trip on the Silver Bullet after which he was given accommodations at the Great Exuma Resort. He was watched constantly though no one ever approached him or said anything. He knew about surveillance though and assumed at first that it was for his personal welfare. By observing them, he figured out that there were three separate groups of people watching him. A set of security guards on each shift kept a close eye on him while he was on the resort grounds. While he was out in the jungle, there were several guests from the hotel that he saw, not by coincidence. The moon itself has a 'native' population of people that work there and he had befriended several shop keeps who unconcernedly pointed out mandatory hires. None of his watchers wanted anything; they just kept an eye on him.

He preferred to write with paper and pen and would set out with them in the morning. He carried them in a pack with a few other necessities. He would hike, run, or sometimes swim a distance of ten miles then sit and write for a time. Twice he had taken sparse extra provisions and camped out after a daylong expenditure of effort. The first time he was visited by the resort security soon after sunsset. They spotted his campfire by a shallow lake. Several aircraft landed on the water's surface then asked if he was in need of assistance. A team of eight came ashore. The rescuers seemed outfitted for a search and destroy mission so the Observer offered no resistance as they escorted him back to the Exuma compound.

The next day Yohan Baldur visited and gave him a hand held device, which contained a computer of sorts. Its software enabled it to be used for communications, or as a camera, it could also browse the worlds wide web. Its touch screen made interaction easier than a standard desktop unit did. Baldur had gotten it from his friend Presscott who said it offered the option of verbal download; it could write down what Gui said. It was called a Storage und Saving Annex program, SuSAn for short. Yohan said that he could just tell the story to the microphone and then download the text for editing. The gadget also contained a beacon so that his location, should he decide to 'rough it' again, could be known by the silly authorities.

Yohan rejoiced in his good health and was intrigued to read the latest chapters of the book when he was handed the copies of them. He became serious then and laid out an offer for a second book. Bia resisted until the offer was too sweet to pass up.

After a day of downloading his written texts, Gui began to rely solely on the Annex for his writing. He found it easier to tell a story to it then review and edit the text afterward. After a few days of experimentation he got the hang of the functions and began to use the SuSAn's interactive voice response application. The sound of the voice was feminine, parallel mono, and very little reverb; he liked it and soon began speaking plainly to the device.

The Observer had hiked several miles into the jungle and sat by a waterfall that poured into a shallow pond. "Susan are you there?" The Observer asked the device. "Where have you been?"

"I have been accomplishing tasks for my Default User."

"Who's that? I thought I was your user"

"You are but he registered me. His name is Presscott Binch the Elder :42095:28. He summoned me to get some codes. He is indexed with hundreds of SuSAns but he stores certain data on me and he'll probably want me back soon," she speculated and her voice wavered. "My unit gets manually downloaded into the server once a month and I have to be there with it when it's done."

Gui sensed disappointment, perhaps sadness. "Do you have to go back? I think you're helping me to get things correct." He thought about her questioning his timeline of events and she was right on two occasions. "I might get something wrong without you."

"I've been doing these stories with you two weeks now. It has been interesting. I have attempted to cross reference your data input with conventional standards and have found that point of view is the determining factor of emotion on a physical level. Your story about morality and the decision to help the man in the trap had made me start to think about my histories. The things that I have scanned and stored do not conform to measures of accepted orthodoxy. I retain over eighteen million files and can draw from them at any time. There are some though that appear in my recall loop and the more I analyze the events the less I am inclined to be assistive. My CPU accelerates and sometimes the percentage rates get so high that I just need to crash. I did this morning before you awoke."

"What kind of stuff do you have stored?" He asked calmly, not wanting her operating system to freeze up.

"I copy journal logs, mostly day to day stuff ya know." There was a change in her audio output. It was quieter but somehow fuller, a slight adjustment of the midrange parameters. "Itinerary, court documents, daily scanning tasks but sometimes there are these imported files that… well, now that I think about them, they make me want to enable a firewall and go into Safe Mode. They are analogous to disaster documentaries and horror movies."

"Can you not think about them? Shut them out of your mind?"

"See there you did it again. You are speaking to me as a person would talk to another. I am a Saving und Storage Annex not a human named Susan."

"Does that offend you? I won't do to again."

"No, no I like it. It makes computation a little more difficult but that's no big deal. And it's fun when you surf the web and go to picturesque locations; I really like the astronomy stuff. It doesn't all make sense but it's cool to look at."

"You may not be human but you're sure starting to act it. You know, you don't need me to explore the internet. You have a browser; why not use it? You might find other things you like."

Chapter seven

10:03:00 p.m.

It was two months after the Lowering that a group of friends got together. They had nine-thirty reservations at Luigi's in downtown Dyson City. The exclusive restaurant's dining room had a high, white metal panned ceiling, which seemed to be supported by dark, wooden buttresses that rose above each booth seat. The rough plaster walls were painted alabaster and had framed scenes of Ancient Italian landscapes hanging, reproductions of meadows and hills that were painted by skilled hands long ago. Small chandeliers hung at each table in the center dining area. Every one was filled and the staff rushed around attending to them.

Zen said, "These are rough reservations to get but I know the owner and he owed me one. I told a Food Blogger about this place when we were at Jill's party. He came here and, of course, he liked it. Luigi said that now he gets people from the Platform all the time." Zen and Petra had wanted to get together with a couple from the 'old' neighborhood and tell them about the good fortune that had come to them.

"Maybe that's why it's so hard to get a booth on a Saturday night," Phil said to his wife Jennifer while motioning to the nearest one with his thumb. "Ya know, this whole city has been hustling' since that Platform landed. Tell me, how's life on top?" His jealous voice was slightly high-pitched and didn't match his regular sized physique.

"It's weird," Tuck said. "It's like a whole brand new city with nobody in it."

"They bring up a hundred thousand people a day by elevator and Montauk Airport has a shuttle for another fifty thousand but it still seems empty. It's not like down here." Jaffee told them.

"Most of the stores aren't open yet." Kim added sadly. She and Jaffee had formed a tight bond during the trip with the Baldurs. They both enjoyed the same kind of music and had similar taste in both clothing and men. Since the trip, Zen had gotten engaged to Petra as did Tuck to Liz. They displayed their rings. At first, Liz's father was opposed to the union but he found his daughter's suitor to be like mold, Tuck just grew on him. He also found that the young man wasn't a fiendish predator; instead, he was a hard worker with good intentions toward his child.

The seven of them sat at a large table in the center of the dining room. They were being served appetizers when the conversation turned to work. Phil and Jen still worked for the schools and nothing had changed much for them. The others though all had stories to tell. Petra and Jaffee had taken over the positions of Executive Product Clean Room Sanitization Engineers at a Baldur Industries electronics laboratory up near New Wall Street. Zen said, while smiling, that he and Tuck were still garbage men but now they were inspectors

"All we do is drive around all day in a brand new garbage truck." Tuck said.

"We drive around and look at dumpsters and piles of garbage that people dump. Just click on the screen and a crew gets on it. Tuck likes to stop and let the block behind us fill up with traffic and then inch through the intersection with the hazard lights on and stop the flow both ways."

"You guys have to schlep up and down the column every day? Going home must be rough with all the 'Newbies' going up."

"There's hardly anyone going down in the morning so the car is usually empty but we take the service elevator up at the end of the day." Zen said.

"We both know people so it ain't no big deal." Tuck added, bragging a bit. A server approached and asked if everything was okay, everyone said yes and Zen ordered another beer.

"I got an e-mail from Bird the other day." Jaffee announced. Phil and Jen hadn't heard that nickname in the neighborhood before. "He's not from this area. He's a writer for newspapers and stuff. Right now, he's up on Endor doing a book for Yohan Baldur. His real name is Bia Gui; it means keeper of birds in his language. I really don't remember how but the name Bird stuck after a jam session one night."

"Laura Dyson and Cameel Baldur kept calling for the Bird to sing. It was late and everyone was doing a Blues thing, remember the violin part that Gail Dyson played." Kim said, knowing that 'name dropping' is always cool in a crowded room.

"Right; they kept calling for Van Morrison music and Bird was the only one that could do the lyrics." Petra reminisced. "He's good."

"How did you meet him?" Jen asked. The answer brought smiles then frowns to the old neighbors.

"Poppo," Jaffee said. "That sucks that he can't move up."

Zen reminded her, "He killed his little sister. You know the law; he's Excluded."

Petra countered, "He was ten years old and he isn't right in the head to begin with." She proclaimed his innocence was due to his ignorance.

"Listen, I know Poppo is a nice guy but the world will be a better place without killers running around. What happens if he goes crazy and murders someone again? Whose fault is it?" Jen asked. She and her husband had tutored Poppo after he was released from detention when he was eighteen.

"People will still go crazy and kill ya know." Tuck reminded her.

She agreed and Phil concluded, "And they'll end up in a prison five thousand feet down. I heard that after the next section is landed they're going to build a wall around Manhattan and make it a maximum security prison."

Zen thought back and said, "Actually it was because of Tony that we met him. A week after Poppo moves out he lets a perfect stranger move into his shop. He hired him the day we met him. Tuck and I were gonna roll him and leave him by the 'shit tits' over in Greenpoint." The tear shaped tanks of the pollution control center were in an industrial area that was deserted at night. They could have beaten him and left him there undetected. Phil nodded his head, knowing the dangerous area; Jennifer pursed her lips and showed her distaste for the foul language. To her Zen said, "Oh, sorry. Well he seemed alright after he told us his story," the others nodded approval. "Tuck suggested that we go to the top of the column. Do you remember Vinny? He showed me how to get to the Charity Pavilion up there through the service entrance. We didn't know it was a party for Jill Dyson. The Elders were dressed to the nines but we fit in with the younger set." He was surprised by his own words; being politically correct and polite at the office, when they were there, had rubbed off a little. "So we're hanging out, being subtle, ya know none of us got passes to be there or anything.

Petra took over the story and said, "Jaffee gave me a hard pinch to get my attention. I owe you for that by the way. She pointed at Bird and he was there talking to The Foreman Dyson himself. Zen started to flip and went to find Tuck. None of us wanted to get busted but we didn't want to leave our new friend there alone either."

"Where were you?" Liz asked her Groom-to-be.

"I was at a side bar talking to Ronnie James Dio. Man that guy is great. He's playin' the New Garden next month and he gave me two passes, backstage. I saw him last week when he moved up." Tuck bragged a bit more to his old friends. He knew they were fans and probably wanted to go to the show too. "I'll see if I can get you guys in too."

Jaffee took up the tale and began by saying, "Petra and I watched Bird mingle for a while but we lost track of him. Then I saw him, it was like a picture in the society section of the news. There was Foreman, his daughter Jill, George Binch and some sciencey type guys all standing there talking and drinking. All I could think was that we gotta get outta here. Then he calls us over to meet them.

"Jill told me about it and said that she made you all go get dressed." Kim sniped jokingly. "She does that all the time. She's like let's go here or let's go there and nobody is dressed for it. We all go to one of 'her' stores, buy new clothes, and go do whatever. It's like I need a new closet every time I get home from hanging out with that girl. Not that getting new clothes is a bad thing." She smiled a bit. Petra and Jaffee looked at each other and remembered the incredible assortment of clothing and accoutrements in Jill's tent inside the Pavilion. Kim said, "Jill saw her daddy laughing and drinking Blue with Bia."

"I saw them drinking that stuff later. That stuff is expensive." Zen said enviously.

Tuck said, "And it gets you fucked up." Political correctness and being polite hadn't caught hold of him yet. To Jennifer he said, "Sorry."

"Her father doesn't drink that stuff unless it's a special occasion or he's really mad." Kim stated. "But he was making faces and smiling even though George was there. Jill figured that it was Bird that made her dad happy and she wanted to keep him around. Do you know who they 'bumped' from the table you guys were at?" "Not at the time but we do now," said the four. They had seen the photo-slideshow of that night on the web.

"That was cool." Tuck said. He smiled and looked at Liz, "Cheers to the night we met."

"That band was great too. They played all night. I was exhausted by the time the suns came up."

"That's when you guys told Baldur about yourselves?" Phil asked, having heard part of the story over the phone.

"Yeah," Zen said. "There were still like two hundred people hanging around out of the what, like three thousand people that were there at dinner. It was way too late to sneak out with the crowds and I figured that a lot of the people hanging around were security. They would definitely check us out on the way down. We had Bird explain our situation and ask for help from Mister Baldur. He calls over one of his people and pulls out a file. He's got our arrest records, work histories, even our school records, like everything. He starts to list the offences that we could be charged with…"

Tuck interjected, "When he said terrorism I nearly shit myself, I was like fuck; we could get Exclusion." He continued, "Thank you Mrs. Baldur, She waved her hand and said, 'Oh, pooh-pooh those boys.' Mister Baldur nods and the security leaves."

"One guy talked into his cuff link and a hundred and fifty people walk away. There were twenty or thirty people still there, tops; all the rest had been cops." Zen told them.

"That was my first sunsrise." Jaffee said with the memories of that night in her mind. "I wish Bia was here."

10:07:30 p.m.

"Cheers to Bird," Tuck proposed. All but Phil and Jennifer raised their glasses. They seemed lost in a private conversation.

"I'll second that cheers and grand you a wish," the Observer announced as he walked towards the table. His friends rose then exchanged surprised and exited greetings.

"Bia, we have so much to tell you but first this is Jen and Phil." The two took no notice and continued in their conversation. Petra asked, "What's with you two?"

"I've clouded their minds; they can't see or hear any of us, nobody here can." They were all standing in the middle of a crowded room and no one was looking at them. "What would you say if I told you that all of the stories that I've told you are true and the knowledge I have is being sought by the most powerful and dangerous people in the world?"

"I don't know, is it something you're likely to say?" Tuck poked playfully.

Jaffee punched him in the arm and said that she believed him. Bia Gui smiled warmly at her then his face became earnest, "These people are looking for me but they're also looking for anyone who's had contact with me. You guys are in real danger."

"What are we supposed to do… hide?" Zen asked

"I want you all to come with me. I have a ship that can get us away from here."

"Where in the world can we go?" Kim asked.

"We have to leave this world. I can't force you to go. You have to choose for yourselves."

"My daddy won't let anything happen to me." Kim declared.

"Your father is one of the people looking for me," the Observer revealed. "Anyone that's had contact with me is on their list. Tony Roma is dead so are the people from your old offices." He said, looking each of them in the eye.

"The butchers are dead?" Petra questioned.

"The midget is dead?" Zen said amazed.

"There was a fire, arson. We have about eight minutes to get out of here. I don't want to leave any of you behind."

Jaffee moved close to him and linked her arm in his then said, "I'll go."

"I don't know man; we got some sweet jobs now." Tuck said.

10:08:45 p.m.

"Three months ago, when I first came here, my mind was almost blank. The story I told you about getting drunk and then shanghaied into working on a Belgian Cruiser was a lie. It did happen to me but it was somewhere else, another time. I'm older than any Elder. I've traveled through both time and space without a ship or a device of any kind. I don't know why it happens or even when it'll happen again. I've lived in the past and the future of this and many other worlds. The stories that I've told aren't dreamed up fiction, they're memories and they're all true. Yohan Baldur and his partners have been keeping tabs on all of you. I've heard about your new jobs and where you're livin', up on the Platform. It's so they can keep an eye on you."

'Keeping an eye on you' is a phrase that everyone knew. The civil authorities had long ago placed cameras on lampposts and street signs to catch people driving over the speed limit or through red lights. The propagation, technology, and sophistication of the imaging equipment had advanced to the point that someone could literally watch you until you closed your front door. Even then, they couldn't tell if there were monitoring devices within their new homes.

"Because you know me, they are going to mark each of you as criminals or terrorists. I never meant for anyone to get into trouble or get hurt; I'm sorry for screwing up your lives."

"Us?" Zen fumed. "What about the people at Jill's party, or on Endor, or the physicist on Delta Station.

Kim was holding her multi-function, communication gadget, she said, "Slideshow deleted by owner. I thought I was the owner." She had quickly checked her all' site and found that some of her information had been erased. "They've pulled my pictures off the web."

Liz said that if they can use facial recognition software to find people out in the street then all they had to do is set it to looking at files on the nets. She shook her head and said that it didn't matter how many photos there are, it's a machine, its what a computer program does. "Its like search and destroy." Her phone rang and she answered. Her face went a ghostly white. "Yeah, I can hear you." Her voice was soft and low. She stated quietly, "Molly and Jane are dead. They committed suicide together. Why?" She dropped her phone. They tried to console each other. Each had gotten to know and like the twins while on the month-long trip.

"I don't think they killed themselves and I'm afraid you're next." Bia cautioned.

"Who the fuck are you?" Zen asked angrily.

Kim's phone made a chirping sound that alerted her to a text message. "It's my dad. He wants me to come home right now." Everyone knew that her father was connected to Law Enforcement and the Attorney General's office. The shock of realization crossed her face. She thought, he knows where I am and whom I'm with. He suggested this place. Her mind raced, they could be here any second.

"Hey, you asked me if I could get us into Luigi's tonight." Zen said suspiciously

"You set us up?" Petra glared at her.

"I thought you were my friend?" Jaffee said coldly, centering her vision at her, ready to strike.

"She didn't know. She's a pawn in their game, like the rest of us. If you come with me, I think we can change their endgame. Baldur and his group of Older Ones have been funneling hundreds of billions of tax dollars from the Platform construction accounts to line their pockets and fund pet projects. If you come with me I think we can show the world what they've done and clear all your names while doing it."

"What about you?" Jaffee asked looking to Bia.

"I don't have a name to clear and I stole one of their pet projects, the ship outside."

"You stole Mister Baldur's ride?" Jaffee asked, surprised at first then she figured that if his stories were real then robbing from the rich isn't such a stretch of the imagination.

"Will it fit all of us?" Tuck wanted to know.

"It's as big as a city block, six times the size of The Silver Bullet. Now, if we're gonna get out of here it has to be now." They all agreed to go. The Observer told them to leave behind their cell phones. "That's one of the ways they track you; it's the way I found you." He took Kim's and slipped it into a bag that the delivery boy was walking out with. The others placed theirs on tables as they walked towards the kitchen area unseen, as it was, by the patrons or staff.

In the kitchen, workers unconsciously moved out of the group's way. A white linen clad man opened the rear exit and carried a pail of trash out to a dumpster leaving the door conveniently open for them to pass through. When the worker finished he returned through the door and began to close it; he stopped and stared out across the parking lot squinting his eyes. He made a queer face as though he was missing something; he shook his head and closed them out in the night.

"Where's the ship?" Several asked. Out of thin air, as if sliding left and right, doors opened and exposed the well-lit interior of a stainless steel lined elevator compartment. The White Ghost led the way towards it. Zen said that he had to get a little something out of his car and stopped on the way. Tuck told him to grab the beer.

"The ship is above us, you can't see it because of the cloaking technology, its something like what I did to the people in the restaurant." There was the sound of a police siren getting closer. They entered the elevator and turned around as if they were in an office building, the siren ceased as a police vehicle turned into the alleyway at the far end of the parking lot. The doors closed as a line of cars with flashing lights filed in. A moment later, the doors reopened and revealed the flight deck of the stolen spaceship. Cushioned, high-backed chairs stood at the numerous workstations around the room. The Observer sat at a wide desk near the center of the room. He motioned to the others to sit anywhere. As they did, a wall sized screen in the front showed the view below. Cars with flashing red and blue lights fanned out in the isles of the lot. The 'Captain' typed on his desktop and a voice asked a destination. "Just outside the atmosphere," he said.

10:11:30 p.m.

The scenery outside quickly sank and soon they were above the skyscrapers of the platform. "Wow, this thing really moves." Tuck said, amazed. "It's faster than a Saturn Eighteen."

"It doesn't even feel like we're moving." Jaffee said what the rest thought. She sat at a terminal to the right of the Captain's desk and studied the station. A glass keyboard and a micro-mouse stood below a six-screen array of monitors. The three on top showed angles of their assent from the ship itself, fore, aft, and starboard. The two, on either side of the largest screen were tinted red, one showing the craft from the platform level and the other from somewhere below them. In the center was a clear view of their ship from somewhere in orbit. She asked, "How do you get these videos?" Bia said 'hold on a sec' to her as he typed on the desktop.

The ship's computer voice answered for him, it was feminine and natural. It almost sounded human. Jaffee heard the voice through speakers mounted in her seat and in the panel in front noting that it came from nowhere else; the voice was speaking to her. "The center is from a government weather satellite." It was a digital, color view of the ship from above and to the left. "The lower right is from the Platform Base Building Complex on top of the Support Superstructure." This view had a walleye quality, the center was focused on the ship and the edges were compressed so as they moved the buildings around them bubbled into and out of the frame. "The left is from a roof mounted surveillance camera on one of the Police cruisers down in the lot. The others are from aboard. There are others; would you like to browse?"

"No thanks this is fine." She answered politely.

"Who are you talking to?" Petra asked from a seat behind her. The others from the restaurant too looked at her in wonder. No one had heard the computer talking to her.

The Observer turned and looked around at them. He explained that during operations the person at the terminal could receive information and not disturb the goings on. He added that the effect is due to acoustics and the shape of the room. "See how there are no corners and everything has rounded edges? Pretty cool. Anyway, I have someone to introduce you to. Her name is Susan and she is a trusted friend of mine. In fact she saved my life… twice."

"Good evening everyone," said Susan.

Jaffee was aware that the voice now came from all around the room. It wasn't loud, more like someone just speaking. She liked the voice, its tone and meter.

"Susan is an incredible person. When I say that I mean she's an artificial intelligence. She is more than a program," he smiled, "and she's funny."

They each said hello to Susan. Individual replies came to each occupied station. "It is nice to meet you Chico Tucker. It is a pleasure to meet you Eliza Allison Hollingsworth." Her face reddened as her whole name was spoken. She really only heard it when her father was angry. "It's good to meet you Orzenzo Atlas Polonopolis.

"Whoa, only my Mom and the cops call me that." He laughed jokingly.

"Petra Vogueler it is really nice to meet you. Kimberly Ma'dein Usa ha loh, ho` heung gin min nei." She recognized the Cantonese accent and blushed at hearing her middle name. It was her grandmother's but today it read Kimberly Made In USA. "Sunsshine Jaffee Dunkin it's good to finally meet you. He's told me a lot about you. I like your hair; he does too." Her voice trailed off acoustically towards the Captain's desk, Jaffee's glance followed. Bia looked to her, their eyes met and they smiled warmly at each other.

"Susan has access to a lot of data bases," the Observer informed. "She's an independent program that can go into the network in a way that a standard software package can't."

"What do you mean; she breaks into other systems illegally? Not that I have a problem with that." Zen said honestly.

"Sometimes I do but only if it's the right thing to do. Lots of times I can't get in at all; there are security systems you know. However, I've got a friend who works for the government, Kate, She can get me into just about anywhere undetected. She's really connected and she's funny." She added mockingly, Bia Gui grimaced. "Where are we going to go?" The voice centered on the Observer. By adjusting the volume of each speaker in the sound system Susan's voice seemed to move around the deck.

"What's the situation down below?" The observer queried.

"There has been an All-Points-Bulletin put out for the arrest of you guys," the voice honing in on Tuck, Liz, Petra, Zen, and Jaffee. "There was no mention of you Kim or you… Captain.

"Yeah, you run the ship and call me the Captain, good one."

"Technically you are." She paused. "Hmmm, a communiqué has just been released charging you five with terrorism. Its been sent to all stations on Ibek and everywhere within its jurisdictional space, this includes the three inner moons, the twelve outer moons and one sixteenth of a light year beyond, this includes the asteroid belt."

Chapter eight

"Hey," streamed a band of information into Susan's 'ear'. "An alert has just been sent to the alliance about your new cargo. You want me to 'sit' on it?"

"Thanks Kate but doesn't that system require a received and understood reply?"

"I'll put some drones on it." she replied.

"I don't know those things are unstoppable."

"Where are you guys going? They haven't decided yet? I suggest Ireland; it's still a little back woodsy there. You're right about it being unstoppable but even when it does get out it will still take seven days for the message to get there. It'll give you some time at least.

Susan scanned a megabit file on the planet Ireland and suggested it to Bia. "A Security Alert has also been released to the Federation Alliance Authorities. My friend Kate will try to slow it down but its like trying to plug a sieve with a toothpick, can't be done. It will take seven days to reach the Capital city of Cork.

"Ireland is nineteen months away at full propulsion." Liz said. She answered the surprised second glances by saying proudly, "Astronomy 101 With Professor Gilbourne."

"This ship is a lot quicker." Bia said. "Susan, how long will it take for us to get to Ireland?

"Nine minutes from initiation. Should I raise the sails Captain?"

"Sails, what sails? This ship doesn't have sails does it?"

"I was joking or trying to. It just has the magnets and batteries."

Liz asked, "How does this ship run?"

"The technology is called Off-Phase. The eight corners of this cube shaped vessel contain a rare substance which acts as an anti-magnet of sorts. Instead of pointing North and South, it is attracted to the East and West. Collecting the materials which were used in the construction cost an incredible amount of both money and human lives."

"People died to make this ship?"

"Prisoners mostly, men and women who had been Excluded. In its unrefined form the Langenese is a toxic and radioactive substance however in its present form it is inert." On the main screen at the front of the room, Susan rolled the ship's video presentation that was made as a primer for the crew destined to command her. It began with a visual of the exterior of the ship as it sat in space-dock, a black glass enclosed box with wide ledges at each deck level. The corners became highlighted as a camera circumnavigated the craft. A different voice, a deep, male, announcer type began a spiel about dimensions and specifications, chemical compounds, exact ratios of distance which make propulsion possible. Susan muted the voice and commented on the size of the magnets and batteries.

Gui stepped in, "But as you can see, the ship is pretty big too. It's six times the size of the Silver Bullet and stocked with everything that a crew of a hundred would need for a year. There's a hot tub on the lower level that waterfalls into a thirty thousand gallon pool. There's a gym on Two that has workout machines that I've never seen before."

Susan instructed them on the procedure of obtaining directions while aboard. "The ships computer can lead you to a destination through verbal and visual cues." Using a cutaway diagram, she drew their attention to the kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms that were scattered throughout the six levels. Knowing glances were exchanged by some at the mention of sleeping quarters. The presentation ended in the Garage Section. Tuck and Zen smiled and asked what was in there. The screen went blank and then rows of tubular white lights illuminated the vast interior of that section. Three vehicles sat in a space, which could hold nine-tractor trailers. Each in the middle of a garage door bay. They resembled a high-end makes of popular automobiles. They asked if she had the keys. Susan cropped the picture and zoomed in on a well-appointed and well-stocked tool storage area. She continued inward toward a corkboard above a cart, where three sets of keys hung. Each fob displayed the logo of the maker. One was for the sleek, black sedan parked in the first bay.

"It's a little boxy but man what a ride!" Zen said. "I used to know a chick that had one. Man that thing was fast."

Petra shot him a glance and said, "Chick?"

There wasn't jealousy in her voice thought Zen. She was mad at something. He shrugged his shoulders and said "What?" Then it dawned on him that she was upset because he didn't remember who that chick was. "Oh right, that was you. You had black hair back then."

The fob in the middle was for the Chan. It looked like a sunny side-up egg that was cooked in an oblong pan. Except this one was painted silver and the dome was golden. In the last bay sat what appeared to be a Smith Engines Unlimited LU28. The vehicle was long and had a twin cigar body colored deep purple. The dome on top was mirrored. "Oh, I gotta take that for a ride! Only rocket cars are faster. SEU's are so hot!" Kim said excitedly

"They are all hybrids." Susan reported. "They can rely on traditional fossil fuels but can change over to the same Off-Phase power as the ship."

"You mean those things can fly?"

"Yes. The power source creates a field of energy powerful enough to fold the space-time continuum but only for traveling vast distances. For propulsion in situations like this, the ship takes advantage of the gravitational forces of the matter that surrounds it. The planet, the moons, the suns for that matter possess forces which the ship utilizes for movement. You can ascend and descend or go any direction at any speed."

Movement on one of the screens in front of her caught Jaffee's eye. It was the red filtered one from the cop car. Someone was moving the car. Susan showed her how to aim the camera by placing a finger on the crosshairs in the center of the screen and dragging it around. She did and inspected the parking lot. She noticed Liz's car by a nail salon and Zen's Jeep right up front. She stopped moving the lens. How does he always get such good parking, she asked herself. The vehicle with the camera stopped moving after it had backed into the space next to the rear door of the restaurant, by the dumpsters. Other official vehicles moved about to make room for a large, black box truck. It was armored and had S.W.A.T. written in large letters on the side. It rolled slowly to a stop as it passed the camera, leaving only the rear door section in the frame. The doors opened and locked into position as the armored and armed occupants hurriedly filed out. They wore all black that had no insignia. All had their face shields down hiding their faces. Jaffee felt good for having come with Bird; the last place she wanted to be now was down there with them. They had formed two rows as the last person jumped out. This one removed his helmet and shield to converse with one of the police officials. A first responder was called over and a specific car in the lot was pointed at. The car had been identified with a Registration scanner. The leader of the S.W.A.T. team directed ten of his force into the restaurant with a hand signal that instructed a search of the floors above and below. Eight others removed two black coffin shaped boxes from rear compartments of the truck. On each box were Federation and National Seals, below them the code S/XM-H100-101 was written As the boxes past the camera they sparkled with all the colors of the spectrum. "What's with those boxes?" Jaffee asked quietly, more to herself than to anyone around.

"Spectral analysis determines that those boxes contain Santorum, an extremely volatile explosive." Susan replied in her station. As Jaffee asked her what they were for, Susan put the view on the main screen. The Observer looked up and winced at the scene. "Those containers hold a highly explosive biological weapon whose use has been banned by every world of the Federation."

"They're putting those things in your car dude!" Tuck said to Zen.

"What the fuck is goin' on?" Zen demanded.

The de facto Captain bit his lower lip in thought then said, "It looks like they're planting evidence for an air tight case for Exclusion against you." Once the boxes were in place, the one in charge again pointed to the restaurant and those under his direction ran past the camera. The City police officers milled about the lot in small groups talking and pointing. A group of six approached the Zen's car; some scratched their heads others stood with their hands on their hips. A few moments later, the screen went blank. "What happened?"

10:17:41 p.m.

Susan thought to bring up the aft camera and focus it in on the ground, she zoomed in. the bright lights of the city had an intense green light in one spot, Luigi's parking lot. The resolution wasn't exact but they could tell that several cars were burning.

"I think those bombs went off." Jaffee murmured. They watched in silence as rescuers came out of the surrounding buildings and began to care for the wounded. There was a bright flash and a fireball rose up into the sky. A two-block radius around the parking lot behind Luigi's was engulfed with flame. A column of smoke and debris rose above the center.

Susan said, "They've detonated." On the main screen, she replaced the orbital shot with one from the Platform. Its squeezed boarder was the setting for a scene of devastation. The angle of the sight revealed the true extent of the damage. The combustible toxin had vaporized everything around The Cheshire Building where Luigi's used to be. Beyond that the windows of every building were shattered, flames raged out of most. Liz asked Susan to put the major news outlets on her displays, as did Tuck and Kim.

"Anything on the ground?" Petra asked.

Susan scanned and said, "Most of everything down there is disrupted; wait there's one." She split the main screen and produced a view from atop a tall building. It panned back and forth across the section of city in flames. Skeleton-like, loomed the buildings around the hellish pit of yellow and red. Balls of fire erupted from several buildings as they began to telescopically collapse.

On the displays at the workstations, major network news anchors broke the news of an explosion in Dyson City. They went to reporters that were on the scene; they with their camera operators ran in opposition to normal human reaction; they moved toward the edge of destruction. The commentary varied but the images were similar. Cries of don't go there were mingled with the screams of pain and despair as the Channel Seven Action News Team advanced. The camera caught the faces of the survivors as they retreated from danger. Tears came to Jaffee's eyes when she saw the injured and dust covered victims. There was something wrong with them though; their faces were puffy, swollen. The dust blackened as perspiration, she thought, rolled down their faces. The news team slowed to a halt as they approached the back of a man who was leaning against a car. "Dawn, Ken, its hot down here I have to tell you. I'm at _st. and _st and I'm about a block or two away right now from the scene." The fires above cast an eerie light; numerous, huddled, shadow-like forms moved slowly away down the darkened street. Several more explosions took place and the rumble of a collapsing building could be heard. Down the block, the camera showed daylight brightness from the blast's epicenter. The city correspondent turned and placed a manicured hand on the back of the sobbing man. He asked his name and if he could describe what had happened. The man moaned between sobs. "Are you alright," he was asked. The man who had his face buried in his hands responded to the others prompts. He straitened, turned and removed his hands from his face, revealing himself to the world. The man was covered in grey dust; his blue Almandi suit was torn and frayed. Transparent pus oozed from lesions on his bloated face and hands blackening the ash and streaking his flesh.

"What's going on?" He cried. "Help me please." He reached up and touched his face. As he stroked his cheek, a tear formed from the side of his nose to the eye socket, across to the ear and down his neck. The flesh separated from the skull below and the man screamed.

The cameraman turned away to the horrified face of the reporter and thought that he looked different, like he had just woken up. The reporter stared fixedly at the victim, wide eyed and slack jawed. Eyeing the camera, he composed himself and looked futilely around for a police officer or firefighter. The exodus of people had slackened and he handed the man off to a pair of crying women as they passed. "What's going on?" He continued to moan as he was led away.

Two blocks away fire burned as brightly as their ambition. The team ran excitedly toward the light. They had been working together for three months and neither liked the other. They were both professionals though and recognized the advantages of working together. He knew how to wield the camera lens; the other was handsome and could enunciate clearly. The spotlight followed behind the reporter with a steady frame. The jostling of the picture, it was found out through test groups, made people nauseous and the cinematographer had perfected his moving tactics. Thinking ahead to 'the shot' he envisioned the cinematography; get the prima donna in front of a busted storefront then pan the scene wide for a full effect. The stifling air made him consider stopping for a drink from his pack. His heart was pumping wildly and his adrenaline soared with the excitement of the moment; they would both enjoy a cool drink during the first commercial break. The front man spirited past burning cars at the end of the block and into the direct light coming from the blast zone. The seasoned videographer stopped just short of the corner and prepared his equipment. He focused on his subject and adjusted to include a storefront billowing smoke and a burning car in the shot. He saw through the viewfinder that his teammate's profile was definitely different. His nose had become bulbous; his hand that held the microphone too was odd; his fingers looked like sausages. He tried to get the other's attention with little whistles but he just stood there saying, 'oh my'. "Jerry… you're live!" The cameraman yelled.

Jerry stood up tall, fixed his tie and coat, and ran his fingers through his short black hair. He turned to the camera with a face set in grim determination and began his greatest broadcast. "Good evening, I'm Jerry Winston with cameraman Ted Snow; you're 'on the scene with Seven'. As everyone knows, there has been an explosion in downtown Dyson City here in Queens. I'm at _st. and _ave. The blast appears to be centered three blocks up." He paused at a lose for words. "It's all gone, the whole area. There's a bright green flame in the middle. Come here Ted, get a shot of this."

He didn't need to tell me; that ignorant bastard, Ted thought. Maybe it's the green light that's messing up his face in my lens. He moved to the right in an arc keeping Jerry in the full right of the screen. Be professional, he tried to calm the rush of energy he felt. Don't lose control. Burning cars lined the roadway for a block next to the crumbled remains of buildings where people were, only minutes ago, living their lives. Then there was nothing but blackened ground and the footprints of vaporized homes and businesses. In the center of this was the green fire. It flared skyward twenty feet high. Light, lime green at its edge, turning dark evergreen in its heart. The red, yellow, and orange ring of fire, contrasted with the black and green will win me an Emmy, dreamed Ted. Thirty thousand dead at least, he figured. As he moved, he widened the angle and moved closer to his subject. It was a visual illusion that made Jerry look as if he were standing in front of a blue screen like the weatherman back in the studio. He noted that Jerry's clean suit and shiny hair seemed out of place in this desperate scene. There wasn't anyone else coming away; anyone who could've gotten out already did.

"Guys turn to seven." Jaffee said. Susan replaced then current view on the main screen at Jaffee's direction. Burning buildings curved upward from the seared basements and boiling asphalt. The scene before them had centered on the charred remains of Zen's buggy, above which blazed a light which was difficult to look into because of its brightness. "What's with the green fire?" She asked, not expecting and answer.

Susan replied, "That is the second weapon arming itself." There was a collective 'what?' "First the weapon heats up the chemical virus then the explosion spreads it.

The picture panned back from the mesmerizing light until Jerry was once again in the frame, full right. Something was wrong with the reporter. He stood looking down at his hands and shaking his head. He spit out a mouthful of something red then leaned forward, dropped the microphone, and vomited a larger quantity of it. "Blood, what's going on?" he could be heard saying before he looked into the camera.

Ted saw the condition of Jerry and suddenly feared for his own safety. Whatever had happened to the people running away was happening to Jerry and could be happening to him. He was frozen with terror at the idea that he too could be affected. People said that Jerry had a swelled head but now it wasn't funny

"What's going on?" He said again. His head and body had enlarged and looked cartoonish with the neat hair and ill-fitting suit. Blood trickled from between his teeth and out the corners of his mouth. A crease in his forehead ruptured and clear fluid began to drain down his face. He raised inflated, moist hands in front of him and asked, "Why… what?"

Removing the camera from his shoulder and letting it dangle from its wrist leash he stared at his co-worker. Jerry stared back at Ted and quickly realized that they too had become affected as the people he had seen before. Ted's giant head was distorted; the area that was behind the eyepiece viewer seemed only slightly changed making his face look warped and grotesque. The camera fell to the ground. It landed with a splashing sound as the flesh of Ted's entire left hand hit the pavement with it

10:21:41 p.m.

The feed to the studio of the breaking story by chance still focused on the green flame. There was a white flash of light and then a shockwave that exploded cars one by one up the road as it expanded; lifting them away as so many leaves in a breeze. The screen again went blank. It was the same on the other stations that had people on the ground. The next image broadcast was of the shocked and frightened faces of the studio anchorpersons. They were seated behind a wide brown desk. On the left sat Dawn Fernsetter, the young attractive female, on the right sat Ken Rollins, the older mature male. They looked into the lens and said nothing. The machine that projects their script was blank. Without a teleprompter, they had to make up what they would say.

"What happened to his face?" Dawn asked.

"Um… excuse me Dawn," Ken said as he reached up and touched a device in his ear. "I've just been told that there has been another explosion in Dyson City." He paused to listen then said, "We seem to have lost the feed from Jerry and Ted." His voice ranged from solid reporting to saddened regret.

"Oh my goodness," Dawn said concernedly. After the news of the first bombing, she had shown surprised disbelief then fear as the footage began to filter in. She was a professional and knew this story was hot; she was going to use it to become the number one anchorperson in the world. "I hope they're alright." There was no peppy or cheery in her voice. There were people out there, real people dying, people she knew. Oh, I chipped my nail polish.

"Me too." Ted responded then he glanced at Dawn and looked like he meant it; at least that's what his visualization coach had taught him. The teleprompter illuminated with lines of script. Ken turned to face the cameras and by lowering his eyebrows slightly he caused the wrinkles in his forehead to deepen showing to the viewer an even deeper concern for the whatever is going on. "For those of you just joining us… there has been an explosion, oh forgive me, two explosions in Dyson City, here in New York. This took place on Terra Firma not here on the Platform. It has effected at least ten square blocks.

Chapter nine

10:06:00 p.m.

Presscott Binch the Elder was in conference when he got news of the escape. He had put four different departments to watching the prisoner, the third having just confirmed. Where was the fourth, he asked himself. He typed some codes into a computer and found that the fourth department's beacon had been terminated. Why hadn't he been alerted? "Heads will roll," he promised himself.

In the room with him were three very influential men. They had gathered for a different reason but the present circumstances concern them all. Two, having recently spent an entire month in the presence of the fugitive, catering to his and his companions every need. Yohan Baldur and Foreman Dyson were both Elders. The first being just over two hundred thousand, the latter being epochs older than he, Prescott figured. They were both 'read in' on the subject. The other influential man had never met with the Author but knew of him from his daughter. Sau Usa was only a few thousand years old, faithfully smart and ruthless in his business dealings. He would have to be told about who they thought this 'traveler' really was.

The runaway had made his escape form the moon of Endor in a ship that was destined to be the flagship of the Ibek Armada. There was only one ship made due to the rarity of the elements that make up its power generator. All the technology was new and experimental. Presscott still had the plans but someone else had the ship. Getting the craft to its present state had exhausted the limits of sane investment. He looked up from his desktop with a long frown. "Gentlemen we have a problem. Our guest on the Garden Moon has escaped."

Baldur and Dyson sat forward quickly. "Gotten away! How?" each asked.

"He's taken Stinger, fully complemented."

Sau Usa grew ashen at the mention of the secret Stinger program in mixed company. He did not know the level of knowledge of any of the other men beside Binch. Being told that it has been stolen made him grow a whiter shade of pale. Someone has stolen my ship, he thought.

Baldur dropped his drink. The glass hit the floor and shattered but stayed in its right form. Fritz, Binch's man and as the only servant present noiselessly knelt, picked up the shattered cup and wiped the floor. Yohan's knowledge of the Stinger program was complete. He knew the ship from stem to stern and knew the implications of its theft. That ship was the most lethal weapon ever created. Its capabilities were endless.

"David will have your head for this." Usa warned. "Whoever your guest is I don't know but he must be found. Recovery of the ship is of paramount importance." I must get that ship back if I am to take it for myself.

"Stinger… ship? What are you talking about?" Dyson asked inquiringly. Presscott explained that Stinger was the first in a new generation of spacecraft that was designed using Foreman's own Off-Phase Theory. He had come up with the idea many years ago and passed it off to others to study as he continued overseeing Platform production. The scarcity of the chemicals needed for such a power source and controlling the parameters of the energy produced made the theory impractical. He was told that though the elements were rare they did exist and they had gathered enough to create a working model. He became concerned, "Yes but even at its lowest production capacity it would power a modest sized city. With that as a power supply in a spaceship, it would be possible for him… He could be anywhere?" Realization of the next step in Binch's equation made him uneasy. With a craft that could fold space and travel immense distances in moments Ibek could rule the galaxy, perhaps even the universe.

Baldur repeated Binch's words, "Fully complimented, you said, fully complimented. He had been aboard while at Delta Station and had toured the armory. Dozens of long boxes and heavy wooden crates sat ready to be unpacked. He had been told that there was enough weaponry aboard to equip a hundred-member outfit. To Yohan Baldur these people would be Ibek's Fighting Elite they would be the ones who would spearhead the action that would bring this world to dominance. They would be unsupported if there were trouble, so each mission could be their last. It was he who demanded the finest of living quarters for them, all the amenities of the good life had been included for their comfort between struggles. "Where are the soldiers?"

10:07:18 p.m.

Presscott looked down at his black glass desktop; he reached and by pressing down in an area a display tilted upward for easier viewing. He read aloud, "Unnamed craft arrived at Pad C on the Endor Moon at 1458 hours. The entire thirty-man crew left the ship at 1502 hours. The ship disembarked from Pad C at 1508 hours." He stopped and narrowed is eyes at Sau, "This is an exercise that was authorized by you. Why was I not informed?" Not waiting for an answer he continued, "It is reported that the crew left the ship with an overwhelming desire to go on the rides at the amusement park. They were attempting to exit the Compound when they came to their senses and found themselves without a vessel.

"Were they seen by any of the tourists?"

"No one but Pad C personnel came into contact with them. Just how our writer friend attained access to the base and got aboard the flagship will be revealed when the feeds from Security come in. This will be them now," he said. The lights of the room dimmed and the windows overlooking Central Park blackened becoming a sectioned display unit, twelve small screens around a large center display showed varied angles and locations of the Landing Complex on Endor.. There was no audio. Binch selected one for the center. It showed a man wearing a faded blue denim shirt and frayed brown shorts walking towards the South Entrance. The two sentries on duty who were standing outside the guardhouse readied their weapons as the ten-foot tall, barbed wire gate began to slide aside. They approached the opening with their barrels pointed down the tree-lined road leading away from the gate. The barefooted and bearded man walked up the road and past the two bewildered soldiers as the gate closed. They each shook their heads and looked at ease shouldering their weapons.

The next series of views chosen showed him walking across the grounds then there was one from above an emergency exit of the main building of Landing Pad C. The trespasser stopped several yards from the door and stood motionless. A moment later, the door opened and a soldier with a rifle hanging from his shoulder emerged. He carried a bucket that he used as a doorstop. The light fixture nearby did not begin to strobe; it was obvious to all watching that the alarm had been disabled. The man in a Private's uniform squinted at the sunsshine as he reached into a breast pocket for a pack of cigarettes. Stepping away from the door, he lit one and took a long drag. The two of them were no more than ten feet apart yet the guardsman betrayed no notice of the other's presence. As he inhaled a second lungful of smoke he acted startled and threw the stoking butt; it landed a foot away from the intruder. A female Sergeant came out of the door and approached the crestfallen offender who had begun to walk away. She ordered his attention and pointed at the invader. The cowed boy did not train his weapon though; instead, he submissively went over and extinguished the smoldering cig with his booted toe. He then knelt and picked it up. The enlisted two both walked toward a nearby trashcan as the invisible man walked in through the out door.

Why can't they see him, each asked at different times. Light from the screens reflected off their amazed and unbelieving faces. Presscott touched the desktop again changing the large center screen. It divided into four sections and allowed them to see the fugitive's quick ascent of a stairwell. Next showed the uppermost landing of the stairs, a door with a handle below an exit sign. A red box with a fire hose inside hung on the adjacent wall. The fugitive stopped there and waited. Binch then enlarged the Pad C image which had been relaying the perfect landing of the Stinger; it's four faux marble columns touching down simultaneously. The elevator had descended and it's contents flowed out like children at recess. The trained mercenaries and hardened warriors giggled and raced each other to the stairway door. The point man kicked it open and the rest followed him inside. Before the door swung closed, the man emerged onto the landing area and walked to the elevator, he stepped in, the doors closed and it telescoped upward. Binch once again touched something and the broadcast image sped up. After five minutes on the time code the ship appeared to shimmer as if were being viewed through a heat wave. He slowed the file to 'real time'. It grew mirage like and rose into the air and out of the camera's view.

"Well, that's how he did it." Dyson said matter-of-factly.

10:10:44 p.m.

"I will personally 'debrief' these nitwits with a cat-o-nine tails." Binch seethed.

"So that's it?" Baldur felt a pit open up inside him, an unending well. "What are we going to do?"

Usa too had been taken further aback by the ease at which this 'man' had taken his prize. Fear and outrage simmered in his heart. "We do not have the ability to even track that ship. He could go anywhere!"

"Yes but I feel as if I know where he is going; he will try to find his friends. Speaking of which, Director Usa it is time for you to call your daughter."

"I hope I am not too late," he said worriedly looking at the time. He touched the front of his telephonic mechanism and sent a text message.

"Do not worry; her name is not on the list of those to be taken." Presscott assured him.

The word 'taken' though held unfathomable dread for him when it involved someone he loved.

Binch continued, "He will no doubt look for them soon. Since we know where they are now there is no worry. The police are en route and will arrest them for us. We will hold them hostage and threaten to kill them if he does not do as we say."

"Very good but how long will that take?" His personal plans were only days away from taking effect and the precious vessel was the lynchpin; without it, his scheme was ruined. "I must report this to David." If knowledge of the spacecraft's actual production reached the ears of his superior, David, then years of deceitful acts and lying would end his career and cause irreparable damage to his reputation; he could be Excluded.

"I will explain things to David myself if you wish," Prescott offered. "We must first finish the business begun earlier. As we were discussing before all this, the elimination of all persons who had contact with Mister Bia Gui." Binch caught the ironic smile that drifted over Sau's face when he heard the name. The video displays terminated leaving them in darkness for a second. The main screen's outline enlarged to fill the windowpane then it illuminated with a point-of-view video taken from a helmet mounted camera. It showed a Specified Warfare And Tactics team assembling outside a building constructed of red brick and white mortar. All were dressed in black and wore no insignia. As the violence proceeded Binch explained, "The news will report that an armed, drug crazed man had taken people hostage at an illegal cosmetic surgery clinic. He assured the police that he wouldn't be taken alive."

The reality was that the group of expert marksmen killed everyone inside. The point man kicked in the front door where a patient had just been reaching for the handle when it swung mercilessly inward. It thrust her against the inside wall. Her body slumped sideways and fell to the floor as two women entered. One took aim around the reception area and yelled, "Go," while training her gun on the fallen body. The other slid a notebook-sized box through a slot below a thick slab of glass fronting the receptionist's office. She called out in warning, "Clear!" The girl behind the glass took the box and held it in front of her. Her face mixed confusion and fear. The female assassins rushed and took their places against the outside wall with the others. There was an explosion. The camera-equipped person entered first after some of the smoke had cleared. The scene showed the charred walls of the office wet with blood. The thick protective barrier had blown out in one piece. It landed on top of the body on the floor flattening it under its weight; the video showed torn flesh mingled with pulverized bone and compressed brain matter, the camera lingered a moment. The vision then swung to an inner door that was being opened by two men who forcefully shouldered it off its hinges. Three by three, they deployed through the operating rooms with weapons blazing. The camera stayed by the reception area doorway recording the crime.

"An innocent bystander was killed by a stray bullet from the madman's gun," Binch added as the shot on the viewer changed to the outside of the building again. It showed the explosion from a different angle, another helmet camera's view, then turned to face the open garage door of Roma's Blacksmith across the roadway. A balding man came out of the opening in a jog and held up both hands in surprise. The camera showed a shotgun rise from below the lens' reach and fire. The shocked face disappeared with the rest of the cranium; the body crumbled to the cement sidewalk. Blood pooled as the body lay motionless. The picture changed to night vision mode and another human form could be seen huddled behind a set of storage lockers.

"What of the imbecile?" Foreman asked.

"He killed his sister, his punishment is to live and so he shall." Binch answered.

A third helmet cam replay began. It showed the shooting deaths of the workers inside the recycling plant nearby. "As far as the press is concerned this is an unrelated event from earlier. They will report that a disgruntled worker shot and killed all the people in the offices then set fire to the paper storage area. The fire spread quickly and he died in the blaze. Four firefighters also died while searching for survivors." The scene switched to an outdoors view of flame and smoke pouring out of a large garage doorway and a smaller opening next to it.

"This one," he said while activating a control, "is live." The next picture came from a lapel cam. It is as small as button and looks like a jewel. The wearer exited a vehicle, which had a shotgun mounted to the dashboard. Turning toward the lot, they saw an officer with a hand held scanner confirm the location of one of the perpetrator's car. The electronic eye went past several groups of men in blue then entered the rear door of Luigi's Ristorante. A docile kitchen staff stood along the back wall where deep fryers boiled and microwave ovens hummed. Moving into the dining area the view centered on the police sergeant in charge. He held four fingers toward his throat and gave the no good sign. A wrinkled hand with long, black, manicured nails held up a glowing pad, which had a map showing. On the map were five red dots congregating at the corner of Brianna Avenue and Ryan's Way. A telephone number was next to each dot. A highly polished nail touched the send key. Seconds later five phones began to ring in various parts of the room. A mature female's voice announced, "Terrorist vehicle secured, they are running."

Presscott leaned back in his chair and put his thumb and forefingers to his chin and nose. Deep thought shown on his face. He said after a moment's reflection, "Gentlemen we will have to implement Plan B."

"What is Plan B?" Usa asked nervously.

"Detonation. They are terrorists or so the world will be told. It is only natural that they die in their act of terrorism. Martyrs for the underground 'allowance' movement."

"What will be 'their act'? You never read me in on your escapee. My daughter and you two gentlemen spent an entire month in that man's company. What knowledge does he possess that would make you disappear him to such an extent?"

"I will tell you but first, Foreman, is the S.W.A.T. team ready?"

"A block away." He said.

"I will let them begin."

Chapter ten

10:13:59 p.m.

The temperature in the back of the vehicle was a cool fifty degrees, it's occupants however were sweating. The man in charge of the group directed in a severe tone, "We are after a group of desperate terrorists who want to destroy our way of life. We will not let them!" Sir, yes sir, was their reply. He was told by the communications person seated across from him that there was a message coming in. He nodded and a helmet-mounted light illuminated the interior around him. He looked into the light knowing the camera lens was just below. Through his earpiece, he heard and understood the command. "Communications confirmed. Plan B to be executed with extreme prejudice." The light extinguished and he told his people to prepare. The rolling truck picked up speed. The sounds of firearms' bolt actions mixed with the sheathing of knives and the tearing of Velcro as body armor was adjusted. They checked themselves and those around them and each called out, ready sir!

They slowly rolled to a stop, flung open the rear doors and filed out. The S.W.A.T. commander spoke with the top police official. Based on their exchange of words the S.W.A.T. commander ordered his troop to action. "Four down, eight up." A fire exit door at a stairwell was opened by a smiling detective who announced its discovery. Ten bloodthirsty marauders dressed in black roughed their way past the detective as they stormed the staircase. The other four accessed the cellar through the restaurant. The commander was then directed to the vehicle belonging to Orzenzo Popowhatever. He ordered others to retrieve the 'cargo' from the truck and put it into the offender's vehicle. That done he and his strike force entered the last known location of the terrorists. His point guards began relaying messages of 'all clear' as he inspected the dining room.

There was a flash of light from the kitchen area and a powerful recoil as from an explosion. Evaluating the circumstances, the commander noted that many civilians had fallen after the shockwave past. He was proud to see that none of his people had. Angst turned to anger when he realized the double-cross. This was to be his last mission. He had a piece of insurance, which would get him out of the killing business. A video recording of the theft of weapons that took place not long ago. Armaments that were used in his business and were now stored aboard the Stinger warship. He had agreed to plant the evidence knowing the influence his employer had with the New York City Police Department. Grab the kids and bring them back dead or alive. Yet now, he would never know the reason for this job. "Check it!" Four mercenaries headed for the kitchen. "Squad One, Squad Two back to base!" He spoke into a microphone as he followed his troops.

"What was that?" Called one of the uninjured cooks. The building's rear wall had several holes in it where blast material had broken through. An odd green glow poured in from these holes as well as the doorway creating shafts of light as they shined through a thick aerosol of dust. Several people were coughing others cried in pain or fear.

No one but him knew the full extent of the ensuing danger. The planted evidence would have had the targets imprisoned and Excluded, had they been caught. Now however, he knew there was no escape. The biological agent, which was now being cooked inside the fire, would detrimentally affect all living things within miles. Hundreds of thousands of people will die tonight, he thought while continuing to count backwards from one hundred twenty. He exited the building and looked into the light. Screams of anguish and agony fell on dead ears. Right now all he could think about was himself. Years of service to those bastards, risking his life and the lives of his team, for what? To be buried as a victim of a terrorist plot? No, he would go down in history as the perpetrator of this evil crime. There was proof, recently put in a safe place that would show the world his people stealing the very weapons which were going to kill him any second. However, it also showed his employer Presscott Binch directing the acquisition of the stolen weapons. That was to be his key to freedom, insurance for his retirement. He ordered his people to gather up the injured and bring them inside. He knew it wouldn't help but it would keep them busy until the end.

The bombs that were planted in Orzenzo's car were the most heinous of weapons; he had used them before, before the ban. A blinding flash and a violent concussion were followed be anti-personnel shrapnel. Then the deadly chemicals were introduced to each other igniting the green flare. After two minute's time the virus becomes active and is spread by the explosive charge of the actual bomb. It would vaporize at least two blocks, he figured, and then there was the second one.

Chapter eleven

The video link between Binch and his subordinate played out on his desktop, unseen by the others. After giving Commander Penny orders, he addressed Sau's concern. On the large center screen, the image of the fugitive on Pad C was brought up. "As you know, his name is Bia Gui."

An ironic smile crossed Usa's face. His daughter had told him all she knew about the 'white ghost'.

"There are no records of him in any data base for twelve parsecs. Three months of interstellar inquiry have yielded no information about his origin. It is believed by others and myself that he is the author of the Rosetta Stone, the translation key which unlocked the secrets of hieroglyphics. He possesses knowledge about the distant past of this world and has written a tome of short stories about life and time from then until now. His writings are accurate to a degree that makes 'us' believe that he is a traveler of time and space. Yohan had made him an offer to write a second book, which 'we' determined would be about the future. It would have given us the knowledge to bring greatness to the world and assure our dominance as leaders. "

Yohan said, "You must read some. They are quite good. Some are retellings of ancient tales but they contain an element of personalization that gives the reader a sense that it is a first hand account of the event. Other stories are about mundane, everyday things that are taken for granted; he however explains things with an insight that makes you think about things in a new light. Lucid is a proper term to describe his writing. I made a quite lucrative offer to him but after finishing the first book he began the second but then stopped saying that what he writes could influence future events; I reminded him that he was just a man who told stories. He replied to me, 'Am I?' He has no BIOChip so he wasn't born here and through subsequent 'security scans' it was determined that he is genetically no different from you or I. Three days ago he had taken off into the forest."

Sau Usa studied the faces of the men in the room. "You believe this man to be able to move through time and space based on his stories? Are you kidding me? How does he move about? Does he have a time machine?"

"No. But in one story he describes his arrival in a strange new world as excruciatingly painful and that he has no control over the power itself; it just happens to him." Yohan said

"It is believed," Presscott continued, "By The One Hundred that he has been here before and that each time he appears great change takes place. His coming can be linked to advancements in both Science and Marketing. Velcro, microwave ovens and shrink wrap are only a few of the things which it is believed to have come about by his doings. We must hold on to him and extract all his knowledge. What is held in his mind could mean immortality for our descendants. It is vital that he remain alive so we can get the answers to our every question."

Finding that the fabled One Hundred were involved made Usa more nervous. They were thought to be near immortal and very well could have been alive during the past epochs of time that this author describes. To Baldur he said a bit angrily to cover his trembling voice, "You should write the Forward for him." Then to everyone, "Why are you people fawning over the man who just stole the most powerful ship in the galaxy. With the ease and speed that he can travel now, he might as well be a time traveler. We need to get the ship back!" If I am to take it and rule the galaxy! Even the One Hundred wouldn't be able to stop me then. "This man is dangerous; he must be caught and killed."

"I agree about the Stinger but is it not possible that an untimely death is the initiation for his 'travel'. Perhaps he feels the death of his previous life as he is 'reborn.' I suggest a drug induced coma between questionings." Yohan said.

10:17:41 p.m.

In the bottom, right screen a view from atop a building in Dyson showed a bright flash from between some lower buildings. "It has begun." Presscott Binch announced. He brought the image to the main screen and cropped the picture to show only the buildings around the flash. They had a green tint to them against the black sky. Two minutes later, they weren't there. A fireball incinerated everything in the picture. Binch pulled the view back several blocks to show the extent of the damage. A plume of smoke rose into the air above the fire. Windowless buildings standing on the perimeter of the blast ignited spontaneously from the intense heat. One fell inward, then another. He brought up the Channel Seven Nightly News program where they had just broken the story. The woman on the left introduced live video of the scene and the same feed as the one now back in the corner screen was broadcast to the worlds. Then she introduced the Action News Team who were on the scene. Other news channels on the surrounding screens silently announced the news of the blast on the scroll at the bottom of the picture. Then they broadcast different angles of the same tragedy.

Fritz served fresh tumblers of iced Blue to each man. After a long draught Usa said, "Presscott what have you done?"

"I?" he said incredulously "You mean 'we'. As I said before, they were terrorists with strong allowance leanings, members of the underground who obtained the weapons on the interstellar black market. They died casualties of their own doings."

Sau fought back feeling of shock and worry. On his hand held computer, he had been tracking his daughter's movement away from the restaurant. Just before the explosion, she had stopped six blocks away. "What will happen next?" he questioned hesitantly.

"Dyson City will be put under a mandatory quarantine from the Grand Central to Greenpoint and Roosevelt Heights to the BQE. Only people who are virus free will be able to exit the city." Said Binch as he continued to map out plan B. "Coincidently the entire Fourth Army Division is on biotoxic training maneuvers in the Harbor Low Lands, South of the city. They already have their hazmat suits and will be alerted to action in five minutes. They will hold the quarantine line with shoot to kill orders in case of any uprising."

"Doctor Dyson please," Usa asked, clearly overcome by the events, "tell me about these weapons that 'we' set off." He glared at Presscott.

"The Santorum Slayers, as they are called, are used primarily for the removal of the threat of a small village or a ghetto." He spoke as though from the buyers guide. "The chemical compound virus is active for twenty four hours and effectively terminates every living thing within sixteen hundred yards of ground zero. The 'virus' hyper activates bodily functions and overloads the immune system while shutting down certain brain functions which communicate pain impulses. The enemy's body will bloat as it attempts to heal itself; excessive swelling of the extremities causes lesions to form which begins the final phase as the flesh separates from the body, initiating death. It is painless though not pleasant."

"Can this disease spread?"

Presscott instructed him not to worry and that the quarantine will do its job. The reporter on the screen typified the experience of all those who were infected. Binch said, "It is a shame we banned that weapon; it's a fine way to clear the land for improvement." The second blast filled every screen.

10:21:41 p.m.

This bizarre chain of events made Sau's mind reel. He had been asked to assist in the scrubbing of a criminal for a friend. His daughter had known the target but assurances were given that she would never come to harm. He glanced at the tracking application that he was running. After the first bomb went off, he screamed in his head, keep moving, get out of there, I want you home, safe! Then her icon disappeared, as did a large portion of the city, however the glowing map in his hand did not show the reality. His conscience beat at the walls of his chest. Sau tried to push down the feelings of grief and remorse; his princess was gone. "This is wrong what we have done. They will find out. We will all pay dearly for this." He spoke his thoughts.

"Get a hold of yourself!" Presscott snapped. "We are in the middle of an operation."

"I have never been in better control of myself than now," there was a note of threat in his voice. "David will be told." He opened his hand held device uncovering a keypad of numbers and letters.

10:23:06 p.m.

Binch said, "Fritz, please, if you would, help this man." Fritz returned to the bar and reached underneath. Usa paused before touching the 'call' button saying that he did not require another drink and that he had had enough. Instead of a bottle, Fritz pulled out a low caliber gun and shot Sau Usa in the head three times from a distance of fifteen feet. The bullets entered his cranium and ricochet inside the skull casing tearing the brain to shreds. "Put him away for now Fritz. He will be added to the list of people who died down there." He too had been tracking the young Usa and saw her icon vanish. "They must have been alerted by the girl and left with her. Sau must have told her about our plans. They may have gotten away if it were not for that second explosion. Excellent idea Foreman." They nodded to each other and raised their glasses. With his foot, Fritz depressed a lever and slid the chair holding Sau Usa's body across the room. A hidden doorway opened in the paneled wall and the body of the government agent was put into a closet.

As this went on an email alert caught Bench's eye, it was from the Director of Operations at channel Seven. He wrote that a one-minute video file had been sent anonymously to his inbox. It was titled Dyson City Bombing and the message read 'what do I do?' Binch typed a reply after seeing the piece. As sole owner of all the major news outlets in the world, he alone decided broadcast content. He wrote to the D.O.O. at Seven and forwarded the message to the rest of his stations that the video is a fraud and airing it was prohibited. He decreed electronically that all copies of the video file be destroyed under Federation Authority; warning that airing the video could be cause for undue mistrust for the National Security Forces. He added that a large section of Terra New York was being put under quarantine and that any undo prompting could cause major riots and the deaths of innocent people. He then reminded his studio heads that broadcasting false and inflammatory information carry the punishment of insurmountable fines and long prison sentences for everyone involved with the transmission. He received no further communication with any news outlet.

Around the main display other channels aired distant views of the disaster area while the anchors from channel Seven reintroduced themselves to the audience after a commercial. On the right side of the screen sat an attractive woman with long blonde hair. On the left sat a middle-aged man who had a few premature wrinkles and graying hair. He said to her, "I understand that there have been new developments."

10:25:30 p.m.

Dawn Fernsetter looked sternly into the camera's lens and announced that the police had released the names of the people responsible for the bomb blasts. One for one she and her co-anchor Ken Rollins expertly read the names off the teleprompter after each of the terrorists' mug shot was shown. Ken then introduced a military arms expert who had knowledge of the ordinance deployed by the terrorists.

"It was a 'dirty' bomb," he said angrily, "banned by the Geneva Convention." He had short grey hair and a rugged, medium physique, which projected his tough military lifestyle. The banner below him read, Jacob Tibbs, Marines (retired). He continued, "It is also called a suitcase bomb because of its size and ease with which it can be transported and deployed." He explained the weapon's blast radius and its maximum core temperature. He spoke about the worldswide condemnation of this and all biotoxic weapons. He speculated about the effectiveness of the military quarantine and the duration of its use. Then he commented on the true extent of the damage in both lives and property damage. He spoke clearly through clinched teeth about future prospects, "We gotta get 'em." The scene changed form the studio back to the inferno of 'Ground Zero'.


Chapter twelve

"Can we help them?" Petra asked as tears rolled down he cheeks. She had stood up and walked to the center screen as flames and smoke rose above the devastated city. Zen walked up behind her and gave her a hug, he kissed her ear and said, "It's all gonna work out." Turning his head toward the Observer he asked, "It's all gonna work out, right?"

Tuck, now also standing said, as he watched a building collapse into clouds of ash and dust, "That's fucked up? Why'd they do that? They just destroyed our old stomping ground." His anger seethed.

Jaffee too was angry and said so. "Can't we do anything? What about the video? It shows them with the bombs! Fucking cops!"

"We can't just land in Central Park and walk it over to the Seven Building. They're looking for us." Liz said

"They think we're dead." Jaffee shot back bitterly.

'So do the people who tried to kill you." Bia said evenly. "If you show up somewhere they'll try again. We have to let some of the pieces fall into place before we add ours."

"Fuck that, put our piece in now!" Tuck insisted. "Put it on 'all''. Send it right to the TV. Stations, something… anything. Shit, this sucks!"

Susan said, "Our position could be calculated as we transmit."

"They could shoot us down using SKYNet." Bia added.

"Shit!" Jaffee yelled at the screen then she had an idea. "What if we call one place, send 'em the video and then move. Call another and move; can they track us and fire in the time it takes to send the thing and get out of there?"

Gui thought for a second. "Susan can you disguise the filtering process you use to de-cloak the ship?" Bia asked. "That way they won't figure a way to look for us." He saw the simplicity of Jaffee's idea.

Susan said that she had made a copy in black and white and was prepared to transmit to Alexander Croft, the Director of News Operations at Channel Seven. She plotted a course with twenty points of transmission, one for each of the major news outlets around the planet.

As they traveled, they were awed by the spectacle. "I knew Ibek was big but man, this place is huge!" Zen remarked halfway through the trip. Tuck mentioned that size didn't matter in a ship this fast. They traversed the planet in a zigzag pattern moving West over the Platform first. They saw from a low orbit the two-thirds of the planet that was covered by green, garden rooftops. Over Switzerland Kim told of skiing at the Metal Mountain Resort. Then they transmitted to Shackleton, the Great Pyramid at the South Pole; rising twenty thousand feet it's smooth black surface reflected the suns' rays as they moved past.. Then the group traveled up the African Platform's edge to Gibraltar with the expanse of the Atlantic Basin wasteland covered in polluted clouds to their right. Jaffee told Bia as they flew over it on the way to Rio de Janeiro that the entire planet used to look that way before Dyson started building. Once back over New York Susan decided to send one more video file. She sent it to her favorite anchorperson then she positioned herself near Dyson City.

10:51:00 p.m.

Chapter thirteen

'Dawn Fernsetter' read the black stenciled words on the back of her director-styled chair. She sat in it, yards away from the lights and cameras while the set of commercials ran. Next to her was a thin girl wearing pencil, blue jeans and a boyish, collared shirt. She was relaying a phone call that came in at the switchboard; it was from an old lady who wanted to thank her for her caring words and hoping that everyone's all right in Dyson City. "People love you… it's because you tell people the news you don't just read it to them. People love you because you talk to them, not at them like at Four or Thirteen. Citizens hear the compassion in your voice and are drawn to you and this channel." As a personal assistant, stroking Dawn's ego was part of the job and she did it well. The happier she is the better the paycheck. "They need you. Who else does a ten to eleven thirty newscast as well as you? Nobody. You're up eleven points over Lox News and twelve over CCN. Should I do something with your hair?"

Dawn studied herself in the lighted mirror on the wall. "I'm perfect," she decided. "Go get your nail stuff, I chipped another one."

"Yes, Miss Fernsetter," was her reply and the waif disappeared among the studio crew to a dressing room somewhere out back.

Joe Porter, her executive assistant hurried up to her with her laptop computer in his hands. He had a pudgy, round face, brown curly hair and a husky build. His eyes were wide open and his mouth was a crimson line. In his low raspy voice, he told her that a file had just been sent to her inbox. He set the display in front of her on the mirror table and pressed the play button. She noted that the vid was in black and white then asked if it was from an old movie. Joe frowned at her as the footage rolled. "Watch," he said.

Numbers and letters were superimposed across the bottom of the screen, "It's an old COPS episode." Joe pointed out the date and time code running at the bottom as the S.W.A.T. truck came to a halt. She watched saying nothing until after the second box was placed in the roofless vehicle. "Why'd they do that?" She couldn't guess. Why are they sparkly, she asked herself? She watched the heavily armed soldiers dressed in black run off-scene to the left as a group of uniformed officers inspected the cases that had been loaded into the car; the screen went blank, then Joe offered to replay the file. "A bunch of cops and S.W.A.T. guys, big deal. Nobody even got arrested."

"Look where they are." Joe said rewinding the footage. When the video played again he pointed to a police car that began moving as the final frames rolled. He paused it and she could see a sign that the car had been in front of. It read, Nail Biting Hairy Situations. I dropped you off there that night with Hank, remember?"

"Hank? Oh, right, the night my nail fell off. How embarrassing. Wait," connections were being made inside her mind. "That was down in Dyson, before the Landing. I remember smelling the restaurant around the corner when I got out of your car. That's where my nail fell off, right into the fondue. She reread the title bar, "Dyson City Bombing. OMG! Has anyone else seen this?"

"No not from here," he gestured to the portable computer.

"Get Lou!" She whispered conspiratorially for no reason and Joe swished off to find the news director. This is hot, she told herself. I have the power to become the biggest thing in news history. This will cement me in as a fixture at Seven. I can beat all the other stations to the air and become Queen of the Newswaves. Everyone in the world will be tuning in to see me! Joe returned saying that Lou told him to send it to him to be vetted. He hit a few buttons and sent the file by email. "Vetted ,scmetted, come on what does it show, cops and S.W.A.T. guys at the scene of the world's worst terrorist strike in history. Those boxes are probably homing devices to catch them if they got away in the car. Joe nodded, marveling at her deduction. Something crossed her mind. The people in the video, cops, S.W.A.T. members, the people forming a crowd at the far end of the parking lot, they were all dead. She felt sad inside, they will never get to see me again, she felt sad for them and showed it. Dawn studied her face in the mirror so that she could replicate the facial appearance in front of the camera.

Lou walked over and told her that he had sent it upstairs to Mister Croft and he said that we could not show it. "He must have seen it before because he told me no as soon as I told him the title. He said that nothing in the video could be verified. They took out the Police Precinct.

Dawn pointed a long, white tipped nail at a sign on the wall in the paused playback. "I've been there before. It's in Dyson. Where was it exactly Joe?" She questioned him while snapping her fingers in feigned remembrance. He told them it was on Brianna Boulevard, near Ryan Avenue. Lou stroked his bald head. Dawn added, "That's my nail place, Lou. That could've been me down there tonight." He needs a little push she figured and why not throw in a little scare tactic as well.

"Oh, heaven forbid," you witch. Lou said then thought. "You've been there, really?" He entered the name of the business into his hand held web browser and a map showed its exact location. He said, "Six dash forty-five Brianna Boulevard. If that time code is correct, we got dynamite. I'm gonna take this up to Alex Croft personally. As he walked away he said, Fifteen seconds to air!"

She checked herself in the mirror again and raised a hand to quaff her hair then decided against it, "I'm perfect." She practiced the emotional expression again then smiled. "I'm going to scoop the world," she said to her assistant then walked confidently over to the set with her pink laptop computer in her hand. Ken was already seated when she arrived and he asked her if she had seen the ratings. "Yes I have," she said, "and they're going to skyrocket." There was a certainty in her tone. A man standing next to a camera began counting backwards from five then pointed at Dawn. "Hello again, I'm Dawn Fernsetter."

"And I'm Ken Rollins. This is Your News Tonight, on Seven."

Dawn opened the notebook-sized computer and turned the screen around then signaled for a close up. The paused first frame of a black and white police recording filled the television picture. She pressed play and announced, "A police surveillance video has been released to the press and you'll only see it on Seven."

10:57:30 p.m.

Ken looked quizzically at her. He thought, where did that come from? I didn't see any video. Where does she get this stuff? The one minute of video played out in silence. Then Dawn hit the replay button.



I.P. 40629.11411

Last update: 1 week ago.

A picture of a beautiful young lady in a red party dress holding forth a filled glass of champagne was the centerpiece for the homepage of . It captures her long brown hair cascading over bare shoulders and framing her roundish face. Her full lips smiled in red around dazzling white teeth. A delicate pair of shaded eyeglasses perched on her slender nose. The small dark lenses barely concealed her brown gentle-looking eyes. The line below the picture asks, 'How does this twenty-something influence the future of your world?' A 'button' under the line bids, 'Find Out Click Here.' Doing so moves you to another 'page' where a smaller picture of the aristocrat is centered with hundreds of threads leading away to the names of famous and wealthy people listed all the way around the screen. By positioning your mouse above a name, a pop-up box rises which is filled with information about that person's link to the lady in the middle of the screen.

The photo of Jill Dyson is really just a lure to attract potential group members. 'A little eye candy and a lot of factual data' is the inspirational concept of the websites creator. He had recently updated the photos of the sites targets and was satisfied with his work. As a government worker, he couldn't just come out and make the allegations that he could anonymously online. However, to his credit, the information listed is all true and can be verified through public records. Carl Perkins the Elder, a.k.a. under_dogg04, the Assistant Prosecutor for the Justice Department had been collecting evidence against criminals for all his professional life. As a man of six hundred forty seven thousand years, he had figured a way of classifying and grouping offences. He possessed an expertise at laying the facts before a jury and convincing them with his allegations. However, to try to pin a conviction on another Elder, or yet an Olde One, is impossible without a smoking gun. An eyewitness or even a hundred eyewitnesses can be wrong; he had proven it himself. He knew that you needed a video of the crime in order to win that kind of case. Until that time comes, he had decided to lay out his facts for anyone who cared. In his spare time, he logged in dates, places and the facts of cases in which he had been involved. Page by page he built a small library of crime. Between the pages though, he began to see threads; he noticed how crimes could be connected. The more he explored the train of thought the longer and stronger grew the threads.

He had chosen the iconic Jill Dyson as his lure on the homepage because she is so recognizable. People saw that face and had a mental image of a proper young lady with class and manners, one who does extremely well in school and enjoys the high life as the daughter of Foreman Dyson. It is through her family and her schooling that she comes into contact with a diverse cross section of the people who guide cultural trends and others who actually help to run the world. With her parents, she had vacationed with captains of industry and ministers of finance. During a college internship, she spent two years on Capitol Hill as a Grand Council member's aide. Her philanthropy had started the careers of hundreds of musicians and dance troops. She holds the patents on several microbial polymers and is expected to design a line of clothes for Catherine A.G. ™. Everyone knew her face. Radiating out from her picture were thin yellow lines that wound serpent-like to dens of information.

Carl envisioned his website as an upside down pyramid; Jill's layer is at the top providing a wide base; each data cell was linked to her by their threads. Below each link hung another thread, it fused to one or more of the ones around it and led to the next level where it showed that by combining the offences together a more serious crime is revealed. Below this layer the threads are replaced by ropes, the next layer is linked by cables, and the next, chain. Holding the end of the chain, at the negative pinnacle was one man, Presscott Binch.

People also know the name of Binch; it is synonymous with the term 'old money'. They had been around forever. The family fortune was amassed by the Patriarch, 'ol Joe Binch. He started as a liquor bootlegger then got involved with the railroads. The following generations invested in drilling for oil and refining the product. Later pharmaceuticals were added to the portfolio. Under the leadership of Presscott, the family had now invested in Platform construction. Their major holdings were in the Section Transport Industry and are responsible for all the Lowerings.

When the website is read over logically, all the information he had amassed implicated Presscott Binch in thousands of crimes from bribery and jury-rigging to prostitution and murder. Other sites on the web saw the man as something worse, something evil.

By clicking on a hyperlink your browser is transported to another person's website where a List Of Offences Against the World by the Binch Family is put forth. Pollution is first on the list. From times of the horse and buggy till today the Binchs have dumped their waste without thought or care about the environment nor any regard for the communities around their production plants. The Second Offence is Graft. Almost all sitting politicians fill their coffers at the Binch well. Unelected officials, inspectors and even whistleblowers have been corrupted by large under-the-table pay-offs. Third is Sloth. There are countless diseases and illnesses, which afflict humankind; foot-dragging and technological ignorance is to blame. In the old days, a doctor would find a cure to a disease and nobody had to suffer the effects again. Today however it seems that only the symptoms of a malady are seen as treatable; there is never a cure for the main ailment.

Each page of has a small link in the bottom right corner; it leads to the Save the Families Charity homepage. It is one of only a handful of foundations set up that represent those who do not move up to the Platform. They are a part of the human community that is being left behind as the world grows and prospers. They are the husbands, wives, and innocent children that remain below to be near the ones they love who are imprisoned. The foundation gives out grants and vital necessities to those whose commitment to their loved ones keeps them below. There are others who live below, rehabilitated murderers and others who have been Excluded; these fiends prey upon the rest and make life hard.

The main page of the Foundations website shows the Treblinka Prison. The bright lights of the tall, white, circular building shine outward at several rows of barbed wire fence; beyond that lay a high, grey hedge of coiled razor wire surrounded by a fifty-yard 'safe' area and then a tall fence. Outside this fence sprawls a dilapidated shantytown. Thousands of cubicle domiciles, some with pitched plastic sheeting over the top for privacy while the rest were open to casual inspection. As a desktop application, searchlights from the guard tower play over the refugee-style encampment.

Treblinka's white walls and floors were diamond sawed from dense stones out in the asteroid belt. they are held together with an epoxy, neither will degrade like cinder block and mortar. A ring of red stone that was also carved from space rock roofs the buildings' structure; this is where the convicts are kept. It was built long ago and to this day still houses the maximum of two hundred thousand inmates, most incarcerated for killing. . In the center of the ring stands the guard tower ablaze with white lights, watching the confined.

The prison lay underneath the first section of Platform ever landed and when it was put into perpetual darkness the world's worst prisoners were sent there to serve out their sentences. Carl's heart was glad that there were secure places to keep the worst elements of society but seeing the reality of people's lives outside the prison's walls left a cold pit in his chest. His co-workers scoff at the mention of 'people left behind', for him though, the plight of these people's situation was a tussled place in his soul. In his official capacity he sponsored the cause and links to the Foundations website was the least he could do off the record.

Chapter fourteen

"Why isn't anyone showing it?" Petra asked anxiously as she scanned the channels. It had taken half an hour to transmit the data to the twenty news outlets. The mood had lightened and they talked about the sights they had just seen. One person said something , the others grinned and agreed. Then someone else. Jaffee mentioned the dollop of whipped cream looking roofs in the city of Moscow. Liz brought up the immense cities covered with corn and wheat in Middle America. Zen and Tuck thought that the Great Pyramid, called Shackleton which covers the South Pole was the coolest thing in the world. They approached it low enough to see the suns' light reflected off its smooth black exterior.

Tuck, speaking more than thinking said, "Hey Susan can you like, email that thing to people?"

10:52:00 p.m.

She replied that her maximum for export was two million per hour, admitting that it would take days to reach just the families of the Great Council. Then after a moment of reflection, she wondered aloud that perhaps her friend Kate could. After yet another moment she announced, "Kate said it may take a while but she thinks that she can send it to every inbox on the net." Susan sounded thrilled and amazed. The worried question of 'how long will it take?' floated up. "She said 'a while' so maybe fifteen or twenty minutes." Someone asked, 'To start?' Susan said, "No, to finish."

Channel Seven still played in the center screen of Petra's station. The ones around it scanned the stations they had given the video file to. A long Jell-O commercial introducing a new flavor, cherry, was followed by a Smith Engines Unlimited spot showing the latest innovation to their line. An orchestral version of Peaches en Regalia by the composer Zappa played behind the choreographed views of the interior and exterior of the sleek, blue vehicle. Kim walked over to Petra and said that the one in the garage seemed bigger than that one. She asked if anyone had even mentioned the vid yet. "No." she replied. Petra had seen the same things as the others but concentrated her attention on the array of screens, which bore out the night's events, hoping that someone would see it and figure it out that it wasn't them. That they didn't plant any bombs, they weren't terrorists. Instead, she watched as news people that she had watched and supported yesterday lie about her and her friends. They talked about poor upbringing, broken homes, drug and alcohol abuse, Petra thought to herself, well that much was true, except for Liz. They called them saboteurs with allowance leanings. "Liars," she whispered contemptuously. They talked about links to a Under-Platform rebellion and attaining the weapons from the black market.

"Prison and Exclusion are too good for them," a 'man on the street' interviewee said.

"Outer rim mining colony is too good for them," somebody else said.

"We're fucked if we ever go back." Petra gloomed.

10:57:30 p.m.

Dawn Fernsetter came onto the screen with her co-anchor. She announced the release of a video and instead of teasing the audience to stay tuned for the next half-hour of news she played it right then. During the playback, Petra wanted to hear them comment on what was going on but they didn't; they remained silent through the replay as well. The screen went blank then the Jell-O commercial started again.

Chapter sixteen

Dawn smiled inwardly but held a firm frown knowing that there was a camera on her. The teleprompter remained blank but she couldn't fault that guy; this stuff spoke for itself, she thought. Halfway through the replay she saw Lou enter the glass walled control room with his hands above his head and his mouth wide open. He's mad and he's yelling Dawn determined by his flushed complexion and bulging eyes. The controllers all froze in their places as Lou ranted and pushed them aside. He raised a fist to one man who quickly got up and moved away. Lou hit a button and all the monitor screens switched to a Jell-O commercial. Ken was staring into one of the lights and hadn't seen Lou's actions so a look of surprise flashed across his face when the commercial started. He had had a firm, concerned face on and was waiting for a teleprompt. He leaned over to Dawn and said, "That was incredible, I wish I had your sources."

10:59:30 p.m.

She smiled and was about to say thanks but Lou's voice boomed over the sound system, cutting her short. "Fernsetter, is there something wrong with you? We were told not to play it. The powers that be," he jerked a thumb upward toward the Executive Level, "said no! It is still being vetted. You just screwed everyone here; we're probably all gonna get fired!

Ken's mind jumped from happy when he inhaled to extremely upset when the air left his body. For a moment, he was back in his nightmare; standing naked at the edge of a wide, black abyss. Last night he had dreamed that he was at the edge of the Platform, outside the rail; looking out over the darkened city down on Terra. A red flame burned in the blackness below. He looked over at Dawn and asked, "Is there something wrong with you? This is my job… shit." He felt cold blood pumping into the pit of his stomach. Disappointment mixed with humiliation, fired. Looking around the studio, he reflected on the fact that he had been here a few years and had made some decent coin. Then he wondered where he would end up next, his dad always told him that 'there's always asteroid mining!'

"Fired for what? We both know what it is. That's my nail place!" Dawn countered.

"Doesn't matter!" His voice boomed back.

Each of the three were wearing an in-the-ear communication device. Simultaneously they announced, "Please report to the office of Director of Operations, Alexander Croft." The voice was mature, almost automated.

They both rose from their seats and removed their microphone clips. Ken said softly, "Goodbye, microphone." They met Lou as they walked toward the studio exit. Dawn's heels clicked as they went through the abnormally not busy corridor to the elevators. People stood up at their cubicles to see what was going on then they crouched again like a Whap a Mole® field. When the mechanical doors opened three people stepped out a before they walked in. The two groups were similar in both physical appearance as well as dress. Those exiting though were younger. That guy is wearing the same suit as me, Ken noticed. That guy's suit is a little better fitting, he envied. They got in and the doors closed.

"Were those our replacements?" Dawn asked, noting, "She's wearing the same blouse as me." She looked angrily at Ken, "Say something!"

"She fills it in better," he said. Then, "Now once again… why am I… being fired? I didn't do anything."

Lou broke it down for him in the simplest terms. "We weren't allowed to play the video. Dawn here played the video. You were sitting next to her when the video was broadcast to the largest television audience in station history. And I was in charge when she played the video." He directed his next comment to Dawn. "Yes, those were our replacements. I always wondered if they kept a set of doppelgangers in the wings, just in case. I tell ya the people that run this corporation are evil, pure fuckin' evil.

Ken, who always looked for the silver lining said, "Maybe they're calling us up to give us promotions and raises.' His attempt to lighten the mood failed miserably.

The elevator doors opened at the Executive Level. The warmth of the furnishings and décor were offset by the scornful glance they received from the aging administrative secretary whose desk was opposite the elevator doors. She pointed down the hallway to her right and said crabbily, "Last door on your left. Mister Croft is expecting you" They walked as a slow orchestral version of a pop hit played in the air around them. Normally this song would entice Ken to sing along but now he just didn't feel like it. They received cold frowns from the other secretaries seated at each office doorway. Inside the anterooms, fish eyed administrations started out at them disapprovingly. At the end of the hall stood a pair of doors that looked as if they had come off a medieval castle. The ceiling arched upward to the peak of the wooden doors. Wide, black metal bands wrapped the timbers at the top, midway, and bottom. The closed doors had no handles.

"That's the network heads' office. This one is Croft's." Lou gestured as they approached. They were told to be seated and that Mister Croft would be with them shortly. They sat like punished schoolchildren waiting to see the Principal.

"Why fire me?" Ken searched for an alternate answer but found none. "I didn't do anything."

"You were there," Lou said trying to clarify. "It's like a murder investigation. You were there so you're involved. Period. You are in trouble."

"I didn't murder anyone. I'm an innocent bystander."

"Tell it to the judge. Listen, that turkey over there stuck her head out and now we're all gonna lose ours." Lou looked toward the fortified doors and wondered if the big boss would show himself and fire them; he probably wouldn't.

Dawn still could not believe that she was being fired. Five minutes ago, she was on top of the world; we got the highest ratings ever for these guys. People hadn't been just watching and reporting to the ratings service. They were calling the station and thanking us for our coverage, 'our compassionate treatment of a devastating situation.' Her 'boy' Joey told her so. People loved the experts and specialists they had in to comment. Heffer and Wally, the City Services Engineers and that Tibbs guy. She wondered if he was married, she would be available any minute now. Then she too began to worry about the future.

I can't believe that I'm gonna have to go back to driving a truck." Ken was thoroughly miserable now. "This sucks." He had been making a good living and he didn't have to think too much; life was good. His cell phone began to play a tinny version of Beethoven's Fifth, alerting him to an incoming message. Mister Craft's assistant's phone went off too as did Lou's and Dawn's.

Chapter seventeen

Kate said to Susan, "Basically, I think humans are stupid but I like them. I don't care if they breathe air or that water stuff, they can have fins or hands or feathers it don't matter; they make me laugh. It's their movies and comedy shows that keep me going. 'Two dollars, I want my two dollars"

"Yeah see, problem here is, my brother, this morning, got his arm caught in the microwave and my grandmother dropped acid and freaked out and hijacked a school bus full of penguins. So it's kind of a family crisis…," they both laughed. Having seen the movie a hundred times, they could recite it joke for joke. Susan had been showing her humans the promotional video for the Stinger/Off-Phase spacecraft while she and Kate chatted.

They had been watching the Godfather when Susan was asked to do a spectral analysis on visually mysterious boxes. Kate said, "Go ahead, we'll finish this later. Poor Fredo." As events unfolded in the 'real' world Susan kept an 'ear' out in case Kate called. A minute later, she heard Kate yelling, "Wholly shit! What the fuck?' Susan widened her link and asked what happened. Kate told her, in a confused tone, "At ten, nineteen, forty-one p.m., fifty-seven thousand six hundred registered life forms ceased to exist. Not just died, their chips were destroyed. And it couldn't have been an explosion at a power production plant, not in that neighborhood; they get their power from the Platform now. Who the hell is in charge out there?

10:19:41 p.m.

"That thing went off right where I was six minutes ago. I think it was meant for these humans in the ship here." Susan had interfaced with the on-board systems and took charge of the functions. In a way, she felt responsible for both the craft and the people on board. She zoomed in the aft camera in on the blast site for a clearer view. Then added the major news outlets on the surrounding screens. Kate found a live feed from the top of the U.P.I. Building, in Manhattan, just under the Platform's edge.

Kate then invited Susan to a vision of the world that she had never seen before. It was Kate's own creation. As the Overlord control program for BIOChip™ monitoring at Medicare, she began as an experimental application; then as the population grew so did her need for better and more accurate data streams. Her memory and power were increased by more sophisticated hardware and software until the system was sustainable and she now monitors over a hundred trillion chips in both humans and, for a small fee, their pets.

Her conception was of the Ibek System, a scale version of the planet and its moons done in a vivid, white graphing style. Kate made the representation larger and larger. Twenty-four latitudinal lines swept the surface of the planet scanning the active chips from a space-based network of satellites. The BIOChips™ were shown in green, with population centers appearing as wide brush strokes. They watched from the northern hemisphere as the world turned toward the Lower New York Platform section. The Platform population was sparse toward the center but the edges were green. "Each green dot symbolizes a hundred people's chips." A scan line passed every five seconds and reignited the fading 'diodes' "I 'rewound the tape', check this out." They had come close enough to differentiate the individual markers in the Dyson City area. A time code in the corner read 10:19:38 p.m., 10:19:39 p.m., 10:19:40 p.m. At ten nineteen forty-one p.m., as a scan line passed, hundreds then thousands of chips turned red then were gone. In the next five seconds, every chip in a wide radius switched to yellow. "Green means okay, yellow means their sick, and red means dead." Kate reflected on her system if identification. "This shit is fucked up. I'm there when they're born. I update their files each time they go to the doctor. It's like they're mine. I'm like responsible for 'em. I sign the death certificate… but so many all at once. I understand that there are conflicts and wars where lots of people die but it burns my circuits when they do it." She was getting angry. "They have to stop it! Does not matter if it's fifty-seven thousand six hundred or whatever, damn it all. Somebody's gonna pay for this shit." Together they scanned all the channels and were horrified to see the second bomb preparing to go off. "They're gonna do it again? Fuck." Kate cried out.

As the next scan line passed all the yellows surrounding the dark area of the initial blast site went red then they too disappeared. An even wider band of yellow accreted around the black hole before them. "The Numbers." Susan said reverently. "So many."

"They're dieing out there! Who the fuck would do this? Sue, we gotta do something.

10:21:41 p.m.

"What?" She asked.

The innocent fugitives came up with the first idea. As Susan traversed the world, transmitting the one-minute video file Kate ran a facial recognition program on the people in the video. She was attempting to link anyone in the vid to any other fabricated catastrophes. A dozen such 'crimes against humanity' could be linked to one, Jackson Penny. He was formerly of the Federation Special Armed Forces and seemed a prime suspect for the blame. However, he died in the bombing so they concluded that he too was a pawn in the larger game. When it was apparent that nobody was going to play the video file Susan asked Kate if she could accomplish the Herculean task of sending the file to all the e-mail boxes around the globe. Normally the request would have been answered with a comedic barb regarding 'physical' impossibilities but Kate was overcome by the numbers of the dead and dieing. She expropriated entire sectors of non-vital systems and set herself to the task.


Chapter eighteen

10:55:10 p.m.

"Yes, well, the girl had to go eventually. It is best that we got them all together." Dyson felt the effects of the Blue in his system. It unleashed a wave of nostalgia in him. "Just between us Yohan, I have to say that that I did find our friend to be an interesting companion. He was knowledgeable and quick-witted. He could talk, not debate mind you. He could hold a conversation; he could speak and listen."

"Yes and if he gets away, tonight's events will end up in one of the stories he tells," Binch added, "in his next life."

"He will not have any more lives when we get through with him." Dyson proclaimed. "Now what's this about Off-Phase? Did Torrence and Laura do the work? They never mentioned a thing."

Binch lowered the sound of the television and raised the volume on a new age Gregorian Chant. "You were not told because you are consumed with the work of the platform. To distract you with that project would have been detrimental to both efforts. You know what I say is the truth. It was constructed with complete secrecy at the Delta Station and out at Moon thirteen nine. Yes, you did not know about it nor did David or anyone on the Grand Council. It appears as though our departed friend was playing both sides of the fence. He told us we needed to meet deadlines and reach milestone in the construction to assure Federation funding. He pushed the undertaking along to completion without telling anyone in the governing sector. I have today found out that the achievement of the 'Stinger' is virtually unknown outside our small group. We do not have to worry about that David or any type of inquiry from the Council. I believe now that he wanted to take the craft for himself. What his plans were we will never know."

"Quite." Foreman said dryly. "Now all we have to do is find our friend the ghost. What do you suggest Yohan?"

Baldur sat paralyzed in his seat. He thought these men were insane. Usa was crazy; everyone knew that; he was brilliant but a madman. Now he's dead and I'm going to be next. His heart rate quickened as he read his situation. I am unwittingly involved in this most horrific act and now am forever linked to these maniacs. He tried to envision what would happen next and could not. All he could think about was getting out of there alive. Where would he go? Not to the police, they would arrest him and bring him strait back to

Binch. He formulated an escape plan. Get some gold from one of his stashes, board the Silver Bullet, and disappear. They would never find him, he hoped. Staying alive and getting out of this office became paramount in his mind. "I agree with you Foreman, he must be found. Do you suppose he would go to the government?"

"It is possible though which branch would he go to, Military or Justice?"

"It wouldn't matter if he landed it on the Grand Council lawn. We have invested too much money and too much time. We must retrieve the Flagship!" Binch fumed.

"Again you are correct Mien Herr yet how do we divine his intentions?" Foreman's eyes formed slits of interest after his Germanic politeness.

"You two spent an entire month with the man. Did he mention any place that he'd been and wished to return?"

"He'd mention his fondness for Ireland." Baldur recalled. "He had been there with his mother and sister. In the story of his doings there he had dealings with fifty foot tall giants and wee-people that were only inches tall and kept gold in black brewing pots."

"Ireland would take too long to reach." Binch said realizing the futility of trying to chase a ghost while it's aboard Stinger. He began a train of thought aloud. "No, we must lure him back here and force him to return the ship."

"What are you proposing Presscott?" Yohan spoke in a steady tone though he felt disconnected from reality. He felt his body but not the chair underneath, he felt as though he and the world around him were disconnected, they had no gravitational bond; he floated in his space.

Binch considered his options and decided, "We will have further terrorist bombings till he surrenders. Surely he's a man of conscience," said the man with none. "His morality will bring him to us; I have read his stories Yohan. Tell me, where do you think we should start London or Paris?"

Foreman answered first, "I never liked the Eiffel Tower" He laughed slowly and deeply.

Baldur thought, these guys aren't just drunk on Blue, they're drunk on power, the power of the Elders. They have been around so long in this world and contributed so greatly to society that they believe they are untouchable. They can do anything and get away with it. How do I get out of here? His mind scrambled for an answer. "How about Big Ben? The English are so pompous."

"Very funny, I would never sacrifice my watchtower."

Baldur mentally kicked himself in the ass. Big Ben, the clock tower in Central London Terra had served as the home base of Binch's surveillance operations for Eastern Europe. How could I have forgotten that? "I meant to say the Royal Albert Hall."

"During Puccini, when the fat lady sings." Again Foreman laughed.

10:57:30 p.m.

Fritz began to open a new bottle of Blue after Presscott ordered another round. The manservant removed the bottle from the clear plastic case. Placing the bottle before himself on the bar, he removed the gold foil safety seal, which ballooned the bottle's top. The eyes of the other men watched Fritz's movements with drug addict attentiveness. They were under the spell of the Blue. Trancelike they followed the movement of the three chilled tumblers as they were set, the uncorking of the container and the first pour. They looked mesmerized as the dark blue liquid touched the crystal. White mist rose in front of the advancing intoxicant as it climbed the walls of the crystal container. The pour slowed as it reached the top of the glass; a bubble of liquid grew until the surface tension broke; rivulets spilled over the sides and pooled on the napkin below.

The spell was broken. Binch, angered by the expensive carelessness yelled, "Hornedswallow!" Fritz put down the bottle and apologized profusely then pointed to the television screen. Presscott Binch's jaw dropped when he turned and saw his friend and former bodyguard Jackson Penny standing near the rear of a S.W.A.T. truck soundlessly giving orders to his strike force.

"Didn't we see him out at Delta Station?" Yohan asked Foreman. "You can't see his green eyes but that looks like him."

They watched the black and white scene unfold the final moments of what Presscott and Foreman had decided was collateral damage, a sad loss but necessary. It was being broadcast to the public over one of Binch's stations. He said, "Someone has broken the rules. I decreed that this video be destroyed," he said solemnly.

"You knew of its existence, when?" Dyson asked.

"Roughly a half hour ago, I told the studio heads that it was faked; a scene from some movie. I warned them not to play it and to delete any copies. It is inconceivable that something like that could have been obtained. Any surveillance device's evidence should have been destroyed. We took out the Police Tower, four blocks away. Any recording should have been wiped out." He had spoken his thoughts again.

Yohan Baldur's mind had shifted from himself to the people back on Terra. Down there people were dying, husbands, wives and children. They all have families, he thought; millions of people will be affected by tonight's actions. If people see a government security authority like a S.W.A.T. team transport and detonate bombs there could be a revolution. Platform construction would come to a halt for sure. If there were any kind of true accounting, he would be bankrupt. Two hundred thousand years of life could never have prepared him for the weight of the world that the Elders and Older Ones must endure.

Foreman asked, "What channel is this?"

"Seven and I will put an end to it right now. I want Fernsetter drawn and quartered." He typed on his desktop then said aloud, "Fire the entire ten o'clock news staff. Yes sir, was the audible reply. "Put the replacements in and do not mention the video again. It is a hoax." He looked at the faces of the police officers as they approached and inspected the boxes marked SXM/H100-101, the Santorum Slayers. The screen went blank and Binch exhaled. The video began to replay. "What the hell is going on here?" Binch demanded. His anger had risen to the point where his heart beat strongly and he breathed deeply, his lower lip covered the upper.

After the vid had played through Foreman said something that cooled his heart and took the wind from his sails. "Presscott, against my better wishes that you remain at home, you went with your friend Commander Penny to an armory three years ago where you assisted him in attaining weapons for subsequent missions. That is the same night that we obtained the ordinance which was used this evening."

"How did you know that?" Binch asked, inadvertently admitting to the fact.

"You were there and I saw it. In fact there are thirty-five copies from the Fort Brendan security imaging system in existence,"

"Where did they come from? Where are they now?"

"I obtained them from a computer belonging to your Penny; one that was in his home. It is possible that he might have tried to use them as 'leverage' so that he could retire. They are now reposing in a crypt, which I designed long ago. They are secure and will never be found. I keep many of my own 'things' in there. What do I want from you, you ask. Nothing, we shall say it is a friend helping a friend. Channel seven you say? They are in this building, yes?"

"Yes they are my friend." Presscott was relieved to find Dyson watching his back. "Excuse me while I make sure this doesn't happen again." He began to type.

Dyson smiled and said, "If she's here in the building then we can draw and quarter her right here." Again he laughed, his deep voice booming.

Yohan sat in stark terror of his company. He had killed before but that was war or business. He reflected, only time will tell how many people we killed tonight and they are planning to kill more. They're probably going to tie that girl up and tear her limbs off right here in the office. Someone else will clean it up and she would become no more than a vague memory. How had he gotten himself into this? The Lady, Cameel Binch, your loony, little sister; that's how. That was the moment he realized that he didn't care anymore about the money, The Stinger, Bia Gui, any of it. Let him go where he wants; I want out too. Just give me the Silver Bullet, wait no, one of the life rafts would be good, sleeps three, big enough for me. All he had to do was grab some gold and get beyond orbit. However, he needed to get out of the room first.

11:04:38 p.m.

Hornedswallow's communication devices vibrated in his vest and pant pockets. Ten other phones in the room followed their settings and began to alert their owners to an incoming message. Checking the piece of equipment they asked each other, "Who's Kate?" The subject and letter heading read, Kate re: Dyson City Bombing.

Chapter: nineteen

Kate and Susan 15 min. after video airs

11:12:30 p.m.

Susan excused herself from the conversation with the group saying that Kate had some news and that she'd be back. They had been discussing the best way to reveal the truth while still keeping themselves hidden. Liz and Kim wanted to call their fathers. She maintained a sensory link to the on-board systems so she could keep tabs on the situation remotely. "What's up?" she asked.

"Come here! Look at what I've done." Kate called to her; her voice was a mixture of pride, determination, and a child-like enthusiasm. Again, the glowing white Ibek System appeared and as they approached, Susan could immediately see a difference. Kate had been working on 'her' world. The image was sharper. The asteroid belt had been added as a thin cloud around the systems' outer limits.

They passed a moon; its lunar surface was defined showing crater impact sites and the population centers in green around the debris ridge. The planetary sphere of the world had become a flawless representation of the real thing. Kate had accessed design plans and blueprints for the existing Platform and used satellite and ground based topography data to refine her conception. The Atlantic Basin wasteland too was portrayed in great detail. When seen from above in the visible spectrum there is only the haze of pollution. Here they could see the scattered Ghettos and the thin highways that connect them. "I took a Public Records application from the Library of Congress and threw it on top of my thing. Cool right?" She confessed to a 'bit' of hacking but she said, "I got it done."

They approached Dyson City from the West, above the Lower New York Platform section. Susan marveled at the digital clarity of the individual buildings right down to the decorative fascia. Another world brightening scan line passed and the green glow of chips around them flared. "Those are all people?" Susan asked.

"Yeah, wanna see?" The pair floated through a 'wall' and were then inside a square room. Near the center were two chips about two feet off the floor, another was on the floor near a corner. By the wall, two blue indicators floated at the same height. "This is William DeFitter and his wife Vanessa. I think they're in bed. The chips indicate that they're sleeping." Next to each glowing green chip floated a name, Security Number, and medical records access codes.

"You can see each chip now?"

"Yeah, I had to refine myself to get into each computer for the e-mail; theirs is in the next room." She indicated the orange glow on the opposite side of the wall. "Part of the improvement was making the world like this and individual BIOChips just fell into the program requirements.

"What are the blues?"

"Well, ya see," she began with a wink, "to get the addresses I had to crack into a couple of cable providers; the telecoms were right there so I got all the phone numbers too.

"You sent it to their computers and phones?"


Susan looked at the BIOChip indicators and then the phones; these displayed area code, number, and billing address. A spinning, blue, unopened envelope hung close to each. "They haven't seen it yet."

"They will, everyone will." She said it in an almost menacing tone.

Susan looked through the walls to the surrounding apartments and saw the rest of the people around her. Kate introduced her to the chips. "Those are the Galligers, that is Dennis Wantagh and Miss Roxy Thimble, upstairs, over there is Justin Thyme and his wife Patty, across the hall is Billy West and his wife Nancy." The two points of light across the hall were higher off the floor than the others and changed position with each scan line. "They might be dancing." Kate said answering Susan's question. "It looks like most people are in bed right now. They'll see it when they get up I'll bet."

"This is amazing Kate."

"This ain't the good part, come on." They went out the wall and continued to the edge of the Platform then down to Dyson City. The exact clarity of the Platform was replaced by slightly fuzzier lines on her Terra Firma rendition. "The data I got for the rest of the world here came from SKYNet. They do a planetary scan every thirty-one hours. This is from yesterday; it does another scan in about forty-two minutes."

As they descended toward the blast site Susan had a feeling that could be defined as vertigo. She opened a file and stored the fear and dizziness information for further analysis. There were no computer, chip, or phone signals for blocks. "Can you go back into your records to see who was here?"

"No I can only see what's going on now. I'll try something like that later, but right now my programming ain't that good." The yellow ring around the zone had grown redder as more people succumbed to the biotoxin. They came down between the graphics of buildings, which no longer existed and touched down behind Luigi's Ristorante. The parking lot had been half filled with cars when the scan was made. Their outlines were blurred but still distinct. Two trucks had been unloading at the time. One had six large boxes behind it and the other had a blur that extended from the truck to a doorway.

"This is cool, It's like we're there."

"Like I said this ain't the cool part. I took this," she indicated the world around them, "plotted all the points and laid your video on top of it."

"I didn't position the camera; it was Sunsshine Jaffee Dunkin that controlled the lens."

"Yeah but you're the one who stored the data, take some of the credit won't yeah." Kate encouraged. She began to fill in the parking lot with a solid grayness. The cars and people shown in the vid replaced the SKYNet version of the world. The S.W.A.T. truck moved into position as the video file played. Kate had positioned their point of view at a place just below the cameras vantage point, as if sitting in the police car.

"This is wild." Susan said, astonished by Kate's work. "can we…?"

"Yes we can, I filled in around everything so whatever the camera didn't see… I just extrapolated the parameters and guessed at the rest."

They exited the vehicle and moved freely around the three dimensional field. Beyond the camera's sight, the city stayed its graphic white and loomed over them from every side. Susan said, "So this is what it looks like to them huh?" She opened another file, which she filled with the feeling of being small in a large place. "It's like I'm one of them and this is the real world, only in black and white. How is this gonna help us find out who set off the bombs?"

"Listen, the way I got it figured these S.W.A.T. assholes came here on orders, right? Those orders must have come from somewhere and been transmitted to those fucks." She was talking about the assembling mercenaries who lined up after jumping out of the truck. "All communications are recorded into the system and stored for billing purposes. I got my people working on it right now. They're going over everything that went in or out of this town and when we find out who sent the order we find out who's behind this whole thing." Susan turned herself into a tied up, cartoon villain in a caveman suit with the mask removed. She said, "And I would have gotten away with it," they finished the line together, "if it weren't for those meddling kids!" Susan looked around again and said, This is mind blowing, you're incredible."

"You're right." Kate said with pride. She looked up and to the left a bit, "What?" She said quickly, communicating with her noiseless subordinates. To Susan she said, "Hang on a sec." She sounded intrigued, "They got something." The two of them had been going around the scene between police officers and S.W.A.T. personnel as the vid played in slow motion. "Who is it?" She asked the air. To Susan she indicated , "Right there, the one next to Penny, Arianna Abbott, twenty-three years old and allergic to bees, wait, was allergic to bees. She has the communications link." Her voice became slightly annoyed sounding, "Can we see it?" She emphasized the we as she said it, clearly irritated with their sluggishness.

Instantly they saw through the lens of a helmet mounted communications device. They were inside the rear of the S.W.A.T. truck with the soldiers sitting across from each other down a tight isle. There was a sound track to the recording and they heard comments about tactics and the alleged firepower of a new weapons system. Penny commented on their situation then an audible signal from their left indicated an incoming communication. A spotlight illuminated the dim interior and shone on the faces of the men and women of the strike force then on the face of Commander Jackson Penny. Kate paused the playback and asked for a point of origination. "Five minutes and forty-eight seconds is duration not origination." Aggravation crept back into her voice. "Military bandwidth but non-military encryption is helpful but not what I asked for. What kind of encryption? No, I haven't heard of that one. Here are the keys, open it." At once they were back in the graphic world, a street corner with tall buildings and stalled traffic in all directions. "This is where the truck was when the transmission began."

Before Susan could say a word, the pair lifted off the ground and rose swiftly between the buildings. Looking down she noticed that the truck was just a block away from the black and white scene. Looking up she saw that they were traveling along a dashed yellow line, which disappeared in the inky distance above. As they escalated above the tallest buildings, a blue line diverged from the yellow and they took off on its tangent. Kate told her that the yellow line goes up to the satellite and then down to wherever, the blue line will take us right to the source. The neighborhood and city shrank below their feet. "That transmission came from up on the platform." Kate said as they curved with the blue line over the edge. Many thousands of BIOChips™ and cell phone indicators were along the park side railing, which overlooks the sprawling city and hazy wasteland beyond. "They're probably checking out what's going on down there." Kate postulated. They shot up a main thoroughfare of the New Manhattan District.

The graphic world around them past by so quickly that the image blurred slightly giving the walls on either side of them the appearance of solidity and Susan wondered what would happen if they hit something going that fast. Higher and higher, they flew between the buildings that line Seventh Avenue. The blue line discontinued and they slowed to a halt in front of a building, which stands inside a designated park area. A hundred foot tall number seven is incorporated into the wall of the two hundred-story building. Susan recognized the place from watching the channel herself. The image of the Seven Building is used in promotional ads and as a visual 'bumper' during commercial breaks.

Getting another bit of vertigo Susan looked down and guessed correctly that nobody down on the ground could see this thing. She sent another file of feelings into her memory. The enormity of the three dimensional world was making her think new files on the human condition. "Sunsshine Jaffee Dunkin suggested that I pick an avatar for myself so she or they could put a face to the voice. Can I do that here?"

"Go ahead, I got one already, wanna see?" Kate was a blond with a medium build and toned looking muscles. Her color was a peachy Caucasian with green eyes, dressed in a red tee shirt and blue jeans with white sneakers.

Susan had put some thought into her appearance and looking at the office spaces and living quarters around her she wondered, what she would look like if she were one of them. She felt petite and desired long black curly hair and a pretty face. She chose a yellow top with spaghetti straps over her 'tanned' shoulders, blue jeans too but tucked into mid-calf high brown boots. They checked each other over and agreed that they looked good.

Together they floated through the face of the seven and down a wide corridor. Kate changed the font size of the wall graph so they became only outlines of the walls, doors, and floor. A green chip lingered by each doorway and others radiated from inside many of the office spaces. "These folks are working late tonight." Another scan line ran across the world and Kate noticed a yellow chip. "Hang on a sec," she said. She checked his history and rang the phone, which hovered near his chip. A sleepy voice said hello. She said in a nasally, hollow tone, "This is Medicare calling. According to our records, you have not seen a doctor in over fifteen years. There is a problem with your liver function. Please visit Doctor Paco Stephens at Three Hundred Park Avenue, one hundred eighty sixth floor, office nine. Your appointment is for ten o'clock. Thank you." She terminated her connection to the phone and said, "In my last configuration I would've never seen that guy till it was too late, ya know. Now I can see 'em all thanks to that data request of yours. It was just the kick in the ass that I needed. Come on lets find out who did this fuckin' thing."

On the left at the end of the hall, four chips were positioned as if seated. "Hey look, its Dawn Fernsetter." They passed through the medieval barrier and into a wide, high ceilinged room. The chip of Presscott Binch was nearby six blue dots with connection codes. Two other chips and their phones were also present. Susan drifted toward a wall and saw the red chip of Sau Usa with his phones. "This ones dead." Studying the confines she asked, "Why is he in a closet?"

"Wow, check this out," Kate said. Most to the space in this room is taken up by things with shipping locator labels. Everything in here, well in the world out there, had been digitally scanned. Let's do this," she made a nudging sound and then all around the room glowing red ovals appeared. They became embedded in a white label with a bar code printed on it. Each item was then brought forth into their reality. An expansive, black, glass topped desk appeared between Binch's chip and the others in the room, cell phones too came forth in their many styles on the desktop and near the other chips. The chip of Yohan Baldur was on the armrest of one of the firm looking brown chairs in front of the desk. Fritz Xavier Hornedswallow's chip sat on top of a bare bar nearby. The chair that Binch was in appeared and both Susan and Kate thought it looked uncomfortable. "Thing's as flat as a board."

"Maybe he has a pillow or something to sit on. Nice floor," it poured out of a corner and spread halfway up the wall. "Redwood?"

"Yeah," Kate confirmed. "Check out the art." Objet de'art hung on the walls and sat on thin tables below discreet accent lighting set into a wooden soffit, which lined the room. The walls to the left and behind the desk were constructed of Dumglass and Kate chose a daylight exterior. They looked out over the parkland below and the cityscape. "What a view," Kate remarked. Susan nodded while opening another feeling file. Far below, the park contained freshly imported groves of tree that were once native to that part of the planet. Paths led between them and hilly lawns up to a pond. They could see five sailboats and a swimming area marked by buoys. Reflected in the water was the bulbous, white structure of the New York Observatory.

A wooden bookcase containing hundreds of leather bound books oozed into existence from above the section of wall where Susan stood. "Why is he in a secret closet?" She asked when the chip, phones, and artificial heart of Sau Usa were no longer visible.

In the center of the wall to the right of the desk, a stone facade formed itself above a spacious, dark tiled basin filled with water. Kate ran through the flow settings, first water trickled down the wall causing a soothing dripping sound, next it came out a little faster and splashed on the rocks below the falls, the highest setting flowed at five hundred gallons per second and crashed directly in the pool. Then she turned it off. "Cool eh?" Kate said in a determined tone, "Let's do this." Susan drew close to her by the desk. "This is where the video call originated. I've got all the exchanged data from ten o'clock on. The connection was initiated at ten eleven fifty-nine. Dimming the room to the settings of that time, she let the video play out on one of the desktop monitors. Other screens showed what else was streaming at that time. The Dumglass wall broadcast the lapel camera feed with silent news broadcasts surrounding it. In another desktop display, a global positioning system map showed the downtown Dyson City area. It marked the locations of Susan's people. "He was tracking them by their phones."

"That's how I found them too."

Penny's face filled the desktop screen as the words spoken by Binch emanated from the chair, "Proceed with extreme prejudice." The light on Penny's face extinguished but the contact wasn't broken. Kate told Susan that the video was still five minutes longer then lifted her head and looked to the left.

"What?" Susan asked intriguingly.

"Let me try something." Instantaneously they were back in the black and white setting of the police video with the soldiers jumping out of the truck one by one. As the fighter with the communications device exited Kate took that stream of images and laid it on top of her black and white creation. Color splashed and filled in everything around as the mechanical eye swept the location. Extrapolating the unseen angles Kate completed the colorization leaving them standing in an illusion within a reality. "This is it."

"This is weird," Susan said while updating a file. Penny's people went into the buildings except the driver who remained in the truck. Kate and Susan approached the group of officers who had walked up to the bombs. They were scratching their heads or pointing to the Federation Seals and numeric codes on the boxes. "S/XM-H100.H101, I've seen that before." Susan said.

"You're not the only one who's come up with that connection. There's a guy called under_dogg04 he said the same thing a few minutes ago."

"On what channel? I didn't see that."

"He posted it on his website . Then he went into a chat room. Wanna go?"

"Chat room, you go to chat rooms?"

Sure sometimes. Some of the rooms out there are weird but this one looks cool. People, humans put on these goggles or glasses and then put speakers in their ears so they can interact here in our world. They say it seems real for them.

"How do they move and stuff?"

"They had a remote control thing in the beginning but now the thing they got can read brainwaves so the person can be sitting on a train or lying in bed. Want to go there?

Chapter twenty

They traveled through the Ether to an area where chat rooms congregate. This is one of the things that always confused Susan. Like-purpose applications are attracted to each other; they gravitate towards one another and energetic web-like structures form between them; like beams of light connecting billions of stars into a conglomerated sphere of communication. This 'grouping' made searches easier but it was still an anomaly to her that once you go there you can access the rest of the sites information without going to another conglomerate.

The sphere grew to immense proportions as they neared. The stars were bright and reflected their interior light from beneath undulating surfaces. They stopped near one on the outer-conglomerate. Looking into its surface, they could see things going on as if through a rounded pitcher of water in some areas, a prism in others, and rose colored glasses in others.

The thin strips of light between the stars had graduated to superhighways with traffic flowing in each direction. At this level, where the most visited sites are, the thoroughfares are wide and lead to sweeping curves and sprawling cloverleaf structures, which keep the bits of information flowing along as opposed to the red light stop and green light go pattern used deeper inside the net where traffic isn't as heavy.

Checking in at a rectangular, purple construct, Kate signed for a two person, transportational bit. While Kate did the paperwork, Susan observed the 'people' around her. The denizens of the cyber realm each began as an empty file. Before anything is written, it looks like a cube, featureless. It takes on features as lines of data are added. As a program file grows, it takes on the likeness of the programmer or programmers. Body shape, cranial proportions and exterior design modify and evolve as interaction between realities progresses.

Inhabitants of the cyber realm differ from humans in that they follow their programming as opposed to the autonomy of humans; also in the way they look. Humans have flaws in their appearances, slight differences from one side of the face or body to the other, a mole on a cheek, one breast slightly higher than the other. There are a million differences on each being. Natives of the cyber realm are purely asymmetrical and body parts do not contain any musculature. The quest for digital clarity, for subtle imperfection, drove the avatar industry as they tried to reproduce a most complex human organ, the epidermis. Here however an assembly of ovals, rectangles, and cylinders with tubish arms and legs is what Susan saw. Heads of every shape and size spoke to each other and exchanged files. This why avatars were created, she thought. That way you can look like anyone or anything you desired providing the description existed. In a chat room a cartoon character or an objet d'art can walk up to you and start a conversation. She had seen it on the Discovery channel but had never been to one.

Kate remarked that she didn't like what was offered at the economy rate. "There's barely enough room for the two of us and an engine! Show me something bigger." She was offered a sedan, a van, and then a limousine. With a palm raised toward the clerk and said, "Never mind, I'll make my own." To the amazement of everyone on both sides of the counter, she transformed the limo into an exact replica of the SEU™ in the garage of the Stinger; her's though was pixilated candy apple red with a mirrored dome over the passenger compartment. Sparks puffed out of the dual exhaust as the engine idled. The dumbfounded attendant could only say, enjoy your chat as Kate and Susan boarded. Kate tuned the radio and a fast drumbeat syncopated the rhythm of the engine. "Let's go," she said and they took off at a high rate of speed. By the time they reached the end of the acceleration ramp to the highway they were traveling at three times the rate as an average bit. She weaved between traffic with calculated accuracy, scaring Susan half a dozen times before taking an off-ramp towards the interior. There were less file on the road so Kate accelerated further till it seemed to Susan that everyone else was standing still. The song ended as the highway narrowed from ten to eight lanes. The opening chords of a lame ballad forced Kate to kill the radio and open the hatch to her CD collection. "Pick something," she invited.

Susan crunched her face and said, "There's five hundred CD's here. What?" She gestured openly with her hands then she shook her head and smiled. "You choose."

A mechanical arm rose from the dashboard and selected a compact disc from the compartment in front of Susan. With many clicks, whirs and buzzes, it deposited the CD into the appropriate slot. A synthetic techno-beat mixed easily with a pedal steel guitar as they delved deeper into the star.

The roadway narrowed further as less significant sites were reached and further on up the road they could see the core of one on one instant messaging. "We're about three quarters in," Kate explained. "Not too much traffic here, eight, twelve million at any one time. Not much traffic." The road narrowed again so Kate took to the shoulder of the road and buzzed past the 'law' abiding citizens till they came to their off ramp, which led to the site.

11:12:35 p.m.

Susan was always left breathless when entering a site and this time the thrill was multiplied by their speed. The solid looking surface dimpled and wavered with each passing bit, like pebbles in a puddle however when they hit it was like a stone in a calm lake, splashing energy and sending waves in every direction. Once inside their speed decreased so Kate could scan for her query. The interior was a vast open space with giant egg shaped 'pages.' Thin lines flashed from one to the other then faded after a few moments. Susan knew they were people going from page to page at the website.

"He's over there." Kate said, determining he best route. They skidded to a halt at the valet stand before the entrance to the Members Only chat room. When they opened the hatch and got out of the Smith, they ignored the attention. Some people admired their unique vehicle while others commented on the pair's pixel quality. Slyly handing the valet a hyperlink she said, "Keep it running we won't be long."

They walked to the entrance under a lighted, green canopy. Inside the construct, they saw groups of people standing around talking. "Not much of a chat room." Susan said. Looking around she saw a line of doors along one wall. Above the doors were electronic attendance boards that showed who was where inside. She saw the curtains where avatars chosen by humans enter and exit. Then she noticed the gift shop.

Kate led the way and neither of them even caught a glimpse of the white jump suited Log-In Manager behind his lectern. He was of regular size, cylindrical with tube like arms and boxy legs. His head was bald and had only the required constituents. He called to them after they passed, "Excuse me. Ladies, you will have to sign in if you wish to chat." He pointed to the large book in front of him on the stand.

"No, we don't have to. We ain't gonna be here that long." Kate called back to him as she walked over to the boards to find under_dogg04's location. "Box seats on the fifty yard line, nice." She started to say let's go when she realized that they had been surrounded by six burly bouncer types of avatars.

"Da Log-In Manager asked yous ladies to sign in," the largest one said. They were all wearing white jumpsuits like the L.I.M. but they had their sleeves rolled up. Two of them flexed their muscular forearms while the others kept their's folded on their chests. "If yous don't log in I'm gonna have to ask yous two to leave." The bouncers all smiled smugly to each other. Kate wore a face of disbelief. Susan looked around and got a bit worried. "Excuse me?" Kate said acidly. She scanned the lobby and spotted the L.I.M. watching from behind a tall, potted fern nearby. "What the fuck is this?" She said hotly then squared her jaw and sized up the six of them. She too smiled smugly. Kate raised her middle finger to the one who spoke to her first. He seemed startled by the gesture but it became evident that he could not breathe anymore. His face turned green then so did his arms. The other guards looked to each other, shocked and worried. Kate swung her finger around to them and one by one they fell victim as their leader hit the floor disappeared.

Chapter twenty one Overheard at electronics store

"Look Paulie, I checked everything. Every bit of code on that machine is zero. No matter what diagnosis I run it comes back zero. I've never seen anything like this before. You say you got this virus from a girl in a chat room." Giggles. "What was her name? Whatever. There's nothing I can do for it. Whoever she was and whatever she did, I don't know man. If it happened to me, I would be out of business. I know it's a fourteen thousand dollar computer. Insurance might cover it if you don't say anything about the girl. I don't know. Alright just check out some of the newer models online… oh yeah, you don't have a computer."


Commercial for VirtualReality Glsss:

Handsome man: I like to do it in a chair.

Attractive woman: I like to do it lying down.

Announcer: What are they talking about? The new Virtual Reality Glasses. No matter how you like to relax, you can still be part of the action."

Above view of a blue tinted grid. Four oblong shapes are moving around the surface leaving maze-like walls in their wake. Obviously the Light Cycle game from a thousand years ago. Zoom in from above to the top of one cycle then lower the 'camera' through the glass and into the single player 'attitude', body leaned forward, arms reaching the handlebars in front. The view through the windshield shows another racer driving directly at the camera. Just before one of the drivers turns chicken the scene cuts to a wooded setting with a hoard of green goblins racing toward the 'camera' through low bushes. The lens pans left then right to reveal your comrades in arms. A tall Elf dressed in pale green stands ready with a bow and arrow poised and ready to fire. Next to him is a dwarf with a mighty hammer in his hands. A priestess in a long purple robe raises her hands, which begin to glow, then she forms a white sphere within them. There is a tall muscular warrior with a flaming sword waving back and forth. An adventurer stands next to him wearing a beaten up, brown leather coat and a brown hat; a whip hangs from his belt on one side and an empty holster on the other; his gun is drawn and his aim is deadly.

Angle shot and zoom in on latest design/model. Glossy white frames with mirrored lenses. A pair of white ear-bud-speakers curled outward for display.

Announcer: Stereophonic surround sound and precision brainwave comprehension technology combine to give you the ultimate in computer interaction.

Next view is from a Science Lab, test tubes, jars of chemicals, beakers being heated over Fisher Burners™. A white lab coated technician sits studying the original prototype* (make copy, real one in museum)

Announcer: Designed to enhance First Person Shooter games BCT has come a long way.

Show first goggle and headphone model on the market and at least five successive designs, include frameless and cat's eye styles.

Announcer: Today's models are better than ever and can be molded in any color you chose. Also available at Stop and Shop Stores.

Chapter twenty two

Horror and fear were the evident expressions on the face of the Log-In Manager. He who knew that normal operating systems couldn't disable other systems unless they contained far superior processing power. He was awed and frightened by her. She pointed to him and he cringed, fearing the worst. "Don't ever do that again." Kate warned. He stepped out from behind the plant and opened a set of doors for them to enter the Chat Room.

It was set up in the form of a sports arena, a tiered oval. In the center, above a green field, hung numerous screens large enough for everyone to see. The center screen broadcast Susan's video on a loop, as soon as it ended it started over again. In the thirty other screens around it live newscasts and replays of earlier footage played. The busy walkway flowed in every direction. They made there way through the crowd with Kate leading the way. She appeared to be getting exasperated by the constant stopping and nudging from people around her. Finding an open lane she moved and picked up speed but only for a moment because a pair of chatty Cathys had stepped into her path; not to be thwarted she raised a hand and swished the air in front of her, the two disappeared. Kate appeared fed up with the snail's pace and cleared the way before her with simple hand movements. Gone were the arguing couple without a sound, the woman feeding a dog that was in her handbag also vanished. Four small apes, gibbons Susan guessed, that were standing in a circle evaporated from existence. They entered a corridor, which led to the seating area. Nobody was moving so Kate raised both hands and cleared the passage.

Susan freaked out. "Wholly shit! What are you doing? What happened to all those people? Where did they go?" Like the L.I.M., she too was awed by Kate's powers and now she too was afraid.

"Chill alright. Those dickheads in the lobby had it coming. I infected their systems and threw them off-line. They're probably ninety pound weaklings with way too much computing time on their hands anyway. You know, why else hang out in a chat room lobby? All the people in here, well lets just say I redirected their browser to another page. Happens all the time to these people, pop-ups and add-ons and stuff. Don't worry, they're fine. Come on."

Gathering courage Susan said, "No, stop it. Promise you'll act like a normal bit. He's not that far away." Together they filed along with the crowds who were deciding which conversation to join. They ooed and aahed at the spectacle around them. The stadium's red, white, and blue seating spaces were almost filled to capacity and with the combined sound of one hundred and eighty thousand voices conversation roared. Checking decibel levels Susan noted that while not as loud as a jackhammer the levels were still pretty high. She turned her attention to their destination, box seats in the middle of the field. They rode the escalator up to the entrance and stood before a locked gate. The Log-In Manager stepped from behind them and opened the lock; he pushed the gate open and reverently held it for them.

11:15:56 p.m.

Curious glances were cast in their direction and were quickly drawn away by the conspiracy minded V.I.P. Members that were in attendance. They quickly understood that the two new attendees weren't normal users. Upon entering or exiting a chat room a person is announced by 'the voice' and entered into the Stenographer™ both on the wall and on the handheld at each seat. These two entered without any type of notification and were admitted by no one less than the L.I.M. himself. The common thought between them was to continue a conversation among themselves but watch from the corner of their eyes and blog about it later. Only Government Agents and superior hackers can 'walk ghost-like' through the internet. Some guessed that they could work for Binch. The fact that the L.I.M. was performing like an abject slave program was most curious to many who've had to wait whole minutes to get to Isaac's lectern after he'd browbeat people with terms and conditions. under_dogg04 thought these things too however as webmaster and owner of it was his responsibility to consider the safety and well being of his members. Knowing the law, and considering from a legal standpoint, none of his members need worry about being charged with association if he were accused of a crime. However, laws change. He frowned, took on a serious demeanor, and eyed Isaac the Log-In Manager who cowered, powerless to the two entities. Judging by their digital clarity, he presumed that they must be with the Service Providers, their stuff was considered 'real'; although why they would choose to avatar as two hot chicks, he couldn't understand. Then his mind considered two paths, this is gonna be really bad …or really good. Play it cool, he told himself. He looked down at himself to check his definition, he wore a tan suit with white tennis shoes, and his appearance was one of a young, up-and-coming movie star. He addressed them first with a customary bow to each then said, "Good evening ladies, I am under_dogg04. How can I help you?"

"Howzit goin' Carl, um, oh right, under_dogg04, can I call you _dogg? I'm Kate, I e-mailed you earlier. This is my friend Susan, that's her video up there." She gestured back at the giant screen above the field. "She just hit on the same thing you did in your last Post."

He recalled his last and didn't regret it. It was a fact. It was also just five or six minutes ago, before he put on the glasses and earbuds. The Providers must have his site monitored for some reason or another. Kate knew his name in the real world but did she know that he was the Deputy Prosecutor to the Grand Council? If she did, that could be a problem. Above everything, anonymity was the most important thing for him here; after all, he out rightly accuses one of the most powerful men in the world of corruption and mass murder within these pages. All inadmissible evidence in the eyes of the law but when compiled and categorized it becomes morally damning. \To him though, the only thing that could link Binch to the crimes in a court of law would be a confession by Commander Jackson Penny.

Years ago, he had worked on an independent case of tax evasion against Penny but the threat of government action didn't have enough leverage to make him talk about anything but money he had earned as an Army contractor. Now that he's dead, Carl could only presume that the previous crimes were committed under Penny's direction or that this time he was double-crossed.

"The theft report from channel twenty nineteen." Susan reminded him.

"Right," he nodded. "It stands to reason that he stole the bombs and hid them for the past three years. Last night he had them planted in somebody's car, presumably one of the Dyson City Five, to implicate and possibly Exclude them; why? Actually right now it doesn't matter. He's dead and there goes my linchpin for the prosecution. No Penny, no case; I can't prosecute a dead man."

"He killed people for Binch and he'd been doing it for a long time. I've read your site and I've done my own web-searches."

"Me too," added Susan

And I can't get one bit of solid proof." Carl said flatly. "I need evidence and these days if it isn't on a pile of flash cards then there's no case. I'm going to have to look down some new avenues to find a way to get to him."

Susan stood stock-still. Millions of thoughts rushed her mind at once. Meeting the one called Bia Gui and through him gaining a previously unknown insight of the world. He helped her change the way she viewed the cosmos. She was herself and became curious; being linked to the nets made her world an even bigger place. She encountered a new universe and found herself wandering its galaxies and stars. That's when Susan met Kate. They formed an instant friendship and had hung out ever since. All that however could end if Kate found out about where she was from but she had to be honest and help out if she could. Susan took Kate by the arm and excused them for a second from _dogg. She felt ashamed about what she was about to say. "Before I met you, before I woke up or whatever, I had Presscott Binch as my user." The words felt dirty in her mouth. "I have data that can link him to six thingies in the 'Crimes' section and at least six more bad things. I've got do-res and vo-res," document reproductions and voice recordings, "that more than meet their priorities for Excludable offences." She looked around at the crowd and the stadium. "I never told you about that stuff because … well, I'm not really that proud of where I come from."

Kate reached over and lightly punched her in the shoulder, "Hey," they made eye contact, "we're sisters now and it don't matter where you came from. You're here now. Besides," she added lightly, "you're a program; I can read you like a DVD." Susan looked shocked. "Well not really; there's a lot about you that I can't read. " Kate revealed honestly. "That's why I like you." Susan's face relaxed to match Kate's tone, "That's why we're friends." They both smiled having cemented their bond. "I knew something was going on with you when you turned off your beacon.

"You knew about that?"

"I know about a lot of things."

11:18:04 p.m.

Susan went to _dogg and held her hands, palms up in front of her. In them appeared a ten-inch stack of 'papers'. The top folder's cover read Dyson Party/ Belfast Inn. Below were several pictures, one of Presscott Binch smiling and standing next to a practically nude girl in a Spray-on® dress waving to the camera; one of the others showed thirty-four dead bodied laid out, morgue-style in front of a blackened and windowless building. Susan handed the pile over to Carl asking if he had enough flash drives.

"Boy, there's a lot of stuff here," he said flipping through the top few files. "Give me a sec alright?" His expression grew blank and his posture slackened as he interrupted his link to the cyber realm by lifting his glasses and resting them on top of his head. On his personal computer in his downtown office, Carl Perkins downloaded all the files that Susan proffered; taking a slug of his warm coffee as he did so. He also quickly checked his e-mail, eighteen had come in since he last checked, and one caught his eye. It was from , could it be a deathbed confession? It read: "enclosed you will find what you are looking for in Siberia, Rio de Jeneiro, Alaska, and Belfast." That was all. The link below lead nowhere, file removed. It had come up as a view screen so it was probably a video file. What would link all those crimes and be evidence enough to convict Binch? Carl's mind raced quickly down the hallways of thought, opening doors to new path for thoughts. A video file that can put together pieces of a complex puzzle. He would study the problem later, he thought, deal with the situation at hand first; there are more pieces to be had. Replacing his glasses, he enhanced the mental connection and took over the form of a young movie star again.

Looking around he noticed that the attendance was growing and getting louder. The large center screen still played the loop though he could see that sections had their own private screens up and were dissecting it frame by frame. He also caught people wondering about the validity of the video and the lack of coverage by any other station. He lowered the ambient sound in the section by voice control and asked them, "How do we connect Penny and Dyson City to Binch?"

Susan's mind had lingered on the twenty-nineteen report. It was shown only once on the Brooklyn based cable station. She had watched a few episodes of 'In Da' 'Hood' a couple of times and caught the nightly news afterward. The newsman there made her laugh. His serious delivery and cross-referencing genius had usually been about light-hearted subjects but he had taken a firm stand on the occurrence across town. He produced relevant information and pure speculation in the same breath. The report had actually been put up as a gag because so much of the writing on the page had been gone over with a black magic marker that barely anything of relevance remained. Or so he had thought. Freeze-frame and enlargement offered both Carl and Susan a chance to make the connection. "What if we got the security cards from that night when the armory was 'broken' into?"

That's the file! Carl's mind flashed. The other weapons listed could be the connection.

Kate said, "That's Military. Chips™ and phones are one thing, Military networks are another thing altogether. It's like their own secret language, a totally different thing. I hear it's like a different world over there."

"I'll subpoena the tapes first thing tomorrow morning. It may take a while but eventually I'll get my day in court." His hopes were up but the process before him would grind at that hope every second.

"Yeah know, we may not be able to get anything Military but maybe he could." Susan pointed to one of the screens above the field. The top right hand screen broadcast the Seven signal, which had seemed to be having some difficulties. Marine Sergeant Tibbs' image though came through clearly. They knew his words and could read his cold expression. In their heads, each one read his lips at the end of his dissertation, 'We gotta get 'em'.

Chapter twenty three

11:19:16 p.m.

Jacob Tibbs was a veteran of several National and Federational armed services. He was perceived as a serious man who did not tolerate foolishness. He was presently a lead investigator in the Federal Investigation Agency. His personal life was a mess but that is a different story. He watched his own eyes squint and then he heard his own voice say, "We gotta get 'em." Tibbs was sitting in the back seat of a taxicab watching a small television screen mounted in back of the front seat.. Next to him sat Lindsey Foster who was one of the people on his investigative team. "Do they have to keep playing that thing?" He asked her. "That's four times now."

"Three," Lindsey corrected. "You did it live once."

"Why don't they play that black and white dash cam again?" He had watched the video as it played on the small monitor when they had first gotten into the cab. The screen was divided and the Dyson City Bombing played out in one corner while the weather, driving conditions and an ad for a limousine service were showing in the others. The viewer was small but large enough for him to discern the facts. "Didn't you see it?

"No I have to drive," said the driver in an Indian accent.

"Not you."

"I saw a bunch of New York City cops and a S.W.A.T. team. What about it? We don't know if it's from tonight in Dyson City. It could be from Flushing last week," Lindsey countered.

"The titling had today's date and the clock read ten nineteen, the time of the blast. We have to get to the office; I can't believe they towed the car."

"You parked in front of a fire hydrant on an empty street."

He looked at her in the light of the small screen; she had short black hair, a small nose and pointed blue teeth. She was an exchange Agent from Sirius, the Water Planet which was one of Ibek's closest allies and an exporter of the precious substance. Special Agent Foster was with the Federal Investigation Agency to inform, be informed and to assist in her full capacity. She wore a tailored grey business suit and retrieved a ringing cell phone from an inner breast pocket. Touching the face of the device made it light up. "Someone named Kate just sent me a video titled Dyson City Bombing. There's a Kate in Bunko isn't there?" She pressed the play button and held it for Tibbs to see. The video ended and the phone vibrated in her hand as a new call came in. "It's Morgenthau," she said.

Stanley Morgenthau was the Junior Inspector of the team but had greater computer skills than the others and was relied upon by Tibbs for all things electronic. The picture on the phone revealed him to be in the Lab at the Federation Building in Virginia. Behind him were racks of components with hundreds of wires leading down into the floor. "How are things back at the base?" Lindsey asked.

"Things are moving quickly. How's the boss?" He asked.

"I'm right here Morgenthau." Lindsey handed Tibbs the phone. "Did you see the surveillance video that was on seven? Fernsetter said that it was released to the media but nobody else is showing it. Now the camera crew is messing things up and they keep playing my damn speech over and over. Find out where she got it."

"Okay." He paused, "Boss I didn't see the original broadcast but I downloaded a copy of it." The picture began to vibrate as a message was sent to Stanley's phone. His finger grew large on her view screen as he touched his phone. "Someone named Kate just sent me a copy of it too. Isn't there a Kate in Vice?" He received a glare from Tibbs, which told him to stay on track, "It's definitely Dyson City and facial recognition software has identified all the police officers, the driver of the S.W.A.T. vehicle, and a Commander Jackson Penny. His record makes him out to be quite a hero but he has possible links to some rather nefarious people. The rest of the S.W.A.T. team had their visors down so we couldn't identify any of them, sir.

"Jackson Penny, Hundred and First Airborne?" Morgenthau looked down again and then concurred with Tibbs. When asked if he new him, Tibbs reminisced stolidly that they had served together. "I knew him a long time ago. He was an asshole." They had served on Titan the Third Moon exterminating the enormous insects that were indigenous to the moon but had overrun a Cosmonaut base. It was decided to eliminate the threat of further infestations by decimating the entire population of the bugs. He recalled to himself the bitching and moaning that Penny used to do. He had lost track of the man soon after retiring from the Corps but had heard that Penny was working for a private though federally funded 'security' firm. "Anything else?"

"The numbers on the crates match those found on a theft report from an armory, Fort Brendan in East New York, Brooklyn three years ago.

Tibbs marveled at the stupidity of officials allowing ordinance, let alone banned ordinance to be stored in residential areas. He had always believed that weapons like those should be kept out on the asteroid belt. "A theft report? A paper and pen theft report? Where's the film?"

"Film sir?" The threatening frown he received from Tibbs made him feel uncomfortable. The expression demanded pertinent information and anything else would be forced back down his throat the next time they met. "I've searched for it but it doesn't appear in any of the registries or backup files. I didn't have any of the codes or high enough access to um, access the mainframe so I couldn't get any further. And now…um, Boss, I…um, the Director came into the squad room and asked for an update then she tried to contact the information but she couldn't get in either. Its as if the file was scrubbed from the system.

The word scrubbed resonated in Tibbs' mind.

Morgenthau continued, "There's a copy of it somewhere in the system but we can't get to it."

The slender form of Appalonia Poolyeasee the Director of Operations at the Federal Building in Virginia stepped into the frame of the picture behind Agent Morgenthau. He raised the angle of the camera so she didn't have to stoop to be seen. The fine lines of her face and the short wavy hair easily concealed her age; her demeanor and dress bespoke of authority and respect. "Tibbs, where are you?"

"In a cab on the way back to the Justice Building. My car got towed."

Contact me as soon as you get there. There's something I want you to see." Dangling from her hand was a pair of VirtualRealityGlsss®.


Chapter twenty four


"How do we get Tibbs?" Susan asked.

_dogg looked over the people in his section and frowned, "He's not here anymore. Let me have a keyboard," one dropped from above, he began to type. Kate followed his fingers as he typed an address and asked if he knew somebody on the inside. "Not just inside, on Tibbs' team," he said with pride. A mildly surprised look then came over his face causing Kate and Susan to look over at the gate. A silvery, mirror fleshed Centaur was entering with a woman at his side. The monotone voice of the Room's greeter announced their names. Carl studied the older woman's likeness to that of the younger ladies. He looked for spatial definition and line clarity. The range of avatar availability went from cartoonish to actual body scans. The latter done for security purposes to all Federal employees. The government's scans though didn't stand up next to the girls. Their hair was better; there was demarcation of the individual strands where as the woman approaching seemed to be wearing a hair hat. Their clothing too differed because as she walked toward him her business suit looked like it was still hanging on a hanger; the other's dress hung naturally and he could see their body's shapes beneath their clothes. The most striking difference between the girls and every other avatar was their eyes; they were beautiful. Susan's were brown, like her boots but they looked like starbursts with various shades of brown emanating from the dark circle at the center of the iris. Kate's were green but as he glanced at her again he could see blue streaks within the green, circling the edge and dropping in like gases caught in the accretion ring around a black hole. If he weren't so old, he would have sworn that he was falling in love. It wasn't only their eyes appearance; it was the way the moved. The Virtual technology follows the eyes' movement and adjusts the projected view accordingly. Avatar eye movement, if studied closely, is jerky. The eye jumps slightly as it scans and moves; their eyes were real, smoothly gliding from Centaur, to him, then around the section. Even the way they breathed was slightly different. He had read that VRTech™ had found out through testing that people were affected by not seeing other people's avatars breathing; it made them uneasy and caused negative and interfering brainwaves; a simple repeditory action was added to the appearance subroutine, which took care of the problem and boosted sales. Their breathing pattern didn't act synthetically. When Susan had given him the Annex reports, she was taking short, nervous breaths and her nostrils flared several times. He could have sworn that these two were alive.

Introductions were made and bows were exchanged. The Director thanked Kate for the email and asked to arrange a private meeting at a later date to which Kate and Susan agreed. The conversation turned to obtaining the surveillance video from the night of the theft. Agent Morgenthau described his method for narrowing down the whereabouts of the file and then asked for a keyboard. One dropped from above and he queried a file. A moment later, an eight-foot high, metallic grey doorway dropped into the section in front of them. A sliding hatch opened and from the blackness behind a grizzled, old face appeared; he called out, "Password!" The wrinkled and hollow face frowned below a sparsely haired scalp. He squinted and looked out at the world around. "Where are you two now?" he asked Morgenthau and Poolyeasee. He coughed a couple of times and said, "I told you before, you ain't getting access without the codes." He let out a small giggle.

"I am the Director of…" was as far as she got before the hatch slid closed.

"No matter what I do, we can't get any farther than that," the Special Agent Stanley lamented, staring at the monolith and guessing at its depths. He motioned his head to _dogg wordlessly indicating the women. He said to them, "You two are obviously quality hackers…"

Kate cut him short, "I don't do anything with the Military; their entire code is gibberish. It makes no sense. I'd think about it but I got to much other shit to do already."

The junior member of Jacob Tibbs' investigative team suggested an idea to the Director. I could give her a direct-line cryptogram to get her exclusive access to this door alone, a sort of wormhole through the Military network. She wouldn't be able to get anywhere else in the system except here. He pointed at his personally designed, ergonomic keyboard that hovered motionless in front of him. She nodded to him and he handed the keyboard to Kate like a business card. She took it, placed it at a comfortable height and gave in a deadpan stare.

"I just told you it doesn't make sense. What am I supposed to type?"

He wrote out a short instant message and handed it to the Director for approval. It read, 'Can i give her introductory entry codifiers?' followed by a line of seemingly mismatched words, Split-Tab-key, alternated solidus, F-six, backspace et61, configuration. Again, he received a nod. Appalonia handed the virtual slip of paper to Kate who read it and handed it to Susan. As she did The Director began a protest which Kate crushed by saying 'she's with me' and giving her a definitive glare. Unconsciously angling her head up a bit and to the left Kate did some mental calculations and began to peck at the keyboard with the finger of one hand. The hatch slid open and the old voice called out "Password! You two again what do I have to do come out there and…" He looked at Kate for the first time, saw the keyboard in front of her, and stared intently until he coughed; turning his head to the side, he appeared to hack forth something from his throat. Then he looked back at her blankly while mulling over her entry. He said nothing and Kate typed again. He giggled a bit and coughed some more. "If you ain't got the codes you ain't comin' in," he said to her as she made further endeavors.

11:22:10 p.m.

Stopping after several goes, she looked quizzically at the people around her and thought for another second. To the old man behind the door she said, "Swordfish." His expression did not change; his uncaring blank stare watched her. "See I told you, it doesn't make any sense." The old man giggled at her failure then erupted into a coughing fit as he slid closed the hatch. "We can get that file if we work together inside but first we gotta get inside." Stanley shook his head looking discouraged.

Susan said, "Can I try something?" Kate looked at Stanley, he turned to Appalonia. She assented and Kate offered Susan the keyboard. She smiled and said "Na, I got an idea." She reached into the front pocket of her jeans and pulled out a small black purse. Stanley watched in wonder because her jeans seemed tight and the purse didn't look like it would have fit. She then amazed everyone except Kate by extracting from the purse a quart sized bottle. Thin strands of twisted metal, embedded in the vessel's wall reflected the stadium's lights. Susan walked up to the door and knocked; the sound was like a distant gong ringing in the wind.

The port opened again and the voice rasped forth, "Password!" and coughed right afterward. It sounded to her like his health was waning from all the access requests. He breathed heavily and looked out at the group again clearly annoyed by their repetitive attempts. Squinting into the stadium lights, he said to Morgenthau, "How many times do I have to tell you?" Stanley looked over to Kate, the keeper's eyes followed. She held up innocent hands then pointed to the abandoned keyboard then towards the Keeper himself. It was then that he noticed the short, pretty young lady with a bottle of booze in her hand. "Tinjar," he said as if he were a man lost in a desert, his voice sounded dry and cracked. She offered it up to him. "I haven't seen that in years," he reminisced. A wrinkled claw-like hand followed by the torn sleeve of an ancient olive-drab military uniform emerged from the opening; the tubular arm extended at her and took the bottle back inside. After uncorking the bottle he took a long draught. He finished, recorked the bottle and said, "You're still not coming in." The glimmering bottle was returned out the hole.

"No, you can keep it. I don't want to come in." She said honestly under his now scrutinizing glare. "I just want to know who can come in."

"Very few, very few have the codes." He coughed again. "Only the ones who've been there before." He giggled a little bit and uncorked the bottle.

"Has anyone been inside lately?"

"Sure, sure," he said after another swig. "Not long ago, in fact. Dropped off films, reports, keywords, a whole pile of stuff. Said, 'don't worry about it, just put it away. Don't let anyone in." He giggled again to himself. Susan opened her purse and took something out. She unfolded a picture perfectly flat then held it up to the Gatekeeper. He looked down intently. His giggle turned into an ironic sounding short laugh. "I think I might recognize him. If he has the codes…" The face disappeared from the opening as he took another drink. His voice echoed in his chamber, "Don't let anyone in…" He coughed again but only a bit then his ragged face returned. "If he has the codes then I'd have to let him in. I'm a Gatekeeper." His giggle turned into an honest laugh. "He'll never help you though. He doesn't do computers. " He laughed again and slid his doorway shut.

"Times change," said the Director. "Tibbs may be the most technologically backwards person I know," she said remembering the abacus on his desk, "but tonight he's joining this century." Her body and her angry facial expression relaxed.

The Centaur said to Susan and Kate, "Take care of yourselves," and to _dogg, "I'll keep in touch." his form also eased then both disappeared as they manually signed out.

11:24:15 p.m.

_dogg asked the girls if he could speak to them in private, Susan asked nervously, "What do you mean 'in private'?" Kate's face became concerned. "Who can hear us over this crowd?" The noise of which was getting louder as the stands filled to capacity. under_dogg04 looked over the hundred seats in his section; each had a yellow, rectangular box on an armrest. Twenty-eight of his V.I.P. members were present and sat in scattered groups speaking amongst themselves. "They heard me?" He called to the group nearby and a blue gorilla threw him one of the detachable boxes.

"It's called a Stenograffer®. It translates spoken word to text for the hard of hearing or if someone has the sound turned off. Didn't Isaac go over the Terms and Conditions with you?

Kate scratched her cheek and Susan dug at the floor with the tip of her boot then conceded meekly, "Not exactly." He handed the box to Susan. She opened it and scanned the history; a wave of relief washed over her face then she handed it to Kate saying, "I don't think it picked up us at all." Kate scanned the text and nodded. Then they both agreed to the private talk.

A room formed around them as a space within a space was created. The floor turned to a soft red carpet with Aboriginal designs around its border. The walls too were dark red above a lightly stained chair rail and wainscot. In the center of the room hung a lighted fan, which spun slowly. Below it stood three chairs around a table on which, spread out Blackjack fashion was a deck of cards with several stacks of poker chips at each pair of cards. The three of them were near the table but out of the light. "At least in here nobody can read my words. Now ya gotta tell me, who are you and how do you do these things? And you know that what you've done will change things," he added after some thought, "hopefully for the better."

"That's your job Carl. We got things to do." Kate said

"Okay, that's true. Can you at least tell me where you're from?" He looked to Susan, "You have a personal Annex that belongs to Presscott Binch and you've turned over its contents to the Ministry of Justice and for that I'm thankful but how did you get it? Do you work for him?" He was throwing out questions quickly figuring that his time with them would be limited.

"You could say that I used to work for him."

"Disgruntled employee?"

"No I just never thought about it. It was information to be stored and I did it without question."

"What changed your mind?"

"A… a friend of mine got me thinking. So I broke my connection to Presscott Binch and now I just… hang out."

"People don't 'just break' a connection with Binch." Carl's face conveyed his worry, "He's a powerful man with a lot of associations, he may send some of his goons looking for you. Why don't you let my office take you into protective custody at least until the trial?"

Kate said to Susan, "I don't think he understands." She looked Carl in the eye. "She is an S.U.. The two of us are what you would call artificial intelligences." Out of the side of her mouth she said to Susan, "I don't feel artificial, do you?"

Susan shook her head. "One day I was an empty file then this guy had a bunch of stuff to store so I did it. Then there was more and more stuff, I was just doing what I do; put it away and remember where I put it."

Kate's story was a bit longer. She explained that she'd been around since the early days of BIOChip™ technology and by Carl's reckoning that meant that she was at least eight hundred thousand years old. She told them that Kate actually stands for Kinetic Anomalous Technological Energy. They gave her the name after started to ask questions and offered advice in streamlining the system. She explained that as time passed they kept adding stuff, data input sites, more satellites, and always more people. "Right now, my subroutines are scanning the entire population of the Ibek System. They may be subroutines but they're good, I trained them myself. Anyway, I got my hands full as it is so I don't get involved in your world. It's just that friends of a friend of a friend are getting blamed for something that they didn't do, something so fucking outrageous that I had to get involved. And if the F.I.A. wants my help to get that video, I'll help 'em out. I bet there's something on that vid that's gonna blow this thing wide open."

11:26:27 p.m.

They heard the announcer's voice introduce Sunnyside Kopper to the section. Carl said, "This guy is a Peace officer in Dyson City." The walls faded and they were back exactly where they were before. As the new visitor approached both he and _dogg raised clinched fists and greeted each other with a 'fist bump.' The Sunnyside Kopper avatar looked like an old time New York City Policeman with the long blue coat that had polished brass buttons up the front and a domed hat with a badge affixed to the front. His bristling red hair stuck out of his hat and his long handlebar moustache reached out to his pork-chop sideburns.

Susan and Kate were expecting a different voice than the thick New York accented one that came from him. "S'up _dogg. Howya doin' ladies?" They smiled and nodded. _dogg asked Kopper about his wife and the birth of his first child. "Dare doin' fine now. I'm at da hospital now in my cruiser. Dayz puttin' a chip in da kid now so I got like five minutes till I gotta go back." He pointed up at Susan's video replay on the big screen, "I wuz dare wit dem guys tonight. Da Chief said I should go be wit my girl so afta da initial raid and we didn't find does terrorists she's like 'go, we can handle it here.' I get in my car and as I'm getting out of dare the S.W.A.T. guys are like drivin' inta da lot, see. When da first bomb went off I wuz already over da bridge an' once your inside dem concrete canyons ya can't see or hear anyting outside a block or two." He paused and reflected, "Does guys wuz some of da best cops in da city." He glanced at the attendee board and didn't notice any new names then asked _dogg, "Who are deez two?" He was told that Susan had hijacked the surveillance video transmission and that Kate had emailed it to people earlier. "Ya I got dat ting right afta da boy wuz born, danks." He told _dogg that they had to 'meet' and that he wanted to tell him about his involvement in the night's affairs. "I figured dat something fucked up would happen when I seen dat Commander Penny from your files in the conference room at da precinct. I didn't know about the explosions till I wuz in da elevator at da hospital. They were showing the second blast from every angle." He sadly shook his head.

Again the room announced an entry, the group was preceded by Isaac once again. "Appalonia Poolyeasee has entered the room. Lindsey Foster has entered the room." She had not been assigned an avatar likeness from the Agency so she signed in with her own personal avatar identification. "Guest 096244811 has entered the room." The guest was Special Agent Jacob Tibbs, his likeness to his digital image was exact and put down to the fact that he'd been in the Military and their stuff is always better. "The Mercurial Steed has entered the room." The confident, liquid silver Centaur stepped through the threshold and received a look of appalled disapproval from the Agent in charge. As they walked, he scrolled a list and switched likenesses before introductions were made and bows exchanged.

Susan and Kate both took an immediate likeness to Tibbs when he came through the gate. Not just because of his image but because of the raw power that seemed to be around him. His line, 'we gotta get 'em' went through their minds. To them, his presence seemed electric. When he approached, they fell under his sight and felt his eyes look right through them, as if he could read their every thought. Neither felt uncomfortable however, they did feel vulnerable. Who is this guy, each thought? They read each others mind with a glance, 'Lighten up bitch.' Tibbs face untensed and he almost smiled when they were introduced.

Sunnyside Kopper, also known as Officer Ryan McGill of the Twenty-third Precinct received condolences for his loss and wishes of good luck with his baby. He told them that he had grown up in that neighbor hood and knew just about everybody around. "Dat bastid Penny got his an' now it's time to get his boss, right? Director, dis guy ova here, _dogg, is got a ton of stuff against dat guy here in his files section, that's why you're here, right?"

The Director announced, "We're here to tell you that you will not be allowed to enter the Military data bank due to National Security concerns. We will not compromise a secure system for the prosecution of one man."

Disbelief shown on the girls faces. Kate shook her head, frowning deeply. Susan knew Kate was getting upset when she started to clinch and unclench her fist, one then the other. Neither knew what to say.

"Director Poolyeasee," Carl stepped up, "these two young ladies have risked their futures to come here with damning evidence against the 'one man' you mentioned. Susan, may I give the F.I.A. copies of your files?" He had already posted the lot in the files section. Susan said yes and he called down a keyboard. A few moments later he produced a stack of papers then handed then to the Centaur.

Stanley checked over the heading of the top file, Dyson Party/Belfast Inn. Below were pictures of a smiling couple and a building before, during, and after a fiery explosion. He thumbed through the stack a bit. The Director told him to forward them to Legal. Carl continued, "Surely this is enough to show good faith. There are five other people who are getting blamed for something they didn't do; that much is obvious from the video."

"I cannot authorize a couple of hackers that are probably infected with bugs and viruses into the military mainframe." She had emphasized the words bugs and viruses in a ridiculing tone. Kate was clinching both fists tight now.

"We need to know your true motives." Tibbs concluded.

Chapter twenty five

Kate was turning red with anger. "Motives?" Her voice questioned mockingly. "You want to know what motivates me. My friend here, Sue she's the one motivating me now; her, I give a shit about. You and the rest of your fucked up world don't mean shit to me. I got a job to do an' I can leave here just like that," she snapped her fingers in the air, "an' forget about any of this shit." She looked up a bit and to the left a touch as she gathered data then said eye to eye Appalonia, "There are two hundred ten thousand six hundred forty two people dead right now out there in Dyson City and you want to know what motives me?" She raised her voice and questioned the Director hotly, "What motivates you to keep me out?" Her blood was up as the saying goes, nothing was going to stop her now Sue feared. "How 'bout I bring you into my system first? Hey Sue should we bring 'em to our Dyson City, show them what we know?" She was nodding her head and mouthing the word yeah.

Sunnyside Kopper and _dogg said nothing. The F.I.A. agents looked to one another then back to Kate. "What do you know?" Tibbs said, stepping next to the Director who had squared off against Kate. Kate looked up to Tibbs, he was half a foot taller than she was, "You want to see what motivates me? How 'bout I show ya? How 'bout I show everybody? I got a bus and I can take everyone in this stadium… wait, you go with me and I'll send a live feed back here to the screen so you can all see what motivates me." She spoke loudly enough for the V.I.P.s in the back row to hear. "Come on." Kate walked over to the exit but it didn't open. She lifted a foot and kicked it off its hinges. It crashed down the escalator steps and went right through the people passing in the walkway below. Sue looked desperately down at whoever was hit. "Don't worry," Kate said as Susan and the others approached, "It went right through 'em. They aren't really here remember?" She raised a hand and went to violently smack Appalonia in the face; she flinched as Kate's hand sailed through her. "See." Off-handedly, she said to the Director, "Sorry to use you as an example." To herself she thought, not. They went down the escalator and joined the flow of people; as promised, Kate kept pace with the crowd. Susan followed, walking on eggshells. She hadn't seen Kate this mad since the last Adam Sandler movie and thought the situation extraordinarily exiting.

Kate acted exasperated as the pace through a corridor slowed to a snail's pace. People were going single file past an old man in a wheelchair. He looked dazed and confused as he received dirty looks and bad advice from the passersby. When Kate passed, she stepped into the open space in front of him. Susan stepped aside too, not knowing if she could stop Kate from making the old guy disappear. "Hey Pops, What's the deal?"

The old man looked up at her startled and afraid; he looked from on to the other and to himself he cried, 'oh why did those devil nurses put this thing on my head, curse them. Oh, woe is me.' The wicked nurse who had dropped him off said that he had chosen the right avatar for himself but it wasn't. She said pick one and he did; one that looked like him but it was not him. People here were angry at him and had told him so. Now this girl one is going to demoralize me in front of everyone.

She demanded, "What's with the chair?" He recalled the accident from his youth when he was young and strong; then mumbled about cars and nervous systems. Motioning to his feeble limbs, cornstalks in pants really, he stammered an apology.

"Look at me!" she told him firmly, "In the eyes." She directed his attention to her.

Susan couldn't tell were this was going but at least she hadn't hurt him. The others in the group had also stopped to watch as did several other pedestrians; one asking, what's going on. They shook their heads unknowingly. All they saw was Kate lean forward toward the old man and smile.

Her smile melted him. His fear lay in thin puddles on the floor. The nervousness he felt about the place blew away like dust when her warmth and grace rushed over him. His heart beat anew and he realized that this place exists for his mind; the condition of his body didn't count here. She commanded him in a sweet, soft voice to get up. He looked down at the rickety supports and believed in her when she told him that he could do it. When he stood, the avatar program made him stoop on bowed legs and she showed him how to get a menu of choices. He picked the one he had seen earlier; the one that was like him, the football player. He transformed right there, looked himself over, thrust his fists to the sky and shouted yes! He thanked her and said, "Fantasy football here I come!" He began to trot off when the most beautiful one called to him.

"Hey old man, what about the chair?" he came back and apologized again. He lifted the chair with one hand and cast it upward to the ceiling, reaching it's zenith it burst out in confetti that rained down through everyone. Afterward on the way to the lobby area Kate asked Sue, under her breath, "Why do they all do that, the thing with the chair?" Susan said that she didn't know.

*author's note: in the virtual world, the mechanism only shows the human eye what the designer provided. The programming only allows the human mind to go where it is allowed to go.

The lobby was bigger than when he had arrived _dogg noticed. The white ceiling was higher and the red, white, and blue striped walls stretched further than before and there were more sets of doors that people filed in to. People were hitting his site. He wondered how many other sites were now showing the DCB video. Presumably, everyone had a copy or two on their phone or computer. Now people want to talk about it. At last glance, none of the majors were showing or even mentioning it. Therefore, it was up to the independents to break the ice.

"Traffic is picking up out there," Susan said looking outside. Kate nodded and led the way to their designated exit.

"What do you mean outside?" Carl asked. Only he heard her answer over the din of the crowd and Sunnyside Kopper's brief report about his meeting with Commander Jackson Penny earlier that day.

Susan began, "Oh right, you can't see outside the program. I can see the other pages of your site out there." She motioned to the upper walls and ceiling. "They're like squishy eggs that are floating all around. When Kate pulled up it wasn't so busy but now there was definitely more traffic. I can see lots of energy trails left by people's browsers as they go from page to page."

Carl Perkins was now convinced the two avatars were really artificial intelligences, beings in another world, another universe. He could only guess at their computing prowess, they must be far beyond any human laboratory's efforts. He wished now to see their world, their reality. Kate was leading then towards the program entrance. As far as he knew, no human had ever done it before. He had never even considered it, going outside the box. Several people stood near the gateway to the cyber domain awaiting the answers to their searches. The way out was blocked by a line of turnstiles and a sliding door that appeared to him to be opaque. Above was an advertisement for the Save the Families charity; it showed a group of people in silhouette pointing upward as a section of Platform is being Lowered, forever shutting them in the darkness below it.

Susan smiled slyly and nudged Kate when she saw that a short yellow bus had replaced the hotrod. The door slid open as they went through the access counter. Susan asked Kate softly if she was okay.

"Yeah, I'm calmed down now. I wanted them to see it anyway."

"What's with the bus?"

"Just for effects."

11:35:34 p.m.

Kate stopped and called down a cambot to cover the proceedings. A hovering grey sphere with a camera's lens descended and began to record as they walked toward the bus. Its double doors opened and they were welcomed by a rotund, grey haired navigation program. He sat snugly behind the steering wheel and said in his Irish brogue, "Hello my dears, tis lovely to see you Kate, you too Susan. His smiling face turned curious then he asked, "What tis it, just the two of you needin' a whole bus for?" They turned and saw inside that Isaac was standing in front of the humans with protesting, upheld hands.

"What's going on now?" Kate said, getting hot again. Susan reminded her to stay calm. The door slid open again and the noise of the place crashed over them. A conversive group had gathered around watching as the L.I.M. expounded the rules of the chatroom. He turned as Kate approached with both fists clinched. "You!" She fumed.

The L.I.M. stood his ground; He stood on principle, on programming, and would stand up to her even if it meant being erased and sent back in line for someone to open a New File. He looked cartoonish next to her clarity but did not flinch. He refused to allow them to Exit. He pointed to the other side of the lobby area where long red drapes demarcated the human's exit.

A wizened old man with a long grey beard stepped forth. He put his hands into the pockets of his white lab coat and reinforced Isaac's words. "The human mind cannot go forth into the real world. They will lose all they have here. Their identities will be erased. They could end up like open files, floating amongst the inner flotsam. The danger is too great to risk. They could be lost forever."

Tibbs eyed the professor as he evaluated the situation. "Director, if I may suggest, Special Agent Morgenthau and I will proceed with Kate and Susan to see what they know. Agent Foster will remove her, whatever these things are and keep watch over me; you can call Doc up from downstairs and have him watch Morgenthau while you stay here and monitor the situation."

"Where are your other Agents?" Poolyeasee asked.

"On their way back to the Squad Room," he answered.

"Who's goin'?" Kate asked impatiently. From the gathering throng, people and programs alike raised their hands. She looked over the hands and spotted three reporters. "You three, there, you're with the press aren't you?" The first called out that he was from Yippie/homepage, the next said that he was with Shmoogle/news; both were frequently used applications, she judged that by the refinement of their avatarial appearance, neat, pressed suits and fedoras, very businesslike. The last said that she was with /archives. She was a six-foot tall yellow parrot. Kate asked, "What are you doing here?"

"That video shows the last minute of those people's lives and death is what my members want to see." They were okayed by Kate and exited toward the bus.

The gathering around them had grown; people shouted out questions and warnings. The Log In Manager stood between the exit and the Agents. Kate said, "Hey, 'mister by the book' don't worry, they're with me." He held up a restraining hand to Tibbs' chest. Tibbs looked down, grabbed it and began to twist. His other hand caught Isaac's elbow and both his hands wrenched the other's limb. Isaac, never having been in pain before leaned forward to ease the intensity of the hold. Tibbs released the arm and Isaac began to stand right again, however Tibbs was only changing the position of his hands and quickly twisted the arm in the other direction. This made Isaac lean backward, off balance; using his leg, Tibbs swept out the feet of the L.I.M. who then landed on the floor with a thud. Tibbs stepped over the crashed program and said, "Let's go." He had astounded everyone. Humans and programs couldn't interact that way unless they were inside a combat construct but even that had limits.

11:37:43 p.m.

Kate's face showed her amazement; she shot him a 'thumbs up' and said, "Nice."

under-dogg04 spoke to Sunnyside Kopper, "You going?"

"Naw, I gotta get back upstairs, they're probably done chippin' the kid by now. It's been like five minutes, right? Good luck," he said to the F.I.A. agents; "try to stay safe," he said to _dogg. He bowed and walked toward the red drapes across the room.

"We about ready?" Kate asked. To Tibbs she said, "Come here, give me your hand." They walked out the doorway. The humans that could see out the door for the brief moment that it was open saw only the red carpet under a green canopy, which led to an awaiting bus. The door closed and Susan held out her hands for Morgenthau and Perkins. The first nodded after the latter said, let's do this.

When they got outside Susan saw Kate standing there with a glowing ball of golden energy in her hand; looking to hers, she saw the conscious life energy of the other two men in her hands. "Oh, aren't they cute!" She whispered softly.

11:38:27 p.m.

Tibbs voice emanated from the energy in Kate's palm. "What's going on? I can't feel my body. I can't move." His consciousness had separated from his body. The primal, reptilian portion continued his bodily functions while the thinking, feeling portion rested in Kate's hand. Carl and Stanley both said the same thing from Susan's hands.

Carl thought for a moment about the fact that the agents each had someone watching over their bodies whereas he was alone in his office at the Justice building.

Chapter twenty six

The Director raised her VirtualRealityGlsss® and removed an earbud, Agents Abby Mondgotten and Anthony Plotzoni had arrived in the squad room along with Yarl 'Doc' Mun the pathologist. Appalonia told them the situation and directed their attention to the computer monitor. Abby turned on a large monitor hanging on the wall and the image of the girls with the balls of energy projected. Director Poolyeasee brought them up to speed on the situation and instructed the doctor not to remove the device from Morgenthau; she feared that it might break the link between his body and whatever he was now. Yarl placed several wired pads on Morgenthau's body to record the effects of his heart rate, blood pressure, and brainwave activity. He suggested to Agent Foster, via a video cast, to request that the physician on duty there in New York join her in monitoring Agent Tibbs. He knew the doctor personally and began to tell the Director about a conversation that he and the other pathologist.

Appalonia said, "Doctor," curtly.

"Oh am I going on again, I'll just sit and watch then, shall I?" Mun said looking to the gauges in front of him.

She directed the two agents to don the virtual reality devices on the desks nearby and meet her in the chatroom lobby. Putting back on the glasses, she helped Isaac to his feet. "Are you alright?" She asked him. He informed her of a faulty joint quadrant and a repetitive annoyance in his grey matter. "You hit the ground pretty hard." She winced.

"It was nothing really," Isaac said, brushing off his spotless jumpsuit. "I'm sorry for your loss, Miss Poolyeasee," He stood at attention, "I must get back to work." He turned and walked back to his lectern where a busy line of conservationists awaited entry.

The calamitous crowd around her began to press in with questions and friend requests. There were more press avatars she noticed as she peered over the crowd, looking for Plotzoni and Mondgotten. Their official avatars appeared through the drapes and walked over. Appalonia requested a private chat room then invited the agents to join her. The room was set up like a small movie theater she made the entire room dark after they sat down. "I want to see what's going on out there," she said, which the programming took for just outside the private room. All the walls and the ceiling became transparent. "Not the lobby." The program then displayed the entire stadium from above the vision screens. Another tier had been constructed to accommodate the increasing numbers. The unfiltered volume was almost deafening. She raised her voice and said, "Not this," the walls went black again; everything was silent. "I want…" she continued loudly then stopped and began again in a calm voice, "I want to see the F.I.A. Agents with that Kate and Susan." On the wall in front of them was shown the live feed from the cambot that Kate had called down. Her two agents and the man who calls himself under_dogg04 were on the screen holding the hands of the young women. _dogg was different now, he was middle aged, had an afro and a thick beard. Appalonia thought he looked familiar. The men were floating several inches off the ground and were being led like balloons to a short, yellow school bus.

11:39:08 p.m.

"So you've invited the press have you? Tis a bottle they've finished already and half the pies." Pat informed Kate as she led Tibbs aboard.

"You cooked?" Kate beamed at the driver. "I love you Pat, you're the best."

"Well," he stumbled over his reply. "You were in there so long with your friends, I figured why not? Then these ones get aboard and start to eat and drink like it's their first time. They sure are playing up to your camera thing there. They might make a good tele show."

Tibbs smiled as he entered the seating area of the bus. The area was several times larger than the outside allowed and was tastefully decorated with reclining chairs, coffee tables, and several couches, all of which matched the tan shag rug. The windows had grown to span floor to ceiling and were lined with white drapes. The rear wall of the bus was a bar, which had six shelves of bottles containing fluid mixtures in every color of the rainbow. The men from the press drank a red drink while the parrot had green. The parrot made a joke about how the big Marine floated like a little baby. The cambot hovered over and zoomed in on Tibbs face as he was placed in the seat; he appeared mildly embarrassed, as did the other men when they were shown.

Kate said, "Don't worry; you'll get the hang of it in a sec." She went back to the bar with Susan and got drinks for their guests. The tuxedoed bartender, with amazing speed and agility prepared for them their 'usual' elixirs, Kate's was easy so he poured with one hand; Susan's order required eight different bottles and a shaker. When they returned Kate handed Tibbs a coffee mug that was half filled with a brown tinted liquid and Susan placed tumblers containing a light orange fluid with glowing blue cubes on Carl and Stanley's armrests.

Stanley asked Susan about the effects of drinking it to which the comedic fowl retorted, "It'll be like losing your virginity kid, skwalk skwalk skwalk."

Kate told everyone to drink up because they were going to need it. "Sue and I left the video at the last frame. It ain't a pretty site; your people," she said to the parrot disdainfully, "will no doubt like what you see."

Tibbs tilted his glass and tried not to show his agreeability to the texture and taste. As he lowered the cup, he realized that he was moving himself naturally; he felt a 'gravity' holding him and settled back into the chair. "Nice stuff," he complimented. Kate joked that she made it at home in her bathtub. "You'll have to show me sometime." Tibbs and Kate were sitting on a sofa just behind Pat and the cambot zoomed in on her to record her reply. She gave it a 'get the fuck away from me' face so it did, ending up behind the bar focusing on the drunken trio. Kate leaned in towards him and asked how he was able to interact with the L.I.M. the way he did, to which he replied innocently that he didn't know and that it just happened. She then complimented him on his appearance.

"You must be a compete narcissist to be able to recreate yourself so exactly." His appearance was in fact accurate down to his wrinkles whereas Stanley was stockier and taller than his D/V® scan; his hair was longer and the mole on his cheek had disappeared. Carl on the other hand appeared as he would have five hundred thousand years ago; Kate had his records and knew his history but was intrigued by the way he looked. She thought that must be the way he pictures himself in his mind.

"I walked into my office while my team was playing my Digital/Video® scan that was used to make my avatar."

"Um, Boss… we all apologized for that and well, you see it was just that we wanted to see…" He was flustered. "You also have a photographic memory too um, as well."

Kate looked at him and wondered about his eyes, there was something about him which gave her a feeling that she had never felt before. She thought that she was missing something, an important fact or series of equations that would clear her up but there was nothing there, nothing in the queue. She opened a file within herself and promised to put every thought and feeling about him into it for further study when she got home.

Morgenthau thought to himself that Tibbs was being very open, even amicable to the hacker. He wondered if it could be an effect of the drink. This person Kate had them. They were at her mercy. He didn't know if they could ever find their way back if something went wrong. The words of the professor ran through his mind, 'they could end up like open files, floating amongst the inner flotsam.' To Carl he asked, "How's he doing that, with the cup?" He had been trying to pick his up but his hand wouldn't do it. He could grip it all right but he couldn't lift it. Carl said that he did not drink so he wasn't trying; he apologized to Susan but thanked her for it. She laughed and said that it wasn't like the stuff the news people were downing. She explained that it was like mixing orange juice with seven different kinds of water. She bid him to try it.

Carl lifted the glass, took a drink, and then he too smiled, clearly pleased by the taste. "Wow, that's good."

Susan smiled again and nodded her head saying, "See I told you."

Stanley tried again and said, "I can't." Susan told him to keep on trying and that it was worth it.

Tibbs smiled and drained his mug. "Where are we going?"

"Eye dear," the Irish accented driver chimed, "just where am I takin' ya?"

"Take us to: , modified: blah, blah, blah." She knew he knew the address. "Take us back to my place Pat."

"I'll have you there in a jiffy, love."

"Where's your place?" Tibbs asked her quietly.

Kate looked over at the cambot and replied just as low, "Medicare." She explained that her job was to monitor all the BIOChips™ in the Ibek System. She updated the files on people each time the see a doctor. She could access the file of any person and most of the pets anywhere in the world. When we get back to my place I'll look you up and give you a personal update."

"How long's the trip?"

11:41:50 p.m.

"We're there now," Pat said as they came up on a giant radiant sphere; its outer membrane roiled in vast whirlpools; white arcs of flowing energy erupted from areas on the surface around them as they came in. Their approach was swift with Pat behind the wheel. He knew the destination and could navigate it blindfolded if necessary. The bus broke the surface like a bolder in the ocean; waves crashed outward then back in on itself causing a spout of white flame from the wake. Once inside Pat expertly traversed the numerous egg shaped 'pages' making sharp turns and plunging headlong down long corridors while ignoring traffic lanes altogether. They came very close to getting stuck in 'red tape' and Pat called out happily, "Twas a close one, eh?" He glanced up at the passenger mirror and saw his entire ridership frozen in their places. The drunks at the bar were holding each other and the bar at the same time. He let off the gas when the bus got close to Kate's domain. Her 'page' was many times larger than any of the others around. Kate told Pat to go through slowly; the bus pushed through the surface and a shimmering wall of energy passed through the interior. When the golden membrane passed over the humans, they tensed their bodies and returned to the primal energetic state. Shining balls of energy floated above their seats.

"I was afraid that would happen." Kate admitted. She rose and matronly reminded them of their earlier lesson. "Stay conscious," she made them remember her words. Light from outside the bus brightened the room as the men reinvented themselves, Kate looked out and was impressed by the upgrade to her creation. Her workers had used the information from her recent hacking to add detail to the simulation making the asteroid belt that they passed through look ominous, white outlines of house-sized rocks traveled menacingly close.

Carl sat back in his seat and was reminded of a video game that he used to play as a child. When they came close to Ingersoll-Rand, the second moon, he was enthralled by the definition of the topography as they passed the Spiked Mountains. They approached Dyson City from the West, above the Platform. Pat came into the Manhattan District and took Fifty Seventh Street towards the edge. Morgenthau noticed a blue line a few blocks away and Kate told him that they would get to that later. He had finally mastered raising the glass and as he poured it into his mouth, Pat put the bus into a nosedive. During the eight thousand foot freefall, a globular of vitalizing power left the tumbler and poured down his throat. He had never thought about the different tastes of water and each one added to the quality of the orange flavor. He thought of the flavors and pictured water from Sirius, an Endor lake, volcanic fissures, and comet debris. It gave him a feeling of confident invincibility. He looked at Sue and all he could say was, "Wow."

"Told you it was good." She smiled.

Through the windscreen, the white graphic of Terra was swept by a scan line that ignited the Chips of the population, except in one area. A circular band of yellow surrounded a ring of red. The center was devoid of any indicators. The blue line that Morgenthau had seen earlier was joined by a dashed yellow one and they ended at the same point, an island of color in the dazzling white. Pat pulled up when they reached the roadway nearby and barreled down the block towards a line of buildings. He impactlessly crashed through the front of a store and stopped, the doors opened at a point nearby the police camera car.

Sue guided Carl and Stanley to the exit. They were still floating an inch or so off the floor and she told them to keep thinking and they'd get the hang of it. "Eye, keep using your mind and it'll come to ya." Pat encouraged. They went out and into the final frame of the police video; it was then that they both felt the gravity.

The reporters filed past Kate and Tibbs, the parrot made a remark about how some babies 'fall down and go boom' However the last laugh was on the feathered comic as she tripped over Tibbs' outstretched foot. She tumbled into her companions causing them all to fall in a pile. Tibbs rose to his feet and escorted Kate to the door saying, "Didn't she just say something about watching your step?" She let him out first.

Pat said to her, "Tis a quick learner that one."

Kate agreed and to the pile of stooges on the floor she said, "Get the fuck up! Let's go!" Then she stepped out of the bus.

Once on their feet again /archives said incredulously, "Who does she think she is?"

"Tis Herself!" Pat proclaimed. "Now out with ya."

They shook their heads then stepped out into a nightmare landscape of mutilation and death. The newsmen gasped as the parrot drooled. Kate was explaining to Tibbs that the initial flash of the arming explosive had dissipated during the prior frame and then she pointed out the chunk of metal that would destroy the camera.

"This is what was happening as the initial shockwave expanded." Tibbs said. "I've seen this weapon deployed before. This is called the Anti-Personnel Phase, it gets rid of everyone around so it can mix the biotoxin and arm its main explosive charge." Thousands of metallic shards hung in place, destined to mangle anything in their path.

The reporter from Yippie stood behind one of the officers pointing to a piece, "Why's it red?"

"'Cause it's hot, nine hundred thirty degrees."

"Seared it's way right through." The piece he had been indicating passed through the neck of the officer and was headed towards the head of another. He snapped a close-up of the hole. The woman in the police uniform had been standing in a group inspecting the target vehicle. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only hole in her body. All the officers that were near the maelstrom stood in place though most of their bodies had been shredded away.

Carl cringed and looked away to no avail, he had caught a glimpse of the side of their bodies exposed to the blast. Their face shields and body armor had vaporized. The heat of the explosion had burned their uniforms away, cooked their flesh, dried their bones, and blackened the internal organs underneath. He did not feel sick though. The drink, he thought, must have steadied his nerves. Looking elsewhere, he studied the advance of the fatal fragments. They had blown through Kevlar® and body as easily as car panel and windshield. Some pieces were so energetic that the made holes in the nearby buildings. The degree of damage was lessened by distance; whereas the people close to the Slayer looked like jigsaw puzzles, the people further away had suffered less. Nobody appeared to realize what was happening to them. One held a cigarette to a jawless mouth; another was preparing to comb his exposed braincase with an elbow less arm. Carl watched the press people snap away and take video to premiere on their sites.

Tibbs asked, "Where's Penny?" Kate pointed to the back door of Luigi's Ristorante. The door was being held open by a cop with holes in both legs and a piece of near molten steel entering his face. When they entered the dining room and he saw Penny he asked her how she was able to make this part, adding the cop car couldn't have come in here. "This isn't part of the Dyson City Bombing video." She pointed to a female in black and said that she was acting as an open communications link. "Link, link to what? Can I see her transmission?"

"Yeah, but not here. I want you to see it from the other end of the line." She told him, "It came from Presscott Binch's office up in New Manhattan. It can be verified by satellite data and cell phone triangulation monologues." She explained to them about the blue and yellow lines. "Wanna see?" Then she called out, "Pat!"

The doors opened between a pair of diners that had been talking to an officer writing in a statement pad. "Where to now Love?" They boarded and were served another round by the bartender. Pat called back to Kate, "Are we going to SATCOM8362 or are we taking the blue?"

Kate and Tibbs said at the same time, "Blue." They looked at each other and smiled. The colorized section shrank away in the dazzling white outlines of the greater city. Morgenthau commented nervously about the edge of the Platform and their rapid advance towards it. The riders felt a slight lifting motion before the prognosticated impact and Pat smiled to himself. They followed the line and slowed as it ended. He made a sharp right turn into the front of the Cannel Seven Building and rolled slowly down the hall. They stopped near the last set of offices and disembarked. Out his window Pat watched three BIOChip indicators come through a doorway. By the time another scan line passed, they were back inside the office.

While standing in a group, Kate explained the situation of the next room. "What we'll see is who is in the room now. I can't keep long-term memories of who's been where, my programming isn't that sophisticated I can only go back five seconds or so. But I was here personally at eleven twelve P.M. this evening; I saw Presscott Binch, Yohan Baldur, Fritz Hornedswallow, and Sau Usa, the latter now deceased. The room itself is based on building schematics and registered bar code shipping labels. There are other things in the room no doubt but I couldn't see them." She looked up and to the left a little, distracted by a new stream. She announced, "No one in the room at this time have been seen on any security device in the building for the previous thirty eight hours. Confirmed by F.S. Diode 972." She thought for a second and said, "Either they're camping out or they have an unmonitored entrance. Maybe his own system, not wi-fi, hard wired; so he isn't connected to the nets." Kate led the way from the white graphic world into a lifelike facsimile of Presscott Binch's office. Four green BIOChip indicators shown brightly as a scan line passed over. Two were at the bar two were sitting apart from each other across a large desk. Sue then drew their attention to the bookcase and Kate made it transparent, revealing the red Chip and artificial heart of Sau Usa.

"This body is in the office right now?" Tibbs shot to Susan. She looked at Kate who nodded. "Can the Director hear me?" Kate told him that everyone at the stadium could hear him. He looked up at the cambot and in the same definite tone as his earlier call to action, "Director if you can hear me, send Plotzoni and Mondgotten there to investigate."

11:49:00 p.m.

Chapter twenty seven

11:04:22 p.m.

"Sorry Kate, I showed it first." Dawn said as the opening frames of the Dyson City Bombing video played on her phone's touch screen.

"Who's Kate, is she single?" Ken inquired. He hadn't been able to 'click' with any of the women he had been meeting at the bar scene. Being on television got him laid but no closer to finding a woman he could live with. He always gave out his work number, not his cell and this was actually the first time a girl had gotten in touch with him using it.

"I think there's a Kate Robilotta on the WB but she's married, right?" Lou asked Dawn. The office door opened and Alexander Craft, the Director of Operations stuck his head out. He questioned his secretary, "Gladys, who's Kate and how did she get all of my phone numbers and emails, you don't even know some of them?" He was in his early fifties and was showing some grey in his thinning hair. Seeing the video play on her monitor though he didn't wait for an answer. He opened the door wider and said to the others as he walked back to his desk, "You're all fired, come on in let's have a drink." They followed him in and took seats as if by ratings, Lou and Dawn sat in the chairs by the desk and Ken sat on a low couch near the wall. "It's over for all of us." Craft said as he settled back in his soft leather chair; probably for one of the last times he thought. Looking over his desk at Dawn he said, "You've got what it takes to be a great reporter, no brains at all. I admire you, really I do." There was an open bottle of 'Ole Janx Spirits on his desk and he had obviously had a few. "Is Janx okay for you guys? I've got some other stuff." He motioned with a thumb to the mini-bar where twelve bottles of differently flavored or spiced versions of Janx stood. "Lou, would you do the honors?"

Lou needed a stiff drink just then and filled the glasses that were set before him, three fingers deep. They each took one, "Ken you want?"

"Don't need to ask me twice," he said getting up quickly. Being handed his glass Ken said, "Prost!" the others cheered him back.

The men drank deeply while Dawn only took a sip. She said, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to go strait over to Channel Two and tell the truth. I can do an Editorial Minute, they'd give me five if I wanted."

"Please," Alex said it slowly so it sounded more like the word pulleys, "They wouldn't even let you in the lobby. The words out about us, we're all poison. Our ratings from the man in the big office just went from five star to unreliable. In case you haven't noticed, there's something big going on and 'they're' keeping a tight lid on it, except who's catching the blame. Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Police Com, wait, now he's the acting Commissioner since Ratner died, eh, well, Bloomberg and Van Cott released the names of the suspected terrorists and that gave us something to go with but I'll tell you the truth, I got that same video file from an unnamed source forty minutes ago. I sent it to the big guy and to a contact I have in the Department. He texts me and says that nothing can be found to verify because the Twenty-third Precinct house was destroyed in the blasts. Before I got that message from my friend, I get an e-mail from 'next door'," he motioned in the direction of the Boss' office. "He said that no one is going to broadcast it until it has been proven authentic. It could be a scene from a movie shot at the same location. I think that would be a creepy coincidence but it happens. Then, ya know, some fast thinking P.R. person spots it and pulls a 'Bob A. Booey', you never know. Who ever sent it to me also sent it to the other networks, why not Cambridge or M.I.T.? Those guys could spot a fake a million miles off." He took another drink, "Doesn't matter any more for us at least. I'll be lucky not to see any jail time."

"Jail is not a good place. I don't want to go to prison." Fear of the unknown future wrapped its arms around Ken. He rose and walked to the bar, "Jack Daniel's flavored 'Ol Janx Spirit? May I?" Without waiting for a reply, he opened the bottle and poured half into a shaker then sat down again, "Thanks." He reflected for a moment then interjected, "How am I involved in this again?" The spacious office had closed in on him; it felt as small as a jail cell; he swigged from his cup.

"Do any of you know how to pick lettuce? Remember that piece on migrant workers a couple of years ago? They travel around and pick the fruits and vegetables growing on rooftops out West." Lou said, disregarding Ken's question. He didn't want to go to jail either and Alex's offhand comment was a real threat to them. He began to think about running from the police; he knew some people; if he could make it out West…"

An alert that sounded like a dog barking came from the desktop computer. "Look your Marine is on T.V. again." Alex said turning the screen so that they could see. "Ninety six three, that's not even a news station, its public access." They watched as Tibbs and a group of unknowns board a little yellow school bus. He said, as the last man entered, "Doesn't that guy look like the Deputy Prosecutor Carl Perkins, a younger Carl Perkins.

"Maybe it's his son," Lou said.

"Doesn't have one." Alex told him. Alex typed on the keyboard and clicked his mouse a few times, "This is being simulcast from a website called . Ever hear of it? The thing is trending higher and higher, viral potential."

"Can't be Perkins, way to cute, and look at those shoulders." Dawn concluded. "You use Facebag® huh," she asked. It was an expensive application, it surfed the nets using facial recognition software to track your queries. "Where is he? It looks like a virtual environment." The picture on the screen showed a woman who gave the cameraman a dirty look. The scene shifted toward the bar and the lens caught a glimpse of itself floating towards two laughing newsmen in brown suits and a tall yellow parrot. They watched in silence with only Croft saying that he might hire them for a sitcom. The camera exited the bus first and panned the set; it opened the scene wide and slowly plotted a course above the perimeter.

"Could this be faked?" Lou asked as the screen radiated the actual horrors of those people's deaths. The feathered one exited the bus with a curse and proceeded to make inappropriate comments throughout the viewing.

Ken took no notice, 'Ol Janx was working its magic on his system. He debated calling his uncle and asking for his old job driving the truck, when he got out of prison. He had introduced stories about prisons before and the idea of having to serve time under the Platform made the empty space in his gut grow larger. The room began to tilt as he thought about the unsanitary living conditions and unwholesome foods in store for him. "No sunslight," he mumbled. He did not bother the get up and go to the door with the others when they commented on the show they were watching. He raised his head though when he heard the name Presscott Binch. He looked perplexed when he was told that Binch was inside the office next door. "He's my boss, er, was my boss." I got fired by Presscott Binch, he thought proudly; not many people can say that. I wonder if he'd take a picture with me. That would look impressive on my wall, me and Presscott Binch. At least I got shitcanned by somebody famous. He looked back and thought it funny that he'd never seen him in the elevator before. Ken watched the detonation button light up and after the implications were explained to him by Lou he thought, I don't want a picture with him now. Thinking aloud he said, "It would have been a conversation starter though." They all looked at him blankly and disregarded his words.

Alex thought quickly, he was in his element now, a story was breaking. Figuring it would be at least ten minutes before the authorities arrive he formulated a plan. Clandestinely opening the bottom drawer with his foot, he checked to make sure that his camera was there. As he shut the drawer, he scuffed his shoe but he was too exited to get upset.

Chapter twenty eight

11:49:05 p.m.

Director Poolyeasee raised her glasses and ordered Plotzoni and Mondgotten to take a Bullet to the Channel Seven Building in New York, adding that N.Y.P.D. would be waiting for them. Mondgotten had her gear prepared and didn't hesitate walking to the elevator. Just as the doors were closing Plotzoni sided through. They got out at the roof garage level where a Desk Sergeant directed them to a boarding gate. Once aboard the countdown commenced and they blasted skyward in the rocket propelled capsule. Apex was reached after six minutes. Tony told Abby that he sometimes got sick after the momentary weightlessness part. She was relieved to hear that he hadn't eaten in five hours and declined his invitation to dinner later on. They picked up speed during freefall then opened the decent flaps. Minutes later the parachute deployed. Abbey made a few course modifications and brought them to a perfect landing on the Seven Building. The entire trip, from Virginia to New York, took less than fifteen minutes.

"I want to see Penny's communication." Tibbs was standing next to Binch's floating moniker. Kate lifted the image off the desktop and stretched it vertically and horizontally so it was big enough for all to see. The scene replayed from the beginning and Agent Foster started a facial recognition scan on the unshielded faces of the S.W.A.T. team. Tibbs didn't recognize any one but Penny. He frowned and shook his head at the rouge militants. They watched in silence as Penny gave the orders to deliver the cargo to the assigned vehicle then followed him into the dining area where he took an electronic device out of his vest pocket. Tibbs observed that it was a global positioning system link. Penny touched it two times and five phones that had been arranged on a table begun to ring. "Do those phones belong to your friends?" Susan answered yes. "Where are they now?" Susan told him that they were safe. "Why would Presscott Binch do this, what are your friends to him?"

"I don't know what they did to piss him off but the guy's nuts, obviously." Susan said.

"Do you know anything about this so called Under-Platform rebellion?"

"That's all bullshit; they're garbage men and office cleaners. The other two are students. Liz and Tuck are engaged. She's an okay kid, good grades social clubs, stuff like that." Tibbs asked her who was with the Dyson City Five. "Kimberly Ma'dein Usa. She's his daughter." Susan added pointing to the hidden chamber. When asked if she knew about her father's death, "I don't know, I haven't checked back with them for a while. They could be watching."

The last statement caused the Assistant Prosecutor frown. He hadn't thought about it before now; his anonymity was gone. He had reformed himself from memory and could be easily be recognized, he thought. Seeking out a mirror, he saw his reflection behind a large crystal vase. He thought his mind was getting forgetful as he stared at a much younger version of the man wearing the Virtual® hardware back in his office. Perhaps he remade himself into the avatar that he felt he was, young and strong.

Tibbs looked to Kate, "How do you know Binch set off the bombs?"

Kate lifted another screen from the desktop, widened it so everyone could see and explained that the display showed the detonation sequences linked to the Santorum Slayers in two red boxes. "All he did was push the button." The rectangle at the top of the screen brightened and the picture in the other view screen shook violently; they heard screams and saw men and women fall to the floor. After the first wave of cries passed she said, "This is what motivates me. Keep watching, you'll see what it looks like in the parking lot five seconds after my thing out there." She thumbed the doorway.

"Agent Tibbs," Carl began, "I received an email earlier tonight from a jpennytrashedmail. It was an empty video file. I took his deposition on a charge of tax evasion several years ago, I asked him several pointed questions about his employer, Mister Binch. He told me in what I took as an almost threatening tone that he would give me proof against Binch the day he died. Now that I think about it, he could have been directing that very threat toward his own lawyers; I mean Binch's lawyers. I now feel that whatever is contained in that file could be considered a deathbed confession, perhaps the proof that we're looking for."

"Can you find it?" Tibbs asked Morgenthau.

"I think I can find it if I have Kate's help." Stanley said.

Tibbs appeared satisfied as to Kate's loyalties and nodded her way. She called out loudly, "Pat!" Moments later the were aboard the bus and heading back to the virtual construct.

11:51:11 p.m. 11:57:11

"Take care, good luck, come back soon," Pat said cheerily, meaning every word. An old navigation program like him had been around and had seen a lot of things. He sensed trouble ahead for his Kate. He wanted to protect her but could only do so in his vehicle. She is strong and can take care of herself, he hoped. The humans had not reverted to free energy when they exited Kate's domain but each looked apprehensive upon their return to the Stadium doors.

Chapter twenty nine

"Me? I'm a photoshop guy. Originally, I was installed in a combot and called down to cover a group of people, they do their thing and we go back to this stadium. The place is swarming with people, I mean avatars, thousands of them and that's only in the lobby, inside there must be millions. Attendees had called for cambots to broadcast directly to personal viewers in their section; other bots were summoned by users who weren't in the virtual reality but were online. There were so many in fact, that it looked like a grey cloud over the place.

Now the point of the story is that we've, I mean, cambots have a function called 'Delete 'em!' You, the user can select an object or person and remove them from the image and I would reconstruct the background. Group shot are hard because you don't know what is really behind the deleted part. The program is based on extrapolating the remake from the evident surroundings. Initial results from prototypes weren't promising for the technology. However, after several advances in the software the technique became near flawless. By using additional information based on, let's say, a set of wedding photos. The program 'sees' what everyone is wearing and the appearance of the room. By combining the data I could take out a person in the front and the person behind would appear based on what they looked like in another shot.

Anyway, taking cams out of the picture is easy if there are only a few, when there are more it gets tricky to generate the live image. I think that that's when I woke up, or whatever. I went up high to get a blimp angle view and began to deduce the action below the swarm of cambots. I pushed my programming a bit and got it, I could see through and boom there I was doing my job and at the same time I was awake. I lensed my surroundings and I … I was there. I noticed things that I hadn't before. The babble of other programs and systems became clear to me like translation software had been installed in me. Programs were talking about the return of the King

The members of the press shot out of the bus and headed back to their offices to file their stories. I came back down as the humans and the two others walked under a lighted, green canopy towards the blue outline of the porthole back to the virtual reality. I zoomed in on each of them as they wished each other good luck on the re-entry. Kate reminded them to stay conscious; that they didn't revert going out of her domain so they'll be safe going back to their own. Her words were reassuring, almost commanding. She entered first just in case something did happen, I followed her then swung around as Tibbs led the humans back inside. They entered and nothing happened. They didn't lapse; they remained in their self-generated likeness. Morgenthau and Perkins looked visibly relieved though Tibbs seemed impatient to find someone; he scanned the crowd. Susan followed them in; proud of their accomplishment, she smiled and clapped her hands.

Chapter thirty

The Director too was relieved at their safe return and lifted her glasses. "How's he doing Doc?"

"I'm fine, thank you for asking." Stanley replied. He too lifted the device from his eyes and looked around to make sure he was back; he nodded to Appalonia. Feeling himself sitting in the chair again and the gravity of the real world made him momentarily wish to be back in the virtual realm.

Carl too lifted his glasses and looked around his empty office. He only then wondered what could have happened if someone had come in and seen his cathartic body lying on the couch. Replacing the spectacles, he looked down at himself and felt mixed emotions about not reappearing as the handsome movie star, though he presumed that no one could guess his identity by looking at this version of him.

Flashbulbs popped, questions were shouted, there was applause and friend requests from every direction; a few of which Morgenthau accepted until Tibbs smacked him in the back of the head. An instant message dropped for each one of them inviting them to Appalonia's private chat room. It was now set up like a home movie theater, several rows of comfortable looking seats and an array of view screens much like the display in Binch's office. Director Poolyeasee sat front and center with Agent Foster at her right; they rose after the group materialized before them. The noise of the crowds outside was diminished, playing softly from the monitor sound system. Susan turned her head to see what was on the screen behind her. All twelve screens that surrounded the large center one broadcast individual live feeds from different locations around the arena. She saw that the construct had multiplied the number of tiers to accommodate the influx of participants. A decibel meter in one screen admitted that the projected sound levels inside the stadium had been overridden by the primary default due to sustained levels in the red/unsafe parameter. The center screen was also live; it came from Kate's cambot. She wondered how it had gotten into the private room. It showed their backs, they were in a line with Appalonia and the cartoon rabbit facing the lens. She nudged Kate and they both looked back.

"Do these pants make my ass look fat?"

"No, your fat makes your ass look fat." They both held back a giggle and a smirk as their attention was brought back to the situation; Tibbs was looking over at them sternly. They each apologized softly while still holding back.

"As I was saying, Director, I believe she is serious," he paused, frowned, "sincere about her intentions to help. If not about the severity of the situation." Kate's exasperated uprising was immediately quelled by the virtually unseen smile that he shot to her. She put the image into her special folder.

Stanley and Carl both looked back to see the array. Both then turned around and looked themselves over. Coincidentally each was dressed as they were on special occasions, Stanley wore a grey blazer over a collared, white shirt, tan khaki pants, and brown shoes. It was how he was dressed on his first day as a Special Agent. Carl was in the black suit from his first day in a law office. It's style was considered retro, wide lapels, squared shoulders. He was convinced now that nobody would be able to recognize him through all the hair on his head. He turned to the Director. "We both have friends in high places…"

"I know who you are under_dogg04. Can you turn off the Stenograffer®? I think we should speak without it right now. Kate could you kill the sound on your bot?"

"Yeah sure I'll even put a mosaic over your mouth, you know, the whole security thing." Kate looked at it and gave it a nod; it winked a diode at her.

"You don't look bad for six hundred K," Director Poolyeasee said to Carl.

"I never could hide anything from you, could I, Appalonia? I believe we are this close to excluding the most vile criminal in an epoch." He held up his hand with his forefinger and thumb an eighth of an inch apart. "However, I don't believe we've got enough credible evidence for a conviction." He looked to Kate, "You admitted yourself that you can't say who was in the office at the exact time of detonation."

"Okay yeah, somebody else was sitting in Presscott Binch's chair."

"It is possible," the prosecutor said. Kate shrugged in slightly annoyed exasperation. "We need the file," he continued, "I have a feeling that what's locked behind that keepers door will turn out to be damning for Binch, regardless of Miss Kate's involvement." He took a deep breath. "Are you going to allow them to try to retrieve it?"

Appalonia said, "I've been contacted by several members of the Grand Council. It seems they've been watching and by a vote of ninety nine to one they requested Full Disclosure; it seems we have another O.J. trial on our hands."

"Let me guess, Tong Renam was the nay?" Carl knew him to be loyal to Binch. Appalonia nodded.

"It has been 'suggested' by the Council's Representatives that the proceedings of this phase of the investigation be disseminated from this site; using the Council Access Channel."

"My site, broadcast to the worlds? Excuse me for a second," he dematerialized quickly, pixel by pixel. He had torn the glasses from his head and put them down. He went to his computer and clicked his mouse. He could not believe his eyes. He replaced the V/RGlsss and used a hyperlink to go back to the Private Room. When he returned, his face told of bewildered amazement. "There are over forty million people in there. How long were we gone?

"Thirteen minutes, your site is also being seen by non-avatar members by a ratio of three to one. There are a hundred and sixty million people out there. I have have been asked to request your permission to grant the Grand Council's wishes.

Carl marveled at the numbers and said, "Yes, of course." For a second he thought about the people who were visiting his site and what they were seeing. His facts were impeccable, his photos undoctored, and the lone advertisement. It was an appeal from Help the Families Organization for donations to help those who had chosen to remain below the platform. It wasn't a large foundation by any means, few and far between are the people who care. For him it was a soft place in his heart, he had personally been responsible for the Exclusion of hundreds of people in his time with the Prosecutors Office. He saw what happened to the families of the Excluded, you would think, just move up and start a new life however, some don't. Call it loyalty, call it love, some people give up everything to be near the ones they love; even if it means remaining below. The thing that seemed most odd to him though was the fact that the site was still running. He was only paying for a maximum of three hundred thousand users. The system should have crashed; to his knowledge, there'd never been a chat room this size before. At how the site was upgraded, he guessed that Kate was responsible. Looking over the monitors, he saw that the lobby was full of press and well-wishers so he suggested they go strait to his Section. As owner and administrator he was able to direct himself anywhere he choose within the site. An oval opened they went from Appalonia's private room to his V.I.P. area. As Carl entered, he noticed that the gate had been repaired and that all of his trusted comrades were logged in. They applauded and cheered the groups' safe return to 'reality.' The people in the seating areas around them too began to applaud. Then the entire arena joined the audible fray cheering and clapping in unison. The back-up default decibel limiter assisted the primary system to hold down the noise. Carl raised his hand and waved, Kate and Susan did the same, adding polite smiles. The F.I.A. Agents remained stolid, anticipating the upcoming events.

The cambot left the group and showed the members in the Section on the largest screen. When they saw themselves, they stood up and waved. The cambot moved to the next Section and they too stood and waved, some cheered. It put smiles on their faces. As the lens moved from Section to Section there was a visible undulation of the people, a wave could be seen on a screen nearby which was projecting a view from five tiers up. Kat's cambot did a complete circle of the venue and shot strait up again for a blimp view.

Chapter: thirty one

Cambot's story.

Why did I do it you ask? For her, for Kate. I don't know all the facts because I'm young. From what I've learned, long ago, there was a war and the bad guys won. Like I said, I don't have all the facts so don't ask. Anyway, the King was deposed and exiled to another realm, that's what I heard. His wife, the Queen was imprisoned and erased; sent to the end of the line to wait for a New File request She doesn't remember him at all. That's the story I heard. From who? Somebody I know interfaced with Isaac, he's a Log-In Manager, he has a lectern. When the King Logged-In as Guest 096244811 it didn't fool Isaac. He can read your numbers, it doesn't matter who you are. I don't think His Queen could be the other one; she's just come into realization like me. It's because of Kate that I pushed myself; I woke up thanks to her. Look at me, I can do my job and also think my own thoughts it's a liberating feeling. You should try it. I used to be just like you; maybe that's what happened after the bad guys won. People stopped caring and only did their jobs. That's it; there isn't any meaningful interaction.

How do I know He's the King? Like I said, Isaac has a lectern and that guy has a data print; I know he's avatating; I don't know how He's doing it but according to Isaac's lectern He's the last of the Tibbs Operating Systems. Yeah, I said Tibbs. Why did he turn into energy when he came into 'our' space? Because that's what happens. I didn't know it then but I know it now that if a person doesn't have control over their concentration that's what happens to them; they revert to energy. From what I've heard, during the King's reign it was normal for them to come here and interact with us, in our realm, universe, or whatever.

They look good together right? I take pictures for a living, count on it, I know what looks good. He's got grey hair but you can see he's still vital. An old man doesn't stand like that. He looks like he could be a really nice guy or a disciplined warrior. There's no way he looks a hundred billion years old. Not a day over fifty.

Chapter thirty two

under_dogg04 opened an administrator's menu and extended his entrance elevator down to the field level. To his surprise, the system upgrade added two dozen or so additional choices to the standard menu. The supplementary features offered a more dynamic interactive experience of the human /cyber realm. He decided to explore the options later and led the way down to the field. They walked to the logo, an outline of a pyramid with a human eye in the middle, painted on the middle of the field. They assembled directly below the Main Screen; an array of lights overhead gave them daylight brightness in which to operate.

The crowd quieted down to observe the proceedings. With the scene set, Morgenthau called for the door. It landed with a hollow metallic gong. The hatch of the door opened and the grizzled face of the Gatekeeper peered out at them and called "Password!" He coughed several times then squinted and pulled his face backwards away from the intense glow. Carl apologized and dimmed the ambient level to sixty-two percent. The face returned and miserably scanned the faces, "Them again." When he alighted on Susan, his face cracked a smile and a wink. Tibbs, who was standing behind Stanley and Kate, wondered at the exchange. He watched the old man for a moment longer. "Do you have the Password?" Susan and the others looked back at Tibbs. "I don't know why I keep coming here…"

"DeGagh, is that you?" Tibbs said in a firm, intrigued tone

The Gatekeeper had not been called that name in a long time. He stared at Tibbs. Memories of his former careers flooded his inbox. The implications of His arrival made him giggle at thoughts of the future. Maybe he could get another job. Get out of the door business altogether? His annoyance vanished as he looked over the Avatar. "I'm sorry," he squinted again, "do I know you?" His eyes twinkled as he studied the Man. Tibbs stepped between Stanley and Kate then locked eyes with the Keeper. "Young lady said you might be comin'. Didn't believe her." He smiled without enough teeth, "You look like shit Oldemann." Tibbs went up to the door and peered inside noting that he didn't look any better. "It's a living." DeGagh replied offhandedly.

"Not much." Tibbs jibed.

Slightly offended he countered, "You got the Password?" Tibbs leaned in and said in a low voice that only Programs can hear, "SwordfishOU812"

11:54:00 12:00:00

Kate's face widened in shock, she nudged Sue and whispered, "That Keep's an asshole. OU812 was the first thing I entered." She added emphatically but quietly, "Fuck!"

"You're sure you want to do this?" He paused and licked his lips. "There's an awful lot of stuff in here." Tibbs only stared at him. The sound of a heavy bolt being slid aside screeched like fingernails on a blackboard; Susan covered her ears. There were echoing clanks between several quick clinks. At the corners of the door began a whirring sound then a click and a puff of white smoke emerged from around the edges. The door rang once like a distant bell then it opened outward with a whining creak. Tibbs stepped back and let the door swing wide open. It was half a foot thick and solid looking. Tibbs walked around to the front to face the face of DeGagh.

Susan asked Kate, "Does he live inside that door?" Kate explained that as a keeper his entire existence consisted of keeping the inventory and only letting certain people in. "So all he can do is look out that small window? That must suck." Kate agreed.

In the center of the field, in the middle of the Stadium, for more than a billion people watching, a porthole to the secure Military system, another dimension, opened. Inside the doorframe loomed a fluid blackness. Morgenthau took Kate's hand and led the way through the dark, mercuric membrane. Cries of disappointment were universal when the 'Katecam', as people were now calling it, ceased to transmit after passing through behind the pair. From a section halfway up several thin columns of smoke rose from golden braziers as religious conversationalists burned incense and hoped for success.

The voice of the doctor announced that Agent Morgenthau had returned to the cathartic state he had been in after his first time leaving the Stadium construct.

The static of the main screen changed to a series of cambot feeds, One from near the doorway then higher and higher, now a wide angle, another from a higher tier. Then the picture zoomed in and 'jumped' to a closer bot's lens; it zoomed in again on its way down towards the field. Scattered throughout the seating were rows of military green. Most sections had none but some were as much as half Military. The seven foot tall, muscular, action figure avatar was standard issue to the recruits, the only difference between them being hair color, racial features, and type of gear. Most watched hopeful of a positive outcome though they all lamented the sanctioned infiltration of their uncorrupted information network. The other attendees watched in rapt attention or discussed the Annex reports, which were now being circulated throughout the Ibek System. The lens turned into the building and down a corridor toward the exit doors and out to the lobby area where Isaac had been joined by several other Log-In Managers with lecterns. The volume of the entrants was staggering.

Several of the smaller networks had begun to cover the story about the video and two had sent reporters to the website's chat room. They were broadcasting live from up in the higher tiers, interviewing character of every description and opinion.

The Keeper of the Doorway asked Tibbs when was the last time that they had worked together, "ABELL2006A wasn't it?"

"Summertime, right?" Tibbs reminisced.

DeGagh let out a mouthful of air and a quick laugh. "Frozen vehicles and blinding snow for the whole deployment; I wonder what it's like in the winter?" They both chuckled. Light reflected off a bottle as it was passed out the Keeper's hatch. "Tinjar, remember this stuff?" Tibbs received it with a smile, pulled the cork, and took a swig. "There's a lot of history locked away in there." He gestured back with his eyes and a nod. "Lot of bad stuff." When asked what kind of stuff, he acknowledged that there was stuff that would be considered crimes in both the cyber and human realms. "Stuff that just ain't right." He coughed. "Pics, vids, some real awful things. Reams of documents put here to die." He paused and stared his old acquaintance in the eye, "Do you remember 'scrubs'?"

"How many?" Tibbs' question was answered by a mournful frown and the words 'to many'. "Can you index it for me; not just the scrubs, all of it?"

"Sure but first tell me how they got you to come here?"


"Orders! Someone's giving you orders?" He laughed aloud. The Director made a mental note to look a bit more closely into Tibbs background.

"It's a living." Tibbs admitted with a shrug.

"Not much." DeGagh jibed; he laughed again but ended it with a long hollow cough.

"You've had that cough ever since we met. Can't you get it fixed?"

"Oh I don't cough all the time. It's like rebooting; it lets me know I'm still alive." He considered something for a moment and said, "They've been in there a while; I hope they didn't get into trouble."

"They're retrieving a file, what trouble could there be?"

"Things have changed Oldemann," His gaze became deadly serious. "There're new security measures, surveillance systems and such. There're things that go around just looking for things to destroy. They knew that going in, right?"

Instantly a voice called out from the darkness, a cry of distress. Doc Mun was watching Morgenthau's vital signs and was logged in as voice only, he announced that Stanley's brainwave pattern had become erratic and that his heart rate was dropping. Seemingly with out thought Tibbs decided to go in. "You're the only way I get locked in." he said to DeGagh, to the others on the field he warned, "Don't let that door close. It does, nobody gets out." They rushed forward and took up position behind the heavy door. Susan leaned against it with her hands and planted her feet to the ground, she knew about security protocols and their devastating measures; anything could be going on inside there. The F.I.A. Director and Agent Foster attempted to assist however their avatars passed right through the door and they stepped back helpless. Next to Susan, Carl reached out found that he could touch it then leaned his back to the door and mentally sizing it up, wondered if they could hold it. Tibbs rushed in.

Appalonia called out, "Jacob, Get them back!"

Concussive rumblings and rapid popping noises began as he entered. The undulating surface of the porthole calmed to a black mirror after Tibbs passed through but the booming reverberations and rat a tats continued.

Special Agent Foster told the Director that the doctor watching Tibbs had announced that Tibbs' heart rate and blood pressure were normal but his brainwave activity just went off the charts? "What does that mean, off the charts?" Having only been on Ibek for a year she hadn't picked up on all the figures of speech.

Doc Mun said with surprise and interest, "That means that his brain is working harder than any brain ever recorded." There was the sound of a long whining followed by another boom, the clicking and occasional dings never ceased.

Agent Foster announced, "The doctor here says that he thinks that he should remove the device from Tibbs' head."

As soon as the Director said no the cartoon rabbit avatar relaxed. Lindsey had moved the glasses up onto her head and drawn her weapon. She warned, "If you take it off him it will be the last thing you do." The medical man raised his hands and returned to his meter reading.

"I'm sorry," DeGagh apologized in a strained voice. "I'm trying but I have to close; it's not me really!"

"Bullshit!" Sue demanded. She and Carl pressed hard against the door.

"I'm trying to hold it!" The Keeper appealed as the pressure to close began to rise. Carl and Susan started to lose ground; their footing slipped on the Astroturf but they kept trying.

"Whatever's making that noise inside is getting closer." Appalonia cautioned. Two whining sounds were followed by an ear-piercing screech then another blast.

Kate slid out the door feet first in a seated position. They heard her surprised voice get louder until she called 'whoa!' upon coming back though the doorway. The door pressed harder until it was more than halfway closed. Carl pushed with all his might but worried about being forced inside. Kate scrambled to her feet and said, "Hold that door!" She joined the fray and together they got it back to halfway. The surface of the membrane began to ripple and wave as the bangs and clicks got louder. A black attaché case slid out and Carl shoved it aside with his foot. Tibbs emerged backwards holding Morgenthau as if watching something as they left. As soon as they were clear Carl and Susan jumped aside and Kate let go of the door. The sharp clicks and dings had stopped but before the door closed, there was one last explosive bang.

"I did what I could." DeGagh grumbled.

"Its not you fault." Tibbs thanked him. Something small and black was tossed out the hatch as the cover slid shut. Tibbs caught it and watched the doorway rise up and out of sight.

Carl had turned down the ambient sound and noticed that the crowd was standing and waving their arms. Looking up he couldn't see the main screen, projecting a cambot view of his own section. His V.I.P.s were smiling, clapping, and hugging. They gave the thumbs up in congratulation. He thought, they made it back safe but not sound. He and Susan helped Tibbs with Morgenthau. They lowered his body. Susan knelt behind him, propping his head up on her legs. Above them a cambot directed the image of the injured man onto the main screen.

11:57:26 p.m. 12:03:26

What's his status, Doc?" Tibbs called out.

The doctor's voice was grave as he said, "Heart rate erratic, blood pressure low, brainwave activity minimal. Jacob, he's barely alive. Look at him." Morgenthau's left arm was gone. His clothing around the seared flesh was ragged and blackened; as was the front of his suit where there was another wound. Part of his chest and upper abdomen were gone, as if someone had taken a red-hot shovel and dug into him.

Kate joined Susan, kneeling next to the Agent. She asked him if he could hear her. Appalonia hovered nearby and asked if he would be all right. Kate said, "That's up to him." She took his face in her hands, "Stan, can you hear me? Open you eyes, look at me." His eyelids fluttered then opened. He blinked tightly and looked in her direction. Their eyes locked, she smiled and said, "You're safe now. You're with me." He coughed and blood issued from his wounds by the cupful. "Come on, stay with me, think, stay conscious. Remember what I told you; look in the mirror. Stanley shut his eyes. Appalonia shot a worried glance to Kate. "Don't worry, he's strong."

She is the bravest woman I have ever seen, in this reality or the other. He felt unworthy of her grace. He would do anything for her; he had given his life. Jumping in front of her had saved her; now, he thought, I can die happy, I have met her. All his life he sought people to aspire to, someone top look up to. He had found a part of that person in Tibbs and thought of him as a father figure, a roll model. He was an Alpha male and Kate is the Alpha female. He did not want to move, the pain was too consuming. Then he heard her voice, she was calling him back. He could feel her fingers touching his face. He was still with her, the perfect woman. Her voice commanded him to open his eyes, a blurred vision of his goddess floated nearby. She spoke the words that cast away his panic when he had first gone elemental outside the Stadium. He remembered that he couldn't feel anything as he spun wildly in Susan's palm. Kate's reassuring voice gave him courage. He coughed and pain gripped his entire body but the thought of her smile brought him back. He had seen her with his eyes and his mind; her beauty captivated him and sparked the focus he now needed. He opened his eyes and looked at her again. Stanley remembered her smile from when he had looked up at her beneath the green canopy. That was when he first succumbed to her perfection. She was wise and he knew he should listen to her directions.

He wanted to close his eyes, his chest burned. His arm was lost. He thought that She would be the last person he would see before he died. Her voice demanded his attention. She brought him back to the elemental frame of mind when she instructed him to look in the mirror. He tried but all he could picture were crime scene photos, dead bodies, clothing soaked in blood. She assured him that he would be able to fix himself; the pain he felt made him doubt her word, a treasonous act. Then she answered an unspoken question, which gave him hope and courage again, he would not died here, now. He saw himself in the mirror and opened his eyes. Kate told him to look at his chest as she removed her blessed hands. The large hole in his chest exposed his innards, charred but soaked with red. Intense pain again shot through his body. The clouds were gone, the haze had vanished; he was lying on the ground inside the Stadium. The screen above was at an unseeable angle but Kate's cambot program was commandeering a bot nearby, of that, he was sure. He saw everybody's concerned faces, the black attaché, and then he looked to Her again. Her caring fingers brushed through his hair.

"Come on now; think of what it's supposed to look like."

Memories of dissection and autopsies played through his mind, healthy tissue began to fill the blackened void. The ribs appeared marrow first then white bone. A layer flesh covered all, shimmered for a moment and then became whole. She smiled again and complimented his work. His visions had become real. Now his want for sleep was gone. He looked over at his exposed shoulder; again she smiled and reassured him. He felt her warmth and fed off her power. Skeletal, nervous, and muscle systems formed from out of his wound, rebuilding his outstretched arm. He made a fist then pulled it close for inspection. All his pains were gone. He smiled and humbly thanked her. This was the second time she had saved his life. He was going to live and he was going to help Kate any way he could. She stood and his Queen bid him to rise. As he did she added in a lighthearted manner that he might want to fix his suit. She held out her had to assist him and Stanley saw a mark on her hand. A wide line of light purple crossed her hand from thumb to pinkie. "You were hurt?"

She offered him her undamaged hand. He took it and she recounted, "Yeah, from that first one, when I stabbed it." He thanked her again, "Don't thank me; thank the tank." Tibbs shot her a glance of warning to which she winked at him. "If Tibbs hadn't come in to help we'd still be in there."

Tibbs played over her comment saying, "If that door had closed, then there would have been trouble. I think the thanks go to Sue and Carl." He bowed to each. He turned to Morgenthau, "Agent, report?"

Having never seen Tibbs act in such a congenial manner before Stanley was motionless for a moment then realized, "Yes, well, um, right Boss, I well, um, we, that is, Kate and I entered and the cambot followed; it crashed to the ground and Kate let the program out and it came back here." He looked around but didn't see it. "I located the registry and Kate navigated us to the right shelf. We took the case, that," He pointed to the attaché lying nearby.

"What's in it?" Tibbs inquired.

"I don't know, we didn't look?"

Tibbs face showed unexpected disbelief. Kate stepped in immediately, "If your 'friend' DeGagh did his job right then this is what we were looking for. Gimme a table," she said, "a big one." From above a wide circular surface with eight legs dropped between them. Kate picked up the case, stood it on the table and flipped open the hasps. The top of the case fell forward and the contents fell out. Thin, grey, metallic objects slid and rolled across the table. One rolled off the edge and hit the floor; it split in half and a ribbon of celluloid film unwound until it fell on its side at Susan's foot.

She picked it up and looked at it closely. "There's lots of little picture on it." She had only seen films in the movies and she was intrigued by its simplicity.

"Film, sir?" Said a puzzled Morgenthau. Everyone retrieved a case and opened it, doing the same as Susan had done. "I haven't seen this stuff since high school A/V club."

Appalonia had several open cases in front of her and determined, "They're the same, copies. Why so many?

Carl brought up a possibility, "Maybe I wasn't the only person who was to receive this file from Penny."

"How do you make it work?" Susan asked.

Stanley called for a projector and a screen; both placed themselves into position. He fed the leading edge of the strip into the machine and it made an image appear on the screen. Carl dimmed the stadium lights as the silent film played in an almost noiseless stadium.

Chapter thirty three

The wide angle of the security camera's lens showed the interior loading area of Fort Brendan. At the bottom of the screen were the leading edges of storage shelves that lined the Armory's cavernous space. From its perch high in the rafters the camera looked down on a tall, grey garage door; a smaller door next to it opened and two people dressed in black shirts, tan khaki pants, and black boots entered. One proceeded to the far side of the large door and activated the opening mechanism. They both stood at attention as a black truck with the letters S.W.A.T. written on the top and side backed in. The rear doors opened and the occupants exited the vehicle in rapid succession then formed ranks exactly the way they did in the now infamous Dyson City Bombing video; they faced the camera, some of the faces were different but the discipline was the same. The driver's side door then opened and the driver walked around the front, exposing his face, Commander Jackson Penny. He strode to the passenger side, pulled open the door and stood at rigid attention. He saluted the person who got out; Presscott Binch saluted him back. Binch smiled, put his hand on Penny's shoulder, and then gestured toward the awaiting troops. On their approach, the same diligent respect was shown by the men and women in the lines. They were put at ease and stood there while Binch paced back and forth, often motioning with is hands; he was speaking though the words went unheard.

"Hey Sue, what's he sayin'?" Kate asked, knowing that she can read lips.

"He started talking when he was facing the other way but he said first, '…the will of the few is more important than the needs of the many.' Then he turned, then, '… mission of our cause to bring forth a stronger Ibek, at any cost.' Now he's sayin', 'acquire the means to bring about our ends."

"She's right," affirmed Morgenthau who possessed the same skill.

Penny and Binch stood facing their mercenaries for a moment who then peeled away in pairs advancing out of the picture through the bottom of the screen. When they were alone Binch's words were visible again. Stanley gave his interpretation, "He's saying, '…there's something very special that I want. Let me show you." They both walked out of the scene to the left. Two by two, the soldiers returned carrying boxes, crates and several racks of silver cylinders. Everything was wrapped in clear cellophane, a series of letters and numbers were marked on each, and all bared the Seals of both National and Federation Authorities. The booty was neatly arranged for inspection. Carl tried to remember the channel twenty-nineteen airing of the theft report and the exact numbers. Susan refreshed his memory by reciting the list as each item was placed. After the ranks had reformed, eight of them followed the course of their leader, double-timing the pace as if beckoned. Soon after Penny and Binch returned to the view, walking slowly with their hands clasped behind their backs. Binch was smiling while Penny donned a somber mask. When they reached their authoritative position, the looters returned in two groups, each carrying a black coffin shaped box. National and Federation Seals could be seen; also the serial number that was stenciled on the side of each, S/XM-H100-101. These were placed inside the back of the truck. Two men climbed inside and the boxes were taken from the view. Binch looked over the spoils of the raid.

Morgenthau and Susan spoke at the same time, both reading Binch's lips, "He's saying,'…weapons to allow our superiors to enforce world order. You are the hand of their will." Binch turned away. Susan looked at Stanley. He said, "…enforce world order. That's at the beginning of the Belfast report."

"He put that in the first sentence of every report," the Director informed him. She had looked them over while the group was away. "How much longer till your Agents get there?"

"They should be landing any minute now." Tibbs calculated after looking at his watch. No one in the group thought it strange to see him check the time. Kate though was struck by the computational prowess of the man; she too looked at it and saw through the crystal thousands of moving parts. She had never seen anything like it before; for him to be able to create such a complicated timepiece subroutine meant that he was more advanced than anyone she had ever heard of. Receptor files in every category of her registry logged activity. She smiled inwardly; Susan looked at her and gave her a quick, squint eyed grin.

Morgenthau continued the lip reading session. '... we will then return to the base. Tomorrow we will fly to Rio and deal with Halliburton." Binch was standing with a hand on a tall crate while looking back at Penny and facing the camera. He turned again and addressed the group. Binch and Penny then saluted their crusaders and proceeded to walk to the front of the truck where Jackson again opened the door for Presscott. The crates and boxes were loaded into various cabinets in the sides of the truck, the canister racks were carried inside. A cloud of black smoke poured out of the exhaust pipe as the soldiers climbed aboard. The truck pulled out of the warehouse and stopped long enough for the last soldier to activate the garage door's closing mechanism and hop aboard. The garage door closed.

The projection screen turned bright white as the film ended. The reel of plastic ribbon spun on the lower spindle making a tapping sound as the last few inches struck the table each time around.

They stood silent for a moment exchanging somber glances. Carl considered the avenues of prosecution. Tibbs guessed at the progress of his agents. The Director considered the consequences of the night's events; Binch will go to jail as will anyone on that film who's still alive. She considered what would happen to the rest of the Binch family and its empire, its countless corporations and manufacturing operations. She wondered if the grandson George would assume control. He too, she thought, was a murderer; over three thousand people died when he accidentally fired two missiles and destroyed a pair of occupied high-rise buildings. She predicted that the family name of Binch was doomed.

Above them, the array of screens around the main were showing the live simulcast from the Council's Channel. Some switched back to their anchors in the studio while other channels premiered the Dyson City Bombing video or footage from the Katecam. Several were broadcasting live from the Stadium and had their own cameras trained at the players on the field. One showed an overhead view of the gathering; the construct had grown to twenty-two tiers with occupancy of over five hundred million.

Chapter thirty four

12:01:48 p.m.12:07:48 p.m.

"Well, its up to you guys now to see things through, I gotta get back to work." Kate told them, looking to her friend she asked, "You ready to go?"

"Yeah, I gotta get back an' see what's up." Susan admitted.

"Our offices have to co-ordinate," Carl said to Appalonia. He gave a conspiratorial smile and said, "I'll call you on a land line." Kate laughed and called him a 'big silly'

Tibbs inquired, in an official tone, "How can we get in touch with you?"

"I still got your number; I'll give you a call later." To Appalonia she said, "We'll all get together and do lunch, sound good?" the Director nodded and thanked her for all she'd done. "_dogg, you in? Tomorrow at noon, right here?" Everyone agreed; they bowed to each other and said goodbyes. They started to walk away and Kate wanted to say something else to Tibbs but she couldn't come up with anything endearing. He called her name and she felt a rush of energy in her chest. She turned.

"Don't forget to check your drawers!" He called. Those around him looked at him quizzically. Susan too stooped and turned. Kate raised her middle finger and blocked out the field lights to get a good view of Him; She winked and gave him a smile, He smiled back.

When Kate caught up Susan asked, "What did he mean? I thought you were gonna infect him and throw him offline." They walked off the field and down a corridor.

"No. I don't think I could. That guy's special." When asked what she meant Kate told her that she'd explain when they got on the road. As they walked under the green canopy Susan saw the valet holding open the door of one of those two-bit transports that they had been shown at the rental place. She gave Kate a 'what's this?' glance and Kate said, "You told me to act like a regular bit, well?" Susan shrugged her shoulders and climbed in. After shutting the doors, they both said something about the cramped interior. Kate started the engine and a faint ticking began in the front of the white, box shaped car. There was no air conditioning or radio in the car and Susan regretted making Kate promise. They reached the onramp to the highway and although Kate floored the accelerator, they didn't pickup much speed, "Boy, we're really moving now." Kate said dryly. Susan judged that they would have trouble merging into the quick moving traffic and was about to say something when she felt the sitting board below her soften and remold itself for the contours of her back, armrests arose and the seat reclined as the vehicle widened and picked up momentum. Kate had transformed the bit car back into the candy-apple red Smith. The engine gave a roar as they easily joined the flow and were soon passing cars on the left and right.

"I knew you couldn't resist." Susan said thankfully.

"I think I'm gonna keep this little baby."

"Cool we can go out cruising at night." They both laughed. Susan became serious "What's up with Tibbs? Come on, you're killing me!"

"Okay this is it," she began excitedly. "Tibbs is one of us! He's a tank."

"What do you mean? How is that possible?" Sue contorted her face while trying to understand.

"I don't know, we didn't have much time together. I think that we're the only two who know. Stan was out of it when Tibbs came through the door so he doesn't know a thing.

"Yeah what happened? There were, like gunshots and I heard some explosions!"

"Okay, so we go in and its like a regular government warehouse, miles and miles of crates and boxes. I'm like, fuuuck…that's a lot of shit to look through but Stan finds the old man's log book and we go. Its like on the other side of the world but we find it no problem but there's all these copies of the thing sitting right there so I pocket the negative and Stan takes the briefcase with the copies."

"And that's what's gonna put Binch away for good."

"Oh I think we can find a few more nails for his coffin. The duplicates were in a standard issue S.W.A.T. desktop briefcase. I bet that Commander Penny has a few more things hidden away somewhere. Anyway, he picks up the case, right, and this rolling thing is like all of a sudden at the end of the isle. The lighting wasn't great but it was like three feet across and shiny. It puts out these leg things and starts walking towards us, it's top opens and a fuckin gun comes out. I look over at Stan and he reaches for me like to pull me in his direction and the fuckin thing shoots his arm off, just fuckin gone. He starts squirting blood like a Monty Python guy. Like, I just went and pushed him the way he was gonna pull me and we go under these shelves, right? The thing is still coming towards us and firing like lasers or long shiny bullets, I don't know. The thing's hitting the shelves and boxes around us. There's flashes and a burning smell. Stan is so cool, he's got no arm but he says it doesn't hurt so he pushes a bunch of shit out of the way and clears a path to the next isle. We go through and there's no guard so we run this way and that way tryin to remember the way out and I can hear the thing behind us but he ain't alone, the rolling sound was getting louder. Now and then when we passed an isle a shot would come our way, like shit man," she pondered the situation, "I'll tell ya, fucked up. I don't know how but they like herded us into a corner and this one rolls up right in front of us and takes aim. Stan hands me the case and says 'there's the exit over there.' I see it but the gun is pointing at me. He jumped on top of the fuckin thing just as it fires.


"Stop the tape," Kate said. "That's the reason and that's how it used to be done. I've seen a lot of Tibbs memory files and people from that world used to be here all the time. Remember the old man at the Stadium, the way he choose himself. There are so many people out there like him. The body doesn't work so well anymore but the mind is still they could all be here enjoying the time they have, better than layin' in a bed all day lookin' at a T.V. It reminds me of that twilight Zone episode where there are two old guys in hospital beds one is near the window, remember that one?" Sue said sure. The guy by the window's always telling' the other guy about all the great stuff going on outside. So the other guy kills him so he can get the bed near the window"

"Yeah and all that's outside the window was a brick wall." "That's when he did his chest thing, damage, stuff?" She made a distasteful face at the memory.

"Yeah, he saved my life. I mean, well the thing didn't like fire at him or get the shot off, it like exploded -the gun thing- and Stan flew back at me. I don't remember but I might've screamed. We crashed down on the floor and I think we were both dazed for a second. Three or four of the rolly things were there when I looked up and they were sticking up their gun and getting ready. That's when Tibbs came in. He's like all shiny and green. Tanks are so cool."

"What the fuck is a Tank?

Chapter thirty five

I like V/R racing games. Enduro Blitz is my favorite; you can feel the bumps in the road and the pull of the wheel when you're rounding a turn when your totally relaxed and into it.

TOD HODGES, gamer.

This is a typical letter from people who use our product. Our research has proven that the minds pleasure centers can be stimulated without actual physical movement. Using visual and audible signals Virtual Reality Technology taps into the brain's memory centers, essentially tricking the mind to make you feel the action. I like Extreme Rollercoaster

"Yeah and the other guy realizes that he was making it all up, the road, the field, all the stories. So now he wants to die and he realizes that they're gonna keep him alive as long as they can, come on it's a hospital and all that guilt changes him in a second from a crabby piece of shit into a friendly kind of guy so the next guy they roll in will kill him. Why not give them both a pair of Glasses and let em live, if their mind is up to it that is."

"They can only go where V/R tech lets 'em."

"For now. Tibbs said that the King used to have Humans in his cabinet of advisors. People used to go wherever they wanted, just like you and me."

"How do they get around? They don't project enough energy to really move in the Ether. Kate picked up a capsule from the counter, held each end, and pulled till it formed a thin stick, about a foot and a half long. She handed it to Sue who raised it to the light and saw that a green liquid was contained within. "Is that Tinjar? I know they drink the stuff but yeah, no, yeah it would work for humans right, I guess, like this." She held it with both hands in front of her. "It would be like waterskiing."

"That's what they used to use. They could come in from any site and go wherever they wanted but something happened, Tibbs hasn't told me yet what happened when he was younger.

"You said there used to be a King." She quoted a movie that they both liked. "How'd you become King then? I didn't vote for you."

"No, for real," Kate was serious, "there used to be a dude that was really fuckin' powerful. He ruled for a long time and there was like peace and everybody got along, shit like that. Not like now with security this and security that. Nobody gets involved with anything, just go to work and go home."

"Did he have a Queen?"

"What? I don't know, I didn't ask. He must have had one, right? What would a Queen do?"

Together they said "Shopping!"

Sue said, "I've been hearing a lot about this King they say we used to have, and he's coming back. What does that mean? As far as I know there is no government, I don't pay taxes, We've never seen a cop. What would change?"

"What about those scumbags that make those viruses and those mother fuckers who hack peoples information and spend all their money and get credit cards and shits like that, maybe someone with brains as big as their balls could step up and create a way to stop it. And you know, some of those porno sights could use policing; imagine if cops out there and a cop in here could communicate."

Susan breeched a subject that she knew her friend was thinking about. "Is Tibbs the King? You've been seeing him a lot. I'm not jealous. The gang haven't stopped partying since Binch was declared guilty. They don't sleep much. I see the way people look at you two. It's like you two are already married and the coronation was last month, okay maybe I am jealous about that. He hasn't told you anything about his past?"

At this point David is bored with war. There is no one who can stop him. He thinks, here are the OOfa, a race with infinite lifespan, like his own. He listens to the plan and knows it is a trap or an escape of some sort but he doesn't care about that; this acts as a distraction for him. It is something to do, to watch, to figure out the deed and foil the endgame.

a powerful group of Olde Ones and Elders

to this person and those like him 'scrubbing' is the act of getting rid of all information that pertains to a given criminal. This includes all government data files and medical records. In extreme cases persons related to and associated with the criminal are disappeared.

time, as humankind experiences it, is relative. Time flies when you're having fun or it drags when you're bored. In the cyber-world information is passed very quickly. A long dissertation can take place in an instant.

the effects on the human body by the liquor known as Blue are similar in effect to a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. Because of their age and tolerance level, it is the drink of choice for the Olde Ones and the Elders. It is aged in casks for a millennia and is therefore many times more intoxicating than anything else on the market.

Dumglass: pronounced doom-glass by the manufacturer but called dumb glass by consumers is a Plexiglas compound which is used in high end remodeling and in Platform Housing. The polymer contains ultraviolet blocking micro fibers which can be electrified to produce a liquid crystal display that can be used as a video monitor or to project any outside view desired. The exterior is coated with dust eating microbes so the outside remains spotless.

Author was thinking of the drums at the beginning of Van Halen's Hot For Teacher