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Chapter 4
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Location: Western North America

Posted: Fri Oct 23, 2009 2:23 pm    Post subject: Chapter 4  

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 5, Chapter 6
Chapter 4


Most people don't know how much the same that things can be. Speakers and microphones, for example. Sure, when used properly they accomplish two very different things, but underneath the surface they fulfill the exact same basic function; they serve as channels for a path of energy. In fact, that is what all wires and cords do, they transmit energy from one place to another. What that energy is perceived as depends largely on what is at the receiving end, and how it wants to see it. 

It's all about re-purposing the tools in hand for the task at hand, that's how Jerry saw it. When he was seven, no one told him that his earphones could not work as the microphone he needed to record notes from his class, provided he found a way to make the respective plug and socket fit each other, and he had done just that. Video and audio look much the same when coursing down a copper line. Electrons are electrons, fields are fields, data is data and frequencies are frequencies. Pick any one of them apart long enough and you find a way to reduce or convert it from one to the other. That is how he knew that once he was able to track down the location of the rock sample (a simple enough hack into the security system from his handheld datacomm, once he decided to do so), that all he had to do was locate an intercom in the sample room, trick it into receiving signals instead of sending them with a clever yet simple piece of code, and listen. This he did.

He hadn't planned on listening long, not with what Kent had gone through. But he didn't have to, the thing was very definitely not making a noise, and he didn't rely on his ears alone for that conclusion. It had taken him the better part of six hours, but he had managed to write another clever bit of code, one far more complex than a simple signal swapper. A full program, really--computers, now there was something else that was more or less the same from one medium to another, whether it was a phone, a hand-held, a Blue Skies VA projection center operating system or the tiny chip that regulated the core pump velocity of an artificial heart. Just dits and dats, ons and offs, strings of opposing values; close/open, yes/no, if/if not, and when all those values grow up and talk to each other they become slightly more selective parameters, like Make, Goto, List, Catalog and Fetch. Any kind of computer is just electricity following orders, it is simply a matter of knowing how to give those orders.

Jerry's program gave the security system a whole set of new orders. First was to listen for and report the presence of sound waves and their frequency through his newly re-purposed microphone.  The second step, providing the first happened at all, was to analyze that frequency with the algorithm he’d programmed into it, which could then identify the exact opposite frequency. Thirdly, it was to act like a speaker again and generate that frequency when commanded, with the hopes that it would cancel the original frequency out, or at the very least create enough counter-noise to render its crippling effects useless.  Of course, these steps required the preceding steps to be taken as well, and Jerry was not so sure what to do if no frequency was to be heard.

But he was getting ahead of himself. As it stood, he was hours away from an opportunity to sneak off and check out the sample--which was good, because that gave him more time for it to start making noise. He wasn't about to trust that it would stay quiet once he was alone with it, and he was NOT going in there until he had a counter-frequency to protect himself.


Jerry put the datacomm away and picked up his lunch tray. "Right here, buddy. Hey, didn't I tell you to call me Jerry? I hate that Sykes crap, it makes me feel like I'm in the military."

"I told you not to wander off, Sykes, you could get yourself hurt. What are you up to anyway?"

"You do it on purpose, don't you? You know it bothers me, and you do it on purpose. The more I tell you not to, the more you do it, am I wrong? J-E-R-R-Y, it isn't hard man."

"What have you been doing, Jerry?" The guard rested a hand on his flick stick, making it quite clear that the time for joking had come and gone. "I know it hasn't been eating lunch, your tray is hardly touched."

"Look, I'm not comfortable eating with the others, okay? I'm very self-conscious about my eating habits. You're right though, it's more than that." He glanced at a control panel on the wall, making sure the guard noticed him glancing at it. "Have you read my file? Do you know my background? Because my expertise makes it impossible for me to ignore how vulnerable that terminal is to being breached from the outside. I didn't want to say anything, because it isn't polite to criticize another man's setup, but it's really bad. If I were trying to hack into here from out there, and that is any indication of the state of all your security measures, I could probably make short work of them."  Jerry had no idea what the terminal even did, let alone whether or not security measures were apparent from it, but he was sure the guard didn't either. That was a tech's job, and techs aren't trained locally by D.O., they're third-party contractors. Trained guards were as likely to know about hack security as a tech would be to carry a gun.

"Back to the table, Jerry. You let us worry about our own security." He couldn't tell if the guard bought it or not, but he wasn't going to try to sell it too hard. If they didn't worry, he wasn't any worse off. Maybe they did, and it was his hope that if they did, they would focus their attention on incoming connections and signals, making them less likely to notice anything odd about what Jerry had going on internally. But if that plan backfired, they could easily take a hard look at everything, and that was the last thing he needed. Let the guard brush it off. Maybe he calls a tech in a day or two, and even then, there is always the chance that said tech will wonder if there isn't some vulnerability he can't figure out. There's always a more knowledgeable guru out there, and contractors are especially aware of the threat to their livelihood from competition. It makes them work harder, and longer, and that suited Jerry just fine.

He followed the guard back and sat at the table. By now, the other detainees had finished and were wandering around chatting about the various reasons they were being held for the day or two that most of them would spend here, killing the rest of the meal time. Jerry poked at his cold food, finding himself without much appetite. He resisted an urge to take out his datacomm again, rejecting the idea as obsessive. No matter how careful you thought you were, if there were people around you that you didn't want seeing what you were doing, then the best assurance is to not invite fate to conjure even the most machiavellian of circumstances which would allow it to happen, and just wait until no one is around. Besides, he had time. He could wait. It had to make a sound again sooner or later, didn't it?

Sarah caught his eye from across the room. He just shrugged and went back to his meal. He hadn't told her about the call from Kent or their mutual decision to move forward, or any of the steps he had taken. He felt bad about it, but he didn't think he could depend on her under pressure. It was bad enough she knew he was going to think about it, and she probably knew him enough to guess that something was up, but she couldn't confirm anything he didn't tell her, which also kept her a little safer and less liable, should he be discovered. He knew it wouldn't last though, sooner or later he would have to read her in on the plan. Once he figured out what happened after he got the sample, he would think about it, but in the meantime, he was trying to avoid thinking past that point.

If all of his planning went smoothly, and if the cameras didn't record him entering the room like they were supposed to (they go offline while being updated, which gave him ten minutes if he was lucky), and the guards failed to notice his absence and connect it with the missing sample of the specimen, and last but not least, if they weren't automatically considered the most obvious suspects and thoroughly searched whether there were legitimate reasons to suspect them or not... then they still had the problem of whether or not they could still count on Kent getting them out of here, or if they would have to figure out some kind of escape plan. So she had to know sooner or later that they would face those choices, but he was damned if he could figure out exactly when in all of that was the best time to let her know. He was just going to have to wing it, then--and why not? It usually worked for the boss.

Except he wasn't the boss, and couldn't afford to wing it, could he? Not this part at least, this part needed meticulous planning, and that was what he had done. The updates were tonight, he had long since hacked his door for keyless entry from his datacomm, he had a route planned down to within thirty seconds that avoided cameras that weren't being updated, and the door to the sample room, as well as the rest of its security measures were likewise hacked to be bypassed via the datacomm (in theory anyway, he hadn't been able to test it), and if he missed this window, it wouldn't come again for another week. They shouldn't even be here that much longer, and even if they were somehow, he doubted that even Kent could stall that long. All he needed was for the damn thing to make a noise. And that's the one thing that wasn't happening.

He wondered how Kent was doing with his stall tactics; no doubt he would be here and running this crazy mission if he could, but that lawyer fella, or whoever it was in the monkey suit probably wouldn't let him stay. He resisted what he now definitively was calling one of his obsessive urges to check the datacomm. There were hours to go. It had to make a noise. Sooner or later, it had to, didn't it? It had to.

Didn't it?


The elevator doors hardly made a sound as they opened, revealing a finely decorated hallway. Harsh violet crashes of light intruded on the more natural lighting of the space, but Kent was more curious about the unseen source of the more natural light--it was one of those fancy set ups hidden in ledges in the ceiling or the walls or something like that--but he knew he preferred it. Providing such a small space with its own lighting when it was as exposed to the sky as it was almost seemed like a waste of power to Kent, but he wasn’t about to say so.

They stepped out of the elevator and wordlessly walked down the hallway. There really wasn’t anywhere else to go, the design was much simpler than the lower floors with their webs and networks of tunnels, corridors and access ways. Kent had always felt overwhelmed by them, stymied somehow by their enormous complexity, as if some part of him rebelled at the idea of living that way. Like animals he remembered thinking once, like animals hiding underground.

But here, on one of the top floors of the finest tower of the colony, it was a lot more straight forward: one hallway, with an elevator at one end, and a single set of doors at the other. Much simpler. And much finer too than the lower floors--was that oak paneling? Kent had thought oak was a myth, but damned if he knew what else to call it. Even the elevator ride had been more pleasant and... important somehow, that was how it had felt. Important. How does a mere elevator accomplish importance? Kent didn’t know, but that was what it had done, what the whole floor had done.

“This way Mr. Kent,” said the man who had managed not to surrender his name to him over the entirety of their brief business relationship. Isn’t that impolite, or bad manners or something like that? It seemed to Kent there ought to be a word for that. Bad business, that’s what they called it, but that wasn’t good enough; there needed to be a word, a single word, like fiasco, or mess, or clusterfuck. A good strong word that would impart to someone quite precisely the exact concept of someone rudely refusing to give you their name while simultaneously trying to bribe you (quite generously), and simultaneously (again), having you scared for your life to say no. But that was too much to hope for, he supposed. Not without someone knowing the context first, and he didn’t think there was a word for that either. For someone understanding a subject out of context as clearly as they would within it.

“Whoa, what the--where the hell did all that come from...?”

“Mr. Kent?”

“Sorry. I’m a little distracted.”

“It’s the storm, Mr. Kent. The unshielded view from up here is often disorienting for those not used to it.” The stranger pointed out the glass towards the unceasing ribbons of violet which branched and crackled noiselessly in the waterless sky. It was perhaps the most disturbing view of the magnetic storm he could imagine. Only the brightest of flashes make it to the deeper parts of the sea floor, where he had spent most if not all of his life, and always dim and blue by then, always a distant reminder of what can easily be imagined as an occasional occurrence, a brief reminder that back a ways, they managed to do some kind of damage to the sky, but that it would eventually correct itself. That their children or their children’s children might one day be able to return to the surface. But here, in the sky among the streaming bolts of coursing electrons, the phenomenon’s likely permanence seemed so much more obvious. Glaringly obvious he thought, and immediately felt it an appropriate term considering how hard it was on the eyes. He stifled a very inappropriate laugh at the thought however--how could he have explained why he thought that was so funny, when he wasn’t sure himself? And looking kind of cuckoo right before going into negotiations with the boss wasn’t exactly the best strategy either.

“Yes, the storm of course, mister... uh, hey, just what the hell is your name anyway? I’ve asked you like--I dunno, at least twice, I think, and I don’t like that you haven’t told me. It’s not very professional, I think.”

The stranger smiled, and Kent was all but sure that was all he was going to get out of him, but this time he did offer a reply: “Now, come Mr. Kent, I do not think exagerration suits you. You have only asked who we are; ‘Who are you people’ was the question, was it not? And yes, I declined to answer, but the question was asked only once. But it does not matter. If you must call me something, then call me Rafi.”

“Hunh. Rafi, huh? OK, Rafi, so tell me something else then. Why doesn’t your boss tint these damn windows if they’re so disruptive to his guests?”

Again the stranger smiled (the stranger who said to call him Rafi, only Kent wasn’t sure his name really was that, so while he would call him that all he wished, he wasn’t about to think of him as that), and this time he kept his silence. That was Ok. Kent expected he knew the answer anyway, and the reluctance on the stranger’s part only helped to confirm it; having a way to disorient guests who would invariably be seeking some favor or trying to negotiate something for themselves was a pretty slick advantage. Kent crossed his arms, partly as a show of disapproval of the silence of the man who asked to be called Rafi, but mostly because he felt a cold and sudden chill. Who would have thought the upper floors would be colder? Now there was something unexpected.

The stranger gestured down the hallway, doubtlessly pointing to the large oaken double doors that were all the way down at the far end--the only other entrance or exit to this floor that Kent could see. “Are we going to do this Mr. Kent, or should I inform my employer that you would rather conduct business out here in the hallway?”

Kent’s mind stuttered. He knew Jerry would need time to gather information, if he was going to get a sample of the rock specimen. He had already been able to delay this meeting by two days, claiming exhaustion and mental fatigue from his stay in hospital wing, and he hadn’t exactly been lying; he had merely exaggerated. But now that Jerry had come through (he should apologize sometime later for doubting him before. He was just as curious about this thing, Kent had seen it in his eyes, and safety regulations or not, he had always been his man, damn near loyal to a fault), he needed time, and Kent knew that also meant these negotiations should take as long as possible, and that the stranger’s employer was probably going to try to resolve it very quickly, so the only one who could stretch it out was him. He knew all these things, and he tried to tell himself that he was good at stalling, that there were a million and one excuses to ruminate or reflect upon any one detail of the bargain, that he could dilly and dally his opponents to the point of near homicidal frustration, and he could make anything last as long as he wanted to. He was a diver, wasn’t he? Haggling was in his blood.

But no matter how often he told himself these things, no matter how hard he tried to convince himself he was superior to even cold ones like this Rafi asshole who just stared and smiled and cozened and coerced without hardly saying a word, no matter how important he knew it was to buy Jerry time--here and now, he could not think of a single thing to say or do that would delay their progress down this hallway. Not a damned thing. Realizing this, he sighed.

“Right. Let’s do this, then. ‘Take me to your leader’.” He doubted the Rafi-man got his reference. He didn’t seem the movie type. But Kent enjoyed the small private joke to himself nonetheless as he followed him down the hallway towards the oaken doors. Rafi-man certainly seemed strange enough to be an alien, if they existed. Kent almost hoped he was, since he didn’t much like the idea of sharing a species with the man, but he wasn’t going to hold his breath.

The trek down the hall was disappointingly brief, and did not present any further opportunities for distraction. Hopefully, once he was face to face with the boss man, he could get his head on straight again. Something about talking with the decision maker made him a little bolder. Servants can only get so much done, after all.

Considering the appearance of the doors, Kent expected the stranger to knock, so he was quite surprised both to see him touch what appeared to be a knot of wood by one of the doorknockers (which apparently were only for show), and to hear a chime emanate from the door itself afterward. Surprising yet again was the way in which the doors retracted into the walls sideways with a well machined hiss, as if they were simply any other set of doors in the colony and not the oaken behemoths they appeared to be.

“Come in, William Kent. Have a seat.”

Kent heard the words come echoing out of the room, but they were distant things, mere distractions from what now firmly held his attention. Also coming out of the room was the most brilliant light he had ever seen. No, that wasn’t quite true; he had seen brighter lights, but this light was different, it was bigger somehow. Truer. There was a great big yellow sun in the sky, and the sky--the sky!--it was big and blue and beautiful. Somewhere birds were singing, and the distant sounds of a lapping stream could also be heard. Kent was sure he felt a warm summer breeze on his face, though his intellect assured him it was a pleasantly scented vent somewhere, probably deliberately placed so that it was one of the first things encountered as one entered the room. Very bright and distant stars fought the deep azure of the artificial sky to appear as dim sparkles, as if they were motes of light glimmering from a jewel. It was like being transported inside one of his favorite movies from the archives, one of the ones where all the color had been turned up, and everything stood out vividly. But it was all fake, he knew. Impressive, overwhelming, utterly convincing and entirely real--but still fake. That was okay. He could live with fake.

A throat cleared. Kent wasn’t sure whether it had been the man called Rafi or his boss who had done so, but regardless, it was done. His rapture broken, he found himself a little startled by the fact that he had walked the dozen or so paces that put him inside the office and near a black shiny desk with a well dressed sweaty fat man sitting behind it. The fat man gestured towards the simple wooden chair opposite him imperiously, patiently. Somewhat embarrassed, Kent sat down. The chair was hard wood, and most likely far less comfortable than the more luxuriously upholstered throne-like swivel chair the fat man sat in. Unsettled, distracted, embarassed and now uncomfortable as well. These negotiations were off to a wonderful start for him. I’ve endured worse, haven’t I? Surely he had. Surely.

“I am Adrian Gorsht,” the fat man said. “You have met my associate Rafi. I understand that you wanted to speak with me directly regarding some offer or another being made by my company?”

So he was taking that route, eh? Not my decision, board of trustees, business considerations, etc. Kent couldn’t help but smile to himself, a small one for his small victory. The position would be difficult to argue, sure. But this man Gorsht was transparent, and that meant Kent would be able to see through his arguments with ease. Oh yes, he had endured worse indeed.

“Yes, Mr. Gorsht, that’s right. As I am sure you know, my name is Will Kent, and I have a number of concerns about your generous offer....


Six hours. That was how long it had been since Jerry settled in to wait. In that time, he had checked and double checked his work. He went over his calculations, all the figuring, all the math... he reassured himself of the camera angles. He checked lines of code, no matter how immaculate he thought they were. He reviewed the schedule and acted out real-time practice drills in his cell alone and with his head.

And meanwhile, from the foul stone there came nothing. Not one blip or scree, not a single pulse of anything even remotely resembling a sound. And now, he was mere minutes away from the one and only time he had to act. He sighed. Oh well, Jer, you’ll just have to do it the hard way.

Not that he hadn’t been prepared for the hard way. He didn’t much like it, but if Jerry Sykes was anything, it was prepared. It took him thirty seconds to make the change to the program’s code, a small change, a mere deletion of a hand full of characters which altered the third step. Instead of playing the identified frequency that was the opposite of any sound the stone might have made on command, it would now play such a frequency immediately after identifying it. This way, Jerry had at least some chance at protection.

He slid back the loose panel of his in-room request screen and retrieved the precious cutting pen he had hidden there (one tool that could not have been re-purposed from another, and so had to be stolen from a D.O. utility crewman). He checked his watch, set the pen to its maximum cutting strength and, right on schedule, sent the command to the internal systems to open his door and quickly ducked out into the hallway.

The camera that was overlooking his room was unfortunately not one of the ones going off line for updates. It did however swing far enough away from his door that a well timed exit would not be seen by its lens, nor would the person who quickly enough ran directly beneath it and pressed themselves against the wall, and so Jerry stayed hidden. This sort of well timed maneuver was only necessary twice more before Jerry was confident that he walked unmonitored corridors of the D.O. holding wing.

The hardest part done, he simply followed the corridors, making a memorized series of left and right turns when prompted by his watch to do so until he arrived at the doorway marked with black and yellow bands across the top, along with the words Lv. 5 Access Only. Not at all convinced that things should be going this well, he held his breath while he keyed in the command to open the doors with his Datacomm. Amazingly, the doors opened to reveal there were no guards inside, just as he had expected, and he quickly ducked into the room, locking the door closed behind him.

The easy part came and went a little too quickly for Jerry’s liking, and with the hard part out of the way, that only left the impossible part, the part where he, Jerry, a simple engineer set out to accomplish what his brave captain had done--because really, that’s what it was all about, wasn’t it, playing the bold leader, proving he was just as much of a man as Kent was, even if he didn’t swagger like him? Even without the bravado? But here he was, and now that the rock was right in front of him, he had his doubts. He had to do more than what Kent had done; he had to come away unscathed, and if the impervious Captain William Kent could get hurt by this thing, then what chance did he have? What if he was wrong? What if the noise hadn’t been sound at all, but some strange auditory delusion brought on by a chemical reaction, or radiation? He had no real way to know. He wished he could tell himself to trust his math or his science, but he knew that wasn’t the problem. The problem was it was all based on an unproven theory.

He took his glasses off, wiped the fog from them, put them back on. He swallowed the lump in his throat, slid the glasses up, fought an impulse to take them back off and clean them again. He scratched absently at his graying red whiskers, checked his Datacomm to make sure all the software was in place, fought another impulse to take his glasses off and clean them again.

“OK, this is ridiculous,” he declared, out of reasonable delays. It was right there, and it was as silent as the grave, he should just run and take it while he had the chance. Right now. Just run.

A distant thud resonated through the room, the floor rumbled, the lights flickered. Sediment drifted off of the walls like so much dust being blown from something old and disused, a recently rediscovered treasure that had been sitting gathering cobwebs, gathering time. The shrill tones of an alarm nearly as distant as the thud which had preceded it--a thud Jerry only now was beginning to comprehend as an explosion somewhere else in the facility--echoed through the wing, bounced off the walls, repeated itself.

Jerry sprang into action, running towards the rock sample with the cutting pen in his hand, not sure how it got there. He fumbled with the pen, tried to set its cutting strength to maximum, almost dropped it when he realized he already had. It flashed to life, and somewhere he heard a keening noise, but now he had no idea if it was the rock, the alarm, his counter measures or some combination of any one of them. Then he thought that maybe his ears were ringing from the explosion, only he couldn’t remember if it had been that loud or not, though a part of him wondered had it been loud enough if the damage could be so immediate as to make it sound lower.

He violently tried to shove any distracting thoughts aside while the flash and ozone of the cutting pen against the rock sample did its work. Sweat stung his eyes, but that was okay because he didn’t have a visor to protect them from the light anyway, so squinting was for the best. He tried to focus on his cutting, but he could hear men shouting somewhere now, and his heart was racing, and he was feeling somewhat dizzy, which concerned him, but he couldn’t remember for the life of him why. His breath started coming in ragged gasps as he made the final arc of his cut and slammed his fist on the small portion of the stone he had cut away, breaking it loose.

The noise changed then, and he was all but sure it was the stone now. A sickly feeling began to wash over him, starting in the back of his throat and working its way down to the pit of his stomach. His bowels clenched and a deep dull ache throbbed in his bones, his joints, his testicles, his teeth. He supressed an urge to scream, and somewhere he heard gunfire going off, and he almost didn’t care. Just as he was thinking passing out might be the best solution, the intensity of the noise lessened. The sickness and pain did not cease, but too, were greatly lessened.

Almost able to think clearly again, he realized he was more than halfway out of the room, had somehow gotten on his hands and knees and was crawling for the door, running from the stone that keened almost mournfully behind him. The corners of his vision were dark, but he couldn’t tell if that was because he was light headed or if he had been blinded by the cutting pen. The sample he came for bit into the palm of his hand as he crawled across the floor, focusing on nothing but the flashing red light that leaked through the seams of the door. He thought he might pass out. No, he was gonna puke. Maybe both, he wasn’t sure. He wasn’t the only one who figured out the security lapses tonight. Someone else had figured that out, and he was pretty damn sure what they were after. Whoever they were, they were willing to use a bomb to get in here, and they were heading his way, he knew. He heard the shouting voices. His stomach clenched. His eyes shut.


Adrian Gorscht listened as Kent droned on into what would be their third hour of “negotiations”. What did time matter to one such as he? Let the little man prattle on, for the more he spoke, the more he revealed about himself. His reverence for patterns did not discount people after all, and though they were occasionally prone to wild variances, on the whole, people had the most reliable of patterns he had been able to observe. 

Kent’s pattern was one of diversion, of buying time. At first, Gorscht had been wary of this being a cover for a more elaborate sort of distraction, but Kent seemed more or less to be a one trick pony. He was very good at that trick, but he had little else to offer in terms of debate. Disappointing.

“So considering the threat to my health this whole fiasco has been,” Kent said, “you can understand why it’s so important to me to make sure I get the best deal here. It’s kind of personal now. But you guys just seem too good to be true, and I know I keep coming back to that, but you just swooped in so fast and made such a great offer and I can’t help but think there is someone else out there who needs this more than you do or could be doing something better with it. It’s not all about price, you know.”

That was a lie. Money defined this man, it shaped his world and one could easily maneuver him through that world by opening or stoppering its flow. But he played along, he made the required argument that money was certainly why they were here, and it wasn’t his business, nor Kent’s he dared say, to determine any moral value for the sample or to deal virtuously. Kent had something, he wanted it, etc... the whole thing was so boring to him, so easily done. But Kent wasn’t the only one buying time, and ah, that was the beauty of it. Talk, little man, talk. Let it gain you what it will, for what I gain is far better.

A disc of soft white light pulsed gently from beneath the slick black surface of his desk, a pulse that meant he had incoming communications from one of his agents. He tapped the light, and a small scale image of the agent materialized before him.


The sides of Kent’s shirt were wet with sweat. Three hours of back and forth and back and forth and he still had no idea at all where they were in these negotiations. That might have been okay, except once all the delaying was done, he still had to leave a reasonable expectation that he could still take the offer. And now, just when he thought he might have been close to getting somewhere, the fat man raised his hand and signaled him to wait while he took a call. Kent hated phone calls. Hearing only one half of a conversation was extremely frustrating, especially when the half your hearing is coming from a man as tight-lipped and hard to read as Gorscht.

“Yes... that was to be expected. Oh? I see. No, it is unfortunate, but it makes little difference; we deal with a known element now. Yes.” Gorscht touched his desk and the crazy light that was on it went away. Kent assumed that meant the call was over. God, he wanted one of those. He wanted one of everything in this office, hell, he wanted the office too, excepting the damn chair he was sitting in now. And the windows would have to be tinted. “Goodbye, Mr. Kent. It was a curious diversion, our meeting, but other matters require my attention now.

“I’m sorry... what?”

The fat man stood up and walked to his bar. “We are done Mr. Kent. Good day.”

What? Kent stood and followed him. “I’m afraid I don’t understand, Mr. Gorscht. We haven’t settled on any terms yet.”

Gorscht poured a scotch in to a small fancy glass with cubed textures. There was also a cigar tin at the bar, and Gorscht took one of these as well. He placed the glass in Kent’s hand.

“That is because I am rescinding the offer. You should have accepted while you had the chance.”

“But... wait, all of the sudden you just don’t want the fucking thing? After all that!”

“Language, sir. I will not have profanity in this office. But yes, correct; I no longer want what you have.”

Kent couldn’t believe it. Who makes a large offer like that and just changes their mind? It was that phone call, that damned phone call, something about it changed his mind. But what? And what the hell was he going to do now?

Gorscht slid the cigar into Kent’s shirt pocket. “For your trouble. Try not to take it so hard, eh? Rafi!”

“Yes, Mr. Gorscht?”

“Show Mr. Kent out.”

“With pleasure, sir.”


Sarah’s ears were ringing. Her head ached. Some kind of dust hung thick in the air, and she choked and gagged on it, struggling for breath. She was on the floor. How had that happened? She’d been just sitting there, thinking about how Jerry was definitely up to something, and how pissed off she was at being excluded. Why was she always left out when it came to those two? They only came to her once they needed her, she was never consulted about anything. She had been wondering whether it was because she was a woman or because she wasn’t a man (yes, there was a distinction, she didn’t care what anyone else said), when the world suddenly became fire, noise and pain.

“God... help me. Somebody help me.”

That was Jefferies. He hadn’t been sitting more than three yards away from her when the bomb went off, and most of his lower body was pulp and mash. He was being detained for suspicion of smuggling medicines into the colony that would help the sick and elderly, and now was either going to die of shock or bleed to death, which ever happened first. Jesus, how fucked up is that?

She had to get away. She didn’t know where to, she didn’t care. Whatever Will and Jerry were up to, she couldn’t care about that right now, she just had to get up, she had to move, right now.

“Help me, please, oh God, someone help meeee!”

Sarah got to her feet and stumbled away from the hole in the wall--wall, that’s what that stuff in the air was, it was powdered wall--away from the noise, away from the pain, away from the men with guns. “I can’t... can’t help. Sorry,” she coughed again, and prayed there was nothing hazardous in that dust, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do.” She ran then, as fast as she could carry herself. She turned down a hallway at the first opportunity. D.O. guards passed her going the way she came, but they did nothing to stop her. Too busy.

She turned again, heedless of the direction she was going, caring only that it was away. How did she get herself into this? She was going to be a dancer when she grew up, how the hell did she become a prisoner caught in someone else’s crossfire? It didn’t make any sense, nothing made any sense anymore, not since Kent went into that room alone with a strange rock. She thought she knew who he was, who all of them were. She thought she knew who she was, but now she didn’t know anything except there were men with guns and if one of them caught her, they might shoot her.

This is Jerry’s fault she thought, then thought better of it. No, it wasn’t Jerry’s fault, it had been Kent’s fault from the beginning. Jerry couldn’t help it if he was a follower, not anymore than she could, and if it was his fault, then it had to be her fault too, and it damn well wasn’t. So it had to be Kent’s fault, because it had something to do with that fucking rock.

Gun fire went off way too close to her and she was sure she was dead. But instead of being killed, she saw holes appear in the wall next to her and heard a man shout for her not to move. She froze in place.

“Now turn around!” She didn’t stop to mention that turning around and not moving were two different things. She barely thought it. She just turned around like he said and prayed he wasn’t the trigger happy sort. She saw two men dressed in black uniforms she couldn’t recognize. They were definitely not D.O., and they carried assault rifles. Those weren’t standard issue, she knew that much. In fact, they were most likely contraband because of their antiquated nature. Modern plasma weapons could be deflected by protective fields, but metal projectiles? Good luck.

The one with his rifle pointed at her--clearly the one in charge--waved the other one over and they conferred with each other. The other one pulled out a photograph and the two looked at it and then nodded. “Yeah, that looks like her. She might be one of them.” They walked closer to her, guns pointed the whole way. The leader waved his gun towards a nearby room, and she went in. They followed her and closed the door behind. The leader took off his helmet and put it down on a table that was in the room.

“What’s going on,” Sarah asked, more afraid not to know than of any consequences there might have been for talking.

“Now we interrogate you, girlie,” said the leader.

“But... I don’t know anything.”

“Sure you do.”

A manual door on the far side of the room creaked open loudly, and the leader pointed his rifle at it and fired indiscriminately. Whoever was trying to come in, slammed the door and bullets sparked off the heavy alloy. Then the leader grunted and fell face down on the floor. Behind him, the other guard stood with the butt of his rifle exactly where the leaders head had been. He took off his own helmet then, and put both it and his rifle down on the table.

“I’m not with them,” he said, “but you’d better come with me if you want to get out of this. Put on his uniform, that’s probably the best way.”

“Now wait a goddamn minute, mister! Who the hell are you? What’s going on here? Just stay away from me!” Sarah started to back away from the man, and she heard the manual door creaking open again. She turned to face this newest threat, wondering how she was keeping from going crazy with the whole world going mad around her.

“Is the shooting in here done now?”


“Sarah, you’re okay!”

Jerry stumbled into the room, and Sarah had a moment of Déjà vu when she saw how pale and spent he looked. His eyes looked sleep deprived and there was a trail of drying blood coming from his nose. Just like Kent the other day. “Jerry, what happened to you?”

“I got it,” he said, waving his hand back and forth, which was clutched into a fist around something small.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“What else would do this to me?” His voice sounded haggard, as if it were almost too much effort for him to talk.

“Wait... did he cut off some of it?” The stranger sounded incredulous.

“Who’s this guy?”

“It doesn’t matter Jerry, don’t trust him.”

“I told you, I’m not with them!”

“You were just gonna stand there and let him ‘interrogate’ me all he wanted.”

“I was going along with it, yes, but only to hear what he wanted to know. I wouldn’t have let him hurt you.”

“I think you better explain yourself mister, starting with your name. I’ll go first: I’m Jerry.”

The stranger sighed and cursed under his breath. “Keaton. And I don’t have time for this, there is plenty of time for talking later. But we need to get you--and that--out of here, before Gorscht’s men find us.

“What about D.O., can’t they help?”

“They’re too busy trying to survive. That’s good for us, because while they’re fighting, we can still slip out. But sooner or later they’re going to remember they came here for you, so we need to move. Now come on!”

Chapter 5

Okay, there you have it. There a few things that need to be decided about now. I tried to leave this DP a little more open than I usually do, and to have more than one viable option. Kent can stay and argue, he can try to bluff, he can call someone else, he can threaten, he can beg; he has a few choices. Meanwhile, Sarah and Jerry have to decide whether they want to trust this guy, go look for a D.O. officer, make him talk or strike out on their own. So the story really can for the first time go almost anywhere from here depending on how creative we can get.

Have fun guys, sorry for the wait, and as always, thanks for playing!
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