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Adaptation Part 1

Chapter Iand we are human because we careister Candice, Berwick ChapterAt a stage early on in its existence, Man decided he would be different from the rest of theanimal kingdom He was made of the same stuff, for sure, but his animalistic motivations would betend withofotion and free willNo longer was he content with ignorance, he sought truths Fed up with barbarity, he soughsocIese desireshave deeper roots, however, and continue to abuse his motivations for theirpurposes History, itd with thethe conststruggle between the divine and the baseIn the sparkling streets of Newport, Rhode island, a figure stood silently and watched as busypeople bustled by There was always motion Motley crowds of individuals did important things andntly to perform more important thingsThere was a hum If you took away the cars, the buzzing lights, and all the other man madeaphernalia that filled the world, there would still be that humLow toned, omnipresent, it sat just underange of hearing, almost to the point of beingwas the sound of humanity, of civilization It had been around for thousands of years, andFrom the ancient Egyptians working the fields, through to the Spanish explorers crossinggreat seas, across nations and cultures, the hum remained unchangedt rippled It bobbed It carried on as the people that made it continued to do exactly whatas that they did this and thatRyan was unnoticed in the throng In his gray pants and black jersey he was neitherthreatening nor appealing

He did not look wealthy enough to rob, nor was he overly attractiveHis brown hair was cropped just so, not in the latest fashion, nor in some outmoded way Hestood agaall covered heayly complemented his unimportance, hidinghim in full view frorHe closed his eyes and listened closely The hum was being throttled by the ungracefulmechanical whirring and electronic noise surrounding himCars honked, phones squealerd likeclattered and clanked along its magnetic supports as it ferried those withinwhere betterThere was life in Newport Human life It was one of the few spots in America that had beenuntouched by the ravages of the Hanean War The people of the town had not been unaffected, ocourseEvery citizen had family and friends lost in the da casual observer wouldnotice Inmical anemedia reported less and less about the atrocities, andLife It was and continues to be the great conundrum Itbelieve that all thinnatural are beneficial and benign, and therefore anything artificial is, by default, an evBut life is indeed unnatural By rights it should never have happened Religions have grappledsely with it, scientists have tried to put it down to statistics, but nothing comes close toto beBut still it exists Beyond any doubtThe conundrum lies in the observations of natural systems, A rock, strong and sturdy, will

pine reaching every extremity in his body His body convulsed against restraintsHold still now, we are about to bring you back You might feel some discomfort as we returnd thehis headrept down and around his face His teeth exploded in his mouth, his jaw clenched inindescribable agony Fire and ice raged through his lungs and up his throatHis fingers jittered and wiggled, his jaw ground down on its restraintHaah! he moaned, fighting thetoSaliva drooled out from his mouth piece The agony reached a crescendo, thrilling his wholebody, and then quickly dropped away, leaving him breathless, moaningThe pain was gone The electric sensation had subsided He felt, apart from a little nauseatedbreathless and scared, quite normalThe voice returned, slightly more animated, "Welcome back, you can open your eyes notAfter a second he remembered how to use his eyelids and they shot open to see the faintimage of a woman in a lab coat His eyes focused and he blinked a few times Her face becamelear It was pale, but not white, underneath a head of neatly shaped hair Her eyes looked stern butfriendly, shielding the geln inside by an air of professionalsShe spoke, "Let us get that uncomfortable mouth piece out from there, shall we? "She reachedup and unbuckled a clip near Ottavio's mouth and pulled the restraint out, trailing saliva behind itImmediately his jaw began to ache He opened and closed it to get some feeling back The womanbefore him merely placed the restraint in a glass container on the bench and got to work on his headand armsYou have undergone surgery I am sure that you have many questions, and all of them will beanswered soon, I promise you, but not by myself I will, however, remove you from yourrestraints " she saiday feel weak at first, but believe mefit to stand and waaround I encourage you to do so If you do feel like you cannot proceed at any point, howeveplease do not hesitate to tell me

She had said those words many times before in much the same fashionShe unclipped his head, then his arms As she got to work on his legs he held his hands infront of his face, moving them about, retraining himself hoPenelope, he croakedt was unintentional, and surprised himself The woman before him, though, her name wasPenelope Penelope something He was not sure if that was even significant, but it was the onlything that could rePenelope looked up at him and smiled for half a second, before dropping her head and gettingback to work on his leg restraintsMiss Penelope, AgentHe swallowed, trying to ease his throat "I'm sorry, he breathed, "I didn,'tI mean, I don 'tknow whor two, for one's brain to get completely over the trauma Until then you will have many more yot worry, it is merely your memory returning It usually takes a good while, over a dapisodes of involuntary utterances, she said, undoing the last strapway, "she said, turning back to a bench and typing on her tablet, "It is like lookinthrough a box in the loft and stumbling across an old photograph or two Personally, I think I wouldfind it interestingYou called me an Agent? "asked Ottavio, becoming annoyed at her nonchalanceShe looked back at him, as if ready to have a chat with an old friend, butgained herself,Tessionalism winnieAs I said, all your questions will be answered Until then you had best work on walkingound and trying to remember as much as you can Start with little things first, the basics Likebreathing, walking she said, inebe on the benchhim,“ Putting on clotheOttavio followed her finger and then with a start looked down at himself He was naked hischeeks went red as he scrambled over to the bench, throwing the robe over himself and tying the

cords awkwardly His fingers felt like sausages, still tingling and complaining about being told whatto do The back of the gown was open so he kept himself facing toward PenelopePd typed a few more notes onto her tablet It beeped and whirredsoftly as she did so, lighting her face with greens and blues There were a couple of perks to her jolmundane as it was sometimes She pivoted on one foot, picked up some strange looking instrumentsom off thehe doWait, croaked Ottavio feebly His throat felt like sandpaperPenelope did not She keyed in a number into the locking keypad It turned green and the doorslid open with a breath She walked out and turned around, and the door closed behind her leavinOttavio and his bare behind alone in an ill-fitting robeHe sighed and looked about him Thegray-white walls, fluorescent lights coming from recesses and a clinical, stainless steel bench/here he had been restrained was an upright bench, leaning slightly backward, the straps nowdangling loosely The mouth restraint grinned at him garishly, glinting in the cold white lightBehind where his head had been was a glass cylinder affixed to the wall Inside was a savagelooking array of blades, actuators and needles He shuddered to think what they could have doneCarefully he put his hand to the back of his head, feeling for any sign of damage All he feltwas a slight tinge of pain, a scratch really, on both the left and right side And a lack of hair Hisscalp had been clean shaven leaving only a faint dark dust on topBehind him was a large mirror He walked up to it and looked at the rest of his body but, apartfrom a couple of needle marks on his hand and arm, everything appeared how it should

Or at leasthow he thought it shouldlike lookinst friend he knew it was himself in thebute wassomething unrecognizable, something intangibly different The kind of something that a distantacquaintance would be rude enough to blurt out during polite conversationOttavio, called a voice, male this time, "I am so glad to see you up and abocame iromhis right, a black speaker boxHe walked over to it and prodded it with his finger the voice chuckled " Iside of this mirror Just talk openly and we can converseOttavio looked at the mirror closelyHello? "he said cautiouslyHello indeed Ottavio Tell me do you know who I am?He shook his headNo? Well, I am not surprised I am Doctor Gerard Jung, and I have been your surgeon for theast five days It was quite a delicate operation, but your gray matter is of a good sort, the kind thattakes well to this sort of, um, punishment, er, if you will excuse the expression But it was quitestraightforward, quite a neat brain you have Why, um, only last month I and my team operated onanother subject for over thirty eight hours straight just to navigate the cerebellumOttavio looked at the mirror blankly It was hard to talk to a person he could not see harderelectionWhat surgery? he managed to ask, his throat hoarse and drywe did not perform a mere appendectomy, Ottavio What you have been through, asyou will soon remember, has been a series of enhancements, er, adaptations if you willYou must be parched, said Jung, " We have kept you susted intravenously,a plate on the wall to Ottavio's right slid up revealing a tray with a bottle of clear liquidGo on, I will be right here " Ottavio looked at the bottle suspiciously, smelled the contentsHis throat immediately felt better He took another few swigs and turned back to the mirror“ What is this?

Water I'm sure you remember what water is?Doctor Jung, he said, taking another drink, "Where am I?oom Specifically, a, er, recovery roomThe panel slid closedttavio coughed It cleared his throat some " Can we be a little less specific?Ha! Of course I was being facetious You are within an underground facility surrounded bythe finesthave worked tirelek But enough of thishave much that needs to be done, " said Jung, "Please listen carefully We had to, ah, disable youmemory for a bit It is nothing permanent, I assure you, and you will begin to feelyourself soon enough I have to go now and, er, prepare your next room, but I will return Do try tomber yes? Cate Worknells andtures The brain respondskinds of things In the meantime you can speed up the process with a bit of a bitehere did Maxwell putNext to him the panel slid open again, this time presenting an unappetizing looking stewOttavio scratched his head, took a swig of the bottle and put it down on the bench He picked up thetray, set it on the bench and had a nibble Although it resembled glue, it was quite tasty Very soonhe had finished the bowlAs he set it do wn a memory came floating to the front of his mind It settled there a fleck of aeed Little by little it grew, dropping roots and spreading out fresh tendrils This facility, MissPee, Doctor Jung

An image flashed in front of him Of course, Doctor Gerardstained shirtsttavio was not sure why that was significant, but it seemed to make sense, and so he clung toStained with yellow nicotine from the way he held his cigarettes too close to his chest when heas thinking The smell of stale tobacco on his breath hishat he did not bolover up with a patcpreferringOttavio swished his finger into the bottom of the bowl, drawing up the last remnants of stew,and sucked on it It had been more than a little strange, but these people were not enemies, and thisplace was not altogether unfamiliarg,as promised, and he was starting to feel at ease He perchedhimself on the bench and shudderedThe cold steel against his naked rear was like a knife He sat on his hands and looked aboutaiting for Doctor Jung or Miss Penelope to return, and keeping himself occupied by examiningany thread of mehe foundOver the next fifteen minutes his thoughts became progressively clearer He was OttavioManieri, operative Agent for Houston Corps, one of the great forty Entities, the largest in AmericaAmong its many roles, all of which turned profits, was Social Peace and Enforcement ofCommon law it was in this branch that ottavio was enrolledHe had been recruited eight years ago and had since worked his way from being a generalrunt, to a field agent and now an operative AgMiss Penelope, he was sure, was a senior somewhere in the research and developmentdivision He remembered meeting her at a cafeteria along with doctorOh, the name started withw winchester, Winfield, no He tried to look at the face in his mind from another angle sneakinup on the name he had associated with it winifred, Doctor Winifred, head of some department*Well met, he had said He was a little odd and his accent reminded Ottavio of a characterhadHead of Surgery? Biology? He was the head of somethingSatisfied that he was where he should be ottavio let his mind wander a bit helead him back to exactly why he was here He let out a sigh and closed his eyeshe speaker box broke his daydreaming, Ottavio, please come over to the boHe did soHow are yoOttavio rubbed his eyes and scratched his ear How did he feel? like he had just been born

Alright, I suppose, he liedd be so kind,” said jrng to ask you to go intoom In therewill find a shower and a set of clothes Wash, put them on, and, um, we'll go over no, hangabout, Um, yes, wash yourself and put some clothes on Then, ah, you know, await furthinstructions Ah, I left it right there all alongThe door at the other side ofdlike theas already in He stepped cautiously in, waited for the deo the waiting shower recessThe feeling of warm, cleansing water on his skin was like rain on a dry river bed His porened and he gasped, letting thefill hhe did nothing but let the waternower and got to work getting dressed in the bright orange jumpsuit laid oi ne got out of thejoints and muscles ached as he lathered up and rinsed ReluctantlyIt instantly humanizing to wear the clothes His feet felt snug and protected inside boots,wall The collar on the jumpsuit was flipped, so he straightened it instinctivelyAnd there he was, Ottavio Manier Much like he had last seen himself, only void of hairfrom his head to his eyebrows all the way down his toes He wondered whether the man lookingback at him was as bewildered as he was, trying to make sense of it all If only someone would helpthem outHe did not have to wait longah, can give you the all clear Now if you are feeling up to it, can you please tell me who you are,Well done Your comprehension and motor skills appear unaffected, said Jung, "Not thathave need to worry, but you, um, understand that we must perform all post-operatic tests before weOttavio cleared his throat

It came out from him before he even realized he was sayinOttavio Manier, operative Agent four ought eight, Social Peace and Enforcement of Commorof Houston corSomething else slid up his throat and out of his mouth "SirJung sounded satisfied, "Mm hmm and do you know who I anu are Doctor Gerard Jung, head of Biological Adaptation and Enhancement sector, sir,said ottavio That took a little more effortod, muttered Jung, " Your memory is coming backeans we um can meet facee In an instant the mirror dissolved to nothing and there stoodDoctor Jung, squat and dumpy, hands clasped in front of himHe nodded his head lightly a little puff of light hair flipped down over his dud eye Hebrushed it out of the way impatiently, beckoning Ottavio to come throughOttavio stepped through the opening where the mirror used to beDoctor Jung nodded and bustled him through, "I do apologize for the security Sometimes thesubject panics, you see, ah, being in an unfamiliar environment and all The basic animal instinctshave a tendency to take over but you, um, seem to have your wits about young turned and walked over to a desk, flicking a few switches he beckoned to ottavioCome, come! I want you to see what we have done There are others watching this, too, so, um, donot delay Come onHe pressed some more buttons and a body burst out from the desk, hovering gracefuclosely and realized that it was actually a hologram of himself, standing straight and tay e lookedthe two of them It was clearly a hologram but that did not stop Ottavio from flinching HJung gave a little laugh, "Do not be alarmed Ha! It is merely a generated reconstruction ou See? " He waved his hand straight through the apparitions legspot complications earlier rather than, um, later And afterward, as an added bonus, I can perfo canis the latest in projection technologies We use this before and during the surgery so we

demonstrations like i am nowJung put his thumbs into his suspenders and stood back, allowing Ottavio a chance to showhis admirationAfter an awkward silence and a look of slight confusion on Ottavio's part, Jung cleared hishroat and continued, "Well, hum Yes Ahem Ladies and gentlemen of the board, I thank you foryour timeHe fiddled with some controls "Is this thing even working Hello?Yes, Doctor Jung, we are here You can proceed with the demonstration, barked a voicefrom his consoleth, yes Ah, sorry, I thought Id lost you Um, where to begin? Um, yes Im here with AgentOt Agent four ought eight, who has just come outal stasis After a brieYes, keep it brief, Doctor We are interested in this update, especially the optical displayDoctor Jung jumped, Of course, of course a lot of the operation had to do with, erdifications along the optic route Let's begin with thatOttavio's head Hair, skin and bone dissolved away to reveal a gruesome brain, shiny and sticky ofHese and clicked around while the image spun and grew, revealing a closea bulbous part started to glow softly "As you can see, this part highlighted in orange is theerebellum a little up and over, through a few sensitive areas and along this route we find the opticcenterAred line wiggled its way along, terminating in a pulsing cireThis is the path from his eyes to the part of his brain that processes the signals And we haveerted the two opticTwo dark metalliccrs appeared, animated clumsily toward the brain and clampedthemselves over the nerveOttavio instinctively touched the back of his head

He tried to imagine he could feel theseittle devices under his skin, but he could not What do they do? "asked Ottavio, regretting therds as he spokeJung smiled broadly, "Ah! An excellent questideed Theseinterceptors receive the signals coming in through the optic nerves These are the upgraded modelfrom um, agent three nine fives own insertionA member from the board spoke up, "Speak only of the current iteration, DoctorHe fiddled a bit, replacing the image with a complicated diagramreads in data from the outside world and sendsIs casee sensor isur eve hmnta is sent as electricalpulses to your brain to be, um, processed, yes, processed into information The optic interceptormanipulates this data along its route, adding, removing and filteringrovide better data thatwill ultimately result in better informationA Y-shaped device animated in and attached itself to the interceptors via barelyThis fine fellow is the processing unit It is also attached to auditory interceptors here and herealong wher sensors placed throughout The interceptors themselves only receive and modifythe data signal The originalthe main optical unit where it gets processed Thisou can see is fitted close to the brain stemOttavio looked suspicious He saideverything looks normal I mean, nothing looksdifferent or anythiQuite right, quite right That is because they have not been switched onThere's a switch? "asked Ottavio He felt again the back of his head There were no surprisesOf sorts And you can stop doing that The units are underneath the skull, encased in aprotective shell which are further encased in biologically neutral membranes with no contact to theoutside worldthrough what is received via the sensory nerves The power comes from yourbrain itself, only a small amount is needed, really, which means that we could leave them onindefinitely Well, so long as your brain keeps ticking along, said Jung, adjusting the diagram, "See

here The interceptor is on standby, as it were What we need to do is,um, runup anecalibration routine There are many, many modules included, but we shall only activate a few ford through training If we had it turned on after thewithorproper calibration, well, you can imagine HaThe board member spoke sternly, "Doctor Jung! Stop your chit-chat with Agent four oueight and proceed with the demonstrationofusely and walked over to a head brace facing whatked like an alley in a firing range, flanked with dully glowing lights embedded in the wallsPlease, he said, "Sit here, place your head in here, and we can begin To tell you the truth,am very excited to see this in action We have refined the software a fair deal and upped the specs ofhe hardu see which should cut the calibration time down byhreequarters It put a bit of a dent in the budgBut i am sure the board is willing to overlook such trivial financial details if the results alS,sorry, please sit down, Agent, come on noOttavio walked over and sat down, placing his head in the vice It locked behind him, holdinghim firmly While it was not causing him pain, it certainly was not the most comfortable position tobe in His sudden immobility caused a pang of fear He worked hard to convince himself that Jungmeant no harm and, moreover, knew what he was doingWhat the Hell is this thing, Doc? "grunted OttavioFrom the back of the alley a screen zoomed in, racingtrack in the roof of the alley,and stopped before him showing a pattern of concentric rings in glowing redThis will take a bit of a while, but we want to make sure that everything is properlyTrated Oh, what now? Jung fluttered his hands abstractedlyxamined the readoutscreen He alternately tapped at a keyboard and fiddled with a mouse, muttering quietly to himselfwont take a minute, members, I am sure It's only a safeguard on our integration serverto do this calibration Um, yes, this will take some time, but it is not difficulteally, and you will be up and out before you know it

Until then you must follow orders to theetter;” he urged,this switch andthat "Now, members of the board i willdemonstrate the reduced calibration timeAfter a few more keystrokes a small red light appeared above the screen "Agent, lookdirectly at that little light that just came on, " ordered JungOttavio tried his best but, being unable to move his head, found it difficult to get a focus onthe red dot Good, good, try a bit harder, Ottavio Don't try to move your head, just your eyesThedisappeared and reappeared at the bottom of the screen " Now look at the bottomone Try to focus as best you canttavio continued to follow the lights with his eyes as they appeared at various points on theen Little by little the screen moved further away until finally it stopped at the far end of theGood, good That seemed to work out fine How do you feel? said JungFantastic, came the muffled reply, " Didn't feel a thingExcellent, excellent, good to hear, said Jung, oblivious to the sarcasm, " That's the first partdone Notice, esteemed Board, that the total time for the primary calibration has reduced from hoursto mere minutes Ning to activate the primary optical displayThe screen slid back up the alley and paused in front of Ottaviolook away from that dot or we will scramble your brain, "instructed Jug, en will flash, but do noPlease look directly at the dot in the center of those circles TheHe laughed heartilyOttavio did not laugh Neither was there a chuckle from the boardDoctor Jung nodded, " No, sorry, um, that was in bad taste Yes, we, ah, in such a situation wewould just have to run the calibration again, um, yes, ah Just look at red dot and don't look away

Ottavio grunted assent and the screen flashed a series of shapes and symbols beforelaying a red rectangle enclosing the words, Calibration complete, standbyThe screen turned off and whizzed back down the alleywayDoc? said ottavio "Did the screen just turn off?Jung mused, ""Yes, it should have That is part of the calibration routine Does somethingHe could barely contain himselfYes I can see 'Calibration complete in red I mean, it

was on the screen, but now the screensff but it's still thereHa! Impressiit not? "" laughed Jung, "That is the primary dkickinga few minutes for its own internal calibration, but after that you will experience the full deal IJung cleared his throat, "Members of the board, notice, please, the significant reduction inactivation and acceptance by the candidatee are noticing, Doctor, please continueRight now the main optical unit is using the data we just sent it to align its coordinate systembased on the, ah, secondary field of vision what this means is that the display it inserts remains in afixed orientation and location re lative to the position of his head and not his eyesNo, the presentation must continue, and this is as much for yourself as those who are lookingon You will understand in a couple of minutes anyway Now where was I? Oh yes, um, the displaywillike a projection screen, overlaying information across what the agente board member sounded curious " What kind of informationg to that Preprocessed data from otherfriend or foe highlighting There really is no limit, no, very state of the art Many of the results ofMinnesota's work has made its way in there, "said JungHe typed a couple of keys and the seat and brace holding Ottavio swung around to face him

The unit, the latest model, has a Tactical Coprocessor, amongst the usual collection of processingmodules We will run through that in a short while It, toquires an inItThese calibrations the board member asked, " How often does it need to be doneThat's the beautyonly performed once, to give the units a headha! After thatthe units constantly correct themselves based upon the incoming data not like the gammanodels,” grimaced JungOttavio's face matched Jungs He was not entirely sure if that was a good thing or a bad thingOh, said Ottavio, "Doc, somethings up I'm seeing I don't know whatYes? what do you see? asked JungIn front of his eyes a set of characters came into view, glowing softly red, semitransparentover the rest of the room he tried to read a few ""Um a who le lot of words and numbers Wait axiskh, a perfect one to start on Hold on there The seat our Agent is in will turn andAgent do try to, um, hold on tight We commandeered it from the Aerospace Division and made ourown special modifications Just, ah, one of the measures we've taken to keep within budgetA few keystroked the seat and brace swiveled slowly, panning and rollinThe accelerometers and geographical locators will provide detailed information on thrientation and location of your homunculus in the world Note how your bearing is slowlchanging depending on the rotation of your chair Note, too, that the geographical location is notconstantce the unit is based within your head, andhead is not at the center of your rotationIs this making sense?Ottavio muttered "i would nod ifi could

eventually be eroded to dust and be strewn across the ground without so much as a hole toleavicracked bed a gigantic stconsume all of its fuel and gradually sputter outLittle by little a system wears against the onslaught of other systems, bashed, beaten, groundand pulverized down to nothingness, swallowed and reformedBut life fights against nature Gravity pulls it deets up agso it tans In freezing cold climates under sheets of ice moss will grow Next to volcanic vents deepunder a crushing weight of water bacteria will thrive Chip a stone and it will remain so, but cut ager and it will stubbornly healDeath is not the opposite of life, only a stepping stone in a perpetual, mind boggling cWithout death there could be no life, no way for the battered being to make way for the next soldierday It is an insidious evil that comes in many names Chaos it is called, and Disorder But, by far,the most popular name ofis naturnsterIt beats us, burns us, suffocates and kills us, yet spitefully we survivestruggling and fighting against the gaping maw of nothingnessSome call it mother but what mother denies her children? what mother would sooner seethan grovAnd so ryan listened

He listened to a girl chatter on a telephone about nothing in particularlistened to a car sounding its horn angrily and the driver cursing profanities at the pedestrianspassing in front ofknock to his shoulder and a muttered apology from nobody in particular brought him out ohis thoughtsThese people have indeed lost their way, he said to himself, "They have grown complacentThey do not hear the whistling of the wind coming to claim their souls, but instead have gluttedh indulgences,”a dog scampered past, paused to sniff his feet, and then continued along He watched asallowed bHis shoulders slumped as a heavy weight lowered upon them For a while he stoodHe sighed deeply, far too deeply for a teenager, " "And so the struggle must be reignitedHe shoved his hands into his pockets and walked along with the crowd until he came to theMemorial boulevardbed the stairs, looking out over the sea of people waitingimpatiently to climb into a pod-shuttlechu, a stranger amongst the strange, he blended perfectly on the outside Inside, however, he waschurning So many people So many sad, unhappy facesrom high up on the stairs, the view of the water to the west would have been inspiringanybody had cared to look at itA janitor dressed in a drab orange wandered around aimlessly, picking up this and that off theRyan laughed softly to himself, watching as the crowd dropped their waste, and the janitorpicked it up and put it in his little bag He did not laugh out of spite, rather at the irony: The lowliestamong them was the also most worthy, for it was he who acted most against entropyTo his right was a dull door leadine magnetic levitation control facility The handould not budgepuffed yan turned to see the janitor marching over to him He stood still and waited as the mlHey! yelled a voice, "You're not supposed to be over there! The shuttle's that way! Heyward himYou're not supposed to be over here! he said againdid hear you,” said Ryan

"What are you, eh? Some kind of smart ass? " sneered the janitor into Ryan's face He smelledke stale alcohol mixed with chewing mint The skin on his head was flaky under a crop ofthinning dark hairRyan sighed, "I am not, as you say, a 'smart assis contempt was palpable "Furthermore I can assure you that I have good reason to beherenportant before, but, as he watched, an air of certainty, of grandness, grew about him ed terriblyThe janitor looked unsure The man, an adolescent really, before himHe bit his lip and managed to say, "Oh yeah?Ryan rolled his eyes Dealing with the general population was not something he enjoyeddoing“Yes And thns have nothing to do with you Ifh to bring this to theattention of Manager Keith StOh, you know Mister Sully, then? " said the janitor, his face breaking into a smile, That'sright then Sorry about the barking and all that, you know, but we get rags around here sometimesing all sorts But you're not a rag So if mister Sully needs you to go in, thats good enoughe Here, let me get this, then

hands now and he could return to the task for which he was emplo/co y further It was out of hisIn truth he was relieved that he did not need to take the matter arThe janitor fumbled in his pockets and produced a key, unlocked the door and ushered ryanin, Sullys a powerful man about the station He wore a dark suit, kept a trim mustache, andarned quite a bit more than the janitor didAs a consequence, he had learned that anyone bearing Mister Sully's' name also belonged tosuch a powerful cliquSo, you a rep or something? Only ask cause Mister Sfond of salesmen, youknowwill keep that in mindOnly you don't look like a salesmanRyan looked impatie“Ihe said,"“Ands is my own and Mister SOhhank you, and I will be sure to mention your vigilance to Manager Sullivan next time I seehim mister er“ AshraledAshraf, he repeated, " I will be sure to remember your namet's not an unusual name where l'm fromdid not say that it wasOnly that a lot of people do See, I' m actually a descendant of the great house of El VizulThats myy were a powerful influence across Arabia and Syria before the war,said Ashraf, eager to share his tale, " They owned oil pipelines, fishing stocks, supermarkets Why,back then you couldn t sneeze without the permissionRyan held up his handIce "Ashraf i do not mean to be rudeThe janitor was crestfallenf course, of course You gotta do some important stuff,then Just be sure to close this when you're doneHe pinched and pulled his overalls, turned and went back to picking up bits of insignificarms of rubbish and putting them in his bag Ryan watched him for a bit longer, then wentclosed the door behind himA hall stretched before him, with pipes and electrical cablesrunningthe length lit with aseries of tired fluorescent lightsWhirs and rumblings echoed throughout the buzz of the lights mingled with the clankingipes while a compressor down the hall joined in with its own chorus It was like listening to anorchestra warming up, only that they never got to the main son

double doors They slid open and he stepped lightly into the corridorA gush of coolant through an overhead pipe made him flinch, but he kept his eyes focused atend of theThere were a few manholes joining corridors here and there, and there was a chance that theintruder could use these to escape, but these were inhabited by muttrats They would be sure to letout a squeal if anything came close No, if the intruder was around, he would be wandering theHenry picked up the pace and trotted as quietly as his jangling harness would allow him doythe hall to the corneHe turned to the left, past the coolant recycling processor with its enormous inlet valves, andk the next right He paused every so often to listen for footfallsbetray thelocation of the intruder but above the hissing and groaning of the pumps, fans and compressors heIt was unnerving In his office above he had complete control, video and sound atfingertips, air conditioning, coffee and a comfortable seat Down here, in the bowels ofstem hiseads of sweat started to break out on his brow He opened an inspection panel and viewedthe read outt meant nothing to him, giving data relating to flow amounts and temperatures, all in greenEverything was as it should beunnily enough, it did not reassure Henry It felt like the hush of a crowd before a spectacthe calm before a tempest

Something was not right and that something was linked to whoever wasWhere the hellsed the panel silently and turned down the next two corridors and halted Around thisarea was where the computer had sie last location of the trespasGingerly he peered aroundto see yet another empty corridor a blast of steamescaped from a pipe at his feet, bilthroughout the corridor before being whisked away by thetractinInstinctively his hand crept to his holster and touched the hilt of his pistol Adrenaline creptting a sickly sensatioWould he have to fire? Surely not Surely this whole thing was a misunderstanding, and heould just need to give a few gruff instructions in slow English, make a few hand gestures andckly he checked behind him, in case anything hadto follow he drew out his pistoland held it at the ready, pointing toward the floor with his finger alongside the triggeAnother blast of steam swam around his boots He took a few steps forward, listening intently,scanning for anything that could possibly indicate another personrom beyond, there was nowhere else to go except through a couple of manholes, which heuickly inspected, or through to the control system maintenance, and unless the interloper had anot in a pack, being nothing more than a mutated product of the radioactive and toxic cocktail enA muttrat scampered away into a service tunnel at his approach Theyarmless whHe peered around the corner and saw, at the far end, a figure performing an operation uponHenry took a breath and stepped around, sighting the laser target directly on the intrudereze! he called, walking with deliberate strides, letting his boots clank heavily upon theloor's metal grating a blank face turned to look at himPut your hands up called Henry, feeling more in control now that he could see the intruder

frRyan stopped what he was doing and did as he was asked He stood up straight and placed hishands above his head, looking expectantly at HenryHe was relieved No, he would not have to shoot, but he might need to put a fist insomewhere Maybe With aStep back from door now, "commanded Henry, " And keep those hands up That's it, slowlyHe sighted the laser square on Ryans chest, finger still next to the triggerHenry kept the ball rolling, "Your name?ursRyan And you are?That was exactly what Henry wanted, a reason to be hosti4Don't be a smart ass You a Luddite? Huh?No I am not a ludditeYou know what this is? l've got this aimed directly at your chest, he said, "I don't know ifve ever seen what a burst from a S-40 does, but I can assure you, you dont want to find out, andI don't want to have to clean it up afterward Now, what's your full name?Ryan remained silent with is hands above his head Henry began to feel uncomfortable Hhad caught this intruder red handed, he had the upper hand yet the way ryan looked through him

he may as well have beenng his coffee rather than an S-40 pistolWhat are you doing down here? Actually, before you answer that, how did you get downhere? asked Henry, annoyed that he did not appear to be threateningswer tome through the dond walked down thecorridors until i arrived at this locationHenry snarled, "What did I say about being a smart ass?my chest You then went on to ask a redundant question in relation hat you had your pistol aimed at+What? Shutd herfinding ae constant backgroundnoisehere to play games How did you open the doorWhy? You know him?know the janitor, Ashraf, well enough, Ryan nodded, "Well enough for him to open thedoor forhave to take that up with him later, he said, " Now the other question, why are you here?'Ryan smirked, I do believe the question was, what am I doing here, and this I shall answfirst I am attempting to open this door to the control system for the maglev shuttles To this end Ihave attached a resonance lock pick, fashioned by colleagues of mine, onto the locking mechanismwhich I was about to activate before you came alongHenry's eyebrows furrowed as he took all this inRight, OK, so we're still being a smart ass then, he grumbled, "But I guess yoRyan nodded, "I am And now I will answer your other question, why am I hermyself that question a long time ago It is a question that has no single answer, but can be answeredonly throughYeah, ha ha I don' t do philosophy, growled Henry, adjusting the pistol in his hands, Andm getting tired of your shit Tell me plain and simple, why are you here?It would do no harm to tell you, but then again, it would do no good Still, if you insistIhereslant a disruptor

Henry could not believe his ears blood drained to his feet"You what?" he mutteredRyan took a breath and repeated, " I am here to plant a disruptor on the two control systemsWhy? Why would you want to do that? " blusterednot a Luddite Moreover, I do not want to do it, I never said I wanted to do it but that is why lap BRyan's face broke for a second into a scowl, but he regained it quickly ""You mistake me I arhere It is somethingmust be done andtasked with itHenry stood silent If this had been a crabman he could have blown it away If it was a groupof rags a simple threat of violence or a blast from his pistol would have sent them runninghis situation, however, this was something else entirely, something which he started to wishhe hadMy arms are getting tired, may I put them down? "asked RyanNo Hell no Hell no! You can walk over here slowly, turn around and face the wall, is whatyou can do Alright? Come on, and no fast movements or Ill put a hole in you so big you can stickyour disruptor through itRyan shrugged and stepped toward Henry, his feet barely sounding on the metalThat'sit

” said hs overid, nice and slowly noGood now turn and face the waRyan did soHenry propped the pistol under ryans neck and reached behind him to feel for his cuffssomew here in his beltIn fact he had never needed to use them in his entire career For a split second his brainfought to remember from basic training the proper way to apply them, but as soon as his fingersgrasped the familiar metflooding backet's get these cuffs on you, smart ass, good and proper, and then you can tell the Governorat City Hall what you just told me, Henry mutteredHe pressed the cuff against Ryans wrist and closed it with satisfaction, pulling it roughlydown Confident that this man in front of him no longer posed no threat, he holstered his pistol tofree his other handHenry grabbed Ryans right hand to bring it down, but no sooner had he done so than ryantwisted, whipped around, slapped Henry a blinding blow across his eyes and took his pistol outt was a terrible turn of events Henry's head finally caught up with his racing heart, cursinghimselfation Ryan thrust him against the other wall where he stood, clutching hisyou put your hand anywhere near your belt, I will shoot you If you try to call anyonewill shoot you If you give me any reason to think that you will interfere with what I must do, I willshoot you, " said Ryan impassively, "Now lie face down on the groundStill in pain and a little stunned, Hee was still alive, that was something, and this ryan seemed to be reasonable to a point Heas not a raving lunatic, and he was not a junky or a rag It seemed that there was every chance thathe would get out of this with his life, if not his dignity But that stuff about the disruptorontrol systemsYou cant do it” he said"What are youdo? he asked, "Your picture has already been taken the alarm hanot been deactivated, and any moment now the Joes will be down here, and they dont muckaroundyan said nothing, but stood over him and rummaged through his belt He took the keys to thelocked them and thery cuffed Henry's arm to the floor Henry could not help noticinhow gentle and precise Ryan was The cuffs, although secure and tight, did not hurtRyan took the battery from Henry s radio, his keys and pass card

Henry, huh? he said, examining the pass card, "a stronge applied to a weakHe finished the frisk and then stoodenry coughed "Why? "he askedRyan stopped, "WhyHenry tugged at his cuffs He twisted around slightly, "You'll kill people! Why kill hundredsbut let me live?”You assume that you are still alive out of pity, perhaps? Out of a serwas the case, then I can understand your question It would indeed be a warped sense of morality toet one lIvee manhim, " said RyanHe knelt next to henry's head and pushed the pistehis skull Henry gaspedI can kill you if you like, if that would help you Right now your life is worth the lightqueeze of a trigger Do you know how much pressure is required to activate the triggerinmechanism on an s-40?”touched the trigger, squeezing it lightly so it moved ever so slightlyn of the gun against his head amplified Henry's other senses He realized just howhard the floor was, how bright the lamps were, how very sickly impending death smelled Helistened as the trigger scraped against its railing as it moved half a millimeterHow does it feel, HenryHenry panted uncontrollably, unsure of what to say It felt horrible, indescribably awful Hisngs he had and had not done a momentmoment of sorrow for the unfulfilled dreams a moment of terror for the unknown mentor,He trembled

This was it Henry Lancashire's life was to be terminated by his own pistol indingy corridor How long would it be before anyone found him bodynly hear it if you listar The machines continued their whirring Somewhere down the hall a diagnostics routineIf you listen closely you can hear the dripping of your life as it hemorrhages away, lost toignificance Can you hear it? You can, canNow listen hersten to the billions oflives that exist with no direction, dribbling their gift away without a second thought billioes, Henry, billions of lives in ruin So much potential, so much waste! Salvation is what theycrave If you could make a difference, Henry, if you could stop the bleeding, you would, would younot?Henry felt the coldness of the muzzle against his scalp, impressing a faint, red ring intoskin He fought to control his breathingght just as hard to control his shiveringThe pistol was pressed firmly for a few more seconds, thenYou are alive because I have not been tasked to destroy you You are insignificant, and youdeath wouldone, believe me i do notdo me one service to make itworthwhile,said Ryan, "Will you oblige me?enry attempted a nod Ryan leaned in close and whispered in Henry s ear,"Livee vourRyan stood and threw thedown the hall It clattereda stopenry looked back after Ryan with wide eyes as he trotted backe maintenanceactivated the resonating lock pickDont! Please, dont! "whimpered Henryoked back withThere was not anything else to say He turned and fiddled a bit with the lock until a lighturned green on the lock pick After a brief period the door slid quietly open and ryan stepped

God has done a bangare appreciateIt's just now we can give him a helping handor gerard unOttavio awoke to see white It was unnerving, a startling blankness Was he blind? Perhaps heas he dead? That could well be it Consciousness danced wearily to life as a thousand thoughtsrushed through his brain, each fighting for his limited attentionHe tried to remember if his heart had been beating before now, before five seconds ago fcure he could not say whether he even existed five seconds ago Considering each second felt like ahid of nothingness, it was difficult to pin anything downis heart started to beat faster Where was he and why could he not see anythingblackness at least he could be assured that there was nothing to see or if his vision was blurred heuld put it doocus, but this was white distilled, a white that was so bright yet camece and caused him no pain to viewuseless, really a light that was perfectly luminescent was perfectly uselesA rhythmic hissing reached his ears Only after a few seconds did he realize that it was hisown breath He tried to feel around but found that he could not his arms torso and legs had beenfirmly bound, it seemed, preventing him from so much as wriggling A voice blared into his ears,Stop struggling please, we are almost done hereIn an attempt to talk back to the voice, he cleared his throat His tongue, however, was presseddown, and his jaw was clamped in a restraintAnd do not speak, please, it will only delay matters, "came the voice againt was female, clinical and unfamiliar

At least it was politeHe rested, trying to calm himself down as he waited for the voice to return He foughfuriously with his brain to try and remember anything about his present situation The last thing thatcame through the fog of memory was his graduation from Shawcroft Military Academywas not a chalkboards thrown inmoment Rather a hurried ceremony, a quick speerelayed via the internet and a certificate and code messaged to him The military was in greatdemand in those days, and as a young lad Ottavio convinced himself that it was for the benefit of allthat he lend his lifeBesides, college had not been an option It was not because he did not have the grades, nor therather because the three nearest campuses had been reduced tosmoldering pile of rubble ten years before he had a chanceHis graduation stuck in his brain It was the moment of truth, the day when he would be anactive member of society, the day he could stand up and be countedof the goodalso the day when he and his fellow mates fell into a seedy, underground bar and spent the rest ofthe night in a lockup for disorderly conduct Youth was a hell of thing to shake offSurely there was more to his life since then, he was convinced He searched deeper into thebunkers of his mind but came up empty handed It was like looking through the pages of a diaryonly to find the words had jumbled themselves, making no sense, not revealing anything Namefaces, places, they were all there, just not in any recognizable wadarkness he did his best to control his breathing, waiting for something, anything, to help himbbeeyes shot to black, like someone had flicked a switch He flinched uncontrollably Inunderstand where he was and what was happening to him First white, now black, but still nothingto seea sharp pain at the back of his head made him gasp, a bolt of elecshot through his