Fiction: Stories From The End (First Draft Work In Progress, Art to come)

The introduction to this post has been altered somewhat, to be more positive and inspiring rather than to belay to you the details of my animosity towards social abuse. Shhhh! Digital Media is about liberating minds, not weighing them down with the details of the struggle unless those details liberate others. So, here is the revised version of the introduction to Stories From The End.

This is a repost of my (unfinished) book entitled Stories From The End. This is a book I wrote years ago on a computer in which my login was DEV (aka delphi software DEVeloper). I've recently posted it mostly as a link to who I was back at that time (identity confirmation) though its missing the original narrative elements from the End Of The World club. A group of people who form a camera based online social group during the collapse of civilization. I took that part of it out because it actually interfered with the progression of the main storyline, and made it difficult to deal with some of the aspects linked to several of the characters that were part of this camera based online social group (via Skype or similar based camera group meeting software). I might consider reintegrating it back into a future revision of the story, during or after the second draft.

This book deals directly with the concept of society and what it is at its core. The stability of what we deem to be modern society can be precarious at best, like a stack of ornate tea cups, delicately balanced upon a dancer's head. Society itself, much like the dancer, shifting position in order to maintain that balance as the stack leans one way or another.

Over the years, many great writers, film producers and story tellers have taken on the act of presenting their interpretation of societal annihiliation, and through any number of means. George A. Romero gave us the zombie apocalypse with his ground breaking horror film, Night Of The Living Dead. It became the ancestor to an entire line of genre media leading all the way up to television series like The Walking Dead, films like World War Z (Mireille Enos, Brad Pitt) and books like Robert Tozer's The Dead.

Resident Evil, a video game by developer Capcom became the basis of a series of very successful and engrossing films based upon the video game, and really showcasing women in the front lines of this battle (Mila Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Sienna Guillory, Mika Nakashima and Li Bingbing as Ada Wong) alongside a character driven male cast (Oded Fehr, Zack Ward, Iain Glen, Shawn Roberts, Kevin Durand, Colin Salman and Boris Kodjoe) all directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.

Stephen King's own The Stand, a classic book he penned more than forty three years ago (as of this writing) is his own interpretation of a societal apocalypse that finds society falling victim to a superpowered version of the swine flu, nicknamed Captain Trips by the survivors. Captain Trips literally wades through the entire population of the Earth, leaving less than five percent of the population remaining in its wake, resulting in the collapse of society. Keep in mind that the mortality rate statistics for Captain trips and COVID-19 are roughly inverse, with the Captain Trips rate of mortality being 95 to 98 per one hundred, while COVID-19 is 2 to 5 per one hundred.

The survivors find themselves experiencing dreams, summoning them as two different groups of humanity, one to Boulder Colorado, and the other side to Sin City aka Las Vegas, where the final battle between good and evil (insofar as the book's own weighted qualification of morality) takes place. This classic book has been translated into film twice. First in the nineteen  ninety four television mini-series starring Molly Ringwald, Laura Sam Giacomo, Gary Sinese, Rob Lowe, Shawnee Smith, Bill Fagerbakke and Matt Frewer as Trashcan Man) and a modern streaming series that you can watch on Prime Video right now, starring (Odessa Young, James Marsden, Whoopie Goldberg and Alexander Skarsgård).

The classic Australian film The Quiet Earth is a story about a man who, after a failed suicide attempt, wakes up to find himself the only human being on the planet (an apocalypse in one sense or another depending upon from whose perspective you're considering such a fact). 

The end of civilization and organized (modern) society has been a nightmare since the foundations of civilization. The snuffing out of the societal goals of sustainable living and ecology, the effort to spread to other interplanetary and satelite bodies in the solar system and beyond represents all of the hope for humanity's continued survival, as we live here on this tiny spec of congealed matter, on one arm of a spiral galaxy amongst trillions of other such galaxies in a universe that would never hear the death throes of our final demise. We're on our own and society, civilization and sustainability is something we've got to learn lest we disappear altogether, silently in the night. Perhaps the scariest thought is that reason that we don't detect other civilizations is because they all failed in this quest. As Arthur C. Clarke puts it, there's two possibilities for the existence of life. Either there is, or there isn't. Either prospect is equally terrifying. Perhaps if we're the current front runner of technologically advanced species , we'd better get our stuff together before we bring about our own final curtain.

Insofar as the end goes, our fascination with it might be a mechanism of our own success and survival because if you consider and prepare for the worst case scenario, you'll definitely be ready for anything between that and the best case. So perhaps there are some cases where considering the worst isn't toxic negativity, but rather, being protectively realistic for ourselves, and more importantly our children.

And yet, with the advent of modern communications and networks, we've only broadened the horizons for the means by which we might finally collapse, absent of social order except within small tribes. Unable to organize ourselves into anything larger in order to aspire to achieve our reach for the stars themselves.

What if someone had figured out how to end it all themselves. All of it. For their own benefit? And then, to rebuild civilization from the ashes of the old, as if the death and destruction was simply a mechanism to rid us the heft of the excess human population?

What if such a nightmare of our end simply happened on its own, in ways beyond our fathoming?

In the days of modern communications, the internet and social media, can a meme be deadly enough to become the means to the end?

Brian Joseph Johns


Warning: This story deals with some mature situations. Reader discretion is advised.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


This story was started on an idea with a simple question and a question that had come up in many forms over time. What would happen if the world was going end and we had a bit of warning to that fact but no clues as to how it might happen? The character that narrates the story (I'll keep his name secret) is a sort of composite character based upon some archetypes from fiction, whose persona and character had taken me at one point or another. He is a sort of a simple working class man with a very simple way of life but with a complex understanding of the world and its ways. It was through this character's eyes that I tried to envision the unfolding of events of the Apocalypse or Armageddon as something like that might occur.

The story initially started to unfold almost by itself in 2011 during its first session and continued as such while it grew from that point. By the time I had reached the chapter "Bad News Travels Faster Than Light", I felt that something special was happening with this story and it continued to flow one night and on to the next. After the introduction of Stanton, who initially started out as a cold hearted killer for a special operations task force, the story began to take on a lot of qualities making it very cliche and predictable taking away from the direction that I started to see for it. A number of edits and story changes changed the character and his focus became clear and an about face for the character that I saw through his transformation by way of this situation into a socially responsible person using his extremely unique abilities and talents to help a world that desperately needed him.

From there the story began to grow in so many directions that keeping it within an effective narrative became very difficult. It is still very much a work in progress and this third revision will likely see some changes before it is done. Thank you if you are sticking with me through this. Believe me it gets better and it does finish. Oh and by the way, there are really people like Stanton out there, I hope they're all just as good.

Thank you to my fifth grade teacher, who if not for her I would not likely be writing at all. Parents give all the confidence and pressure to persevere and Teachers make all the difference in the world.

Brian Joseph Johns
Shhhh! Digital Media

Prologue: The End Of The World Club

No one was really sure of where the news came from. Some didn’t understand what the news meant, and those who did, didn’t believe it. Denial was always the first step, old man Corlsen used to say. We listened to him too, ‘cause he did have a PHD and a practice at one time. Now the only practice that he had was down at Sammy’s Bar spending his social security on his favourite whiskey. If you pulled up a stool next to him, he’d give you a therapy session as long as you kept the liquor flowing. I knew what he was doing now that the news had gotten out. Just the same things as always. Some things never change. I’ll bet he had a line up around the corner and a bar full of whiskey too.

On the TV, things were well on their way to crazy all over the place, or maybe that’s just the way we are all the time, and no one ever noticed until now. Old man Corlsen woulda said that its what we tend to notice because its built into to us to notice those things. We’re more likely to survive by being aware of the dangers around us. Like when your driving on a freeway, how all the cars in the lanes beside you seem to be moving faster, even though they’re not. It’s just an illusion that comes from how long cars stay in our side view versus how long they stay in front of us. Those cars are just in your peripheral view longer than they’re in your central view. Just like bad news. The news was especially bad today, and it didn’t take long to spread and for anarchy to replace order. The funny part though was that all the places that had the anarchy before, were as peaceful as the eye of a hurricane, and the quiet and peaceful places were like a hurricane’s walls.

I was still at the machine shop, just finishing up a can of Larky’s finest lager, not really knowing what to do. Most of my co-workers had fled to the hills or to their makeshift bomb shelters or to the local bar. I was just kind of putzin’ around, not really sure what to do. My family were all on the other side of the country or six feet under or both. The only people that I knew were all right here in Shorly Fields, and they were all gone, doing their last deeds. Down the street a bit at Leo’s Groceries, which was more like a department store than a grocer, there was a crowd of people cleaning the place out. There was the odd scuffle or two and occasionally there were gunshots, followed by a few more, then silence for a long time. It really got ya thinking about things.

The news that I had heard had come from one of the tech heads in machine shop office. He had said something about a detector of some sort finding some kind of parts of atoms that had started to fall apart real quick. Another friend said it was a comet that was going to hit the Earth and that Bruce Willis was on vacation. Yet another had said somebody had started World War III. What it sounded like to me was that nobody really knew what was going on. We had a good laugh about it, but at 10:01am when the music on the radio stopped and someone came on the air to say that there had been an “accident” at the reactor and for people to return to their homes to await further instructions, that kind of settled it. Everyone else just kinda got their things together and left the place. The shop warden left, asking me to lock up, which was pretty normal as I did every night.

The music came back on the air for another hour and then another report of mass pandemonium somewhere in Europe. There were riots unlike any seen before, and the local military had been unable to quiet the problems and that hotspots were popping up everywhere. That’s when I kinda wondered about the truth that might have been in one of the rumours that we heard. The radio had said there was a problem at the reactor. The reactor wouldn’t be causing riots in other countries. I tuned the radio to other stations and found the same thing. I even checked the TV in the front office. There were reports from all over the place, mostly about riots and mass looting. Some of the stations were even off the air, with emergency messages or no broadcast at all. One of the major stations was just a salt and pepper of static.

At around lunch time, I thought I’d go down the street and check out the situation while I was getting lunch. I had an old station wagon that I kept parked in the back, and on the rare occasion that I ever did go to lunch, I’d usually eat in the car. I drove down the street to the local diner to get a burger. The street was pretty quiet all considered. The funny thing is that if there was a reactor problem, there would be a lot less people on the road and probably some police getting everyone out. Leo’s grocery store was starting to get busy, which was common on a Friday at noon. What wasn’t common were the armed guards, who looked like Ned and Billy from the stock room. They each held a remington in their arms with one hand on the barrel, more like a mop than a shotgun.

Just past Leo’s was the Garage, as was printed on the sign. It was a gas station and garage (as the name stated) and cars were lined up around the corner in wait for a spot at the pumps. Past the Garage was Hiway Diner and Grill, which was where I’d get my favourite sandwich and a soda to go every Friday. Oddly enough, the doors were open, but there was nobody inside. I had checked around the place to see if I could find anyone in the back, but gave up after five minutes of hollering and wandering the place. I drove a bit further down past the hair dressers and shoe store to Fields Convenience in hopes of getting something, some grub or gab, whichever I could find first. The store itself was locked but Fred soon opened the door after seeing it was me. He told me what he knew and I told him about what I heard on the news and the radio, and kept the internet rumours from the tech guy to myself. He said he was about to get out of town but gave me a couple of frozen meals, and a bunch of other stuff from the freezer, along with a two boxes of dessert cakes and a six pack of Larky’s lager, all for the low price of ten dollars.

I drove around for another ten minutes and spotted a couple making whoopee on a bench in the park in broad daylight. I spied what looked like a smash and grab at the local jeweller and a tug o’ war between five people fighting over what looked like large roast. It flew apart into pieces, which were grabbed up by those in pull for it, before they each proceeded their own way. There were a few accidents and a few abandoned cars along the way back to the machine shop, and I began to think that this may be the end after all. I got back into the shop, locked the door and drew the curtains just in case somebody had any ideas. I figured that with my six pack and the ten others in the shop fridge, the frozen meals and the dessert cakes, that I’d be pretty well fed if Armageddon took a rain check. The radio was nearly end to end static, and every television station was in emergency broadcast mode. I found one station on the radio, a classical station which wasn’t exactly my taste, but it was music. I made sure all of the power in the shop was disconnected and the circuit breaker on the transformer was active just to be sure there’d be no accidents. When I’d made sure that everything was safe, I sat in the front office and played with the television a bit more. I finally found a station working and broadcasting news so I cracked a beer and sat down to watch.

The anchorwoman looked pretty haggard and under a bit of stress as she went over some of the news. It looked pretty bad in some parts of the world. Big cities like New York, Chicago, Toronto and Montreal were in dire straits. Rampant looting and pandemonium were the scene in every one of them. They had traffic copters covering the carnage on the streets. The news station must have been locked up like fort Knox to keep this kind of coverage going. The staff that were running the station had stayed behind voluntarily while the end of the world played out around them. I sat watching the news, and felt like I had become part of the club of those people that stayed behind to keep things going while everyone else freaked out. I watched with interest and finished two Larky’s when I heard a voice from behind me, nearly scaring me from my seat. It was the tech guy, but it was coming from one of the computers. I walked over to the computer, which coincidentally turned out to be his. There was his face, on the screen in a little box. He smiled when he saw me and said he was glad he’d found someone at the shop. He had a video conferencing system setup on his office computer. He must have somehow activated it from where ever he was. He said he had found some other people from around the world too and was going to talk me through getting them on the screen as well, so none of us would spend Armageddon on our own.

After about ten minutes of mucking about with the mouse and keyboard, there were three more faces up on the screen and I marvelled at the how far we had come since Bell‘s first phone call just like he probably marvelled at how far we had come since the first time we used fires to signal one another at a distance. The faces of each person held an expression of sadness, bewilderment and resignation. One by one they introduced themselves in turn while I watched, feeling a little like Dan Rathers during a panel interview. The first, Cale, was a wheelchair bound man studying physics in San Diego, another, a lady name Lena, was a retired nurse from Auckland, New Zealand, and Wilema another lady, was a librarian from Brussels, Belgium. The tech guy’s name was Norman, but we called him Tweak on account of him always looking for ways to speed up the office machines fast and cheap. The conferencing software wasn’t like a hand radio, none of us had to press anything to talk, we could just speak and the others could hear us. A long way from the days of HAM radio, which you still needed a licence to operate one unlike the internet. I guess with HAM radio they didn’t want someone talking to someone else on the other side of the world and stirring up a war. The tech guy got us all introduced to each other and we started the first, and perhaps last meeting of the end of the world club.

Bad News Travels Faster Than Light

Stanton made his way briskly down the service corridor to the main control room at the power management grid. He had received the call at 8:30am that he had been reactivated. He'd been given orders to disable the central grid at all costs. His orders had indicated that civilian casualties were acceptable, though their necessity had remained at his discretion. In terms of special operations, that was their way of saying that if you kill anyone not imperative to the mission goals, that it was your responsibility. 

He had been a deep cover operative for an unnamed agency for years, and given his engineering and special forces demolition background, he was the perfect inside man for the Canadian Niagara escarpment east central power grid system. A shared powered system through which Canada sold electrical commodities to the United States. The United States had their own power generating station on the other side of the border not a fifty kilometres the Canadian station and had the same imperative. Generate enough energy to supply the Niagara and Great Lakes region of their required power and sell the surplus to the Canadians. Between the two power generating giants, their grids operated much like a stock market. When their supply exceeded local demand, the excess was immediately liquidated for the benefit of their international customers. This ping-pong of supply and demand was all handled by digital technology programmed for such a task while engineers oversaw the whole process.

It was in the midst of this operation that Brad Stanton would work as an unlisted and plausibly deniable operative for the unnamed special operations group branch of  CSOR/JSOC. His orders were relatively simple, proceed from the offices into the utility hall and on to the main grid control, disabling it ASAP at all costs, weapons free, which meant that lethal force was authorized should it be required. It took him thirty seconds to equip himself as he had a utility kit ready with everything that he would need, including the Beretta 92S and a very compact custom modified SMG both silenced and slung under his sports jacket. The cemtech and breaching charge were in a briefcase along with a wireless primer, detonator and timer. The orders were given a priority of Alpha One, which meant the order probably came from the White House or Norad HQ Mount Cheyenne. This also meant that the country was in a state of emergency whereby other agents would be carrying out tactical operations on home soil. It had taken him five minutes to make it down to the utility hall which ran under the offices of the power facility, which was quick as it would have taken anyone else about eight minutes. He jogged a down the hall, keeping his heart rate steady, occasionally nodding to some of the workers he had passed along his route. He would make a trip down to the main control room about once every month, so this didn’t seem out of place to other workers in the facility.

Foller received his activation call at 8:40am. He had been sitting, legs up reading a news paper in the security office. His coworker Stan Lavies had taken his morning trip to the cafeteria for a round of coffees and Denny Welden was doing the patrol round of the control facility. He retrieved a briefcase similar to Stanton's from a locked file cabinet, followed by a case with carefully organized parts. He quickly assembled them and slung the SMG behind his coat which accompanied his holstered service pistol and proceeded to verify the contents of the briefcase. Once he was satisfied he proceeded down the hall to the main control room giving Stanton a bit of time.

Stanton arrived shortly after 8:42am, sparking a little curiosity from the technicians. “Hey Stanton, what brings you down here at this…” the technician was cut off in mid sentence by jab to his solar plexis. Stanton stepped forward and in a blur of motion left the technician unconscious on the floor.

Stanton then made his way to the door, jammed the lock with a can of spray on epoxy that he had drawn from his briefcase. The epoxy dried to a cement-like compound nearly instantly. He fixed a small cemtech charge to the door and armed it in response mode, which meant that it would blow if the door was opened, leaving anyone in the control room and the other side of the door dead. He then proceeded to the control panel with the briefcase. Most of the controls were software based logic controllers, with solid state based systems as backup. He logged in and navigated the software interface to the main override controller and disabled it. The solid state system kicked in and he proceeded to the control panel on the south wall where he would need to disable it. He retrieved another tool from the briefcase which broke the lock on the panel with relative ease. The door swung open, exposing a row of large switches, each with its own lock. He retrieved another tool from the briefcase, this one like a tiny screwdriver. He inserted its end into the keyhole on the first switch. A moment later, an led on the screwdriver indicated the lock had been scanned. He turned the screwdriver and the lock clicked, releasing the switch. He withdrew the screwdriver and flipped the switch. Somewhere two hundred miles away, the entire power grid of a large city was cut. He proceeded to the next switch with clinical precision.

Dean Foller had snuck into the control room during the scuffle, dispatching a technician on the other side of the control room quietly leaving him unconscious, and made his way around the edge of the room beyond Stanton's vision. He needed to let Stanton get his job done before he could complete his. He paused while Stanton finished the last switch and positioned himself behind Stanton with the blackjack. Stanton shifted slightly, hearing Foller from behind but unable to reposition himself defensively took the full brunt of the blow to the head. Foller gave Stanton another swing to the head as he fell unconscious.

"Sorry. Pal." Foller said quietly, more for himself than for his fallen comrade.

In his haste, he had failed to notice the other technician, who was hidden around a corner during his initial assault on Stanton. She had seen this security guard aka Foller suffocate her fellow coworker. This technician wielding a wrench, approached quietly from behind. She swung the wrench at Foller’s head while he searched Stanton. The wrench broke Foller’s constuction helmet in half, and made blunt force contact with his head. Foller turned to see his assailant swing a second time, bringing him down.

When Stanton awoke, he tasted the salt of his own blood on his lips, his head pounding like a drum. He was restrained by some of the primer cord from his briefcase and was lying face down on the floor. He felt the steel of the Beretta in its holster under his left arm. The SMG was clenched shakily in the hands of the technician, who was standing over him, holding it like the leash on an angry dog.

“Who the hell are you!” yelled the technician, the edge of fear very apparent in her voice.“You need to remain calm.” Stanton spoke firmly to his captor.“What the… You just come waltzing in here, kill my coworkers, and start shutting down the main grid and you want me to remain calm?” the technician exclaimed hysterically, the SMG shaking in her hands.“They’re not dead. They‘re just unconscious. Examine them.” Stanton responded, careful not to escalate the situation.

The technician looked to her coworkers on the floor and then nervously back to Stanton. The technician examined her coworkers, noticing that they were both breathing. She looked cautiously back to Stanton.“You’re Elena, aren’t you?” Stanton asked.“I‘ll ask the questions. Who the hell are you?” asked Elena the technician.“I’m Brad Stanton, from Engineering.” offered Stanton.“Ok. So Brad, why did you attack my coworkers?” asked Elena.

Outside the control room, an emergency siren blared through the utility hallway.

The klaxon blared and Elena screamed. If not for the safety switch engaged on the SMG, Stanton would be dead.“You need to remain calm Elena.” Stanton again stated, firmly.“Why should I trust you?” Elena inquired.“We have an emergency situation, that required immediate shutdown of the East Central grid.” Stanton said calmly.“What kind of emergency?” asked Elena.“We have a major reactor breach and plutonium leak in progress in upstate New York.” replied Stanton, still calm.“Why does the grid have to be axed?” asked Elena frantically.“The breach caused a catastrophic failure of the backup systems during peak hours. You know what that means, don‘t you Elena?” Stanton explained in a practiced lie.“That means that the load is high, and that the probability of a meltdown is very high.” Elena answered, gaining confidence in her astute observation of the obvious, which is what Stanton had intended.“Miss, you need to release me so that we can get this situation under control.” Stanton said in an almost fatherly manner to the younger technician.“Why did you have a gun? Not just a gun, but a machine gun?” Elena asked.“Because in emergency situations security becomes a major concern. You remember 2001 don‘t you?” Stanton offered in sound logic.“So this is some kind of anti-terrorist measure.” Elena answered his own question.“Yes. Its necessary. Now we have to get this under control, so untie me and let’s get this fixed before we have an express tunnel to South Asia.” Stanton said in a commanding tone.

Just then, there was a loud pounding on the steel door. Someone on the other side was hitting it with a hammer. Elena looked to the door, noticing the charge on the door. A cold chill ran the length of her body.“…anyone in there. Please answer.” buzzed the intercom.“What is that on the door?” asked Elena although she already knew.“A security measure. Tell the workers outside not to hammer the door, or that will blow us all to kingdom come.” Stanton stated in a calm tone, again taking control of the situation.

Elena approached the intercom, looking back to Stanton for approval as she did.“That’s it Elena. Go ahead.” Stanton nodded as best he could.

Elena turned to the intercom, a remnant from the systems upgrade performed in the eighties and clicked the talk button.“Uhh guys, we have a situation here. I have to ask you not to pound the door; with anything, not even your hands.” Elena said shakily.“Don’t even let them open it or we‘ll be blown sky high.” Stanton stated again, this time referring to the explosive device as if someone else had put it there.“Don‘t even try to open the door.” Elena demanded through the intercom.

She continued: “Have you guys heard anything about a reactor breach in New York?”, eyeing Stanton for any tell tale signs of a lie.“…No. We haven‘t heard a thing. There‘s a few minor problems out on the grid though. We got a call from the security that there was an override in progress. Here we are.” The intercom squawked back.

"I've got a security guy in here as well, he suffocated Matt Barnes and then took Stanton out with what appeared to be a mini club of some sort." Elena looked over to Foller and then back to Stanton, glaring.

"...There's no breach that we're aware of. Hang tight and we'll try to piece this together from security footage. Don't let either of them loose. The police, fire fighters and paramedics are on their way, not to mention the bomb diffusing crew. We'll have you out in no time....<zzzt>" the intercom crackled with static and went silent.“No reactor breach, anywhere. Who the hell are you!?” shot Elena at Stanton, his head craning awkwardly to view the scene.“Look Miss, we need to get this reactor problem under control. Now!” Stanton returned fire with a glare that caught Elena off guard.

Elena paused for a moment, looking at the SMG, which was slung below her breasts. This gun wasn’t an ordinary part of her world. She felt at home at the control grid and override assembly. The gun was as alien to her world as the explosive rig on the door. Stanton shifted slightly on the floor, breaking her momentary lapse. She glared at him furiously, shaking her head. Her gaze dropped to the SMG again, and she sighed.

Whoever this guy was, he could have easily killed the control room staff but instead had merely incapacitated the other technicians. She had become a part of the control room machinery, just like the other staff. Stanton was merely trying to incapacitate the control room, not the people. After weighing the situation as carefully as she could under the pressure, she came to a decision.“Alright. Alright. If I let you go, will you help me get the explosives off the door?” Elena asked Stanton.“As soon as we get the grid shut down. We have to save those people!” Stanton returned to his story, unwavering.

"What about the security guard, who's he and why did he attack you?" Elena inquired pleadingly.

"Doing his job I imagine, and pretty thoroughly too I'd say." replied Stanton, his logic rock solid.

Elena paused long enough to see one of her coworkers coming to life on the floor. She rushed over to the technician and helped him to his feet. Still no movement out of the other one. The other technician got his bearings and steadied himself on his feet. An angry look crossed his face when he eyed Stanton, who was still on the floor. In a rage he charged Stanton and football kicked him in the side twice. Stanton feigned pain from the attack, although the damage was more superficial than anything.“Why the hell did‘ya attack us Stanton!?” Demanded the technician in a harsh rage.“We have a…<cough>… reactor breach in progress and an emergency situation. Elena I need you to act quickly so we can get this situation under control. Bring Dave up to speed so we can bring him <cough> on board and get to task saving those people.” Stanton sputtered through his coughs.“I‘m not sure who he is. He says there‘s a breach in progress. New York.” Elena offered Dave.“Let‘s check that out.” Dave pulled a cell phone from his pocket, clicking one of the speed dial numbers.“…What‘s going on in there? Can we get the door open?” the intercom buzzed.“Wait a minute and we‘ll be with you. D-D-don‘t bang on the door.” Elena attended to the intercom impatiently. Dave eyed the door and the cemtech.“Holy sh#t. Did he put that there?” Dave asked Elena, pointing to Stanton.“If we don‘t get this situation under control, a lot of people are going to die.” Stanton interjected.

Elena walked over to Stanton and put the SMG on the floor and hunched over Stanton in an attempt to free him.“Are you crazy!?” Dave screamed at Elena while lunging for the SMG.

They struggled with it for a second before Dave wrested control of it from Elena. Dave backed away from Stanton - and Elena, levelling the SMG at both of them.“Elena, why didn‘t he attack you?” Dave asked in an accusatory manner, gesturing to Stanton.“Oh no, you can‘t be serious. I wasn‘t in on this.” Elena defended herself, stepping away from Stanton hoping to break the association with distance.“Hold it right there.” Dave stopped her.“You can‘t be serious. After everything we‘ve been through together you would…” Elena waved her hands at Dave as if trying to snap her out of a delusion.“I woke up after being levelled by Mr. Commando here. The first thing I see after I wake up is you with a machine gun.” Dave offered up his line of reasoning to Elena.

Dave had known Elena for a long time, even longer than he had known his own wife, Carol. Dave had dated Elena for a year before she decided they should breakup in an attempt to save their friendship and professional relationship. In the time that he had known her, he had seen Elena with a clipboard going over maintenance checklists. He had seen her delivering statistical reports at an engineer’s conference. He had seen her in a dimly lit room lying on his bed, wearing one thigh high stocking and a seductively appetizing post-sex smile on her lightly misted forehead. He had never seen her with a 9mm automatic weapon. Dave eyed Elena for a moment, the pain visible on his face, then he looked to Stanton. Dave had known Stanton for a few years, but they had never really talked before. Stanton had attended one of the barbeques held by the staff and was outwardly social and friendly but always kept a professional detachment. That’s what made this so difficult to fathom. He had never suspected anything like this from Stanton. He seemed like any of the other white collar workers in upper management although he was a skilled tradesman and engineer. That made him a likeable guy to the technicians. No one had even suspected that he was a…“We need to get that explosive off the door, and you‘re going to tell us how.” Dave demanded of Stanton. Elena stepped over to Dave and took his side, tenderly caressing his arm with her hand.“The threat is not the door, the threat is that reactor and trust me when it goes, they‘ll know for a hundred miles around it. You‘ll be responsible for every death if we don‘t act.” Stanton returned in a calm and logical manner. Dave looked to Elena, now visibly unsure with the situation.“What do we do?” Dave asked Elena. At that moment Stanton knew he had a chance to complete his assignment without the need to inflict any more harm on the technicians.

In the security room, several engineers and security officers watched the scene unfolding through security monitors. They had played back the security log from 8:30am. The cameras caught a tiny bit of Stanton’s attack on the technicians and breach of the control room. The attack itself was offscreen so it was very difficult to tell how it started, or finished for that matter.

It was currently 8:52:09am, and emergency crews had been called at 8:48:01am. The response time in such an emergency would be around five minutes. The call had indicated a terrorist attack with one or more possible assailants still active in the control room. The response team would include fire, police and ambulance as well as a tactical entry and enforcement team and the bomb squad as there was intel indicating the presence of an explosive device.

The security and engineers were still busy trying to piece the whole mess together. They knew at this point that Brad Stanton, one of the chief engineers, had entered the control room at 8:43:07am and had gained access to the control software through a previously unknown login identity at 8:43:56am. He then gained access to and began overriding the grid’s solid state systems at 8:44:29am. One of the security staff, Foller had attacked Stanton, twice hitting him with an unidentified tool, knocking him unconscious, retrieving what looked to be a machine gun from Stanton’s coat at 8:44:55am. Foller was taken down by a similar blunt force to the head by Elena Badger, whom appeared to be wielding a wrench. The technician then used some twine from a briefcase carried by Stanton to the scene to tie bind Stanton’s and Foller's wrists.

At 8:46:23am, Stanton gained consciousness and engaged the technician in conversation, who was identified as Elena Badger, a control room operator, in an attempt to convince the technician to release him from captivity. At 8:47:37am, one of the security officers observed Elena Badger on a security camera in possession of a machine gun and triggered the alarm. At 8:49:37am, one of the incapacitated technicians gained consciousness, presumed to be David Stodac, another control room operator. At 8:51:03am David Stodac and Elena Badger engaged in a brief scuffle for control of the machine gun.

The two technicians on the monitor had just lifted Stanton to his feet and were presumably in the process of freeing him. One of the security room engineers responded through the intercom.“…Don‘t untie him!…” blared the intercom in urgency.

Elena and Dave stopped and turned toward the intercom. As soon as their view was focused on the intercom Stanton moved.

He first disarmed Dave of the SMG with a well placed kick to his right wrist. Dave tried to fire the SMG but the trigger just stuck in place as the safety was still engaged. He had no time to react to the attack, the SMG falling to the floor with a metallic clang. Stanton spun with his other foot and caught Elena tripping her, throwing her back into a cement wall. Elena curled in a ball on the floor, gasping for air. Dave attempted to tackle Stanton, who was a ball of lightning at this point. Dave collided with Stanton heavily throwing his shoulder into Stanton’s chest. Stanton stumbled backwards, Dave following him to the floor. Stanton landed on his back and rolled over his shoulders and back onto his feet. Dave rolled over just in time to avoid a kick to his shoulder socket. Stanton swiftly followed up with the other foot, catching Dave in the kidney. A bolt of pain shot through Dave’s side he struggled for air, winded by the attack. Stanton was being purposely careful to use only the amount of force required to incapacitate and not harm, but Dave and Elena were completely under the impression that he was trying to kill them. Stanton struggled with the primer cord in an attempt to free his hands while Dave rolled on the floor gasping. Before he was able to free his hands, Elena side tackled him into one of the control panel desks. They both collided with the steel of the desk and dropped to the floor. The primer cord that bound Stanton’s hands snapped and he was free.

The first squad of the tactical entry team had funnelled into the security room. They were briefed by the chief security officer of the situation. The security chief mentioned the possibility of an explosive device in the control room. The squad leader examined a map provided by the security chief. After a few questions the team proceeded down the hall to the control room door.

Foller awoke to the sound of a fight going full force and rolled over to see that the opportunity that he was waiting for had arrived. He rolled and flipped onto his feet in an acrobatic manner, hands still tied.

Dave kicked at Stanton’s legs from the floor, catching Stanton’s knee and twisting it. Stanton’s leg buckled and he fell sideways onto Dave. Stanton quickly recovered, wrapping his arm around Dave’s neck, with his left arm behind it forming a clamp. His powerful forearms threw Dave left and right while constricting the consciousness from him. Elena fought with Stanton’s arm attempting to break the hold on Dave. Dave lost consciousness, his body falling limp. Stanton cast Dave’s limp body to the side where it landed with a thud. He turned and focused on Elena, who had caught her breath and renewed her effort. Stanton manoeuvred himself in order to block Elena from getting to the SMG. Stanton had retrieved the silenced Berretta from his jacket and aimed at Elena.

“Honey, I need you to stop and get on the floor beside Dave. Now!” He requested firmly.

Foller flanked Stanton from his right side, with a blow to his tricep in an attempt to incapacitate his motor control nerves. The risk of such a move was high given Elena's vulnerability to the firearm, but Stanton covered for Foller's poor judgement. Stanton held the gun firm, not firing and spinning, driving the butt of the Beretta into Foller's cheek. It was a glancing blow but slowed Foller enough for Stanton to deliver a blow with his left fist to Foller's forehead.

"Sorry. Pal" Stanton spat.

Foller absorbed the blow, falling backward rolling over his shoulders and back onto his feet, his left foot swinging upward into Stanton's package. Stanton winced, looping his left arm under Foller's exposed leg, and rushed forward toppling the still bound Foller. Foller collapsed to the floor a second time, rolling onto his shoulders and then changing direction mid roll to the left. Foller's hand bindings snapped, shifting the balance of this personal war.

Stanton advanced cautiously while Foller gained his footing. They circled one another for a moment, each inspecting the other for an opening, their eyes remaining locked. Foller feigned an advance and Stanton bought it, shifting to his left in an attempt to throw his opponent. Foller threw a wide arc strike across Stanton's blind side, forcing him to the floor. Foller was upon him as he fell throwing a furious flurry of blows one after the other. The Stanton, the older agent fell to the floor absorbing the brunt of the attack and the impact full force, containing his air despite the pain. He landed on his back with Foller on top of his chest, pinning both his arms.

Stanton kicked with his knees, hitting Foller's kevlar vest which absorbed Stantons attempts to wind him. Stanton's mind raced, looking for another opening while his body absorbed the blunt force trauma of Foller's delivery. Stanton strained himself and freed his arms from under Foller and struck Foller with the heel of his palm under his jaw. Foller saw stars and felt a shot of pain all the way up his back as he felt one of his molars crack under the force of the blow. Foller fought the pain, his eyes tearing up which was the body's natural reaction to nerve trauma in the face. Stanton took advantage of the situation and threw Foller forward over his head. Stanton was quickly on his feet exactly where he wanted to be with Foller and Elena both on the business end of his Beretta.

Time stood still and Elena resigned herself to the futility of the situation. Stanton suddenly winced in pain as several rounds plunged into his back. He fell forward onto the floor where he remained still.

"Thanks buddy! You couldn't have had better timing!" Foller exclaimed, slightly mumbling, eyes watering.

The SMG opened up again and Foller was blown backward onto the floor unmoving.“Are you ok Elena?” Asked Matt, who had just awoken from consciousness and retrieved the SMG from the floor, using it against Stanton and Foller.“Much better n-ow, thanks.” replied Elena, barely able to speak. She wiped her face with her arm, very much out of breath.

Dave was unconscious and breathing in a uneven manner. Elena looked him over while Matt grabbed the Beretta from the floor beside Stanton’s lifeless body. Elena carefully flipped Dave on his back and tucked a rolled up lab coat under his head. She used the first aid kit to clean up the abrasions to his face. Elena checked Stantons wounds and panicked when she saw what looked like a bullet proof vest pocked with impacts. About twenty of them.“Matt? they've got body armour.” Elena panicked.“They must be unconscious. I hit them with a lot of rounds.” Matt said trying to calm Elena.

Matt scavenged the room for anything that he could use to bind Stanton and Foller and grinned when he found clip ties used for sealing some of the utility bins in the control room. He pulled Stanton’s hands behind his back and slipped ten of the clip ties around Stanton’s wrists and ten around his ankles hoping it was enough. Elena did the same with Foller, pulling his arms to his back and securing them. Matt searched Stanton thoroughly for anymore hidden surprises, finding two cel phones, one light gray, the other black and two clips for the Beretta. He took them and placed them in one of the cabinets. After they had secured Stanton and Foller, Matt looked around taking in the situation. 

Matt was the eldest of the three and the control room senior technician. Matt had been at the power facility for twelve years and had become good friends with his younger coworkers. Their friendship had helped him in dealing with the grief of losing his wife. He had loved her dearly and spent every spare moment he had with her. One year had passed since her death and Matt was still recovering in home life seclusion but very active at the power facility. He had attended the many barbeques that Dave held and like Elena, had become good friends with Carol, Dave’s wife. Dave, Carol and Elena had become Matt’s surrogate family.“…What‘s happening in there?…” squawked the intercom.“Matt Barnes here. Dave Stodac is unconscious and injured. He needs medical attention. Stanton is restrained… we hope. Foller too. They had quite a party together but they're resting like babies now. We need a bomb crew in here.” Matt answered, eyeing the door hoping he would see something on the device that he understood. He didn’t. Except for the cemtech he didn’t recognize any part of the device as any kind of civilian type electrical component. As an electrical engineer who had a combined civil engineering background he had interned at a demolitions company and had seen plenty of market explosive rigs, especially utilizing cemtech. The device he was looking at right now was completely alien to him.“…We’re working on that right now. Sit tight for now, we’ll get back to you soon. Don’t touch it whatever you do, Matt.” crackled the intercom. It made Matt feel like they were a thousand miles away.“We’re going to need him to get that thing off the door before we can leave.” Matt said pointing to Stanton, who was still unconscious.“What about the bomb crew?” Asked Elena, who was simultaneously tending to Dave and guarding Stanton.“They can‘t get in here to diffuse it. The only way in is through that door. We need him awake.” Answered Matt sounding more like he was making a request.

The control room was one of the sturdiest buildings in the Power Management Facility. It was housed separately from the rest of the complex and accessible through utility corridors which connected all five of the main structures. It was built during the early nineteen sixties during escalating cold war tensions and engineered in accordance with the threats to infrastructure at the time. The control room was one of the few structures where the main entrance and the fire door were the same physical door. Designed to withstand the blast of a nuclear weapon from a nominal distance, the control room and facility housed fire doors that were integrated with the main door, where all would lead to the utility corridors. The utility corridors were an engineering marvel. Layered with brick and concrete, their ceilings arched in shape right to the floors which resulted in rounded roof on their exterior. From the exterior the utility corridors stretched from each building in the complex like buried tunnels, which reduced their exposure and vulnerability to the most deadly of nuclear weapon effects, that of a precursor. A precursor is an unstable wave form made up of extreme differences in air pressure that ripple out from the focal point of a nuclear blast, causing nearly anything in its path to be destroyed or instantly stripped of its exterior and subject to the full effect of the forces and energies that follow it, which are high force winds, intense heat and radiation. Unfortunately the design trade-off was that emergency support personnel would have a more difficult time accessing the structure for fire containment or other related emergencies.

Elena retrieved a bottle of cold water from her lunch bag and began pouring it on Stanton’s head while keeping her distance. Stanton’s head moved, and he began to cough. Elena jumped back pulling the Beretta, pointing it at Stanton.“<cough> Do you have any idea what you‘ve done?” Stanton asked still holding firm to his reactor story.“How do we get that bomb off the door without it going off?” Asked Elena as if she didn’t even hear Stanton.“Did you hea…” Stanton didn’t have time to finish his sentence before Elena levelled the gun directly at Stanton‘s head and continued.“I said how do we get that bomb off the door?” Elena demanded, very much in charge of their interaction.

Stanton coughed for several seconds and then continued:“You can’t. It’s a one way ticket.” he replied, levelling with Elena.“Well that’s just great.” Elena said, keeping the Beretta aimed at a point between Stanton’s eyes.“What‘s the blast force vector on that charge? Is it standard cemtech?” Matt asked Stanton professionally.“About 7000 psi on our side and 4000 psi outside with that concrete although I wouldn‘t want to be near that door when it blows. Its doped cemtech, with tritamene during the manufacturing process. Enhances the potency by about 2000 psi at the blast center. A little less stable but not by much.” Stanton answered his engineering brother. The device was a threat to everyone in here and out there and he knew it.

Stanton was a professional, but he was still a man with a sense of morality. He kept his personal and professional life very separate from each other and never allowed them to cross over. Like Matt, he had lost his wife to leukemia years before he had joined the power facility. His first daughter died in a car accident, killed by an impaired driver. His second daughter was a successful administrator for a major department store chain. He was very proud of her and she was his greatest pride and his sole connection to his lost wife. He thought about his wife now.

"Look, we need to get the explosives of the door and get out of here." Stanton said with calm resounding focus.

“What gave you that idea? Is this another one of your attempts to trick us?” Elena shot back with stinging sarcasm.

“I‘m the least of your worries now.” Stanton continued.

“They’re going to send a cleanup agent. Maybe more than one. They will make sure that no one in this room remains alive, including me.” Stanton finished.

Elena lowered the Beretta a little. She looked over to Matt, who was contemplating what Stanton had said.“Why did they want you to override the power grid in the first place?” Matt inquired.“I don‘t know. But it‘s pretty serious. There’s agents all over the place on active duty performing the same kinds of operations. It’s a measure used to protect infrastructure. Something very big is going down.” Stanton answered Matt and another level of trust opened between them.“This is very big. Bigger than the price of our lives in the scheme of things. I‘m sorry.” Stanton offered solemnly.“…That man is a traitor. Ignore him. The bomb squad is on the way. They‘ll have you out in no time. Matt don‘t listen to him.” screeched the intercom.“I‘m not listening to him. You just get the bomb squad here and we‘ll keep tight until they arrive.” lied Matt.

Matt was no soldier, but he had been around long enough to recognize that someone was trying to pull the wool over his eyes. Stanton was telling the truth and he was willing to wager his life on that. Something had happened in security that had changed the tone of this standoff.“Elena, check his hands and legs. Make sure he‘s secured.” Matt commanded, gesturing like scissors with the fingers on his left hand. The right hand still held the SMG although he knew he wouldn’t need it.

The tactical entry team had taken up outside of the door to the control room. They kept in contact with the security room and awaited further instructions. The squad leader had been in many situations similar to this one as part of the SWAT team and as part of the combined operations team for the United States TAC OPS unit. The Agency used him often, especially when it required the removal of insurgents or renegade agents. He was rewarded with the extra pleasure that his target would be Brad Stanton. Apparently Dean Foller had been assigned to dust him and had failed to complete his assignment for some reason. The squad leader eyed the situation and weighed his options.

Elena nervously paced the room looking to Dave for any sign of movement. Her eyes fell back to Stanton and then to Foller with every lap. He had extreme reservations regarding the situation with Stanton and Matt’s request to unbind him. If Dave were conscious right now, Stanton would have had the explosive disarmed and been apprehended by the authorities by now and they would be on their way home to a hero’s welcome. Her train of thought was broken by the muffled sound of a cellular phone ringing from within a cabinet.

Elena looked to Stanton and then to Matt, waiting for approval.“Go ahead.” Nodded Matt. Stanton nodded slightly, maintaining his ruse as a captive to the ever watchful security cameras.

Elena approached the cabinet, fumbled with some keys, got the drawer unlocked and pulled forth Stanton’s confiscated gray phone. She reached in and grabbed it, looking at the lcd display. The incoming call was listed as Jody Ascot. Elena showed Stanton the name.“Answer it for me.” Stanton demanded. Elena looked to Matt for approval.“Don’t try anything stupid.” Matt reminded Stanton, gesturing to the SMG firmly held in his hands.

Matt then nodded to Elena, who then pressed a button on the phone and held it against Stanton’s face.“Honey, how are you?” Stanton asked, his voice changing from that of a killer commando to that of a widowed father.“No, we haven‘t seen the news. Is everything ok where you are?” Stanton’s tone changed to one of concern and almost a hint of fear. He looked to Matt quizzically.

Matt took the cue and searched the desks in the room for a radio. When he had found a clock radio, he played with it until he found a news station.“No honey, we‘re ok here, honest.” Stanton lied to his daughter. Elena noticed a bead of a tear in Stanton’s eye. At that point she knew Stanton was human, but she secretly wished he wasn’t.

The radio station had just repeated the top stories as the residents of the control room listened to them in awe. The first of which was the fact that there were several power outages and unrest across North America and a reactor problem in upstate New York. Europe was experiencing the worst rioting it had ever seen. Some looting had just started in locations around North America as well. Other parts of the world were in the same situation or completely cut off.“You brace the doors, turn out the lights and don’t answer it for anyone. Do you understand!” Stanton raised his voice, breaking the rising tension in the air and replacing it with panic.“…What is going on in there. We didn‘t authorize Stanton to have any personal calls.” buzzed the intercom.“What is going on here! The world is falling apart out there damnit!” Elena blared into the microphone on the intercom. It was clear to Matt that Elena had reached her load limit and was a potential risk to keeping the situation stable.“<click><hummmm>...We are doing our best to…<clack><zzzzzzt>” the sound of crackling and buzzing penetrated the static of the intercom before it went dead.“Oh great! They just abandoned us!” Elena growled, waving the Beretta like a maniac.

Matt looked to the security cameras and noticed that the power indicators were off, which meant they weren’t functioning.

Stanton, who had stood to his full six foot height, scanned the room, holding the cellular phone delicately against his ear.“No, that was just a courier having a bad day. I‘m at the receiving dock. You sit tight where you are, I‘m coming to get you.” Stanton crushed under the weight of losing her.

The phone went dead against Stanton’s ear and his heart strings snapped in two as he remembered his wife’s dying face. He played with the phone for a moment, redialing his daughter’s cellular phone number. Stanton pocketed the phone after there was no answer. He stood silently and eyeing each of the technicians in the room in turn and then to Foller. There was something not quite right about Foller. He had attacked Matt before attacking me, thought Stanton. There was only one possibility: a setup.

Elena was simply overloaded at this point and fell on the floor, crying on Dave’s unconscious body. Matt knew Elena well enough to know that this may have been coming for some time, and stood back and let it happen.

Stanton looked to Matt and then to Elena. Despite Elena’s current emotional state, Stanton could still read her well enough from visual cues to know that there was little danger posed by Elena’s breakdown.

Stanton stood silently, considering the entirety of the situation and weighing the options. He looked to Elena almost feeling her pain in an irony that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Stanton felt himself melting to a point that posed a danger zone for a active agent and he quickly refocused himself. There would be time for this when these people were back to safety and he was reunited with his daughter.

He picked up the Beretta from the floor beside Elena and put his hand on Elena’s shoulder.

“I promise you that I‘ll get you out alive.” Stanton said, looking at Elena and then Matt.

“Your family needs you. You need them. We'll all get through this, all of us.” He paused when Elena’s gaze met his. Elena realized Stanton wasn’t the same, he had become super-human.

Stanton grabbed his discarded body armour and put it on under his jacket. He then walked over to where Dave lay silently on the floor. Using the remainder of the first aid kit, he tended to Dave’s wounds using his medical knowledge, which was considerable.

“He‘ll recover quickly, and with any luck, he‘ll be conscious in a few minutes. If you have any cold water we could use it to wake him.” Stanton looked to Elena and Matt. Matt nodded quietly. Elena did the same, wiping her eyes.

"I'll be back, I'm going to get some answers out of someone!" Stanton marched angrily over to Foller.

He grabbed Foller by the arm and dragged him across the floor to the other side of the control room by two tall wall cabinets, each marked with the "High Voltage" symbol. Stanton began to work on opening the cabinets.

Meanwhile, Elena foraged the refrigerator and retrieved a two litre bottle of cold water from the fridge. She slowly and purposefully and walked over to Dave, still in his slumber.

"Oh I've been looking forward to this." she said sardonically.

Despite frequent news briefs from the radio, the room had become eerily quiet and still. Peaceful, almost. Like a mausoleum, Matt thought. Elena shared in the calm and at that moment the two of them found some hope.

Stanton had gotten the cabinets opened with the help of his special screwdriver and had made a makeshift Tesla coil. Tested it for volatility and it snapped and cackled, an electrical arc jumping across the twelve inch distance. Foller had awaken to the smell of nitrogen, which was a sign of exposed wiring according to the specialized security training he had received from the power control facility.

"Now what are you going to do with that, pal?" Foller asked, almost shocked to see Stanton taking the initiative in this manner.

"Who sent you?" Stanton held a stern face, without emotion.

"The security chief. He wanted me to check out something the security camera had caught." answered Foller, his eyes slightly dilating.

Stanton touched the coil to Foller's ankle briefly. Foller screamed, though the damage was superficial, but the younger agent could have sworn he had just suffered permanent damage.

"Who sent you?" Stanton continued, unfazed by Foller's plight.

"I said the securi..." Foller didn't get a chance to finish.

Stanton placed the leads of the makeshift Tesla coil near Foller's shins, working his way slowly up the same leg. A spark shot through Foller's leg and he screamed again, the smell of burning hair permeating the room.

"Arrgh!...I was activated at 8:40 AM this morning!" Foller screamed, breathing through his teeth.

"What was your objective?" Stanton demanded showing absolutely no emotion.

"Objective? ...Aaaaaarh!" Foller screamed again as a bead of charged plasma jumped across his knee. This time the pain jumped up his nervous system and penetrated his broken tooth. His eyes watered again and he grimaced in pain.

"Your objective?" Stanton inquired, unmoved by Foller's dilemna.

"You. I was supposed to take you down. Make you look like a rogue agent. Convince them that you had lost your mind. And then... kill you." Foller winced, expecting another shock. None came.

Elena, Matt and Dave had come over to find Stanton standing in shock of betrayal by the Agency he had served well for twenty five years. He considered the options carefully now and evaluated what the possible hurdles might be. He was distant to the others but deep in thought going over possible scenarios and risk assessments. He walked over to the electrical cabinet and dropped the switch.

"Is Foller's damage permanent?" asked Elena.

"I just ramped up the juice on an auxilliary line. It was the equivalent of a car battery. Burnt hair at most but no damage. He'll live." Stanton answered, looking at Foller scornfully.

"We're leaving now. The SWAT team will get all of you to safety and I'll find my way to my daughter." Stanton finished.

This was the best plan of action, ensuring their survival and leaving him with the relaxed assuredness the SWAT team would have after taking him without incident. Their guard would be down and he could seek the right moment to break free and rescue his daughter. Everyone would be safely with their families at the end of it all.

Dave looked to Stanton, extending his hand. No words were exchanged as they shook but everything they needed to say was said.

Matt approached and extended his hand with all of the professionalism that he could muster.

"Another great day at the office." he offered Stanton.

Stanton's stern expression broke and a smile etched its way onto his face. They laughed at their mutual understanding of the situation.

"An honour to know you Stanton." Matt nodded, shaking hard and sturdy like an engineer. Stanton returned it equally firm.

"The honour is mine." replied Stanton to his engineering brother.

Elena turned to Stanton and opened her arms.

He embraced her in a protective manner, not affectionately nor fatherly. He held close enough to feel her tears and far enough not to let them move him.

"I know you protected me when Foller tried to disarm you." she said, forgiving him.

"You wouldn't have needed protecting if I hadn't pointed the..." Stanton tried to finish but Elena interrupted.

"I know, but you still made sure that I wasn't hurt. You'll always have a family with us." Elena offered to her saviour.

Stanton smiled and winked. He turned to tend to the explosives on the door on the other side of the room. Dave and Elena had turned to take care of Foller, who was rolled over on his side. Dave turned him over onto his back to to get him up and onto his feet. He grabbed Foller by the arm holes on the kevlar vest and out of the corner of his eyes, saw that Foller had something in his mouth. It looked like a car alarm switch, the kind you would find on a key chain.

Before Dave could react, Foller bit down on the detonator for the explosive charge on the door.

They heard nothing but felt it immediately as the air in their lungs was immediately forced out by the tremendous increase in air pressure. The room became alive with projectiles and debris, all instantaneously accelerated to supersonic speeds, pushed by the shockwave. Matt and Stanton had joined the variety of airborne objects and if Matt had time to appreciate the experience he might have marvelled at the fact that he was flying without the aid of a machine. He flew with blinding force at the wall, and joined his wife shortly after his impact.

Stanton was picked up and thrown into stacked storage bins on the opposite side of the room, which absorbed the force of the impact and reduced his considerable injuries, his body pocked with schrapnel.

Elena flattened herself to the floor and barely missed being clipped by a full filing cabinet which impacted the wall three feet from Matt's crushed and lifeless body.

Dave had been thrown into the electrical cabinet and had Stanton not turned it off, would be joining Matt and his wife for dinner. His victory over death and injury was short lived and a piece of schrapnel penetrated his left cheek. His arm was broken by a small toolbox, which upon impact felt like a cast iron safe fired out of a cannon.

The SWAT team had used an electronic scrying device to locate the charge on the door. They had just finished drilling a hole through the door in the safe zone, when time stood still. The team leader and his two man section had taken up a position just outside of the security room down the service corridor when he was winded by the force of the explosion. From his point which was fifty meters away from ground zero and down a service corridor, it felt like someone hit him in the chest with a baseball bat.

The two man door drilling team were flattened on the opposite side of the corridor under the big utility door, which was pressed firmly against the wall. Of the remaining eight men of the SWAT team stationed near the door, five were still alive and of those five, two were at capacity to act had they been conscious.

The smoke filled the air and the alarms and sprinkler system had come to life, as if to replace the life that was taken.

The Apocolypse Five

I popped a can of Larky's and made my way back to the computer. Now I was beginning to see why so many people spent so many hours in front of the darned things. They weren't really dealing with the computer at all, they were dealing with people on the other end of the computer, or the internet. The computer was more like a phone than it was a television, although it could be like a television too for when you didn't feel like doing anything but watch it. After my third can of Larky's it was getting pretty entertaining despite the fact that it was the end of the world. I sat down at my seat in front of Tweak's system. The four faces had gone quiet.

"So Cale. Be a gentleman and tell us a bit about yourself." I asked the wheelchair bound young adult.

"Well, my name is Cale, as you know. I have been studying for my degree in Physics at the University of San Diego for three years now. I would have had two years left for my degree if the world didn't..." Cale looked down, unable to finish.

"Cale we know that already. I mean tell us a little bit about you. Why'd you choose physics?" I asked once again.

"Because I like it." Cale answered, unsure of where I was going with this and still enough of a people pleaser that he was trying to say what he thought others wanted him to say.

"I always found physics to be fascinating too, Cale." Wilema offered to Cale, who was deep in contemplation.

He was more afraid of scaring us away by saying something that we didn't agree with than he was of saying something that he didn't agree with to keep us around. I didn't know if the others saw it, but perhaps we were all really isolated in this world if one of us has to feel that way. I didn't think so, cause' the truth was on the four other faces on that screen.

"The Perseids. It was the first time I saw the Perseids." Cale exclaimed, almost like he just relived it.

"Huh? Now what in heaven's name are the Percy-ids?" I asked, for clarity's sake from an aspiring Physicist.

"The Perseids are a meteor shower that affects the northern hemisphere, and sometimes produces some of the most spectacular meteor showers that you can see. I saw them on a camping trip with my father... before he left." Cale looked down again, drawing in some courage.

"When can you see them Cale?" asked Lena, seated on a recliner with her laptop in front of her. The scenery off camera rocked with the motion of the recliner.

"You can catch them mid July in North America, for about two maybe three days on a good year. The first time I saw them, they set a record for the most recorded meteors. I counted fourty five by the time I went to sleep. That was over a period of two hours." Cale's face lifted, visibly excited by the memory of discovery.

"...Listen! Listen!" exclaimed Tweak, putting a portable radio in front of the camera.

The radio blared through the computer speakers.

"...I repeat, there has been what appears to be a series of large explosions reported off the coast of Greenland. Rocket trails were also confirmed off the coast of Greenland." Tweak's face was afire with terror.

"Its going nuclear! They're launching missiles." he exclaimed, panic clear in his voice.

"...the trails fall off in the direction of Europe and North America.

We have a Naval Warfare expert joining us now from Boston.

Retired Naval Captain Robert Meyers now joining us.

Captain Meyers, what can you tell us about these reports.

...Well that area is something we call the pursuit line of the trench.

It got its name from the cold war, when US and Soviet subs would play cat and mouse with one another.

Its the ideal launch zone for a ballistic missile attack. Submarines would have access to the North American east coast and Western Europe all from that point.

I would say from the reports that we had a nuclear exchange between submarine combatants, in the form of nuclear torpedoes, followed by the delivery of intermediate ballistic missiles from attack class submarines off the coast of Greenland." the drama played out on the radio and through to the internet.

"...Captain, in such an exchange, how many warheads can we expect were deployed?

Well from the reports I'm receiving I would say between fifteen to twenty such missiles were launched from that location near Greenland.

Captain, what would the targets of such missiles be, is there any way to tell and what would be the delivery time?

There would be no way to tell the exact targets, although most attack class subs carry warheads designated for support and infrastructure rather than civilian centres. I'd stay away from power facilities, water treatment plants, airports and automotive factories.

As far as the delivery time goes, from the reports I would say that Europe has four minutes and North America has three minutes.

We're possibly looking at seven or eight impacts in North America and the same for Europe."

I sat in disbelief, and surely just adding to the disbelief of the four faces onscreen. If that disbelief could just compound itself to the point where it became reality, we could save the whole world. But it didn't and the first report of a nuclear detonation on North American soil came shortly after four minutes. The end of the world had indeed come and these faces were likely going to be the ones I checked out with. There was a quiet resolve, like passengers on a sinking ship, we had resigned ourselves to our impending demise. The End of the World Club had graduated without honours to become the Apocalypse Five.

For Someone Special

The elevator rose slowly and silently through the shaft, floor by floor. She held his hand and he held her.

"Trent." she said, looking deeply into his being.

"Rysalyn." he said, completing their connection to one another.

They were completely enamoured of each other and everything about their being exuded that. She ran a finger up the back of his Concierge uniform, sending goose bumps to his extremities and he reciprocated caressing the bare skin on the front side of her waist, which he had earlier exposed, untucking the shirt from the skirt of her House Keeping uniform, although on this day he called it her gown. It sounded more enticing without exploiting her beauty, and robbing her of her innocence. Though she never told him, she found it exciting too, knowing that she could have that kind of effect upon him. Their private fantasy had come true with the impending ending of the world.

He forgot the button panel and turned his full attention to her, putting his hands gently on her waist, and slowly pulled her over to his body with very little resistance. Their lips met in a kiss, their hands each caressing the body of the other slow and deliberately exposing bits of clothing and bare skin. Time stood still in that moment: their first kiss.

Rysalyn had started at the hotel a year and a half ago, in the cleaning department running the giant washers that ensured clean bedding and linens for the guest rooms, banquet halls and restaurants. She was currently in her early thirties, and had been used to doing menial chores for most of her life. Where she had hailed from, there were people that still believed that was the role of a woman, and she had gotten used to the idea of that part of her "role" early in life. Life here was much different for her now, and she enjoyed the leeway her new life had afforded her. It was scary at first, not being able to communicate with many people in a new and unfamiliar land. Learning a completely different language while having to earn enough to pay for food and the rent on her first apartment. She had struggled for a few years when the opportunity for the position at the hotel had fallen into her lap. Her new Supervisor, Mr. Wesnal, had mistaken her innocence and charm for flirtation, and hired her on the spot. She took the job despite the fact that there was something that bothered her about the Supervisor. He reminded her of someone she had long left behind.

Trent had come from the suburbs to live in the city center and get closer to the Theatre District. He was an aspiring Playwright at that time and had dreams of hitting it big. He was a people person at times and withdrawn from people at others and needed a gig to match his personality. His first job as a Cook in a fast food restaurant didn't last more than two weeks before he took off. From there, he worked for a while as a Mail Boy (a little redundant for a title he would often joke to others) in an office sky scraper. He performed well at the job and enjoyed the people at the office, but in the end it wasn't for him. He had passed the hotel every day on his way home, and on one such passing, stopped in and asked the Concierge about the possibility of a job. Much to his surprise he got a positive response to the inquiry and applied in full the following day after his job as the Mail Boy. At lunch hour he left for an interview at the hotel and returned from lunch with one minute to spare and gave his notice.

He started working for the Banquets Department, setting up the banquet halls and meeting rooms for their bookings, which were mostly for weddings and corporate meetings. Working in that department for a few years, he honed his considerable people skills until he had the confidence to apply to the front desk. They in turn recommended the position of Bell Boy, which he accepted after some contemplation and the fact that he could earn more with tips. He would often joked to his customers and coworkers that he had been a Mail Boy once already, when would he be a Man?

By the time that Rysalyn had started working for the hotel, Trent had already worked as a Bell Boy for three years. She had spied him the first time when she had just arrived for her shift. He was a dashing man, of thirty or so, six feet in height, short haired and clean shaven with a youthful face and a confident stance and a slightly lanky build. He noticed her glancing at him and winked, which she responded to with an involuntary blushing of her face. She smiled, her face nearly as red as her full lips. He in turn took her in, noticing her eyes first, then her lips and the curvature of her face. His eyes followed her and floated downward, brushing over her body like a feather. Her uniform kept the features of her curves secret, while revealing enough to keep Trent's eyes affixed to her.

Over the course of the weeks that followed, Trent and Rysalyn crossed paths several times. The air was thick with sensual tension when they passed near each other. They both felt it but never said a word to each other. Finally, one day in passing Rysalyn, he was able to drop a tiny note he had written into one of the pockets of her apron. She found it after she had arrived at home after her shift at the hotel and read it before turning in for bed. She had also received a small bouquet of flowers at her apartment with a tiny note:

Watching You. I need you.


Having only a suspicion but ultimately clinging to her naivety about this note she settled in to bed unable to sleep. She thought about the situation she had fled and shuddered. Part of her wanted to open up to this possible adoration but another part of her was still terrified. Emotional scars from her previous experiences had not healed as readily as she would have liked though she did her best to overcome her fears. At one thirty in the morning she got out of bed, prepared herself a warm glass of milk with a half spoon of honey. After drinking it she had an easier time falling asleep.

The next day she ventured into the hotel and although she was already a natural beauty, had put on a little more makeup partly in hopes of luring the note writer from his anonymity and partly because of her lack of sleep. Trent hadn't seen her that day until after lunch as he had been busy attending to guests checking out as part of a sales seminar that had been going on for the last few days in one of the banquet halls. He had been thinking about her the whole time and his eagerness was apparent to some of the guests. She had been wheeling a bin full of linens down to the washing room in the basement of the hotel when she bumped into him as he rounded a corner.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..." she apologized sincerely, looking at him, but not directly. He knew she had read the note.

"No, not at all. It was my fault. Don't worry about a thing. I'm going in the same direction, would you like a hand?" he offered, a little too eagerly. She knew he was the author of the note.

"I can handle this myself, thank you." she replied, hoping she didn't sound too confrontational.

"Do you mind if I walk with you?" he asked.

"If you're going in the same direction I guess that you'll have to. Won't you..." she paused looking for his name tag.

"Trent. My name's Trent." he extended his hand.

"I am Rysalyn." she replied, surrendering hers.

"How are you enjoying it here at the hotel?" he asked, a smile half perched on his face, like it was ready to pounce on her.

"I enjoy it, though it is for work, and not for pleasure." she glanced to him slightly, and vainly attempted to contain her interest in him.

[UPDATED NOVEMBER 8, 2012 - 03:43AM]

"So what do you do for pleasure?" he asked, his eyebrow slightly arced as he glanced at her, keeping things playful and subtle.

She paused a moment, glancing downward , a slight emotional intensity crossed her face and she stopped.

He turned to her calmly and quietly trying to withdraw his prior words "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

"You didn't know." she said firmly, looking down at momentarily before proceeding with the laundry cart full of the hotel's linens. She struggled to get the load moving again before she gained momentum.

Trent watched her for a moment, really disappointed in himself. He glanced down and saw the note he had written for her, crumpled up into a ball on the floor. He picked the note up, pocketing it before proceeding down back to the hotel lobby where he finished his shift.

He kept to himself for his last two hours of his shift, periodically looking around to see if Rysalyn was close by. She had remained scarce and he took that scarcity as a sign that he should stay away for the time being.

When his shift finished, he changed in the locker room and made his way home, cursing himself for his insensitivity.

At home, he sat in front of the television, his laptop open in front of him on the couch beside him, while he nursed a glass of wine. He had tried to continue his efforts on a play that he had been working on for some time, but found his mind wandering back to the events of the day.

He sat quietly and thought about Rysalyn, wondering about her and her past. Her speech and eloquation were excelent despite the fact that she still had an accent, and it made her that much more attractive to him. Part of him wished that he hadn't written the note to her, but then his mind wandered to the smile upon her face during their conversation this afternoon and he found himself floating on air.

His phone rang, and he jumped, spilling a bit of his wine on his shirt as he reached for his phone.

"Hello." he said settling back down onto the couch.

"...Trent, I'm sorry. I did not mean to break our conversation like that." she spoke calmly and concisely, meaning every word.

"You don't have to be sorry. I was being too forward with you. It was my fault." Trent answered, carefully this time.

"You see, where I came from, life is a lot different, and I've been getting used to life here ever since I arrived." she explained, folding her legs beside her on her sofa. She played with the note from the most recent delivery of flowers. The stems of the flowers were cut shorter than the previous time, which in turn were shorter than the time before.

The note read:

Watching You. Don't Make Me Wait Anymore.


She thought about Trent's face while reading it.

"You speak very well. Did you study here?" he interrupted her private thoughts.

"I studied overseas where I came from. I was fortunate enough to get into the class when I was a teen." she replied, modestly still thinking about the side of him that he kept hidden from her.

She had actually been selected on the basis of her high grades in her day schooling, which in turn had brought her to the attention of the man that she had ended up running from. She made an effort to stop her mind from wandering and continued.

"I studied hard, because that was the only way for a lady to have a chance at a better life. My father had died when I was seven and my mother struggled to support us." she spoke, passionately but reservedly.

Trent sat quietly and listened.

She continued, "My mother had wanted me to marry young, so that I would be taken care of, but my teacher urged me to stay in school and learn. In the end I went to school for six hours a day and at night helped my mother as a seamstress, until late in the evening. We didn't make much but we had to do it to survive."

Trent listened, thinking about her pushing the laundry cart earlier, hoping the cart was a bit lighter.

When Trent didn't speak she continued.

"I helped my mother at home until I was eighteen. I got a job at a garment factory as a seamstress and continued my schooling at night. I worked there for three years until one day the owner of the factory walked through during an inspection. He took notice of me and had my background and upbringing checked as that is important to the wealthy where I come from."

"...It's the same here too. Sometimes. Please continue." Trent responded.

"The man's name was Selmek. He was wealthy, as I said. His father had built the factories and left them to Selmek on the condition that Selmek find a bride who could speak fluent english before five years had passed. He found me at the four year mark." she paused to take a sip from her warm milk and honey.

"He invited me out for dinner, which my mother would also attend as it was for an evaluation of marriage. At dinner, my mother asked him many questions, for all of which he had answers. At the end of the night, he had earned my Mother's approval, and he asked her for my hand in marriage." she stopped, dabbing a tissue under her eye and sniffled.

"As my Mother was the head of the household, I had to respect her wishes, and I complied. I studied English in an immersion course that he had paid for, and we were married six months later." she wiped her tears.

"I'm sorry, but this is difficult for me." Rysalyn took a deep breath before continuing.

"He was a gentle man, at first, but he became more and more demanding as time went on. He was frustrated as I was not comfortable with him and would not make love to him. I was frightened and something had told me that I had made a terrible mistake. He would sometimes come home smelling of alcohol and handle me roughly." the tears flowed freely now, and she sobbed.

Trent felt a pain in his chest and his heart ached for her.

It was quiet for a moment, and she continued her story for him, but really it was for her.

[UPDATED NOVEMBER 8, 2012 - 10:54AM]

"I thought that he wanted me - but I was just another thing to him, another possession." her tears and sobs grabbed hold of Trent, and he could feel her pain, and he continued listening.

"He came home late one evening, with the smell of perfume on him, and I knew from that instant that he was not serious about us, at all. I was there to produce a child for him, and to show off to his business partners and friends. Our relationship grew further and further apart, and he had been using his influence to make my mother's life difficult." she had stopped crying, a bit more resolve present in her voice. It quickly turned to ire.

"At that time, I tried to convince him to allow my mother to move in, which he forbade. He had said he'd rather her remain alone than for him to be outnumbered by the two of us. I went to visit my mother, and make sure that she was alright, and that was when one of her neighbours told me that she had been taken to the hospital. By the time I had arrived, she was dead." she sat quietly shaking for a moment and continued her story.

"I sat in the hospital for hours, unsure of what to do. I wanted to stay, as if it was a mistake they had made, that she would return from her sleep and everything would be alright. Something told me that I needed to go, to flee. One of my husband's associates showed up at the hospital and urged me to return home. I calmly told him to return to the car and that I would be with him shortly. I snuck out of the back of the hospital, and made my way to the home of a friend from school, where I stayed for the night. In the morning, I used the last of my personal savings to purchase a plane ticket, having to bribe two officials to keep them from telling my husband about my leaving the country." she stopped, asking Trent if he was ok to keep listening. He quickly reassured her of his attentiveness.

"I traveled through Western Europe, through Germany and into France, staying in each for a short period of time. I always had the sense of being followed and this was confirmed when I tried to purchase airfare to North America. I was stopped by a Border Services Agent, who wanted to conduct a search of my belongings. When he had a look at my identification, I was pulled aside and brought to a small room with a desk and two chairs. At that point I knew that my husband had done this through some of his contacts. My husband was a small player in his business, but he was well connected through his business partnerships and allies." she put the empty cup on her table and returned to the sofa.

"I sat in the office, while the Agent questioned me for six hours threatening a full body search, before a Supervising Agent came in and pulled the Agent outside of the room. The Supervising Agent returned to the room and told me that I could leave, which I did and quickly before she changed her mind. By the time I got to my flight, I was exhausted. I slept for most of it and when we arrived at our destination, I slept in the airport for the rest of the night, unsure of what to do from that point." she turned to the sofa end table and switched on the light.

"I was directed to an inner city women's shelter, where I was delivered by a taxi. I stayed there while I worked up enough money for a modest apartment. During that time I was approached numerous times by "business men" that promised to get me into a nice place faster if I worked for them, pleasuring other men. I didn't fall for it but some of the other women did. I don't know if they got their nice place. I didn't spend much time there as I was usually too busy. I worked for another year, saved my money and moved to another apartment across the street." she paused for a moment, wiping her eyes before she continued.

[UPDATED December 2, 2012 - 12:30PM]

"It wasn't long before one of my husband's business associates found me. I had been working as a seamstress for a small dry cleaning business when he found me. He spent a few weeks confirming that it was me, dropping off his cleaning and befriending one of the girls at the counter. On one visit in my absence she had given him my name and some information about me, and that evening I found a note someone had slid under my apartment door. It was from him, my husband.

His note said:

I found you. Now give me my child.

Rysalyn stopped again, and took a couple of breaths. Her heart was beating quickly as she relived her tale.

"I quickly packed my things that night and moved the next day, leaving my furniture behind. I had saved a little money while working and found a new place that evening. I slept on the cold hardwood floor that night and quit my job over the phone the next day. I told my boss that a family issue had come up that I would not be returning. I spent the rest of the month occasionally sneaking out at night to replenish my groceries. Two months after moving into this apartment, I had managed to accumulate a little furniture and applied for a job at the hotel. Two weeks later I started my first day there. Now do you understand Trent why I could not speak with you?" she finished, waiting for his response, a few tears meandering down the smooth curves of her cheek.

The truth is that she felt disgusted in herself for feeling guilty that she had pushed him away, but the truth was that she was attracted to him and had not acknowledged it. Trust in men was a scarce commodity for her, and opening up to Trent had also opened up a fear of betrayal and more importantly, losing him.

"I understand. You should get some sleep. We've both got a big day ahead of us tomorrow. If you need to talk some more, just give me a call, no matter the time." he spoke softly and waited for her reply.

"Ok. You're right. We can talk more tomorrow." she smiled, again wiping her cheek.

"Sweet dreams." he waited.

"You as well." she responded, waiting a minute before pulling the phone away from her ear.

That night, she slept a peacefully and dreamt of Trent.

The next day, she had arrived at the hotel with five minutes to spare. She felt great, and she couldn't wait to see him. She had so much that she wanted to tell him. So much that she wanted to know about him. She walked through the front lobby of the hotel scanning for his presence. He was not to be found there, and when she got to her locker in the change room, there was a priority message from her boss at the hotel. At first she thought it was another note from Trent.

On it was written:

I need you to see me ASAP in the office.

Nick Terlet


Cleaning Dept.

She crumpled it up into a ball and pocketed it, turning to head up to the office.

She arrived in the office reception shortly after 10 AM. The office receptionist was away from her desk, and the other offices seemed strangely deserted. The door to her Supervisor's office was closed, and she knocked twice. A voice from beyond spoke:

"Come in. Do please come in". She recognized her Supervisor's voice.

She opened the door, and peeked in before entering. It was strangely cold, and her Supervisor sat at his desk, beckoning her forward.

"Do sit down." he stood as she sat, then rested himself firmly back into his seat.

"You wanted to see me Mr. Terlet?" she asked him professionally.

"Nick. Please call me Nick." he returned curtly.

"Ok Mr. Terlet. I mean, Nick." she tripped on her words.

"Anything new, or different today Rysalyn?" he asked her, turning his chair left then right almost nervously. She could immediately tell that he was trying to draw something out of her.

"No. Nothing that I am aware of. Did I forget something Mr., uhhh Nick." she replied.

"No, no. Not at all." he said, peering out the window behind himself and squinting when something caught his eye.

"I'm needed downstairs Nick. Was there something that you wanted to talk to me about?" she asked, slowly leveraging her way in charge of the conversation.

She could tell that he was distracted by something, even stressed, and it was making her nervous and anxious to leave.

"You know, just when you think it was all coming together, it all falls apart." he said, looking at her, pleading to her.

She stood at that moment, and kept her poise.

"If you don't mind, I'm needed downstairs urgently. We've got a large meeting in the main banquet hall that we have to have prepared for 12pm." she backed away from him towards the door.

"Yes, that's fine. That's ok. You go take care of that then." He said, his mind elsewhere but somehow with her. He watched her as she backed out through the office door and closed it behind her.

By the time she was out the door she was ready to break into a sprint out of the office and into the service hallway to the locker rooms. The hotel itself was eerily silent and absent of activity, which she found surprising considering one of the hotel's biggest corporate clients was holding a banquet and a series of meetings over the next few days. She quickly donned an apron from her locker and continued on to the banquet hall without losing her stride. When she arrived there she was surprised to find only one other co-worker, Lydia from catering hurriedly dressing the catering tables. She jumped when Rysalyn got closer.

"I'm sorry honey, I didn't even see you come in." Lydia tensed then sighed and continued.

"I don't even know what I'm still doing here, just habit I guess." Lydia continued setting the catering table with serving dishes and cutlery.

"Where is everyone else?" asked Rysalyn, shocked that there was nobody helping to prepare for the banquet.

"Haven't you heard honey?" asked Lydia, stopping to look at Rysalyn, placing both hands on her waist.

"No, what is it that I have missed?" inquired Rysalyn, a bit more nervous now.

Lydia looked Rysalyn square in the eyes.

"Well honey, I hate to break the news to you. It's the end of the world."

Trent scanned for another way to get past the Police barricade as the remnants of social order began their downward spiral. He had gotten into a scuffle trying to cross it down from the street that lead to the hotel. They had set it up in order to protect some of the high value merchants from rampant looting. There were reports coming in from all over the country, but nobody was really sure what was going on. When Trent had arrived, he and a small group of people were stranded behind the barricade, unable to get to work. At first he thought it was a hoax, and as more people arrived he became convinced of the legitimacy of the claims.

He pleaded with one officer, claiming that he needed to get to his family to get them out of the hotel. The officer just ignored him and pushed him back across the barricade. When Trent tried to jump back through an opening the officer tripped him and clubbed him across the back, lightly as a warning of his seriousness. The officer felt sorry for him but orders were orders.

"Why the hell did you do that?" Trent blared, getting to his feet.

Just down the street there were a series of gunshots, and the sound of automatic gunfire. Everyone in the crowd, except Trent and the officers dropped to the ground, screaming. The remaining Police swept forward strategically towards the source of the gunfire and Trent made his move. He lept over the barricade, catching it clumsily with his foot and careening into a roll on the pavement, sliding a bit. He stumbled to his feet again and charged towards the hotel at full speed, her face the only thing on his mind.

He heard more shots fired a distance away and swore he heard one fly by his ear, but he didn't turn to verify this. He continued his sprint and jumped into an alley way which lead to a shortcut which would bypass a lot of the commotion. When he exited the alley he collided with someone else who was in full spring as well, from his flank. They both collapsed to the ground and Trent got back to his feet, offering his hand to the linebacker that tackled him.

"Trent, is that you?" asked Kirby, one of the chefs from the hotel. He accepted Trent's hand.

"Yes, its me. I think." Trent wiped a scrape on his forehead and brushed himself off.

"Sorry 'bout that champ. I'm just trying to get back home to my wife so we can get outta here." Kirby exclaimed, very much out of breath and attempting to catch it.

"Did you see Rysalyn at the hotel?" Trent asked regaining his focus.

"Rysa-who?" responded Kirby.

"The new girl, from cleaning and house keeping." Trent said fixated upon her in his mind.

"No, didn't see her. The place is nearly empty. Nobody came in for the morning shift." Kirby replied, looking down the street at two men fighting over a briefcase.

"I've gotta got to find her. Look me up when all of this is over." Trent turned and sprinted towards the front door of the hotel.

"If you find her, gimme a call. We can do a double dinner date. I'm cooking!" Kirby ran into the alley.

Trent ran up the imperial stairs to the entrance of the hotel. He pushed the revolving doors to find them locked. He tried the other doors only to find them all locked from the inside. He squinted through the glass, trying to find anyone. He ran back down the imperial stairs and into the entrance to the underground parking. In the underground he tried two doors without success and found that the third was his lucky one. He opened it and ran up the stairs to the main level.

Rysalyn stood in absolute shock, listening to the events unfold on the radio. She found it in the catering kitchen, which was empty now with Lydia gone. Lydia had finished her task of setting the serving tables in the banquet hall and had signed the work order completed. She was damned if she was going to let the end of the world interfere with her good work performance. When she was done she had pulled a flask of whiskey from her purse, guzzled half of it, offering up the other half to Rysalyn, who declined. She then made her way to the back doors of the hotel and out to her appointment with fate.

Rysalyn's mind jumped to Trent, although it was never really away from him. She had to find him. There was so much that she had wanted to tell him, in a language that required no words. She gathered herself and walked out of the kitchen and through the banquet hall and into the main hall.

Trent burst through the door and out into the main hallway to the hotel reception. Down towards the reception at the adjacent side of the hall he saw her, and began running towards her.

She saw the door fly open at the other end of the main hall, and Trent emerged from it, turning her direction and breaking into a sprint.

She screamed his name "Trent!". She ran as fast as her legs would carry her down the hall to him.

They coalesced and merged in the reception lobby of the hotel, wrapped around each other. Their embrace held tight and they stood silent for a moment. They were one.

"I thought you weren't coming back." she said, tears breaking through the barrier of her lashes.

"Nothing could keep me away from you. Not even the end of the world." he said looking into her eyes.

She leaned in to kiss him and he drew closer to her, and before their lips met, he spoke.

"I want this to be right."

"So do I." she replied.

He dropped to one knee before her and made everything right.

The elevator door closed, and they looked at each other embracing the connection they experienced while the world fell apart. It took the better part of forever for their lips to meet, and when they did, it was a tender caress and they spoke to each other in the most ancient and enduring language of all. He slowly pulled her shirt from her skirt and found the soft flesh of her waist, where his warm hand teased. They withdrew from each other, touching, looking and then touching some more.

He smiled and she returned it with the same hungry fervor as his, it was their quiet little secret.

The elevator door opened, and they strode out together, hand in hand. They strolled casually down the hallway never taking their eyes from each other. When they arrived at the suite, he pulled out the key card and unlocked the door, and opened it without stepping in.

"I've got to carry you across the threshold." he said, pausing to completely take in her beauty.

She took off her shoes and wrapped her arms around his neck, as he picked her up.

They crossed the threshold together, she in his arms looking deeply into each other's eyes as he carried her over to the bed. She noticed a bouquet of flowers like the ones that she had been getting delivered to her sitting in a glass vase. The stems were so short they were barely visible.

He placed her carefully on the bed and kissed her forehead gently. He sensed something was amiss, and he asked her.

"May I ask you if everything's alright, Mrs. Warren?" he asked, a coy smile on his face.

"Those flowers..." she replied, looking more startled than enticed.

She glanced at the vase just in time to see a shape from the side of her vision move swiftly. The figure swung its arms overhead in an arc that ended solidly at Trent's head.

"Trent!" Rysalyn screamed.

He collapsed onto the floor, attempting to get up before his assailant moved in for the kill.

[UPDATED December 3, 2012 - 7:00AM]

Terminal Departure

Stanton's eyes opened and he tasted blood; his own through a deep cut on his lip. The entirety of his body ached and instinctively he paused to make an assessment of his condition before attempting to move. When he was certain that his arms or legs weren't broken, he rolled over onto his knees and attempted to stand. As he got to his feet, he gasped a little, feeling a sharp pain in one of his ribs. When it subsided, he rubbed his fingers over the rib, noting no unusual bumps or sharp pain. A hairline fracture most likely he noted. He got to his feet, checking to make sure he still had the Berretta. When he found it, he left it in place and surveyed the situation.

The power station control room was a complete mess and completely unrecognizable to anyone whom had been in the room prior to the explosion. He scanned the room, frowning in sympathy when he saw Matt Barnes' lifeless body pinned against the far wall by a filing cabinet. He walked carefully to that side of the room, kicking the utility bins aside that had cushioned his impact from the explosion. When he saw Elena and Dave, he quickly made his way to them, noting that there was no sign of Foller anywhere.

Elena was lying face down on the floor, moving and groaning a little while Stanton checked her for injuries.

"Do you feel any pain anywhere in your body?" Stanton asked clinically.

"All over." she replied with a concerted effort.

Stanton continued his examination, unmoved. She had minor abrasions and otherwise appeared uninjured.

"You should be OK." Stanton said, rubbing her shoulder a little.

"Thank you... Brad." she said gratefully.

He stood and went over to Dave who was sprawled out in front of the relay box Stanton had used to interrogate Foller. His condition looked much worse and he wasn't moving. Stanton retrieved a first aid kit which was still fastened to a wall nearby, undamaged. Using it he cleaned Dave's facial wound and removed a small piece of shrapnel from his cheek. Dave's arm was another story. A clean break of the Ulna with the break point not aligned.

"Elena, I need you to help out here." Stanton said, sounding slightly impatient.

She shuffled over to Dave's body and tried waking him. Dave groaned a little, coming around.

"I need you to keep him still while I relocate his forearm. Keep him still." he ordered.

Stanton drew forth a local anesthetic from the kit and injected it into Dave's arm. Dave made a sound but still wasn't moving much. Stanton waited about thirty seconds and then took a firm hold of Dave's forearm, feeling for the break location and aligning the two pieces of Dave's ulna. Dave woke suddenly, screaming in pain while Elena held him in place. When it was aligned, Stanton fastened a brace to it, wrapping it with a tensor bandage.

"All done. Don't play with it." Stanton said as he stood, his mind already on the next step.

"...Whew. That really hurt. Whatever happened to bedside manner..." A bead of sweat dripping off his face, Dave had become afflicted with Elena's sarcasm.

"Do either of you remember what happened with Foller." Stanton asked firmly.

"He's not in here?" Asked Elena.

"Apparently not." Answered Dave.

"Where's Ma..." she spied Matt's lifeless body, unable to finish her question. A tear welled in her eye. Poor Matt. Dave noticed at the same time, and they shared a moment of silence to grieve for their lost friend.

"He's probably happy as hell to be with his wife..." Dave tried a little levity ineffectually.

"Do either of you have my phone?" asked Stanton again.

Elena and Dave paused momentarily searching each other. "No".

"We have to leave. NOW!" Stanton exclaimed, already walking towards the door.

Dave struggled to his feet with Elena's help and they stumbled across the floor and through the whole that had once been the doorway.

Stanton took inventory of the SWAT Team members, whose bodies were strewn across the floor outside the control room. He noted that two of them had been shot in the head at close range. Foller's work. Stanton retrieved a couple of SMGs from the floor, checking them for ammunition. When he was satisfied he slung two of them over his shoulders. He scavenged some other things from the bodies, and then continued down the hall to the emergency exit. Dave and Elena followed, barely finding their way in the dark.

"What's going on Brad!" Elena demanded.

"Foller left us alive on purpose. He's going for my daughter." Stanton didn't break stride.

By the time Dave and Elena made it through the emergency exit, Stanton was already checking out the security patrol car. He had retrieved the keys from the security office, even though he wouldn't have needed them.

"So that's it? You're just leaving us?" Elena asked, shocked.

"No. You're coming with me. The two of you." said Stanton, not waiting for an answer.

Elena and Dave got into the car, Elena taking the passenger seat and Dave stretching out in the back. Stanton was already checking possible routes on the GPS unit, and dialing a number with the cellular phone that he had retrieved from the glove box of the squad car. He started the car and sped through the parking lot and out onto the main road into the city, though he intended to take side roads to bypass traffic.

"What about our families?" Dave asked.

"We'll come back, I promise. I need you two. Really." Stanton said with the slightest bit of emotion detectable.

"I suppose we have no choice. Does somebody have a phone?" Dave asked, leaning back in the seat.

Stanton tossed him the phone and Dave caught it with his good arm. He tried his wife's phone and got her answering service.

"Honey, just hold tight at home if you can. I'm safe and I'll be there soon. Keep Jeremy and Michelle with you. Don't open the door for anyone... but me. I love you Carol." Dave frantically spoke in the phone. He tried three other numbers, without anyone answering and handed the phone reluctantly back to Stanton when he was done. He wanted to turn down Stanton's request and just go home to be with Carol. Elena read him perfectly on that.

"Why don't you drop Dave off at his home. It isn't too far. I'll help you get your daughter back." asked Elena.

"Its in the other direction from where we need to go and we can't afford the time. We aren't certain how much of a head start he had. Maybe twenty minutes or half an hour. The more time he has the more of a trap he'll have setup for us. He knows I'm coming, that's what he wanted."

"If you don't get us back to my house safely after, Carol's gonna take it out on you. Secret agent or not, you'll be sorry. Hell hath no fury..." Dave spoke taking a bit more control of his destiny.

" a woman scorned, like my daughter." finished Stanton.

"No. Like Carol scorned. Believe me." Dave said looking at Elena.

"Don't the two of you scorn any of us. We're all that you two have. There's been enough scorn already. Let's get your daughter back before Carol comes looking for Dave." Elena responded to both of them, taking the crown for the rest of the trip.

"Elena?" Stanton offered the phone.

"Most of my whole family is right here in this car. Besides, I haven't trained my dog or my cat to answer the phone. Yet." she replied.

"Don't. You don't want them calling the pet store for take out." Dave shot back at her.

Elena rolled her eyes.

"I'm sure they're happy. They've got timed feeding dishes anyway. That'll will keep them until we can make it to them" she responded, allowing them a glimpse into her home life.

Stanton dialed another number on the phone with one hand and pocketed it when he got no answer. He applied a steady rising pressure to the accelerator and they were momentarily pressed into their seats.

"Hang on, we're in for a bit of a ride." Stanton said dryly.

"So you mean that what we just went through was a joy ride?" said Dave, wryly.

[UPDATED January 4, 2012 - 10:00PM] Initial draft

[UPDATED January 6, 2012 - 11:00AM] rewrite

No Two Sticks Are Alike

We sat still for a moment 'afore one of us spoke. We had each drifted almost in unison into our own separate worlds. Although I didn't know what the others were thinkin', I was perty sure it wasn't close to where I was at. I was in the backyard, about eleven or twelve. My pa was in the house rounding us up one at a time. My ma was beside me, her hand caressed the side of my head. Mister Laffs, our dog came running out of the back door with his tail between his legs. As he got closer to us, he shrunk closer to the ground, probably not sure why he had been chased out of his fur bed under the couch by pa, though pa treated him like gold. Probably all the more reason to scare him in this situation. I was wearing my Dimaggio glove, as I called it. Dimaggio wasn't a fielder but I always wanted to be him and all, seeing as his girlfriend was Marilyn and everyone liked him.

In the house I heard hollering as I saw my sister Elly run out of the house, tears streaming down her eyes. She clasped a twig in her hands that she had broken from the fern inside the house, but quickly dropped it to the ground as she rushed to my mother's side. My sister paused, and then picked up my baseball and handed it to me. I obliged her by taking it and putting it back down on the ground under one of the deck chairs. My dad came pouring out of the house, a bit of smile on his face like this was all part of his plan. Donald Fagen played in the background, though I'm pretty sure it wasn't with Steely Dan, nor was I even sure that it was from the time this memory was taking place seeing as Brian Wilson was more in style.

"Now you understand why we built this, don't you?" he stated, but more like a question.

I just looked at him with disbelief, never having seen my pa in a helmet.

"Dan. You're scaring the kids. What is going on?" my mother interjected.

"Look Jean. I just wanted you to know that I was always thinking of... you know. Us." he

said, just like Mr. Cleaver.

He walked over to the lid, as my sister and I used to call it. He grabbed it firmly with two hands and turned it with his fatherly might. I watched in awe, but was drawn back to reality when his hand slipped and twisted against one of the spokes. He cursed under his breath and looked at it briefly and then went back to work at it, for us. He struggled a bit, and then the handle turned freely in his hands. There was a slight hiss as if the "lid" was inhaling, even gasping for air. He was resuscitating it: bringing it to life. He pulled the lid open and stopped to catch his breath. The opening in the lid was definitely breathing now and my curiosity had been replaced with awe.

"Jean. Kids. They're a comin', right now as sure as we're prepared." he smiled, his own private little victory, though it scared the bejeepers out of me.

He grabbed Elly and placed her onto the ladder and she carefully descended into its depths, almost as if she were a child model in a brochure. He smiled as she descended into its depths. He then turned to my mother and looked at her for a long while.

"Jean, babe. You're next. I'll carry you out of the threshold on the way out." and he winked with all of his charm. She humoured him and descended into the opening.

"Son. Its just you and me. Us men." he said, accenting it as if he was verifying it with me.

I was still just a boy at that time but I knew what he meant all the same. I think he meant that in some situations that you have to grow up real quick.

"You know son, even though this day is a horrible one. I've always kind of wished for it." he said, though I wasn't sure if he was asking me.

"Why pa? Why is it good and horrible? Are we going to die pa?" I asked. He was my pa. He knew it all.

"No son. We're going to live." he said assuredly. A boyish grin crept onto his face.

He picked me up under my armpits and placed me in the maw of the lid. I descended it readily, thinking my pa had made me second in charge, though I was really at the bottom of it all. Bless my mother and sister. We did it all for them.

He peered over the rim of the lid, the shadow of his helmet crossing my face like an eclipse.

"We're going to live on, son!" he exclaimed.

He handed Mister Laffs to me and I put him back down on the floor of the lid interior. Mister Laffs ran off and under a crawl space and curled up like a potato bug.

"Dad, why is this happening?" I asked him. Time stood still while I awaited his answer.

"Because of us." he replied, though I didn't understand.

He descended into the lid and carefully drew the door on its huge cast iron hinge. As he did the sky turned white. Not just white, but beyond white if there was such a thing. Everything disappeared except for my tears.

Donald Fagen's "wing ding" had disappeared and I was alone with a computer monitor, filled with the faces of my only friends in the world.

"Hey mister! Mister!" Cale's voice shot out from the computer's speakers.

"We're still in the game!" he said. Proud like someone who had faced hurdles we could never fathom.

"We thought we had lost you there..." Lena said, though she was eyeing the can of Larky's precariously balanced in my lap.

I looked down and spied the can, nearly empty. I pitched it into the garbage can and pulled myself together.

"How long was I out?" I asked Lena.

"Long enough to worry us." Wilema answered.

"The missiles have been in the air long enough to touch down. We still haven't heard where they struck and if they did, or whether they worked or not." Tweak added.

"I'd have heard them if they had gone off anywhere within a thousand miles from here." I said.

"So we all still have a chance!" Cale interjected boldly.

I looked over to Cale and his smile broadened like someone who suddenly remembered that they were still alive. It took a moment before I realized the same thing.

I snapped out of it, though I honestly had to say that it was Cale's appreciation of life rather than my lack of it that made it possible. The fact that I was still here was a sheer miracle given what was going on everywhere.

That's what it is for us all. Cale already knew it. He had been living in the next bed from death his whole life. It was his bunk mate. Yet he managed to wake up every day and continue on without one ounce of respite, though I'm sure he'd tell us differently. The truth is we all feel that way, just some of us deal with it better than others. Sometimes the things that make you feel spiteful or pitiful will make that extra bit of effort to draw your attention to them. You just have to make an extra effort to pay attention to the people and things that make you feel good and learn to deal with the things that make you feel bad. Cale chose us over his perpetual race with the grim reaper. Cale had those struggles too but he just liked us all too much to let it show.

I think that's what my father was trying to tell me before the sky devoured him in my dream. Those missiles might be flying over the poles right this very second, but you still have to keep going. Not just for you. For them. There's one thing about appreciating being alive and the drive to live. It's contagious.

For the first time in a long time it all made sense.

[UPDATED February 10, 2013 - 5:35PM]

[Author's note: Removed part of the story. It didn't fit with original idea for the characters and the story seems to be attracting some attention. Trent and Rysalin's story deserves a little bit of a different turn and I can't say what's in store yet but after rereading and rereading the initial write of the chapter and trying to digest it, I ended up with heart burn.]

[UPDATED June 7, 2013 - 10:40 PM]


Heaven In Two

She woke up in his arms, and pressed tightly to his chest. Her left eye opened first, then her right but more slowly. She took a deep breath of him and laughed silently, watching him for a while. His chest rising slowly and silently before her, and he was all hers and more importantly for her of his own want. She basked in the emotions she felt for the first time in her life and then laughed when she took notice of his twitching nose while he slept. Silently she watched him, took him into herself in a way that only a lady could understand and feel. He was deep in dream, reliving the most erotic experience of his life, and in his dream he wrote of it, crafting every word carefully to express the extremity of emotion and ecstasy he felt for her. He only need to think of her. Her eyes. Her smile. Everything hidden behind her social mask and her willingness to let him into her. Into her world and being, a trust that no man should ever scourge.

Their breath synchronized slowly before the sunset on this sojourn into the sedition and seduction of the cesation of all. The end of all. She watched him while he dreamt of her, though they were together in a way that few could understand. She giggled still high on the moment and on him, though he budged only slightly. She played with his nose a bit, playfully, trying to make him laugh or possibly sneeze. A smile slowly crept across his face. His eyes opened and he eyed her adoringly.

"I was asleep?" he asked her, not fully sure he was still dreaming.

"No. You were with me." She answered, still in the wiles of pleasure, laughing with him.

"We Mrs. Moores, are husband and wife." he said proudly.

"And why can't we take my last name?" She looked at him accusingly and with coyness.

"We can do that. We could hyphenate them." He answered.

"But whose name would come first?" She responded, starting to giggle.

"We could take turns. One day, we'd be Moores and then next we'd be..." he was cut off as she started to tickle him. He returned the effort vigorously and before long they were both out of breath, though more from laughing than from effort.

They had both discovered the one and only universal truth there is.

Her eyes were puffed and her cheeks were red with laughter and joy. They were in love and they had known that from the first moment they had laid eyes upon each other.

"So what are you doing for the end of the world?" he asked, his smile more in his eyes, as the question he posed.

"I think I want to enjoy my Honeymoon with you Trevor. My husband." She answered, a depth in her eyes he'd only seen the first time he'd seen her.

"This isn't one of your stories you know. I'm real." She said, a smile across her eyes and mouth, her head shaking in jest as she spoke.

"I guess that's what I'm afraid of. Aren't you? Like its just going to end all of the sudden?" He asked, unafraid to pose the question he most feared.

"If the world ends, we'll still be together. There's nothing or nobody that can change that." She replied.

"Well Mrs. Moores, then I guess it's settled. You're going to have to put up with me a long time." His chest rising as he spoke.

"No Trent. You're going to have to put up with me. Now pleasure me like you did a while ago, my husband."

And he did, as did she.

Beginning Of The End

News radio reports had indicated that society was still "mostly" cohesive and that if the end of the world was near, it was still incognito and disguised as a weekend madness sale in every town North America. Most of the disasters that seemed to be taking place around the world were man made, riots and armed incursions and conflicts had become the norm, though in North America it had turned in a sort of adventure and most North Americans were out in the stores, stocking up on supplies just in case. In some places there was rampant looting and in others it was just another day of shopping and the sense of urgency that was prevalent in the prior twenty four hours had all but disappeared. Some had even began to think that the whole thing was just an elaborate hoax. There were reports of nuclear detonations just off the coast of France and in the Persian Gulf, while the submarine fired rockets that had been reported seven hours earlier had touched down on military naval targets in the west indies and west coast. The remnant of cold war tensions had become manifest, and a silent conflict was being played out between the various military powers of the modern world as they attempted to lay down lines for what was to come.

Reports of a catastrophic earthquake in the Mediterranean had began to fill the news media in the prior half hour and the radio reports of mounting casualties flooded the airwaves. There was no talk in the interior of the security van. Elena was nodding in and out of sleep and Dave was already well beyond the land of nod. Stanton was deep in focus and driving, seeking a place to stop and park the vehicle. He wanted to keep this one as it had a lot of utilities that would prove useful if they succeeded in their current goal and given the current state of things in the world, it might be a good idea. It had a two way radio, a digital radio scanner, an extensive medical first aid kit, an armory with two Kevlar vests, two Glocks and a case of ammunition and cleaning kits, a comprehensive tool kit and a micro refrigerator which currently held two lunches a few cans of soda and a beer. Dave had joked on the way here that they must have found the security van with the Armageddon options installed.

Stanton pulled the car into the alley, ignition off and only continuing on momentum, though not to avoid attention but because they were out of fuel. Elena was asleep and Dave was halfway to the same place Elena was. Stanton looked at them and thought carefully before prodding them both to life. Elena awoke startled, shooting an accusatory glance at Stanton.

"It's me. We're three blocks away from where I think they are." He stated, not sure if she was coherent.

She glared at him intensely at first and then hit him lightly with her hand.

"You prick. You scared the crap out of me you big lug." She said, a smile slowly crept onto her face before she laughed.

She needed it, as she hadn't had a good laugh for a long time. The corner of Stanton's mouth crept a little in sympathy and then he quickly remembered his daughter.

He continued on to Dave, who was still awake but just barely. He lightly nerve pinched Dave near his shoulder and arm pit, and he awoke startlingly.

"Wha, what? Oh." Dave looked at Stanton.

"We have to go on foot from here." Stanton spoke to Dave, close to whispering.

"O. K. Mr Super Soldier." Dave responded, saluting in mockery of Stanton.

Stanton pulled the keys from the car and stepped out, locking and closing the door but more out of habit. He checked the condition of the Beretta and SMG, examining the magazines. He made note of his round count and chambered a round in the Beretta while Elena and Dave exited the car. They momentarily experienced sleeping limbs, and Elena almost burst out laughing when she attempted to walk a step. She stood in place for a moment while her legs and rump regained their strength.

"This is going to be dangerous. He's experienced. Very. I want us to split up from here. You'll be safer and more useful that way. He'll likely not recognize you as readily as he recognizes me."

"Where is she being held?" Dave asked.

"Likely inside of the management offices of the department store she manages." Stanton replied.

"What's the plan?" Elena asked feeling a little like a super secret agent herself.

"I'll let you know when we get there." Stanton responded, already heading in the direction of the store three blocks away.

The activity on the streets was sparse, considering it was part of the urban sprawl of a major city in central North America. They passed a small crowd of people on the sidewalk who were listening intently to someone talking about the end of the world and Armageddon. This was probably the biggest audience he had and it was apparent that he was reveling in it. After all he had been practicing for this moment for a long time, marching up and down the main street of every town North America, swinging a bell and proclaiming the end was nigh. The crowd listened closely and earnestly, careful not to miss a moment of their redemption even when he started to talk about "Lord Kinboat" and the "Lava men" in the center of the earth.

The mostly silent air was periodically pierced by the report of a gun every now and again, though the shots always seemed a distance away. There were occasional shouts and screams and the occasional scuffle but the currently populated streets were relatively quiet considering the situation. Stanton knew from experience and intuition that the crowds posed little threat. He had been in other places in the world during political upheaval and had learnt to recognize the difference between random occurrence and intent and crowd persona, when a large group takes on the distinct characteristics of a single human being, ego and all. This was just such a situation and the same rules of sociology and human behaviour applied here as much as anywhere else. The goal here was to get through all of this before the last of the constraints that held civil order in place had disappeared. At that point chaos would rule, and society would be run under the rules of might is right rather than might for right.

They stuck to the sidewalk and continued up the street until they were one block away from the department store parking lot.

"There's going to be a lot of activity in the store and possibly a bit of conflict, that will provide great cover. I want you two to blend in, but keep heading for the north end of the inside of the store." Stanton spoke, laying out the plan clearly for them both.

"Which way is north?" asked Dave. Stanton pointed it out for him.

"What are we looking for in there?" inquired Elena.

"You're going shopping." Stanton responded as he quickly scrawled out two shopping lists, handing one to Dave and one to Elena.

"There's a parking lot between us and the store. It should be safe but you'll just have to keep your eyes open." Stanton said looking at each of them.

"Where are you going?" Dave asked.

"I'm going to get us another vehicle for the interim until we're done here. I'll meet you in the parking lot, to the east of the doors you'll be going in and coming out of. Look for a van." Stanton darted off towards the parking lot.

Dave and Elena looked at each other and started in the same direction, still a little sore and tired. They had changed in the car on the way here for comfort and in order to avoid being recognized by Foller but they didn't have time to stop and wash. They had used a first aid kit in the car to clean up, swabbing themselves a little then a bottle of water and napkins to do the rest.

"I can't wait to take a shower." Dave said, oblivious of the situation.

"I'll join you on that." answered Elena.

"Carol's got that spot already. Why don't you ask super spy?" Dave responded.

"That's not what I meant." though inside she did, at least a bit.

As they crossed the street, there was a tremendously bright flash from behind them, as if a new sun had suddenly ignited in the sky. They felt a tingle of warmth on their backs and a dreaded chill in their bones. Dave turned to look first, then Elena. A tremendously large cloud billowed and climbed to the sky like a titan or distant mountain, forming the familiar shape a few hundred miles away. They stared in disbelief as it's ominous silhouette stretched and grew to its sinister presence. The detonation had occurred somewhere in the distant southwest although how far they weren't sure. They both watched in shock and horror, and disbelief unable to comprehend what they were seeing. A moment later, a second bright flash interrupted their thrall, making its entrance into existence directly to the west momentarily blinding them from that side. They both closed their eyes in attempt to shield them. Elena dropped to her knees and started crying while Dave tried to comfort her.

"We have to move and get to cover. In case..." Dave whispered in Elena's ear.

She cried a moment more before she stood. She wiped herself off, and looked towards the store and then looked to Dave pleadingly and he nodded. They grabbed each other's hands and ran full tilt for the store, seeking any shelter they could from the impending doom around them. The another two dozen people in the parking lot were doing the same, while some others were running for their cars, or someone else's cars or under cars just to get away from the effects of exposure. The truth is they didn't know what to do and doing something seemed to offer a form of reassurance. There were screams, cries and the early symptoms of pandemonium began to set in.

Stanton was working on getting an older model van open when he saw the first blast. He shielded his eyes with his arm and pulled a pair of sun glasses from his pocket donning them. He checked the time on his watch, taking specific note of the seconds. When the initial flash had subsided he assessed the blast with a cold disconnectedness, noting it was likely a low yield, low altitude detonation ruling out the possibility of it originating from a Multiple Impact Return Vehicle or MIRV. He scanned the horizon looking for any other signs that world war three may have started, changes in weather or discoloured cirrus or stratos cloud formations, the flight paths of birds or insects and all the indicators he had been trained to recognize to assess the severity of the situation.

When the second blast hit to the west, it startled him only slightly and he looked it over and noted the same thing about the blast along with the approximate time of occurrence, though it was a larger yield and a bit further away. They were either strategic warheads targeting utility sites or the guidance systems on them had failed. These were precursors to a much bigger game that was playing out in command bunkers around the world. They didn't have much time before the effects of escalation started to cascade throughout the world and Armageddon revealed itself once again, in a man made form this time as if setting the stage for what was to come. He evaluated the situation and weighed the options and before long he came to a decision.

Three minutes after the first detonation Stanton was nearly knocked over by a deep audible burst and the low frequency rumble of the explosion, which struck him firmly in the chest deafening him slightly, reminding him of the blast at the Power Station. The winds picked up and there were more screams from the people in the parking lot fleeing into the store. Stanton regained his balance and checked the time again and quickly calculated the distance of the blast to be sixty kilometres to the south. One minute and ten seconds later a second burst hit with much less ferocity but nonetheless present. The second blast was about eighty five kilometres away to the west, putting it in the path of the prevailing west winds and pushing the fallout towards central North America, where they currently were. The winds were now simultaneously coming from the south and the west, and the skies were darkening signalling a coming storm. He began working on the van again but more hurriedly if there was such a thing for Stanton. After a moment, the van engine turned over a few times before idling, coughing a few times before it did. Some things ran better with age thought Stanton as he checked the oil pressure.

Tuning Out

He woke up in the hospital once, in a haze and taking deep breaths behind a mask, his eyes stinging with a sticky salty ochre like substance. His gaze darted around seeking faces, though all he saw were the masks of the doctors and nurses, wheeling him down the long stretch of hall. He tried to move but found he couldn't, but not like he was restrained, but more like the messages from his mind weren't making it to his limbs. He cried for his father for his mother already dead. When he found he couldn't make a sound he tried crying for his mother thinking maybe he was dead too. The gurney hit a door and took place under a large glaring lamp. The lamp stared down at him without emotion, seeming to look right through him. The nurses and doctors scrambled in unison gathering their tools and readying the procedure. One nurse looked at him compassionately and spoke.

"Honey, you might feel a bit of sting, and then you're going to feel woozy like nap time." she smiled behind the mask.

"When that happens I'm going to need you to count backwards from ten, even if you can't speak. You can do that for me honey, can't you?" she smiled back again and continued, poking him a little.

A moment later he felt woozy just like the nice lady said, and he started counting backwards in his mind, because he couldn't move his lips. By the time he got to six he was alone in the room on the gurney and the nurse was his mother.

She looked at him intensely and spoke:

"Honey, you're in a bit of a mess but you're going to be ok. You need to be strong and you need to keep going no matter what. You're special and you have something to share and you need to make sure that you're in the right place at the right time to share it. It might be a difficult road until then, and especially now, but what's more important is that you get there. I'll always be there with you even if you don't see me. You keep going no matter what. Can you promise me that?"

"Where am I momma, what's happening to me?" he asked her. His lips moved and he made sounds when he spoke.

"You're in a bit of a jam but you'll be fine. Promise me that you'll keep going." she pressed him gently again.

"I promise you momma. I'll keep going and I'll get there." tears welling up in his eyes.

"I have to leave you now honey. Be strong and I'll always be with you." she smiled, her eyes gleaming as she turned and left him alone.

He jumped off the gurney and at the door as his mother stepped through it. He crashed through the double doors and as soon as he had passed through them the strength in his legs disappeared and fell flat on his face on the cold floor of a hall that seemed to go forever. He cried though his tears didn't make a difference.

Fall Down And Go Boom

Trent held tight to Rysalin, her breath playing in the hairs of his chest. She had stared at him secretly while he slept, her little secret and it made her feel good, and safe in strange way. His confidence that they were safe where they were made her feel a way that she hadn't with anyone else. She thought: no fantasized about him deciding they were ok, and it seeming to work out that way. She felt him close to her and it made her excited. She imagined him in ways that he hadn't dreamt of but of which he would learn, earning her full trust in time.

He was not a superhero but he was her's, and she loved him more than she had loved anyone. She knew he would give his life for her, and she would do the same for him.

When they did wake up together, they scuttled off to the shower together, where they cleaned each other privately. She played with him and his privates and he with hers. When they had both been thoroughly satisfied, they each left the shower in turn, half aware of the world, but wholly aware of each other. Her nipples were extra sensitive as a result of their play, and he felt it too, epathethically.

He stepped out of the shower, he stared out the window for a moment looking into the distance. The penthouse hotel room held the ruckus of the streets below at bay, though the confusion had seemed to grow. There were emergency vehicles everywhere, but the personnel themselves were scattered throughout the downtown core doing their best to keep the last vestiges of social order intact.

Off in the distance in the direction of the suburbs, there was a large cloud billowing rising from a gas station. It was serenely quiet from the hotel room, and Trent looked on with dismay. He felt Rysalin's fingers on his back, and she giggled quietly.

"So what do we do now?" she Asked him, rounding to his side.

He turned to her, still dripping, slightly wet from the shower.

"We have a hotel full of food. We could stay here and live out the rest of our days in bliss, well fed and cared for with each other, assuming the world doesn't...fall down and go boom." he said, matter of factly and with a slight grin.

"And our other choice?" she asked him.

"We could go out there, struggle against the crowds, get a car and drive somewhere to see if we can risk our lives and change things somehow. So the world doesn't..." he said, a bit more serious this time.

"So the world doesn't fall down and go boom. That's why I love you." she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.

"I guess we're staying here a bit longer..." he said, nibbling her ear.

"Just a little bit." she answered.

As they soundly slept afterward, two nuclear warheads impacted, the first about three hundred miles to the south, and the other about a hundred and fifty miles to the south west. They didn't see them nor did the hear them, but they felt it as they slept. Rysalin tightened her grip around Trent and he pulled her closer to his chest.

A Fighting Chance

Stanton parked the van just off to the side of the entrance to the department store and walked over to the doors. A large man, larger than Stanton had taken up the voluntary task of deciding who was coming in or not. He shook his head "no" when he saw Stanton.

Stanton grabbed the door regardless but it failed to open when he pulled. It was locked. A large crowd was gathered behind the man, backing him up. Elena shoved her way through the crowd to the door.

"He's a doctor." she said, pointing to Stanton.

The man looked at Stanton again, and then to the door. He unlatched it and let Stanton in.

"Is everyone ok? Anyone injured?" asked Stanton, taking up the role immediately.

"No sir, I mean Doctor. Everyone is ok here, though you might want to check with the manager, she's been locked in the office a long time." replied the large man.

"I'll do that. Is there anyone else in there? The office I mean." Stanton asked candidly.

"I think there is a security guard in there to protect the safe, other than that its just her. Me and the rest of the staff are keeping an eye on the store until she comes out. Some of the staff have already left, but there's still seven of us here." the large man answered fully.

"Thank you." Stanton answered, Elena stood idle waiting for Stanton.

"There's refreshments in the restaurant. Compliments of the store if you're hungry." said the large man before he continued.

"Are the bombs any danger to us here?" asked the large man.

Stanton turned to the large man in all seriousness.

"The bombs are a good distance from here. We're well outside of the nominal yield radius and far from the cooking zone. We'll be susceptible to fallout in low levels in about three days, so you'll want to let the others know that it might be a good idea to relocate while you can. You're safe for now but keep in mind that people aren't going to be as friendly as they were before the bombs, so be cautious. It was good that you screened me at the door. Be a bit cautious from here on in, as this is the make or break point for society as we know it so sturdy yourself up. Signs of radiation poisoning you might want to look for if you're here past the three day mark are rashes and boils on the skin, headaches and nausea lack of bladder control and hair loss. All of those can be slowed and treated with clean water with a clean source. The water purification plant is in the opposite direction from the blast so the water supply should be safe. The safest route would be north west though if you left soon you'd still be able to travel south safely. Pass that information along as soon as you can."

Elena and the large man listened intently, waiting patiently for Stanton to finish. When he did, the large man thanked Stanton.

"Thank you Doctor, that will put a lot of minds to rest and save a lot of panic. I'm Richard, Richard Stavis. If you need anything you let me know and if I can provide it then you can consider it done." the large man extended his hand and Stanton shook it firmly. The large man immediately went to the restaurant area and told the others.

The interior of the store was quiet, and most of the patrons were huddled in the restaurant, still shaken from the blast. A few hung out by the store doors where they watched the last embers of the great cloud dim as the evening sun set.

Stanton made his way to the office, staying out the field of view of the in store cameras without drawing any attention.

Elena rushed to keep up.

"Go get some snacks while I check things out. I won't move without letting you know. Meet me at the cosmetics counter, on the opposite side towards the women's fragrances in a few minutes." Stanton said without missing a beat.

"How do you remember all of this stuff?" Elena asked Stanton with sarcasm in her voice as she trailed off towards the restaurant.

He continued onward towards the back of the store, evaluating his surroundings for built in obstacles and any signs of Foller's tampering. When he found the halls at the back of the store that lead to the offices, he noticed a few differences. First, there were two decoy cameras, probably placed by Foller. There was a third real camera disguised as an alarm box tucked behind a water cooler that was definitely placed there by Foller. It wasn't the decoys or the camera that worried him, it was what he couldn't see that bothered him. He thought carefully for a moment before making his way back to the rendezvous point.

Dave's arm was bothering him again and Elena did her best to sooth it. Stanton stepped up to them from behind.

"Don't do that! I hate it when you do that!" she said firmly to Stanton who didn't seem phased.

"We have to lure them out of the back. We need to start an alarm or emergency without triggering the sprinklers." Stanton indicated, pointing at the ceiling.

"I could disable the sprinklers temporarily, I need something to do." Dave offered. It would help take his mind off of his arm.

[September 15, 2013 - 4:30 AM Additions]

"That's the plan Dave and while you do that, I also want you to drop the store lights. I mean all of the power to the entire store on Elena's cue. Elena, I need you to start a fire in the sporting goods section." Stanton pointed to the back of the store, just opposite the office hallway.

"Bring a few flammable goods from another part of the store, as most of the sporting goods are inflammable, so it won't burn out of control. Hide the extinguisher before you do. Its on the wall near the camping section." Stanton said in all seriousness.

"I start the day as an Engineer, by the late morning I'm a hostage, in the afternoon I'm a co-conspirator and by the evening I'm an arsonist. What's next?" Elena exclaimed sarchastically, losing her patience as she was getting tired.

"Masseuse?" Dave said, winking at her.

She threw him a smirk.

"Get on with disabling the sprinkler Dave. You've got five minutes. Drop the lights thirty seconds after Elena starts screaming." Stanton ordered.

"Easy there big boy. I'm on it." he smirked back at Elena and headed to the junction box, located conveniently near the service hall in the restaurant.

"Give Dave here five minutes before you start it. Make a commotion when you do. Screaming, flailing, whatever you have to do to draw attention and a crowd." he eyed Elena and winked.

"What about you?" Elena asked.

"I have to go pick up my daughter, you know. Don't come to the office whatever you do. If I don't come back, wait here." Stanton said before proceeding into position.

Stanton made sure nobody was looking while he checked his fire arms, ensuring each one was prepped and ready to go. He had fastened a utility light to the Beretta he had found in the sporting goods section, which was standard fare for the kind of breach he was planning. He would disable the camera near the water cooler as soon as the alarm was triggered, and then make his way through the hall to the office. The breach would be much more dangerous, as it was one door from a closed vantage point and heading directly into an ambush that Foller would have setup.

Foller was trained in different program than that of Stanton so Stanton used what he knew of Foller's training program to dissect the most likely ambush he'd have against him. He knew the office well as he had visited his daughter there many times. He contended that he'd use her as a shield if he didn't get in quick. He needed to draw him to the security monitors before making the breach.

Dave pulled the tools he needed for the job from his jacket, he always kept a tool stash on him. He broke the lock on the junction box with a screwdriver, wincing in pain as he twisted his injured arm, cursing under his breath.

"You owe me big time, Stanton." he mumbled to himself.

When he finally had the junction box opened, he eyed it carefully. Pretty standard though a little more advanced than he expected.

"Ha! I can do this one in two minutes." Dave said confidently.

In the sporting goods section, Elena had gathered a few tubes of gift wrapping paper from the stationary section of the store. She unrolled them out onto the floor, crumpling them a bit, carefully so as not to draw attention to herself. When she had unrolled ten tubes of paper, she pulled out a book of matches and lit one, holding it to the pile of paper. The paper quickly caught fire and spread, while she tossed the remaining tubes of gift paper onto the flames. The she started screaming at the top of her lungs, channeling Fay Wray herself for a moment.

Back at the service corridor in the restaurant, Dave was sitting smuggly against the wall, having a private moment with his victory over the junction box when he heard Elena's screams. He'd have come running if he didn't know it was a ruse, but he still felt like going to see, but he waited for the thirty second mark, counting them out loud.

Stanton heard the screams too and smelled the smoke as it filled the back of the store, but no alarm. He was crouched in place, waiting to take out the camera when the alarm burst to life without the sprinkler system activating.

Dave cheered enjoying his victory, when in the service hallway alone, the sprinkler system activated, soiling him in cold water.

"You are so gonna pay, Stanton!" he fumbled with the junction panel again, grabbing the main power switch firmly and pulling it down.

In the back office, the two occupants watched the security screens and the commotion unfold, one of them free to move, the other bound and gagged with duct tape and fastened to a large leather chair.

"What's that, a fire?" Foller said squinting at the screen.

"I honestly didn't think that he'd try a fire." Foller looked puzzled.

"Is your daddy going senile?" he asked her sarcastically.

[Update: August 14, 2013]

Jen just smirked at him from behind the duct tape, unable to fully express her disgust with Foller.

She had always been leader though not forcefully and Stanton had recognized that from her early years, and he both admired and cultivated that in her. She wasn't afraid to take risks when someone needed to and she had the wisdom and brains to back her up if her risks fell through.

Her years in high school and college had been tough, but she persevered and proved to herself that she could succeed. Her dad always said that the only person you have to impress is yourself.

"You're the only person that you can't hide from, so be happy with yourself and what you want in life. There is no running away from you. Know the difference too. There's people that will play like they're your conscience, but they're not. They're lost in their own but trying to drop theirs on you. Don't fall for it. Believe in you and everyone else that is hiding from or fighting against the same thing; they'll help support you as you do them. Honey there's many ways to be creative and play a part in this world. Don't let others who don't want to find their own way, take yours". Stanton's words stuck to her more than her graduation speech.

Though Stanton was not present for a lot of his daughters early years, he always contributed every waking moment to his daughter when he wasn't away on company business. She was their gem and he made sure she was treated like that his whole life.

She didn't go far in school but Stanton knew she had what it took to be a rocket scientist if she had wanted to. She fell for business and management and pursued that avenue knowing full well what she wanted and Stanton supported her all the way. Shortly after graduating from high school she earned a degree from a local Business College and shortly thereafter started working for a Department Store chain, as a clerk in the cosmetics department. Not long after she had worked her way up to the position of cosmetics manager and two years following that, she had worked her way to the position of assistant manager.

He was proud of her like no else ever could be, and she was his sole reason for being who and what he was, paving the road ahead of her and people like her so that she could concentrate on what she was doing and never know life differently.

She only ever wondered why her daddy was never home with her and her mother. Her father was always away on meetings or conventions and never at home with her mother like all the other kids.

More than anything, she wondered where her father was now and if he was coming to pick her up and take her away from this situation.

Foller was a monster. Like the kind she had in her closet when she was young and that kept her awake at night. He'd always be there to comfort her if she called out in the night. Foller was no closet monster, he was as real as they came.

Her father had taken care of every closet monster, though he told her how to overcome them. She wondered if her father had ever come across those kinds of monsters that Foller was. If he was there to console her, he would have told her he had, and he wouldn't have been lying.


Rysalin lay wrapped around Trent, his arm around her waist, his hand cradled her hips while fast asleep. Both were once again asleep in their own respective dreams, but each were so tightly together that when one of their heart's skipped a beat, the other felt it.

Trent's dreams were somewhat theatrical, as was his imagination. His mind's eye completely focused on her. Her practical approach made life hurdles he'd struggled with seem simple and he'd admired her this. It was not so much an Oedipus complex as some might have written it off if they'd have known, from inside the hotel. She ignited him. He felt like a man, and his words were her noble guardian, a worthy protection of her though never condescending but elevating. A knight in her court and by her grace, her beloved.

Rysalin's dreams were much different. Trent was an obstruction to her former husband, a tremendous wall and a symbol of her creativity and freedom. In her dreams, he'd marveled at her talents as if she were a goddess, those that her former husband had overlooked, ultimately seeking access to what her ovaries would have provided him more than what she as person had to offer. Trent regarded her not just from a pedestal where she was neither an equal or accessible, but as she was, for they were both part of the same connection and she'd felt it from the moment she'd met him as he did from the first moment he'd seen her.

They both dozed lazily, in each other's caress. They each fantasized in their own world as to how they'd idealized each other, just as fantasies gave food to the passions that fed life and kept many marriages happy ones and their patrons consumed and often smitten by each other. It was from this peace that the phone rang. Not his or hers, but just "the phone under the bed".

His nose twitched a few times, in unison to the phone's ringing. Rysalin awoke from her dream, still very warm in lust for him, giggling when she spied his nose dancing to the chirping of the phone. She cusped her hand to her mouth, trying to contain her laughter. He in turn mouthed some unintelligible words to her, either in reality or in his dream, and this made her laugh even harder.

She caught her breath and licked his ear lobe delicately before whispering directly into his ear.

"Honey, your phone's ringing."

"Mnst im honnn" came back his response. She again started giggling and laughing almost uncontrollably. She caught her breath, holding it with all of her will, before she tried to speak again to him. She felt like a levy, holding back a wall of her laughter and struggled for containment before trying to speak again. The phone chirped again, and she nearly burst.

"Honey, I said that you're phone is ri..." she burst out laughing when his nose twitched again, followed by his attempt at speech.

"Wyn nomphs sti noht" he spoke to an imaginary conversant.

She gasped fighting for her breath, in complete ecstasy.

Trent sat up with a start.

"Sweetie, isn't that your phone?" He asked her, groggily almost still in a dream world.

"No." She fought giggles, "I thought it was you..." before she burst out laughing again.

He smiled at her, almost losing control himself.

She paused, and caught her breath.

"I though it was yours?" She spoke inquisitively, barely containing herself.

"Where is it coming from?" he looked around the room.

"Its under the bed, near your pants, and our... clean up towels." she replied.

He threw himself over the edge of the bed, peering under the bed. The phone chirped again, like an insistent salesman eager for the sale.

He fumbled around under the bed with his hands before finding a small cellular phone. He pulled himself up beside her so she could see it.

He looked at her quizzicly.

"Answer it." she commanded, practically.

He eyed it for a button to press, eventually finding a button on one of the sides.

"Smchmietske sti spiork" a voice blurted from the phone.

"Who is this?" asked Trent, in the most commanding voice he could muster. Rysalin pinched him approvingly. He fondled her in response, though with loving intent and not automation.

"Fellersteinske, est you?" asked the voice, with an inflection that could only be an inquiry.

"Why have you called here if you don't require any business here?" demanded Trent as he clicked the speaker phone button, so Rysalin could hear the conversation. Rysalin wanted to squeeze him, and then to draw him into her, but she held him tight instead and supported him.

The phone was quiet momentarily as if there was a conversation on the other end. Trent held his ground diligently. Rysalin gestured for the phone. Trent handed it to her, getting her right away. She could speak a few different languages, besides that of love, and that was of immense importance in this situation.

She listened carefully, before speaking to Trent.

Sounds to be from Central or Eastern Europe. A bit of German, but possibly Ukrainian. Object driven, maybe even Polskie or Russian.

He smiled at her admiringly, and she gleamed at him from the inside, and he felt it.

"Yes, I'm Fellersteinske. How are things, in Europe right now?" asked Trent, taking initiative with their newly gained knowledge. She squeezed him, and he tweaked the soft skin below her ear, making her tingle.

"Have you taken care of business yet, Fellersteinske?" asked the voice on the other end of the phone.

"You haven't given me the business yet, so how can I do it?" Trent played along with it.

The long silence at the other end of the phone was unsettling but Trent kept it together.

"What about the hardware?" Trent threw in for good measure. Rysalin held back laughter, though a bit of concern had overtaken her mood.

"The hardware is there already. Everything you requested for the job." The voice was calm and professional. Trent shuddered, and Rysalin upon feeling this pinched his nipple. Trent looked at her sharply, realizing she was helping him keep his ground on the phone. He gently suckled her eyelid in his lips before continuing.

"There was no damned hardware! You fool." Trent responded very clearly taking control with the full support of his wife, though they were doing so together and cooperatively. He realized that they were already becoming a great team.

"You found the phone. How could you miss the hardware? Are you schmalske?" asked the voice. Trent held the phone to his stomach and looked at Rysalin, eyes crossed comically in mockery of the conversants on the phone. She giggled, drawing her fingers down his chest and in the direction of his privates. He kissed her gently on the forehead, holding up his index finger, asking her to hold on a second.

Once again he flopped his head over the edge of the bed, peering under the bed when he spied it. A dark shape just beyond his reach. He pulled himself down further over the side of the bed, reaching for the shape, just barely grasping a handle before clasping it. He pulled it to the side of the bed, despite its weight.

It was a briefcase, with some heft to it. He struggled lifting it to the bed and onto his lap, looking at Rysalin. On the back of the phone, Rysalin pointed out a three digit sticker.

The three digits unlocked the case, the tumblers located in the center. Trent opened the case like a clam shell, like a diver in search of a pearl. Instead he spied a large hand gun, of European origin, accompanied by five metal containers which he assumed to be magazines for the gun. A file folder accompanied the whole package neatly tucked under the gun, which felt heavy in Trent's hands. He had never held a gun, and its weight and heft was much different than that of a pencil or his computer keyboard.

Trent fingered through the folder, one leaf of paper at a time. Each held photocopies of portrait photographs of strangers, a short dossier accompanying each one of them. This was too much for him but Rysalin squeezed him, keeping in check. He grabbed the phone again and held it to his ear.

"Consider it done." Trent acted as best as he could for the people on the other end of the phone and very much trying to be a man for his wife, though he was sure she was playing along with him or vice versa. She squeezed his thigh delicately to reassure him as if she could read his doubt and he instantly knew what she meant. Teamwork. He was so in love with her as she was with him. The problem was finding a way to communicate it discretely.

"Who are you?!" replied the voice on the other end.

There was more chatter on the other end and Trent held the phone to Rysalin's ear and she interpreted what she could hear.

"They're saying what a fake you are and that they've been ripped off." Rysalin told Trent, a grin on her face. He looked at her inquiringly, questioning her trust of him. He wanted so badly to be her Knight, but he was only turning out to be a jerk and a phony in his eyes.

He put the phone down, and held up both hands looking at her pleadingly.

She grabbed the phone from him and started bickering with the men in a language that he couldn't understand. By the time the conversation was done, she cancelled the conversation by clicking the off button and then setting the phone down on the bed.

Trent looked at Rysalin very much amazed by her.

"Where'd you learn all of this?" he asked her.

"I was training to be a translator for my husband's company." she replied.

"How do you even find me attractive if you've experienced all of this? Do you even know or like me?" Trent asked feeling very insecure of his own abilities.

"My husband, I love you more than life itself. I did not feel like this until I met you. Now you are making me feel guilty of being me. If you do that then you are no better than my former husband and the life I ran away from to be with you. Don't let your doubt of us ruin us my love. I love you. Don't doubt that. You wanted me to be free, and I am, now love me!" she said passionately to him, quelling his own self doubt and reaffirming her trust in him.

"I'm a your treasure. You made me feel that way. Now be my treasure and trust me." she said with all of the confidence he had seen in her from the beginning.

She recognized that he didn't love himself as much as he loved her.

In this situation his skills and abilities weren't proving useful to either of them and it was time to address that by using what skills and talents he had to their advantage.

He looked over the contents of the briefcase one more time and evaluated the situation.

"Obviously this is the dossier for a group of targeted assassinations. We've got to find these people and let them know that they've been targeted by this group, whomever they are and where ever they are." Trent said thoughtfully.

"Do you drive?" Rysalin asked him.

"Yes, but I haven't driven for a long time. At least twelve years. What are you saying, that we take a car?" he responded with a question.

"We could go the rental booth in the underground parking lot. They will have cars and keys there. We could pick and borrow a very nice one, keeping track of the time that we have it for in case things get back on their feet by the time we get back." she answered, a tuft of her hair just covering part of her face, ever so enticingly.

"I think that we have a plan. We can raid the room fridges up here for supplies or the kitchen downstairs in catering. They'll have some prepared foods from that convention that was supposed start yesterday. Let's get to it." he said, planting a delicate kiss on her lips.

She replied playfully with her tongue and they got cleaned up and left. Trent donned the included holster which put the firearm just under his left arm pit. It felt strange and heavy there but he quickly got used to it. Rysalin gathered food from some of the room fridges on the penthouse level, loading them into a large duffle bag they had found in the closet.

They grabbed a bit more food and a large water jug from catering and some bottles of spring water. While she finished up with the food, Trent made his way to the front lobby and to the managerial department and found the key cabinet. He felt around on top and found a small key which unlocked it.

He quickly found the rental department key and the key for the door controls downstairs. On his way back, he passed the flower shop, and gathered and bundled some flowers for Rysalin, carefully wrapping them into a bouquet.

When he arrived at the elevator where she stood patiently, and looking very appetizing he offered her the bouquet.

"Thank you honey. You're so thoughtful." she leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek.

They had put everything on a wheeled trolley making the trip to the rental office much easier. When they arrived, they were pleased to find that the majority of rentals were there and in top shape.

"Sports or Sedan?" he asked his wife.

"Sedan. We might start a family." she responded with a wink.

He looked at her quizzically with a half grin and looking very suave to her.

He grabbed the keys to the car they'd selected from the rental office and opened the front door for Rysalin, loading the back seat with their supplies and putting some of the non-perishable goods in the trunk.

The car started like a charm and had a full tank of gas. The front dash lit up like the heads up display of a fighter jet, with a windshield viewing screen for the speedometer and odometer and the output from the built-in gps unit nicely displayed in the center.

"Things have changed a little bit since the last time." he said with a smile.

"Where are we going first?" she asked him.

"To the Power Plant. It's about a hundred kilometres from here. That's where we can find this Stanton fellow." he replied, looking at the dossier.

"What about the other two?" she grabbed the other two files from his lap.

"They're a bit far from here. If they're all connected, Stanton may know how to contact them so we can avoid the trip." he replied, confident in his plan.

"What if we can't find Stanton there?" she asked again, making sure he had all of the angles covered.

"There will be a number of ways that we could find him. He's an engineer and long time employee of the plant, so he likes to stay put. We'll go on that and follow any leads we get at the plant." he finished.

"I like it, my master spy." she drew a line from his knees up to his thigh that made his senses tingle.

"Looks like this is going to be a great trip." he said, pecking her cheek as they drove out the parking facility and onto the cluttered streets above.

Into The Breach

Elena's screams had subsided and one of the men from the crowd had started to douse the fire when all of the lights and power in the store went out. Screams from the rest of the store patrons resounded throughout as they were plunged into blackness.

Stanton, who was in front of the door to his daughter's office kicked it firmly at a point just above the door handle and the lock snapped, the door flying open.

Foller turned in shock caught under the spotlight of Stanton's Beretta, which dropped to the exposed shoulder of his right arm. Three reports broke the silence and spurred more screams from the terrified store patrons.

The shots impacted Foller's shoulder, twisting him to his right as he fired two rounds from his SMG. Both caught Stanton, one just above the point of his body armour, and one just below in his abdomen. Stanton bit the pain and stormed the room at Foller, gun still leveled directly at him.

Foller grasped his shoulder as he fell to the floor. Upon reaching it on his side, he screamed under the light of the Beretta, reaching for his own with his left hand.

Another flash from the muzzle of Stanton's pistol ended that prospect, as the round impacted the floor just beside his head.

"Try it again. Filth." Stanton dared, a fierce rictus across his face.

Foller gasped, before he started to laugh.

"I thought I had you. I really thought I had you by the balls." Foller exclaimed.

"You were done from the moment that you brought my daughter into this." Stanton spat at him.

Stanton motioned to him "Now get up slow." he demanded, the Beretta eagerly held as if a beast on a leash ready to pounce.

Foller complied, groaning from the immense pain in his shoulder. As soon as he was on his feet, Stanton arched his arm, the Beretta changing roles from a firearm to that of a club and swung it in a large arc, catching Foller on the head. He dropped unconscious to the floor.

Back at the power box, Dave shuddered soaked to the bone and in the dark, his hand still on the power switch. He hadn't heard anymore screams or gunfire and the lights had been off for more than two minutes. He reckoned that would be enough time, and he was increasingly worried for Elena. He returned the switch back to the position he found it in.

The lights came on as Stanton bound Foller's hands with one of the quick-ties from the power plant. He arose from in front of the desk to see his daughter, duct taped to her chair and silenced by a strip across her mouth.

He leapt over the desk, gently pulling the strip from her mouth. She gasped with relief, tears welling up in her eyes.

"I thought that you weren't coming. I thought he would kill you." she began balling, a stream of tears ran the length of her face onto her lap.

Stanton cut the remaining tape, freeing her. He ran his hands through her hair and held her close.

"It's ok honey. I'm here. I'm so sorry that I couldn't make it to you faster." Stanton said tenderly, thinking of their conversation back at the power plant.

"Why is all of this happening? What is going on?" Jen asked her father.

"We're going to go and find out. We need to stick together honey. We're going to fix this." Stanton comforted her, cradling her head gently.

"How did you do all of that Daddy?" Jen asked looking at him a slight bit of fear on her face.

"There are some things we need to talk about sweetie." Stanton looked back at her sincerely.

Dave ran into the office, dripping wet, Elena behind him.

"I thought I told you not to come here if I didn't come back." Stanton looked at the two of them, a slight grimace on his face.

"You knew that was an order that we would never listen too." Elena exclaimed.

"Daddy, you're..." Jen looked down and pointed to his wound, which had soaked his shirt an ochre red.

"I know sweetie, I'll be ok." Stanton winced as he got to his feet.

Elena ran back into the store, where some of the patrons had huddled by the office hall. She quickly dodged through the crowd reassuring them of everything and over to the health section. She retrieved enough medical supplies to make a very thorough dressing for Stanton's wound.

When she had returned, Stanton had sprawled out on the desk as his daughter and Dave examined his wound.

"Elena, I'm going to need you to poke around inside me, make sure that one of my guts wasn't pierced." Stanton asked her.

"I'm not a surgeon you know, but I used to watch Grey's Anatomy." Elena responded, a little bit of spunk added to her voice.

"Great, then I'll consider you as having a PhD." Stanton joked as best he could.

"Get a flashlight. I need you to look around inside the wound. Tell me if you see any green looking fluid leaking from anything. If you come across the slug, that would help as well." Stanton asked her.

Jen handed her a small penlight and Elena carefully spread the wound with her fingers on one hand, while Jen wiped away the blood with sterile cloth from the medical supplies.

She examined the wound carefully, scanning for any signs of the green or the slug.

"There's a very little bit of green fluid, and I see the slug. It's lodged in some muscle tissue." Elena responded clinically.

"Oh great. That explains the pain. Ok, I'm going to need you to grab the slug with a pair of tweezers or forceps." Stanton continued, guiding his own surgery, beads of sweat filling his forehead.

Elena grabbed a pair of large tweezers from the kit she'd collected and reached inside the wound. When she was sure she had the slug firmly she signalled Jen.

"Ok Dad, she's going to try pulling it." Jen said compassionately, brushing his head.

Elena yanked gently, and Stanton winced, a gasp escaping his mouth, the sweat on his forehead now trickling down onto the desk.

"There we go, all done. There's only a little bit of the green fluid you were talking about." Elena said proudly.

"Great. Now wipe out the wound, inside too. Then tape it with the surgical tape and I'll wrap the bandages myself." Stanton ordered.

Elena grabbed the cloth and cleaned the wound gently, sealing the hole with the surgical tape. Since the slug had been removed, the bleeding has all but stopped to a slight trickle. After she had dressed his wound, she gently massaged the skin of his abdomen then giving him a light tap.

"All done." Elena finished, a smile on her face and looking for one on Stanton's.

Stanton leaned up and onto his feet and started the process of wrapping his abdomen with bandages.

"Elena, Dave. Thank you. You saved me and you helped me save my family. Give me ten minutes to prep, and then we're going to talk about the next step." Stanton returned Elena's smile and looked to them both earnestly.

"What's next? Remember that I have a family too." Dave returned, a bit of sarcasm in his voice.

"We need to head back in the direction of the power station. That will bring us very close to your home. We'll check in with your family and your journey with us ends, if you'd like. I have some other things that I need to do in order to find out what's really going on. Close the door when you leave, I need to talk with my daughter." Stanton offered up enough to keep them curious. He liked having them as a team and he didn't want to lose either of them.

They left Stanton and Jen to have their talk.

"Jen, honey. I don't know where to begin, so I'll just tell you what you need to know to put your fears to rest and to give you peace of mind about your mother and I. About what I do but not enough to put your life in danger like the kind that Foller here had in mind for the both of us."

Stanton began the story of his life path, keeping the details to himself but letting her know who he was and what he did and how that affected their family. Jen found a new connection with her father and understood the secretive man for the first time, feeling his pain for the loss of her mother and finally knowing peace, comfort and a profound sense of confidence in him. It lifted a great weight from her shoulders as it did his. They sat quietly for a moment together, both feeling very much in the presence of her mother and his wife. The sat quietly in the darkened room and cherished the peace while the world outside stepped further to chaos.

Cleanup Team

[Updated October 9, 2013 11:30 PM]

Inside of the store, Elena and Dave had cleaned themselves up, helping themselves to a change of clothes from the store shelves. They returned to the restaurant area where the rest of the store patrons went about their business, not noticing the departure of one of their numbers into the late evening.

He had slipped out quietly and unnoticed shortly after Stanton's breach and headed across the parking lot towards a small diner. He was watched carefully through a sniper scope by a man hidden on the roof and greeted by four other men inside. They let him into the diner and closed the door behind him.

"Anything new?" asked one of them.

"He's there. He just took out Foller. He's got others with him." answered the messenger from the store.

"What do you mean, others? Are they...?" asked one of the others.

"No, no. They're not. They're civvies. Probably from the power station." responded the messenger.

"What the hell is he doing with them?" responded the first.

"It doesn't matter. They're on the target list now, along with his daughter." a fourth man said as he stepped out from the shadows.

"I heard them talking about returning to the power station." the messenger continued.

"Alright. Here's the plan. We pack up and follow them, make sure there's no others. You and Garret take the car. We'll be behind you in the van. Usual tactics. Stay in visual and fade when necessary. Now move it!" said the man from the shadows.

"Did you get that Dorset?" he continued, speaking into a headset he wore.

"Yep. I'm on it." replied the sniper from the roof.

The men sprang to life gathering their gear and passing it in a chain out the back door of the diner, where it was loaded into an unmarked van.

The messenger grabbed a sandwich and a beer from the diner fridge.

"No time for that." said the man from the shadows.

"What? No meal? After all of that? You guys said you going to take me to..." the messenger replied angrily.

He didn't finish his sentence before the first round from the shadow man's silenced pistol struck him in the forehead followed by a second to his sternum. The messenger fell dead before he hit the floor. His last meal fell beside him still in it's plastic untouched.

"All right. Loose ends dealt with. We have some tangos to zero and a package that needs delivery. We are out of here." the shadowy man said, accenting the words of the last sentence confidently to his teammates.

They took their places in each of the two vehicles, one a black unmarked econoline van, the other a modern two door candy apple green hatchback and pulled into an alley beside the diner in wait for their prey.

The store was quiet again and the restaurant patrons weren't doing much other than playing cards or chatting quietly amongst each other. This particular community had been tight nit and even in the midst of an apparent armageddon, they were treating it like a temporary setback and the urgency of the prior nuclear bursts had disappeared. After a talk from the store clerk who had spoken to him addressed the restaurant, Stanton was revered and treated like a star. Nobody really knew what had happened in the back in the office. Foller had told them he was from the head office of the company, so they let him through no problem, though he wasn't dressed the part, but he seemed sharp enough. When they saw Foller walking out, his restraints were covered by a coat Stanton had thrown over his back, so as not to raise any curosity amongst the patrons.

Stanton gestured to Elena and Dave, who were just finishing a hot meal together. The store clerk stood up and addressed Stanton.

"Sir, I wanna thank you for reassuring us here and letting us know what was happening. We thought we was goners. We have a plan and we'll be out of here soon. You must be awful proud of your daughter here, saving us all like that." the clerk looked to Jennifer, who smiled back politely and reservedly.

"Yes, she is like that, though she probably got that from her mother." Stanton said in response and in all seriousness.

"Look, Rick. We have to leave. I want you to close up shop when you leave. I'll be back, if there's something to be back to." Jennifer stepped in, trying keep things quaint.

"I'll do that, and Jennifer and Mr. Stanton, you take care each other, you hear?" said the clerk sincerely.

Dave was standing, still chewing the last of his food and rushing Elena who had just finished her last potato. She stood and they both walked for the door, waving as they did.

"Goodbye nice people. All the best. Don't forget to call." Dave said in half sarcasm, still hurt that Elena and himself had gotten no thanks for their part in the plan.

The restaurant patrons waved and said their goodbyes, and then went back to their prior activities as if nothing had happened and life inside the department store had continued along as it did before they had arrived. The clerk waved and locked the door behind them.

"Did you see that! Not one thanks from those..." Dave clenched his good hand.

Stanton turned to Dave and Elena, his Daughter joined him.

"Dave, Elena. I thank you with everything I have to give. Know this, that you have my gratitude" Stanton paused.

"...and mine." Jennifer interjected.

"You have the best ally that one could have to help diffuse armageddon. And I have in you two the best allies I could have to halt this thing before its too late. We'll talk in the van." the emotion in Stanton's face disappeared and he went back to his stern demeanor. Its what was required for the situation though he meant every word he'd said to them.

Jennifer gave them each a hug and the whole thing made Dave feel a lot better, after all, they were like family in a way, though Jennifer had never attended one of Dave's famous parties.

On their way to the van, Stanton handed a full roll of duct tape to his daughter. She took it from him smiling, thinking how much she loved her dad. They paused on the walk outside the store on their way to the van. Foller looked at Jennifer, a look of sarcasm crossed his face.

"What now? Is daddy going to..." he didn't have time to finish before the first layer of duct tape covered his mouth.

She circled the roll around his head several times, even going from under his jaw to the top of his head so he couldn't open his mouth, until the entire roll was done, securely sealing his mouth, and leaving a tiny space for him to breath through his nose. She kissed her father on the nose, and he smiled back at her.

"I like you better this way Foller." said Elena, as she kicked him in the groin.

He winced through the tiny air holes Jennifer had left for him, quickly inhaling his breaths.

When they were finished they made their way to the van Stanton had commandeered and poured into it and within two minutes were on the road on their way back to the security van, three blocks away.

Stanton noticed a vehicle pull out of an alley from the corner of his eye just after they had pulled into the intersection from the parking lot. He made no mention of it, but kept a mental note.

They made a quick transfer from Stanton's commandeered van to the security van. Dave would have taken the van had his arm been in better shape, but there was plenty of room in the back, despite the munitions Stanton had salvaged from the Swat team at the power plant. Before long they were once again on the road and headed back to the plant. There wasn't a peep out of Foller.

"What were you going to tell us, big man?" Dave asked.

"Yeah. I think we're past basic training now. What's going on?" Elena leaned forward in her seat eagerly.

Stanton paused a moment and looked in the mirrors, holding his thoughts. When he was certain there was nothing to be concerned about outside he spoke.

"In the operations branch I worked for, we had a plan, a contingency. In the event of a social uprising or an invasion by an outside force. We even had a name for it. Used to play scenarios of this sort of thing, using live agents. It was a worst case scenario, one that was reserved as a preventative measure against impending anarchy and the total break down of civilization." Stanton spoke with a detachment that was unsettling.

Jennifer, Elena and Dave sat quietly and listened, rooted to their seats.

"Due to a changing focus and reduced Intelligence and Military spending, it was reduced in scope but it was ultimately honed and kept under the elite special operations branch. That meant most of us senior agents were its right hand. Our operational load was much bigger thanks to reduced distribution of responsibilities during such a crises." he paused, checking the mirror.

"Three days ago, something happened to put that plan into effect, and all of us in that branch were activated. We were activated to isolate something that was already out of control and had gone rampant." he stopped, taking a drink from a water bottle before seating it back in it's holder.

"We didn't get much intel on it, but word was that there was a rumour that had gotten out of control, though an unverified rumour. The idea was that some lab research and the results of a test had found their way into the hands of a fundamentalist group." he paused again looking around at each of them, the beams breaking the darkness ahead of the van.

They all paused before Dave spoke. "Are you telling us that a fundamentalist group took the results of a lab experiment and used it to start armageddon?"

"No. That's not it. There's something else to it. But the whole reason for the activation started under that premise. Here's the odd thing about it though. A half an hour later, the activation intel stated an imminent breakdown of social order, and the previous intel posting had been removed from the queue, which can only be done on high orders. The queue serves as a means for the special operations to have pertinent historical intel regarding a specific operation, seeing as we operate independently once activated. It serves as a reference for active agents. When there's a change like that, its big. That's it." Stanton finished.

"So we have a fundamentalist group that has ended up with the results of lab research prematurely. What kind of lab research?" Elena asked.

"It had to do with particle physics from the LHC." Stanton replied.

"The Large Hadron Collider? You mean someone hacked their experiment database?" asked Dave, a seasoned computer operator.

"They must have. They took the results and data to one of their most important experiments." Stanton replied looking to Dave.

"What does this data mean? Weren't they working on nuclear physics. Like fission and fusion?" Jennifer asked her father not knowing enough about it to ask the question she wanted to.

"I don't know honey, but they wanted it bad." Stanton replied almost gingerly to her.

"So they used it to make a weapon maybe and that sent you guys into high alert?" Elena asked Stanton.

"Could be, though they'd been watching the group for a long time. We'd have known if it was a weapon or bomb they were looking for by the increased observation of sea and airport activity." Stanton finished once again.

"I want you to think on that. Maybe you'll come up with something that I haven't already. Let's not discuss it right now though, but let your mind work on it in the background." he said firmly.

They paused quietly for a moment in the silence before Dave broke it.

"Aren't we going closer to the blast area of that nuke?" asked Dave.

"The wind direction will stay like this for a day or two more so we have a window of opportunity to make the trip safely. Seeing as we made the trip in just under eight hours here, we should be ok." Stanton spoke as he scanned the am radio airwaves.

"zzzt... cack...ational Guard has been deployed and a rescue effort is underway for any survivors. It was just five miles from here that a five hundred kiloton nuclear warhead detonated at what was an estimated one thousand yards above the outskirts of the three town area. Most residents have been evacuated but it is feared that as many as six thousand may have been lost in this tragedy. We've staying on the air as long as we can to bring you the information that might save you. Pass this information far and wide. This is Tamela Yancy reporting." the air went momentarily quiet.

"Tamela Yancy, that's broadcasting from a station much farther west. Isn't that too far for us to receive?" Jennifer asked.

"Yeah, Commander Keen. What's up with that?" Dave seconded her question looking at Stanton through the central rearview mirror.

"Magic of the night, and polarization. The sun's rays reflect off the stratosphere, ionizing the particles there and we get..." he paused looking to Jennifer and Elena.

"The northern lights!" they both said excitedly, laughing as they did.

"You got it. Well they excite the particles in the atmosphere, ionizing it. You know the rest Dave?" Stanton asked.

"I get it, so they travel up and bounce off the atmosphere over the curvature of the earth to us." Dave smiled, high fiving Elena.

"The three of you answered your own question." Stanton smiled quaintly.

They laughed into silence and enjoyed the momentary peace.

"Stanton, don't you need sleep? When do you rest?" asked Elena, rubbing his shoulder.

"When we're done." he smiled.

Of Serenity And Fireflies

Jennifer had nearly dozed off watching the nightsky, her head propped up againt the door window. She awoke, startled when she observed three bright flashes in the air far above them.

A moment later the sound of supersonic jets broke the silence like a bowling ball rolling down the lane in a bowling alley.

Stanton slowed the van enough to observe what appeared to be a dogfight between four or more squadrons of jets. The lights he surmised had been flares deployed by one of them as a countermeasure to sidewinders or the equivalent heat-seeking missile by one of the other jets.

"This isn't good." Stanton said as he watched the battle unfold, slowing while leaning forward to get a better look at the sky.

They watched as the jets, split up into pairs, and flanked another group approaching at an angle. They were just barely visible, illuminated by the nearly full moon in the night sky, their exhaust trails stretching behind them.

There was a bright flash from one of them and a trail extended from it towards the oncoming squadron. Another jet fired one more, and then another and finally one more.

They watched as the oncoming squadron dodged, one of the jets pulling an incredible 110 degree turn, but the manoeuvre was ill timed as its forward momentum was spent on slowing it for the turn by the thrust vectoring. It nearly stopped in midair before one of the missiles collided, breaking its fuselage in two.

There was a moment of silence as the two pieces of fuselage flew apart, the rear portion losing its momentum faster, eventually rolling into a midair tumble. Miraculously, the front portion flashed, and an ejection seat along with its occupant shot out into the night under the moon, a chute opening and slowing the pilot's descent.

The jets responsible for the downing that bogey quickly passed their victim in the night sky and found themselves in pursuit by the wingman of the downed craft. There was another flash and another missile flew from the wingman. It accelerated towards the pair, who quickly banked in opposite directions. The missile veered, following the right one and closing the distance between the two quickly. Another flare shot out from the craft, in hopes of catching the heat seeker's attention. The missile's warhead burst, shredding the left wing of the jet to cinders and shrapnel as it slowly dove towards the ground. Another moment later and the pilot was clear of the jet, gliding in the thunder of fast moving air and waiting for his chute to open.

The wingman was quickly taken out by the cannons of one of the jets, which shredded the fuselage without splitting it. There was no sign of an ejection as the jet veered towards ground. The remaining jets made quick work of the two remaining bogeys and then proceeded out of sight.

"Those jets were all friendlies. Even the bogies." Stanton stated with some concern, leaning back in the driver's chair.

"Why would the air force be shooting down their own jets? Did someone take them out for a joyride?" asked Dave.

"Your guess is as good as mine." Stanton answered.

"Civil war? Maybe a coup?" Jennifer responded.

Stanton looked to his daughter, a little bit amazed to hear her say that. He'd never been able to really talk to her about his real life, only the one they'd fabricated for him. He still regarded her as his little girl, but really she was all grown up. After all, she was running the show at the store for herself and forty five other employees.

"That could be, but I definitely would have noticed a build up to that sort of thing." he responded after a thoughtful pause.

"No. That was something else." Stanton finished.

They continued the long drive back in the dark and barren road. Stanton thought carefully about what he had seen and his daughter's question. She was right, there was a connection somehow and that made getting back to the Power Station all the more pertinent.

Prove It

The night caught up with Rysalyn and Trent by the time they had gotten out of the city. There were still the occasional abandoned road blocks and looting was already under way although it was still relatively peaceful with only the occasional gun shot breaking the silence. The road out of the city was crowded at first but after the first hour the average time between cars was about five minutes. As they reached the halfway point between cities, that number jumped to an hour.

Rysalyn unpacked a sandwich from one of the packages they'd prepared before leaving the hotel, handing it to Trent who spun it in his hands to a position to where he could eat it.

"Thank you honey." he looked over at her thinking about how things had changed so much in so little time.

"Would you like a juice or a pop?" she asked him, looking through the open package.

"A pop please." he finished the sandwich half.

She handed it to him, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek.

"Pop!" she said, squeezing his thigh.

They had been driving for seven hours and she had become giddy after waking up from a nap. The roads were clear and they were covering the open road in the last stretch before they hit the next city. From there they'd have one more stretch of country road before they arrived at town which housed the Power Station.

"Are you tired of driving yet? I could take over for you." Rysalyn offered sounding a little too enthusiastic.

"I like driving. I haven't driven in a long time." he said, a half smile swept his face.

"I like driving too, but I also like being the passenger sometimes." a devious smile crossed hers.

"I noticed honey. Well I'll take it until we get out side of the next city. How's that?" he offered her, glancing between her and the road.

"That's fine. That's acceptable." she said, elevating her nose a little.

"What's that?" she pointed out the window on the road.

Trent turned his head forward and spotted what looked to be a flare on the road. He slowed as he approached, stopping the car.

"Honey, I want you to wait here. Can you do that?" he asked her.

"I think I should go with you. Remember how you needed me with the phone." Rysalyn responded trying not to sound condescending.

"Ok, fine. We'll check together. We're a team." he said confidently.

"The best team." She squeezed his hand and stepped out of the car.

Trent stepped forward seeing that just beyond the flare, were two cars. One was stretched across the road, a huge gas guzzler from yesteryear blocking the road completely. The second was off the road and part way in a ditch. There were two people seated in the gas guzzler who appeared to be in a heated argument, though Trent or Rysalyn could not tell given that the windows and doors were closed. There was a driver seated in the ditch car but Trent couldn't see if there was a passenger.

"Are you ok?" he shouted to the ditch car approaching it.

The door on the gas guzzler suddenly opened and a large burly man in jeans and a baseball cap stepped out.

"You don' need to be checking on 'im, he's doin' jus' fine." His voice grovelled as he stepped towards them.

"Are you sure? We should check it out. Make sure they're ok?" Trent started walking to the ditch car.

The other door to the gas guzzler opened and another man stepped out, this one shorter and rotund brandishing a shotgun, his bald head gleaming in the moonlight.

"He said he's ok." the rotund man levelled the shotgun at Trent while the tall one eyed Rysalyn.

"Ok. Ok. How about you. Are you guys ok?" he asked, the good Samaritan coming out in him.

The tall one completely ignored Trent and focused on Rysalin while the other kept watch with his shotgun.

"Yer pirty. The name's Morty." he said to her extending her a hand.

"Honey." Trent tried to interject before Ryslyn got her hand in the air.

The tall man grabbed her hand and pulled her closer to himself without much concern for her well being.

"Hey! Watch it!" Trent yelled, stepping forward to the tall man.

The Rotund man fired the shotgun in the air and Trent stopped immediately, putting his hands up.

"Alright! Alright. What do you guys want? You want the car? Take the car. Just let us go." Trent did his best to distract them away from Rysalyn and over to dealing with him.

"Look, I've got food in there and plenty of supplies. Come take a look, I've got liquor too." Trent poured it on thick.

"Yep, we'll take it all. And yer friend here too." The tall man smiled at her, two of his front teeth missing.

Rysalyn struggled against him and his grip but had little chance of breaking away. She screamed and kicked at him but the tall man kept his grip.

"Trent!" she screamed.

For the moment she played helpless hoping Trent had a plan.

"Why don't you go over there and get acquainted with yer new friend." the rotund man pointed to the ditch car and its motionless driver.

Trent kept his hands in the air and eyed the tall man for any signs of a gun or any weapons and made a mental note to himself before he started walking towards the ditch car.

"Honey! I'll come find you. I promise that I will find you." Trent said keeping his voice confident and unwavering.

"That's enough. Just keep walking. You're going to keep your new friend company from now on." the rotund man responded to Trent's heroic encouragement.

When he got to the drive's side door he could clearly see that the driver was dead from a shotgun wound to the upper chest, flies still buzzing the body. Trent's mind went into overdrive as he struggled for an idea to survive this and rescue his wife.

"Wait, I've got to give you the keys." Trent said turning around and facing the rotund man with his hands still in the air.

The rotund man looked to the tall man who was dragging Rysalyn over to the rental car to check out his new ride.

"Ok. Hand 'em over." the rotund man requested, pumping the shotgun, clearing the empty casing and chambering a fresh shell.

At that moment Trent thought about his first stage play and how nervous he was when it got to the scene where he had to deliver his first lines. It was like he'd forgotten the lines altogether and just acted on his intuition and went from there. Trent experienced the exact same feeling once again and what exactly happened beyond that point he'd barely recall the details because he felt like he was just running on his intuition.

His right hand reached slowly into his jacket under his left armpit and when he felt the grip of the handgun, he knew he was committed. It was either do or die or both and the world proceeded in slow motion from that point.

He pulled the gun from its holster, stepping forward and to the left avoiding the muzzle of the shotgun and the report that followed. Hot gas exploded close enough to scald some of the hair on his head and burnt part of his jacket but the slugs missed him entirely. If Stanton was there to see it, he would have commended him for taking the best possible action in a futile situation. Everything seemed to be going fine and Trent leveled the handgun at the rotund man's chest (he didn't have the cruelty of nature to aim for the head). When he pulled the trigger he partially closed his eyes, bracing for the shot, but none came.

"Why you..." the rotund man cursed, just barely having his life cut short and now that he knew Trent's intent his guard was up and full.

He pumped the shotgun again chambering another shell unsure of how many remained.

Trent panicked unsure of why his handgun didn't work and stepped forward closer to the rotund man passing the muzzle before he fired. The shotgun echoed through the night and once again Trent had just barely escaped the jaws of death. The rotund man, not willing to make the same mistake again backed up, pumping the shotgun once again and another shell found its way into the chamber. Trent knew that this was it and placed his bet on his handgun, feeling for a switch that he had missed somewhere.

His thumb crossed a lever, which clicked as he pushed it down rotating into place. The tightness of the trigger had disappeared and he quickly pulled it. A shot flew out of the hand gun hitting the rotund man square in collar bone. His arm spun, shotgun and all thrown off aim as he fired one last shot. The muzzle flashed, burning a large hole on the outside Trent's trousers by his thigh but none of the slugs impacted his flesh. Trent leveled the gun one last time at the rotund man, who had fallen to the ground and had the look of someone that knew he was about to expire. Trent held the gun in place, and fired at the ground beside him stepping on his shotgun then kicking it away.

He turned and ran towards the tall man, who was now in a life or death struggle with Rysalyn. She had taken some self defense training after fleeing her husband to Europe and it helped her against her adversary now. He picked her up from behind squeezing her waist as she struggled and gasped. Rysalyn remembered her training and raised both of her knees in the air swinging both of her legs back and impacting the tall man's knees. He screamed and immediately dropped her, falling backwards onto the ground. She was quickly on her feet again and running for Trent as the tall man got to his, limping on his hurt leg and hopping on the other.

Trent got to Rysalyn and they embraced momentarily as the tall man approached.

"On the ground! I said on the ground now!" he fired a shot in the air.

Trent was not going to mess around and risk the one person he loved more than anyone in such a manner and it paid off as the tall man quickly fell onto the ground on his back.

"Honey? Why don't you do the honours." he asked her.

"I love you so much." She blew a kiss at Trent who was still running on love and adrenaline.

She ran over the car and fished around through the supplies until she found something that she could tie him up with, returning with some metal coat hangers.

"On your front! Now! Face down!" Trent yelled not needing to fire another shot.

The tall man flipped over onto his face.

"Give me your arms you prick of a man." Rysalyn demanded.

He stretched his arms behind him cupping his hands together like he was an old expert at it.

She twisted the coat hangers around the tall man's wrists until she was confident there were enough to keep him bound.

"On your feet!" She yelled at him and at once he got to his feet.

Rysalin returned to Trent's side just as Trent caught something from the side of his vision. They turned just in time to see the rotund man, shotgun in his good arm levelling it at Rysalyn. Trent jumped in front of her just as he pulled the trigger but no shot followed. The rotund man pulled the trigger again and again but no report came.

Trent's temper flared and he charged at the rotund man with the handgun levelled at his head.

"Why don't you go over there and get acquainted with your old friend." He said scornfully to the rotund man gesturing to the ditch car.

"You too." he gestured for the tall man to get in front.

"Honey, grab his shotgun. He won't hurt you." Trent said with authority.

Rysalyn retrieved the shotgun without a struggle from the rotund man. She leveled it at the two of them and ushered them with Trent to the ditch car.

"Now get in the back!" Trent ordered them.

The rotund man gasped in pain as he opened the door and climbed into the back seat, followed by the tall man. Trent handed his gun to Rysalyn and took the shotgun from her and used it as a hammer to break the locks on the rear doors of the ditch car, and broke one of the windows for air.

"Honey, let's go." Trent asked Rysalyn who nodded in agreement.

They walked over to their car and got in it, backing up a bit before trying to circumnavigate the gas guzzler road block. When they rounded the perimeter of the car and got to the other side. Rysalyn's door popped open and she got out of the car and ran over to the ditch car and leaned her head in the broken window.

"Yer pirty." She said to the tall man, who could not face her.

She tossed two sandwiches and two juices onto their laps and returned to the car.

"Trent, my love. What would you like me to do now?" She asked him playfully and subserviently.

"I could get to liking this." He said, his eyebrow raised.

"Only if we take turns. If that's what you want?" She replied batting her eyelashes at him.

He grabbed the steering wheel.

"Yes. That's what I want." He said smugly to her as they closed for a long and passionate kiss before driving off into the night.

By the time the tall man and the rotund man were found, the rotund man could no longer be called rotund.

Pickup Up The Pieces

I awoke to the sound of the technician's voice prodding me to life. I'd gone and fallen asleep at the wheel but fortunately the chair was pretty stable on the floor.

"What can I do you for Tweak?" I asked him, rubbing my face.

"There's a something going on, its big! A full scale naval war and air strikes in the Persian Gulf were where I heard the first reports. There's a similar conflict at the Panama canal and the Bering Straight!" Tweak responded, sounding panicked.

He clicked a few things on the screen of his computer and a video screen popped into place on mine. A military journalist had been on deck on an aircraft carrier when it was struck by a missile. He'd been filming a documentary onboard when the missile impacted the portside bow. Flames shot into the air and many service men ran towards the impact site. A large extinguishing vehicle pulled out across the deck and began spraying a foam based fire retardant onto it. One the other side of the deck, two enormous helicopters lifted of from the deck.

"What's happening! What's going on?" the documentary photog asked one of the service men.

"Looks like a torpedo or missile impact. They're scrambling the choppers to sortie the area for subs. They'll send up a few jets as well. It looks worse than it is. The pumps below deck will empty it quickly and..." the serviceman responded, keeping his ground as another explosion shook the entire deck.

A half mile away another ship, a destroyer could be seen firing a barrage of rockets from a launcher on its deck. The photog ran across the deck looking for a safe place as the smoke for the fire consumed most of the deck. Upon finding a place close to the command tower he rotated the camera to his face.

"This is unbelievable! The whole deck is shaking like we've run ashore. There's jets in the air..." he panned the camera as a pair flew over, releasing a torpedo directed at the destroyer. They disappeared and a moment later there was a large explosion as the destroyer burst into flames.

"I've got to go help out! This is too..." the screen went dead.

"There's more too." Tweak said, bringing up another window with a video taken from a naval shipyard in Alaska where the cameraman once again just barely got out alive before an enormous two thousand pound bomb impacted the site, dropped from a large cold war bomber. The flames shot more than thirty stories into the air as service men everywhere ran for their lives and for cover in the winter wind.

"There's been reports of dog fights over the continent too. North and south of here." he explained still looking very panicked.

"Where's everyone else? Did you tell them what's going on?" I asked Tweak.

"We lost one about an hour ago but they managed to get back on from another location. The network's down in some places and things are starting to get hairy. Most people are waiting it out at home but when the society part breaks down, that's when it will really get rough. We still have Cale though he's gone to see if he can prepare a meal." Tweak laid out the current situation as best as he could.

A moment later Cale's familiar face popped back up onscreen.

"Hi. I'm sorry I disappeared like that. I had to get something to eat. Fortunately Lindy, the lady who does the home service remembered to put the food in the lower cupboards so I could get at it. If the power goes out, I'll be eating cold cereal, cookies and unpopped popcorn for the next little while." Cale shoveled a fork full of his television dinner into his face.

"I have something to show you. Its got a lot information in it, and some of my friends found it. It looks like codes, you know like the kind of codes they use to talk to one another. Kind of like encryption but this isn't the same. The words aren't hidden but its so obscure that it can have many meanings." Cale put his plate down on his desk as his fingers flew across the keyboard.

"Ok Cale, thanks. I got it." Tweak acknowledged Cale's transfer of the files.

"Ok, take a look at this. I figure you might be able to tell us a bit about it because your brother served, didn't he?" Tweak asked.

"My sister. You mean my sister. But that doesn't mean that I can read that stuff." I responded.

"Give it a try. Here you go." Tweak clicked the mouse a few times and the documents popped up on my screen.

"...STOP START SECOND SCHOLAR SENT SOLD 1039745 VICTOR TANGO ALPHA STOP START MIXER MIGHTY MAXIMUM MALIBU 2940837 FOXTROT OSCAR LIMA STOP..." the messages continued like that for pages, occasionally mentioning a geographic location explicitly.

"Where did you get these? Or should I ask?" I eyed Cale in all seriousness.

"We, uhhhh. You know. I have friends. They can do stuff." Cale smiled for a short period before it disappeared when he realized how serious I was.

"Hand these out to the others. We need to get everyone figuring this out." I asked Cale and Tweak, who immediately began trying and clicking away in complicity.

A moment later and Wilema's and Lena's faces popped up on the screen.

"Glad to see you back! You're in one piece I take it?" Lena asked.

"Same to you darling. Its good to see you two. I'm fine. How are you?" I kept the headache part to myself.

"I'm find. I had to relocate to one of the neighbours places. They've abandoned it, I hope. So I'm making use of their system for now." Lena responded.

"Things are just fine here. Much better than in other places, but the streets have been getting busier. Starting to sound like football season. I mean soccer, you call it soccer." Wilema tried her best to make casual conversation but it was easy to see that this was causing her a great deal of stress.

"Listen, I've got just the kind of thing that we can do together that might take away some of the heebie jeebies." I said to the two newcomers.

"Those documents that you're seeing are some kind of code. We need to see if we can figure out the code and put any sense to this before the whole world explodes into war." I did my best to rouse their spirit of unity but sounded more like I was asking them for help with a crossword puzzle.

"I've seen these before. My Grand Father was a communications officer during the war for the allies before he was captured in France. He taught my mother how to spot aircraft for any attacks inbound for England. She was doing so when she was nine, and could identify more aircraft than anyone her age. She knew how to use a radio too and that's how she'd send messages to England warning them when aircraft were leaving for the channel. These look like the communiques they'd use at that time. Let me take a look." Wilema looked at the communications on her screen.

"I think that I can get at least part of it. It might take a while if they have all of it here." She said squinting carefully through her glasses.

"You heard her Cale, give her what you've got." I said to our little physics genius.

"Sure thing. Already done." he replied.

"Ok gang. Lets work on this as a team and see what we can figure out here. Maybe we can put a stop to this before it gets started." I settled down with my piece of the code and tried my best to do what I could, but placed all my bets on Wilema, Cale, Lena or Tweak coming up with the solution.

The Power Station

The security van pulled onto the service road and then to the driveway for the Power Station and pulled up to the entrance to the service corridor they'd left a day and a half before. Stanton got out of the passenger side and stretched a moment first before doing anything else. He then rounded the security van and slid the side door open, and pulled Foller onto his feet and searched him thoroughly. His daughter got out of the drivers seat and brushed her pants off and stretched herself.

"How is everyone?" Jen asked her cohorts.

"I'm fine. I slept wonderfully on Dave's shoulder." Elena replied looking somewhat chipper and energetic.

Dave stepped out of the van back seat barely able to move.

"No wonder my back's so messed up. She squashed my shoulder and twisted my neck. That's why you had a good sleep." Dave replied sourly, walking around in attempt to alleviate his discomfort.

"Oh you can be such a sour puss at times." she replied gloatingly.

"Carol's going to get you for this." Dave grimaced, his head slightly leaned to one side to alleviate pressure on his neck.

"Oh you big baby." she replied, digging her hands into his scrunched up neck muscles and massaging them back to life.

"Ohhh. That's better. I forgive you." he twisted his head back and forth.

"Ok. Listen up. I need you three to guard Foller while I go in and retrieve some things from my office. Make sure that he doesn't move from the van. One person keep an eye on him at all times."

"Why can't we go with you?" Elena asked him.

"Because I can move quicker by myself in this case and I'm ok by myself." he lied.

"Oh, are you Mr. Super Soldier? Remember who took you out by themselves I might add?" Elena reminded him further gloating.

"You brought down a different guy honey and found the good one." he said honestly.

"Really? I did?" she looked at him surprised and with a hint of a tear in her eye.

"Yeah, you did." he responded.

"I'll be back. Soon." he said smugly, winking at his team.

He gave Elena a heartfelt hug and one to his daughter.

"Where's mine?" Dave asked wryly.

"You're just going to have to earn it." Stanton patted Dave's sore shoulder.

He turned opened the door to the service corridor and went in hefting a flashlight before him.

The corridor was dank and dark but he quickly arrived at the blast point where days earlier there had been a huge metal door. He quickly navigated his way around the bodies and up a flight of stairs into the offices. He used his card at the final door and gained access to the office space where he paused to examine the surroundings.

Everything seemed to be ok but he still couldn't help but feel that something was somehow off or wrong. He looked around in some of the cubicles he passed to see if there was something but nothing caught his eye. When he was certain that things were ok he hustled the length of the office to his office door.

Before opening it, he carefully checked it to see if it had been tampered with or booby trapped for him. That would have been common practice in an operation on the scale of this one. When he was certain that there wasn't any risk, he inserted his key card and opened his office door.

The lock clicked and he stepped into it, closing the door behind him stepping around the desk to the chair. He sat in the chair and logged into his system, then onto a second system from that one, then finally though a third where he arrived at a menu.

He clicked several choices navigating the menus until he found the schema for the current operation manifest. He browsed through the files until he found one entitled Combined Tactical Ops And Connected Services. He clicked it open, where he was prompted for a password. He tried his default password without success. He then tried another that was allocated as an emergency override, taking that chance that he might signal the system by doing so.

The file opened for him, containing a schematic diagram for the entire operation and all of the support groups that would take place in the operation. The connections from each mission node covered the entire globe. His mission was only a tiny piece of a larger operation. He searched for the objective mission parameters but ultimately found he was unable to access them. He copied the data to one of his utility drives on his keychain and closed the files and logged out of the system.

When he was done with the computer, he pulled his chair out and uncovered a loose carpet tile which he pulled back to reveal a hidden safe. He typed a numeric code into the keypad which unlatched a huge lock in the safe. He grabbed the handle and heft the door open and retrieved several documents, two grenades, six magazines for his Beretta and another set of keys and key cards before closing it and pressing the reset button.

Meanwhile, deep in a command installation four hundred mile south of his location an alarm sounded on a computer.

"Sir! We've got a system breach. A senior op used his failsafe at this site." the technician pointed to the screen.

"Its a level 5." the ranking officer said aloud.

"Thank you Lieutenant, that will be all." the ranking officer acknowledged the technician and walked over to an emergency phone picking it up and waited for a response.

"I need a level 5 containment immediately." he commanded the operator.

Outside of the Power Station Dave kept an eye on Foller while Elena and Jen sat in the front seat of the security van.

"He's always been a good father, just distant. It really destroyed him when my mother died but he somehow managed to keep it all together, us together, even with the enormous pressure that he was under. I had no idea." Jen said the Elena, deep in thought about their past.

"He saved my life too. From Foller." Elena added to Jen's commendations.

A car drove up from the service road and into the driveway approaching the van. It stopped a few feet from the security van and the driver stopped the engine.

"Now what?" Elena asked rhetorically.

She got out of the security van and waved to the driver and passenger. The lady got out from the passenger side and walked over, followed by the driver, who touted a metal briefcase.

"Can I help you?" Elena asked the guy.

"Hi, I'm Trent. This is my wife Rysalyn." he introduced them.

"Hi. It is nice to meet you." Rysalyn nodded to lady.

"Pleased to meet you." Elena said tritely.

"Don't trust her, she's a master of sarcasm." Dave added.

"This is probably going to sound a little strange - " Trent started.

"We're used to strange." Elena replied appearing serious.

"See, I told you." Dave added once again.

"We're here to warn you that someone might be trying to kill one of you." Trent said in all seriousness.

"Oh really? Now where did you get that idea." Elena replied sounding a bit agitated.

"Oh now you've done it." Dave stepped out from the van prodding Foller in front of him.

Trent took one look at Foller and instantly recognized him from one of the dossiers he'd found in the brief case.

"That's the guy. That's the assassin!" Trent quickly pulled out his hand gun leveling it at Foller.

"We drove a long way to help you. Take a look." Rysalyn handed Elena the picture of Foller from the briefcase.

She looked at it, squinting in disbelief when she saw it.

"Are you for real? Where did you get this?" Elena passed it to Dave.

"This looks like something Stanton would have." Dave responded.

"That's the name of the target. Stanton. Yeah. Brent Stanton. No. Brad Stanton." Trent interjected.

From out of nowhere the sound of a single shot echoed throughout the building structures of the power station and impacted Foller near his heart. He spun in place and fell motionless to the ground.

Dave ran behind the van for cover while Jen and Elena ran into the service tunnel. Trent and Rysalyn looked around in disbelief and not knowing what to do, followed Jen and Elena.

Dave peered our from behind the van not sure of what to look for.

"Ok, great. what now?" Dave asked himself.

He quickly retrieved another hand torch from the van and jumped into the service corridor.

Stanton gathered everything packing it into a small knapsack and shouldering it. He jumped back onto the computer system to check one more thing. The Operation data he'd download had indicated a world wide theatre of operation but why were almost a quarter of the operations not being carried out. Something was going on that he had missed. He logged onto the local system then onto the remote. When he got to the mission operations logon screen he found that he'd been locked out. He tried the emergency failsafe passcode again and found that it too didn't work. That could only mean one thing. A containment. He quickly tried several other operations passcodes he'd had in the past without any success. He the then checked his pockets for the notes he'd confiscated from Foller nearly two days ago. There were two words on it: darkicealpha1027 and SCARE. He typed the first one as a password and the system let him in.

"Well I'll be. Foller's playing both sides is he?" Stanton remarked aloud.

He quickly navigated the menus to the threat information center and looked up target threats by operation. He typed in the name of the master Combined Tactical Ops And Connected Services operation. The system returned a huge list of threats bearing not one common name amongst them.

"There's too many threats for one operation. There is something very wrong here." Stanton commented once again to himself.

Stanton backed up quickly noting that he had very little time before the containment package would arrive.

"We're being played against one another. All of us. Everywhere in the world. But by whom?" Stanton found his way to the global threat analysis system and searched for a common threat both tactical and systems related. The system returned a common list of names he'd seen before knowing that none of them were so organized to take on all of the global powers simultaneously when he arrived at one he hadn't seen before: SCARE.

He opened the file and examined the intel related to SCARE. It was a relatively unknown hacker group that had been working as guns for hire for any who could afford their services though audit trails and their system of payment had been particularly difficult to track as they were often paid in foreign currencies not listed on the world currency markets and for which there were little auditing services in place. Their coverage was global but they seemed to lack the resources and expertise to pose a threat of this nature to the world and its tactical and information systems. The last intel update related to their activity was more than five years old already so anything could have happened in that time.

Stanton backed up to Foller's emails. He had been in contact with someone name Denereau a few times, with what looked to be scheduled meetings. In every one of the emails the world scare was used in the context of a conversation, though often disguised as another synonym for the word scare, like fear or startle. These words were in every one of Foller's emails. Stanton downloaded all of Foller's emails and the database entry on SCARE onto his thumb drive before logging out. He then ran for the office door and through the hall in a sprint. When he made it into the service corridor, he nearly bowled Elena and Jen over as he ran.

"We've got to go. Now!" Stanton pointed them back the way they came.

"Uhhh. There's trouble outside. A sniper." Elena said to him as he ushered everyone back down the hall.

"Anyone hurt?" Stanton asked.

"Yes. Foller." Elena responded.

"Hi, I'm Trent and this is my wife Rysalyn." Trent barely had time finish.

"Hi, pleased to meet you. Lets get out of here or we're going to die." Stanton pointed them down hall once again.

When they got to the site of the bombing, Stanton stopped and quickly stripped several of the dead Tactical Ops team members of their kevlar vests, handing them out as he did and then urging them to continue.

"Quickly! Put these on. Don't go out the door. I'll take point. Only follow when me when I say." Stanton ordered.

When they arrived at the door at the end of the service corridor Stanton pulled his knapsack from his shoulder and retrieved a canister grenade from it.

"Don't worry about the smoke, you can breath it. It will give us cover. Stay close." Stanton propped the door open and tossed the canister outside close to the van and car as he could and backed up.

The smoke quickly filled the air outside and when it was thick enough Stanton ventured out, pistol drawn.

He ran out and got in the security van, started it and backed it up to the door, yelling to them to get in.

Jen, Elena and Dave ran out and got into the van while Rysalyn and Trent used the van for cover and got into their car.

"Jen, take the van and drive to the parking lot of the car dealership just down the road. I'll meet you there. I'm going on foot." Stanton jumped out careful to stay in the cover of the smoke.

The two vehicles left and Stanton waited for a moment before moving but paused when he heard a gasp in the midst of the smoke. He moved to the source of the sound and came across Foller's body still conscious. The vest, he was still wearing the vest when he was shot.

"Well Stanton, it looks like the games up doesn't it." Foller coughed as he spoke.

Stanton dragged Foller back to the corridor entry way and questioned him again as he had in the control room after the blast though with much less mirth.

"SCARE. I know about them. Tell me what you know." Stanton asked him.

"Heh, so you're in on this now too?" Foller laughed.

"I know they exist. What more can you tell me?" Stanton asked him firmly.

"They're hackers with backing. In the hacker world there's black hats and white hats. Black hats do all of the covert stuff like breaking systems stealing data etc while white hats often work to protect systems and data. They generally fight it out amongst one another harmlessly and every once in a while cause a little bit of a problem but nothing too serious. SCARE are outside of those groups. They operate with little care for the damage they cause or the death resulting from their actions. They are funded by groups with similar interests who'd like to see the entirety of society collapse and a world war break out. They've been playing us for years. Against each other, and against the other world powers. They've almost triggered WWIII several times without us even knowing it." Foller explained to Stanton.

"In 2000, we developed a strategy to deal with a scenario involving multiple world powers entering into a conflict. SCARE hacked our systems and found out about this operation. The best we figure is that they found similar such operations in other world powers and used those operations and ours to start a global conflict fanning the flames between powers. I've been working investigating their activities since 2000. They've been playing us against each other since that time. Even internally in the intelligence community and in other ways. Falsifying emails and documents or producing any kind of chaos to get the whole thing started. You and I ended up on opposite sides of the same conflict even though we're on the same team." Foller laid it out for Stanton.

"You chose conduct not befitting an operative. Do you remember the oath that we swore? Does that mean anything to you? We're here to preserve the peace and support the greater good. That means all of these people here and everywhere that want a peaceful life and to grow up and raise families of their own and enjoy their being." Stanton stared Foller down.

"You've lost that. You're still alive though and despite the fact that you tried to kill some people that I care about, you're still alive. Now's your chance to undo your actions and turn this thing around Foller. I'm not going to carry you when I leave but I'm not going to kill you. Help me turn this thing around, because we're going to need all of the help that we can get before we cross the brink." Stanton made his offer to Foller.

There was a long moment of silence between the men and Foller weighed his actions though he lacked concept of his own mortality and a sense of his place in the universe but Stanton's mercy pierced a hole in that hard and emotionless exterior awakening something in him that he'd not experienced before. A sense of belonging and being part of something greater than just himself alone.

"Alright. You're right. This isn't what I signed up for either." Foller gave his decision.

Stanton trusted him and could recognize the beginnings of a change in him.

"Have any ideas about where the sniper's setup?" Stanton asked him when he'd freed him.

"I'd say he setup from a low firing point relative to where I was hit. Across the service road in the hydro field." Foller offered.

"Alright, here's the deal. You get a gun when you've proved your loyalty. For now you get your freedom. That means I'm the fire team and you're a decoy for now." Stanton set the rules for Foller.

"Alright, lets go get them." Foller got to his feet enthusiastically as he could despite his prior wounds.

"Yes. Let's." Stanton said stepping out the door.

There was a saying they'd used in the specialist unit they were jointly a part of that went: An operative was a force to be reckoned with, two were unstoppable.

The Eyes Of A Sniper

Rysalin jumped into the passenger seat and Trent opened the front door. He stood in the doorway a moment scanning the surroundings.

"Trent, what on earth are you doing? Let's go!" Rysalin urged him.

"I just thought..." he jumped into the driver's seat and closed the door.

"Those men are professionals. Let's get to the rendezvous like Stratman said." She insisted.

"Honey, I want to keep you safe. His name's Stanton. I want to have an idea where they are so I can avoid them when I'm driving." Trent explained, his experience as a bell hop aiding him in memory of names.

"You saved me once already. From a death I am sure. Let's go and we'll talk about this when we get there." Rysalin asked him again.

"Tilt your seat back, all the way." Trent looked to her, no hint of a joke on his face.

Rysalin tilted her seat back all the way curling her leg up a bit attempting to look seductive to him.

"Better?" She said in her cutest voice.

"Thanks honey. That's going to be with me for a while. We'll finish that when we're safe...." Trent said confidently, a quality that she liked to see in him.

He started the car and pressed the accelerator pushing the car forward down the parking lot towards the driveway. The security van followed a short distance behind them, Dave driving and Elena in the passenger seat and Jen in the back.

They arrived at the driveway which lead out onto a small road which fed out onto one of the main roads for the area. Across the road from the driveway and power plant was a hydro field which was populated by two hydro towers, a utility building and a patchwork of trees and bushes. Trent floored the accelerator and the car peeled out onto the road with the security van just behind still keeping up. When they arrived at the intersection to the main road, Trent looked carefully out to the barrent road and started his turn. Part way through it he felt a tremendous pain in his shoulder.

"Trent! You're hit!" Rysalin screamed.

"It's ok honey. Stay down. Not much farther." he grimaced, the pain stinging his eyes.

The van pulled up beside the car and kept pace, blocking the their car from the view of the site of the sniper. They drove for ten minutes wary of the next shot from the sniper's weapon but none came. They pulled into the gas station, which was closed but in this time that didn't matter. There was a four door luxury car in one of the refuelling lanes filling up on premium unleaded, the owner spying the car and the security van as they pulled in and came to a stop. Dave and Elena stepped out of the van rushing over to the car.

"I'm going to pay. Honest. I was going to leave an IOU under the door, here see?" the man filling his tanks pulled a note out and held it up.

Dave looked to him for a moment shaking his head before turning to Trent.

"We need to get your jacket off." Dave yelled to Trent, who was clearly part way into shock.

"Awww man. I just got it. I kind of like it. Don't you?" Trent replied, shivering and shaking as he did.

Rysalin helped pry Trent's jacket off followed by his shirt. Dave examined his wound which was deep and a little more that superficial.

"Uhhh, excuse me. Maybe I can help you? I'm a doctor." the man stepped up to Trent examining his shoulder.

Dave stepped aside letting the man take a closer examination of Trent's condition.

"Nothing serious. Though its going to be sore for a week or two. It will need some stitches too. I've got a kit on me." the man stepped back to his car and came back with a case.

"Thanks doctor. How much do we owe you? Honey, do we have enough on our credit cards to cover this?" Trent joked to Rysalin.

"This one's on me. Now hold still, this is going to sting a bit." the doctor said as he cleaned the wound and stitched it in all of ten minutes.

"Here. If the pain gets bad, just rub some of this in the area. Its a strong local." the doctor handed Trent a packaged swab.

"Thanks again doctor. If you don't mind I think that I want to rest for a few minutes." Trent said grabbing Rysalin's hand.

The doctor closed the car door and left them to their peace.

"Thanks Doctor. What brings you out here at this time and during the end?" Dave shook his hand.

"I was out this way for a medical conference and then this mess went and happened. I stayed in my room for a few days until I though things had cooled just enough for me to drive back home. The main highway is so filled with abandoned cars that I couldn't make it back so here I am." the doctor explained.

"You do understand that you're a valuable man in these times?" Dave said trying to be courteous.

"Are you kidding? I'm a valuable man in any time." The Doctor said truthfully smiling at Dave.

"Look, if you have nowhere to go, you are more than welcome to join our entourage." Dave offered.

"You'll have give me some time to think about that offer." The Doctor replied.

"I'm Elena." She extended her hand.

"I'm Dan Wesnem. Doctor Wesnem, but you can call me Dan, or just Doctor if you'd like." He said sincerely pleased to meet her.

"That's Jennifer in the van. You already met Rysalin and Trent and I'm Dave." Dave finished the introductions.

"We're just waiting for one of our friends to come back. He shouldn't be long." Elena told the Doctor.

"That should give me long enough to decide whether I'll join you or not." The Doctor replied.

"Sounds good to me." Dave finished up and went back to the van.

"Where's the phone, I've got to call Carol before she gives up on me altogether." Dave asked Elena.

"Here you go. Say hi to Carol for me. I'm going to sit in the back with Jen." Elena handed Dave the cellular.

Dave called and talked to Carol for the second time since the world had taken a trip into the twilight zone, and she was just as happy to hear from him as she was the first time. Trent rested uneasily for a few moments with Rysalin who stroked his chest gently from their reclined seats. Jen tried to rest in the back of the van, still worried for her dad. Unbeknownst to Jen, her dad was about to change the tide of this battle.

The Sniper's Nest

Stanton crossed the field quickly with Foller, leap frogging their progress towards the utility building. The plan was that the sniper and the sniper's support team would be busy searching for signs of Foller or Stanton at the rendezvous point. Stanton had picked that location specifically for as it was not accessible from the presumed location of their sniper. The sniper had specifically targeted Foller and most definitely were after him. This was a cleanup team sent to erase them from existence and they only had a little time left before the clean up package would arrive at the Power facility. They'd need to be at least part way to the rendezvous point to be in the zone of safety. Stanton and Foller had to do little to communicate as they were both on the same page in this scenario tactically. The clean-up crew likely didn't have the key to this little utility building and they certainly wouldn't have known to look for it or where they'd find it in the Power facility. That means they had to blow the lock, meaning that chances are it would still be blown.

The sniper sat atop the utility building with his target reticle focused near the rendezvous point. He scanned for any signs of Stanton with little success as the group had parked just out of view behind the far side of the service station.

"No sign of our tangos." he reluctantly reported to their crew chief who was perched behind a large ventilation fan beside the rooftop door.

"They'll be there. We saw them drive off together. They know where we are. They'll be looking for a clean shot at us. The snitch back at the department store told us the best hardware he'd seen them with was a SMG and possibly a low calibre hunting rifle. They'll have to expose themselves in order to take a shot. They can't leave that place without exposing themselves to us. They're done. We just have to wait. Ain't that right Wally?" The crew chief sat enjoying the last of a can of soda pop.

Wally was on the other side of the utility fan was keeping watch of the ground between the utility building and the rendezvous point with a clear shot at anything coming from the direction long before it got close to the building.

"That's right Cappy." Wally replied confidently to the crew chief.

"This is just a game of wait and watch." Cappy replied somewhat bored as he cracked his knuckles.

"I've got movement. One of the women. Just a bit in view. Looks like she's making a trip to the girlie's room." The sniper reported to Cappy.

"That's enough voyeurism there. We're looking for our pay day not a peep show. They're not on that target list." Cappy replied.

"Just thought you might like to know." The sniper responded professionally, not even smiling.

Downstairs inside of the utility building itself two men sat on a pair of crates tossing bolts across the room at one of the walls, trying to land closer to the wall than their opponent.

"That's a clear win! That's way closer." One of them said to the other.

There was a noise from the ground door of the building.

"Go check it out." One of the men told the other.

"What? The wall or the door?" Asked the other.

"Both." Came the response.

The other man stood and checked the wall noting that his bolt was closer than his opponents.

"You're bolt is way farther than mine. I won that one." He said as he made his way to check the sound from the door.

"Liar." Replied the other man, still seated on his crate.

They had no reason to be alarmed as the lookouts on the roof would have let them know if any of their tangos had made it close to the building. He stepped out of door leaving the other man alone in the dimly lit utility building. As the door closed behind him he was blind sided by Foller efficiently rending him unconscious while Stanton caught the man as he fell, no sound made. Foller duct taped his mouth and twist tied his arms and legs together leaving him on the ground beside the door as he knocked on it. Stanton stepped into position on the other side of the door.

A moment later the door opened and the man who'd opened it caught sight of his team mate tied up and unconscious on the ground. In half the time it took him to inhale a breath to call out for the rest of the team he was unconscious, this time Foller catching him before he hit the ground again without a sound. A few seconds later both were inside of the utility building, gagged and bound.

The next step would be much more difficult as the access to the roof was gained via a steel ladder. There was only a tiny landing from where the two men could stage a breach though they'd already devised a plan without speaking a word. Stanton handed a grenade and Foller's Glock back to him. Foller affixed the silencer attachment and stepped over to the ladder and climbed up to the landing. Meanwhile Stanton left the building carefully carrying one of the crates out the door, placing it against the wall outside taller end up. Standing on it he could reach the roof of the building with little effort.

He'd placed the crate on the opposite side of the building from the rendezvous point, knowing they'd be reconnoitring that direction meaning he'd be taking them from their blind side. He prepared his Beretta and waited for Foller's signal. It would be pretty hard to miss.

Cappy sat against the wall a few feet from the door as it opened and a small cylindrical objected rolled out onto the roof. Cappy shook his head not believing what he was seeing before he recognized it.

"Grenade!" He yelled as he stood diving for the edge of the utility building roof. Wally launched himself over the edge while the sniper just stood and dived as the grenade exploded.

Cappy landed and rolled successfully avoiding injury. Wally careened into the ground shoulder first and was incapacitated with a broken collar bone. The sniper had been winded by the concussion grenade as he dove for the edge and landed flat on the ground gasping for air. Stanton was on the roof three seconds after the grenade had gone off and tactically scanning for any strays on the roof though he already knew there would be none.

Foller was already out of the roof door and making his way for the edge where the sniper had bailed to the ground. Foller leapt off the edge with precision and grace. He landed on the ground airborne style, knees absorbing the fall tucking into a roll with the momentum carrying him back onto his feet. He levelled the Glock at the sniper who was still gasping for air.

"Bet that felt good. Nice shot at the Power station by the way. If you were any closer to me when you fired it, that round might have punctured my armour. On your stomach! Now!" Foller yelled at the sniper sarcastically keeping the Glock levelled at him.

The sniper rolled over onto his stomach as Foller had ordered him and put his hands behind his back.

"They'll get you. Maybe we didn't but they will." The sniper coughed taking in another volume of air finally catching his breath.

"Not if I get them first." Foller mused happily as he tied the sniper's hands together.

Stanton had run to the edge in search of the crew leader spying him as Cappy landed on the ground safely and professionally. He was a large man, a bit bulkier than Stanton and about a decade younger.

Stanton leapt off of the roof attempting to flying tackle Cappy. Cappy caught sight of the agent and dodged throwing Stanton over his head and to the ground. Stanton landed rolling sideways back onto his feet levelling his Beretta at the larger man.

"On the ground! Do it!" Stanton yelled barely having time to finish before Cappy swiped the gun sideways pushing himself into striking distance of Stanton's head.

The punch came quick and hard, sending Stanton backwards rolling over and once again onto his feet ready. Cappy threw a thrust kick at Stanton's abdomen throwing him back again and to the ground. Stanton once again loosed himself rather than tightening against the force of the impact causing him little damage. Once again he rolled quickly to his feet grabbing hold of Cappy, redirecting his momentum to Cappy's arm as it twisted. Cappy screamed in pain as the socket of his shoulder joint grinded against nerve tissue and bone. Stanton took advantage of his minor victory throwing Cappy backwards and off balance sending him to the ground.

Cappy hung onto Stanton pulling him down as well though Stanton once again followed the momentum rolling over Cappy's head and landing on his feet again. He quickly put his foot onto Cappy's exposed neck catching Cappy's leg as it flew toward his exposed side. Cappy's other leg clipped Stanton's chin, stunning him sending him backward. Stanton shook off the pain and stood defensively as Cappy got to his feet aiming Stanton's Berretta at Stanton.

"You're good old timer. I'll give you that." Cappy said to Stanton trying not to relinquish control of the situation.

"You're right about the good part." Stanton replied.

"You won't be stopping us today." Cappy stared Stanton down.

"No, but I will. Now leave my old timer alone and pick on someone your own age." Foller said twenty feet from Cappy's right flank.

Cappy turned his head to evaluate his disadvantage.

"That's far enough. If you drop yours, I'll drop mine. And I don't mean our trousers." Foller spoke confidently.


"Good move." Cappy smiled before spinning to take a shot at Foller.

Foller pulled the trigger at the same time as Cappy's attempt to line him up. Cappy fired his shot first hitting Foller in the body armour. Foller winced in pain as it impacted pulling the trigger to his Glock but once again nothing happening.

Stanton was already running for Cappy as his attention was on Foller. Stanton tackled Cappy to the ground and landing on top of him. Stanton drove several punches to Cappy's face, quickly rending him unconscious.

"What was that all about! I thought that you trusted me? No ammo? Come on!" Foller yelled at Stanton who was busy getting Cappy tied up.

"I didn't think you'd need it." Stanton replied.

"I'm flattered but we almost did." Foller countered.

"Let's discuss this later. You remember what's on the way, don't you?" Stanton reminded Foller.

"Oh shi..." Foller said as he spied a large aircraft approaching in the distance.

Stanton heard it and grabbed Cappy by the collar and ran dragging him towards the utility building.

"Get the sniper. I'll get the other one. Hurry!" Stanton screamed at Foller who jumped into action.

Stanton threw open the door to the utility building throwing Cappy through it before running for the other side of the building.

Foller got to the sniper cutting his leg bindings.

"I don't know why I'm doing this, but get to the utility building now!" Foller yelled at the sniper who wasted no time running for the utility building hearing the sound of the approaching aircraft.

Stanton threw Wally onto his shoulder and ran for the utility building. Wally screamed and cried in pain as his collar bone dug into the muscle tissue on his chest.

Foller and Stanton arrived at the door simultaneously, Foller opening the door for Stanton who threw Wally off of his shoulder into the doorway.

The aircraft flew over the Power facility dropping its solitary package a trio of tiny parachutes slowing the descent of the package to the Power station reactor.

Stanton was through the door pulling Foller in behind him.

There was a moment of silence as time stood still and the air around them compressed with crushing pressure.

The blast came first instantaneously throwing the utility building door off its hinges sending it flying at Foller. It impacted his back shielding Stanton from its force throwing them both towards the wall. They both impacted, the door flying behind them as they fell unconscious.

At the rendezvous point they had been relaxing in the vehicles when the munition detonated. The windows to the service station exploded sending glass shards flying everywhere. Elena had just finished washing up in the bathroom when the force of the explosion sent her stumbling backward. She caught her balance hanging onto the wall as the forces shredded the area around the service station. Inside of the car Dave had jumped at the sound of the blast, the vehicle's windows remaining intact though a few had visible impact webs and cracks.

Trent remained deep asleep thanks to the pain killer the Doctor had given him though Rysalin latched onto him tightly as the air flew past outside their car. She could clearly see that the Power station itself was levelled and on fire.

"Trent! Trent!" Rysalin said to Trent shaking him a couple times trying to rouse him.

He moaned but remained unconscious.

Doctor Dan had been reading a medical journal in his car when the blast hit them. He dropped it looking towards the recently disappeared Power station in disbelief.

"Dad!" Jen threw the security van door open leaping out in a sprint towards the utility building very obviously in shock.

"Wait! Its way too dangerous!" Dave yelled jumping out of the van as he tried to keep up with her.

He'd worked in the Power plant his whole life and had known that despite the fact that there was little risk of contamination as the reactor was based upon fossil fuels. The majority of the danger would come from smoke inhalation as a result of the fires and the sniper. That is if the sniper had survived Stanton or the explosion. In a brief moment of irony, Dave thought to himself that the odds didn't look so good for the sniper.

Jen kept running for the utility building despite Dave's warnings. Dave stopped at the door to the women's bathroom at the service station and started banging on it.

"Elena! Elena!" he screamed as he pounded on the women's bathroom door.

The door opened revealing a shaken Elena who grabbed Dave hugging him tightly.

"Wow. That was some bowel movement! I'm ok. How are..." She saw Jen running in the direction of utility building.

"Stanton! We have to find Stanton!" Elena let go of Dave and started running after Jen.

"You heard what he said! To wait here for him! You could die of asphyxiation. The sniper could still be there!" Dave yelled after her.

Frustrated, he began to sprint after her.

Rysalin thinking on her feet, pulled Trent into the passenger's seat and took hold of the steering wheel starting the car. She pulled up beside the Doctor honking the horn and gestured him to follow. He nodded, started his own car and followed Rysalin as she pulled out across the street and onto the field towards the utility building. The car crashed up and over the curb bouncing uncontrollably as it did. Rysalin hit the accelerator and hung on to the steering wheel trying to maintain control of the vehicle. When she got to Dave and Elena she stopped the car and honked the horn. Dave and Elena immediately ran around to the side and got in the back seat. Dave barely had the door closed as Rysalin sped off towards Jen.

"Good thinking! You're hired." Dave said to Rysalin as he caught his breath.

"You're going to hire me? I don't think so but maybe I might hire you if you're a good boy." Rysalin replied.

"Maybe we'll hire him." Elena added her conjecture.

"Agreed. We it is." Rysalin nodded visibly to Elena in the rear view mirror.

Rysalin honked the horn furiously at Jen, who upon hearing it was startled back to reality. The car pulled up behind her and sliding to a stop on the grass, bits of burning debris littered the field. Jen ran around the car to the back seat jumping in with Elena and Dave as they sped off, the Doctor following behind them.

The car slid once more just barely missing the utility building coming to a stop ten feet from the door way. Elena didn't wait for the car to stop before she was out and was already at the doorway to the utility building. She stepped in and her eyes slowly adjusted to the dimly lit room. There were several people on the floor tied up and she felt a moment of relief.

"They got the sniper!" She yelled back to her friends who stepped in behind her.

"See, I told you they would." Dave replied oblivious to his prior pleadings.

They split up searching the room and turning over debris when Rysalin pulled the door and saw Stanton.

"He's here!" Rysalin shouted.

Jen, Elena and Dave made their way to the opposite wall seeing the Foller's body lying atop of Stanton's and both motionless. Rysalin rolled Foller onto his back beside Stanton as the Doctor entered the building a medical case in hand.

Foller had a large gash on his head and several bruises on his face. Stanton's face was bruised around his cheek bone and a large goose egg began to form on his forehead. They made room for the Doctor who sat between them tending to Stanton's head.

"Looks like a concussion. Possible fracture of the cheek bone." The Doctor told them as he examined for any signs of breakage or bleeding.

He opened his kit and pulled a cold compress for Stanton's head.

"Hold that there while I stitch him up." The Doctor told Jen.

"Meanwhile I want you to clean up the other man here. His injuries appear to be superficial. I'll patch him up in a second." The Doctor told Dave and Elena.

"Why we should patch him up is beyond me considering what happened to Matt." Dave spat on the ground next to Foller.

"Let's just get it done, Dave." Elena told Dave flatly.

As Elena and Dave tended to his wounds, Foller awoken attempting to sit up.

"Whoa. Easy there. As much as I'd like to see you hurt a little bit more, you don't want to make things worse." Dave said to Foller scornfully.

Foller lay back down, his head on the cold concrete.

"Where's Stanton?" Foller asked ignoring Dave's comment completely.

"He's undergoing treatment right now." Elena answered him.

"How bad?" Foller asked.

"Not so bad though he might be unconscious for a while." The Doctor answered him not knowing much about their history or the tension between Foller and the rest.

"Who are your bondage buddies here?" Dave asked Foller who leaned his head up to take a peek.

"The big one was the crew leader. The tall skinny one was the sniper. The others are support crew. They were setup on the roof..." Foller tried to finish before Dave stopped him.

"...And Stanton finished them." Dave spoke unwilling to listen to Foller.

"Yeah... but he had a little help..." Foller tried to explain and defend himself.

"That detonator you used a couple of days ago killed one of my best friends. I don't like you and I don't see that changing for the foreseeable future." Dave told him plainly with a serving of cold.

"Likewise." Elena told Foller.

"It was Stanton's bomb that killed your friend, not mine. At that point I was just finishing what Stanton couldn't. His mission. His job. I was a different man at that point. Just like the Stanton you took down. We're both different people from when we started out on this mess. You can trust Stanton but you can't trust me? I think you're just used to not liking me." Foller explained to Elena and Dave, though more looking to Elena with a serious intensity.

"I couldn't have said it better." Elena's words hit him like the utility room door had minutes earlier.

Remption And Education

Elena had suddenly inherited charge of Stanton's well being as well as watch over Foller, who she'd understood as a traitor while he'd understood himself in the context of the likes of Stanton. He thought himself a hero while those around him thought him a pariah. Why had they taken to Stanton so easily but no him? Sure Matt had found his end by the premature ejaculation of one of Stanton's devices, but did that make him responsible? What made Stanton, who had initially set out to kill them all if necessary but had somehow ended up their leader and idol. Foller who had followed orders in preservation of his command structure had somehow ended up a criminal. While Stanton slept, Foller thought he'd put his little theory to the test amongst his supposed morally sound keepers. He was a hero that had returned to a world that was much different than the one that had committed him to war. Why had they forsaken him? Was it Stanton's charisma or his lack thereof? They both had been charged with the protection of the systen and their fellow country persons and both had exceedded as such. Why was he the bad guy? He'd not known about Matt's death against the wall but he'd not known much. But then again they'd not known about their director's death at the hands of Stanton. Why was he right and he wrong?

"You're wrong about me. Stanton and I are a product of the same thing." Foller scalded Elena, who'd somehow ended up with Stanton's burden.

"No. You and Stanton are different. I don't know how right now. But I'll come up with it. Until he's awake, I'm in charge. Whether you're a super soldier like him or not." Elena responded, now aware of the responsibility that she'd inherited.

"Aye aye." Foller said, saluting Elena mockingly.

"I don't like this jerk." Rysalyn responded to Elena.

"We need him until Stanton's awake." Elena responded knowing that what she'd said was a lie. He was a part of the team until they'd been wholly dispatched.

Jennifer arched herself over her father's fallen body continually trying to revive him.

The Doctor had gestured to her it was hopeless though she'd never given up on her father.

"So who's in charge now?" Dave asked sarcastically from the background.

"I'm running the show until Stanton's with us." Elena proclaimed, unafraid to take command in these demanding circumstances.

"Aye aye." Dave signalled mockingly.

Elena instantly thought about the time they'd been together before Dave had met Carol. She'd been tied to the bed in her garters and stockings, waiting earnestly for him while he doused himself in confidence. She was ready for him but he wasn't ready for her.

"You know the answer to that one Elena." Dave answered.

"You're still the same. Regardless of the situation you still refuse to make a decision. Ok Dave. I'm in charge until Stanton wakes up. It's a wonder that Carol puts up with you." Elena barked at him.

"Carol's just fine with me. You're just not fine with yourself Elena.Face it." Dave said defensively as he remembered her tied to the hotel room bed in her garters and stockings.

"Christ Dave. I did that for you. I loved you. Does Carol even know what you like or is she just a show piece for the rest of your engineering buddies?" Elena asked him unbelieving of his attitude.

"Damn you Elena! Carol is more to me than you know!" Dave barked at her.

"Is she?" Elena returned quickly.

"Damn you Elena! I send you the signals for years. From our first class together to our first pairing in the plant. You just see every encounter as a trophy piece for your sexual display case! I wanted you in more ways than that. Why didn't you realise that was why I moved on?" Dave pleaded to her.

"For Christ's sake Dave, I was tied to the bed!" Elena responded.

"Well God Damn it! I was tied to you. But you didn't really care!" Dave came back, a little bit of harshness in his emotion.

"Well I guess we both lost then. Didn't we?" Elena came back,

"No Elena. You lost. Carol won." Dave reminded her.

"No. Stanton won, but he's down. I'm in charge now." Elena replied fully alive,

Dave paused, thinking of Carol.

"You're right. Do well by us all. Carol too." Dave held his head down.

"Are we there yet?" Trent asked as he fell head first forward to the ground after having walked in delirium from the car to the utility building where the group had now resided.

"We're there baby." Rysalin replied, catching him.

"We're wherever you want to be." She continued.

"You see Elena. That's the kind of attitude you needed! We might have worked!" Dave barked at Elena.

"We did Dave. Just in a different way than you and Carol did." Elena replied.

Cale's Colleagues

"Yeah! I did it! I'm in as root." The voice came back through Cale's earset.

"Nope. Nothing on this one. Just time keeping and janitorial records." the voice returned.

"That's good. Good work." Cale replied, his wheel chair motors rotating his chair in response.

"What are you man? c'mon? We're s'posed to be take them down. Not keeping them warm, worm." The voice came back at Cale through the headset.

Cale paused and didn't answer as he did with many yaks. Yaks were people who just spoke but provided no value as such.

"Don't worry Cale baby. I gotcha babe." the voice came back much like an emoticon in the face of someone whose legs had been wheels since he was ten. Around the time he'd lost his mother.

Cale, being of Ethiopian African origins who'd been largely underestimated his whole life had navigated his way around prejudice there through and thereof. His biggest fan and supporter had died when he'd lost his legs at the tender age of ten. His Mother forever gone but her message embedded upon him from that point through her dream, or was it his? None the less he'd kept his promise despite its ambiguity.

His four biggest supporters in turn had been an esteemed Chinese contract hacker who'd done work for his Government as well as for counter insurgent activity on many continents, a games programmer from Japan with unfathomable skills and spacial concepts, a linguistics specialist from Germany who'd taken interest in Cale from the time of his accident. and finally a software hacker fron India whose interests were ambitious but talents were astounding amongst their pact.

Cale had been a modest mathematician his whole life though he largely underestimated his own ability largely because of the prejudice pressed against him on the basis his physical disability as well as his chosen vocation and because of his origins. He'd fought against this his whole life with the help of those who'd supported him but it was still a difficult path. He continued along heeding his mother's advice from the time of the accident and improving his ability in his skill and unique insight.

"Mom, why do I have to do this alone Ma? You know I'm a good one Ma? God knows I'm good doesn't she? Then why if I'm so good do I have to do this alone Ma?" Cale would ask to her.

He would ask to them.

"Because Cale. That's the way of God's plan. You are part of God's plan sometimes and sometimes other people are. Just like in the Hospital. All those nice people. They might not believe in God's plan, but they believe in life. They are good. They study and they believe in life and because of that, you're here. Now you have to justify their effort, otherwise they did everything for you, and for everyone else, but it came out all for nothing. God don't want us to not learn. God wants us to be our best. The best that we can be and to be that and be loving. But you have to believe in you, just like God does." She would answer doing her best to speak for the almighty and represent her well and represent her own values and expectations of her son despite the fact that his spinal cord had been severed as a result of their accident years ago.

"But why did God make me so good at figuring stuff of math and kinematics when I can't move my lower body at all." Cale asked.

"To overcome your limits. If you can't believe in you, how can anybody else?" Cale's Mother answered.

"But if God wants me to be better, then why can't you be here Momma?" Cale asked her.

"Because God took me away in the accident Cale. But only so you could be your best and be your best for you, and me. You be your best for both of us and you'll be the bridge for us all." His Mother answered.

Cale often felt less than he could be, but partly because of sympathy for his condition. He knew he did not need their help to assist him being his best, but stigma often was as damaging in either direction whether for or against.

"So Shiow. How long before you've check them all?" Cale asked the hotshot hacker.

"That's Sheh-Shiow to you my friend after all this is a learning experience. About forty minutes. Maybe sooner. It's the top remember?" Sheshow came back to him through the earset.

"You're the best there is Shiow. Thank you. My mom thanks you." Cale wheeled back into position before his screen.

"So do you want to make me a criminal to the authorities too?" Shiow asked Cale.

"No. We're in this together." he responded to Shiow.

"Ok, so if we get busted you're my Cell mate. I think we've got something here but I need more time to check it out you two bit hacker." Shiow responded to Cale.

"That's three bit to you friend." Cale responded wheeling himself back to his computer.

"Yep. Three to the east." Shiow replied egotistically.

Foller's Redemption

Elena kept her eyes upon Foller as the group carried Stanton's lifeless and unconscious body back to the van.

"Prick!" Dave mouthed to Foller.

Foller held his tongue for he'd been through far worse than to be accosted verbally by an electrical engineer.

Jennifer placed Stanton comfortably in the back of the van as the group figured out the next step.

"He'll be ok. He's under the effects of a concussion. I can't believe he's alive but he'll pull though." the Doctor offered the group.

"I'll take him awake any day Doc." Elena told him bluntly.

"He's a hero and you are all sending him away like he's no good? You're no good!" Rysalyn responded her accent heavy.

Trevor kissed his wife struggling to her side.

"Look. Stanton was scheduled to be killed by this guy. It's right here. He's no good." Trevor told the group.

"You were asleep half the time. What do you know. Your girlfriend speaks five languages and you speak one. Point made." Elena responded sarcastically.

"No. He speaks two. English and the language of love better than any of you do." Rysalyn answered them speaking in defense of Trent.

"Well I'd say that the language of love is not needed in this world." Foller answered Ryslyn.

"If not now, then more than ever!" reponded the Doctor.

"I think the point is that Stanton led the way for us giving us a direction and making all the decisions that we didn't want to make. Now that he's gone for the time, we have to do it for ourselves. Stick with his plan until he's back with us. He'd want us to that much." Dave said honestly trying to diffuse a stand-off between Rysalyn and Elena.

Elena looked at Rysalyn with a little bit of contempt, perhaps even jealousy that she'd been able to find love in a world on the brink of destruction. Rysalyn held her gaze unyielding before Elena finally turned realizing the scorn she held was meant for Foller. He'd taken Stanton away from them. From her. Maybe that's what hurt the most but for the time they needed to deal with this constructively. Stanton had been onto a solution, a way out of this storm. They had to follow in his steps until he returned to them from the land of nod.

Dave walked over to Elena and pulled her aside from the rest of the group, who were busy gathering their things together in preparation for the next step in their journey.

"There's been something that I've been meaning to tell you. I know its a bad time but I'm going to leave the group. I've gotta get back to Carol and the kids and I'm worried sick about them." Dave said looking over to the field and the burning remains of the Power Station, his former place of employ.

Elena looked at Dave, a tear drop welled up in her eye and she opened her arms up to hug him. He looked down unable to look her in the eyes, opening his arms he accepted her as she wept on his shoulder.

"It's Ok. You'll be alright. They're in good hands with you and they need you. Besides, I'll stay with you by phone. You've just got to remember to keep it charged and I'm a phone call away." Dave rubbed her hair and her back as comforting as he could.

She pulled away from him when she'd gotten it all out.

"You should have gone a long time ago. You've already over stayed your welcome anyway." she said smiling at him as she wiped her nose with a cloth she drew from her pocket.

"I'll even drive for the trip there. Besides, you and the whole gang can come in and get geared up if you'd like. We've got months worth of food in the house and freezer. I've got some spare tools and other goods you could use. You could even sleep in a warm house for a night." he offered.

"Sounds like a plan. You can drive." Elena told him.

She turned around and raised her voice.

"Listen up. We're going to accept a kind invite to Dave's palace and bunk there for the night and leave in the morning. Its about a half hour's drive from here and its comfortable with plenty of room for all of us." Elena stepped over to the security van and sat down in the passenger's seat.

"Let me tell you, I am so looking forward to a barbecue." Dave said rubbing his stomach.

"I thought you were going to say back rub." Elena scoffed at him.

"That too." Dave said with a big smile, rubbing his hands together in anticipation of his night.

Foller leaned against the security van, eyeing the two and shooting glances to Rysalyn, occasionally puckering his lips as if to blow her a kiss. She caught him once, throwing him a grimaced expression which he ignored completely.

"Hey Troy! Why aren't you getting busy with a lady as fine as her right now?" he asked looking to Trent who sat in the driver's seat of his car.

He looked over slowly and stepped out of the car. He walked slowly and as menacingly as he could to a highly trained covert operations specialist/assassin.

"The name's Trent. If I catch you checking out my wife like that or making those kinds of faces to her again, I'll kill you." he said drawing on a character he'd written from one of his plays.

"Was that in the script, fluff boy?" Foller looked unimpressed with Trent's display.

He stared Trent down before speaking.

"I've killed for less and that's not a joke. I understand that you're putting on a show for your wife, and you want to impress her and prove yourself to her. Let me tell you something. You're not impressing her. She can see through you. She's a woman. You're really trying to impress yourself and then looking for her approval because Trent, you haven't grown up yet. You're still a boy. A little boy in a late twenty something year old body. If you want to grow up and be a man, a real man. I'll be waiting. I can show you how. I know tricks that would blow your mind and make you the deadliest of your friends, assuming they're still alive. Until you want that bad enough, go back over to your make believe world there with your full grown woman wife, who is more like your mother, and live in your dream. I'm here in the real world and I'm the real deal. No television stories or movie of the week here. I'm the guy that they base all those spy movie guys on. In the flesh. In the blink of an eye, I could mow down this entire group with less effort than I spent giving you this speech. I am the genie. Don't be foolish enough to break the bottle." Foller grinned showing no teeth much to Trent's frustration.

"Well mister real deal, you're only talking like that because you're a wanna be, and the real deal is taking a noggin' nap because he tried to save you and some others from that bomb blast and those snipers. Besides, I have the paper work that says you were hired to kill him, probably while sneaking up on him from behind and when he least expected it. I'd put my bets on him versus you any day. When he wakes up, I'll base my next story on him and his kind of morality and character, not you. You've got no competition so you're just trying to be the hotshot while he recuperates. Besides I've been offing characters like you for a long time and more quickly than you ever could, with nothing but my pen or my keyboard and word processor. The pen is mightier than sword, but its nothing without the man who wields it." Trent held his ground against his toughest opponent.

"I've killed somebody with a pen. I drove it into his eye and up through the eye socket lining and into his frontal lobe. He didn't die quickly but he died without a peep. Quiet as a mouse. Spasmed a few times too. I was mighty proud of that one." Foller said apparently unphased by Trent's rebuttal but the truth was it scored a direct hit on his ego as much as Foller's statement had with him.

They stood staring at one another for the moment knowing the truth about each other. Trent was the second rate man-boy husband of a beautiful and multi-talented woman of international origins while Foller was the second rate self effacing agent beside the morally superior and driven veteran agent and engineer Stanton. They stood psychologically naked before each other in realization of the fact of how much they were alike. Trent was truly as deadly with his pen in verse as Foller was in murder, and with many other common household items yet their sense of purpose and sense of self worth was the same. Much as their sense of how society valued what each had to offer. They knew they had much to offer one another and kept this realization of union of character quiet.

"Besides. I'm the one going back to my beautiful wife. What about you?" Trent asked him in a somewhat rhetorical manner, pulling a pen from his pocket and tossing it to Foller.

"Just in case you want to get even with me. Wait until my back is turned though, like you probably tried with Stanton." Trent turned walking back to the car, Rysalyn peered over her shoulder from the passenger seat having heard a little of their conversation but having understood far more than Trent knew.

Foller examined the pen, seeing the Grand Garden Suites hotel logo remembering that as the meeting spot where he was supposed to pick up his counter-intelligence assignment and assassination gig to take out Stanton.

"I'm impressed kid. Not bad for an amateur. I'd train you any day." Foller offered in an attempt to regain the power he'd lost.

Trent kept walking pretending to ignore him but giving credence to Foller's offer.

"You've got until the count of three to get into the van or I'll kill you myself." Elena said to Foller, stepping out of the passenger side of the security van with Stanton's Beretta in hand.

"With Stanton's gun too. Now that's irony!" Foller said as he slowly and deliberately worked his way around to the side door of the van.

He slipped in the door and into the back seat, turning to Jennifer.

"Like my little pun there? Stanton's gun. Irony." he paused a moment as Jennifer stared back at him unmoved.

"You know. A gun. Irony. A gun is made of iron... I thought it worked on a few levels... Guess not." he said digging deep for a reaction from anyone.

"Don't you dare try anything or I'll rip your eyes out!" Jennifer spat at Foller as he stepped into the back of the van.

Stanton was stretched out in the back on a make shift bed, a brace held him and his neck in place. Jennifer sat beside him leaned against the equipment shelf in the van keeping a close watch on him.

"I guess I'm in the hot seat today." Foller said to her trying to get a rise out of her.

She shook her head and looked to her dad's motionless body and then back to Foller with a sinister look on her face.

Trent pulled out onto the road, followed by the Doctor, both waiting for the security van to pass. Dave pulled out onto the road from the service station and the trio of vehicles formed up and progressed on their voyage to 36 Darcy Crescent in the suburbs. To the place Dave called home. Dave had the urge to call and ask if they needed anything but thought he'd wait until he got there to surprise his wife and kids. They loved surprises.

The Nomads

The emergency vehicles flew around the corner just outside of the stadium. The Police cars and three ATAC vans pulled up. The fire trucks pulled in next, all six of them followed by a group of ambulance and medical trucks. The entire group got out almost simultaneously, taking cover behind their vehicles.

"This is the closest entry ramp. We should be able to gain entry from here. Team one will set up at the top of ramp sixty one and team two will cover. Team three will proceed to point and reconnoitre the situation and report back. They know we're here so we need to be cautious. No way around that until society gets back on its feet." the lieutenant spoke over his headset to the entire team and emergency personnel.

"Wendy? Can you and your team get up and into the hotel area? Maybe get at some fire hoses? Use them for suppression if you can when we signal you. I'll send Frank and his team with you." the lieutenant signalled one of the fire crew chiefs.

"Can do." Wendy replied through her headset.

"That's why I love ya sweetheart." the lieutenant addressed Wendy.

"What about me chief. Do ya love me too?" asked Carsen from one of the other fire trucks.

"Sure, but only if you help Wendy and her crew get those hoses in operation. Ya got that?" the lieutenant gave his instructions.

"We're on it." Wendy came back.

"Frank. Would you be a gentleman and take your team and escort Wendy and her team through the hotel? Just in case?" the lieutenant asked the Constable.

"Ready when you are." Frank came back over the headset.

"Sherri. You'll let us know if the WiredEyez spot anything else as we proceed?" the lieutenant asked Sherri.

"Will do chief. I'm on irc and video relay chat with one of them now. They say its Ok to go." Sherri responded.

"I've got the hotel and they say its clear." Randy spoke into his headset from beside Sherri.

The two of them texting another team elsewhere from their workstations inside one of the vans.

"All right. Let's move it. Peter, we'll let you know as soon as the coast is clear. There's definitely some injuries in there so be ready." the lieutenant told him.

"We're getting set up now. Just give us the word and we're in there." the medical crew chief came back over the headset.

Two of the ATAC squads left on their mission to secure ramp sixty one for team three's entry. Wendy and her crew of fire fighters followed Frank and two other cops to the hotel entrance.

Squad one peaked the ramp while squad two covered them from behind some concrete planters on either side of the ramp. Team three started their haul up the ramp once team one was in place.

"You're looking clear for entry into the stadium. Wait. Hostage. Hostage. Tango. Three O'clock from entry point. Can't see the other Tangos. They're by the restaurant entrance. They chose the restaurant, not the dugout." the point man for team one reported in.

"Ok. That changes things. We need an entry that will take us in the service door of the restaurant. Set up team one for suppression if necessary on my order. Hold all weapons. ATAC teams use Flashbangs and CHEEPs only." the lieutenant came back.

"What are CHEEPs?" Wendy asked Peter in the front lobby of the hotel.

"Charged High velocity Electrocoated Projectile. We call em CHEEPs for short, though they are anything but. Someone somewhere figured that every time there's a hostage situation or conflict, that there's always more shooting than talking, and talking is what we need to stop stuff like this, instead of killing. Rubber bullets are non-lethal but they don't guarantee take downs which is needed for tactical planning so that hostage takers don't kill hostages. You can't talk to dead hostage takers which is what is needed to prevent stuff like that from occurring in the first place so they developed the CHEEP. Its basically a rubber bullet with a high amp battery and impact capacitor pack in it that discharges when it hits a target. About a ninety five percent chance of unconsciousness that lasts for between fifteen minutes and half an hour and less than one in a thousand of a fatality. It saves lives in operations like this. Does that answer your question?" Peter said with a big smile on his face.

"Mighty nice of them to go through all that trouble to protect the hostage takers." Wendy said sarcastically.

"Well in a round about way. They're protecting the lives of the hostages really, and future hostages. If they didn't have CHEEPs they'd go for the kill, believe me rather than lose a hostage. Simple economics there. The hostage takers shoot back with real bullets and they tend to hurt and they can kill as we all know. The hostage takers get their lives and we get to talk to them to prevent situations like that from occurring in the future with other potential hostage takers. They spend most of the rest of their life in prison or a good portion of it and hostage takers aren't looked upon kindly in there. We get to go home and have ATAC and first responder barbecues and what not. About the only case that I'd say CHEEP is good. As long as you don't go cheap on the chicken wings and beer." Peter responded.

"Thanks for the schooling. When we find a fire hydrant, I'll teach you about how to use it." She replied to him.

"Honey you can teach me anything as long as it don't put out my fire, though I do like fire hydrants." Peter replied with a smile.

"I'll bet. Just where do you ATAC guys go to the loo? Can you roll over too?" she said hitting him in the shoulder.

"Well I was in the Canine unit you know..." Peter rolled his eyes jokingly.

They stopped as another message came in over their headsets.

"Hold. Another Tango. Wait make that six, count six Tangos. Walking into restaurant area now. I think we've got something bigger here than our initial assessment." the point man from team one reported.

"Alright. What do the WiredEyez say Sherri?" the lieutenant asked.

"They say they've got new activity from the bank." Sherri came back.

"That doesn't make sense. All markets, currencies and securities have been put on emergency hold. They can't buy anything with money. Why would they rob a bank in the middle of Armageddon? Why not food or medical supplies?" the lieutenant asked Sherri.

"I don't know Sir. The WiredEyez say some of the Tangos are on terminals in the bank. The WiredEyez haven't breached the bank's network (yet), only the security system so they can't tell us what they're up to. They're working on it." Sherri came back.

"All teams hold. Randy, get me directions to that service entrance for the restaurant. Team two, half your team is going to set up and reconnoitre the bank. The other half will set up in the back service area. Send the tech to the service area and have him look for an AC line into the bank and cut it when I say." the lieutenant instructed.

"Acknowledged." the team two squad leader replied.

Team two proceeded up the ramp and into the stadium lobby staying close to the wall. At a point halfway to their destination, they split up with one team going to a service exit and the other continuing to an information kiosk, using it for cover to keep an eye on the bank.

A moment later the tech responded over the radio.

"In position. Hmmm. This is interesting. They've got a home cooked alarm set up back here. A wire fed under the door that will let them know if the AC line's been cut from here. They'll know where it came from. Some other stuff on the network as well. Pretty elaborate. Some ICs and custom circuits exposed. They could have made it here." the tech reported.

"Alright. So if we breach, they know we're here already. We're going to synchronize this and tight. I don't want any casualties so if anyone has the hee-bee-geebies let me know now." the lieutenant asked waiting for a moment.

"Good. How's it coming with the restaurant entrance Randy?" the lieutenant asked.

"Got 'em. Its through the same service door that team two used to get to the bank service panel. Just go the other way. It will be the second hall on your left and then the third door on your right. A nice alcove for you to set up an entry or breach too." Randy came back.

"Yeah or they could be waiting down there already. Let's go." the lieutenant ordered his team to the service entrance of the restaurant.

They carefully and quietly entered the lobby area of the stadium proceeding to the service exit door. They arrived and moved through the door following the directions to the junction point and intersection of halls careful to move slowly enough to remain undetected in the mirror that was mounted near the ceiling to avert shipping and receiving collisions with delivery personnel. The point man used a mirror mounted on his SMG to peer around the corner. When he was confident the alcove was not being used as an ambush point her proceeded. Much to his relief there were no audible reports from small arms, so he continued signalling the rest of the team. The lieutenant signalled the team to proceed. When they arrived at the service door, they set up for a breach on either side of the door.

"Alright, we're in position. What's the status of the bank?" the lieutenant asked.

"There's three Tangos working on terminals. Another three just loitering, with firearms. One has an assault rifle of some form. AR-180 or possibly an AK. The other two have 9mm SMGs and no other fancy hardware. No other Tangos in the bank and checked on scope." the point man from the information kiosk reported in.

"How's the restaurant?" the lieutenant asked team one.

"There's a lot of activity in there right now. We counted nine separate Tangos. Two with assault rifles, probably AKs, and the others with a mixture of SMGs and hand guns. They're keeping the Hostages near the two major entry points for use as human shields. Four at the front and two at the back mostly because of the tight space. This looks risky but I think we can drop four Tangos on your breach. We could get in after that through the front and direct the hostages to the ramp and cover their escape. I can't guarantee the ones by the back service door will be safe though. They're in your protection. That will leave five Tangos alerted and in cover." the point man for team one reported in.

"Alright. We can deal with these odds and get all the Hostages to safety. All teams ready up. The bank team is going to go in hard and heavy. Explosive breach through the back and timed frontal assault. The front restaurant team is going to go silent and take down the first four Tangos and try for the remaining five. By the time you've dropped the first four, we'll breach the service door and get the Hostages out while you cover the Hostages at the front door and their escape. Once the hostages are clear we go weapons free. Peter and Wendy will take their teams and wait on the ramp for the hostages and get them to safety and medical ASAP. One my word, the bank team will make their assault front and back, and the front restaurant team will assault silent. Hopefully the noise from the bank will lure them out of the restaurant. The front team will notify me when they've started their assault, then we'll come in. All teams prepare as instructed for breach upon my word." the lieutenant ordered them.

A few moments passed as the teams set up for breach placing charges as needed for the entry. When they finished they returned to their places and informed the lieutenant.

"We're back on the ramp and waiting for the Hostages. Keep 'em safe and protected for us now." Wendy reported to the lieutenant where she waited with some of the fire fighters and medical personnel.

"We're in position and ready." the team two tech reported back.

"Ready Sir." the point man for team one reported in.

"Ready." the point man from the information kiosk outside the bank reported in.

"Go go go." the lieutenant ordered and the operation commenced.

The explosion blew the big metal door into the bank's interior laying shrapnel from the door frame and smoke into the room. Behind this chaos the bank team moved in. The point man fired upon spotting the Tango with the assault rifle.

"Got him. Tango gone." the point man reported.

The others followed into the back door of the bank. The other two Tangos with SMGs panicked running for the front door of the bank where they were both dropped by the frontal assault team.

"Scratch two more." the frontal assault point man came back.

The tech arrived at the Tangos at the terminals, both on the floor, one of them had wet their pants.

"Face down on the floor! Hands above your head!" the tech screamed at the two computer Tangos. They complied and were quickly cuffed by the other squad members who proceeded to search them as the remaining squad member searched the bank.

At the restaurant, the explosion from the bank breach startled the Tangos to life and they moved for the front door as expected. The first four dropped quickly and silently leaving the remaining five unsure of what had happened.

"Assault started chief. Scratch four Tangos." the point man from the front door of the restaurant reported.

Two more Tangos ran for the front of the restaurant and were brought down by the frontal assault team.

"Another two Tangos down." the frontal assault team added as the back lock from the service door was blown.

The door flew open and they moved into the tight service door of the restaurant. The two Hostages were there as reported. The point man directed them to the back door escorting them to safety and covering them for their trip down the service corridor.

The frontal assault team ran in the front door directing the four Hostages there to the ramp, one of the team members escorting them. That left three Tangos unaccounted for.

"We're still looking for three." the frontal assault team reported as they tactically entered the restaurant maintaining their half prone stance.

One of the Tangos tried to make a run for the service exit and was brought down by the lieutenant.

"Scratch a Tango. Two left." he reported.

The point man turned the corner and ran right into the remaining two. The three men fired upon each other, the point man taking a couple of rounds to his chest but dropping the two remaining Tangos.

"That's the last two... God it hurts like a... Damn!" the downed squad member reported struggling to breath.

"He's by the cash register and right on the money with that one. Took down two at once." his team mate showed up checking him as the others checked the Tangos.

"All clear. Great job Nomads. How are the Hostages Wendy?" the lieutenant reported.

"They're all healthy and in one piece, a little bit scared but healthy considering its Armageddon." she replied back to the lieutenant.

"Looks like these wounds are superficial ya big baby. They hit the armour." the team mate reported upon examining the downed squad member.

"Baby? You try getting shot." he replied.

"Alright. Get the baby back down to the meds. The rest of us are going to try and figure out what they were up to." the lieutenant instructed the team as he proceeded out of the restaurant and over to the bank.

When they got there, the tech was trying to figure out what they were up to on the terminals.

"I've opened up a backdoor for the WiredEyez. I can't really seem to make sense of what they were after. Looks like a lot of codes, maybe something to do with the bank's communications system. Maybe something else." the tech reported to the lieutenant.

"What have you got Sherri?" the lieutenant asked.

"We just got in. They were transferring codes. Looks like authorization codes for other banks. Nothing related to money, they were just trying to route the infrastructure. Hijack it sort of. I'll patch you through to Chang, Cale and Tweak." Sherri reported to the lieutenant.

"Put them through." the lieutenant confirmed.

"Uhhh. Hi chief. We're looking into this right now. It was just like Sherri said. These codes are part of the exchanger codes for communicating with other banks throughout the world. They are codes for using their systems, but not for access to any money, bonds, securities or assets. They wanted something else." Chang reported.

"I'd say they were using the hardware and communications systems themselves. They don't need money in a world that is gone already. They need a way to speak and listen. One of the signatures they used for entry was a common technique used by the SCARE crew." Cale told the lieutenant.

"A scarecrow?" the lieutenant confirmed looking puzzled.

"No. The SCARE crew. A fictitious hacking group. Nobody knows if they exist. They are supposed to be the baddest of the bad and the most elite. I don't know because nobody knows if they exist or not. Lots of people impersonate them for rep. But I don't think they're..." with that the line was dead.

"Cale? Cale?" the lieutenant tried the headset.

"He's gone. I lost the connection. I'm getting some activity here. Wait. Someone's trying to get in. Chang. Tweak. Can you guys do something? They're coming in from the this server host at Check the trunk and see if you can cut them off." Sherri told Chang and Tweak.

"I'm on it sweetie. Ahhh. I found them. Two hops up the nameserver chain. Wait. They're spoofing. Just a sec. I got their MAC address. Let me hack the name server and flag it to log those packets." Chang kept Sherri informed about what he was up to.

"Tweak here. Yeah. I'd say we have a trojan commander. He's probably using about a thousand hijacked systems to get through. Chang, go up two more hops in the server chain and try looking for him there." Tweak came on the headset.

"Got him. Wait. There. That's it. That's the system. Let's get into it and disable the remote client commander." Chang told them.

"I'm on it guys. I'm in and... He's down and I've got his system." Sherri told them.

"Remind me not to mess with you." Tweak told Sherri affectionately.

"Nicely done sweetie. Let me see if we can get Cale back." Chang congratulated Sherri then began working on patching the nameserver damage.

"... Uhhh. Guys? I'm back again." Cale spoke through the headset.

"Awesome! Are you done with the .net and server this and that talk? Now who did that and what's up?" the lieutenant asked them all.

"As we said, its a fictitious hacker group. Well... maybe. We've been trying to find them in other systems or any evidence of them. Not much luck yet. We've got people all over the place trying to help us figure this out. No evidence yet but lots of foot prints. We're going to need some time to examine the bank's computers. We don't need the financial information, just the access logs since the start of Armageddon." Cale told the lieutenant.

"Alright. You can do that you just keep us in the loop if you find anything. You contact us tomorrow at about the same time. We've got to get finished here and make our way back to base. Thanks Cale, Chang, Tweak. You all take care. We'll resume this tomorrow." the lieutenant turned to the tech in the bank.

"Anything locally?" he asked him.

"Nothing. Just like they said. Just channel codes for communications." the tech answered.

"Alright. Let's get these Hostages to safety and the bad guys back to base so we can figure out what to do with them." the lieutenant ordered the entire team.

"All in a day's work for the Nomads, huh chief?" Frank came back over the headset.

"Just another day in Armageddon until we get back on our feet." the lieutenant replied.

As they left the bank, they did not notice the security camera tracking their exit. They were watched all the way back to base.

Home Sweet Home

Dave didn't wait for the van to come to a stop before leaping out. He ran the remainder of the distance as he saw his wife Carol running towards him. They met and kissed passionately before their kids Lucy, Hannah and Robert caught up to them just off the end of their driveway. Elena looked on a tear in her eye at what would be a perfect day in suburbia if not for Armageddon and all.

The convoy of cars arrived one at a time on Darcy Crescent for the show. Trent's car pulled up beside the security van. Rysalin leaned over to Trent and drove her lips into onto his mouth.

"It looks like a good idea." she said to him with passion in her voice.

"Contagious too." Trent replied his voice still carrying a little of the pain of his gun shot wound.

Elena turned to Jenny who was in the back seat minding her father.

"Any change?" Elena asked.

"Not so far. We should get him inside." Jenny suggested opening the van door.

"You're staying here. In cuffs too." Elena said to Foller.

"You think I'm safe in cuffs. I once took out four guys on an operation all while hand cuffed. Then there was the time my girlfriend cuffed my hands and legs and..." Foller started.

"We'll keep you here in the van. Guard you in shifts if we have to." Elena threatened him.

"I'll be good. Promise." Foller said with a grin on his face.

"I'll bet that's what you told those four guys before you killed them." Elena said to him scathingly.

"Precisely. Really. You're dead on." Foller's looked through her.

She scowled at him and stepped out of the van taking all of the weapons with her just as the the Doc's car pulled up. Elena waved and pointed in the direction of Carol and Dave. The Doc nodded back and found a parking space. By that time Rysalin and Trent had found theirs and had made their way back to help Jenny with Stanton.

"Carol, you've met Elena." Dave said politely.

Carol embraced Elena and shook her hand.

"Thanks for getting him back to me in one piece. I heard about Matt. I'm so sorry." Carol said to Elena.

"This is Rysalin, Jenny and Trent. The big man on the gurney is Stanton. We need to get him inside and to bed. He's got a concussion and could be out for a while." Elena explained to Carol.

"We've got a guest room in the basement. We've been sleeping down there but we could give it up for him and Jenny. We've got a study on the second floor which can house Rysalin and Trent." Carol said to them.

"Honey... We've got a prisoner as well. Hard to explain but we're going to need to keep an eye on him in shifts." Dave explained to Carol.

"A prisoner?" Carol said sounding a little shocked.

"Oh and this is Doc. He prefers to keep his name so we just call him Doc." Dave finished the introductions.

"Pleased to meet you M'aam." the Doc tipped his head to Carol politely.

"I've got some food I... we prepared. Its just got to be cooked on the barbecue if you'll do the honors Dave. We can convene to the back yard." Carol announced.

"Robert, come give us a hand to get Mr. Stanton into the house. Lucy, help your sister Hannah light the barbecue." Dave told his kids who were more like young adolescents now.

"What should I do?" Lucy asked as she was a little younger.

"You supervise while your older sister does the dirty work." Dave told her winking at her.

"O. K." Lucy winked back.

Fifteen minutes later they were convened to the back yard. Foller sat in a chair where Jenny kept a gun on him from a negligible distance. Inside the house in a guest room Stanton lay in bed unconscious from the concussion he'd received during the bombing of the hydro plant. Trent and Rysalin sat with the Doc at the table enjoying their drinks and the h'or d'oeuvres Carol had prepared for them. Elena helped Carol bring out the last bit of the food and then sat with Rysalin at the table.

Dave stood before the barbecue with a beer in his hand cooking a variety of items Carol had pulled from the freezer hours earlier.

"How are Sally and Edward doing?" Elena asked plunging a celery stalk into her mouth and washing it down with wine.

"They left when the commotion began. They said they were going east. They even invited us." Carol explained speaking of their neighbors.

"Most of the other neighbors fled too. I think the retired car mechanic down the road is still here. Beyond that we've not seen a soul." Carol said as she brought the last of the food to the table and sat down with her guests.

"Great! All the more for us!" Dave said enjoying himself.

"Dave!" Carol said to him.

"What?" he replied.

"You don't want the kids hearing that kind of talk..." Carol said.

"They know I'm joking. Don't ya kids? Am I calling you kids? You're almost punks now." he said to them playfully.

"Nice place you have here." Rysalin said.

"Yeah well it was hard at first. I was just fresh out of school when the chance came up. Carol and I were already engaged. We got approved for the mortgage and decided to go for it. The first few years were tough. We had Hannah first then Robert. I was still just an intern at the Power Plant. I got my big promotion two years before we had Lucy. From there it wasn't so bad. We're lucky I guess. That we set our goals together young and stuck through it." Dave said thinking back savoring his beer and striding over to his wife to plant a kiss on her head.

"What's powering the place? I mean with the plant bombed out?" Trent asked.

"A project generator I built a few years back. A small one. It's just under the garage. I can run it on gas, or if need be methanol or ethanol. It's pretty efficient and it's got a storage battery on it. Could run the household appliances for about a week on the battery alone. Just the benefits of being a tinkerer." Dave told them.

"Enginereer!" Lucy corrected him.

"That's right baby. An enginereer." Dave told her sending her a little wink.

"When the rest of you leave, though there's no hurry. You can stay for weeks if you'd like. I'll head up to the plant and see if I can't get one of the smaller reactors going. They hit the main reactor but there's six smaller cores. Just the kind of project a guy like me can dig his hands into." Dave said to them.

"I'd say that Armageddon is taking its time. I mean there's only been scattered warfare. There were nukes and we saw one go off out west a bit of a ways. We even saw some dog fighting aircraft just a few days from here. It doesn't look like the elected power or infrastructure is coming back soon. What are you going to do if that's the case?" Elena asked him.

"I don't know. Keep the house. Get some defenses. Start educating my own children. I don't think this is going to blow over but I can't tell if the worst is yet to come." Dave said plucking a round of chicken thighs from the barbecue and placing them on the table.

"There's a lot of talk on the net dad." Hannah told her father.

"I thought I told you to keep off the irc channels, honey." Dave glared at her.

"Dad, there's a lot going on. A lot. Stuff going on in Europe. The Middle East. I heard stuff from China and Korea too. Its happening everywhere." Hannah told them.

"We know that Stanton was onto something. He wouldn't tell us. He even told us there might be a way we can affect this." Elena said aloud.

"You? You? You don't even have any training?" Foller began ending his statement with a round of laughter.

"I don't think there's going to be enough here for you Foller. We have some cat and pooch food inside if you'd like." Dave said to the constrained black ops agent.

"That suit case we found. The one with the kill orders for your friend. Maybe its connected." Rysalin said.

"She's the only one here with any brains." Foller said aloud drawing a scornful look from the rest of the Women in the backyard.

"We know he was supposed to blow the plant, but he stopped and tried to help us. He was doing this as part of a bigger plan. Then Foller shows up disguised as a swat team operative only he's sent to kill Stanton before he leaks anything." Elena told them.

"Stanton is not a killer, or at least not a bad guy. He has virtue and a heart. I could tell you that about him. I know people." Carol said to them referring to her social work training and her sense of intuition.

"He wanted to go back to the plant for a reason. To get something. A piece of information or a package." Dave said to them.

"My Dad was mumbling something about a scare or something in his sleep. Fear or scare. Like he was having a nightmare." Jenny told them.

"I always knew he was a coward." Foller laughed.

"There might be no food but there's lots of lead." Elena turned to Foller with a killer glare.

"That's my Father you're talking about." Jenny stood leveling the gun at him.

"He's playing you. He's playing all of us. Don't you see? He's misleading us because he knows. We should take his reactions as a sign we're on the right track." Trent said to them.

Jenny looked to Trent and then back to Foller.

"I'm with the playwright on that one." Jenny said to them.

Under the table, Rysalin squeezed the inside of Trent's thigh running her hand up a little further in approval.

"Did you say scare?" Hannah asked Jenny.

"Yes. He said something about it being a scare. Or that he was scared." Jenny replied.

"Oh my gosh! Maybe he meant..." Hannah looked at them in surprise.

"Hannah!? What are you keeping from us?" Dave asked his daughter impatiently, his hands on his hips.

Carol looked over to her expecting an answer.

Hannah paused a moment before speaking.

"She said he was scared right? Well scare has another meaning on the net. Its the name of a group. A big hacker group. They're called SCARE." Hannah told them.

"How do you know about this? Are you involved? Are you doing anything on that computer that you shouldn't be?" Dave demanded.

"I didn't know it was so big Dad. Honest! I don't run with SCARE. I'm on another crew. We're white hats Dad. Honest!" Hannah told her father as he looked on intensely.

"What the heck is a white hat Hannah? Tell me! Now!" Dave demanded of his daughter.

"We're like good hackers. We don't hack for personal gain or money or to steal. We do stuff for human rights. To help people. Honest. I'd never join the black hats." she said to him.

"Carol. Get me another beer please!" Dave said firmly.

"I'll get it. Anyone else?" Elena stood going inside for drinks.

"How did you, our oldest daughter get involved in this?" Carol said standing beside Dave with her hands on her hips.

"I'm good at it Mom. I wanted to help in some way. Like a super hero. Honest." Hannah replied tears welling up in her eyes.

"This is just such a touching family moment. Anyone have any tissue?" Foller said mocking tears and beginning to cry.

They ignored him.

Elena arrived with a round of drinks for everyone.

"I think they're much needed." Elena announced.

"If you're a white hat, and black hats are the bad guys. Then what are SCARE?" Dave asked her calmly.

"The white hats and black hats fight each other all the time. Try to outdo each other but the black hats can sometimes be really bad. Hack web sites and company and Government files, but they'll only go so far. SCARE is different. They have no rules. Even if it causes death and destruction. They practice doing stuff like that. The rumors were that they started around the beginning of the millennium. I don't know much more than that. They're really secret. Really really secret. The rumor is that they're really really bad too. Most other hackers think they're like a myth. An internet fable. They're real. They exist." Hannah told them.

"How do you know?" Dave asked.

"Because they tried to recruit me." Hannah told them.

A Loss Of Innocence

"What the heck are SCARE?" Dave demanded of his daughter.

"Hannah this is serious! What is going on!" Carol glared at her.

"You're way in over you're head. This is great. Their daughter is messing with National Security level stuff. And you're having a barbecue? Ha! I love this!" Foller said nearly rolling off his chair in laughter.

Hannah sat quietly as she began to cry not knowing how to answer her parents. She was being honest about telling them about the white hats and black hats. She thought she was doing the right thing but it had been like her friend from the white hats had said. Not everyone is going to understand or trust you. She sat still hoping she could find the words to answer her parents though she only knew so little. That's when a family and firm voice caught them off guard as it announced its presence.

"SCARE is a hacker conglomerate formed by extremists in the wake of the New York attacks at the turn of the millennium. They're a hacker group so secretive that they even have Politicians, military officers and black ops agents amongst their membership and those people don't even know they're members." Stanton stood in the doorway facing them all in the backyard.

"Dad!" Jenny yelled running for her father.

"Stanton!" Elena yelled.

"How are you big guy? There's some food for ya if you're hungry." Dave held out his hand.

Jenny embraced her father who made his way to the patio. He looked healthy and strong despite his concussion and earlier state. He remained standing as he accepted a glass of water from Carol.

"Oh great." Foller scoffed under his breath.

"It's alright. I'm better. I checked myself out and there's no post injury weakness or anything. It was just a bump." Stanton relieved them of their concern.

"You were planning to tell us this I hope?" Elena interrogated him.

"...I was keeping it bottled up for the time being. My plans were to regroup with you after going into the power plant and to discuss what I knew about the situation. I wasn't keeping anything from you. I was just making sure that what I'd surmised about this situation was true." Stanton replied to her.

"So what is SCARE?" Trent asked Stanton.

"SCARE are the hidden piece to this puzzle. They are a group of extremists the world over who formed to pit us each one against the other and bring about the end. Armageddon on their terms. They're mostly formed up around extremists of all types who want to see the whole world structure fall into anarchy or maybe even worse. They're the ones who ordered the bombing of the power plant." Stanton announced to them.

"That's right! That's exactly what they told me to let me know they were for real. When they tried to recruit me. They said to watch the horizon for the blast. That's how they'd know that they were for real." Hannah stood excitedly having someone confirm what she'd already known.

"He's obviously delirious. One too many hits on the head. Don't listen to him." Foller yelled to them.

They ignored him.

"The Government had a secret program. It was simply called Project The End. It was a plan to regain control in the event of a revolution or uprising by the local population. It was developed in the early seventies but was never put into play. It was kept on the sideline for years and used in training operations. The whole project planted two thousand agents like myself in various places in the country and around the world. When activated we were each to sabotage an aspect of infrastructure in a controlled fashion. The ruling Government could then use the ploy to unite the public against the revolutionaries and regain control of the Government and capital. My tasking was to blow up the plant and regroup with the local National Guard to help gain control of the local population." Stanton informed them.

"You bastards were planning this whole thing?" Dave looked to Stanton and then to Foller.

"No. It was an operation that was kept on the back bench. It was a worst case scenario. It definitely was not supposed to happen this way." Stanton told them.

"So what happened then? Why were you and the other agents activated? Why was Project The End even executed?" Elena asked him through her glare.

"Someone from the inside knew about it because that person leaked details of Project The End to SCARE. The hackers from SCARE have been working with the extremists to bring down the whole thing. The whole world over and all every Government. Leave us fighting each other and in anarchy. With all of us fighting one another the extremists could just step in and take over or worse. Little damage to the infrastructure compared to a nuclear war. Nobody would know what was happening until another organized group got at the controls to the nation. So no, this isn't another Government conspiracy and cover up. SCARE have been pitting us against one another the whole time and hacking infrastructure to do so." Stanton told them.

"So you're saying that SCARE found out about Project The End and activated it remotely via computer hacking?" Jenny asked her father.

"They coordinated it with a world wide attack on infrastructure. They timed this very well activating Project The End and shutting down and playing with infrastructure the world over. So chaos would take over and societies everywhere would collapse." Stanton told them.

"So the universe ending? What is happening with that? The story that the world and possibly the entire universe was going to end?" Trent asked him,

"It was all a hoax. They started it and probably hacked the LHC and CERN's lab equipment and accelerators to return false data. So the rumor was delivered by unknowing scientists and the results caused world wide panic. They timed that too. Probably hacked some satellite networks to muck with the data from infrared and ultraviolet observatories in orbit as well. They literally tinkered with the lab equipment without anyone figuring it out." Stanton explained to them what had been on his mind before his concussion.

"So the world isn't going to end?" Dave asked.

"No. Not at all. But civilization the world over will fall if we don't act." Stanton explained to Dave.

"How can we fight a world of legendary invisible computer hackers and extremists calling themselves SCARE in the middle of world anarchy?" Rysalin asked them.

Everyone was quiet for a moment as they realized the futility of the situation. A moment later with courage and determination it was Hannah who spoke.

"With white hats and black hats." Hannah replied.

Hackers United

"Hannah. You're not going back onto that computer. Ever. You're grounded for the rest of your life!" Dave shot at her.

"You can't do that honey!" Carol shot back at him.

"I'm not going to let our daughter get back onto this and become involved with those people! They tried to destroy the world for crying out loud!" Dave returned to Carol.

"Dad, I'm on the side of the good ones. We would never do something like that!" Hannah pleaded with her father.

"Hackers are split off into several groups. White hats do most of the socially responsible hacking. We've even used them in human rights investigations to build a case by breaking into the computers of Governments who are suspected of such violation. She's telling you the truth Dave." Stanton defended Hannah.

"So why are you talking about uniting with the Black hats? I take it they're the bad ones?" Dave asked Hannah and Stanton.

Hannah looked to Stanton, who took her cue and explained it to her father.

"Black hats are like the mischievous hackers. They range in nuisances from breaking into systems and causing minor problems. Replacing files or images on web servers to execute a hoax. Some are involved with identity theft in which black market identities can be bought and sold online. Some deal in bank and financial fraud and more recently in bitcoin fraud. Black hats account for most of the illegal hacking and is mostly done for mischief and fraudulent financial gain. Though mostly such hackers are in it for reputation." Stanton explained to him.

"So you want us to team up with the Black hats to hunt down SCARE? Young Woman! Is this why your school grades have been declining? Hanging out with these people online and trying to change the world?" Dave accused his daughter.

"Now you're going to say your parents were extremists for attending Woodstock?" Carol asked her husband.

"No honey. They were getting high and listening to music along with a million other music lovers. They weren't trying to steal identities and break into web sites or rob banks. They grew up and had me and look what I became." Dave stood tall looking very much a humorous caricature of what he may have been mocking.

Carol, Elena and Hannah rolled their eyes at him bringing a sarcastic smirk to his face.

"Look at what we became. Look at what we have." Dave said spreading his hands in display of their family, house, back yard and friends.

"So now your daughter shows some backbone in defending what we have and you're going to punish her? You're going to try and stop her? She's not fighting the Government! She's fighting the people who want to destroy peace and prosperity everywhere! Look at how many times in the last week your life has been spared. We almost lost you permanently. Several times. You're alive because someone doesn't want this to happen to any of us! The world is nearly over! Let your daughter take responsibility and help us to fix this problem! What if nobody is like her and has the courage to try?" Carol grilled her husband.

"What if this SCARE were looking to distract everyone to get to the big prize." Trent interjected to them.

"The big prize? What are you talking about? You're a bell hop who lives in an imaginary world by writing your little stories and scripts with dreams of writing a hit. I do this for a real living and I take pride in my job. When I see or hear about some of the fluff that comes out of our media circus, film industry and writers like yourself who try to imagine what we do, I just laugh to myself thinking what a bunch of liberal yahoos you are! You really have no idea what goes on. The world is just a big fairy tale to all of you that somehow is magically all better at the end of every day. You have no idea what kind of people it takes to make it that way. The lives that are sacrificed and lost to keep oil in your gas tanks. So when I hear someone like you talking about what they think about black ops or terrorism or people with guns, I just have to laugh. What do you know about all of this? Is the big prize another one of your fantasies? You have a hot girlfriend and now you think you're in the big leagues? Why don't you keep your fantasies in the bedroom with her and I'll worry about the secret ops and the big prize!" Foller shot at Trent but looking seductively at Rysalin.

Trent ignored Foller's ploy and Rysalin's hand moved further Trent's his leg. She read Foller right away for she'd had many men attempt to play her that way from the time of her escape to North America. She wasn't trying so much to reward Trent as she was to reassure him. She considered the fact that maybe her life experiences had over simplified her impression of what men wanted. She knew that Trent was an exception to her understanding but she needed him to be confident in the face of men like Foller. Trent remained calm though his heart had picked up in pace. He doubted himself despite the fact that he'd fooled Foller.

"I once wrote a story about a group of people who try to start world war three by tricking one of the nuclear powers into an attack against the others. A Machiavellian ploy to initiate world war three. In that story they manipulated the powers into thinking that the others were readying an attack by falsifying the data in their warning systems. That's the big prize. Causing a war between the powers of the world bringing down civilization and then moving in to pick up the pieces and take control. The same way that everyone of the middle and lower income class think that those in power want a nuclear war do they can clear the population and restore the genetic purity of the human race. Who trusts who in this case? The big prize is SCARE tricking NORAD, Moscow, New Delhi, Pyongyang, India, Pakistan, Israel or Beijing into nuclear war. Maybe they're trying to leverage this situation to turn it into an all out war. I mean if they've been hacking us and know our secrets, whose to say they don't know the social psychology behind such a plan?" Trent explained to them.

"That would make sense although anyone attempting such a move on the scale we've seen so far is likely trying to incur the collapse of civilization without causing all out nuclear war. The nuke we saw that hit might have been a test run launched by SCARE or one from the naval standoff in the North Atlantic. Maybe even a rogue attack class submarine. Maybe they got lucky and got one off. It would be a complex operation even for a very well organized group of insurgents. This isn't really my area of expertise but I'd say such an operation would involve insurgents at the launch site as well as hackers in the field providing false data to command and control infrastructure. The indications I've been seeing point to the collapse of command infrastructure through their data stream and input. In other words, those in Command are receiving contradictory intelligence, even from one another. The command and control systems of the program that kept me on standby as an operative seems to be dangerously confused. That's likely why they ended up bombing the power plant." Stanton suggested to them.

Dave looked to Stanton and then to Trent. Trent pulled Rysalin even closer feeling confident that he had something to contribute despite his mainstay in life having been fantasy. Stanton remained silent considering all the factors of which he was aware. Was his part in this merely coincidence? It seemed far less coincidental to him that his initial activation orders were to disable civil infrastructure by bringing down the power grid. His part in the operation would not have benefited the country or the preservation of peace world wide but rather made ripe the beginnings of the collapse of civilization itself. To his superiors and fellow agents it would appear to be a valid activation as a counter-insurgency to regain control of the country in the event of an imminent loss of control. That still did not explain Foller's part in all of this.

"You seemed very interested in what Trent had to say. I would say that Trent hit a hot spot on you and you reacted just like a trainee would. You tried to turn it around by riling him up using Rysalin. So what's your angle Foller? You have a chance at redemption and your walking the tight rope right now. What is it that you're still hiding? You were clearly working as a double agent. Whoever hired you knew you were part of the same field plan and operation as I. Did you even know who you were working for?" Stanton grilled Foller.

"You know as much as I do." Foller bluffed.

Stanton stared Foller down for a moment though not looking at him so much as looking through him.

"We have an advantage here that perhaps nobody in the world has at this moment. We have evidence, operational information and insight. For the most part we're united in our understanding of the situation and thanks to our knowledge we now seem to be immune to the tactics being employed by SCARE to divide us. It is our duty to act upon this information and to work with others of the same ilk with the goal of restoring civil order to the world as it existed before my activation and the beginning of the collapse. I'm sworn to this duty but I need the help of everyone in this house because we may be only people to understand the severity and crisis at hand." Stanton spoke delivering a statement more so than a question perhaps to ensure that his audience was listening carefully.

"I'm in." Trent responded turning to Rysalin.

"We're in." Rysalin corrected Trent.

"You can count on me as long as you ask for permission before trying to blow up our power grid again." Elena tried her best at levity.

Stanton smiled ever so slightly.

"I'm in but that doesn't mean I'm ready to trust any of you yet." Foller responded as expected.

"The feelings mutual, hotshot." Trent replied.

"I'm with you dad. And all of you." Jennifer assured her father, then looking to her allies in the room.

Dammit I'm in!" Carol spoke up looking scathingly to Dave.

"I'm definitely in." Hannah spoke not waiting for her father's response.

Dave thought carefully realizing that Hannah was no longer his little girl but in fact that she'd grown to become her own Woman. He shook his head as a tear trinkled down his cheek.

"What? Ok. I guess you couldn't be my little girl forever now, could you? Now we have a purpose! Hannah, go get 'em!" Dave said to his daughter looking on to Brad perhaps for assurance but more for his expertise.

Maybe even so seeing his fallen Engineer mentor Matt in him somewhere.

Fathers and Daughter

She'd spent the time logging onto the irc channel. After all it wasn't a simple script and she was no mere script kiddie. No. That could be faked by an imposter and the white hats weren't looking for imposters. They were looking for saviors and Hannah was as much a white hat as she was a savior.

She'd logged in as she'd always done and then sent the handshake with the code "Z:=Snitz" and that was it. She was a recognized white hat and at that one of notoriety.

"Ok. I'm in." she responded to Stanton and her Father who'd been watching over her shoulder.

"Encryption keys exchanged? Text only? No voice? No speakers on the computer? Even the little pico speaker on the inside right? Remember that you can't gamble with trust." Stanton confirmed with Hannah.

"Yes. I did everything that you told me to secure my computer." Hannah assured Stanton.

"I put the power filters on the outlets too. There's less than a hundredth of one percent noise per cycle. I even built a quick faraday cage around the house using the existing electrical wiring and a few hundred meters of chicken wire." Dave nodded, his face and hands still bearing the scratches.

"Alright. Find your contact and setup a side channel only for the two of you to speak." Stanton asked Hannah.

Hannah began typing frantically. A string of text characters and emotes sprawled across the screen. A few seconds later a response came from PandaSow, her contact. Hannah opened a private channel for the two of them and a moment later PandaSow agreed to join her.

"I'm here with PandaSow." Hannah informed Stanton.

"Alright. This is the contact that informed you about what you told us about SCARE right?" Stanton asked her again.

"Yes! I already told you that." Hannah said concerned that she might have done something wrong.

She was clearly under great stress.

"It's alright honey. You can relax. You're doing great." Dave assured her.

"Your father's right. Relax. The first rule of doing field work is that tension is contagious no matter the distance. Tension is how you get found. Use it rather than letting it use you. If you make PandaSow tense and PandaSow is our ally, you're putting PandaSow at risk too. So just take it easy. Nobody can get you here and you can't fail at this. We've got what we want. Now we just need to follow the trail. Your friends here are going to help you do just that. They're going to help us all. If they do so, and at great risk, then they're a few steps closer to being trusted sources." Stanton leaned in close to her chair.

"Alright. I feel better." Hannah said taking a deep breath.

"Using what we know, we're going to validate everything PandaSow has told us. Everything you've told us. Everything Foller's told us and all of the other clues that we have to discern the false from the true. Have you read anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Joseph Keller?" Stanton asked Hannah.

"We had to read The Hounds Of Baskerville as an English Literature assignment last Halloween." Hannah answered Stanton.

"Very good. A good author if not a bit frustrated at times. Now if you'll remember the line of reasoning Sherlock Holmes used to solve his cases, he would figure out the validity of information he'd learned by comparing it to other information he'd learned in such a way that he could sort out the false from the true. He'd start with facts which he could verify. Information that could not be disputed as to its a validity and from there he'd build his case. This is called didactic reasoning and that's precisely how we're going to validate everything we know as we go. We can even follow streams of what other people believe to be didactic, so that we know what they know but without them knowing that it is wrong or right, despite the fact that we may hold that answer. We'll separate our facts from our speculation, and use our facts to discard speculative information that cannot be fact or that doesn't apply to the situation. That way, we're always standing at a point that is built on truth. Even if we have a fact that cannot be explained, by the very nature it is a fact we can stand safely upon it. We never back ourselves into a corner. Ever. If we have information that we know from person A, and we get the same information from person B, though there is no apparent means of communication between person A and person B, we have to assume that there is communication that we just don't know about. Whether the communication is the event itself from which we draw the information, or another person who carries the information or a means of communication, just because we can't explain how it was passed to person B doesn't mean that it wasn't passed to person B when it clearly was. That's an example of what we're about to do as we go. I'm going to keep a written list of notes. We're going to use that to discard false leads and build a real trail to the source. A trail to SCARE itself. After doing this a few times on paper, you're going to be able to do this in your head every time. Soon it will become like second nature to you." Stanton explained to her as carefully as he could.

"Ok. What do I need to do?" Hannah asked Stanton.

"First we're going to make sure using what we know that PandaSow is our ally, and that their goals are the same as ours without PandaSow knowing that we're fishing for that information. Once we know we're on the same team, we're going to share our knowledge and expand. Then PandaSow and yourself can work together centralizing the information to us here using the same method. PandaSow will do the same with their allies and so on. Before you know it, we'll have an army to bring the collapse of civilization to a halt. Maybe, we can even pick it up where we left off." Stanton assured Hannah putting his hand on her shoulder.

"That's my daughter!" Dave said proudly.

"Dave, we're going to need some communications like a few cellular or satellite phones, a few more computers and the power necessary to run them." Stanton told Dave.

"Don't worry big man. I'm already on it. Carol honey? I think we're going to need another round of chicken wings and pop. It's going to be a late night." Dave asked his wife.

"...and another vegetarian hot dog for me please." Rysalin added.

"Trent, you and Rysalin are going work for our intel verification unit here. We need your imaginations and minds for the bigger picture. To track down the big prize if you will. You're going to do fact checking on another computer that is run through an entirely different internet connection and network from the one Hannah is working. That computer's point of presence will appear to be somewhere else far away from here. That way we'll conceal our online footprints. Build a list of facts to be checked and then go through it in reverse. Try to use synonyms and antonyms if you can when checking facts keeping in mind that with antonyms that the context will be the opposite. That will throw off anyone doing any kind of monitoring." Stanton asked the couple.

"Alright. I think we can do that. It sounds like a chance to use my writing skills for something other than writing a play." Trent said planting a kiss on Rysalin's head.

"And a great chance for me to... how you say? Learn the English Grammar? Antonyms? Pantomimes?" Rysalin blinked innocently perhaps feigning ignorance though both Trent and Stanton knew she was far from.

"Elena, I'd like you to work with my daughter building up a local communications network. I expect that we'll start matching up allies locally in the next six hours. We're going to need to build a strong communications network for information gathering and sharing. This is going to be the eyes and ears of our intelligence agency that will get us ready to go after the big prize." Stanton looked to Elena and then his daughter.

"Aye, aye Sir." Elena saluted him as best she could.

"Alright, dad." Jennifer acknowledged.

"Make sure to let Doc sleep for another hour or two. His role in this is going to get stressful very quickly as he'll be in charge of organizing our medical teams as they grow." Stanton looked around the room glad to see everyone had a task.

Everyone except Foller.

"I guess that leaves me?" Foller responded still a little edgy.

"I guess it does. We're going to need you soon too but you're going to have to earn it." Stanton looked at Foller intensely once again.

"I was just going to say the same thing." Foller answered looking to the loaded SMG that Elena had left within two body lengths from him on the coffee table.

The SMG was obscured from Stanton's view and he'd already joined Dave in clearing and reorganizing the dining room table which would house much of their needed equipment.

"We're going to need to ensure we've got enough petrol to run the generator not to mention another one or two generators to ease the work load." Dave advised Stanton.

"You and I will make a trip out for supplies as soon as we have everyone started on their part. From the looks of things most people vacated the cities and even suburbia for the outback." Stanton grabbed a stack of plates from the table and fed them into the dishwasher.

"Everyone I know in this community and every community from here to the west side has a cottage or camping trailer. I'm pretty sure they we're amongst the first to leave. Most of the people left in the city are those who didn't have the option to leave. No transportation. No alternative living arrangements. That's what I would guess. That's why I'm the only family left in my community. I guess most other people were expecting the worst about the destruction rumour. They're going to be pretty anxious once they've figured that out to be a hoax." Dave cleared the rest of the table and began removing some of chairs from the room.

"I'm sure that was part of SCARE's plan. When those who fled return to find their belongings stolen or their houses occupied by new residents, that's when you'll see the escalation of violence begin. I expect that if we don't get our setup here going soon, that we'll be competing with other similar factions all vying for control of what's left. The remnants of Command and Control, Armed Forces and civil authority will then be at war with those faction that do not yield to civil authority. From there we'll be back in the stone age with 20th century weapons and nothing more than tribalism as the reigning factor. If SCARE have as much access to the communications of our civil authorities and command and infrastructure, you can be sure they'll be puppeteering them and pitting us one against the other without them even knowing. That's why, we have to bridge our allegiances quickly and ensure that the democracy, rule of law and representation that we left behind has a chance. They'll be experiencing the same thing in Eurasia as well. From the news we've seen I'd say they were amongst the first targets." Stanton and Dave had finished clearing the room enough for their plans.

"Uncle Stanton! There's someone in IRC who claims to have some pretty serious information!" Hannah yelled from the study.

"Uncle? Sounds like you got your first promotion..." Dave patted Stanton on the back as they headed down the hall to the study.

Hannah had the IRC window opened on the computer desktop before her.

"Right here. Their user name is nacksword1978." Hannah announced as Stanton entered the room.

Stanton stood behind Hannah's chair. He'd paused upon hearing the user name.

"You did good. I'm going to need to chat with this one myself." Stanton asked Hannah.

Hannah stood allowing him access to the chair.

"I'm also going to have to ask both of you to leave the room. Remember what I taught you about verifying facts and didactic reasoning? Well our enemies at SCARE might try to use the same sort of tactics on you without you even knowing it. If something were to happen and they wanted to hurt the people who knew the most from our little group here that would put you in danger. Until the time when this is all over, the less you know the better. When we're done and the world is fixed, I'll tell you all the stuff that wouldn't get you hurt. Do we have a deal?" Stanton asked Hannah.

Hannah thought about it a moment still very curious. She respected the fact that Stanton had treated her adult enough to ask her.

"Alright. I accept your offer. I'm going to hold both you and my father to this though." Hannah scolded them both.

"Alright. Come on honey. Let's give him the space he needs." Dave wrapped his arm around his daughter escorting her out of the room and closing the door behind them.

Stanton began typing in what appeared to be another language built upon the symbols of the alphabet. It had similar grammar and structure that could be recognized as any language could but the letters were completely out of place compared to any language that used the alphabet. It was in fact a language that only operatives at Stanton's level would know. Its vowels were dependent upon the day of the week at Greenwich Mean Time, so the language had a completely different structure accordingly to the day of the week and was required learning for every agent. The consonants were similarly structured though only having two variations, odd and even according the day of the month. The words upon which the language was built were drawn from English, Ojibwa and Phoenician so as to minimize detection, not to mention the language was only written and had no spoken dialect.

Stanton's first phrase was part of the handshake. A moment later the response came back with the correct answer to Stanton's challenge.

Stanton proceeded to the next challenge and again the correct response was returned. Stanton waited and the receiver's challenge came. Stanton responded and nacksword1978 acknowledged Stanton's answer. They had passes each other's challenges and were ready to communicate.

"Location?" Stanton asked.

"Outskirts of Kiev. You?" nacksword1978 replied.

"Canada. Southern Ontario. Not far from the American border. Dual role op for NORAD. Trying to keep things together. A lot of social and civil bifurcation going on." Stanton responded.

"You got that right. Same here. Most of the leadership is currently fragmented at best. Emergency services and Policing forces have broken down into warring factions. Much the same thing in Russia. Most of Europe collapsing to same fate. Certainly the devil has been busy." nacksword1978 responded.

"Devil aka SCARE. Our intel indicates high level hackers outside of white hat/black hat paradigm. Using basic divide and conquer strategy. Using computer and communications systems of authority from around the world in bifurcation strategy. Said group has extensive knowledge of the Operation RECLAIM along with agent lists and activation codes. Our intel indicates that Operation RECLAIM was activated by SCARE, bypassing the chain of command and command infrastructure." Stanton advised.

"Copy that. Similar activations across Europe and Asia. Middle East currently in growing conflict. Build up of naval forces in South Pacific. Little or no organized command. Organized pocket blackouts by SCARE resources including information blackout or substitution. News and information of any given vicinity not accurate compared to factual events and information acquired from within given vicinity. The truth when looking from the outside is not the same truth when experiencing from within." nacksword1978 replied.

"Compartmentalization and disinformation certainly verified here too. Currently rebuilding factual intel and communications network with systems for verification of information. Advice: remain in close contact. We will give encrypted satellite phone contact information within the next ten hours. IRC contact again in two hours. We'll exchange new encryption key pairs every two hours. Failing IRC contact, use this cellular number with masked point of presence and voice communications."  Stanton advised.

"Copy. Speak again in two." nacksword1978 replied before leaving the channel.

Stanton stood up from the desk leaving the study behind, switching off the screen as he left.

"The computer is all yours Hannah. Thanks very much. Now you need to get back in there and get to work on what you were going before. Understand?" Stanton said sounding much more in charge.

"Understood Sir!" Hannah saluted Stanton.

"Good. Then get to it. Dave, let's go get ourselves a couple more generators." Stanton directed Dave to the front door.

Stanton stepped over to the dining room table where Elena had started working on connecting one of Dave's satellite receivers to an ad-hoc contraption she'd rigged together using a couple of discarded computer routers and a modern stereo receiver.

"How goes it?" Elena asked as she tested her soldering gun.

"Great. We're leaving for a while. We'll be back soon. Do you need anything that you don't have here?" Stanton asked her as she steadied her hand.

"A larger dish maybe. Ask Dave about transponders too in case we want to act as a relay. Other than that we're fine so far." Elena answered lowering her safety goggles.

"Stick the plan. You know what to do when the time comes don't you?" Stanton confirmed with Elena.

"I think I've got it. To tell you the truth I can't wait." Elena smiled and winked at him from behind the safety goggles.

"If you start running out of AC from the generator, kill all the high Amperage appliances first except the freezer unless you want to be eating dry dog food until society gets back on its feet. Make sure there's enough juice for Hannah to keep going. You'll have power to spare by the time we get back." Stanton rubbed her shoulders and neck raising goose pimples on her skin.

"Don't start something that you can't finish soldier..." Elena said to him clearly enticed by the thought of a break for some affection.

"There'll be plenty of times ahead to enjoy everything we've lost and maybe taken for granted at one time. We'll be back soon." Stanton stepped down the stairs to the front door.

"Oh, and make sure that Rysalin and Trent are doing their fact checking and not all over each other. We're going to need that fact list very soon." Stanton said as they closed the front door.

A moment later they pulled out in the security van and drove out of the community and back towards town. Stanton momentarily felt a gut feeling. One with which he was familiar and that he'd been trained never to ignore. They were being watched.

Nomads Versus Spec Ops

Wendy had been laying down upon her bunk for five hours sound asleep. Her dreams had been much the same as they'd been before the collapse. The only difference being that she wasn't sleeping in her own bed and that after a shift, she wasn't going out to the Lion's Head for drinks and dancing trying to meet Mister right.

She'd only met Peter recently. A typical egomaniac of the ATAC unit he'd somehow managed to break through her defenses that screened such arrogant Men from her sight. He was different. Confidence with purpose. Ego with humility. A walking paradox from the perspective of Women like her. She held on to the spirit of what the Nomad stood, perhaps inspiring her fellow Officers to rise above the call of duty. To be the heroes they really were. Most broke down because they could not live up to such rigid standards. Not just those of society but of the mythos from which they arose. Books. Radio. Television. Movies. Video Games. Elevated to heights they hadn't understood as people. Perhaps the myth of perfection had lost its bearings with the likes of the mortal. Of those who really did risk their lives. That the imagination had somehow upstaged reality with real life heroes being the casualties.

Were they heroes? The Nomads? The only standing first responders since the collapse. They'd organized quickly in the face of the imminent destruction of society. Everyone else had run and this dedicated team had somehow maintained their coherence, guarding the society they once protected. Their supply chain had long ceased though between them they'd somehow managed to forge similar alliances across North America. One for all and all for one with an emphasis on all for one for that was the real source of faith and hope. The two most valued commodities in the world right now.

Wendy had begun to question that whole concept. Of the first responders being the caretakers of hope and faith was responsibility beyond their role. Those emotions belonged to the people and at best were personal rather than social. Wendy wondered how many others had lost their path of knowing the difference. Had they command of the social dreams then perhaps that was power beyond their mandate?After all there was an infrastructure just waiting to jump back in and restore what was beyond their role. Peter's role. Wendy's role. The Nomad's role.

"We've got a bogie moving into a secured area." one of the ATAC Officers responded over the radio.

"Care to elaborate there MexTex?" asked one of the radio ops.

"Hard to say. They're moving like they don't know the drill, but a little too much so. If you know what I mean. Like they're playing the part? Digging into my inventory maybe?" responded MexTex.

"The plant's down. They're lost without light. We've got the nightscopes and infrared. If there's anyone else out there, we see them. We've got a beat on them. They're running blind. We're watching their dirty laundry as Don Henley used to say." Opstance replied to headquarters.

"I'm an Eagles fan myself and I don't think that Don Henley would ever stand against the righteous." Peter responded.

"That's fine and dandy but I don't think that Don Henley is out here looking for the Hotel California tonight either." Wendy responded grabbing her hand set.

"I smell another recon mission." Peter replied.

"Honey, you got the same amount of sleep that I did. Your team has an hour extra on us. Make 'em wake up. They're pros, remember?" Wendy grabbed her hat and shuffled down the fire pole.

"You heard her boys. Drop yer linen and start your grinning. We're ATAC OPS and this is the beginning!" Peter ordered his platoon.

"You're such a poet. Who are we facing?" asked Thomas.

"The devil in the dark." Peter replied.

"Sir. Would that be the real devil or the fictitious one?" Mannik radio op replied.

"The real devil. In fact two of them." Peter replied as he gather his crew.

"Sir. Are we free to fire upon the devil on sight?" asked Mannik.

"We're going to observe and figure out what they're up to. Determine if they're regular looters or after something a little bigger. Just stay out of sight until I give the order to engage. We'll bring a sniper just in case." Peter replied.

Confrontation And Conflict

Stanton exited the van locking the door as Foller gathered his sniper kit, running quickly to the building with the highest vantage point in the vicinity.

"Finally. Some peace." Stanton spoke into his headset, testing it.

"Bro, you were alone from the start." Foller replied as he dashed through the lobby and into the service elevator of the skyrise.

"Apparently not." Stanton replied with a smirk on his face.

"Look. Let's just get through this alright?" Foller veriried through the headset.

"Hoo haa." replied Stanton.

"That's more like it." Foller replied as the elevator ascended to the ninth floor.

Foller exited the elevator and threw himself to the floor. He pulled a small suction cup with a clamp handle. He pressed it against the glass window of the building pushing hard as he did. The suction cup quickly caught hold of the glass hanging on with a force of more than three hundred pounds. Foller then pulled another device from his kit that appeared like a protractor with two rubber wheels that bracketed a third diamond cutting wheel. He grabbed the handle of the protractor device and began dragging the cutting wheel across the entirety of the glass, cutting a rectangular hole five feet across and three feet high. He threw the tool into the case and quickly assembled the sniper kit, which included two sighting systems. One digital with target recognition and the other an extended ocular ACOG setup.

The digital sighting system had both night vision which they likely wouldn't be requiring for this operation. Instead Foller positioned himself activating the thermal targeting system and adjusted the thermal gain for the current outdoor temperature.

"Whew! Looks like a Christmas tree out there! Oh wait. The optics are cooling down. Only one ornament out there. It's you, I hope. You move pretty quick for an old guy." Foller joked with Stanton.

"Foller, when you understand that your whole life you are being chased by the old man that you know will eventually catch up with you, you'll move pretty quick too." Stanton replied.

The Hot Package

"You're a cold bastard Stanton." Foller replied over his headset.

"You're confusing what's right for what's cold. They're not the same thing. Anything that preserves life and what's right is pretty darn warm and cosy. What's cold is that the people who protect those things don't often get a chance to experience them." Stanton replied coldly.

"Is that supposed to touch me, Stanton? Make me feel warm and cosy?" Foller mocked him.

Oddly enough there was no reply.

"A coward it is. A man who cannot define his convictions in so much as the limits of his principles allow." Foller asserted.

"If I reply to that you do realize that puts the world in an awkward predicament?" Stanton replied through his headset as he approached his target.

"So? Are you saying that you represent the world?" Foller panned his view across Bay Street and over to Yonge Street via Dundas Avenue illuminating Stanton as he stuck close to the North side of Dundas Avenue.

The Square was well within his sight and grasp as it was very close to the cache.

"The seeable world. That which I can comprehend. C'mon Foller. Don't fuck with me. You know what that means as much as I do." Stanton spied Dundas Square looking for the service access behind the south east subway entrance.

"You at the Gack yet slowpoke?" Foller announced courageously.

"That's the second time that you called me slowpoke. Trust me. You'll wake up one day to see that same old bastard chasing you. Don't ever let him catch you. When he does though, I'll tell you what comes next. But only if and when he does. Deal?" Stanton replied.

"Deal," Foller replied.

"Good. Glad to see that we're on the same field for once. It makes me feel like I still have some rights. Even as an older person." Stanton elicited.

"This is the Apocalypse. Our rights are subjective. Our rights our defined by what we're ready to kill for. Something of which we both have prevailing skills." Foller replied.

"Knowledge is responsibility. Something that any agent should worship and revile." replied Stanton.

"I'm just being realistic bro. I really do enjoy killing much more than you do and that's because I don't question my place in the universe. If I survive, then what I protect survives. That's what makes me a good agent and your ability to question that skill is precisely what put you on their hit list. Once again we see a situation where I'm a star, and you're yesterday's news." Foller replied.

"Well then Foller, I guess that I should be thankful that we're working together now. As long as I have you as an asset, what we stand for will likely survive. There's just one thing. I only kill when absolutely necessary. That discretion is what separates the irrational from the rational. It is our ability to wield mercy that gives us power. Not our ability to kill." Stanton replied.

"I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted old man." Foller smirked.

"That's why I elected you as my cover. Tonight, you're like a god protecting my ass." Stanton spied the area keeping himself low and behind the metal railings of the north west stairway entrance to the subway system.

"Do you mean like the God? Do you realize that you just called me God?" Foller verified over their mutually connected headsets.

"Not the God. Perhaps a God of sorts. For this op you've got at least one worshipper. After that, you're on your own. God." Stanton replied.

"So much for believer loyalty..." Foller replied sarcastically.

"When you've saved more lives than you've taken, then perhaps you'll have earned the title of being a God." Stanton reminded Foller.

"Well I guess then that means we're both damned. Doesn't it?" Foller asked Stanton.

"Son, you know that both you and I were trained to take lives only when completely necessary and to protect the lives of others. What you did after that is yours to bare and will be forever more. God dammit just do what's right. There's no manual for this situation. Use your damned intuition if you so believe. If not, then just save lives! That ability to show mercy is what separates us from everything else." Stanton scolded Foller over his headset trying to keep him together.

Foller held the sights of the .50 calibre rifle on Stanton's cranium uneasily. He wanted so desperately to pull the trigger and to be done with it. His nemesis and mission target gone. Once and for all. Mission accomplished. He knew in his heart that he'd never sleep another night beyond the moment of pulling that trigger. It was the path to hell to follow the orders of those who wanted you to kill indiscriminately. He'd been educated by this special ops relic who'd somehow infiltrated his training.

Foller struggled for a moment dealing with an internal conflict but ultimately it was his own independence of mind that won. He refrained from pulling the trigger despite the fact that killing was his forté. Instead he'd guard lives and protect the living and those who wanted to do so peacefully according to the ideals of laws of the NATO and Warsaw Pact powers he represented.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, agents such as himself had been tasked as conflict resolution specialists which really was another name for assassins of the state. Dealing with any uprising which opposed the appointed rule by way of democratic law and the rule of representation. Even if that representation wasn't appointed by election but enforced through illegal means contrary to the American Bill Of Rights and the much younger but more enthusiastic Human Rights Act of Canada, with Mexico following the civil rights lead introduced by the United Nations. Perhaps the model of Universal Rights that might set the standard for the entire world.

Foller realized that he'd been played by the very system he protected, by those who valued human life or honor more so than the power they drew from the populace. Yet from that mechanism here was a man as Stanton who risked all by presenting himself to the killing power of a man like himself. This was a man of honor and Foller suddenly realized the error of his ways and more importantly, for whom and what he was fighting. He was a much bigger part of something so much bigger than himself. He realized why men such as Trent earned the hearts of Women like Rysalin. It was one thing to be good at taking lives. It was another to be good at immortalizing the lives of those whose ideals he protected. Perhaps that was the only real immortality after all. Those like Trent who lived on to tell your tale in story, myth and legend.

Foller had chased this flame often and as much had lost sight of it. It was ever so elusive when one chased it for the fulfillment of their egotism. When one sought it with a true heart, its path could not be ignored.

Secret Education

"Stanton buddy. We've got a threat. You're being tracked. From the signature I'd say it is civilian tech. Likely local Police or Fire Fighting services who are in possession of such tech. FYI keep your head down." Foller observed his IR signature.

"Damn! You mean I've been observed this whole time?" Stanton feigned.

"Pick up your step old man. I know you were the bees knees in yer day but this is embarrassing. We're spec ops after all! We can't let these guys catch us." Foller's sights fell upon the IR signature of one of Stanton's pursuers.

Stanton didn't reply to Foller's radio warning but instead remained silent as he backed to the same bastion he'd relied upon only moments before the warning.

"Stanton? Did you..." Foller fell silent as he watched Stanton walk into the trap.

"Nomads! Shore up! Tighten up! Target down!" a voice emitted over Foller's channel.

Suddenly Foller realized why Stanton had chosen the comms channel he did prior to their mission.

Perhaps only a God could understand as much.

Stanton fell to the ground as several uneasy shots were fired over his head, presumably erupting from the firearms of the equipment of the Nomads.

"God cease and disarm. Run!" Stanton spoke over his headset.

Foller intercepted the comms and knew that as the signal to cease further cover ops. Foller packed up his rifle faster than his training regimen had taught him.

"We've got our target. Male. Fifty something. Fit. Very fit. On the ground face down. Out of play." the Nomads point man responded.

Nomad Interrogation

The interrogation room gave enough room for both Grady and Patel to pace, while Stanton sat with his hands cuffed and behind his back in a chair behind a table.

"That's some pretty spiffy communications tech you've got there. Where'd you get the headset?" asked Detective Grady.

"I borrowed some security equipment. It's the end of the world. Gotta stay alive somehow." Stanton answered dryly.

"You're pretty fit for a older guy. Are you sure you're not telling us something? Are you one of us? A Badge? Front line responder? My partner here is eager to get his hands on you. Break you down if you know what I mean. If you did something wrong and want to come clean about it, now's the time to 'fess up. We could help you. I mean its the end but not until we say. The rules and laws of society stand good until we give the word. I have a feeling that my partner here won't be such a nice guy when the rules break down. So what do you say?" Detective Patel sympathized with Stanton.

Stanton knew that this was their game. They would play him back and forth, one ready to throw the law at him or worse, the other trying to save him. A common and effective strategy used during interrogation. Stanton was measuring them. Clinically and carefully. Before he said anything he wanted to be sure of whom he was dealing.

"Well when society gets back on its feet next Tuesday, I'll be sure to give back the headset. How's that?" Stanton said sarcastically.

Detective Grady laughed, putting both of his hands to his face and rubbing his blue eyes.

"Where are the Armed Forces and Reserves? Aren't you supposed to be doing this under their supervision?" Asked Stanton catching them both off guard.

"I was just going to ask you the same thing." Detective Patel replied.

"Well it looks like you guys have it under control. You just decided in the face of the evacuation of the city and the absence of social order that you'd take over. Like a bunch of common crooks or the gangs you supposedly hunt down but probably just take a cut of the profits from and turn the other cheek. Real heroes eh?" Stanton tried pressing them a bit.

"You have a lot of nerve. I'll give you that. My advice to you is that you'd better can that attitude fast. Not because you have anything to worry about from us, but because if you walk out of here in the next day or two, if you take up that same attitude with someone else it just might get you killed and quick. We're here to uphold and protect the laws and ideals of the society from whence we came. Despite the fact that you probably take it for granted and always have, you have rights and we're not about to break down society by violating yours or anyone else's. We play by the rules because many of us have lived and died by those rules and they mean something to us. We caught you in suspicious circumstances and your saving grace is that you were unarmed." Detective Grady pounded his fist on the table.

Stanton sat quietly for a moment considering their answer and watching Grady from the corner of his eye for any signs that his speech was an act. It was possible that was part of their routine. Detectives often bonded very closely and during interrogation were able to improvise without losing their partner. Stanton sensed their sincerity and decided to go ahead with the final test.

He had been cuffed when he entered interrogation room nine and at the moment he chose to move his hands were free. He immediately grabbed Grady's Glock while standing. He pushed himself backwards into Patel as the Detective reached for his Glock. His weapon fell from his grip as Stanton's elbow found his solar plexus. Patel kicked his Glock towards Grady as Stanton got his arm around Patel's neck. Stanton wedged Grady's service Glock against the back of Patel's skull, taking cover behind the Detective as Grady picked up Patel's Glock and leveled it trying to find a clear shot.

"Now you're in some real trouble." Grady assured Stanton.

"You're only because we all have values." Stanton reminded Grady.

"If I find the shot, I'm going to take it. My partner knows that. You'll die and this will all have been a tragedy. Worst of all it will have been for nothing." Detective Grady pleaded with Stanton.

"Don't worry Detectives. I protected both of you just in case you chose such a path." Stanton spoke firmly and without emotion.

"What do you mean?" Grady asked.

"Quick, I'm passing out..." Patel struggled to speak as the room started to fade under Stanton's hold.

"I've got you're partner here with a hold that will deprive his brain of oxygen. He'll pass out in another ten seconds and you won't be able to coordinate your shot with him. His carotid. One of the main arteries to the brain. So you'll risk killing him as well you'll likely miss me. By that point I'll have killed you too with a single shot to the head. I'd then finish your partner and by the time your fellow Officers came to investigate, I'd have two weapons and enough ammunition to get out of here alive. I specialize in this sort of thing and I'll tell you the truth, I've done it before many times. I have to admit that this is my second incursion into a Police Services building, though the first one was during an operation in Pakistan I'm not at liberty to discuss in further detail." Stanton advised Grady.

"Who the hell are you!" Grady kept his Glock on Stanton who remained behind Patel. Patel struggled one last time and fell unconscious.

"I'm a Special Operative. Don't make any commotion. I'll prove that I'm on your side, and I'm going to apologize for your partner's headache right now. Don't take the shot." Stanton warned as he eased Patel onto the floor with one hand while keeping his Glock fixed on Grady.

Miraculously Grady did not fire much to Stanton's relief.

"You passed the test." Stanton assured Grady as he put Grady's Glock down on the interrogation table and put his hands in the air.

"You could have gotten yourself killed. How do I know you're telling the..." Grady began.

"Check your weapon." Stanton advised Grady.

Grady examined the weapon immediately seeing that it had no ammunition. The magazine had been absent when he'd picked up the Glock. In the rush he'd not noticed that he was armed with an empty firearm.

"I told you. I'd protect the both of you. I'm conducting an investigation into some alarming hacker activity that occurred directly after the Armageddon rumour hit the public." Stanton advised Grady.

"What did you do to my partner!?" Grady asked.

"He'll be awake in a minute, but he'll have a pounding headache for an hour or so. I'm sorry, but it was necessary." Stanton assured Grady.

Grady grabbed the loaded Glock from the table and kept it upon Stanton as two Tactical Operations Officers entered the interrogation room in full armour.

"You've got some explaining to do. Don't try anything funny 'cause we shoot first and laugh later." one of the Tactical Operations Officers addressed Stanton.

"Don't worry. In about ten minutes from now, we'll be drinking coffee as I bring your team up to speed." Stanton replied.

Patel got to his feet with Grady's assistance. He rubbed his head and staggered as he found his balance.

"I've got a pounding headache. I think I'm going to be sick. What happened to our detainee?" Patel said.

"Things just got a lot more complicated." Grady answered.

Secret Agent Intel

Rysalin and Trent had been immersed in their investigative efforts. They'd followed Stanton's instruction, improvising where they were unsure. They had proven to be a good team and this had ignited Rysalin's fire once again. Though Trent had been consumed by his task at hand, his mind often moved over his Wife's body centimeter by centimeter. She too had been invigorated by their efforts and they both made an unspoken decision to work together in this sort of deal if they could succeed in helping civilization to overcome this threat.

They'd collected the aliases of many hackers, cross referencing them ending up with some of their identities as well. They'd managed to from this sort a safe list of people whom they knew they could trust. These were potential candidates who would work with them to investigate SCARE. Of the group there were many black hats and white hats who agreed to assist without really knowing entirely who Rysalin or Trent were. Perhaps similar to their predicament in the fact that they really did not know with whom they dealt.

Stanton had laid it out for them before he'd left. It was ideals that united them, and similar ideals tended to need no synchronization as Stanton had put it. If you run by the same driving force, then chances are you'll all get there by different means. The thing that you can count on is that you're all going in the same direction with the same goal in mind. That's your compass. Now you've got a direction as Stanton had told them.

With similar direction, accurate synchronization is not needed. This is one of the advantages of ideology. It can move freely across borders. It keeps people on the track to the same goal without requiring direct communication between them. This is precisely what made terrorism such a dangerous adversary to the civilized world. The difference between terrorism and ideals quite simply are zeal and self righteousness. To believe that you can take the lives of civilians in the name of your cause. So the most important thing to remember in this situation is that there's a lot of people out there who are just like you. They share your values and your ideals are similar enough that you're ultimately going in the same direction. Don't harp on them for the little stuff. You've got enough in common that they're your friends. Once we've got society nailed down again, we can bicker about the little stuff with one another knowing that the whole time that we had each other's back. Laws protect our freedoms rather than take them and a malleable system like ours that can transform by the needs of morality and the people is the best we've got so far. If something needs to change, it will but that's why people have to make themselves heard. For now, we're going to ensure that our way of life remains. We're protecting the ability of society to change and the needs of society changes while hanging onto some moral ideas that are somewhat constant. Let that be your uniting factor and with that you'll all be in sync all of the time. Don't let ideologies that won't respect these same ideals have the majority of the say because they'll take the say entirely away.

When Trent asked Stanton why he hadn't run for office instead of joining the Special Operations Unit, he replied: That's for a whole other different kind of expert. Fortunately most of them have the same compass as myself and the ones that I feel don't are the ones that I don't vote for. I guess its not so much as knowing your place as it is knowing what isn't your place.

Had Stanton been here with Trent right now he would have argued that point for Trent felt right at home sorting out their intelligence gathering effort with his Wife, Rysalin and she felt the same. He'd never felt so much alive and in touch with what he was good at as a person. Not to mention that he'd found it by the side of someone with whom he'd made the mutual promise of a life together. He would die for her and despite his protests she would do the same for him.

As Trent pondered that thought, Hannah walked into the dining room where Rysalin and Trent had been sorting their data.

"I've got something here. Important." Hannah said to them standing on one leg, her other leg wrapped behind the leg upon which she stood like teens often do.

"What do you have Hannah?" asked Rysalin.

"Something big. An attack on our city." Hannah replied.

"What, you mean like a terrorist attack? Guns and bombs?" Trent asked.

"No. Bigger. Way bigger. You know. Like the bomb?" Hannah told them.

"A bomb. Where?" Rysalin asked.

"Not just a bomb. The bomb or maybe a missile. A Nukuler bomb." Hannah tried to explain.

"A nuclear bomb?!" Trent said.

"Yes. That's it. A nuclear bomb or missile." she replied.

Dave walked in from the backyard just as she'd told them. He'd been working on the generators that were keeping the house powered. Meanwhile Carol his wife and Jennifer, Stanton's daughter were sitting on the back porch with Elena discussing plans for bringing the community in on their network.

Dave upon seeing Hannah with Rysalin and Trent quickly made his way up the stairs enthusiastically.

"Whatcha got Hannah? She's my daughter you know. She's a star computer girl! That's my girl! So what's up with everyone?" Dave asked in a chipper and motivated way.

"There's a nuclear bomb or missile Dad. They're going to nuke us all." Hannah announced dismally.

"Did you hear that! My girl discovered a nuclear bomb! Wait. What did you say? A nuclear bomb! Hannah! Go to your room! Don't tell anyone else about this!" Dave said taking charge.

"Uhhhh you're old enough to drink, did you guys want a beer?" Dave asked them as if this was another one of his barbecues.

"I'll take a glass of wine." Rysalin replied.

"I'll have what she's having. And a beer." Trent replied.

"Ok. Great. So you're intelligence gathering experts now. So what's up with this nuclear bomb thing I've been hearing so much about? Oh my god! We're all going to die!" Dave asked seriously stressed.

Wendy's Coffee

Wendy walked into the room casually wearing her Firefirghter's button down shirt and slacks. She'd even put her formal dress hat on making her appear as a uniformed Police Officer.

Detective Grady and Detective Patel were seated beside their guest on either side who now no longer wore handcuffs. He sat across from them a coffee in hand much like his fellow Officers, though he was employed by the military while they were civilian. Stanton had never considered that a boundary for they all worked for the same idea and protecting the same thing. Their tasking may have been different but their core wasn't. They'd learned that lesson a short time ago and from Stanton himself though he'd known they had it inherently all along.

"I'm Wendy. I run the Nomads here." Wendy began as she sat directly across from Stanton.

"I'm Brad Stanton. I work for the Special Operations Unit of a Ministry about which I'm not at libery to speak." Stanton stood and offered Wendy his hand.

"So you're the James Bond I've been hearing so much about. Pleased to meet you." Wendy offered as she sat.

"I'm not exactly James Bond though very close. I was a fan of Ian Flemming's work during my training. Tom Clancy too. They're both very close to some aspects of Special Operations though I'm not at liberty discuss any aspects of our methods. I'm here to bring you up to speed with the current threat to the civilian populations of North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, Oceania and Asia lest we act in their defense, and now," Stanton explained.

"We've dealt recently with some bizarre threats given the state of both the city and the country that are of a questionable nature. You do realize that we are in a state of national emergency and that many other countries around the world are in a similar position." Wendy addressed Stanton from equal ground.

"I'm aware. Most populated centers are or are in the process of voluntary and involuntary evacuation. That aspect of the threat against our civilization was a planned element as it would stress the local authority and resources leaving openings in other aspects of our defenses. That is what I'm here to discuss with you. Look. I'm a guest here but your men got me a coffee and I obliged. Perhaps you'd allow me to do the same for you?" Stanton asked Wendy.

She paused for a moment suddenly understanding the extremity of the situation and the measure thereof as well. She contemplated as to whether this Stanton person hadn't been hired by the same people who'd attempted to extract data from the Stadium banking facility. Not beyond the realm of possibility seeing as they still had several members of that padre in their confinement. How opportune it would be for an assassin to suddenly show up with a fantastical story, seducing her men and then her in time to assassinate her with poison in her coffee.

Both Grady and Patel beside her sat silently drinking theirs as if they'd known something that she didn't. Neither of them had appeared to be gagging or sick from some hidden poison in the alleged assassin's arsenal and it was from that sign that she'd made her decision.

"Yes. Very much. I'd like one sugar and two creme in mine, thank you." Wendy said accepting Stanton's offer.

He obliged her standing calmly and heading over the coffee reservoir pouring out a cup of fresh joe for her. He carefully measured her sugar taking his time and then poured her cream. After mixing it with a stir stick he returned to the table placing it in front of her.

He watched her carefully as she drank, the level of the coffee visibly declining.

Grady and Patel seemed somewhat relieved.

"What? Are you two hiding something? Is this some kind of initiation to a secret society?" Wendy interrogated them.

"Maybe. We're a part of the group of people who in these times trust one another. I mean the value of trust has risen dramatically as a commodity don't you think?" Stanton answered.

"Most definitely. It feels good to trust as it does to be trusted. Its a shame that its something that must sometimes be kept secret in these times." Wendy answered.

"Well that does seem to be the nature of our mutual enemy. To divide and conquer us. We're easier targets divided, but uniting as a group alone is not the sole answer." Stanton responded to Wendy.

"With superior numbers we should be able to take on just about anything. That's the whole idea of the workforce in our infrastructure. Many hands make light work." Grady responded.

"We're dealing with an enemy far different than we've ever dealt with before as a conglomeration of civilizations in this world. We're dealing with an enemy that is capable of exploiting both our technology and our past grievances with one another against us." Stanton explained.

"I always knew technology would be the undoing of us." Patel said shaking his head.

"Its not the technology that's the problem. Its that some people are using their technical savvy for these purposes. We're able to maintain a higher standard of living than we have than any other time in history." Wendy reminded the table.

"Agreed. The problem isn't the technology. The problem is us. Those of us who've lost touch with our ideals. the ideals upon which most, if not all of civilization is built. We believe those ideals are common amongst us, and that some leviathan is keeping them reinforced within society. The truth is, there is no such beast. We're relying on a belief that is not backed by our willingness to act and to take responsibility for the civilization and freedom that we have. To stand unified in those ideals, which are about cooperation, not involuntary collectivism. This isn't about the War of 1812, nor is it about the North versus the South. This isn't about capitalism versus socialism. It isn't about the freedom versus the communist threat or the Warsaw Pact. It isn't about the cold war. It isn't about 9/11. This isn't about whose god is right and whose is wrong. Its about how every one of those aspects of our history and being can be used to divide us as people and to get us fighting between ourselves, one against the other rather than concentrating on defending the values upon which our civilizations are built. The technology is just a tool in this battle and we're dealing with an enemy that is very capable of using it effectively against us. That's because we've relied upon it far too long and the idea that this hidden leviathan behind our technology would protect us and our ideals. Well they've dismantled that and utilized it against us. The entire world is being dismantled and we have no idea of what's to come. We've already seen the detonation of at least one nuclear weapon on North American soil and as many as five or six tactical nuclear warheads used in a naval operation just off the shores of the United Kingdom. Those events are akin to someone turning off the lights in a room full of armed men who are in the midst of a standoff. Imagine what happens when everyone in the room begins shooting in the dark." Stanton explained the situation as clearly as he could.

"So what do we do about this? Actually what is there that we can do?" Patel answered somewhat defensively.

"Consider the possibility that every early warning system has been compromised by a well hidden group of elite hackers, who've been using the knowledge they've gained of those systems to pit our own forces one against the other. Not just NATO. The same thing is happening to Russia and the Baltic states. To China, Korea and Japan. In both Africa and South America a continent wide civil war is brewing that will take millions of lives and all of this is happening in the middle of what most people to believe to be the Apocalypse. They believe thanks to a meme, a powerful rumour, that the entirety of reality is about to collapse. So many of those people have thrown away their fear of God or Allah or whatever it is that they believe and are now pursuing whatever last minute pleasure they'd missed out on while they were alive. This is a snowball that is currently growing and picking up speed as it tumbles." Stanton advised the table.

"So what do you propose? We start rounding up people and taking them to Church?" Grady responded sarcastically.

"No. We never force anyone down the road of any belief they don't so choose freely for themselves, but we do ensure that with everyone we enlist to assist us that we're on the same page with regard to our values. We all want the society that we had before the collapse. We want to ensure that every Woman, child and man have their full rights in society. In fighting for that society, many of us will truly know its value for the first time and perhaps be ready to teach those values and the courage to defend them to the generations that come. That's what unites us." Stanton stood as he spoke, pressing his hands firmly to the table.

"So what's the first step?" Wendy asked him.

"We need to bring the rest of your troupe here in on the situation. That shouldn't be too hard as they'll be the first to understand that fight. After all, they've been on the front line of it for some time. Probably longer than most of us and certainly at par with the Armed Forces. We have to make sure they understand what we're trying to achieve and more importantly what we're up against." Stanton advised Wendy.

"I think I can do that. I think they'll be looking forward to hearing some real answers but they're also going to have some real questions." Wendy assured Stanton.

"We don't discuss the details until we know for certain everyone is on board. We're going to be found out for certain but we have to delay that inevitability for as long as possible in order to get the upper hand against these hackers. We're going to use hackers of our own. The best that we can find. Everyone you scolded and branded for their curiosity are going to become our Special Forces on the front line of cyber-warfare. We're enlisting across borders as well, from everywhere in the world. There's a lot of talented people out there who want to save the world as badly as we do. We need their help as much as they need ours. We've put together our little team and we're currently growing it based upon the same criteria I'm growing our real world team, though make no mistake, this is a group effort held together by the freedom of cooperation. We're all representatives for those virtues from here on in. This isn't a bee hive or ant colony and that's not a stab against women leaders or even the Queen. Nobody is going to be required to give up their individuality to become a part of a psychopathic collective of zealots wielding the power of their numbers to tell everhyone else what's right and what's wrong. Certainly not a vehicle to forcefully convert others to any religion at all. Nobody will have their identity taken from them and replaced with someone else's, unless they're in the business of Special Operations. We're not running an identity based game of musical chairs here, this is civilization, not 'identity thieves r us'. This is about ensuring that everyone has the freedom to make the choice of their beliefs on their own or even to believe nothing at all if they so choose. We aren't going to sort people out, deeming them fit or unfit to take part in society. No religious ideas will be used in sorting people out, such as testing people for the mark of the beast or whether they're more Cain like versus Abel. Those beliefs are a personal yardstick by which to measure oneself and not meant to be wielded as anything else, especially dividing people along the lines of believers and non-believers. We will be inclusive and if in our midst we encounter people of such ilk misusing what we have cooperated to build, we deal with such persons on the basis of our founding principles and the laws backing those principles up.  Nobody is going to be forced to believe or participate in any ideology other than the founding principles of our society, bearing in mind that throughout the world, those principles are going be slightly different for different parts of the world. The only real change we'll bring about, is a sincere effort to alter our treatment of the resources of our planet, and to work together to heal and nurture it, while we ween ourselves away from destructive production and extraction practices without telling everyone else what to do. We need the confidence and cooperation of everyone, from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich, the uninformed  to the scholars and experts of the world. Wendy, in knowing all of this, it will be up to you when you bring the rest of your team up to speed on the entirety of the situation. Grady. Patel. For you guys, mums the word until you get clearance from Wendy." Stanton advised Wendy then addressing Grady and Patel in turn.

"I think we can manage that." Grady nodded in assurance to Wendy.

"Oh, and one more thing. In about two minutes you're going to receive communications from one of my team. He'll have one or possibly more of your team as hostages and will try to negotiate a trade for me. When he does, let met speak to him. If you don't, a good portion of your base of operations here will likely be blown to kingdom come. He's a real pro, and a bit protective too." Stanton advised them.

No more than a moment later there was a knock on the door.

"Enter!" Wendy commanded.

"We just received a communication on an emergency channel from someone claiming to know Stanton here. He has three of our men hostage and is demanding Stanton's immediate release," one of the Tactical Operations unit members opened the door with the intel they'd been expecting.

Wendy looked to Stanton.

"You sure are thorough."

"Wendy. That's my job though what we're up against goes way beyond the call of duty." Stanton reminded her.

Wendy turned to her Tactical Operations Officer and responded.

"Our new friend Stanton here will accompany you to the radio room. From there you'll give him access to the radio and your full cooperation on this matter. Do you understand?" Wendy confirmed with her Officer.

"Aye, M'aam." the Officer responded saluting her.

"Don't worry, you'll have your men back unharmed in about ten minutes. From there I'll make sure he breaks down all of the Cemtech he's wired to your base without blowing us sky high." Stanton assured Wendy.

"That's a relief, but I trust you. You make great coffee by the way." Wendy nodded.

"I'm kind of hoping that we can all go for a beer after we've cleaned up this mess?" Stanton asked looking to the others in the room.

"I'm in for that one. The first round's on me." Grady raised his half empty cup of coffee in a faux toast to Stanton.

Foller arrived shortly after speaking with Stanton. Stanton had used an old numbers station code they'd both remember from an assignment more than a decade and a half ago to ensure his own identity over the radio. Foller remembered sure enough and quickly made his way to a prearranged rendezvous point. There he remanded his three prisoners and was let in on the current deal by Stanton.

While Foller went about removing the forty pounds of explosive he'd wired to the Nomad's base of operations, Stanton returned to the radio room from where he radioed Dave's home.

"We've got some intel here for you. Its serious." Elena spoke to him over the radio.

"How serious, one to ten?" Stanton asked.

"This is about an eleven or twelve." Elena replied.

"Alright. We'll RTB shortly with some local friendlies. ETA... an hour. I know this is tough, but stay calm and keep everyone else there the same. Remember, no names over the radio. Over." Stanton waited for her response.

"Got it. Just get back as quick as you can. Over and out." Elena voice sounded steady and confident though Stanton could recognize the signs of her stress.

NORAD Crisis

Deep within the mountainous rock of Mount Cheyenne lay a facility of tremendous proportions. Almost beyond human imagination, yet every inch of the facility was laid by human ingenuity. A facility capable of housing more than fifty thousand people for four years. A facility with complete directive control over every strategic and tactical nuclear resource deployment in North America.

A facility with complete control over the future of humanity. A facility that had prepared for every possible form of invasion contingency except that of electrons. Electrons directed by the instructions of coordinated directors who sought the collapse of humanity for their own special purposes.

On this day just such electrons found their way to NORAD's door, indistinguishable from other electrons. Impostors in fact.

Beyond twenty-five, yard thick steel doors, they penetrated into the heart of the facility, passing numerous officers and soldiers, those trained specially to recognize impostors, yet none to recognize impostors posing as electrons. Electrons as directed by an expert hacker. Perhaps the most expert hacker and ideologist the world has ever known.

The electrons in fact, infiltrated the most heavily guarded facility in the world, obtaining control of the fate of humanity by way of the most prolific nuclear arsenal, all without sounding any alarms. In fact, the only indication that such an undertaking had been successful is the fact that anywhere on the computer interface that the NORAD logo appeared, it had been altered to include a tinier logo just above, with puppet strings extending down to each of the letters: N O R A D. The tinier logo was simple. Just one word. SCARE.

The crisis hadn't stopped there, for in this massive hack, the combined efforts of thousands of top class hackers yielded control of just about every computer technology based system throughout North America, Europe and Eurasia. The previous calamity of mass hysteria had gripped the world for four days until this point. During that time there had been mass looting, anarchy and evacuation throughout the civilized world. While many remained in the cities, just as many had flown for the outskirts of major cities, bringing about another problem. Mass supply shortages and vile living conditions which were very quickly becoming a threat for disease and sickness. Once again renewing the cycle of mass looting and violence. For local authorities it was near impossible to maintain control. This new hack would amplify that problem a thousand fold.

The first signs of the hack began when Police stations in the civilized world began receiving arrest orders for elected officials in their local ridings. Meanwhile, the corresponding Federal Police services had received arrest orders for the Police Chiefs of most major cities. To make things even worse, the militaries of most civilized countries were being activated at a capacity for martial law. They were to seize local power, remanding it to Federal authority under the command of the military. These orders would put them in direct conflict with the previously given Police and Federal Police orders, creating a three way stand-off between the only systems in civilization capable of maintaining order. The final stages of SCARE's plan were unfolding. It was the dawn of a new era. To test their control of NORAD, they conducted an exercise.

Within the central command room, a large wall was covered with a huge digital display. Thereupon the display was the entire world depicted as a Mercator Projection. Most of the major cities of the world were highlighted with a white dot, whose intensity indicated the level of currently estimated population, drawn from the latest data and satellite imagery.

Within the command room there were three hundred separate workstations, each with its own monitor and operator. These workstations were divided up into sections of fifty workstations, each with a roving Officer, who oversaw the operations being conducted within their respective section. They each reported to the commanding officer, General Basco, who was in fact a Four Star General and the Chief Commander of NORAD Operations under the rock: Mount Cheyenne.

The first alarm sounded exactly six minutes after SCARE had obtained control of NORAD and Civil Defense and Operations systems throughout the world. The alarm was immediately recognized by General Basco, who addressed it quickly.

"Eurasia/Russia team, I need immediate verifation of a detected ICBM launch sequence, sourced from Russia and the Baltic States." General Basco ordered.

"Sir, we're detecting the launch sequence of over five hundred separate launch sites throughout Russia and the Baltic States." Commander Retson responded.

"Sir, we're detecting the same thing, sourced from North Korea. Twenty active launch sights. Ignition sequence and exhaust heat signatures." Commander Naressa added.

"Same thing here. We're detecting a massive launch signature from China. At least three hundred ICBM locations and heat signatures. This appears to be the big one, Sir." Command Walters responded from the East Asia/Oceania team.

"We need visual confirmation now! Let's get some intel from regional ground assets. We need to know if their birds are in the air or if this is a computer software glitch. Meanwhile, I want full activation of ABM systems, including the deployment of the ABM detachment of the air force. Set DEW line and Arctic resources on high alert. We need eyes and ears everywhere. Commander Retson, what's our window for a retaliatory strike?" General Basco barked orders, turning to question one of the Commanders.

"Sixteen minutes from now, we'll begin losing retaliation capability. Every thirty seconds after that sixteen minute mark will count as a 5% reduction of our total retaliation capacity. In approximately twenty six to thirty minutes from now, we will have no retaliatory capacity." Commander Retson advised General Basco.

"Sir, it appears that Israel is getting in on this as well. We have ignition from twelve sites on Israeli soil. Iran is countering and we detect ignition at twenty separate sites." Commander Yan announced.

"What's the status on our ground assets? Do we have any confirmations?" General Basco demanded.

"Sir, we're just waiting on a request for intel from our ground assets." Commander Retson responded.

"How long until the first projected touchdown?" asked the General.

"We're predicting that the first missile will impact Seoul on its way from North Korea in approximately three minutes given the arc and trajectory." Commander Naressa advised.

"Give me a live satellite feed of the region, centered on Seoul on screen number four." General Basco ordered.

One of six screens bracketing the larger main screen came to life with a satellite image of Korea, centered on Seoul. There was partial cloud cover of the area. partly obscuring their view of the city.

"Give that image to me on IR and UV spectrum. Alternate between the two every three seconds." General Basco ordered.

The image quickly changed, revealing heat sources beneath the clouds, allowing the General and all in the room to see through to the city below. Three seconds later, the image changed slightly revealing even more fine detail at the expense of the overall contrast. Near the center of the image details of the city became very clear provided they were in high contrast exposure to the sun or moon.

"Sir, we just got our first report from a ground asset located on the outskirts of Moscow. He says skies are clear. No vapour or launch trails. None of the local bombers have been scrambled. This whole thing might be a computer kludge." Commander Retson advised the General.

"That's the best news I've heard all day, but we still need more confirmation. What's the status on Seoul's impact?" asked the General.

"About a minute and a half. No, make that forty five seconds. Thirty and counting. Twenty. Ten. Five..." the Commander announced as all eyes fixed on screen four.

Most if not everyone in the room held their breath and when the countdown was five seconds beyond the projected impact time, there was a unified sigh of relief from everyone in the command room.

"That's better." Commander Naressa commented.

"Could still be faulty hardware on their missile. We need more confirmation." General Basco stated.

"Sir we have another report from ground assets in China and Israel. Both assets are claiming the skies are clear. No birds in flight." Commander Yan reported.

"Sir, I've seen this attack pattern before. It looks like one of the older war games we used to test our response systems. I'd say there's a glitch, and the war game simulation has somehow become active. I suggest we disable any side simulation facilities and do another computer confirmation." Commander Naressa told the General.

"Options? What do we lose if we take side simulations offline?" General Basco asked.

"Mostly real-time projection capacity. We won't be able to process real-time adjustments of time to impact for any birds. Ours or theirs." Commander Retson advised.

"Alright. Take the simulation systems offline and check our detection status. Meanwhile, keep our ground asset reports coming. I want to ensure that world war three hasn't started without us." General Basco ordered.

The main screen went blank for half a second and then reappeared, lacking any launch sites or missile trails.

"Sir, its seems that the source of our detection was the simulation systems. Someone ran a war game simulation. Possibly a computer glitch." Commander Naressa reported.

"Alright. I want all the logs of this situation filed for review. Every administrative access to the system, every software change, everything done with the system by a tech will be reviewed by my Command team. We'll start this process after your shift here and our replacements arrive. No sleep until we've fully reviewed the data and found the problem. Your shifts will be altered to allow for your rest at some later point. Are there any questions?" General Basco asked his Command team.

The room remained silent.

"Alright, then lets get back to work as if nothing happened. We'll take care of this after the shift." General Basco ordered his team back to work.

Meanwhile, a large scale compression stream diverted much of the data to the computer systems of an aerial recon drone, which was equipped with high capacity data storage. Enough so to store petabytes of data. That drone relayed the data to a satellite which in turn relayed it through a gaming server, and from there to an offshore data center under the control of SCARE.

Moments later, Kale began reviewing it from the safety of his wheelchair integrated laptop. He was amazed at how simple the task had been to bring NORAD to its knees. In fact, he'd had the entire world at his mercy. He'd become the harbinger of the apocalypse. Just as the prophecies had said. There would be mass turmoil and only the few would survive to bring about heaven on Earth.

Just as his Mama had told him, the end times were upon them and only the most pure and holy would survive.

He understood his destiny in life, as his Mama had told him many times.

Kale's tremendous fate would ensure that the apocalypse was realized in full. That only the pure and the few would live to build heaven on Earth.

He was going to save the world by purifying it. By stripping it bare of its evil flesh and life, leaving only the pure to build the new heaven.

As the leader of SCARE sat peacefully in his wheelchair, around the world, the forces of law and order had begun warring one another and society began the last stages of its complete and final collapse. As the Police forces of the world fought with their respective Federal Police, the military joined the action attempting to take control from them. Few if any realized their contradicting orders and the fact that they were all being played one against the other. As if Machiavelli himself was pulling the puppet strings.

Centralization had all but disappeared. Order had been lost and confusion was the new ruler of the world.

"Hallelujah!" Kale smiled as the world around him collapsed.

Tales Of Past Ops And Nemesis

The drive back to the suburbs was mostly uneventful for Stanton, Foller and Grady.

As Grady suspected, there was little talk between the three men. He knew that the two men sitting in the front of the security vehicle were from a completely different world than his own. They simply never would have mingled to usher in any kind of familiarity unless it was part of their operation.

Even someone as civil and rigid as Stanton couldn't break some of the old habits that came with those in his field. His inner circle was tight, and he seldom dared to let others in for their own safety. These plans he'd discussed with Wendy were as alien to him as they were to Foller and Grady, where the risk of allowing others into one's fold became exponential with each additional person.

Stanton considered this as he was driving, and the significance of his coffee test as he'd labeled it. Getting over that feeling of vulnerability when you grew your circle, possibly merging two. Especially in such situations where trust was becoming ever more scarce and the dangers of societal collapse started becoming manifest.

This wasn't as simple as a social game, like love and hate, or even a social trope such as good and bad, where groups of people competed, trying to end their day on the love side of the fence, while others did their best to push others off of that fence. The collapse was real, and there were lives at stake. As if the whole trope of love and hate was merely practice for the more volatile version of what would eventually become like genocide. Sorting people out between those who would live and those who would die.

Stanton's experiences in life, especially in his field, had taught him many things about society and human nature. Many of his operations had been conducted on soil where there was little form of civil government or society as the modern world knew it. In such places, the power to take lives was the only real power there was and everyone else in such societies often became cattle for those who possessed such power. 

They'd simply play along with the whims of whomever had that power, sacrificing many aspects of their life and freedom as if those aspects were a currency of their own. To sell out one's own freedom and humility in order to buy a day's grace from being in the sights. Meanwhile, those who wielded that power exploited those who'd grown wealthy enough in any aspect to be worthy of exploitation. Like watching a field and looking for the fattest and meatiest pig.

Modern society had similar aspects to this, but when it was working well, those predators who preyed upon others in such a manner were few and far between. The real danger of a societal collapse is that those predators grew from being a few scattered and random individuals, to becoming an organized group. Their validity sold on the pretense of survival or power in numbers, and yet such groups had the potential and danger to become exactly like the more rare, individual predators of humanity. A pack of wolves watching the grazing fields of the pigs and cows for the meatiest prey.

Most people up until this point in the lifespan of human civilization had taken for granted the fact that the distance between modern civilization, and despotic civilizations was merely steps away. Where the rule of might was sold to the population as the rule of right. By that point, the pigs, sheep and cows would be hard pressed to liberate themselves from the pack predators preying upon and exploiting them, though this was not simply  the rationale of socialism versus democracy as in Orwell's Animal Farm. This was about the absence of civility versus its presence and prevailing rule. Where the individual was as valuable as the group, for without the individual, there would be no group. Without the individual, there would be only the hive, the drones, doing what they had to rather than individuals cooperating because they so chose.

Was what he was proposing simply the path to another form of despotism? He pondered this carefully and philosophically as the road continued before coming to a conclusion. He deemed that it wasn't simply a path to despotism or even socialism or democracy. That outcome was not his to decide. He was only laying the foundation based upon his knowledge and experience of defending those foundations for nearly his whole life on the frontlines of their most deadly threats. Ultimately, it was the people and their will that would decide such a fate.

If he started down the path to Queenmaker (or Kingmaker), attempting to craft the perfect leader that represented the ideals for which he'd fought, he'd have been stepping into dangerous territory, for history was littered with such attempts that had ended in death, disaster and often genocide. In the end, he decided that he'd fight for the ideals, not the leadership of any specific person representing those ideals with anything other than his expertise as a consultant, and his vote.

He'd do what he could to stop the pack wolves preying on the peace of the animal pens. He'd fight to stop pack wolves that oppressed. The opportunist pack wolves who'd crush someone to the dirt when nobody was looking, and then offer them a hand up when everyone was looking.

The one aspect about this whole thing that was brewing a potential end of the world storm was the fact that before the collapse, society had become more and more the battleground of the leviathan of public opinion, and mostly thanks to the misuse of social media and technology. The game of psychologically radicalizing someone to conflict without being detected. When they finally blew, it might end in a public rant in the mildest of cases, or as a violent attack in the worst of cases. As if there were a hidden element responsible for radicalization that had been drawing the lines of the apocalyptic end game.

He considered that this hidden element had been present and growing since the nineteen nineties, possibly earlier. He'd seen evidence for it throughout the entirety of his life, though he could never put his finger on it. Like it was a dirge, simply cultivating the basest and most beastial of human emotions, for the time it would harvest them in the explosion of global war.

He considered that for every peaceful person who'd been wronged by this hidden chaos, to the point of systematic radicalization, there was another soldier for the side of vengeance. Ready to harvest into the army that would likely hold the innocent responsible for the crimes of a hidden scourge, that stood back and watched the whole thing play out.

That was the missing link in this whole situation. The devil hidden in the details. The thing without a name, for the longer it remained that way, the more it could be attributed to anyone. There were us. There were them. And there was this unnamed thing that played us against them, fanning the flames of conflict from behind the scenes, while us and them would be too busy fighting one another to become aware of this third player.

"I think I found our nemesis," Stanton suddenly broke the silence, startling Foller, who'd practically tipped over sideways asleep onto the passenger window with the droning of the security van's engine.

"...what are you talking about old man? I was halfway to a tropical paradise with a handful of hotties when you woke me," Foller rubbed his eyes as he leaned up in his seat.

"The hidden enemy," Stanton responded still nowhere near Foller's mind set.

"Are you having a senior moment or something? 'Cause I'd like to get back to my dreamin' old timer," Foller looked over at Stanton for any physical signs of malady.

Stanton held his right fist up before Foller's face. His middle finger slowly climbed until it was standing at attention.

"That's better, though I think someone needs a nap and perhaps a change of his diapers. What's up then?" Foller asked him candidly.

"Do you remember that operation in Palestine?" asked Stanton.

"Which one? We were there three times, remember?" Foller confirmed with him.

"The third time. We had Echo team with us on that one," Stanton reminded Foller with some of the details.

"Ok. I remember. We were infiltrating a terrorist cell," Foller's tongue tread without concern or respect.

"Alleged terrorist cell," Stanton corrected him.

"Alleged. Alright. They looked pretty legit to me, but you were the leader on that op," Foller simply refused any responsibility for his slip of the tongue.

"When I met with their contact in that hookah bar..." Stanton explained.

"Yes, and I was on a rooftop across the street with an M50 and thermal sights keeping overwatch on your sorry old ass," Foller said cockily.

"You almost took him out. Do you remember why?" Stanton asked him.

"Because I spotted two of his men enter the establishment, both carrying concealed AK-74s under their robes. Not the Spetzna issue variety but the shorter barreled kind. The kind that you get from a mail order mod kit that you see survivalists and SHTF types order all the time," Foller reminded Stanton about the details.

"Precisely. You gave me the signal that you were going to take my contact out and that I had two tangoes on my left side at twenty paces from our section. One wearing green and the other wearing a black headdress," Stanton recalled.

"We're on the same page. It always amazes me when old guys recall details like that," Foller smiled at his own wit.

"However, after talking with my contact and verifying his authenticity and sincerity, we ascertained that the two tangoes were not his men. They were sent by a competing arms dealer. One that had been playing both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Secretly," Stanton recalled correctly for Foller.

"Details, shme-tails. One terrorist is the same as any other," Foller countered.

"Do you remember how we logged that intel in our report?" Stanton asked Foller.

"Yes, alright. You're precisely right. We referred to that competing arms dealer trying to start world war three in the Middle East as Nemesis. We had suspects, about sixty eight of them in all, in various locations around the world. We had motive, as in if you're an arms dealer and you start world war three, its kind of like creating market opportunities. So we foiled them and both the Palestinians and the Israelis took them out and we came out of it looking like heroes," Foller folded his arms across his chest.

"My point is that we're dealing with another Nemesis," Stanton told Foller.

"What? Like another arms dealer? Don't you think that would be a little over the top? Even for those greedy arms dealer types?" Foller responded callously.

"You're one to talk. Half your personal arsenal is from greedy arms dealer types," Stanton reminded him.

"Well in this business, you have to play both sides," Foller admitted.

"That's my point. We're dealing with someone behind the scenes who is playing both sides and fanning the flames of conflict, except they've been doing this for decades," Stanton told Foller his theory.

"Now you're having another senior moment. That's just complete nonsense," Foller shook his head.

"Seriously. The evidence is there. We have everything but the suspects. The crime is playing out throughout the world right now and many people have been wound up like toy soldiers to be ready for this conflict without their even knowing," Stanton explained to Foller.

"I say we discuss this after some food and a nap. Someone's getting a tad bit grouchy. Besides, you've been going full tilt for almost four days now," Foller gestured with his hand, secretly indicating that they'd talk later without Grady or anyone else present.

"I think you're right. We'll talk after a bit of food and some rest," Stanton played along with Foller's suggestion.

As they drove, off a short distance away, the sound of erratic gunfire erupted. As they'd been driving, both Stanton and Foller had noted that it had been steadily increasing in occurrence.

Foller looked to Stanton, who returned his glance. Foller's eyebrows raised and he nodded.

Old Friends And Uncomfortable Acquaintances

The security van pulled into Carol and Dave's driveway, behind Dave's family minivan before backing out and lining up directly in front of the house along the curb. The remainder of the street was dead as most people in Dave's community had fled to their cottages or othner family retreats.

Stanton had been mindful of the situation and ensured that there were no signs that anyone had taken over one of the other homes in the absence of their owners. That could prove to be dangerous, especially with the operation they were setting up.

Stanton himself knew the kind of technology available even to hobbyists that could localize their internet and ham radio signal, for he'd used it decades ago long before the public even knew that such technology existed. His main concern was that someone representing their nemesis might setup shop in one of the neighbouring homes to evaluate their threat.

Despite the fact that Stanton and Foller hadn't discussed the issue, they both were formally aware of it and took hidden action to protect their base of operations aka Dave's family home. The Nomads Headquarters would be considered their FARPS. Their Forward Arming and Refueling Point for any operations they'd conduct in the region. More certainly, they expected that as this progressed, the Nomads would become an important defense and intelligence asset as they gained support in ensuring the rebuilding of a safe and stable society. More importantly, Stanton knew that such people who'd had to fight for such an important aspect of their life, like society, civility and freedom, would know and appreciate its true value.

The irony in the situation and their return to this ad-hoc base of operations was that it reminded Stanton of something that hadn't been a part of his own life so much as he'd have liked and that was a sense of truly being a part of a circle of friends and family life, that had been well beyond his reach from his late teens given his talents, vocation and unique skill set.

Nonetheless, when he got out of the van, Elena happened to open the front door and was standing there waiting, like they were arriving at a family barbecue.

"Come on, get your butts in here! We've got some food cooking and some beer cooling and a few matters to discuss..." Elena stood in the doorway.

"Elena, I'd like you to meet a friend of ours. We'll do names when we get inside," Stanton was quick to act on security.

"Well hello friend," Elena greeted the stranger.

"Likewise. I can smell something cooking and it certainly smells good," Grady offered.

"Well you're just in time and there's lots of it," Elena welcomes their new friend into Dave's home as Foller and Stanton secured the van and grabbed Foller's demolitions kit.

Dave made his way to the front door, a beer in hand and a smile on his face.

"Dave's the name. Dave Stodac," he held out his hand.

"Protocol...?" Elena reminded Dave.

"What?! We're inside. Lighten up. Besides, while you were gone, I designed and installed sound cancellation technology by the front door," Dave's smile stretched to cover most of the real estate on his face.

Foller stepped into the house and began speaking. His lips moved but there was no sound coming from him.

"See? Ahhhh? It works!" Dave's grin grew even more.

"Cut it out Foller," Stanton quipped, tapping his special forces peer on the shoulder.

"Sorry Dave. I was pushing for you though," Foller seemed to like Dave.

"No really, it does work. It doesn't completely cancel out sound. It muffles soundwaves that are louder than a certain decibel level by means of phase cancellation," Dave explained to them.

Carol came to the front door to meet and greet them, suddenly holding her hands to her cheeks.

"I can't believe this! Dan? How long has it been?" Carol spoke to Detective Grady.

"My gosh. Carol Wheeler? Is that really you?" Detective Grady responded, opening his arms as they met and hugged one another.

Dave became a little defensive.

"So Carol, are you going to introduce us?" Dave responded.

"You're not going to believe this, but Dan here was my highschool crush before I met Dave," Carol announced.

"Nice to meet you, Dan," Dave shook hands with Detective Grady, trying to impress the other man with his working man's grip and failing miserably.

"That's quite a grip you've got there. Are you a technician?" Detective Grady responded, trying to be polite, instantly recognizing that he was treading on another man's turf.

"No. Actually I'm an Electrical Engineer. A hands-on kind of guy... though I worked behind a control panel and desk for most of the day... before the collapse," Dave replied honestly.

"I hate to break up this reunion, but we've got to check up on the others' progress?" Stanton smiled, and made his way through to the dining room, which had become their operations center.

"I'm with the grumpy guy with senior issues..." Foller followed Stanton, closing the front door as he stepped inside.

"There's barbecue chicken that's just come off the grill if you'd like," Dave told Stanton and Foller.

"Thanks Dave. You're da man!" Foller responded, turning and giving him a two gun salute in the form of his hands.

In the dining room, Rysalin and Trent had laid out a list and various other print-outs with prospective intelligence they'd gathered on some of the chat rooms still in operation. 

Rysalin spoke several languages and was able to gain a considerable level of intelligence that had already caught Stanton's eye when he'd entered the operations room.

"This is looking good," he addressed both Rysalin and Trent, examining the dossiers they'd compiled from their information collection.

He then looked over to Hannah, who had been laying on the dining table, head down, asleep on a doodled drawing she'd been working on for the last hour.

It depicted a mushroom cloud, and a firestorm streaming out from beneath, leveling buildings and people alike.

Stanton shuddered when he realized what had triggered this drawing after examining the paper printout of Hannah's chat logs.

Rather than draw attention to the matter, he gestured to Foller.

"Let's have that talk now," Stanton directed Foller to the hallway and the garage door.

"Sounds good big guy," Foller agreed.

As they stepped into the garage, Foller turned and placed a proximity detector on the house door, and then the garage door.

"These will cover anything coming from the house or the garage door. The motion detector lights we told Dave to install should cover anything larger than a mouse that crosses their field of vision..." Foller assured Stanton.

"So what's on your mind?" Foller asked Stanton.

"This hacker group, SCARE, shows up on the radar recently. Within the last year, they become a major player in financial hacks," Stanton explained drawing upon his extensive knowledge of NATO security level global alerts.

"Everyone with software based radio frequency DSPs, a card reader, a high gain antenna and a coat hanger is a financial hacker these days," Foller responded.

"True. These aren't Engineer level phreakers, exploiting the 2600 hertz carrier of the phone system and the crossover between audio and electrical current frequency. These are script kiddies, relying on technology to shore up their lack of training and experience, but the matter remains that they know the technology and someone is out there with the skills writing these scripts and this software for them..." Stanton explained.

"Alright old guy, work with me here. What the heck was that stuff about Nemesis you were going on about? You know that was a secret op, and you chose to discuss that in front of a Police Detective we hardly know? Come on? That's a clear sign of incompetence and disrespect for professionals like us. What's gotten into you?" Foller grilled the senior operative.

"You know it was only me and you on that operation, and that my using the Echo team designation was indicating to you that we were using real intel to flush out a potential leak, right?" asked Stanton.

"I was with you up until the point you compared Nemesis to the thing that was bringing the apocalypse to the prime time. The main event... oh wait, we're in the age of Netflix and Disney, so maybe someone's bringing the apocalypse to streaming services like a reality show? There's one problem with that. With the apocalypse, you have no audience! They're nuked!" Foller scolded Stanton.

"Exactly! That's the point! Nemesis was playing close to the peril of world war three, but they knew enough to withdraw when things got too hot. They wanted war and customers willing to buy their hardware. We have a similar situation that has been cooking for decades. Where an ideology has been slowly and in a fashion undetected by the modern intelligence gathering aparatus, been radicalizing citizens and preparing them to be the opposing force. Not based upon anti-disestablishmentarianism, but having been so utterly wronged by someone or something operating behind the scenes, that they're out for revenge. Meanwhile, the people who did this to them are playing us all against each other, like Nemesis, the arms dealers did with the Palestinians and the Israelis..." Stanton pushed his point.

"I heard you up until that point. My question is why? Why would someone do that?" Foller grilled him.

"Why did someone activate me? To take take down the power station? But why? Who in authority would have done that? Made that decision?" asked Stanton somewhat rhetorically.

"You know as well as I do that our placements were all about securing society if it had fallen to an inside power. A grassroots movement taking over from within or any number of other similar scenarios. We were there to bring down infrastructure enough so that the authorities could declare a national emergency without alerting the general public to the fact that an internal war was being fought on North American soil," Foller explained to Stanton who already knew.

"You're not listening. Why were you and I, and several other operatives activated during this time? It wasn't an order that came from above. Someone found out about the nature of our operations and our strategic placement and used that to play us against each other," Stanton advised Foller.

"We were definitely placed as a countermeasure against civil war or internal conflict. I'm not sure I get you big guy..." Foller responded.

"We were activated by Nemesis. I mean that as a methodology rather than a group. Not the same arms dealing Nemesis we investigated and uncovered, but a group that follows that same modus operandi but for very different motivations, that are trying to use these secret operations to bring down society. They activated me. They activated you. They started this whole thing..." Stanton explained to Foller.

"But why? You know as well as I do, that there has to be a motive," Foller asked.

"We know what. We know how. We know who, somewhat. Why is next on the list, and with the incentive that someone might be initiating a nuclear war, we've got some work to do..." Stanton showed Foller Hannah's drawing of the mushroom cloud, handing him Hannah's chat logs as well.

Foller took a moment to examine them before responding.

"This is really serious," the animation in Foller's face disappeared as he turned pale.

"That's better..." it was Stanton who'd gotten through this time.


Deep beneath the rock of the Russian Shield, a geologically solid mass of granite nearly the size of Russia itself, a series of roads and tunnels formed a secret base of operations beneath the frigid winter above them a kilometer up. This was the Russian counterpart to Mount Cheyenne, their most highly advanced and centralized command post for all of their armed forces, including their strategic and tactical nuclear stockpile.

Within this web of roads and tunnels were situated numerous residences, schools, hospitals and everything needed to survive in the aftermath of nuclear Armageddon for at least five years. Tying this hidden society all together was the central command, a series of offices and computer systems air gapped from all other systems in Mother Russia, including the internet.

Much like their counterpart in the state of Colorado in the United States, they too had a command team, trained and dedicated professionals who monitored and evaluated all incoming threats to their nation. A system of dedicated defense and countermeasure system that had been in place since the era of the United Soviet Socialist Republic.

Much the same as it had operated during the Bay Of Pigs incident in a stand off between Kennedy, Kruschev and Castro, so did the same command center operate today and on this day. The day that saw several Russian power reactors and their energy supply diverted to power a radio detection array, often used for astronomy.

Much like in North America and especially the Great Lakes region, several power stations had gone entirely down during the social collapse that had been affecting the globe thanks to a cleverly planted rumour that speculated that the very nature of reality was at risk of collapse thanks to the emergence of a recently detected particle, one that had been speculated tied gravity to an actual quantum particle. Hence completing the Quantum Model of Cosmology.

In all truth though, the story was fabricated and made to look real by an intricate global network of hackers, who'd the backing of an unknown ideology whose philosophers and followers alike deemed that it was time for the end game. The Apocalypse.

By doctoring a paper from years earlier, they were able to create legitimacy in their illusory demise of the fabric of reality. An illusion created to break down the fabric of society at the basest level amongst the uneducated and others who were prone to misinformation and to become the tools of memes with the global Apocalypse in mind.

That first part of SCARE's plan went through without a hitch, opening the doors to the next phase. The hijacking of the international power grid, all without the awareness of those whose job it was to administer those facilities regionally.

Through a few years of investigation, SCARE discovered several secret operations in place throughout the world that would be put into effect in the case of a civil war or civil uprising. Deep Cover Agents had been planted throughout the world, who'd conduct acts of terrorism and sabotage, hence creating the opening for the powers that be to institute martial law, and quell the uprising.

SCARE, following the teachings and prophecies of its ideology, set in motion the activation of those deep cover agents throughout the world after the social collapse was well under way. That opened the doors for them to isolate and gain control over the power grid and to repurpose it for their main goal, to breach the isolated defenses of the command centers for all of the world's nuclear arsenals and to gain control over those command centers, which would then become another asset in SCARE's growing inventory.

In order to achieve this goal, they then needed to break the air gap. The distance gapping there was between the internal command networks of the militaries of the world, and the infrastructure we know today as the internet, which ironically was already another military project created by DARPA that had become the property of SCARE unbeknownst to its creators.

SCARE began evaluating a series of Very Large Array Radio Telescope Systems (VLARTS) for the purpose of breaking the air gapping protection sealing Mount Cheyenne and other top level command centers throughout the world. The idea being that an antennae could also be secretly used as a broadcaster. They could be used theoretically to broadcast a magnetic stream of information that could penetrate even the depths of the most well protected facilities housing the controls to this nuclear arsenal. They only needed to inject the attack via magnetism, which if successful would repurpose the reactors in these command centers, using the base's own communications array to create round trip connections with the VLARTS, hence giving the hackers in and out communication capabilities through which to hack these command systems for which they already had control of their internal reactors.

After several practice runs on smaller facilities, SCARE broke Mount Cheyenne security, completely taking over their systems while they watched. SCARE even changed the military logos used in all of their software and firmware images, as if to taunt them.

Shortly after this success, they proceeded to other facilities throughout the world. Everywhere that there was a command infrastructure with control over the launch systems of strategic and tactical warheads. On this day, that happened to be Mother Russia.

It all began innocently enough, when one of the attack simulation exercises was run on the active command systems themselves, rather than on the training systems. Shortly after execution of the drill began, the alarms went off and the operators began their confirmation of a possible incoming strike from the United States, China and India.

Much as had happened in Mount Cheyenne, the director went through a flow chart of possibilities, using it didactically to eliminate the possibility of a real nuclear strike being executed by any of these countries. When the logic was done, there only remained instrument and visual confirmation which could only be done by instruments and people. Both were prone to error and this did not alleviate the stress of making such an evaluation and call on the director's part.

In this case, as in the case of her counterpart in Mount Cheyenne, the Director had made the call not to retaliate. That the incoming attack was merely a software glitch. Had she known that both the internal network and the confirmation system was compromised, she might have made a very different decision, but all in all, she decided to avert any counterattack, not knowing that by that time SCARE had complete control over the Russian command infrastructure for launching strategic and tactical strikes against any targets around the world.

When Kale received word of this on the screen of his computer via his irc chat window, tears came to his eyes as he was another step closer to achieving his dream. His mother's dream. 

"This is a dream of Heaven on Earth," he spoke aloud as if delivering one of his mother's sermons.

"A world where the end truly justifies the means, amen," he continued.

"Hallelujah," he wept.

Suburban Briefing 101

Inside of Carol and Dave's garage the group sat around a large dining room table that Dave had been keeping in storage in case of large family gatherings. Only an hour ago, he'd been instructed by Stanton that they'd be using the garage as a shielded security facility for meetings where they could ensure themselves of no prying eyes or ears.

Insofar as the technology was concerned, Foller and Stanton were able to provide most of it, including motion detectors, WIFI detectors, microphone and speaker detection gear and any sort of Military Class TEMPEST (electromagnetic emissions) related weaknesses within fifty meters of the house.

While Dave, Grady and Trent emptied the garage, Elena and Hannah strategically placed motion detectors a distance from the house, creating a moat of motion detecting alarms. In the event that anything larger than a mouse attempted to breach this circle, an alarm would be triggered.

The detectors themselves were powered by AI, which gave them the ability to profile sources of motion and to classify it. For instance, it could distinguish between a thrown frisbee and a cat. Not only that, but it could distinguish, based upon analysis of motion patterns, between different cats (and frisbees) if need be. This afforded them the ability to quickly classify and identify any possible intrusion into what Stanton referred to as their CISS (pronounced kiss). Their circle of silence and safety.

It was Trent who asked why this was even necessary, as according to his understanding, the internet afforded people with anonymity, which for all intense purposes was the best form of security. Stanton agreed with Trent's observation and added that when society is running normally, that anonymity can be a form of security both for those doing good and bad and everything in between. That's how a twelve year old expert hacker who's hacked the real-time communications network of an Intelligence Operation can tell a forty two year old Digital Intelligence Analyst to eat my shorts or any other number of youthful insults, while evading the risk of arrest. Simply put, anonymity. There's a whole hacker group based upon this idea.

The problem is, that there is no real anonymity. For instance, that twelve year old hacker gave away a number of things about himself. One, he chose a specific insult that contained no emotional explitives and has serious ties to popular media thanks to a television show character who used the term often. So the attack wasn't motivated by anything but delinquent amusement.

With that information in mind, a psychologist could determine that the hacker was between twelve and eighteen years old, and lives in North America. Given the time of the attack, they could quickly determine the time zone because someone twelve to eighteen years of age is still living with their parents, and they're conducting this activity at a time when their parents are sleeping. Hence, with that small piece of information, we've already narrowed down their age, location on the globe and now their time zone. We haven't even looked at the network data or done a trace route, or subpoenaed the domain name server logs along the route. With that information, we could find a location within a specific city. With information related to the response time, or speed with which the computer from which the hack is taking place responds to a network packet, we can determine whether the computer is old or new. Now we have information about the hacker's level of income. With that, we can determine a heat map of probable locations where that hacker lives.

Factor in the MAC address, a unique identifier every network connected computer has, and we've got a fingerprint of the exact hardware used for the hack. Combine all of this information together and we've narrowed the hacker's location down to a specific street in suburbia. All that from eat my shorts explained Stanton.

At the head of the dining room table and on his feet, Stanton addressed the membership of their burgeoning intelligence operation.

"I have to press this issue with you, very seriously because this issue is very serious. Think of what we're doing here. We're trying to uncover the largest hack in the history of humanity. A hack that involves the intelligence agencies of over a one hundred and fifty different nations of the world, as targets. Seven of those nations are nuclear powers, meaning they are armed with ballistic missiles or tactical nuclear weapons or both and that the smallest of these warheads could vaporize the downtown core of any major city in the world..." Stanton began explaining to them what was at stake.

"Sure, you didn't apply for this job or this task. You didn't train for it either. In fact, fate just reached into the hat and pulled your names as key players in this whole affair. Whatever life you had before, is gone. All of you. I'm sorry to break that news to you," Stanton stopped, leaned over the table with both his hands pressed flat on the surface and looked into each of their eyes with an intensity beyond words.

"We've recently determined thanks to one of our assets, and that's how you're all going to refer to each other whenever we talk about this subject, in case we missed something and someone, somehow is managing to listen to us. If I refer to any one or all of you, you will be known as an asset, or assets when referred to in the plural syllabus. No names. Especially whenever we meet in here. No matter how safe we think we are, and when we need to talk about this, we only talk about it in here. Nowhere else in the house," Stanton told them. 

"I will secretly give each of you a small piece of paper. On that paper will be written two words. The first word is a word that will be your codename. Don't tell anyone else that code name. I'm the only one who knows who is who and if you tell someone else, I'll know. From now on, that is how you specifically will be referred to where it is in reference to any task associated with this operation. That way, you can't accidentally give away the identity of your peers because none of you know who is who. If someone is captured and tortured, you might be able to give away their real name, but you won't be able to give information associated with their tasking as part of this operation. None of you will know for sure who is working on what, and don't let your individual skills throw you off, because I'm going to mix things up, and you'll each be doing each others' jobs because this is dead serious. If we lose one of you, and that is a risk, we have to be able to continue without you because everything is at stake. The second word is the name by which I'll refer to you in front of everyone else. We'll all know these friendly names. When I give you a task that I don't want anyone else to know who is doing that task, I will use the code name. When I am referring to you specifically in front of everyone, I'll use the friendly name. Keep the code names, the first word a secret and the friendly names, the second words we can share." Stanton told them, his face stern and frightening.

Elena shuddered, believing that she was seeing the Stanton that had attacked them back at the power station a week and a half earlier.

"What do we do with the paper once we've seen the word?" asked Trent.

"Dip them in your drink, carefully without letting anyone else see the word, and then eat them. Chew them thoroughly and swallow them. Whatever you do, don't forget them," Stanton smiled somewhat sardonically.

"My friendly name is Sprinkler..." Dave announced drawing laughter from the table as they recalled his antics when they rescued Jennifer, Stanton's daughter.

"I'm Molotov..." Rysalin announced with a smile.

"That's obviously because you're so hot," Trent smiled as she kissed his cheek.

"I'm Chicken Wing..." Carol told them, giggling to herself.

"A spicy one too," Dave pinched Carol's thigh under the table.

"Whoa! You called me Wrench? Are you bitter about something?" Elena asked Stanton, leaning forward in her chair.

"Still got the bump," Stanton rubbed the back of his head.

"Sure beats Wench..." Dave laughed.

"I don't know, I might prefer that..." Elena laughed, shaking her head at Stanton.

"I'm Yuletide!" Hannah said enthusiastically, even standing for her announcement.

"I'm Alphamart...? What is that?" Jennifer asked her father, catching herself before calling him Dad.

"I'm Shoehorn...? Thank you. I think," Grady responded.

"I'm Shakespeare. Thanks but I'm more of an Arthur Miller or Tenesee Williams kind of guy," Trent shared his friendly name.

"I'm Bucket," Foller announced dryly as he consumed his paper.

"Everyone, meet Lumpy. Mostly thanks to Wrench," Stanton bowed for them.

They applauded him. Elena the most aggressively.

"Remember this moment and the good times we had, because from this point on, things are very serious," Stanton reminded them.

"Sure, we've got a bunch of SHTF types running around with their rifles, gun kits and ration packs, but really, what do we have to worry about? I mean we're pretty well hidden in suburbia and pretty much non-descript people at that. I really don't understand what the big deal is about," Trent responded in a matter-of-fact kind of way.

"This is where we get serious. Now recently, we intercepted and analyzed some intel that indicates a hacker group, whom we'll refer to as NARF, may have infiltrated several Nuclear Armament Command Facilities around the world, as in more than one. These facilities are part of a secret air-gapped infrastructure and network, meaning their digital networks aren't even connected to the civilian internet or any external network, and yet NARF according to our intelligence, successfully hacked these facilities, meaning they are possibly in control or at the very least, very close to gaining control of the world's nuclear arsenal," Stanton paused to allow them a moment to digest those facts.

There was a moment of silence, except for the pen that Dave had been chewing on, which fell from his now open mouth, bouncing and rolling across the cement floor.

"Now, suppose if one of those hackers happened to frequent some of the same places we've been looking for them, and suppose they managed to get a user list, with one of our aliases. With that alias they were able to extrapolate our point of presence, meaning the region through which we connect to the internet. Imagine if they pieced together that alias was actively investigating their activities. They don't have an exact address, but they have a city. Now assuming that they are close to, or possibly already have control of the world's nuclear arsenal, what if they decided to eliminate that risk entirely by pulverizing the city with multiple nuclear warheads. I don't know if you'd been keeping up with the news before SHTF but, when it comes to the world's nuclear arms supply, there's a publicly reported overkill capacity of ten, meaning that the world's nuclear arsenal is capable of wiping out every major city in the world ten times over. I can tell you now that you're a part of our intelligence network and have the clearance, that its more in the vicinity of thirty to forty times. That means that they could fire everything except one fortieth of the world's nuclear arsenal at us, and still have enough left to wipe out every city with a population of a hundred thousand or more around the world," Stanton pressed the issue home with Trent.

The garage was dead silent once again as they realized how serious the situation had become.

Then, without warning, one of the motion detector alarms went off, its silent alarm strobing a light above their heads while indicating on a computer based map on a laptop, which alarm had gone off. It indicated a motion detector in the backyard.

"Shakespeare, Wrench, Sprinkler, you're with me. Bucket, cover us. Weapons free," Stanton grabbed and slung his 9mm SMG, wielding it before him tactically, ready for a fire fight.

He made his way out of the garage into the house, checking his corners as he proceeded to the back door and where they'd heard the alarm. Trent, Elena and Dave followed behind him, keeping their distance and staying low.

"Bucket, get the door, I'll cover," Stanton, who'd taken up a half-prone position beside the door ordered Foller to open it.

Foller did as instructed, and Stanton popped his view at just lower than waist height out of the door, looking for movement.

He then signaled Foller to proceed out the door as he covered.

After ensuring their zone of safety, Foller and Stanton made their way to the motion detector that had been triggered, where they found an opened animal cage.

Stanton slung the SMG and switched the alarm off, picking up a cat from the ground and holding it his arms as he stroked its chin.

"Like my handy work? The cat was in the cage. I clicked a button on a cell phone app and it triggered a wireless receiver, opening the cage for the cat. Either the cage or the cat triggered the alarm," Foller told Trent, Elena and Dave.

"You mean this was staged? I damned near peed my pants you asshole!" Dave exclaimed.

"Imagine how much worse it would have been if it wasn't a cat, but someone sent by NARF to check up on us?" Stanton asked Dave.

"Us and everyone within a hundred kilometer radius would have about half an hour to get away from the blast zone..." Foller explained to them.

"To put it mildly, we'd all be dead. Not only that, but we'd have ensured that everyone within a hundred kilometers of us would also be dead too," Stanton told them.

"That serious, eh?" Dave's face turned pale white as he began to gag.

Trent too became ill, nearly throwing up. He resisted for one reason and one reason alone. He was set upon the idea that he wouldn't let these soldiers rock his world again. Within himself he'd objectified Foller as the blame for the situation, mistaking the setup as the problem rather than the risk imposed by their current situation.

"So serious that you'd make us eat that paper again from our own vomit, right?" Trent asked.

"With barbecue sause. Sure would," Foller nodded in agreement.

Dave suddenly made every effort to ensure he didn't throw up.

Elena began battering Stanton's shoulder with her fists.

"Damn you!" Elena hit at him, her hands quickly tiring against his solid arm and shoulder muscles.

"It was the only way that you'd truly understand. All of you. Let me ask you this, if you'd just hacked and were in control of the world's nuclear arsenal, how much effort would you be willing to make to keep that secret? The hackers, or the people they hacked to take charge of it? How far would either of them be willing to go to keep that secret?" Stanton explained to them once again as the cat happily purred, perhaps having played its own part in saving the world.

"The world we're living in is already fighting a secret war and has been for some time. Consider yourself initiated into those who are in the know. You'll never see the world the same way again. Kind of like losing your virginity, isn't it?" Foller smiled at them, completely oblivious of responsibility for his part in having destroyed their innocence.

Trent grimaced at Foller, intent that he'd make him understand how his carefree attitude towards the situation was tantamount to disaster. Foller looked into the younger man, seeing all of his thoughts written on his face, for Foller had played him like a violin. He'd seen that face before, many times. Most often, a moment before pulling the trigger.

Stanton observed the emerging dynamic between Trent and Foller but said nothing. Instead, he stroked the cat's chin, waiting for Elena to tire in her wrath upon his shoulder.

By the time they'd returned to the garage, there wasn't one of them living under any false pretense, perhaps feeling the situation was just a big holiday from organized civilization. Like society had simply packed its bags and was away on a vacation.

This was it and all there was, everything they'd ever grown up to know, learn about and love was at stake. Everything that the generations before had fought to preserve was on the brink of annihilation. 


Night And Conflict

The meeting had long since finished and everyone, exhausted had turned in for the night. Carol, Rysalin, Dave and Trent had helped to clean up most of the aftermath of dinner before turning in themselves. Everyone except for those amongst them keeping the scheduled watch were asleep. When their shift ended, the next shift would take over at two hour intervals. This would continue until morning.

At this particular hour of three in the AM, it happened to be Rysalin's turn in the rotation. She'd had four hours of sleep and would take the watch shift for two. The watch duty was spent in the garage, which had been completely converted into the command bunker by that time. Several computers were laid out on work tables providing workstations for every aspect of their operation.

Both Foller and Dave were near expert level in terms of their computer networking skills and were able to put together a secure network, including several honeypots (decoys) should any hackers find their way into the network from the outside. It was multi-layered, behind six network topology layers, meaning that any hackers would have to break and operate through six layers before finding any of the local computers and digital storage used for their operation.

Several laptops and tablets were employed for the control and maintenance of the security system, a complex array of motion sensors, audio detectors and TEMPEST level intrusion detections systems, all built ad-hoc by the three Electronics and Electrical Engineers on their team: Elena, Dave and Foller.

For all intense purposes, the design followed most of the precedents set in standard network security operations, implementing a few innovations of their own in attempt to thwart NARF (whom they'd identified to be the hacker group SCARE).

Should any of the intrusion detection systems be triggered, either via network hack or physical entry onto the property, a silent alarm in the form of a coloured strobe would flash for thirty seconds. If the initial alarm had not been tended to, it would advance to a medium level auditory alarm for fifteen seconds. One that could be heard throughout the house at a negligible level. Much like a morning wake-up alarm. If that alarm had not been acknowledged, it would then progress to a full fledged klaxon, which would surely wake the entire neighbourhood, assuming anyone was left in the suburban housing development.

Rysalin sat before one of the screens, examining IRC logs for any signs of recognizable hacker call-signs to keep her mind busy while she protected the house. Most of the chat activity was the random traffic of what they'd called the Apoc-opportunists: hackers who were taking advantage of all of the open systems in the absence of admins throughout the world. The truth was that most of those hackers were in fact former admins, now well clear of the major cities and connecting to the internet via the cellular or satellite networks which had been cleared for free public operation since society's collapse.

The internet had become even more the wild west than it had been previously with the influx of those cashing in on the open systems. Many smaller systems throughout the globe were offline or in the process of catastrophic failure, leaving gaps in the inter-network topology. Islands isolated from the greater wide area network, only accessible via specific points of presence and service providers there within.

As money was quickly depreciating in value, information once again reigned supreme in terms currency. Information related to resource location and abundance. Information such as the locations of bomb shelters and food warehouses. Locations of hospitals and medical supply facilities. Camping and survival supplies and certainly, weapons.

With the centralization of the Government and command infrastructure rapidly deteriorating, more and more of the military had become isolated, hence fragmenting into their own independent forces, much the same as the Nomads, the city's first responders had emerged from the aftermath of the initial onset of the collapse. These groups had become fragmented much as the internet itself had become. Ever more destined to become islands, isolated as communication capacity broke down. These were the first signs of the emergence of a tribal order, where might would simply be the ruling factor.

Stanton was well familiar with this theory, as he'd been trained extensively in civilization and sociology as part of his SPEC OPS training. During the first stages, society would break down into tribes. Those tribes derived from union powers, such as first responders and infrastructure would most likely develop into oligarchies, tribes ruled by a board of members determined by the union itself.

Those formed up based upon military hierarchy would retain their command structure, with the leadership appointed by those near the top of command. Tribes formed up based upon civilian communities would most likely follow a republic or democratic model, rule and governance based upon based upon representation. In other parts of the world, the civilian population would model their governance based upon the previous political model. So socialists would remain socialist. Theocracies would remain as such and so on.

In all of these cases, their systems would most likely remain for the first couple of years before they eventually collapsed into despotism, the rule of dictatorship, unless certain safeties were in place to prevent such an outcome.

Considering that these systems in society had developed over thousands of years, they would likely struggle to return, even in the face of modern technology. The reason being that any despotic system would also benefit from communications and digital technology, meaning that any effort to liberate the tribal population from such rule would be countered the with same technology that had been used to procure it.

Had Stanton been awake and in Rysalin's place, he'd have recognized these initial signs, even within the IRC chat logs. Not that this information was lost to Rysalin, but rather she'd been able to get a different value from it according to her life experiences and understanding.

She stared at the screen trying to stave off the feeling that she was being introduced to what would eventually become routine to her. In her life before the collapse, routine had been like the prozac of the soul. It had shielded her from the bitter life from which she'd fled. Her abusive and oppressive husband and his grasp upon her life.

She recalled a recent dream, that during the collapse he'd somehow found his way to the city, and was on his way to hunt her down in suburbia. He'd brought his own army, soldiers he'd procured through his government contacts in her home country. He'd brought his own specialists too. His own Foller and even his own Stanton. The only thing he didn't have was his own Rysalin for she was reason for his obsession.

In her dream, his soldiers waded through their defenses as Stanton and Foller fought tooth and nail to defend their bunker. One by one her friends were killed around her. Dave. Carol. Hannah. As the bullets flew. Grady. Even Elena. When Jennifer fell, Stanton broke, charging their forces tactically. Many fell in his onslaught though the immortal man was eventually brought down.

As they closed in, Trent threw himself at her ex, attempting to grapple with the man who'd oppressed her for so long. Trent was gunned down just as readily as the others and her heart shattered in pain.

With the last of his soldiers gone, she backed away from him as he approached her.

"My darling Rysalin. You have been such a bad wife! You have disobeyed your husband! I am here to take you home again, where I will punish you myself," he said to her as he approached, hiding behind his dark sunglasses.

"I would sooner die than return with you!" Rysalin responded, grabbing a butcher knife on the ground beside and putting it to her own throat.

"Even in death, you cannot escape your oath before God. You are my property and always will be. For eternity. Remember?" he smiled at her, offering her his hand.

There was a moment of rage within her, where she fought with herself, trying to force her hand to slice her own neck. To sever her own carotid artery, leading her to a quick and bloody death. As hard as she tried, she ultimately couldn't.

It was then that the thunderclap struck. Hitting her ex-husband square in the center of the forehead. A tiny bullet hole where it entered, and a large gaping hold on the other side where it had exited.

He stood silent and motionless, staring at her. Through her, before gravity caught hold of him pulling him backwards and down towards the ground. He fell with a thud, his broken and empty head held together only by the arms of his sunglasses against his ears.

When she looked to see who'd fired the shot…

"Making any progress there gorgeous?" asked Foller as he approached her from behind, ripping her from her waking dream.

Caught off guard, she paused before acknowledging Foller.

"...mostly just keeping my mind busy…" she considered the coincidence of his arrival.

Foller approached the table and a chair beside her. He spun it around so that the back of the chair was facing her. He then sat on the chair resting his arms on the backrest, looking directly at her. Admiring her. She felt his eyes taking in every part of her. She shuddered at the thought of the man, but was also excited by him. She struggled between these two conflicting emotions as he read her mind through her eyes and facial expressions.

"You know, I never could figure out how you and a guy like Trent could end up together. He's a boy in a man's body. He's slowly making his way over to the side of the fence with us men, but ultimately he's a boy. That's about the nicest way I can put it. Is he your project or something? Are you trying to make him into the ideal man? Your ideal man?" Foller didn't waste any time getting to the point.

"I've known men like you before. Where I come from, there are many like you. You catch girls off guard with boldness and bravado, keeping them on the defense until you can break through and sweep them off of their feet. Using that mystique inherent in your chosen job in life as a special operative… Having your way with them… and then you're gone before they find out that you have no substance whatsoever. You're giving a bad name to men like Stanton," Rysalin confronted him directly.

"If that's the case, then why do I get the feeling that's exactly what you want. You don't want Trent. You and I both know that you're just a stand in for his mother, shaping him and taking care of him until he grows up, while you watch the men of your dreams pass you by. You're secretly hoping that one day, he'll break down the door to your room, hold you down on the bed and fuck the living daylights out of you. Take the driver's seat from you like a rite of passage, where you'll be in the passenger seat for the rest of your life, while Trent becomes familiar with the power of his newly found manhood," Foller's face was firm and fixed upon her.

"That sounds funny, coming from someone who is always in the passenger seat where Stanton is the driver. Perhaps there's more to your relationship with him?" Rysalin came back at him.

"Whoa! That was a pretty darn good comeback. You're way beyond Trent's league and you won't even admit it. You're just waiting for him to grow up but I can tell you right now that he never will become what you want him to be. That's because he's wet cement and always will be. He'll never solidify into a firm opinion or attitude about anything. He'll always be a puppet to people like us. You however, are on the next level and then some. Don't you ever think about how you'd do with someone at your own level, rather than him? I'm pretty good at sizing up people and I think I can size you up. I'd be willing to bet that you can't conceive children, and that your way of dealing with that is to be with a man where you have to care for him like he's a child. A surrogate kid. Cook his meals. Wash his underwear. Dress him, tie his shoes and send him off to work. When he gets home, lie on a bed and moan for him as he masturbates into you, even faking your own orgasm. Deep inside though we both know that you want a man that will just throw you on the bed, hold you down and take you," Foller decided that if she wanted to play hardball, so would he.

"Do you want to know what I truly think, Foller? I believe that is what you are looking for. You're looking for a man that will hold you down on a bed and just take you. Perhaps you have some prison fantasies like this? You'll never come close to being a man like Trent, because like most people who puppeteer other people, you're too overcome and full with yourselves. How you say? Abusers? Narcissists? If you ever come down here when I am on watch, I will scream and yell rape as loud as I can, because that is exactly what you just tried to do to me," Rysalin stood her ground, more disgusted with the man than excited.

"I never turn down a challenge, and I am ever so hot for you. Keep an eye on Trent and make sure he doesn't do something that gets himself hurt. Accidentally or otherwise. G'night pretty lady. We'll continue this talk some other time," Foller stood up from his chair and non-nonchalantly walked out of the garage.

Rysalin suddenly became furious with the man, tempted even to grab a weapon and smash it upon his head repeatedly. Ultimately she toyed with the idea in her head rather than exercise it in reality. She'd known that was what he had wanted. He was trying to forcefully bond with her. To intrude upon her space with Trent. Perhaps he secretly wanted to be present whenever her and Trent were sensual with one another. Like a third party, secretly watching as they loved one another.

The more she thought, the more tempted she was to spit on his seat in anger.

Instead, she took note of his behavior and decided that she'd remain guarded in his presence from hereon in.

She considered that in some ways her husband was right. She may have escaped him, but she'd never truly escape men like him.

When her shift was over, she returned to bed, wrapping her arms around Trent. She pressed herself against him, rubbing her nose into his neck and then ears. He awoke quietly and erect, feeling very intensely and pleasantly passionate for her. He turned over and their lips met in a messy and wet kiss.

As their love making progressed, Rysalin became tense with her recall of Foller's words. She cursed him under her breath for occupying her time with her true lover, as Trent nursed her back to him and his attention unknowingly.

As Foller left her concern, she became intoxicated with Trent and his kisses as she climaxed.

Their tension released, they clung to one another loosely and drifted silently into the land of nod.

The Secret Meeting

Stanton sat a good distance from the house, out front in a field in the night air. He listened carefully to the air, while his eyes focused on nothing in particular.

He pondered the current path of humanity while retaining awareness of his immediate surroundings.

He knew the rerouting of global civilization would occur in stages, much as it had over the course of history. In stages, and according to technological and miltiary capability afforded by those in possession of it.

Stanton knew that the plough had led directly to the development of militia. The conversion of farming instuments for the purpose of warfare in protection of local crops, and thus the ages old struggle of humanity was born.

When someone more capable of force attempts to take what you've worked to acquire. Accumulate. Abundance and prosperity seemed to attract it.

This was where humanity eventually be headed, though in reverse, assuming that the ability to produce electrical power wouldn't be lost. If it was, then humanity would fall another level on the on the hierarchy of survival.

The lower that scale fell, the closer to a dark age humanity would come. It was as sure as the plough and as as certain as the scythe. A weapon devised from the crop shearings instruments itself.

"Dave," Stanton said a few moments before Dave had tried to sneak up on him.

"How the hell do you do that!" Dave responded very quietly.

"Elena?" responded Stanton.

"Got me too," the most highly accredited electrical engineer in the Niagara Southwestern Ontario region responded.

"I invited you. Of course I got you. We're on the same team thankfully or you might have snuck up on me," Stanton replied.

"Now as far as Doc goes, I knew he was there all along, but he's a man of his oath, and Hippocrates says thou shalt not harm. A pretty strict oath amongst Doctors. I suppose I have Hippocrates to thank for that, but I'll give the credit to Doc," Stanton ruminated.

"Gotchu loverboy," Rysalyn snuck up behind him and within striking distance.

"Getting slow in your old age are you Stanton?" asked Elena.

"I still have my throat, don't I?" Stanton winked.

"Trent is sleeping like a baby. I felt so guilty leaving him alone... so needy," Rysalyn admitted.

"We'll tend to the ones who need us most in due time, but we have to prioritize carefully," Stanton told them as he sat amidst the scrub and bush of a field pocked with trees and saplings.

"I requested you here tonight because this is a critical situation," Stanton started, getting up from his place on the bench and walking forth into the darkness of the street.

"Where are we going?" asked Elena.

"I've got a wife and kids in this house," Dave spoke.

"They're all safe, but we've got to ensure they don't know what we do," Stanton said stepping well beyond their security zone.

"Won't we be at risk? Our base of operations as you call it?" asked Rysalyn.

"That all depends upon how you regard this meeting," Stanton replied honestly.

Stanton got up and lead them for ten minutes into the depth of the park brush, leading into a forest where he'd earlier setup his observation point.

"Welcome to one of many OPs I've setup right under your eyes, and while in your presence," Stanton said to them.

"So, take a seat. Let's talk because we have quite a bit to speak about," Stanton told them, sitting down himself on a local stump.

"On the ground you mean?" asked Elena honestly.

"There's a a couple of stumps there, or whereever you're comfortable," Stanton remarked, as Elena got closer to him.

"You're obviously not going for points with me," Elena responded.

"So why did you pick us?" asked Rysalyn asked.

"Well I already have a rapport with Elena and Dave. Well established with our employment at the power plant for the last twenty years," Stanton began.

"Doc is a man of his word, and already bound to an oath upon which lives depend," Stanton continued.

"Rysalyn seems wise beyond her years, and I suspect she's lived a life most of us would find unbearably challenging. And yet, it made her into the woman we see before us now. Someone who values virtue, sincerity and humanity," Stanton continued.

"Why not Trent?" asked Rysalyn directly, confronting him on why her man had been left out.

"Why not my own daughter Jennifer?" asked Stanton.

Dave nodded, understanding Stanton completely.

"How do we know they aren't making their own secret group in our midst, much like we are?" Elena asked Stanton.

"We don't, and if they did, we'd have to cross that bridge when we came to it. Just remember one thing. We're doing this because there's a distinct danger involved, and we need to protect suitable successors should we fail," Stanton answered them.

"So I take it that we're entering into a potentially dangerous situation?" asked Doc.

"Foller and I have observed that there is an organized infrastructure behind this systematic collapse of society," Stanton began.

"You mean like Government infrastructure?" asked Dave.

"No. I mean some kind of ideology, operating without restraint. Where the glue between them is ideology, not organization, company, Government or infrastructure. Something that wants to collapse society," Stanton described.

"We've already determined that, haven't we?" confirmed Elena.

"Yes, we have but we haven't established who or what. We've only been able to determine that our own resources, the very resources of organized society have been used against us," Stanton explained.

"When you say *us*, who do you mean?" asked Elena.

"Those of us who believe in an system of elective representation and where our resources are combined for the benefit of all, and where those who wish to seek further capital may ply their talents and skills towards advancement and prosperity. Like what we had here," Stanton answered Elena.

"Who agrees with what I just said?" asked Stanton after a long awkward silence.

One by one they raised their hands. Dave and Rysalin first, then Doc. Elena next. Stanton held up two hands.

"What's the second hand for?" asked Rysalin.

"This is my hand. This other hand is Matt's. He's mine to bear," Stanton responded, referring to their deceased engineer coworker and friend from the power plant.

Elena and Dave looked to one another, both of them nodding this time.

"So where does this all leave us?" Doc asked Stanton.

"The patterns of the employment of resources against organized civilization indicate a high degree of technical ability. Not to mention that there are indications that strategic nuclear resources already have been coopted by this group without the knowledge of strategic command," Stanton explained.

"You mean like ICBMs and all that cold war stuff?" asked Dave.

"Your daughter already uncovered one aspect of their attempts to exploit such resources," Stanton reminded Dave.

"So can't we just use our own hackers to fix it?" asked Dave.

"Its not that simple," Stanton replied.

"So what do we have to do?" asked Elena.

"There's a secret facility just north of Toronto by a hundred clicks. That facility is the Strategic command for the DEW Line," Stanton told them.

"The what?" asked Rysalin.

"The DEW line. Distant Early Warning system. A system designed to detect the intercontinental ballistic missiles or as you call them, ICBMs, along their trajectory originating from the USSR and on their way to North America," Stanton told them.

"But don't missiles travel from East to West?" asked Elena.

"That might seem logical on a paper map, but you have to remember that the Earth is an oblate spheroid, and the shortest path between the former USSR, who build most of the ICBM launch systems and North America is over the north pole," Stanton told them.

"NATO? You mean they're responsible? I thought they were us?" asked Dave.

"They're not responsible, nor is the USSR even, despite the fact they're defunct. Gone. Something else is trying to trigger World War III, and we've got to stop it, given the state of the collapse already and our unique combined skill set," Stanton explained.

"So what are we going to do?" asked Elena.

"We're going to get into the Distant Early Warning North Command Center, and find any trail we can leading to the goals and targets of this unknown group," Stanton told them.