Sunday, September 29, 2013

One New Chapter To Lady's Perogative

I added the chapter Midnight Dreams Felled to Lady's Perogative on Saturday September 29, 2013, which deals a bit more with Yirfir and Jasmer's present and back story. Possibly another few chapter updates to come over the course of the next two weeks.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Classic Reading And Verse Online

I thought I'd share a favourite of mine with you. I highly recommend, a site with all of the classic literature and reference that you could imagine.

There's something about the style of classic literature which often reads as does poetry.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

About Swapping The Definitions Of Hate And Love

I need to talk about something that's been creating some confusion and that is the idea of swapping the definitions of hate and love.

I am not a member of any club or organization or faith or other ideology that would propose swapping the definition of love and hate and I would never do so myself, that is swap the definitions of hate and love with each other so they mean the opposite.

I have never been a member of any club that would do so and use such a swapping of definitions to my advantage or other wise. 

Say what you mean and try to do what you say.

I've never been any other way than that except in growing up and learning the hard lessons that go with understanding the merit of doing so.

Hate has never meant anything other than hate to me but I've never been a hater or hateful, though I've been mad and upset. 

Love is the same but I believe there are a multitude of emotions in between the those two extremes and that you can understand one without knowing the other in the case of knowing love.

I've never spoken to someone lovingly while inside feeling hateful towards them. Likewise I have never been scornful towards anyone meaning anything different than scorn, though most often but not always it is confusion or misunderstanding and occasionally, manipulation.

So for anyone that has ever been told that I mean the opposite of what I intended or said, that is not the case nor has it ever been the case. How do you know I'm not lying?

Standing on our feet and upright, the sky is above our heads and the ground beneath our feet.

Enough said.

Brian Joseph Johns

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Two New Chapters

Two new chapters are up for reading in A Lady's Perogative. Added September 15, 2013 at 9:30 PM.


Updates Finally

I managed to get a wide variety done on a few of the stories. On Friday evening I started the ball rolling and on Sunday morning I am taking a break until the afternoon.

The first and perhaps most prolific are the additions to A Lady's Perogative which introduces a new character and the owner of the shop where the ladies have transported themselves from Mila's home. Barris' character is explored a bit further and we find out a bit more about location of Estate where Yirfir is likely being held.

In Stories From The End Of The World, Rysalin and Trent finally get moving with a mission and purpose for themselves while Stanton and friends attempt their rescue of Stanton's daughter from the clutches of Foller. This was one of the largest updates for the story in a long time and starts connecting the dots to the mystery.

Finally in the fan fiction A Knight To Remember, we find Sheylin under the immense pressure of the mission before her and learn of what the mysterious apprentice of the Sith was in search of before they depart for their first leg of the journey.

I revisited A Testament Of Time in hopes of continuing Susannia and Margaret's time together. That story will become the focus in place of A Lady's Perogative once its done.

The Answer Is In The Keys will be getting a long overdue update in the next three months, but no promises yet.

Sorry for the long delay and I'll try to post regular updates as I can so a not to lose momentum.

A Lady’s Perogative

The story has been relocated here.

Testament Of Time (WIP Title)

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. You might find yourself in there but that is a figment of your imagination or just the fact that you have the power to inspire.

[A long overdue update to this story seeing as I hadn't worked on it since July of 2012. I started work on Chapter 6, which continues the story of Susannia and Margaret, both innovators of their time begins tying their part into the overall story. This story has many important tie ins.]

Testament Of Time (WIP Title)

Draft I

by Brian Joseph Johns

Chapter One

Bannen awoke with the lucrid taste of dust and a tooth fragment pressed into his upper lip. Face down, on cold stone, he slowly pushed his upper body from the floor. His lower back screamed with pain, and he fell forward to the floor that did not want to give him up so readily. His eyes slowly adjusted to the lack of light within the current environment, where shapes like faceless eyes danced and disappeared, only to reappear again. A second attempt at raising himself from the floor’s cold embrace succeeded. This time his back only groaned a little, and then just kept quiet altogether. There were voices, whispers jumped from one end of the space to another. At this point he could make out the faces from which some of the whispers came, illuminated from a crack in the ceiling about four feet from the floor. He could not tell what the source of the light was, he knew only that it was not the sun, though it were just as pronounced through the quarter inch crevasse from which it passed. The whispers stopped, sensing that he could hear. His eyes now fully adjusted, he turned to take in his surroundings.

There appeared to be two or more handful of people, all sitting or laying, or in any peculiar arrangement that offered them some comfort in the cramped surroundings. One of them rocked cross-legged, side-to-side, cradling a vase back with a spindly dried flower back and forth in his arms, as he whispered very quietly to it. A wool toque sat on his head, the word “Biscuit” sown into it. He watched guardedly with one eye, and seemed to draw the vase closer as in defense crossed his. Bannen’s nearest neighbour just watched him carefully, and without expression, as a man who knew a little too much about his own destiny might. A heavy woollen hat covered his head and ears, while a scarf tucked into a heavy coat covered his body. Worry lines covered his forehead, and made his forty years appear like fifty-five. He looked down when Bannen glanced to him. Bannen continued his survey. Another lay curled up on the floor, sides rising and falling to the rhythm his lungs provided, eyes clamped as if they could somehow bare some protection from this predicament. Bannen noticed that the majority of them were dressed for winter, although the temperature was only marginally close to and above freezing. Three more huddled in a corner and had already formed their own clique. They looked over acknowledging Bannen’s conscious presence and then returned to a deck of cards which were sprawled on the floor in front of them, curtained by three piles of coin. One coin pile proudly, like its owner, a bit larger than the others. This player, with his round, well fed face, urged the game on. The other two, only seeming to be aware of each other through the directions of the rotund coordinator. One sporting a handlebar moustache and an accent that fell somewhere between Versailles and Mumbai. The other, a gangly looking man, even through a heavy overcoat. A pair of glasses perched on a thin, pointy nose, with a permanent case of the sniffles, as his coin pile abandon him.

The first lady that Bannen saw in there was love locked in arm with a man, away in one of the corners. Her head tucked just beneath his chin, her bright eyes, heavy lashes and pursed lips pierced even this half darkened dungeon. She glanced in Bannen’s direction briefly if only to take notice of movement. She appeared to be in her late twenties to early thirties. He looked to be about the same age, and kept her in place with one sturdy arm while he gently stroked her forehead with the other, her hair pouring out of her hat and down to her chest. He held a firmly protective and stern expression but his eyes revealed the same unsurity that was written on the face of the others. Resigned to the present and unsure about the future.

Another clique occupying the other corner was composed of three. At first glance Bannen thought they were also engaged in a card game. He stayed his glance upon them and realized that one of the three was fortune telling for a couple. The fortune teller, a refined lady of her early fifties, drew cards from a deck, and placed them each upon an arrangement of other cards on the floor. With each new card, she spoke of the past, present and future to one of the others. Her face held a smile fixed somewhere between optimism and unsurity, similar to the expressions on the faces of the couple. The couple appeared to be in their mid thirties, both the product of an urban center with bookstore lounges, upscale cafes and high priced ice cream. They listened intently as the fortune teller acted as cartographer for their future which was presently very uncertain. The man, portly and hatless, with thinning dark hair, listened, while his spouse asked his questions for him. His spouse, hatless as well, with deep red bob hair, and heavy eyeliner (which appeared to be under two days wear), and intelligent eyes that didn’t seem to miss a thing. She was the driver in their show. They both appeared quite happy, even under the circumstances.

Bannen craned his head back the other way and slowly carried his weight with it, his flexibility coming back. Some of the others nodded in greeting, fully acknowledging his presence. He returned their greetings as best he could. By the time he was facing the other direction, a hand was presented him by the remaining person.

“Davis Bigelow. And your name sir?”

Bannen paused for a moment to take in the monocled face that stared back at him. A large man, of about fifty years, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Orson Welles. Mr. Bigelow wore a similarly heavy long coat as the others, but his clothing seemed…

“…And your name sir?” he inquired a second time, hand still extended.

“Bannen. Bannen Thalis.” Bannen shook his hand firmly. A strong grip, returned the clasp.

“Well met Mr Thalis.” He spoke as if this were a dinner club meeting, unperturbed by the circumstances.

“Yes, we all appear to be guests here. None can recall whenst we came to be here or by what means.” He politely answered anticipating Bannen’s questions. He continued.

“What we have discerned is that none of our time pieces seem to be working. Judging by our apparel, we all appear to have been taken in the winter, and each from a different part of the globe.”

“We do know that we have been in here for three full days, which I estimate we‘ll be rounding out shortly. None of us are injured. Meals are dropped once in a twenty-four hour period. We‘ve had two, so the third should be on its way shortly…” His voice hung on the last word.

“We’ve tried every conceivable means of escape, barring a dig by hand through the stone blocks themselves.” Bannen wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic.

Bannen looked toward the crevasse in the ceiling, lining his eyes up with the light source above. Looking up into the brightness, his eyes began to tear up, still revealing no source above. The crevasse seemed to make up part of what appeared to be a steel door, like the bilge on a cargo ship. He followed the crevasse to its edges, moving around the others as I crossed them. No hinge points apparent anywhere. Some time after a few moments of silence while he pondered the situation further, some of the others began to shift away from the center of the room (crawl space) in a manner expressing the inconvenience of doing so. Bannen watched, understanding why as it started to happen. The opening in the ceiling started to slowly widen, as either side of the portcullis style doors began to slide across an invisible path, and present an opening. Bannen watched as it opened enough to present a means of escape and made his move.

He moved as quick as his slightly groaning body would allow. As he advanced toward the opening, he failed to take notice of the warning gestured and hollered by Davis at the top of his lungs as he approached the point where he could conceivably stand to his height of six feet. Bannen quickly leveraged his balance to project himself upward, toward the opening beyond. As soon as he elevated himself past the height of the opening, he was completely immersed in a volume of solid light. He gasped as the sound of a thousand claxons seemed to permeate his head, making any kind of balance or perception impossible. His one hundred and eighty pounds quickly met the floor a third time, greeting him with a not so gentle stone kiss. The claxons blaring, still crushing his senses, he perceived being pulled across the floor as he slowly lost consciousness. An image of one of the fortune teller’s cards rippled across his mind’s eyes. A cloaked skeleton bearing a scythe reached out from the face of the card. On the bottom of the card, written in an ancient looking script, was “Death”.

Chapter Two

The Lady, meticulous in her execution, fed fine linen thread into the device slowly looping through its part only to reach the destination for the end of the linen, which she tied to a tiny loop next to a piece that resembled a piston. She stood back, revealing the device in its whole, which resembled a harp, laced with pistons, gears and a pair of rollers which housed a roll of parchment, with tiny holes which formed a pattern across the parchment. She picked up a cloth from the beside the device, and wiped her hands which were delicate in the same way that someone whose hands were used for stringed musical instruments may have been. She walked around the table toward the other side of the device, where a hand crank was exposed, perpendicular to the device.

She was thin, her hair long and curly, currently held back in a pony tail. She wore coveralls which concealed her figure. One would have guessed her to be about twenty two years. She was nearly twenty eight. She quite enjoyed her time in the tool house, which was quite often of late as her father was away on an exercise. Her father had protested her interests and hobbies from the moment she could walk. While ladies at her age and status were busy with a care-giver and a tutor, she was busy with toy boats, like the ones in her father’s fleet, and dolls, which she loved with a passion and still maintained a huge collection. As she became older, it became apparent to her tutor that she had an incredibly high aptitude for deduction and for the mechanical. This troubled her tutor, as it pitted the staunch views of the society which supported her house against her abilities. The tutor took her side and helped the girl develop her skills from a young age, while shielding the effort from her father. The girl learnt all of the lady-like behaviour and etiquette required by a lady in the manor of a lordship. She also pursued the areas that her interest and aptitude took her. So while other girls were learning how to curtsy, or how to properly lace a corset, she was learning about simple machines and wood working. She also studied sewing and music and was an accomplished seamstress and cellist at sixteen. She started to notice boys at around age eighteen. Any of the boys who made it by the harsh inspections of her father, were often turned off by her fearless and outgoing approach. It wasn’t until she was twenty two that she met her first serious love. He was the son of a mogul merchant, and commanded a very grounding presence. He was a handsome man of twenty six with an interest in the outdoors and nature, which similarly irritated his father, who had plans to pass on the family mercantile into his hands. He would visit her at the manor in the summers, staying three times over the course for a week at a time. Sometimes they would go horseback riding on the manor grounds, which had acres of paths, fields and forest much to his joy. Other times they would indulge her passions and play in the tool shop, just making things at her mind‘s impromptu. This relationship continued for three years, when in the third year, he was drafted by the Royal Navy, and killed at sea. Even though her father had often boasted about drinking hundred year old single malt with Poseidon himself, his influence couldn’t have saved her lover anymore than it could have saved the crew and war galley that followed him to the depths.

She turned inward for a very long time, spending most of her time in the tool shop, where she would weep for most of the day. She would head back to the manor at night and eat very little, if anything at all. Her father became concerned and sent a letter across Europe to an old friend of hers. Her friend, a lady she had met when she was in tutoring years ago, now an aspiring writer, helped her to climb out of her despair. Obsession and despair were some of the lands which her writing quill had crossed, and was the subject of her current effort. She had been married for a few years now, and while her husband was off gallivanting across the countryside, giving lectures at the various colleges, she had travelled across the channel for a visit with her friend. They bonded and became close friends over the course of two years. Her friend would make visits while taking a break from her writing. It was one such break that brought them together again.

The clanking of the device masked the sound of her friend’s entry. She turned the crank slowly while watching all of the parts of the device, perhaps making sure of their operation, or just admiring her effort. Near the bottom of the device, a strip of cloth emerged, multiple colours woven together and forming a linen. As the last part of the banner emerged from the device, a loud twang was emitted from the device, followed by several smaller twangs, which seized the crank, and a moment of silence. The device stood quiet for a second, and then one of the piston parts shot out at high speed, hitting a spool of linen from a shelf and knocking it down. The device groaned, nearly at the same time as she did.

“Hello Susannia. I thought I’d find you here.” Margaret slowly closed the door to the tool shop, and approached her friend.

They embraced each other, Susannia hesitantly more concerned about dirtying her friend’s clothes.

“What brings you here at this hour? Are you here to spy upon my designs again?” A sly grin crossing her face. It was impossible for her to contain the joy of seeing her friend.

“Of course not, my dear. Only to inspect your new male companionship.” Margaret parried with a coy smile, and a riposte wink.

Susannia paused for a minute to let the pain pass. Margaret cursed herself for her unintended insensitivity.

Susannia broke the tension. “I’ve been far too busy for friends” she countered, “but I’ve plenty of time for you.” disarming Margaret’s inquisitiveness with a wink of her own.

”…You must see this…” continued Susannia, reaching for the strip of cloth, which the device ejected shortly before its untimely demise.

She grabbed a pair of sewing scissors from the table and trimmed the message at the point from which it had emerged. In very rough block text it read F√Ęta viam inveni the remainder of the message lost in the innards of the device.

Margaret accepted the banner gracefully, examining the text on it, then looking curiously at the device, and finally back to her friend’s smiling eyes.

“‘Fate will find a way’. How on earth did you figure this out?” She asked politely without really wanting the answer.

“I studied Latin under my tutor, silly girl.” replied Susannia, Margaret rolling her eyes.

“And what about you. How is your latest effort coming along?” asked Susannia, while she gathered up the parts from the device’s death throes.

“In bits and pieces… one chapter at a time. Joseph loves the time that I spend on the book. Though he says he feels quite lonely whilst I‘m ‘bookering’ as he calls it. I always find him busy with his research when I turn in for the night.” Answering her friend’s question. She paused a moment, looking down before continuing.

“Its best we get back to the manor, there are some things that I would rather discuss there.” Margaret requested, waiting for a cue from Susannia, which came in the form of a nod.

“Finish up what you have to do and I’ll get the coach bell.” finished Margaret as she turned, already on her way out the door.

Susannia tidied the mess she had made with her latest experiment. She hated leaving a clutter for the tool smith, who was always so polite with her. Gathering up her belongings she closed the tool shop and locked the door, just as the coach arrived to pick them up.

Chapter Three

The cube van pulled into the alleyway at noon and stopped lining up perpendicular to the dock, and tucked cleanly beside the door. Too little space for one to back into the dock, in the tight New York alleyway. Beyond the end of the alleyway, Varick St., bustling with art shop enthusiasts and the avant garde street vendors pitching their wares to the passersby. The driver popped the driver’s door open and got out, inspecting a tiny dent on the front left fender. Shaking his head, he walked to the back of the truck, unlocked and unlatched the door and rolled it up. The load, which was the remainder of an estate kept in one of the storage units up on 12th Av and West 34th Street. The unit had not been opened since 1934, roughly one year after it was built and about seventy five years from today. The driver rang the bell on the loading bay door. A latch could be heard on the inside, the door sliding up, revealing a group of people, two of which were busy clearing space and sorting merchandise, the other standing at the edge of the dock, extending a hand to receive the waybill. The driver obliged, passing the waybill up.

“What do ya think?” asked the driver, looking to the contents of the truck.

The receiver eyed the contents, looking back to the waybill, and back to the contents.

“Pretty good. There’s a bit of stuff there. No furniture?” the receiver looked to the driver, raising an eyebrow.

“No, nothing like that. Its all in rolls. Some rugs, paintings, maybe a few tapestries judging by the weight.” the driver replied through a squint.

“Ok. Just pass it up here. We’ve got room. You need someone down there?” asked the receiver.

“Nope. I got it.” The driver reached for the first item and grabbed it and placed it carefully onto the the dock.

By the early afternoon the truck was clear and most of the contents were being examined for an estimation of their value. A very fashionably dressed elderly couple walked together through the receiving area, examining each piece together. Every so often, one of the two would indicate an interesting detail to the other, pointing it out to their partner’s expertise. For her, it was just about any item originating from from Western Europe to East Asia, for him, it was North and South America, Central Africa and Oceana. The love of their task was apparent. A looking glass was drawn from his inside suit jacket. He examined one of the tapestries, then handed the glass to her. She looked carefully at the binding and a very tiny inscription in one of the corners.

“Very good indeed. This is another part of the initial bundle. These are her weaves as well.” she said, nodding approvingly.

“This one as well.” said the man, pointing at the latest find. The shop hand walked over and carefully moved the roll to an area that contained items that the couple had already selected.

The couple had opened the shop twelve years ago, nearly to the day. They had met at a Soho dinner party hosted by a mutual friend, a sculptor of some renown in the art district. After a bitter divorce years prior to the party, she had worked up the courage to ‘get out and be social again’, as her friends put it. It was difficult for her as she was a very meticulous person, and this had scared men out of her life before her marriage and scared more away post divorce.

She had grown up the daughter of a couple that had left Cardiff after the second World War. Her father had been offered the position of Plant Manager in New York for the American division by the company that he had worked for. He had turned their offer down at first, loyal to the plant that he was in charge of now. The company explained that they expected little expansion in their market share in Cardiff for next decade. Still standing on his decision not to go, the company upped their offer, twice before he had little choice but to accept. The third offer had allowed him to keep the house in Cardiff, which he rented to his brother inlaw, and purchase a new home just north of New York City, a forty-five minute commute from the factory.

In Cardiff, her father had been the ‘staple’ at the local pub in the years prior to their migration. He was the rising star at the company and the life of the party at the pub. He was a hands on kind of person and always civil, but often engaged in playful competitions of wit, which intimidated some, although there wasn‘t a malicious bone in his body. It was just his way of measuring a person. Her mother was attending her last year of college while working as a waitress at the pub. She was smart (and sometimes as volatile) as a whip. When she spoke, she was able to say exactly what should be said, with few words. When she had first started working at the pub, he thought that he would test her out with one of his competitions of wit. It was early on a Friday night and the weekend was just beginning. She had just arrived for her shift and was donning her apron and sorting her till when he looked her way. She was a buxom beauty, not slender but not portly. Her face was an exercise in symmetry and curves as much as her figure was. Her strawberry blonde, shoulder length curls and a tiny but plump mouth and piercing blue eyes framed by a pair of glasses were the coup de gras. He couldn‘t have taken his eyes from her if he had wanted to, but knew he had to in order to keep the upper hand. As observant as he was, he wasn’t sure if she knew he was examining her. He had been at a table with some of his work mates, debating how a bit heating slowly on a lathe would indicate how sharp it was. She walked down the length of the bar and attended one of the tables, in the smoke filled establishment. He glanced over to her again, half listening to his mates, now clanking tankards. She still gave no indication that she had noticed him. He looked back to his mates, raising his tankard, half smiling, half frowning. After servicing two other tables, she made her way over to theirs casually.

“My name is Linda. I’ll be your bar maid for the evening. What can I get you?” she asked cordially, eyeing each of them in turn.

“My name is Richard. I’ll be both the lead seat and the representative for this table. You can get us all a fresh tankard of your finest on tap. And when you leave the table, be sure to walk twice as slow so I can take you in a little better.” he said, with boyish charm and a wolf’s smile.

“Six tankards then.” She was completely unshaken by the comment and left as casually as she had approached. As she passed the bar, she stopped for a quick chat with a male patron.

Richard was careful not to retreat in this war of wit. He bandaged his ego, now curious about this fellow at the bar, and turned his attention to his mates and his drink, still smiling. Their debate had taken a turn and added the drill press to the sharp bit lathe argument. He gave his input occasionally, but stopped when he noticed Linda on her way back to the table, six tankards balanced expertly on a tray.

“Here we are gentlemen. That will be eighty pence.” she said, handing out each tankard in turn and then turning to Richard, in wait for payment.

“We’re running a tab Linda. I could have sworn you were a sharper bit, but I could be wrong.” he said, looking to his mates for approval. He got his approval but it was short lived.

“You’ll dull the bit if you try and cut too much at once.” she replied, not even batting an eyelash. His mates laughing with her remark. Her smile visible. She was the wolf now.


“I guess I’d better keep mine in my pants then.” he tried to say without sounding crude. He regained the support of his mates, his ego sighed with relief, his smile: coy as he glanced back to her.

She looked him squarely in the eyes and replied:

“You should always keep the little bits in the tool case. They‘re easier to lose you know”. No pause in her onslaught, his ego already out the door and halfway down the street. His mates, and perhaps the whole bar which had grown silent in the exchange, was now laughing in hysterics.

They stared at each other for a moment, before a smile crept onto his face, unable to contain the belly laugh that had been building in him. He bellowed with the rest of the pub. It was at that point that they knew they were a just at the beginning of a lifetime together.

He forced himself to catch his breath, stood and spoke into her ear “Who’s the gentleman you were talking with at the bar, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“That’s my brother.” she replied, leaning to his ear.

In that evening she had earned her reputation as one of the few people in Cardiff that could keep up with his version of the ‘dance’. They were married a year later. Three years later, she gave birth to Laura.

Laura was born in Cardiff, grew up in New York, and returned to Cardiff to attend University where she majored in history and linguistics. While in Cardiff, she stayed in the house where her mother and father had lived before moving to New York. Her uncle had long since moved into his own house in Bournemouth, where he had resettled to start a new life in his second marriage. Fiercely independent, she made it through the five years in school with ease and relatively friendless. Occasionally, she would force herself away from her books, and down to the library or the local pub, but would usually end up leaving early and unsatisfied that she had even given it credence. The rest of her school years were spent in some form of solitude, with the occasional call to her parents. Her grades were impeccable but still left her longing for something that eluded her. After her graduation, she returned with her parents to New York, where she worked as a researcher in the American Museum of Natural History. Her parents became concerned for her lack of social activity and goaded her constantly to go out and enjoy life, and find someone with which to share her time and interests. Occasionally, it would get her thinking about her life and what she really wanted to pursue and experience.

On one such occasion, she sat quietly with her father, while he told her one of the many domestic adventures he had been on with her mother. They had rarely left their familiar surroundings, but every once in a while, they would break pattern as he would refer to it, and just drive somewhere for the weekend. No forethought or planning. They would just up and leave, hours later finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.

Two months after hearing one such story from her mother and father, she left her job at the museum to backpack across Europe and Asia. Two years after she had started at the museum, she gave one month’s notice to the director of research, and spent her last two weeks bringing a graduate intern up to speed on the museum’s research effort. On her last day, a small group of the museum staff threw a party for her after the day had ended. The party itself was more of a formality, abeit a friendly one, issued by a group of coworkers who knew little of Laura. Allen Wright, the lead researcher had organized the party during Laura’s last days at the Museum. After the lab had closed, everyone (the seven people from the research lab and an off duty security guard) had settled to the lunch room, where they had a cake and a few presents for Laura. After the last of formalities, four of the staff accompanied Laura to a bar in Soho.

The night went relatively quietly while the group talked and enjoyed a few drinks. Slowly, the group was whittled down to three, lightly tipsy women. Laura, who had been a little more talkative than usual hadn’t noticed the man at the bar, who was keep watch over the trio. He was dressed casually, and nursed a drink while casually reading a newspaper. Laura and her friends were seated at a table a bit of a ways from the bar. Laura went to the bar to buy what would probably be the last round for the night. When she had reached the bar, the man who was keeping watch approached her and offered her a business card.

“You may need my help in Europe. Look me up when you get there.” He said, smiling and winking as he turned and walked toward the exit.

“Wait…” Laura tried to breach the growing noise level in the bar with little success.

She watched the man exit the bar, without giving him chase, and then examined the business card.


Helping travellers find their way.


The card only begged more questions than it answered, which she supposed was what a business card was supposed to do. She put the card in her purse, gathered the drinks and made her way back to the table with her former coworkers. While they finished their last drinks, Laura kept thinking about the stranger, the Guide. How did he even know she was going to be travelling to Europe? How did she know to find her in this bar? Did he follow her here? She felt a little uneasy about the situation, but kept it well hidden. She made her way home in a taxi after bidding her friends farewell, leaving them at the bar. Her parents were either out, or in bed when she arrived home, which was fine with her as she was a little too tired to service their inquiries. She got cleaned up and made her way to bed, completely unaware that her life was about to change.

Chapter Four

The man had been speaking in a barely audible voice. He rocked back and forth in a large rocking chair, a cloak covering his body and face. A book lay propped open between his hands, which he seemed to be browsing through with some interest, perhaps quietly reading aloud in an eerie monotone that sounded like latin. It was nearly impossible to make out any details regarding the book itself, although one could see that the edges of the pages were rough and uneven. I could sense that the book itself was old. Very old. The man’s voice quietly tapered off as he levelled his head, as if pausing to reflect upon what he had just read. He closed the book abruptly and spoke calmly.

“What else are you keeping from us?” The gravely voice of the cloaked man inquired.

Bannen tried to answer, but found that he couldn’t make a sound. He was confident with the convenience of his soundless plight.

“We have her you know. She already told us everything.” The rocking chair stopped.

Bannen felt more like an observer to his inquest than the subject of his questioning. He tried again to get a closer look at the book without any measure success.

There was a pause for a moment, and then a sound like a stampede rippled through the air. Everything went black.

He woke up, his head cradled on a pile of discarded jackets, with a discarded t-shirt wrapped around a wound on his head. As the room came into focus, he saw Davis and the lady from the couple getting their fortunes read.

“That could have been worse.” Her smile genuine and lacking any hidden concern. Bannen’s head pounding nearly as loud as his stomach, he sat up slowly.

“How long was I out?” he asked.

“About twenty minutes by my time piece.” Answered Davis. “We thought your demise was certain by the way you hit the floor.” He continued.

“One of the others already tried your little stunt. Are you trying to get us killed?” Interjected the portly card player. His bitterness seemed attuned to the fact that it was an interruption to his winning streak.

Bannen glared in his direction, evaluating his intensity. The portly man’s reaction was a false sense of concern geared as a distraction to the fact that he was hiding something, probably from his fellow card players.

“Thanks for your concern.” said Bannen, without facetiousness. He kept his measurement of the man to himself for the time being.

He turned back to the lady and Davis.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” Bannen looked to the lady.

“I’m Wendy, and this is my husband, Andrew.” She answered, pointing to her partner in fortune receiving.

“Very pleased to meet you. I’m Bannen.” he replied extending a hand to each of them in turn.

“I‘m Sherula.” Added the fortune teller. She was somewhat more reserved than she had been with Wendy and Andrew.

“I’m Rolsen. Rolsen Heward.” Said the card player with the handlebar moustache. He extended his hand in a friendly gesture, eager to be a part of the introduction.

“Martin.” Added the other card player, who appeared even thinner since the last twenty minutes. He barely made eye contact and shied back into the darkness.

The card dealer, looked away momentarily, and then sighed as if this was a chore.

“Gil. Gil’s the name.” He smirked as if the introduction was painful.

The man with the wrinkled forehead had moved a bit closer.

“Harlan. Harlan Walker.” He extended a hand, and Bannen offered his. A very strong calloused grip was returned. He was likely a skilled tradesman, probably some form of tool work.

The younger couple had joined the introductions, and the lady with the piercing eyes presented herself to the group.

“I‘m Monique and this is…” She was cut off mid sentence.

“Jeremy. We‘re Monique and Jeremy.” The man interrupted her protectively, perhaps sparked to life by his girlfriend’s initiative, and struggling to keep up with her. It was easy to see that he was trying to be her man in a situation that didn’t present any easy direction to do so.

“What about the other two?” he asked before any intensity in the situation could develop.

“The young gentleman with the dried flower, we just call him ‘Biscuit’ as he is none too talkative. He communicates to us when the need arises.” Davis jumped in on cue.

“The other one, we‘re not quite sure. He‘s been sleeping off a rather steep alcohol sickness. He smelled of whiskey when we first awoke here. He‘s eaten once in that time and regurgitated it shortly there after.” Davis paused with a puzzled look on his face.

“Err… Speaking of such, the meals have arrived in your absence.”

“We should eat, and then we should spend some time trying to piece together our situation. Where are we? Why are we here? Who brought us here? We have to figure these things in order to know where we stand and where we‘re going.” I paused and looked around at each of the faces in turn.

“Agreed?” he inquired.

Everyone nodded in agreement and quickly turned to the food which was prepared upon thirteen deep steel plates with covers over each one. They all contained the same meal in the same quantity, which was substantial. There were also thirteen cups and three large steel decanters decorated in elaborate detail, each containing water enough to last through the meal and longer.

For the next ten minutes, eleven people ate hungrily, one nursed and consoled a dried flower, and the last slept away the remnants of a tremendous hangover. Bannen didn’t feel the newly acquired bruise on his forehead. Nobody spoke, but the silence wasn‘t in the least bit comforting. Although some of them had suspected it, they were each being carefully observed.

Chapter 5

The flight from La Guardia to Regensburg, Germany was relatively uneventful and Laura slept for most of it. She had dreamt about her last night at the bar with her co-workers and the mysterious stranger. In her dream, she had been sitting at the table with her friends, enjoying her drink. The bar was hazy and densely packed with patrons. She was engaged in a toast with her friends, when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head to see the stranger at the end of the bar. Instead of discretion, he was waving to Laura with both hands, screaming something to her. He gestured to the other side of the crowded room mouthing the words RUN NOW! She turned her head in the direction he gestured looking for the source of the stranger’s alarm. Her friends continued their toast as she turned her head in search. The patrons were all engaged in their cliques, carrying on in an orderly drunkeness. When her glance had reached the far corner from the end of the bar, she had observed that it was visibly darker than the rest of the bar. She looked closer trying to see if she could see anything, and then back to the stranger and mouthed WHAT? He was still in the same spot, somehow unable to move and still waving frantically to her. JUST RUN! He mouthed as he waved frantically. The stranger’s direction only incensed her curiosity even further. She stood and started walk slowly to the dark corner, while the music and commotion blared around her. As she approached, she could barely make out a dark figure, cloaked. Two eyes glared out from the innards of the cloak, and pierced the atmosphere of the bar. Laura sensed something very sinister about the man and realized that she should have heeded the warning. She turned to looking for the stranger with the warning, but he was gone. She scanned the room in a panic, realizing her co-workers were gone as well. Time itself seemed to slow to a crawl as some of the other bar patrons now stepped into view, each wearing cloaks, slowly approaching her. She turned to the emergency exit and walked to door, her footsteps audible over the music. She barely made it through the crowd of cloaked figures to the door. She pushed the door open and was greeted with a darkness too thick for any vision to pierce. She turned to see the cloaked figures approaching and scanned them for a way out. She spotted an opening between a group of them and the front entrance to the bar just beyond. She poised herself for the sprint, when from behind her a pair of hands reached out from the darkness and grabbed her firmly by the shoulders. She screamed as she was dragged into its depths…

“Are you alright Miss?” asked the stewardess, with a hand on her shoulder.

Laura caught her breath, her ears pounding furiously.

“Yes. I’m fine, thank you.” replied Laura, visibly shaken and alert.

“Can I get you something to eat or drink?” asked the flight attendant with a rehearsed professionalism.

“No really, I’m fine.” Laura responded, visibly agitated now.

The flight attendant nodded politely and proceeded down the aisle. Laura sat staring out of the window into the darkness of the country side below.

Three hours later and she was checked into her hotel room, where she lay quietly on top of the bed covers in an attempt to stave off the jet lag. She fell asleep at three thirty ad meridiem Dusseldorf time with the stranger’s business card grasped in her hand.

She woke up promptly at seven ad meridiem, completely refreshed. The hotel room was quaint and located in the north end of Regensburg a short distance from some of the sites that she intended to see. She jumped into the shower and washed the remnants of her jet lag away. A week here would give her ample time to see some of the sites of interest in Regensburg. She thought about the stranger and the business card but in the end she decided against calling him for the time being. She still had her suspicions about the stranger, although inside she knew that his intent was true.

Chapter 6
Margaret leafed through the pages of her book, selecting a chapter she'd would read before her friend Susannia. Susannia had always been a hands on person though she reveled in the creative endeavor Margaret had pursued in writing and often drew inspiration from it. Both were innovators in a time when women often did not dabble in such things as writing and mechanics and both were adventurous in their pursuits. Susannia sat through the reading of Margaret's chapter, which has seen a young genius scientist seeking to overcome the limits of mortality via experimentation. Susannia could hear Margaret's husband in the work as he was a touring lecturer at various medical facilities around the country and throughout Europe.

Margaret finished the chapter and Susannia asked for another.

"I'd rather save it for next time. You might have the whole finished thing by that time." Margaret responded.

"If you'd rather it that way, I can wait. But only barely." she smiled at Margaret.

"So what has you so interested in mortality, you've been thinking hard about this. It's apparent in your work." Susannia commented.

Margaret couldn't conceal her struggle, and looked down to her lap before continuing.

"I've been having the nightmares again." she continued, again. A tear crept down her face shrinking as its tail grew.

"It starts with the men in cloaks, eerie and dark, slowly pacing towards me. Just like last time. Then there is the man, dressed strangely like he's from another place." she paused.

"He's pleading with me, trying to rouse me. He's asking me 'where is it?'. I try to speak and nothing comes out." the tears flowing freely down her face.

"Then you come in, you hand a paper to someone, who hands it to someone else and yet another person and then to the man in the strange clothing. He unfolds the paper and reads it and gasps covering his mouth with his hand. He drops the paper, and holds his hands to the sky. You all become bones and fall to the floor, and there is blackness." Margaret reached into her blouse and pulled a kerchief and began wiping her eyes and face.

"Not even the drink works anymore to quiet the nightmares." Margaret stopped, her eyes bloodshot and red.

Susannia sat beside her friend on the chesterfield, moving close beside her.

"You need to talk to someone about this. If you keep it bottled up inside, you'll burst. You need to see someone and to talk about it and get it out. You're going to stay here with me for the rest of the month, that's three weeks. You need a break from this. If you want to write, you can use my personal study. If you can't sleep or you have nightmares, you wake up and we'll talk you through it. You're going to cut down on the drink as well. Not quit, just get yourself to a responsible level to yourself and your health."  Susannia held her friend and rocked her gently.

"You always were the sensible one." Margaret responded.

"You always were the sensitive one." Susannia returned, pecking her forehead with her lips.

“…Events within time and space leave an impression in causality and are perceivable in every direction of time… and space.”

Any likeness to the events of any person living or dead (or undead) is purely coincidental.

© Copyright 2011-2025 Brian Joseph Johns

Friday, September 13, 2013

Stories From The End

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. You might find yourself in there but that is a figment of your imagination or just the fact that you have the power to inspire.

Most recent update:

[Chapter finished: Cleanup Team, with the chapter Serenity and Fireflies started. October 9, 2013 11:30 PM]

In these chapters we remain with Elena, Dave and Stanton as they depart with Foller to return to the power station in search of answers that Stanton think might answer the question of what started armageddon.


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 continued 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 through 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.

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.

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. He had been reactivated and was given orders to disable the central grid. He had been a deep cover operative for the Agency for years, and given his engineering and special forces demolition background, he was the perfect inside man for the United States east central power grid system. 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 Folller 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?” Shot back Elena 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 refridgerator 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, unwaivered 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 8:40am 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 ou 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 forgivingly.

"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. 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 and 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 the security room down the service cooridor when he was winded by the force of the explosion. From his point which was fifty meters away from ground zero down a service cooridor, 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 cooridor 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 two were functional.

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 Apocolype 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 10am. 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 schrapnel 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 alining 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 Feagan 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 what my sister and I would call the lid. 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 as I 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 Faegan'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] 

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.

To be continued...

© Copyright 2011, 2012 Brian Joseph Johns

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