… 40%… 50%… 75%… 98%… Add full. Initiating connection.


“—there, Ray? Do you learn?”

“Affirmative. I learn you, Cass.”

Ray blinked into the dim gentle, ready for the schematic overlay to return into focus.

Reception was good, even right here within the aromatic, unwashed drains beneath the federal government lab, however uploads threw him each time. Vertigo. Nausea. Typically reminiscence gaps. There have been meds that might assist him take care of it, however all of them made him sleepy.

The mission didn’t accommodate sleepy.

The cool damp was seeping beneath his pores and skin, and the odor of uncooked sewage wasn’t doing his abdomen any good. Apparently, not even in their very own buildings did the federal government pay for pre-treating waste. Closing his eyes to dam out the mottled fiberglass partitions, Ray centered the overlay on the neon blue R that traced his actions throughout the inexperienced strains of the sewer drains. Cass’ vivid C was on the opposite finish of the constructing, transferring cautiously north as she carried out her personal recon.

Above them each, within the red-outlined schematic of the locked-down federal constructing, he noticed three amorphous red-orange spots indicating warmth. No solution to know by means of the constructing’s leaded flooring which one was Ando, however all three have been immobile.

Rattling.

“We’ve taught him to maintain nonetheless since he was a child,” Cass mentioned in his ear. “Don’t learn into it.”

She was speaking to herself as a lot as him, Ray knew. At 15, Ando was already a talented operative, each level-headed and technically adept. However he’d gone off on his personal for this one, and Cass was affected by a debilitating case of delayed helicopter parenting. Ray had spent their journey right here reassuring her that Ando knew methods to care for himself, by no means confessing the roiling terror in his personal abdomen. There was nothing fairly like parenting to remind you the way little of the universe you possibly can management.

“I’m not studying something into it,” he lied. “I’m making an attempt to determine which one is him. This one of the best information you possibly can get?”

“Authorities labs don’t label their flooring plans. However primarily based on the facility grid, the center one is the pc lab. An excessive amount of drone visitors for him to cover there.” Cass took a breath in his ear. “Flip a coin, Ray. We solely get one probability at this.”

Ray targeted on his personal blue icon and let his peripheral imaginative and prescient filter out distractions. There it was: a variance, nearly insignificant, most likely simply the overlay’s augmentors working to reinforce the little they might make out by means of the interference. “The north spot,” he mentioned to Cass. “Full increase.”

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Ray felt a twinge in his left eye because the overlay flickered. The orange spot within the northern nook of the constructing grew bigger and extra pixelated, turning crimson, then yellow, then white, filling his field of regard. Too giant to be an animal, too sizzling to be a drone.

Was it transferring? He was positive it was transferring. Ando was there. He needed to be.

The twinge flared right into a stabbing ache, and the room turned one other place: silhouettes; unintelligible whispers; a well-known odor, metallic and musty, misplaced. The brightness burned by means of his senses till there was nothing else left. No shadows, no sound, nothing however searing white vacancy and voices—


“—calibrate just a little higher. See that line there? We simply—”

Add suspended. Buffering… resuming… Add full.

“Dad?”


“Who’s there?”

Ray stood within the open doorway of the constructing’s north library. The voice had been low, nervous — Ando’s, but not. His personal, maybe? Why would he be calling for his father? His father had been lifeless for 12 years.

How had he entered the constructing? Via the sewer?

That wavering name once more. “Dad?”

It was Ando in any case.

The boy got here out of the shadows and threw his arms round his father, worry and aid tempering his normal teenaged reticence. “I’ve acquired him, Cass,” Ray mentioned, aid washing over him in a dizzying wave. For a second, he wasn’t an operative on a rescue mission, however a father together with his solely little one in his arms, secure and unharmed.

Cass, by no means one for sentiment, dealt with the state of affairs in her normal style. “You inform him I’m taking his fabricator and his cryptography gear, and he can handwrite notes to his pals for the following 30 years,” she ranted. “And he can go away the anarchy to the grown-ups.”

Ray felt Ando choke out fun regardless of the hazard. The boy knew his mom.

“Surveillance?” Ray requested.

“One drone sweep each 21 minutes,” Ando mentioned into his chest. “Two minutes till it’s again.”

“Again down into the sewers,” Cass directed. “We are able to get out the south door.”

Ando mentioned, “We are able to’t go away.”

Ray loosed his arms, and Ando took a step away from him, his eyes degree together with his father’s. Ray frowned, uneasy. When had Ando turn into so tall?

The boy’s jaw was set, however there was no anger in his face; this was willpower, not insurrection. “I got here right here to do that,” Ando mentioned. “I can’t go away till it’s executed.”

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“You are able to do it one other day!” Cass howled.

However Ray knew what the boy was considering. “They’ll be prepared for us one other day,” he mentioned. “He’s proper, Cass. We have to end it.”

She swore, repeatedly, a sailor’s grand lexicon of profanity. “Wonderful,” she mentioned when her vocabulary was exhausted. “However you’ve acquired 85 seconds to get out of the best way of that drone.”

The overlay flickered, and abruptly, Ray may see in Ando’s face the person he would in the future turn into: a strong jaw, cheeks nonetheless cherubic when he smiled, knowledge drawing deep strains round these passionate eyes, wires of silver threaded by means of his jet-black hair. Ray shook himself. The boy was barely shaving, and Ray was seeing visions of him as an previous man.

He gave Ando a fast nod, and with nothing however the flash of a smile, the boy disappeared into the shadows once more. Now, after all, Ray needed to keep in mind how he’d reached the library. Absolutely, he’d come up by means of a flooring panel or an auxiliary stairwell, however his reminiscence supplied nothing. “Cass?” he requested. “The place is it? The sewer entrance?”

The overlay flashed white.

Buffering… 85%… Connection unstable.

“—on, simply give it a se—”


He was within the constructing’s foremost hallway. Behind him, he heard a low hum, presumably his creativeness or perhaps the patrol drone making its preprogrammed manner down the corridor, about to show the nook to detect him. Every thing they’d executed, all of Ando’s naïve willpower, can be for naught. He turned and ran from the sound, however there have been no stairwells, no open doorways, not even the room the place he’d discovered Ando, and why was all the pieces rising brighter? A nook up forward. Absolutely, that’s the place he’d are available in, that’s the place he’d left Ando, that’s the place—


“—interrupts anticipated at this stage. They’ve been engaged on the issue for some time. Within the subsequent—”

Buffering… 30%… 65%… 98%… Connection resumed.


What drawback? What connection? The place am I?

Now, he was standing in a room lit by a financial institution of laptop displays. Earlier than him sat Ando, tapping at an old-style bodily keyboard, totally absorbed in his process. Cass stood subsequent to their son, staring anxiously up at Ray. His notion of his spouse was apparently time-traveling as properly: she appeared to him as younger and chic as she had the primary time she’d proven up at one in every of his protest conferences.

They’d made it to the pc room. In fact that they had.

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“I’m okay,” he assured her. “The place are we?”

“We’re overloading the principle generator,” Cass informed him. “The auxiliaries ought to go up in sequence.”

Effectively, that appeared sloppy. “No redundancies?”

“Tons of redundancies.” She grinned at him, and there was ache in his left eye once more together with a vibrant white flash, like an historic digicam. “Simply no fail-safes.”


simply no fail-safes


A klaxon crammed Ray’s ears. The overlay flashed crimson throughout his peripheral imaginative and prescient: impending catastrophe. He had his again braced towards the pc room’s heavy hydraulic door, however he wasn’t slowing it down. His ft pushed into the doorframe, and the construction started to press him in half.

Unhealthy time for a reminiscence hole. “Cass! Ando! Now!”

“Only one sec—” Ando mentioned, however Cass grabbed him by the again of his shirt and hauled him out of the chair like a rag doll. The door stored transferring, and one thing in Ray’s hip gave. He set his fingers on the body to strengthen his futile efforts. Ando leaped over Ray’s buckling legs and bumped into the hall. Cass adopted, grabbing Ray’s arm as she handed, and he stumbled out of the room.

In a single step, Ray realized his legs weren’t going to carry him up. His hip, his eye… he wasn’t positive which ache was worse now. “Run!” he shouted. “I’m proper behind you!”


proper behind you


His spouse and son have been half dragging him down the hallway towards the open exit door. He may hear the drones behind them — 4, he may see on the overlay, and the crimson pulsing border was rising bigger.

Why was the exit door open?

“Wait,” Ray mentioned. He tried to decelerate however discovered his ft have been ineffective. “Wait! The door. It’s—”


the door it’s


They have been exterior, he and Cass, watching Ando run throughout the constructing’s dimly lit garden, disappearing into the night time, into security, when the blast wave hit. Nonetheless beneath his arm, she was lifted together with him. He tried to drag her in entrance of him, to defend her from the worst of the blast, however she was gone, abruptly, from his fingers, and the crimson of the overlay crammed his imaginative and prescient, blinding him.

“Cass!” he shouted, because the crimson flared into white. “Cass!”

After which there was nothing.

He was on his again, unmoving, one thing roaring round him, deafening.

“Cass? Ando?”

All he noticed was white.


It’s all proper. That’s not how this ends.


“Dad?”

He’s secure. Even groggy, Ray felt aid surge by means of him. His eyes wouldn’t open, however he tried to talk. One thing remotely resembling language got here out of his mouth.

“It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Wait— this wasn’t Ando. This was the voice he’d heard earlier, the one he’d thought was his personal. A few of Ray’s aid ebbed away.

“Why can’t he discuss?” the voice requested.

“He’s readjusting.” A nice sufficient voice, however not deep and heat and husky. Not Cass, then. “His vitals are good. Give him just a little time.”

Ray felt fingers tuck themselves beneath his, and he slowly turned conscious of his physique once more. Weak, exhausted. His eye nonetheless damage, however his hip ached lower than he would have anticipated, what with having been blown to bits. His hand convulsed on the international fingers: they have been lengthy, thick, the pores and skin dry and calloused. “Cass.”

The hand gave his a squeeze. “She’s gone forward,” the person mentioned. Light, soothing. Not a tactic one anticipated from a authorities agent. Ray managed to drive his eyes open.

He was in a small area surrounded by medical gear, illuminated by a vibrant gentle on the ceiling. An IV bag swung subsequent to his mattress. An ambulance, maybe, although he had no sense of movement. The girl stood at his ft, looking at a display screen displaying his vitals. Stout and dark-haired, she was wearing an identical cotton shirt and pants: a health care provider or a nurse.

The person holding his hand, watching him with anxious eyes, had a salt-and-pepper mustache and a well-lined face that Ray may nearly, however not fairly, place. The hair on his head was black with flecks of silver: tight curls, neatly trimmed. The way in which Cass all the time stored her hair.

Simple to take care of, she all the time mentioned. He couldn’t keep in mind if he’d ever informed her how a lot he liked it.

“My household,” he mentioned to the person, managing to tighten his fingers. So weak, his hand. ”Is my household all proper?”

One other squeeze from the stranger. Such vibrant eyes this man had, and one thing acquainted about them. That sharp tilt towards the within, the best way the left eyelid drooped, just a bit. Ando had the identical eyes. Perhaps this man was a relative.

“Your loved ones is okay,” the person mentioned.

The voice sounded acquainted and thick, however all Ray heard was the reassurance, and when the aid took him once more, white and clear and silent, he allowed himself to go to sleep.


“It was the one you wrote for his 65th,” Ando informed his mom.

He sat on the grass, legs crossed, elbows on his knees. He wasn’t positive he’d have the ability to stand afterward — he’d had a knee substitute at 45 — however he may see her higher when he was seated. The bottom beneath him was cool, however the afternoon solar warmed him even because the breeze chilled the dampness on his cheeks.

“You made me out to be such a brat in that one, you already know? However he all the time favored it. He acquired to be a hero.” Ando laughed. “And you bought to ream me out for as soon as. I all the time questioned why you by no means did in actual life. Lord is aware of I earned it.”

The breeze picked up, and a dried leaf tumbled throughout his lap.

“For tomorrow, I used to be considering of the rocket launch, the one you wrote once I went off to varsity. It’s shorter, however he all the time liked sitting on prime of a ball of exploding gas. I’ve been speaking to the caseworker, and because it’s nonetheless a prototype, she thinks they may have the ability to get us an insurance coverage exception. Perhaps even for one more two, which, at this level, could also be sufficient. No person will say.” The phrases have been coming tougher now. “They know, however they received’t say.”

Fastidiously, Ando unfolded his lengthy limbs and pushed himself to his ft, feeling his backbone crack as he rose. That’d be subsequent: a decrease lumbar substitute. They have been getting higher lately, however he hated surgical procedure, regardless of how fast the restoration. Nonetheless, he wanted to have the ability to sit when he talked to his mom.

“There’s a lot I want I may let you know, Mother. However perhaps… perhaps subsequent time, I’ll simply write it down.”

He leaned all the way down to press his lips towards the gravestone, simply as soon as, earlier than he left her alone within the twilight.


… 40%… 85%… 98%… Add full. Initiating connection.


“Colonel? Ray! Are you napping?”

Ray’s eyes snapped open on the sound of Cass’ voice, and he took a deep breath of the area shuttle’s generated oxygen. Earlier than his eyes, the digital instrument overlay glowed inexperienced.

“Damaging, CAPCOM,” he mentioned. “Simply ensuring you’re paying consideration.”

The overlay up to date the countdown: T-minus 30 seconds. Rattling, he’d nearly missed it. He lowered his helmet’s visor, and the hiss of the capsule’s environmental programs grew quieter.

The overlay started counting down: T-minus 10, 9, 8…

“Convey me some stardust, Colonel,” CAPCOM mentioned, her voice clear in his ear.

Ray grinned. “You bought it, Cass.”

The engine ignited with a deafening roar, slamming him again in his seat. However all Ray may hear was his heartbeat, turning the explosion into music, vibrant and sizzling and joyous.


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