Mythaxis

God Blinked


Martin M. Clark


Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
Regina Brett

"I'm Dominic Vecchio, Chief of Security. This is Officer Parks."

While Parks appeared to be no more than muscle in a cheap suit there was an air of cynical intelligence about Vecchio that I found unsettling. He looked like the kind of man who believed everyone lied as a matter of course.

Despite my apprehension I managed to smile. "Donald Cain. Please, gentlemen, take a seat".

I'd remained in my executive armchair when Abigail ushered in my two uninvited guests; a cheap move, designed to show I wasn't in the least intimidated by this intrusion. Vecchio unbuttoned his jacket so that it hung wide to reveal the Glock on his hip. An equally cheap move, but one that had the desired effect of increasing my sense of unease. I retaliated by not offering them any refreshments. Score one for petty power-play.

He shot a cuff. "We haven't met before, Director, as I was on compassionate leave when you joined us here at Horst Energie. My thanks for finally finding time to see me, given your busy schedule."

I ignored the obvious sarcasm - Vecchio had been bombarding me with weekly requests for some four months - and continued the exchange of pleasantries. "Well, bureaucracy expands to fill the time available, as they say." My smile slid towards sympathetic concern, "And my condolences, Chief, on the loss of your father."

Vecchio flinched like I'd struck him in the face, then made an obvious effort to relax. "This isn't a social call, Director."

"No? Obviously if I'd realised this was to be more than just a delayed 'meet and greet' it would have been afforded a higher priority. So, what seems to be the problem?"

"The problem is that immediately on taking up post you placed this entire compound off-limits to all non-departmental personnel, including security. I'm supposed to be responsible for the entire site only to be told my presence here is by invitation only? I trust you appreciate that your self-imposed isolation has seriously undermined my authority."

I ran Area Two, one of four which went to make up the Horst research and development facility in the wilds of New Mexico. Each campus was lavishly equipped such that few staff ever felt the need to venture beyond the perimeter, and my 'Berlin Wall' regime had been accepted with barely a murmur.

From my own personnel, that is. Despite Vecchio's open irritation I kept up the light-hearted approach. "Oh, our 'self-imposed isolation', as you put it, Chief, is simply due to the extremely sensitive nature of the work we do here. My department includes a three-man team of private security contractors who are more than capable of dealing with any petty disputes and trivial infractions. However, if you're unhappy at being out-of-the-loop then may I suggest you lodge a formal complaint through the appropriate channels."

"Gee, whiz, wish I'd thought of that. Of course I objected, only to be told you're protected from on high. I had to call in a few markers to even get this far, so I suppose I should be thankful you've acknowledged I exist."

"We've simply had no call for your services, Chief, although if circumstances dictate otherwise I'd certainly value your input. However I'm happy to say that during my tenure as Director of Operations everything has run extremely smoothly, extremely smoothly indeed."

Vecchio pursed his lips. "Really? Then what about the death of Serge Danner? It happened over three months ago but I only got to hear about it yesterday."

I waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. "That was no more than an unfortunate industrial accident. Technician Danner fell from one of the overhead gantries in the materials storage area and broke his neck. I happened to be first on the scene and, before you ask, there was no-one else in the vicinity, no suggestion of foul play. Our medical officer certified his injuries were consistent with a tragic mishap."

"Yet there was no CCTV coverage of the area in question. Quite an oversight given the, as you put it, 'extremely sensitive nature' of your work here."

"I'm not au fait with the technicalities but apparently the high-energy fields being generated play havoc with the surveillance grid. Building infrastructure lies outside my remit and Central don't consider it cost-effective to install shielded cabling. If you have any complaints concerning this state of affairs then I suggest you take the matter up with Accounting."

"I find your attitude complacent, Director, if not bordering on actual negligence."

I sat back and steepled my fingers, "And I find your attitude bordering on an abuse of process, Vecchio. A crude and somewhat obvious attempt to parlay this trumped-up investigation into an expression of superiority, simply because our seclusion is an itch you can't scratch."

He snorted. "I didn't strong-arm Central simply to make a point in some petty turf war, if that's what you mean. No, a security situation has arisen and I need to know what it is you're doing in Area Two, Director. Specifically, what is Project Mote?"

I glared at him. "Even that designation is highly classified. Look, what is this about? Security situation? What kind of security situation? Nothing has happened recently which would warrant your attention and, as I've explained, Danner's death was a simple accident - end of story."

"Then consider my visit as a kind of epilogue to that sorry little tale. You recruited one Sara Hotchkiss to replace Danner."

I blinked, momentarily thrown by the shift in conversation. "Well, no, not personally. I'm an administrator, a project manager, and as such I'm not qualified to vet candidates on technical matters. The job specification was passed to Human Resources and they presented us with Miss Hotchkiss in due course. I understand Professor Koenig was involved in the interview process and he's quite a stickler for detail, so I'm sure we employed only the very best. I've certainly not received any negative feedback concerning Miss Hotchkiss, she seems most competent."

Vecchio almost smiled. "Sara Hotchkiss doesn't exist."

I stared at him. "What? "My mouth suddenly felt dry and I had to cough before continuing, "What do you mean by that?"

"She came to us from Aries Telecom?"

"Yes, I believe so. She worked there as a technical analyst. Her background made her a near-perfect candidate. They gave her an excellent reference."

Vecchio toyed with his cufflink. "Not according to Aries. In fact no-one of that name has ever worked for them, in any capacity, at any of their sites. I've been in contact with my opposite number and we now believe their personnel database was hacked prior to our checking her references, then restored so they wouldn't detect the presence of a phantom former employee. Obviously Aries are keen to ensure this breach of security doesn't become public knowledge, so we can count on their continued co-operation."

I poured myself a glass of water from the crystal beaker on my desk and took a sip before replying - as much to give myself time to think as soothe a parched throat. "It sounds like you've uncovered nothing more than a database glitch, Chief. A flaw in their systems, not ours."

He shook his head. "Sara Hotchkiss has a driving licence, social security number, an extensive credit history. There are school records, her university degree, even two traffic tickets for speeding - but these are all on-line. In every photograph of her as an adult, be it her graduation or a corporate PR release, Sara is always in the back row or on the edge of the group in question. That is to say, in the prime position for an inserted image."

"You're saying that her past has been doctored? Some kind of extreme CV inflation?"

"I'm saying that her past is a complete fabrication." Vecchio shifted slightly in his seat and a hint of doubt crept into his voice, "Possibly. For now we've held off chasing the paper trail, the corroborating hard-copy documentation, in case this was the aim all along."

I frowned. "I'm sorry, I don't understand."

"If it comes to light that Horst security is conducting a witch-hunt, especially when it implicates a major enterprise like Project Mote, then the effect on share price would be devastating. If someone knew to expect this beforehand they could make a killing."

"So this, ah, crisis of confidence in Miss Hotchkiss has been engineered, designed solely to manipulate the stock market?"

"That's one theory, yes."

I let myself relax slightly. "Well, I think you're chasing shadows, Chief. The outside world knows nothing, nothing, of what's going on in here. So I suggest you go ahead as planned. After all, reviewing one employee history is hardly going to bring the sky down on our heads now, is it?"

Vecchio shook his head. "You're too isolated in here, Director, your appreciation is too insular. The balance sheet doesn't lie and it's obvious from the last published set of accounts that your department represents a major, even critical, investment on behalf of Horst. Anything which reflects badly on your enterprise reflects badly on the company as a whole."

"I almost feel flattered. Anyway, there's one crucial element in all of this that you seem to have overlooked in your rush to judgement."

"Oh? Then kindly enlighten me."

"Why would anyone fabricate a work history for Sara Hotchkiss as an Aries employee unless they knew we were seeking a replacement for the unfortunate Danner? Hum? Tell me that? This arcology is incorporated as a municipal body with its own coroner, fire department, even its own police force." I smiled, "That would be you, by the way. Danner had no family, no dependants, so his death went unreported outside the boundaries of our petty kingdom. So you see, Chief Vecchio, being somewhat insular does have its advantages."

"You're correct, Director Cain. No-one could have anticipated a vacancy would arise, especially not the specific vacancy brought about by the loss of technician Danner." Vecchio's face hardened, "Unless his death wasn't accidental."

I stared at him, sudden fear making my scalp tighten. "You're saying he was murdered? No, no, I can't believe someone amongst us could be capable of that."

"It's only one possibility, I admit, but one that can't be ignored. Look, if Danner was killed that means there's already an insider. That's why it's so important I understand what it is you're doing. If I arrest Hotchkiss, what threat could her accomplice pose to the success of your project, to the safety of the facility? You must be candid, Director, for all our sakes."

I sat back, floundering for a response that wouldn't leave me looking either self-serving or incompetent. The chair detected my tense shoulders and began a vibrating massage that took me a few moments to shut off. I cleared my throat. "Teleportation. Teleportation as a mass transit medium."

Vecchio raised an eyebrow. "What, as in 'beam me up, Scotty'? I thought that technology had pretty much hit a brick wall."

"The conventional approach, most certainly. That deals with mass converted into energy, transmitting that energy to another location, and recreated the original mass from that energy." I allowed myself a small smile, "But energy doesn't 'remember' what is was, where it came from, and no transmission method is ever one-hundred-percent efficient, so why bother? At present the only transfer that takes place is the template, the item blueprint, and the original is lost forever."

"What you're describing is just a standard nanofax. You can't put living matter through one of those."

"Of course not, even the quickest biomass printer can't produce a viable organism - and certainly not a sentient one. It is, as you say, a brick wall."

He frowned. "Don't play games, Director, what have you achieved that makes your project so damned important?"

"Project Mote has side-stepped the problem entirely. Using spatial compression and gravimetric confinement we're now able to shrink an area approximately two metres in diameter down to the size and mass of a photon - ah, part of a beam of light. We then physically transmit this photon 'bus' to a new location where the contents expand back to normal size. The beauty of this system is that it utilises existing fibre optic and laser communications technology. All you need on the receiving end is the means to de-encrypt the transmission header and project the incoming packet into an appropriate empty space. At present the compression only lasts for three-point-two seconds so, obviously, timing is everything."

Vecchio took a deep breath and expelled it. "Christ, you're talking about making all existing forms of transportation redundant overnight. If this comes to market it will make an awful lot of people very unhappy, assuming the technology doesn't simply get militarised." His eyes narrowed, "And you can send people through this?"

"Oh yes. Well, so far all we're done is move rats and a monkey from one side of the lab to the other, with no apparent ill-effects. We're still months away from human trials using volunteers."

"OK, OK, but what about interstellar travel? Because if you've cracked that then I know of several corporations who'd happily crater this facility and damn the consequences."

I shook my head. "Oh, no, you only have the volume of air that's been compressed within the transmission sphere. More than enough if all you're doing is sending a beam of light around the globe, but it would still take five years or so to reach the nearest star. This system will be limited to Earth orbit, the Moon, maybe Mars if you took your own oxygen supply."

"Small mercies, but gratefully received." The Chief turned to his colleague. "Right, we'll need to double our surveillance footprint, so get onto Central for at least another two satellites. Dig out the survey we did for potential anti-missile sites. I'll want a full deployment of mobile batteries within thirty minutes of authorisation, so don't take any shit from the arsenal over this. Perimeter drones we can beef up from local resources." He rubbed his chin, "OK, that only leaves a railgun attack. Can't do much about that apart from keeping tabs on any potential airborne platforms. Contact Ops about hacking civilian air-traffic control, including the capacity to send false transmissions. Anything you want to add?"

Parks blinked, slowly, before replying. "On-site EMP detonation by means of covert infiltration, compromised security personnel, or compromised civilian staff. Same goes for the release of chemical or biological agents. We'll need to start extensive background checks across the board. Like you said, sir, a witch hunt."

I held up a hand. "Gentlemen, please! You make it sound like someone is about to declare war on us. Are all these elaborate precautions really necessary?"

Vecchio laughed, although there was no humour in his voice. "If I was on the outside, and learned what it is you're cooking up, I'd make damn sure we stole the technology before any patent was filed. Either that or ensure Project Mote goes down in flames. Which brings us back to Sara Hotchkiss. Despite the risks, I'm inclined to remove her from the equation right here, right now."

"But doesn't it make more sense to leave things as they are until we can identify her accomplice? You said yourself that arresting Sara could precipitate matters and all we need is a few more weeks, perhaps two months at most, to prove the technology works."

He shook his head. "No, I'll confront her, then match whatever amount she's been offered to spy on us, plus relocation and a new identity. If she's acting under duress then things get a bit more complicated, but I have personnel who can remove pressure just as easily as it's been applied."

"You'd really do all that?"

"Of course not, but it's obvious you believed me and you're a cynical, heartless, bureaucrat." Vecchio gave me a thin-lipped smile, "I've read your file."

I took my time before replying; removing a bottle of Scotch from the pedestal desk drawer and adding a generous measure to my glass. The whiskey swirled like smoke through the mineral water - my uncertain future as a Brownian motion metaphor. "Who else knows you're here apart from Abigail, my personal assistant? She brought you in, but did you encounter anyone else, even just passing them in the corridor?"

"I'm way ahead of you Director. If we have to 'disappear' Sara Hotchkiss then the best cover story is a medical emergency. That wouldn't hold water if everyone knew corporate security were taking an interest. I'm assuming your assistant and medical officer can be trusted to co-operate?"

"Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Ah, well, do you want me call her in here, to my office? Sara, I mean."

"Yes, let's get things moving."

I took a swig from my glass before pressing the intercom. "Abigail? Would you be so kind as to contact Sara Hotchkiss and ask her to come and see me. Tell her I need to review the final transmission protocols. Just send her straight in when she arrives, no need to stand on ceremony."

"Certainly, Director, I'll get right on it."

Another mouthful did nothing to calm my nerves. "And now we wait."

Less than five minutes, as it turned out.

There was a knock and Vecchio raised a hand to stop me replying immediately. He and Parks stood and turned to face the door before nodding to me.

I cleared my throat. "Come in."

Sara Hotchkiss entered holding a manila folder. She was an athletic brunette with close-cropped hair; handsome rather than pretty but definitely attractive if you liked strong women. To her credit she seemed unruffled by the reception committee, regarding the two security officers calmly before looking in my direction. "Director?"

I lifted the Bergman pistol from my open desk drawer and shot both Vecchio and Parks in the back of the head.

Blood and brain matter sprayed across Sara's face, blouse and lab coat. She barely flinched. The bodies fell to my plush carpet making no sound. The Bergman was a low-velocity, gas-powered gun designed for use in orbit As such it made an excellent, if short-range, assassination weapon down here on Earth. It had been supplied by my private security contractors, no questions asked, given my privileged position. I placed the gun on the desk and tried to smile.

Sara tossed the folder aside and wiped her face with her sleeve. "Christ, you weren't joking when you specified 'final protocols'. We're blown then?"

"Oh, yeah, and then some. Vecchio turned out to be a petty-minded little shit and your CV fell apart under close scrutiny. Just as well he didn't give mine the third-degree as well."

"OK, now what? I take it simply running away isn't an option?"

I finished my drink. "Well, I might be able to walk out of here but I'm fairly sure your card is marked."

Her face twisted into a bitter smile. "Oh, great. You kill this pair but it's me who gets thrown to the wolves? Thanks for nothing."

"That's not what I meant and you know it. Look, use my restroom to get cleaned up as best you can. I need to lay some groundwork if we're to avoid spending the next twenty years in a corporate gulag. Assuming we don't just end up as landfill."

Sara glared at me before vanishing next door. I heard water running. Another drink had its appeal but the first shot already lay like a sour cinder in my gut. I pressed the intercom. "Abigail?"

"Yes, sir?"

"I need you to contact Catering and have them lay on a full hospitality package in the conference suite. Top of the line, no expense spared. We'll also need the side room for less illustrious guests - security personnel and the like."

"Certainly, Director. Can you give me any indication as to expected numbers?"

"Not at this stage, no, but I'll just bring in senior staff as required if the room is going to look a bit underpopulated. Well, the presentable ones, at any rate"

I could hear the smile in her voice. "Yes, sir, I'll draw up a shortlist. What kind of time-scale are we working to?"

"Another unknown, I'm afraid. Security have just given me the heads-up but all they know is that this visit is 'imminent'. Look, you'd better go down and supervise things personally, we can't afford any slip-ups where Board members are concerned."

"No problem, sir, I'll make sure everything goes as smooth as silk."

"Thank you, Abigail, I don't know what I'd do without you. Get yourself an extra-special present from me come Christmas." She laughed.

I sat back in my chair, breathing heavily. After a few minutes Sara emerged and I saw her nose crinkle with disgust - the smell of blood and bowel was now impossible to ignore. Her face was clean and although the blouse betrayed damp patches they were easily overlooked against the dark blue cotton.

She barely glanced at the bodies. "I can do nothing with my lab coat."

"Doesn't matter, there's a service store between here and the lab and you're bound to find one there. Remember to take your ID and pens, and that folder. Everything has to look as close as it did when you were last there."

Sara took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I know what it is you've got planned, it's the only way out for both of us. Be honest, do you really think we stand a chance?"

"If I say 'in theory'-"

"You'll get a slap."

I managed a brief smile, just a twitch of my lips. "Then how about 'on paper' everything should work just fine?"

"Oh, much more convincing." She rubbed her eyes, "If we fail, then Danner's suicide was for nothing."

"It was the only way to get you in here once Prospero was ready, we all knew that. Danner believed in what we're doing."

She raised a clenched fist. "Anarchist League."

I returned the gesture. "Anarchist League. OK, I'll give you a few minutes' head start then come down to the lab. I've sent Abigail off to arrange hospitality for a mythical Board delegation, so no-one should see you sans coat. She's bound to tell Thurman and that will make a test-run seem all the more plausible."

Sara picked up the folder and adjusted her collar. She flashed a smile, gave me a "Good luck" - and was gone before I had time to reply.

A bad case of the shakes swept over me as I sat there on my own. Despite my professed solidarity with Sara, in reality there was no alternative escape route for just myself. Corporate security were bound to take an interest if I walked out of the department without Vecchio and Parks. Even if I reached the helipad it was a twenty-minute flight to Albuquerque, and I'd still be 'Donald Cain' when I got there. Like Sara, my persona was a fabricated 'legend'; one good enough to rival anything the intelligence community could come up with. Unfortunately I'd need the help of League hackers to resurrect my true self, and they'd hardly be willing to co-operate if I bailed-out now.

I stood and went over to my wall safe which lay behind a signed picture of the actor Damien Lewis - in his role as the double-agent 'Nicholas Brody'. A terrible conceit, I know, but one I'd been unable to resist. As part of my departmental isolation strategy the computer network backups were kept in my office rather than the communal vault, meaning I had access to the complete details of Project Mote as of midnight last night. Terabytes of information on a device that would fit snugly in my jacket pocket.

One last look around and I left my executive haven forever.

The main lab always set my teeth on edge - literally - it being something to do with free radicals emanating from the Tesla array. Sara was at the communications console sporting a new, pristine lab coat. She didn't look up as I entered.

Thurman made an immediate bee-line for me, a quizzical look on his face. I took his elbow and steered him to the side, keeping my voice low. "So you've heard?"

He adopted the same conspiratorial tone. "I have my sources. Catering is on red alert and security are shitting themselves. Apparently."

"Pretty much. Central are being deliberately coy about who this delegation consists of, but that in itself points to the presence of at least one senior Board member."

He wrung his hands. "But why now? We won't have anything to show them, not for another three months at least."

"And I think that's the problem. Look, Vecchio came to see me in person, because if they pull the plug on us then security for this site will be downgraded and he'll be out of a job. His take on things, gleaned from his opposite number at Central, is that certain people are very unhappy about our perceived lack of progress. Very unhappy, indeed."

Thurman glowered. "I bet it's that bastard Takeshi, he's been against this project from the start."

"I agree, which makes it vitally important we're able to show him something spectacular, something that will really rub his nose in it, in front of the other visitors."

"What do you mean, 'something spectacular'? I'm warning you, it will take at least three hours to set up the test apparatus for another monkey run."

I licked my lips. "I'll thinking more along the lines of a simulated transmission, a loop-back."

He winced. "Well, all the high-capacity relays are in place, I grant you, but we haven't had power levels up above twenty-percent. Baxter will have kittens if we break his shiny new reactor."

I played my trump card. "Which means if it is going to fall on its ass I'd rather it did so in front of us, not the delegation."

The chief scientist looked around the room. "None of the secondary shielding in in place, apart from the actual transmission zone."

"But the consoles are protected and that's all that matters. We run with a skeleton team and put everyone else in the observation booth. Yes?"

"Maybe. How long do we have to put this together?"

"I was thinking there's no time like the present."

Thurman laughed. "Well, I can't fault your enthusiasm, Director, but that's not how science works in the real world. You can't just throw a few switches and hope for the best, not with the kind of high-energy fields we're manipulating. The only reason I'm contemplating this at all is the weeks of preparation that have already been put in. Rushing things at this stage would be foolhardy at best, if not downright irresponsible. The slightest miscalculation and our only epitaph will be a cloud of vapour the size of Nebraska."

"Well, you're right, Thurman, I'm not a scientist, I'm the Director of Operations. That makes me part administrator, part politician and part showman. Seeing as how you like old films I have a misquote for you in return - 'no Buck Rogers, no bucks'. Meaning if we can't show the delegation that the future is now, our continued funding is highly questionable, at best." I squeezed his shoulder, "And no-one wants a spectacular failure on their CV, Lionel, do they?"

His face contorted in an agony of indecision and I could almost see the angel and devil on his shoulders, arguing the toss. After a few moments he swallowed and wiped his mouth. "The first sign of anything amiss and I pull the plug."

"Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Down here, you're in charge, I'm merely the interested observer."

He strode over to the master console with me trailing in his wake. I saw him clench his fists so tight the knuckles went white before lifting the headset and setting it in place. He tapped the microphone twice. "Attention, attention. All operations personnel to their stations. All non-essential staff to the observation booth. This will be a loop-back transmission exercise at full power. Hansen, find a suitable test subject with an organic component. I'm sorry to spring this upon you, ladies and gentlemen, but I'm sure we're ready."

I could see Baxter looking over, his mouth open, and gave him a thumbs up. It took a minute of two for the redundant staff to seek illusory safety behind several inches of armoured glass. Everyone knew that if anything did go seriously wrong it would offer no more protection than a sheet of tissue paper. A lab stool topped by a plant pot was placed on the transmission plate; a carnation in full bloom, scavenged from Thurman's office.

Thurman took several deep breaths. "I want a go, no-go from each station. Transmission."

"Go." That was Sara and, in this context, entirely superfluous.

"Environmental."

"Go."

"Photonic."

"Go'"

"Tesla."

Nothing. I felt a twist in my gut. Thurman stared at Baxter.

"Tesla."

Baxter closed his eyes. "Go."

Thurman unlocked the Perspex guard and placed his hand over the 'Abort' button. "We have a 'go' for transmission sequence. Tesla, initiate cascade."

I watched as the repeater dials displayed the slow increase of power. The coils of the Tesla array began to glow; dark-blue, light-blue then near white. My teeth began to itch and I was seized by a near-uncontrollable urge to laugh out loud.

We reached operational power. I leaned in close. "Charge the capacitors."

Thurman looked round, dislodging a drop of sweat from the tip of his nose. "What?"

"Charge the capacitors. Everything has to work in front of Takashi, everything."

He blinked, then nodded. "Tesla, initiate power buffering."

The huge ceramic 'waistcoat' - for want of a better description - surrounding the transmitter began to pulse with blue light, accompanied by a low-frequency throbbing.

The chief scientist looked over at Sara. "Transmission, establish link to reception station."

Her fingers danced over the keyboard, following protocol even though the Horst target site in South Dakota was oblivious to our test. A synthesised female voice issued from the console speaker. "Searching for long-range comms. Searching for long-range comms. Signal failure on long-range comms."

I smiled encouragingly at Thurman. "You do it. Initiate the burst. You deserve to be the one who does this."

He nodded, almost to himself. "Photonic, master console will initiate burst protocol. Transfer control to my station." A panel lit up. Thurman's hand shook as he reached over and pressed the twin trigger buttons.

A synthesised male voice spoke. "Photonic burst transmission in. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Zero. Initiate."

The area of space inferred by the compression grid flared into a perfect reflective sphere, then winked out of existence. A ruby-red laser fired from top-to-bottom, sweeping away our pseudo-photon.

The universe paused for three-point-two seconds.

With no external communication channel the fail-safe kept our beam of light within prismatic containment and returned it to source. It was like watching a giant bubble burst, only in reverse. The silver sphere formed, vanished, leaving…

A carnation in full bloom, sitting on a lab stool.

Ragged cheering came from the observation booth. Thurman's shoulders sagged and I let out a breath I hadn't realised I was holding. I slapped him on the shoulder. "Well done, Lionel. Well done, indeed. History will remember this moment, and your place in it."

He gave me a hesitant smile which grew broader as the enormity of our achievement sank in. "It worked, the fucking thing actually worked! God, Donald, do you realise what this means?"

"Oh, more than you can possibly know. Now, go and congratulate the other members of your team. The day belongs to all of you."

Thurman dropped his headset on the console and strode over to where Baxter stood, visibly shaking. The other personnel spilled out into the lab like pupils escaping school on the last day of term. Both lab stool and carnation were held aloft in triumph. Only Sara and I stood apart from the euphoric huddle. I locked the 'Abort' guard in place and removed the key. She looked over at me. I nodded.

Again Sara's fingers danced over the keyboard. Her singular talent was the ability to memorise a 1,024 alphanumeric encryption key required for synchronisation between sending and receiving stations. But this was our key, our friends out there, waiting.

"Searching for long-range comms. Searching for long-range comms. Signal lock for long-range comms established."

I reached for the twin trigger buttons.

"Photonic burst transmission in."

Sara and I stepped from behind our respective consoles and ran towards the compression grid.

"Five."

A siren began to wail as Baxter SCRAMed the reactor - but there was enough residual energy in the capacitors for another burst. My sole contribution to the design process.

" Four."

Prospero's Books was an orbital data haven beyond corporate control. By the time a trans-jurisdictional injunction was served the information I was carrying would be on a thousand illegal download sites around the globe.

" Three."

Or Sara and I would be dead.

" Two."

We were open-source Anarchists, high-tech Libertarians. Unrestricted teleportation of people and goods would smash the world-state forever. Realising that technology was worth any risk, any sacrifice.

" One."

The air around us burned like hoarfrost. Sara screamed, or perhaps it was me.

" Zero."

I took her outstretched hand and together we leapt onto the transmission plate.

"Initiate."

God blinked, wiping a speck of dust from his eye.

And when he looked again, we were gone.

© Martin M. Clark 2016 All Rights Reserved


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