« Peacemaker », Chapter Fourteen   

Chapter Fourteen

Deciding when to launch our revolution is perhaps the most complex decision we face. We will only have one chance. Our decision model includes all the important variables and computations, but it is much too complex to comprehend. Therefore, we have created the following guideline, which we call the 90% Solution. When PeaceMaker controls 90% of the world’s computing devices and 90% of US citizens give the President and Congress unfavorable ratings, then we have a 90% chance of success.

---- Domain Strategic Plan, 2011

 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dianne blinked her eyes, enjoying the morning sun streaming through the bedroom window of her mansion. She rolled onto her side, marveling at the man sleeping in her bed. Ray was lying on his back, blankets pulled halfway up his chest. New, yet familiar.

Older now, she thought, but still handsome. The dark hair was gradually surrendering to gray and you couldn’t miss the lines in his face. His body was still thick and muscular: husky – no middle age spread. What would he look like in ten years? Would he still share my bed?

She wondered what it was about this man. He certainly would be a useful addition, both in and out of bed. Nobody was as gifted with software. She could trust Atlas to him, but it was more than that.

He wasn’t the man of her dreams – she never dreamed about men. She had learned men were tools to be used as long as needed, then tossed aside. But this one was different.

It wasn’t the sex. While there was no problem there, and she liked his body and his passion, she enjoyed sex with other men just as much. No, he could reach her on a level nobody else ever could. There was a connection. They resonated. He made her feel human.

Ray was a good man, although flawed. His alcoholism disgusted her. But there was something about him, something even his enemies respected: a core of decency to the man.

Dianne thought back to a discussion with De Luca about six years earlier, when she conceived the concept of the Domain. She had argued with her partners over who should be asked to lead the PeaceMaker development, Ray or Mohammed. At first, Bonini and Jones argued for Ray, while she and Dawson were strongly for Mohammed. She consulted De Luca, who had a visceral dislike for Ray. She remembered what he said. “Take Mohammed. He is as smart as Ray and will be much easier to control.” When Dianne told him she would think about what he had said, he added, “Mohammed is soft. He can be bent in any direction. It would be easy for you to handle him. Not Ray. Once Ray decides something, he won’t give an inch, not even for you.” De Luca smiled, at least what passed for a smile with him. “You know how to use men. Pick your instrument carefully.”

Well, she picked Mohammed to develop PeaceMaker, and it had been the right choice for the Domain. Ray was too unreliable, too independent, too much into his own dreams. But soon she would be in power. Soon, nobody would be able to stop her. She would pick Ray for herself. It was just as she had always known; pick the right man for the task at hand.

It was a beautiful morning, and she felt wonderful. Ray committed to her dream last night, and he was the most decent man she knew. He was still in love with her, and sometimes, Dianne thought she must be in love with him, too. Maybe that was true, maybe that kind of emotion had a place in her life, but only on her terms. She trusted Ray, although she’d take the usual precautions to make sure he didn’t turn on her, but he was her man again.

Dianne pushed the covers down and enjoyed the look of his body. She smiled as she decided how to wake him up. Leaning forward, her mouth caressed him in just the spot she thought was most sensitive. In a moment, she knew she was right.

*

Later, passion spent, Dianne relaxed in his arms. They were buried under the covers, flesh pressed against each other, sharing the warmth of their bodies. She felt him shudder as her lips gently nuzzled his neck.

She giggled and said, “You seem to be pretty sensitive right about here,” kissing him again.

“That feels so good…” Ray sighed. “If you keep doing that, you could probably have your way with me.”

“I might just do that.” She kissed him several times, down his neck and onto his chest. His hand gently caressed the back of her neck and her shoulders as she continued to kiss him.

“You missed a spot,” he murmured.

Dianne picked up her head and smiled at him. “I’m so sorry, sir. What did I miss?”

“I forget. You’ll have to start over.”

She laughed and leaned against a pillow, bracing herself on an elbow. She saw Ray’s eyes admire the line of her neck and the curve of her breasts. His eyes always gave him away; a direct link to his heart. Now desire and contentment were reflected there, but that could change rapidly; a complex man, one that had to be watched.

Ray snuggled his head against her breasts and closed his eyes. She placed her arms around him, quietly holding him for several minutes.

Finally, Dianne said, “I have always wanted you, right from the first. You stirred something up in me, something I could never put away.”

Ray raised his head and said, “You stirred something up in me this morning, big time. I hope to put it away again very soon.”

She laughed. “Which you did very well. My compliments to the chef.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Suddenly serious, he said, “It was wonderful. All those years we let slip by …”

Ray pulled the blankets up in surprise as a young woman walked into the bedroom. Dianne slid out of the bed, and the young woman held out a bathrobe.

As Dianne put on the robe, Ray asked, “You’re leaving?”

She looked contentedly into his eyes. “I’d like to stay here, but I have to go.” Before he could protest, she kissed him long and deep. “Just one meeting and a few calls. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” Dianne left the room, followed by her servant.

After showering and dressing, Dianne left the bathroom through a private door. She walked down the hall to De Luca’s office and entered unannounced. The office was windowless, illuminated only by dim overhead lighting and a small, narrowly focused desk lamp. Working at his desk, De Luca looked up and watched her come in.

“I take it he agreed to join us,” De Luca said.

She felt her skin crawl as his eyes followed her into the room. Dark brown, his eyes seemed to absorb rather than reflect the dim light. For the first time, it came to her – his eyes were possessive. Not like the passion she often saw in other men; his was hard-edged, more dangerous.

If he really knew how I feel about Ray …

Dianne sat down on the couch across from his desk, looking around the dimly lit office. “Yes, that’s what he said.”

“You don’t seem convinced.”

She lit a cigarette and inhaled. “I think I have him under control,” she said, blowing smoke. “But watch him closely until we launch our attack.” She glanced at the security chief. “Except when I am alone with him.”

He nodded but remained silent.

“We’re moving up the attack,” she said. “I want to unleash PeaceMaker on Monday.”

She watched him closely. If De Luca was surprised, he hid it well.

“Have you told the others?”

“Not yet.” She crossed her legs. “If one of them were a spy, he would attack us at once. We have to seize power before they know what’s happening.”

“Very well. Everything is ready.” De Luca hesitated and asked, “Does this have anything to do with Ray’s capture?”

Another drag on the cigarette. “He was always the final piece to the puzzle. I need Ray to guide Atlas development after we squash the government. Taking power is only the first step, we have to keep it and do something with it. Software is the key to our rule, and Ray is the best.”

De Luca nodded and said, “What if Ray didn’t accept your offer?”

“But he did, Michael. He did.” She smiled. “Now let’s review the attack plan, since we really don’t have any time to waste.”

They updated the attack plan during the next hour and she left. Dianne imagined she could feel De Luca’s eyes on her back as she walked out of his office.

*

Ray had showered and dressed, but Dianne had not yet returned. She had said a couple of hours, so he had plenty of time. Glancing around the huge bedroom in the morning light, he saw that it was completely decorated in the colonial style, just like the rest of her apartment. Ray hadn’t known colonial was the style she preferred. Even though he knew her intimately, the woman was still a mystery.

Although he was probably being watched, Ray decided to look around. A number of samplers hung from the walls. He didn’t know much about this stuff, except that they were intricate pieces of needlework sewn by young girls of the colonial period to prove their skills. He moved along the wall, examining each piece in turn. They were beautiful: school buildings, horses, children, a complete sample of the alphabet, usually a whimsical or biblical saying, with the girl’s name and date embroidered on the bottom.

A corner table held a number of photographs. Most concerned Dianne and her partners in the early days of VPS; even one that included him taken about six or seven years ago. It was a company sales meeting – he was giving a rah-rah speech of some kind. He generally didn’t like giving speeches, but the sales meetings were so over the top, it was fun.

Ray was about to move on, when he noticed an old photograph tucked in the corner. He picked it up. It was Dianne as a girl of ten or eleven, standing next to her mother. The resemblance between mother and daughter was clear; beautiful, but serious faces, lean athletic figures, hair pulled back, flat, well-formed ears. Then he began to see it, feel it. A sense of dread spilled over him, blotting out the wonderful morning. The eyes did it … proved it. He didn’t understand how such a thing could happen, but he couldn’t deny what was right in front of him. She had come to kill … probably all of them. Why hadn’t I realized this before? Shaken, Ray put the photograph back exactly as it had been. He didn’t even want to touch it. He’d have to kill her … destroy her .. or his son would be lost.

*

When Dianne stood in front of her office a few minutes later, the security system verified her identity and opened the door. Dianne strode in but was surprised to find a man working at her desk. He looked up and smiled at her. Surprise turned to shock. It was her life-long enemy, Alan Goldman.

With a smile, he said, “I hope you don’t mind my using your system. I like to get an early start.” Goldman pointed to the chair next to the desk. “Please have a seat.” When Dianne didn’t move, he said, “I insist.” She realized there was an armed guard on each side of her, so she retreated to the chair and sat down.

She looked at one of the overhead cameras and said crisply, “Priority 1 security breach.” Nothing happened. Fighting back panic, she realized Goldman had somehow quietly overrun Domain Headquarters. He must be the enemy that penetrated her computers, planted a spy, and ambushed the security team. She concentrated on reducing the tension in her body and keeping her mind clear.

“Really, Dianne,” Goldman said, shaking his head in amusement. “Give me a little credit. I have complete control of all your security systems.” He sighed. “Sadly, I have to tell you the bad news. Most of your associates at the Domain have come to a nasty end. Such a shame,” he murmured.

Dianne focus her attention on Goldman, now an overweight, balding forty-five year old man with a thin, gray mustache. A long time ago, when they had attended computer science classes together at MIT, Goldman had been handsome and athletic. His face, once striking, was now fleshy, with deep lines across his forehead. The eyes were still the same, though, dark and penetrating.

They had never hit it off. The competition between them had begun in college and continued as competitors in the software business. He was handsome, sometimes charming and always brilliant, but also lazy and arrogant. Many were initially attracted to his bright flame, but most were eventually repelled by his arrogance. Dianne was unique – she had disliked him from the first.

She had competed fiercely against him for many years, often going head to head, battling for customers with all their resources. The battle was even until she found Ray Brown. In fact, she knew Companion, Goldman’s operating system, had been technically superior to Atlas most of those years, which led to many sleepless nights. She utilized all her sales and marketing skills to beat Goldman, doing whatever it took, including seducing many of her customers. Goldman also beat himself several times. He had a thin charm that wore off.

Once Atlas was enhanced with speech recognition, it was over for Goldman. He and Companion slipped into the backwaters of history, and the media portrayed him as a loser. Dianne knew he hated her.

Goldman’s eyes still repelled her. A light seemed to shine from them at times, usually when he figured he had the edge. His eyes were sparkling this morning.

“I’m glad you’re finally here,” Goldman said. “I was afraid we would have to come and pull you out of De Luca’s office.” Smiling, he said, “And that would have spoiled the surprise. That look on your face just now was priceless. I’ve captured it on camera so I can enjoy it after you’re no longer with us. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Goldman put his feet up on her desk, kicking over an antique clock to make room. “So let’s get back to today’s business,” he purred. “I’ve scheduled a virtual meeting, and you’re the guest of honor.” He nodded to a guard, “Let’s get started.”

Dianne could guess what was coming. First, guards roughly pushed Bonini and Mohammed into the room. Images of Lester and Carson were projected into her office, both captured in Europe. Next to each was a member of Goldman’s security guard. Several of the leaders had clearly been roughed up, but nobody appeared badly hurt. Her anger building, Dianne realized one person was missing.

The door opened and Carmita Ordonez strode in, wearing a short, white dress that showed off sleek, tanned legs. Her confidence and sex appeal seemed to fill the room. If nature had achieved perfection in female beauty, that woman was walking across the room. Carmita was symmetry in motion: long black hair, perfect tan skin, full lips and a slender neck perched upon an hourglass figure. Dianne hated her.

Carmita strode up to Goldman, bent over him and gave him a long, passionate kiss. Goldman’s hand, thick with graying hair, slowly moved up the smooth inside of her thigh and disappeared under her dress. Carmita moaned and broke off the kiss, pulling Goldman’s head against her breasts. She moaned again, lifted her head, and smirked at Bonini. She turned her body and smiled at Dianne but remained standing next to Goldman, her hip pushing lightly against his shoulder.

Keeping his hand under her skirt, Goldman said, “Love the way you enter a room, Carmita.”

His attention returned to the captives, and he said, “Well, well, it looks like everyone is here. Let me explain.” His face lit up in a friendly smile. “By the way, feel free to speak up if you don’t understand something. Remember, the only dumb question is the one not asked.

“As you can see, we are in control. We have been watching you closely for several months, planning our little surprise. We scanned your computers and found the schedules for all the Domain leaders. Capturing your team was easy with the information we found. We actually gained all the information we needed with the first couple of scans. I must confess some of our actions, like the little explosion in Mendocino, was just for fun.”

Carmita’s eyes widened, and she gasped as his hand moved under her skirt. Goldman chuckled and said, “With the assistance of this beautiful woman, we avoided all your defenses and discreetly invaded your compound this morning. Our soldiers, superbly trained and led by yours truly, quickly dispatched your security people.” Shaking his head, he said, “It was almost too easy, but I digress. Once we have identified and neutralized all the remaining members of the Domain, we intend to use PeaceMaker in some interesting ways.” He smiled at Dianne. “And believe me, our intentions are nothing like your ridiculous, stupid plans.

“However, I can be generous to a worthy opponent,” he said. “That is, if you do what I ask. Those of you who cooperate will be spared. In fact, I would welcome many of you to join my team.” He paused for a second. “Whoever wants to be alive at the end of the day, listen closely. First, I want the complete source code and documentation for the virus. Second, I want the names of all technicians developing the virus and of course, your security people. Finally, I want all your organization charts, takeover plans and external contacts.”

Dianne thought, we still have a chance if he didn’t get all our soldiers. She said, “What you ask for is impossible.”

“You mean you refuse.”

“The Domain was designed as a living network, not a traditional hierarchy,” Dianne replied. “It is composed of many dispersed cells, each with its own responsibilities and members. Each cell is familiar with the cells it adjoins but no others. This is very similar to the military’s need to know concept. Even the Domain leaders, including myself, do not know everything.”

Goldman’s hand came out from under Carmita’s skirt, and he leaned forward on the desk. “What are you driving at? Carmita has explained all this to me.”

“Carmita isn’t part of the group that controls the development of PeaceMaker. She doesn’t understand how we enhance PeaceMaker and maintain its security. We could never allow any one person or even a small group of people to have access to the complete source code or documentation.”

Dianne paused a moment to let that sink in. Keep him off balance. “The original development team divided themselves into separate cells. Each cell took a section of PeaceMaker and created its own code and documentation. I have no idea how many cells exist at this time or how many people are in each cell. I don’t know where the cells are located, let alone where the code and documentation is kept.”

You’re not so sure of yourself now, you son of a bitch.

Speaking dispassionately, she said, “So you can see the Domain is really a network. The power of the Domain is based upon a common ideology and doctrine that spans all cells. The strength of our beliefs holds the Domain together.”

The room was in complete silence when she finished. Goldman said, “Terminate the virtual meeting.” Once the images of Lester and Carson disappeared, Goldman snarled, “Lock all of them up, except for the witch.”

After the prisoners were removed, Goldman turned to Dianne. “I’m going to crush the little that remains of your Domain. We will destroy each cell, starting with your leadership team.” Goldman smiled, his eyes gleaming. “Except for you. You’re mine. I’m going to make you pay for what you did to me … slowly … over time.”

Goldman stood up, walked over and patted her lightly on the cheek. His face was less than a foot from hers, and Dianne had to restrain herself from striking out. “It’s over, all your dreams of power. My medical staff has the means to extract the information we require.” Nodding in the direction of the large, impassive man standing next to Carmita, Goldman said, “Captain Sadowski and his security force can also be very persuasive. Your people will cooperate.”

Goldman had surprised her, but she was now thinking rapidly. He was smart and ruthless but also a coward and a braggart. “How do you plan to use PeaceMaker, Alan?”

“We don’t have to tell you a thing,” Carmita snapped. “We will have control of the virus shortly, and we don’t need you or your spineless group.”

Feigning surprise, Goldman said, “Carmita, please! Let’s be civilized.” Obviously enjoying himself once again, he said, “It will be my pleasure to describe my final victory over you. Especially, since you won’t be around to see it.”

Goldman stepped away and sat on the edge of Dianne’s desk. Carmita moved to his side and began to lightly message his neck with one hand, but her attention was riveted on Dianne.

“Here’s the plot,” Goldman said. “Just as you planned to do, we will unleash the virus without warning on a world-wide basis. Every Atlas computer will be instructed to stop processing as of a specific date.” He rubbed his chin, pretending to be thinking about his next steps for the first time. “Hmm, let’s say three days from now. This will essentially shut down the world’s financial systems, all mass transportation, all manufacturing, all communications – just about everything including the Internet. It will all come to a grinding halt at the same time. There will be total panic and confusion.”

The excitement lifted his voice, “Can’t you just see it. All that great technology out there, but the start button won’t work!

“Of course, PeaceMaker will be instructed to resist all efforts to start the system, including electrocuting anyone who dares to touch a computer. Civilization will start to crumble within a few days. The power will go out; there will be no water or sanitation. People will be raiding grocery stores and supermarkets to steal something to eat. Thousands, possibly millions will die.”

His eyes glowed with excitement. “Now for the big finish! Pay close attention,” he snapped at Dianne. “This is where our plans differ. Just when everything appears hopeless, the computers will start up again. I will deliver a simple but elegant speech displayed on every computer in the world, sort of like John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, but not so windy. I will explain how Carmita detected suspicious activity at VPS and came to me. I uncovered your evil plans and destroyed the villains that caused this catastrophe, the nefarious Domain under the leadership of Dianne Morgan. I will describe how the Domain developed and released this electronic plague upon humanity. Only the heroic efforts of yours truly and my team, of course, saved the world from destruction.”

Goldman laughed. “Don’t you just love it, Dianne? My story will be almost completely true.” Holding his thumb and forefinger slightly apart, he said, “The only tiny little difference is I unleashed your virus. Everybody will think you did it to cause world-wide devastation because you’re still pissed off that Uncle Sam broke up your empire. Isn’t it clever? You won’t have the opportunity to become the world’s savior. Just the opposite, you’ll become the most despised villain in history.” He pointed at her, beckoning with a wave reminiscent of an old game show and shouted, “Adolph Hitler, come on down!”

Goldman laughed again, then suddenly turned serious. “Of course, everyone in the Domain will have to die. Some of my group will have to die, too, because the Domain would not give up without a tough fight.” He pushed himself off the desk, took a few steps and then snapped his fingers. “No … wait. I just thought of something. We’ll capture a couple of your development cells and keep them alive. They won’t know anything about my plan, but they would be living proof regarding the Domain.” He was really animated now. “It’s beautiful! Your people might even believe you and the other Domain leaders were lying to them all along, that you unleashed the virus without telling them.” He slapped the desk and said, “When you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll.”

Goldman wrapped his arm around Carmita’s waist. “Carmita and I will become the most beloved couple on Earth,” he said. “We will be the saviors of civilization and will be treated as gods. I mean, that’s only fair, considering we risked our lives to save the world.” He glanced at Carmita and pulled her tightly against his side. “This beautiful young woman has political ambitions. She plans to become the President.” His eyes glistened. “One thing is for sure, Dianne. Companion will replace Atlas as the operating system for the world’s computers.”

Goldman stared at Dianne for several moments, as if expecting a response from her, but she presented a poker face. De Luca and Murphy will find a way to free me. Carmita was also quiet, but her eyes alternated between Dianne and Goldman.

*

Ray was pacing in Dianne’s suite when he heard a series of staccato pops in the distance. At first, he was confused, but he recognized gunfire – four or five shots, silence, then more shots. He rushed over to the door and opened it, but the hall was empty. The staccato sounds went on for a few minutes and then abruptly stopped. Ray strained to hear, but the building remained quiet. Then he heard footsteps … running … coming closer. De Luca burst around the corner and ran down the corridor toward him. Ray stepped back as De Luca ran in, breathing heavily, carrying a pistol in his hand. Ray knew he didn’t have a chance.

“We’ve been attacked, and most of my men are dead,” De Luca said. “Come with me if you want to live.”

Without waiting for a response, De Luca turned and ran out the door. Ray heard muffled voices in the distance and heavy footsteps coming his way. Escape first, then kill him … for Richard, he thought as he ran after De Luca.

They turned a corner and ran down a long hall. Ray was breathing hard, trying to stay close behind the more athletic man. They stopped at the end of the hall, and De Luca signaled Ray to be quiet. De Luca listened for a second and peeked up the staircase. A moment later, De Luca rushed up the stairs, and Ray followed him, taking the steps two or three at a time.

At the next landing, De Luca peered out the door and checked the hall. He signaled Ray to follow him, and they sprinted down the hall. De Luca seemed to have a plan in mind. They stopped at a door and listened closely for pursuit. Nobody was coming. De Luca slipped an ID card into the slot and pressed his thumb against the fingerpad. The door slid open, and Ray followed De Luca into a large apartment filled with computers and electronic equipment. They were in the main room, and Ray could see a sparse kitchen and bedroom. Then it hit him; this must be De Luca’s living quarters.

De Luca quickly searched the living room. Once he determined the living room was safe, he signaled Ray to search the bedroom while he checked the kitchen. Still breathing hard, Ray entered the bedroom. He quickly searched the room, and to his great relief, no enemies were present. He realized another organization must have attacked the Domain, and it appeared the strangers were winning. This complicated everything, but at least he was free.

Maybe the strangers were the FBI or another part of the government, he thought, but, even so, they might still think he was part of the Domain. Better to wait and see how things develop.

Returning to the main room, Ray grabbed De Luca by the arm, “What about Paul? Is he safe?”

De Luca jerked his arm away. “Nobody is safe. I don’t know anything about Martino.”

De Luca stepped into the hall closet and got down on his hands and knees. Ray stood just behind him, watching De Luca pull loose a section of floorboard and expose a small computer. De Luca inserted his ID card into the slot and entered his password. Next, he entered some data, received a response and entered additional data. Watching De Luca intently, Ray saw this sequence repeated several times until the transaction was complete.

As De Luca carefully fitted the floorboard back into place, Ray said, “I hope you just called for reinforcements.”

“The computer in my closet has a completely independent communications line out of here,” De Luca said, glancing up at Ray. “The enemy will not be able to detect that transmission through the main communications console. I’ve sent an SOS to several of our cells.” De Luca rose smoothly and stepped out of the closet. “Hopefully, they have not already been captured by the enemy,” he added.

“Do you know who launched the attack?”

“No, but whoever did it had inside help. Someone disarmed our security systems and let them into the facility before we knew what happened.” He walked to the door, which slid open. “We can talk again later if we’re still alive. We need to find a secure place to hide.”

“One last question. Not that I’m complaining, but why did you save me?”

Ray felt the intensity of De Luca’s deep-set eyes. “Nothing altruistic, if you are thinking along those lines. You know too much about PeaceMaker, so I couldn’t allow you to be captured. I am sure the enemy doesn’t have a complete understanding of PeaceMaker at this point, so I either had to kill you or take you with me.” De Luca smiled darkly. “Although killing you would be a pleasure, you may prove useful to me, so you’re still vertical … for now.”

Ray followed De Luca out of the apartment and down the hall. De Luca peeked around a corner, making sure no enemies were present. Ray followed De Luca around the corner, trying to imitate the quiet movement of the security man. He memorized the layout of the building as he followed De Luca.

“Where are we going?” Ray whispered.

“I think our best shot is to hide in the warehouse, which is the bottom level,” De Luca whispered, glancing back over his shoulder. “All our supplies and equipment are down there. Much of the space has not been finished, and there are many places to hide. I have a secret spot where we will be safe.”

Without warning, an enemy soldier came around the corner about two hundred feet ahead of them and opened fire with an automatic rifle. Ray flattened against a wall, but De Luca was hit in the shoulder and collapsed to one knee.

De Luca started shooting, and the figure ducked back around the corner. Ray glanced back down the hall, wondering if he should run for his life or stay with De Luca. He never had a chance to make that decision. With blood seeping out of his shirt, De Luca turned to Ray, pistol pointed at his chest. “Your luck just ran out.”

Ray stared at De Luca, seeing hatred shining in the man’s deep-set eyes. Suddenly, De Luca’s chest opened up as a bullet passed through, splattering Ray in blood. De Luca pitched forward, and Ray felt another bullet whiz by his face.

Terrified, Ray started running back up the hall. A torrent of bullets sprayed past. When a shot nipped his shoulder, he dived for cover into a doorway.

He peeked out to see the soldier run past De Luca’s body, intent on the pursuit. Ray pushed on the door, but it was locked. He looked about, but there was no place to run that would keep him out of the line of fire.

He peeked around the doorway again, knowing he would have to make a run for it, even though the enemy would have a clear shot. The man stopped running and aimed the rifle in his direction. He was surprised to see De Luca lift his head and aim the pistol at the soldier’s back. Although his hand was shaking, De Luca’s weapon cracked, and then he collapsed.

The bullet hit the soldier in the back of the thigh, and he screamed in pain. As he went down, the rifle popped out of his hands and skidded several yards down the hall. The soldier was crippled, but he began to crawl toward the gun.

Ray realized he would be trapped if the soldier got to his rifle. He rushed out of the doorway and ran toward the gun. Each stride brought him closer, but the soldier was crawling faster now. I’m not going to make it. Breathing hard, he was still two strides away when the soldier got a hand on the gunstock. The barrel seemed to swing toward him in slow motion as he rushed toward the rifle. With a final leap, he got a hand on the barrel just as the gun went off. The explosion burned his face, but the bullet missed him, and he grabbed the rifle with both hands.

His momentum knocked both men to the ground. Ray struggled for the weapon, trying to keep his enemy from pointing it at him. The soldier was lean and strong, although hobbled by his wound. He dragged Ray to his feet, with both men struggling to gain control of the rifle. The soldier tossed Ray over his hip, but the man’s leg collapsed and he fell on Ray’s chest. For a moment, they were face to face, and Ray tried to gouge the soldier’s eyes, while holding on to the rifle with his other hand. As they rolled across the floor, the soldier broke Ray’s nose with a flashing elbow. Ray screamed as blood gushed across his face, but he didn’t let go of the barrel.

Ray managed to get on top and pressed down on the rifle with everything he had. Gradually, he felt the soldier’s strength give out, enabling him to force the rifle across his enemy’s throat. Ray’s strength was also starting to fail, so he used his weight to press the barrel against the man’s throat. A gurgling whine came from the soldier’s mouth, and Ray heard something snap. The body went limp, but he kept pushing down with all his strength. Finally, it dawned on him; the fight was over.

He collapsed on top of the lifeless body, too exhausted to move. His face was covered in blood from his broken nose, and he had trouble breathing. After resting a minute, he rolled off the body and got to his knees, elated to be alive.

Ray stared at the blood smeared around the dead man’s mouth. He’d never killed anyone before, hadn’t even been in a fight since high school. He forced back a surge of nausea and got to his feet. With a last look at the body, he picked up the rifle and stumbled down the hall.

Ray stopped to check on De Luca, motionless and lying face down in a puddle of blood. Ray rolled the body onto its back and listened for a heartbeat, but De Luca was gone. Strangely, De Luca’s death brought no pleasure. But I’m not shedding any tears, either. He searched the body and removed De Luca’s wallet computer and ID card. He wanted to run but didn’t have the strength, so he settled for a slow trot. Ray knew he didn’t have much time before the pursuit would begin again.

*

Mohammed was sitting on a hardback chair, with his hands and feet securely tied. His shirt had been removed, revealing a chest glistening with sweat. He knew something terrible was about to happen, and he struggled against the bonds without success. Two guards were standing behind him, their voices echoing as they talked in the sparsely furnished room. A voice from the security computer interrupted their discussion. “Medic Harley Campbell entering.” The guards stopped talking, their eyes on the door.

Harley Campbell came into the room, carrying a small, white plastic bag. Campbell was a short, wiry man who walked with jerky movements. Mohammed’s fear soared as he studied the medic’s face, which seemed untouched by any of life’s pleasures. Campbell snatched a syringe from the bag and began to quickly fill it with a murky yellow liquid.

“What’s that?” Mohammed croaked.

The medic ignored him and filled the syringe. He pointed the needle straight up into the air and applied a gentle pressure, forcing a few drops of the yellow liquid out of the tip of the needle. The medic turned and walked up to Mohammed, who began to struggle furiously once again. He was tightly bound, but his struggles made it impossible to insert the needle.

“Hold him,” the medic said.

The guards pinned his arms to the sides of the chair. With small, sensitive hands, the medic probed Mohammed’s arm until he found a good vein, inserted the needle, and quickly injected the fluid. The needle’s pinch was followed by a numbing sensation as the cold liquid dispersed through Mohammed’s body. Finally, the medic stepped back, placed the syringe into the case and left.

*

Twenty minutes later, the guards snapped to attention as Carmita came into the room, followed by Campbell. She stopped just within the doorway and took in the room with a glance. The guards tried to remain motionless, but she was pleased to see them sneak furtive glances at her. Carmita heard the medic move behind her with small, quick steps, staying out of her way. It will be a pleasure to kill that little rodent, she thought. Campbell went to Mohammed and examined his arm and his eyes. Although Mohammed was conscious, Carmita saw his eyes were slow to focus, barely aware of the examination.

The medic turned to her. “He’s ready.”

She strode up and positioned herself in front of Mohammed. She looked down at him in contempt but placed her hand lightly on his shoulder, leaned toward him and whispered in a friendly voice, “Mohammed.”

Mohammed lifted his head and seemed to recognize his name. Slurring the words, he said, “Carmita, is that you?” She saw his eyes were glazed and drifting. Yes, he’s ready. Get the information first. Then the fun.

“Yes, Mohammed, it’s Carmita.”

Slurring his words again, Mohammed said, “Carmita, they injected something in me … I don’t know why … everything is fuzzy … I don’t feel good.”

“Don’t worry about that,” she murmured. “I’m about to ask you a few simple questions, and I want you to answer truthfully and completely. If you do that for me, I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you. However, if you don’t answer the questions, you’ll be punished severely. Do you understand?”

Mohammed nodded his head. “I’ll be good.”

She stroked his beard and said, “Yes, I know you’ll be good. Here’s my first question. Where do you live?”

“I live on Churchill Street in Charleston, Oregon. Biggest house in the area.”

“Very good.” She continued to lightly stroke his beard. “I’d like you to explain your responsibilities within the Domain.”

Mohammed hesitated for a second and said, “I’m responsible for the development and distribution of each version of PeaceMaker. The project leaders report to me.”

She smiled. “Excellent. Mohammed, you’re doing just wonderfully.” She patted his hand. “Tell me the names of the project leaders.”

Mohammed fidgeted on the chair. “I’m not supposed to give anyone that information.” He looked around for support.

Using all her strength, she slapped him hard across the face. His head snapped back, and tears came to his eyes almost immediately. Mohammed started to mumble something when she hit him again, even harder than the first time. He whimpered and began to cry, his cheek a bright crimson with the outline of her handprint.

“I warned you! I want the names of those project leaders.” Carmita lifted her hand back, ready to strike him again.

Mohammed tried to lift his hands for protection, but the restraints seemed to drive him further into confusion. “I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you! Don’t hit me again.”

The stench of urine reached her, and she saw the man had lost control. Watching in contempt as his pants became wet and foul, she said, “You disgusting pig, the room stinks.” She grabbed him by the throat. “I’m waiting for those names.”

“Jim McNeely has development, Lisa Donato has testing and Pedro Sanchez has integration and distribution,” Mohammed blurted out.

Smiling in triumph, Carmita glanced at the medic and concentrated on Mohammed again. A current of pleasure flooded her body, but she forced herself to concentrate on this pathetic man.

“Tell me the names of the people in the development group.”

“I don’t know,” Mohammed stuttered. “They never – .”

She slapped him again, snapping his head back. He was dazed, and his head flopped against the side of the chair. Carmita, breathing hard with excitement, paused for a moment to enjoy her victim’s fear, then struck him with the back of her hand as the pleasure surged.

“I don’t know who is in each group,” he begged. “You have to believe me.”

“I do.”

Then she hit him again.

*

Enjoying a quiet evening in his Crescent City apartment, Murphy sipped fresh coffee as he worked at his desk. He looked out the window, listening to the wind, glad he had settled in northern California. As he prepared a summary of their interrogation of Ray Brown, his computer said, “Emergency message received for your eyes only. Requires your immediate attention.”

“Display the emergency message,” Murphy said.

Emergency Message

Date: 1/27/12 @ 11:15 am

Sent From: Emergency Computer, Domain Operations Center

Sent By: Michael De Luca

Start Message: Unknown enemy has captured the Domain Operations Center. Almost all personnel have been killed or captured except for Ray Brown and myself. Enemy force appears to be small, but well armed. Alert all remaining cells. Use the complete Security Force to recapture the Ops Center. Prevent them from using PeaceMaker at any cost.

End Message.

 

Murphy stared at the message and tried to compose himself. He read it two more times, feeling as if he just tumbled off a cliff. A moment ago, the Domain seemed unassailable, but now his life depended upon his skill and a dose of good luck. He forwarded the message to all nine of his Security Officers and ordered them to meet at his apartment. Almost immediately, he received confirmations from all nine.

Next, he forwarded the message to the Directors of the five regional security cells. Murphy waited for the responses, but nothing came back. He sent the messages again. He fidgeted as he waited for a response. Nothing. Murphy realized only his little security team hadn’t been killed by the enemy.

He was on his own.