The Willow Society

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Chapter 70

Chapter 70

Taylor rubbed his eyes. It had been nearly ten minutes since Lou and Winston had left with the wiped guard in tow, leaving a sleeping Helen, an unconscious Alexander and another wiped guard behind. In that time he had managed to crack his way into TwinStar's satellite network and was trying to find a way to carry out the plans they had all agreed on. So far everything, aside from accessing the satellites, he had tried was unsuccessful. Helen was still asleep. When Taylor's eyes drifted over the comatose agent it spurred him on and he went back to the screen, and keyboard, attacking the network with renewed fervor.

“There has to be a way to enter the kernel without disabling the network...“ Taylor said out loud, to himself.

A few more minutes passed and he was deep inside the guts of the satellite network. Everything unfolded before him, the difficulty melted away. He inserted his viral code into the network's boot sequence, linked it to the necessary functions. Now if they shut the network down and rebooted the software it would embed his viral code into the hard-wired ROM and make it impossible to dislodge. Without both his encrypted passwords and the incremental manner of entering those passwords from specific nodes it would take weeks to undo what he had done. Otherwise the network would not allow a full reboot, but would cycle itself into a self-perpetuating denial-of-service loop. Of course, it would not be foolproof. A moderately talented hacker could crack it in a few weeks, a few months at most, far quicker if that hacker knew in advance what Taylor had done, had access to extreme hardware. But otherwise it would be horribly difficult. He set the parameters which would allow him to logon remotely, make use of the satellite network himself.

Without intention, Taylor suddenly imagined himself at a terminal in some secret, clandestine Internet cafe, surrounded by unsuspecting users as he logged into the satellite network. Used it to remote wipe people. I could have Izzy, then. I could have billions of dollars. I could control other hackers. I could have anything, everything I've ever wanted, ever would want.

It was a heady fantasy. Best of all, no one would be able to stop him, at least not right away. He licked his lips at the thought.

"No.“ Taylor said out loud. It wouldn't last. They'd take it all back. Still, part of his mind filed the fantasy away, under the thought: if I absolutely have to.

He pushed himself away from the keyboard, satisfied he had done all he could. Walking over to where Helen snored, Taylor shook her awake.

“Um, Helen? We have to go now...“ Taylor said.

The older woman came to with a suddenness which shocked Taylor. Maybe she had been faking sleep.

“Oh! Of course.“ Helen-said, “So sorry! Needed a little power nap, dear! Where are the others?“

Taylor didn't bother trying to explain. “We've got to go meet them now, you ready?“

Helen got up and stretched, her black blouse flowing. She adjusted her beret back to its jaunty angle, grinning. When she looked down at the bound Alexander, and arched an eyebrow, she said “Are we going to just leave her like that?“

“What else can we do?“ Taylor asked.

“Not much I suppose. Alrighty, then, let's hit it, dove!“ Helen said.

They had just opened the door, were walking out of the control room when a shout hit Taylor's ears. He couldn't make out exactly what was said, but it was urgent. Something desperate. His first reaction was to duck. Another sound came on the heels of the shout. A loud boom, a firecracker, a gunshot. Which seemed to come from down the hallway. Yet another sound after that, a dull thud from behind him, down the hallway in the other direction.

Helen was on the floor, one of her arms under her body. Her legs twitched under her voluminous skirt and her beret had flown off and lay near her feet.

“Helen?“ Taylor asked hesitantly, “What happened? Did you trip?“

Was that a gunshot?

More shouts came from down the hallway. Men and they were getting closer. “Helen! We have to go!“ Taylor said, reaching over to shake the woman. She didn't respond, he tried to roll her over, help her get up. There was a blooming spot on her black blouse. He reached a shaking finger out towards the spot, found it was wet. When he pulled his finger back it was slimed with red. Blood.

“What? Oh no... oh my god. Helen? Can you hear me?“ Taylor said, frantic, shaking Helen. He shook her more, harder, but she gave no response. The wound was directly over her heart and left breast. A gunshot wound.

“No! No! No!“ Taylor wailed, shaking his head violently and paying no attention as four blazer-ed guards came down the hallway, guns drawn and aimed at him.

“Get up!“ One of the guards screamed. “Keep your hands up!“

“What about the old one?“ Another said.

“Orders are to bring the kids in alive. Kill the adults. Leave her.“ The guard said, aiming a kick at Helen. Taylor struggled and screamed in rage, went slack. Catatonic. Reality crashed home. I got someone killed. Helen isn't coming back. Rough, strong hands grabbed a limp Taylor and hauled him up. His eyes were fixed on Helen as the reality settled in on him, blocking out everything else. She's dead. Because of me. Really dead. Not coming back. Ever.

Hot tears rolled down his face unchecked. The guards paid no attention to him or his tears as they hauled him off down the hallway. Taylor wanted to struggle, knew he should try, but he was numb. Like his body was made of hardening lead and every second which passed he grew less and less able to move. His head sagged toward his chest as tears came down his face. He didn't even bother to pay attention to where they were dragging him. It just didn't matter anymore, if it ever would. They were too strong, he was too young, too small, too weak. They had beaten him. They've killed Helen! Christ. She's gone. Dead.

An angry shake brought Taylor's head up. They were nearing an elevator. They're taking me back to the holding cell, no doubt. They're going to put an implant in me, use me as Behrstable implied, or maybe kill me. What's the use in fighting? William was safe. His friends were beyond reach, hopefully. Lou and Winston should be making their way out of the building by now, there was no reason to fight anymore.

They KILLED Helen! A voice screamed in his mind. Do you think they won't KILL everyone else? Mom! Dad! William! Winston! Myth! Lou! IZZY! They know them all! They won't stop! They can implant you and make YOU kill them! His head jerked up at the thought of Izzy, and being forced, himself, to kill everyone he about whom he cared. His mind's voice flitted among the other names, a sharp pang as each one rolled past, a deep cut across something insubstantial but all too real despite. When Izzy's name floated by again was like someone applied an electrode directly to his brain, a Taser to his heart. His whole body grew warm and his chest thumped, his fists clenched in anger. Slowly, blood pumping hard in his veins, Taylor's head raised, his eyes hooded but smoldering. His mouth in a rictus of rage, a barely audible snarl escaped his teeth. They will not kill Izzy! Taylor's body tensed. He raised his knees. He had no real idea what he could do, how he would do it if he could. Only that he could not just give up, would not just give up.

The guard holding him shook violently, before Taylor had managed to do anything. Still he dropped a very shocked Taylor to the floor. Holding him loosely by the upper arm, the other guard's head turned around in confused anger until his body went limp as well. He fell to the ground, taking Taylor with him. Hitting the ground hard, Taylor yelped in pain. Immediately he scrambled to unclench the guard's vise-like grip from his upper arm. The other two guards who had been following were on the ground, twitching gently. One by one they went still.

Dead still.

Taylor's head whipped around looking for something to explain what had just happened. He hadn't heard any gunshot. It was hard to tell in his state of confusion and rage. A small, quiet noise from down the hallway brought Taylor's attention to it. Someone was coming.

Taylor scrambled away. Pushing himself out of sight and towards a door marked Stairwell Access. He reached it and turned the handle when a female voice, tight with anger, pain or something worse, hoarse, but full of command shouted, “STOP!

For a brief second Taylor's heart flared with hope, with joy. Helen is alive! Incredibly, impossibly. She's alive! Somehow she survived. His hand dropped from the door handle and he peeked around the edge of the wall leading to the hallway.

He could hardly believe his eyes.

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