Freya was pacing in her office, unable to focus on her systems maintenance tasks. It had been days since Jensen had last checked in, and even his GPL was off the grid. Sarif had been worried as well, when she notified him.
"So you have no idea how long he'll be gone?" he had asked numerous times when she gave him her daily report in his office.
"No, boss. I wish I did," she said, honestly.
Sarif frowned and stood up from his desk, pacing around it. He had the latest scores from the match between the Detroit Tigers and the White Sox displayed on his big screen TV. The Tigers had taken quite a hit, so Sarif was probably in a bad mood already. He paced around to the window and stared down at the furor below. Across the horizon there were several plumes of smoke rising between the buildings - fires started in the riots by Humanity Front protestors. Sarif rocked his weight back and forth on his feet and crossed his arms behind him, one hand clenching the other wrist tightly.
"I'll be leaving tonight for the ribbon cutting ceremony at Panchaea," he informed her. "I'm leaving Athene in charge as my proxy for the time being. Make sure the place doesn't fall apart in my absence."
"Of course, boss," she answered.
"And as always, let me know the moment you get word from Adam. He's never been MIA this long," he worried, pacing back across the room.
"I'll let you know, though Panchaea is surrounded by dead spots, since it's in the middle of the ocean, so it might be hard to get in contact with you. Just so you know."
"Just do the best you can," Sarif said. "That's all for now."
That was the third day without any news from Adam. When she couldn't stand being in the Tech Lab any longer, she walked out back to the helipad. She could still hear the protesters out front, but fresh air trumped the ruckus. Malik's VTOL was on the pad, most of its repairs completed since it returned from Hengsha. As usual, Malik was leaning against the open cockpit door, her lithe frame bent back slightly and her arms and legs crossed. Freya and Malik were both fairly unimaginative in the way they dressed, opting for the company issued orange and silver uniforms rather than anything they picked out themselves, though Malik's was a proper flight suit. Freya didn't talk to Malik too often, but she needed to take her mind off of waiting for Jensen's comm signal.
"Hey, Faridah," she said.
"Hey, Freya, any news from Jensen?" asked Malik, obviously concerned as well.
"No, not yet. I'm sure he'll turn up soon, though…" Freya tried to reassure Malik, as well as herself.
"He's gotten out of tight situations before. Hell, he was able to hold off an entire battalion while my bird was down," she said encouragingly, obviously recollecting the ambush by Belltower in Hengsha.
"I'm glad he didn't tell me about that until afterwards. I can't let myself think about all the dangerous situations he gets into. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night," she admitted.
Malik grinned knowingly and Freya defensively added, "Well, we all worry, don't we?"
Laughing, Malik answered, "Well, yeah, but I'm kind of his pilot. I'm the one who has to fly into those dangerous situations and extract him."
"Right. So what time are you going to Chiron tonight?" Malik had the less than glorious task of ferrying employees to and from Sarif HQ, considering the riots had shut down most of the streets in and around the building. Several people even refused to come in, convinced that at any moment the police barricade would break down and the protesters would come crashing in through the glass doors. Freya wasn't without her concerns, but most of her equipment was on site, as were the machines Sarif paid her to maintain.
"About…" she checked her leather banded analog wrist watch, "35 minutes from now."
"Okay. Don't leave without me," Freya said as she turned back towards the building.At least I can busy myself with packing things up…
When she finally reached her apartment, she spread her stuff out on the floor. She didn't have time to go to the store these days, what with the riots, so she was living off the stacks of noodle cups in her pantry. She filled the Styrofoam cup up to the fill line and set it in the microwave. Freya couldn't stop thinking about the last time she was with Adam and the look in his eyes as he held her. He was always so serious and aloof, keeping people at arm's distance, and yet... She took a deep breath and wrapped her arms around herself, eyes shut, trying to remember what his touch felt like. Something had certainly changed between them, but would they even have a chance to see what that was? The beeping of the microwave broke her thoughts and she took out the cup and set it on the counter. She didn't feel particularly hungry, but knew she had to get something in her if she was going to keep up her energy level. As she leaned over the sink, she was jolted alert by an incoming comm alert.
"Freya, any chance you're still there?" a familiar deep voice played in her head.
"Adam? My god, you've been offline for days! Where the hell are you?" she asked, elated. Words couldn't express how good it felt to hear his voice.
"I was hoping you'd tell me," he said. Freya couldn't see his face, but she could hear the smile in his voice.
"One second, I'm pinging you … now..." she said as she fumbled with the nearest laptop and accessed her GPL monitoring system. "You're in… Singapore?"
"Is that a question or an answer?" asked Jensen, half joking.
"You're in Singapore. What's been going on?" she pressed him.
"A lot. I don't have much time to explain, but I ended up at a Belltower base in the middle of the ocean where they've been developing components for the Hyron project, which is a supercomputer that Darrow's been working on. The thing is, the components include living human beings. Specifically females who are genetically compatible with having their entire central nervous system hooked up to a machine to serve as wet processor units."
"Good god…that's horrific…" she exclaimed.
"Luckily I ran into an undercover Interpol agent. I managed to get everyone out, so one of the scientists should be on her way to expose them, provided no one in the Illuminati or Belltower gets to her first. In the meantime though, we need to track down Megan and her team."
"Wait, what does the Hyron project have to do with the kidnapping? How did you end up there?"
"Like you heard Tong, girls have been disappearing all over lower Hengsha, and there were several from Australia as well. The boat carries them as cargo to this facility where after they undergo severe testing, the few that survive get their spines and skulls split open and permanently jacked into the Hyron interface. I hope I'm wrong, but it looks like Megan has been working with their scientists to develop the biochip interface for the supercomputer in addition to the newest neural chip. And Hugh Darrow, well, I guess he's not quite the humanitarian we thought he was. Have you been able to pick up any of their GPLs?"
"Yes, I now have a total of four GPL signals on the screen, including yours. The others are Koss, Colvin, and Faherty. I'm not picking up Dr. Reed…"
"Send me the coordinates you do have. And Freya, tell Sarif."
"I can't. While you were incommunicado, Mr. Darrow invited him, Bill Taggart and the UN delegates to Panchaea. He's on his way to the Arctic right now."
"Great…whatever Darrow has planned, I can't imagine it's good. Try to get a message through to them, or anyone you can in Panchaea."
"I'll do my best, Pritchard out."
The first person she commed was Malik.
"Freya, have you heard anything?" she asked expectantly.
"Yes. Jensen just popped up in Singapore. I'm sending you his coordinates. You better fuel up and head over there as soon as you can. We've tracked down Koss, Colven, and Faherty's GPLs as well."
"Fueling as we speak. No word on Dr. Reed?"
"Not yet," Freya answered. "Have you been able to contact Sarif at all since he left?"
"No, I think they're already in stasis. You know how the big wigs like to fly."
Great. If they're suspended in stasis pods, there's no way my signals will reach them. Freya tried to further identify the facility that Jensen was currently navigating. She had to resort to an aerial satellite view since it was a clandestine facility that operated under the radar. Omega Ranch. She remembered that the facility was a biotech corporation from an article she'd read about the H5N1 epidemic of 2018. Apparently at that time they were modifying the H5N1 influenza virus and someone broke protocol, resulting in an epidemic that killed tens of thousands of people.
About an hour later, she finally got another communication from Jensen.
"Freya, are you still tracking the scientists?"
"Of course I am."
"I need you to simulate feedback along that route. Make it strong enough to vibrate their implants. They have to feel it."
"Having them coordinate a signal, eh? Not bad, Jensen. I'm sending it now."
Jensen crouched as the security bots and Belltower guards ran away from his location and to the source of the coordinated disturbances set off by the three scientists he'd contacted. Once it was clear, he headed down into the lower levels. When he reached an open room, he detected two life signs, both somewhere at the center of an unusual exhibit. Throughout the room on square pedestals were muscular preserved cadavers fitted with animatronics to reproduce classic poses from Vesalius, the anatomist.
"Your tenacity, Adam Jensen, is really quite irritating. We'd like you to stop now," started a familiar woman's voice.
"I'm afraid I can't Zhao. You see, I figured it out. I know what you and your conspiracy buddies are planning," he started, slowly approaching her.
"Do you? How clever," she smiled mockingly.
"A new biochip. A software upgrade that limits what augmentations can do. You're creating a kill switch. You kidnapped Megan Reed's team to do it, and you're seizing control of the market to ensure it gets distributed. All because you're afraid of people like me, augmented people with the power to resist you."
"No one's afraid of you Mr Jensen. All your blundering around and childish interference hasn't stopped a thing – tell me, have you been to a LIMB clinic lately?" she asked, holding up a remote controlled trigger of some kind. When she pressed the button, a horrified expression came across her face.
"Let me guess, that was supposed to shut me down, right? Leave me broken and begging?"
"The augs were recalled! You should be offline!" she shouted, panicking. As she turned and ran in the opposite direction, another life sign came hurtling towards him. It was the heavily augmented Namir, who had left him for dead during the initial invasion. He nearly completely blended in among the cadavers with his muscle-colored augments.
"You should have stayed dead, Jensen," he shouted, pinning him against a wall. Jensen quickly activated his Typhoon system and shot explosive rounds in every direction, creating a sphere of dust around him. Namir had jumped back just fast enough to dodge the brunt of that attack and was ready to come back in for the counter attack during the recharge phase. Anticipating this, Jensen raced across the room, hiding behind one of the pedestals. Jensen heard the distinct sound of Namir's cloaking device activating and activated his own enhanced visual array. He could easily see Namir's figure cautiously stalking along the wall, looking for him. Jensen changed out his weapon to the revolver, fully upgraded with explosive rounds, and sprang around the corner behind Namir. He fired off six rounds in quick succession, each sending Namir stumbling forward. Before Jensen could step aside again, Namir had charged him and slammed him into the ground. The tile floor caved in where Jensen was being hit, cracking under the force. Jensen blocked and drew out his retractable arm blades, quickly slicing upwards and catching Namir's face and neck, severing several arteries. The hulking warrior fell backwards and Jensen had the upper hand, kneeling on top of him with a blade at his throat.
Namir coughed up some blood and uttered, "Finish it." He still maintained an emotionless expression, even moments from death.
"Not until you tell me where Megan is," Jensen demanded.
"You've lost her, Jensen," Namir said, coughing a few more times. "Men like us? We never get back the things we love."
As he finished that sentence, Namir breathed his last breath and fell silent, his head falling to the side. Clenching his fist, Jensen punched the ground beside Namir and stood up angrily, heading towards the only other door besides the one he had come through. Somehow Jensen was rattled by what Namir had said – it was almost lamenting, commiserating. It was one of the last things he would have expected from Namir. It would be touching in its humanness if it didn't sound so ominous. As he went up the stairs, the color scheme transitioned dramatically. Where it had been dimly lit and filled with mechanized cadavers below, he was now entering a completely white hallway. The sterile, spacious path was a stark contrast to everything he'd encountered thus far. It led to a pair of double doors. Behind the doors he could sense a single life force signal. Slowly, he reached for the door handle and turned it, making each move with careful deliberation. He didn't know what he would do when he saw her.
When he opened the doors and stepped forward, he came into an enormous room, just as pristine and white as the hallway he'd passed through. It was almost blinding. There was a king size bed to the left, and to the right were several bookshelves and electronic screens with news feeds and data dancing across them. Facing away from him, standing to the side of the desk, was Megan Reed, the woman he once loved. All thoughts of rescuing her from some inhuman place vanished when he saw where she was, seemingly carefree.
He heard Megan's sweet, gentle voice call out, without turning around, "Jaron? Is that you?"
For a split second, Jensen faltered in his steps. How could she be addressing Jaron Namir in so friendly and casual a manner? Jaron Namir, who for all she knew had murdered Jensen 6 months ago?
"Not exactly," he said, all warmth gone from his voice.
"Adam? Oh my God," she exclaimed, her eyes immediately falling on his augments. She practically recoiled. "Adam, it's you." She saw several scratches and bleeding cuts on his chest and neck that he had sustained in his battle with Namir. "You're hurt. What happened?" She asked as if she couldn't fathom that he had fought tooth and nail through hundreds of armed guards, the Triad, and the mercenaries who had kidnapped her. All to find her and the team.
"What happened to you? I risked my life for you, Megan. I came halfway around the world and for what?"
"It's not what you think!" she cried defensively.
"Well it looks like you've got a pretty nice 'cell,' and don't seem to mind chumming it up with the man who brutally murdered me, or would have if not for Sarif's intervention. Are you a part of this?" he demanded angrily.
"No! No, Adam, I swear it! The kidnapping was real, the attack on Sarif industries. They came after me. They wanted my research."
"And when did you decide they could have it?" he asked coldly, his eyes hard.
"It didn't happen like that. I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't! I couldn't! And then David said we had to use it, that we owed it to mankind," she explained, sitting on the edge of her bed.
"David? What are you talking about?" asked Jensen.
"My 'great discovery,' the genetic framework I found that makes it easier for living tissue to bond with implants and would end augment rejection syndrome as we know it. I found it in you, Adam. I used your DNA," she said, not meeting his eyes, her tone filled with genuine regret.
"Save it Megan, I know all about that," he informed her dispassionately.
"What? How?" she asked, shocked.
"Freya found enough info in the system for it to be the logical conclusion. When did you first find out that I might have 'special' DNA? Was it before we even met? Is that how we started?"
"No! It was after. I got an anonymous email, telling me that the answer I was looking for was right in front of my eyes, that your DNA held the key to saving humanity."
"An anonymous email? Must have been the Illuminati or at least someone who knew about White Helix…and you just blindly followed that tip, without even talking to me about it."
"I wanted to tell you, I swear! David convinced me what it could mean for mankind, how much better off we could all be. It took Hugh to make me see how wrong I was."
"Hugh? Hugh Darrow?" Jensen perked up, the entire web Darrow had weaved suddenly coming together. The Hyron project, the Belltower facility, the neuro chip recall, Panchaea. The common links were Megan and Darrow and some sinister purpose.
"He owns this facility. After Namir brought us here…"
"Freya, Patch me in to Sarif. Now," Jensen commanded, hoping he hadn't lost her signal when she came down there. They hadn't been able to access Megan's GPL before, so he wasn't sure he'd get through.
To his relief, he heard her voice immediately reply, "I'll try, but there's a lot of interference – "
"Adam, please. Hugh's only pretending to work with Tai Yong and the others. He found out what they were planning and told them he would help but only to make sure they never succeeded. Their control signal won't work," Megan begged, trying to justify her complicity. Was she really so foolish to believe that Darrow had the best interests of mankind in mind?
"Did he also tell you about the Hyron project? And the hundreds of kidnapped women they've experimented upon, mutilated, and used as wet processors for a super computer? I know you've been working with them," he accused.
Megan stepped back, her face fallen flat. It was clear she didn't think he had known about that. "If…if I hadn't, then they would have killed even more people trying to achieve their goals! By making it more streamlined, more efficient, they wouldn't have to go through as many test subjects…"
"Megan, no matter how you try to justify this to yourself, you've enabled all of this to happen. Everything that happens from here on out, is on your hands."
None of his words were reaching her. She was still playing the victim. Suddenly, across the television screen, Eliza Cassan announced that Hugh Darrow was stepping up to make his opening remarks.
"Thank you for that wonderful introduction, David," said Darrow, looking to his right where David Sarif was standing. "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Sarif here has asked me to show the world how human enhancement technology can change it. After careful deliberation, I've decided I must do exactly that." There was a brief pause and he seemed to withdraw a small device from his coat. "Forgive me," he said solemnly.
The moment he finished speaking, the crowd erupted into terrified screams. People were clawing at their heads and running aimlessly in every direction. Some even latched on to the person nearest to them and began pounding their skull into the concrete until blood sprayed across the floor. The camera focused on Hugh Darrow toppled do the ground and caught a horrifying side view of the ensuing chaos.
"Oh god," Megan gasped, hardly able to believe her eyes. "He's modified the control signal. Anyone with a new biochip will be affected. Hugh never said anything about this."
"So this is happening all over the world?" he asked, panicked. "Freya? Freya, come in."
When the comm answered, he heard crashing noises and screams in the background. Freya's voice barely made it through the din, "Adam I can't…I…" The audio seemed to dissolve into a steady static crackle without discernible words coming through.
"Freya, come on, let me know you're okay," he spoke aloud into the comm, waiting for her to answer him. "Goddamnit, come on Freya," he cursed, kicking the metal filing drawers next to him. She couldn't have gotten the neuro chip, she said she was looking into it. She's smart enough, she must have known there was something fishy about it. But what if she's in a crowd with augs going insane? What if they're tearing her apart right now?
"Jensen, I'm sorry…" Megan started, stepping closer to him. She slowly reached out to put a consoling hand on his shoulder.
"Stay away from me, don't touch me!" he snarled at her. She jumped backwards, appearing hurt by his outburst. Adam thought he knew what it meant to loathe a person. He thought that he had hated Namir, the man who took his former life away. But Megan…she had brought it to a whole new level. I thought I'd lost Megan years ago, but it turns out she was never the person I thought she was to begin with. And now, what if…
"Freya…" he held the edge of the table, his artificial fingers digging into it like styrofoam.
".. A… Adam, are you there?" Freya's voice pierced through the field of static.
"What happened? Are you okay?" Jensen asked, relief pouring through him.
"I'm fine, Adam, but a lot of people just went berserk at HQ. I had to lock my office and barricade myself inside. I think I'm safe for now…" she said unsurely.
"It's a good thing you didn't get that neural chip…"
"And you. Adam, Malik's on her way. I alerted her shortly after you came back on the grid. She'll be at your location in about 20 minutes."
"I'm going back for the scientists," he informed her.
"Let me help, Adam," offered Megan.
"I didn't say you were coming. You look quite comfortable right here," he glared at her.
Taking an indignant stance, Megan said, "Adam, look, you might not believe me but I HAVE been a prisoner here, too, and I know the complex better than you. It'll be faster if I go find them. We can't waste time arguing about this. There's a hangar bay through there. Get to its control room and retract the roof. Clear a path for us. There are probably affected augmented security guards in there."
Cursing silently he turned and headed towards the hangar bay. She was right, arguing wouldn't do any good, and time was of the essence.
"Malik, I'm heading for a hangar bay to open the roof. I'll need an emergency extraction."
"Roger that, I'm about 15 minutes out from your location."
Jensen managed to sneak into the control room and got to work hacking the computer station. Once online, he initiated the bay doors mechanisms to retract the roof and disabled the nearby turrets. No sooner had the ceiling access been opened, than Malik's VTOL descended into the bay.
"Hey Jensen! Looks like you could use some help!" Malik exclaimed, dropping several grenades from the plane and eliminating all the frenzied Belltower guards on the platform.
"Thanks, Malik," Jensen said, stepping away from the control tower monitor.
"I see the scientists, Jensen. I'm landing nearby and I think – Doctor Reed wants to speak to you. Hang on."
There was a slight pause and Jensen clenched his jaw as he watched her guide the others into the VTOL and start lifting off.
"Hello? Adam? We're all fine, but you have to get to Panchaea and stop Hugh. You have to stop the broadcast. I think it's causing the new biochips to overstimulate the vagus nerve, creating terrifying hallucinations."
"You mean it's driving augmented people insane."
"Yes, and it's up to you to stop it. Use the LEO shuttle, it'll take you to Panchaea. Good luck, Adam. I know it doesn't mean much now, but for what it's worth, I am sorry."
Jensen didn't reply. On the other station in the tower, he activated the LEO shuttle's launch system and input the coordinates for the Panchaea project. Once he hit the launch button, a 5 minute countdown began. Running across to the far side of the bay, he slipped into the small pod and strapped himself in.
"Freya, can you see what's going on at Panchaea?"
"I'm trying, the signal being generated there is making it difficult…" she answered.
"Listen, I'm going to take a low earth orbit shuttle to get to Panchaea. I'll contact you once I land."
"You better get there in one piece, Adam. I won't forgive you if you burn up on reentry," she warned him.
Moments later, a deafening rumble erupted beneath the shuttle and he shot straight up into the sky towards the sun. Several gauges appeared on the dashboard showing the level of the horizon as he shot above it and just beyond the atmosphere. For a moment, he felt weightless in the cockpit and amazed at the sight he was beholding. He never expected he would ever see the earth from space, so blue and beautiful from afar. Almost as soon as they had reached low earth orbit, the nose of the shuttle tipped downward and targeted in on a small point in the Arctic Ocean. Once it was in position, the craft started hurtling down at astonishing speeds, the re-entry creating a fireball around him. Just before landing, he was alerted to a failure of some kind and started unbuckling himself. He might have to bail out in midair.