Awakening: The ALPHA Generation

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Chapter 61

Pamela and I stand at the Core’s table. Holographic images rise from the surface: soldiers, equipment, locations. We’ve been here all morning, trying to plan our next moves. If Elle finds out that she can’t do anything to stop ALPHA from here, we’ll have to have a backup plan.

Gray enters and approaches us without greeting. I look up. “The prisoners caved,” he says, and I raise an eyebrow.

“That didn’t take long.”

“They’re officials, not soldiers. They’re not used to getting hit.”

I smile dryly. “What did they say?”

“One of them, a technician, admitted that she played a role in ALPHA’s maintenance. She told us where It can be accessed. Physically. The thing has hardware – that’s where they communicate with It, give It upgrades.”

My heart skips a beat.

Pamela leans forward. “Where is It?”

He taps a clear area of the tabletop and swipes through the options, bringing up an image of the Crux. “Here.”

I stare at the familiar image of the Crux – the huge glass dome, the building with no windows. ALPHA’s home. “We should have guessed.”

A soft voice calls my name from behind me. I turn around and see Elle standing in the doorway, clutching her Clikbook in her hands.

“I…I found something out,” she says. Her voice is laced with concern, and I can see the anxiousness in her eyes. I motion for her to join us at the table. She does so, bringing her Clikbook with her.

“I overheard what you said about the Crux,” she mentions as she sits in a chair off to the side. “So you don’t need to fill me in on that. But…” She swallows nervously. “I’ve been trying, but I…I can’t hack into ALPHA’s system. It can’t be access it from here.”

“What?” Gray exclaims. “There has to be a way.”

She shakes her head. “They must have upgraded the system after we first entered it. It’s beyond any hacking.” She shows us the screen of her Clikbook. “It’s impossible to enter, no matter how you try.”

Technology like brick-breakers won’t work on this kind of thing. I lean back on my heels and pinch the bridge of my nose in frustration. “We can’t do anything from here.” It’s not a question.

Elle shakes her head apologetically.

“What, then?” Gray asks.

“I don’t know,” she says. “We can’t shut down the system ourselves. We’re stuck.”

I draw in a deep breath, trying to keep my head level. “Maybe there’s another way to destroy It.” I look at Gray. “It can be accessed from the Crux, right?”

He nods.

“Then maybe it can be destroyed from there.” I straighten. “I want to talk to that technician. I need more information.”

“I’ll get her ready.”

The Redeemer spills information like a fountain. As I sit across from her, listening, I can tell that she’s afraid – very afraid. Like Gray said, these people aren’t used to being interrogated or threatened. They’re desperate to be safe, even if it means betraying their cause. The Redeemers like to think that they’re fearless and perfect. But under all their facades, they’re weak, just like the rest of us.

“ALPHA isn’t located only in cyberspace,” she says. Her eyes are on her hands, as if she’s afraid to look at me. “It has a physical component. In the Crux.”

I glance at Gray, who stands behind her. “In what way?”

“It’s a machine. Its consciousness isn’t physical, but Its body, Its system…that is.” She looks up. “It’s in the Crux. There are three rings beneath the dome. Its Core is in the center - that’s where it can be accessed and where we communicate with it. The other two rings make up the body.”

“…If that’s destroyed, what will happen to ALPHA?”

She takes in a breath. “Right now, It relies on Its hardware to live. If you destroyed that, It would die. But…” She looks away.

“But?” I press, leaning forward.

“The release,” she says, quietly. “Once Its released, It won’t need the hardware. Its consciousness won’t be tethered to the system. Destroying the physical part of ALPHA won’t do anything. The consciousness will be indestructible. Eternal.”

“How long do we have?”

She hesitates.

“You’ve already told us this much. There’s no going back.”

“…Simon Krane has insisted we move the date up. ALPHA will be released in two days.”

My breath catches. Two days. That’s…that’s not enough time. There’s no way.

I stand up and look to Gray. “Get Pamela.”

The three of us stand in the Core, around the table. We’ve filled Pamela in on what the Technician told us.

I pull up an imagine of the Crux. “We need to blow this place off the map.”

Pamela raises an eyebrow. “Your plan?”

“We have a Hub now, equipped with hurricanes, missiles, bombs…even aircraft. We can bomb the Crux and be done with it. The dome will collapse. The place will come down. ALPHA will be dead.”

She shakes her head. “I wish it could be that easy. We have no idea what kinds of defenses they have around the outside of the Crux – shields and forcefields. And by the time we’re close enough to drop the explosives, we’d be noticed. It wouldn’t be hard to miss our jets.”

“Then we have to destroy It from the inside,” Gray says, turning to me. “We can plant bombs within the Crux. Around ALPHA’s hardware and the Core. Several bombs for each ring.”

I nod in agreement. “But we’ll need to send men in there. Maybe one squadron per ring?”

“They’d be noticed instantly. The less people, the better. We might manage to sneak two or three people in if they’re disguised. In a building as big as the Crux, they might go unnoticed.”

“We can’t trust this with just anyone,” Pamela mentions.

“Exactly,” I reply. “That’s why I’m volunteering to do it.”

Gray frowns. “No. We can’t afford to lose you.”

I look up at him. “I have to do this. I’ve had that thing in my head, Gray. I’ve had it speak to me. I can’t rest until I know, firsthand, that it’s dead.”

“Then I’ll be going with you.”

My gaze softens. Of course he’d be the one to offer.

“We can’t risk you both,” Pamela begins.

“It has to be us,” I argue back. “We understand the most about ALPHA and how the Redeemers operate.”

“And if you die? If this fails?”

I swallow. “Then we’ll die protecting the Flawed.”

She shakes her head, looking away. “Fine then,” she murmurs. “What happens after the bombs go off and ALPHA is destroyed?”

“We finish the job,” Gray answers. “Once ALPHA dies, the Crux will be in chaos. You can launch those missiles then and bomb the entire building – they won’t be able to stop us. ALPHA will be dead, and the Redeemers will be without their Headquarters.”

“If this works out, the Redeemers will be decimated,” I say. I don’t speak the obvious. If we succeed, all of this will end. But if we fail…then there won’t be any other chances. This is our last stand – our final hope. “Now to figure out how to get in.”

Pamela double taps the hologram, zooming into the side of the Crux, showing a small door along the building’s wall. “There’s an emergency exit and entrance here. I’ve heard some doors in the Crux can only be opened by scanning a Redeemer marking.” She looks up at me. “If that’s the case, yours should work.”

I feel my face grow hot. “It won’t.” I silently pull up my sleeve to reveal the scarred tattoo. “The scanner won’t accept this.” Idiot. If only I hadn’t gone ahead and carved it up.

Her brow furrows. “What happened?”

“It doesn’t matter – it won’t work.”

Gray speaks up. “I’ll get one. Is there any way to make that happen?”

I turn to look at him with wide eyes. “Get a Redeemer marking? Can’t we use a fake one?”

“It will only work with a genuine tattoo,” Pamela responds. “There are machines here that the Redeemers use to mark newly graduated initiates – this is a Hub, after all.”

He’ll have to have the symbol of his enemy branded onto his wrist for the rest of his life. He’ll have to wear the marking of the people who murdered his own lover.

He meets my eyes and gives me a small nod. I let out a breath. “Are you sure?”

“If that’s what it takes.”

In spite of myself, I feel a twinge of emotion. Oh, Gray. Thank God we still have you.

Pamela nods and looks back at the hologram. “Once you’re in the Crux, you’ll head to the dome, where you’ll plant explosives within ALPHA’s rings. When you get to the inner ring…” She glances at me. “You’ll be where Its mind is. All of ALPHA this time – not the broken pieces you’ve encountered before. I don’t doubt that It will try to stop you. Do you understand?”

My mouth goes dry, but I force myself to nod.

“We’ll have to bomb the building within five minutes of ALPHA’s destruction. Otherwise, the Redeemers will be able to set up their counterattack. The two of you will only have a few minutes to exit the building. We can send a dropship to pick you up and take you to safety. But remember-“ She taps the Crux again to zoom out. “-you’ll only have a few minutes to get out. If you can’t manage to escape within the timeframe…” She lets her words trail off, knowing we understand their meaning. “You might not come back from this alive. Are you sure you want to...?”

“I am,” I say almost instantly. My life is a tiny, insignificant part of this world. There’s so much more on the line here – every Flawed in the present and future, every member of the Truth. The future of the Remainder. Compared to that, I don’t matter. “As long as ALPHA is destroyed, I’m willing to do anything.”

Her eyes soften. She begins to say something, but stops, as if catching herself. “Alright then,” she says instead, speaking quietly. “I’ll smooth out the details and prep you later. We’ll launch the mission tomorrow night.”

We nod. Gray leaves the room to prepare for his marking. I need to tell Elle about the plan – I want to spend some time with her, in case I don’t come back.

I’m about to go when Pamela calls after me. I pause.

“Natalie, I…” She grips the side of the table tightly. “I know you can do this. I believe in you. Come back alive.”

I falter. Those were words I didn’t expect to hear – not from her.

“…I’ll try,” I say. Then, after a moment of hesitation, “Thanks, Mom.”

She smiles – one of the first genuine smiles I’ve seen from her. Neither of us say another word as I leave to go find Elle.

“Tomorrow?” Elle stares at me with wide, round eyes. We’re sitting on the bed of her room – a small, cozy place with a large window that overlooks the forest.

I nod. “Pamela says there’s a chance of us…you know, not coming back.”

She looks away, chewing on her lower lip. “I don’t like this, Nat.”

“I know. But it’s our only option.”

“I don’t…” She rubs her eyes. “I know this might sound…selfish, but I don’t want you to die. First my family, then Xander, and now…now maybe you. You’re all I have left.” Her voice hitches. “I don’t want to be alone, Nat.”

I pull her into a side hug. “I know,” I say again. “I’m sorry.”

She’s silent for a moment, before pulling away. “And you…you’ll be with ALPHA. In the room where Its mind is. It’ll talk to you. It might find a way to… to hurt you. We don’t know everything about It. We don’t know what’s It’s capable of when you’re so close to it. What if It does something to your mind? What if It…I don’t know, breaks you?”

“I won’t let it.”

“You don’t know that-“

“Elle, listen.” I turn to face her head-on, taking her hands in mine. “I haven’t survived so much to let that thing kill me. But I have to go. Xander…he didn’t die so I could stay here and hide while ALPHA is released. I need to do this. For the Flawed, for the Remainder, and…for him.”

She stares down at our hands, her lip trembling. “Just promise you’ll come back.”

“I can’t.”

“Promise you’ll try.

“…Okay. I promise.”

We lapse into silence. After a moment, I speak again, trying to change the subject to something lighter. “I haven’t had the chance to keep up with the Cliks lately. Have you?”

She slowly nods, picking up on what I’m trying to do. She takes her Clikbook and turns it on. “I’ve been following a trivia one. Here, I’ll show you.”

We spend the next few hours like that – reading Clik posts together, laughing and talking. It’s a comforting way to pass the time. My friend and me.

And…it helps me avoid thinking about what I’ll face tomorrow.

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