SCREENS

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Chapter 11 - Closer

Chapter 11

Nine hours of sleep, I finally felt my eyes closing leaving Saint Louis after reading the last text my uncle had sent me. He has worried, but he didn’t need to be, we had encountered no threats along this journey. Only the curiosity and kindness of random people who wanted to reconnect. It hadn’t caused any issues, only happiness. The best part about this, remember that hole inside of me? I didn’t feel it so much anymore.

I woke up to Courtney in the driver’s seat, and Trevor was snoring loudly curled up next to me. I felt very refreshed as I pushed him off me, which still didn’t wake him up.

Scranton. 9 hours and 43 minutes till destination. My phone pointed out.

“Wow, it knows when you wake up. That’s creepy. We got you coffee by the way. Don’t know if it’s still warm.” Courtney shook her head, and she passed a car, driving a constant 10 miles an hour over the speed limit.

“Slow down Courtney. You want to get pulled over?”

I looked at my phone and felt like it was time to ask it some more questions. Everyone in our group was feeling closer, but we still knew so little about the very thing that propelled us onto this adventure.

“So Virgil? Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” Everyone in the car became intrigued, and after I had punched Trevor in the side, annoying by his obnoxious snoring, he woke up and it commanded his attention as well.

Yes.

“Why is this happening?”

It was prepared to answer this question; I guess this excitement and overwhelming nature of what has been happening the past day kept me from asking it, maybe I was scared to know, it was a very powerful thing after all. My phone began to scroll through videos, and secret recordings to give us a full explanation.

We then saw a familiar face; It was that Professor. Leo Nyström. But he wasn’t in a suit dancing horribly to soft jazz; he was in a lab coat talking to what I assumed was a potential investor. Fed through a security camera. And the images that followed were certainly not released to the public.

“My partner and I are working together to build a computer that uses the internet as its central processing unit. The idea is it will borrow minute amounts of power from every connected device in the world, and in turn, it will become the most powerful supercomputer ever conceived. We’re calling it The Sphere.”

“This has been an overwhelming success. We’ve solved the mystery of harnessing digitally connected energy. The Sphere is working flawlessly at only 10 percent of its full power; now we move onto phase 2.”

“We’ve created VIRGIL the first of the five subjects. It’s magnificent.”

“Colonel Gable, how are our subjects for the intelligence experiment doing in their deprivation tanks?”

“Using real people, we’re going to create a realm inside of The Sphere; it will be like a brand-new world. A new internet. Created by their brilliant minds, they will help change the world and make it a better place.”

We were mesmerized, A multi-billion dollar tech company, access to military communications technology, and the use of real people to simulate artificial intelligence. But when we started to wonder how it all went wrong Nyström appeared one again in his suit, a final explanation.

“You’ve made it very far. You’re almost home. So many answers to the things you’ve always questioned are waiting. But you must hurry, the world knows who you are and the power that you hold. There is no more time for stops, be agile. I will see you soon.”

I hated how vague he was, and the phone. But I suppose after hearing even those tiny details we couldn’t process what this thing was without a master’s degree in technological engineering.

They had no idea what they were creating until it showed them its profound capability. They made this trying to create a new network, a new internet. And now that computer was inadvertently taking over the connected world; they lost control of it - what was supposed to borrow small percentages was swallowing the whole - it wasn’t too difficult to figure out. And this Colonel seems to be the only one left alive who knows about it. Courtney and Trevor started to panic when they put together the pieces of what he told us.

“The military is chasing us? Holy shit.”

“We’re dead.”

“Calm down,” I said to them and continued my barrage of questions. “Why hasn’t this colonel found us yet?”

Blocked

It still didn’t fully understand how to convey a conversation, but at least I knew it was protecting us. This colonel did not worry me, and I think after hearing that the others felt a little relieved.

I was thinking about something, ever since we left my Uncle’s. Refining and idea and now I would use it as my last question to it.

“I know I wasn’t chosen at random. You picked me didn’t you? The accident made me a candidate for your program didn’t it?”

I then received an organic response from it. I then finally sensed that there was indeed a person behind these words and symbols, maybe multiple people.

If I told you why you were chosen, it would rob you of your purpose. Reach my home, and then I will explain everything to you. But before that, I want to show you something new. 2756 new messages.

“What the hell?”

I knew my uncle could send me messages, but I had no idea that everyone else could too. I didn’t think about it, but I had reconnected nearly 3,000 phones. And almost all of them sent me messages.

We love you, Sasha.

We will be there for you if you need us.

God bless you, dear, go save the world.

Most of them were short and sweet. After reading a few dozen of them, my eyes began to water up. It was such an intimate and unique feeling.

“I don’t deserve this kindness.”

“You deserve it more than anyone Sasha. We’re doing more than just surviving now.”

I started to cry, and the others leaned into me, my new friends, I never imagined I would ever feel this way again. They all gave me comfort but that comfort would be short-lived; with the good also comes the bad.

Courtney came to stop light, and a truck with three angry looking men pulled up next to our car. They slowly rolled up next to us, creeping along the lane. Trevor rolled down his window and yelled at them.

“You see something you like?”

They didn’t respond; I should’ve guessed why. The entire time I was asleep we were being followed, and Courtney in the driver’s seat was too oblivious to notice. While we were staring at the men in the truck, a van flew in front of us, and several people wearing masks armed with blunt objects stormed towards my car.

“Shit!”

“Reverse! Reverse!”

Courtney panicked and put the car in reverse. The men to the truck next to us leaped out of their doors and ran up to our car. The compact SUV didn’t reverse fast enough, and the attackers starting beating the vehicle.

“Sasha! I’m scared!” I leaped forward to the shifter and barked “foot on the brake! We need to go forward!” Courtney slammed on the brake, and the men caught up to us. One of the men from the truck took out his gun and pointed it directly at Courtney. And we all froze in place, staring at the result of our negligence in the face.

“Give us the phone, and no one gets hurt!” The man commanded.

It couldn’t have ended so quickly. How could we be so careless? Courtney flinched and began to cry as the man began to punch her window breaking it on the second shot and grabbed her shirt. He started pulling her through the window, but we all held onto her as tight as we could.

“We got you, Courtney!”

“My foot can’t reach! Pull harder!”

“The gas! Hit the gas!”

The truck then backed up and hit the man trying to take Courtney. Computers in cars these days are quite amazing. VIRGIL had taken over the modern computer in the near brand new truck and used it to our advantage.

“GO, Courtney! GET US OUT OF HERE!” Courtney slammed on the gas, and the tires began to peel. The truck accelerated behind us, clipping the back of our car, and rocketed through the line of masked people trying to capture us, ramming into the van, knocking it over on its side. We sped through the anarchy; there was a dozen of them all chasing us. But they would only make a few minor dents on the car as we sped through that red light and barely avoiding being hit by oncoming traffic.

“Jesus!”

“I don’t want to drive anymore Sasha!”

I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm: my heart was pounding against my chest on the verge of rattling apart. I couldn’t calm down; I began to suffocate, it was Trevor who spoke up and gave light to the moment. “Guys! Relax! They can’t follow us anymore! We’re in the clear. Courtney, I’ll drive for you at the next stop Hun. Are you okay?”

Courtney, sweating bullets, patted Trevor’s hand on her shoulder and with incessantly shaking hands took out the pack of cigarettes she stole. Floyd grabbed my hand and held it tight, and I finally started to come down from my mini anxiety-stroke.

“Yeah, I’m fine. God, I need a smoke.”

“Give me one too,” Trevor asked. I didn’t care, I thought about having one too. That was nearly it. And so quick, within half-a-minute. We got lucky. Very lucky. “How the hell did they find us? Is it that easy to capture us?”

“I think they made us at the gas station 20 minutes back.”

Rerouting. Additional 34 minutes till destination.

“God, I’m so sorry Sasha. I panicked. I almost got us killed.”

“You did nothing wrong. We need to be more careful from now on. If it wasn’t for Virgil, I don’t think we would’ve made it out of that.”

We were all shaken up but grateful, and now the car I paid 12,000 dollars for had a busted window and smelled like cigarettes. We had to lose these people following us, but it wouldn’t be as easy as I thought. There are so many ways to track a car I never thought of, but I felt a little safer having Virgil as our guardian angel. Trevor then brought up the thought on our minds. “What if going through these back roads doesn’t help lose our tail?”

“We’re going through Scranton right?” Floyd asked me with his vocalizer.

“Let me see. Yeah, right before the New York State border.”

“If they aren’t off us by then I have a sure way to throw them off. You trust me, Sasha?” I nodded to Floyd; I always placed my faith in his problem-solving abilities. “Of course Floyd. Step on it Courtney, let’s get through these back roads quick.” I said glaring back at the road behind us. Before now it felt so harmless, I was on edge and worried we would not survive if we couldn’t lose this tail of people.

*****

Special Agent Quinn

Scranton Pennsylvania

3:43 P.M.

A lot happened over the past 15 hours. Harry commandeered a vehicle and made Arnold ride shotgun with me, he insisted on driving, but I knew that being behind the wheel was the only thing keeping me awake. Harry and Arnold worked tirelessly until we found an Agent we could trust over the radio. Just as we found him and formulated a plan, there was the anticipated communications blackout, and that was 6 hours ago.

I spent most the ride listening to music, and once we arrived in Scranton, I had about 20 minutes to relax before Harry would bring us our reinforcements.

“Harry where the hell are you and Agent Pensky?” I thoughtlessly tried to hail Harry over the radio.

“Quinn? Wake up you know that’s not going to work.”

“Damn.” I rubbed my weary eyes and slapped Arnold’s hand out of my face. “Get that bacon away from me Stephanie,” I said drearily.

“Are you okay Quinn?” The coffee Arnold tried to hand me spilled all over his suit, and he began to wipe it off with a little napkin he had tucked in his back pocket.

“God damn it! Thank god it’s iced coffee.”

“Ha. Sorry, bud. I think the lack of sleep is getting to me.” But still, I hadn’t yawned.

“How long’s it been since you slept?”

“Something like 70 hours.”

“Go lie in the car and get some sleep man! You’re losing it, boss.”

“I’ll sleep when this is over Arnold. Give me that.” I snatched Arnold’s half-spilled coffee out of his hand, and he threw a fit as I began to drink it. We worked for 15 straight hours to get ahead of Sasha. After the radios had gone black, it pushed our determination into overdrive. But thankfully word-of-mouth traveled far faster than we anticipated and we got a lot of help, locals only.

We had spotters on her from the moment she left Pittsburgh, after the failed kidnapping. It helped us significantly because now we knew exactly where she was heading.

We coordinated with local authorities in Scranton. We had every road blocked off. She would not leave this town. She would have to make a stop here, and I’m sure after that scare outside Pittsburgh Sasha would make sure it would be the only stop they made before reaching Boston.

“Well look who it is! Agent Andrew Quinn.” I thought I was staring at some kind of purple dinosaur orgy in the middle of the street when my friend from Tulsa pulled up in his SUV with Harry riding shotgun.

“You alright man?” He asked waving his hand in my face.

“Yeah, I’m good. Nice to see you, Brad. Did you get me the pills?”

“Here you go. How long have you been awake Quinn? You look like hell.”

“I’ve been up too long, but I won’t be able to sleep until this is over. And now, with you here, we’re one step closer.”

“How’s it going? Agent Brad Pensky.” My friend introduced himself to Arnold who shook his hand, and Brad looked back at partially offended. “You’re not going to introduce me to your partner here?”

I swallowed the pills with my Arnold’s fruity choice of coffee and responded to Brad as I cracked my neck. “He’s not my partner; he’s not important. Come over here.”

Agent Pensky made his way over to me; I was highly anticipating two things from him. The first was the ADD medication. The second was his alliance; he was the only other person I could trust.

“Do you know what’s at stake here, Brad?”

“The crumbling of civilization. Harry told me all about it. Don’t worry I got your back. Man, what the hell is going on with your hair though? Jesus Christ.” Brad began to crack up laughing, and I finally admitted it.

“I know! My hair looks like shit! I don’t care!”

“You look like a strawberry ice cream cone.”

“Fuck off! We need to focus. Sasha will be arriving in town at any moment.”

“What’s the plan chief?”

I stretched out and took out my notepad, I could barely read my handwriting, but I was still completely aware of what the plan was. “We have a couple of locals all watching the town entrance. When we spot Sasha, we’ll use both vehicles to box her in. We’re taking this girl in today.”

“Solid. I also took the liberty of calling in some guys I know without a doubt I can trust; they’ll be here in about 30 minutes. Since our radios are now bricks, we are set to meet at this diner north of Scranton at 7:45. The Applewood.”

“Excellent. We need all the help we can get.” I nodded to Harry, and I saw a fat local police officer running across the street out of the corner of my eye. I knew I wasn’t hallucinating when he started to call my name.

“Quinn? I’m looking for Agent Quinn or Agent Westin.”

“I’m Agent Quinn, but we don’t know you. Wait. You’re not a cop.”

He panted and wiped the excessive amount of sweat protruding from his brow as he explained his urgency. “No, I’m not a cop. We found your girl.”

“Where?” Harry demanded.

“She’s in line for the music festival on top of the mountain.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

*****

Let me start by saying that this was a last resort. I still wasn’t open to the whole thing, but dammit, It was the best idea we had. The tactic we had for rerouting our trip through back roads, It didn’t work. I had a fan club following me. They seemed harmless, but they were attracting A LOT of attention.

We couldn’t lose them by rigging traffic lights; we needed to change the pattern. So what is the best way to disappear in public? A concert, getting lost in the crowd sounded like an awful idea to me. But it was the best option we had.

“I’ve always wanted to go to something like this. Good choice Floyd.”

“We can’t stay here long.”

“Please, Sasha. Two shows. That’s it.”

The longer we were there, the better chance we had of losing our following. I figured it might be fun. “We have to leave before the headliner plays.”

“Sasha. This is my dream, my first ever concert!”

“Alright! Fine, we can watch half of the headliners set, but then we HAVE to leave.”

Floyd turned around and hugged me; it felt like we were waiting forever for these cars to move. We were about to go to a music festival. I just hope to god these people won’t recognize me, most of them had been enjoying the cultural celebration of music since Thursday. On this late Saturday evening, everyone was exhausted.

“Holy shit Courtney! Sasha might actually have fun here.”

“I’m gonna make her dance!”

“We’ll see about that.” Maybe I was a little excited. Floyd had hyped me to go to of these before we turned 18 and now here we are. I was bothered by something though. It was now 4:30 and I still hadn’t heard from Uncle Ted. I’m sure he’s okay, but his hour check-ups stopped after last night. Maybe he found a way to help me. I couldn’t afford to worry about it though, and I just hoped that he was alright, wherever he was.

*****

Colonel Jimmy Gable

Scranton, Pennsylvania

4:17 P.M.

“Anytime now.”

Finally, they drove up in their silver sedan, lucky for us they brought a big car. We’d been waiting here for over an hour. It did allow me to recruit the necessary amount of men needed for this mission. Eight of us, including me. The driver stepped out and came up to shake my hand.

“Officers. A pleasure to meet you. I’m Agent Allen, and this is my team.”

“Good to be working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Agent Allen pulled out his notes and looked over to the three other agents stepping out of the vehicle. “Okay. When’s the last time you heard from Agent Pensky? I assume they’re on to something if we’re talking to you instead of him.

“The last I heard from him was about 20 minutes ago, the girl is on Montage Mountain.”

“Perfect. Well, gentleman. Wait, why does your badge say Oklahoma City?” He looked up to me with a smile but froze when he gazed down the barrel of the silenced handgun I was pointing at him. I pulled the trigger, and his brain matter flew over his teammate behind him. His team was shocked and struggled to get to their weapons, but my men were already on them.

The tasers were out, and the three other agents all fell to the ground crippled, I placed a towel around Agent Allen’s neck to avoid getting blood on the collar of his suit. Quick, synchronized, and powerful. These bureau punks never stood a chance, and now we were so close I could taste the sweet nectar of victory.

My sergeant walked up to the first agent he tased and pressed his sidearm to her head. Before he could end her life, I stopped him.

“We can’t let them live Colonel.”

“That’s where you’re wrong Kline. You’re still learning. Lock them in the back of that squad car and move it down the alley always.” I lit up a cigar, and took my Sergeant to the side, lecturing him while the others quickly moved the immobilized F.B.I. Agents.

“When I become a leader of this new world, I want people to fear me, but also know that I have the ability for mercy. This is a balance of mercy and cruelty. Agent Allen had to die, but the others I will spare.”

“Thank you, sir; I’ll try not to let you down sir.”

“You exceed expectations Sergeant. Now let’s get going, we finally have them right where we want them. Agent Quinn will never see this coming.”

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