SCREENS

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Chapter 16 - Arrival

CHAPTER 16 –

We walked into a very dark room, lit by only a couple of overhead lights. We bathed in idle light and a low-frequency sound. It was the backup generators, but next to them was a wall of coolant tanks, all silently running they filled this hallway with a creepy ambiance.

“What’s that sound?” I asked my sadistic captor.

“Those are the cooling towers.”

“For VIRGIL right?”

“VIRGIL is just one of its five operating systems, but yes, it’s power is – beautiful.”

“You’re obsessed with it aren’t you Gable?”

“I have been ever since they started building it. And now, it is going to shape my future and the future of so many others. If you two behave, I’ll let you sit next to my throne.”

I glared at him, in front of that final door which so many answers lied behind. “I would rather die than live in your future.”

“What a shame. Now open this door, Sasha.”

This was it, the end of the road. I stood in front of the scanner and held my phone against it. The reader flickered, coming alive with light and it sent a message to inside the chamber. The locks began to spin, the inner gears rotated, and as the first cylinder popped open, we heard a clang at our feet. The canister rolled to sergeant Kline’s boot, and I saw Gable’s struck face.

“Shit. Get down!”

Karma is a bitch and so are flashbang grenades. It exploded and blinded all of us, I wasn’t sure what was going on in those few moments, but I could hear it.

*****

Agent Andrew Quinn

Those two idiot kids didn’t listen to what I said. Thumbs in your ears, fingers over your eyes. They flailed around while Arnold and I moved in on Gable’s men. We couldn’t fire our guns – too many things a bullet could ricochet off and destroy, so we had to get a little creative.

I vaulted over my barrel with my trusty knife in my hand and Arnold did the same. I choose the larger of the two soldiers. My target covered his eyes stumbling backward, and I stuck the knife in his chest. He tried to struggle, but his effort collapsed after I stuck him seven times before throwing him down on the ground.

Arnold struggled with his target. I saw his knife got knocked out of his hand when he jumped on the back of his target. So I threw mine, and it landed in the grunts chest. Arnold punched him repeatedly in the head and took the opportunity of the man’s pain to shove his head into a barrel of open coolant. I saw the steam rise as Arnold drowned him in the vat. And by the time he did Floyd had pinned the Sergeant, then it was time to get that old fuck.

But somehow he always was a step ahead of me. My fist almost connected with the side of his head until he turned around holding a grenade to Sasha’s chest. He smirked, and we held our awkward reunion.

“Quinn? I thought I shot you in the face?”

“No, you shot my hair. And now,” I drew my gun and pressed it against his head “you will learn your actions have consequences.”

“Quinn!”

“You can’t do it, boss!” I needed to, but I know he would hold onto that grenade if I did, and then none of us would survive. Everywhere I looked I saw flammable elements and warning signs. I trembled with frustration, and it took every ounce of patience I had not to pull that trigger. The entire time I was staring at him, he just smiled.

“Quinn. I’m glad you’re here to witness this. You are so much more than Harry ever could’ve been. And once again I’m willing to forgive you. Your tenacity and dedication are far beyond any that I have encountered. I can’t wait for you to see what lies behind that door.”

His comment enraged me even more, and I began to sweat, my finger trembling, it was Sasha who would change my mind in my moment of declining self-control.

*****

“Quinn?”

“Sasha, he has killed so many people! I can’t allow him to live.”

I could feel his temptation getting the better of him. I didn’t blame him one bit, but we were so close, everyone was all in for the ride.

“Quinn I know how badly you want to. But I need you to trust me. I have a plan.”

Quinn’s lip quivered, he knew I was clever, I had eluded him almost the entire way here. He very hesitantly took his weapon back and nodded confidently to me.

“It’s all up to you now, Sasha. I’ll follow your lead.”

“Just keep that gun pointed at him, Quinn.”

Gable laughed, sure he had won, and sure that nothing I could do at this point would foil his mission decided to berate Quinn one more time as the last lock unraveled behind us.

“Oh Quinn, you will forever be submissive.”

Quinn’s rage did not subside, and he and Gable engaged in an inseparable stare as the enormous door behind us finally opened. We all looked on in awe as brilliant light seeped through the ever widening gap. We slowly turned, and we were taken by its incredible reveal.

“Time to face destiny,” Gable said as he lead us through the gateway and into the vault.

The room was a colossal circle, easily one hundred feet in diameter. The walls covered by screens and interfaces stretched to a 40-foot ceiling and formed a dome, and at its center, just like Gable said: was a sphere.

“That’s a computer?”

“Unprecedented things take unprecedented forms.”

The sphere was suspended in the very center of the circular room above a concrete bowl that acted as a cradle. The sphere was filled with water and tiny bits of light, as we got closer, I saw little metallic shards flowing around it, creating flashes of light that reflected all around the room.

It was magnificent. It was like looking at the indoor pool in our school, the reflections of the light piercing the water covered us all. But even it’s incredible design didn’t distract me from the man sitting in the wheelchair in front of the console, right below the sphere.

It could only be one person.

“Nystrom?”

“He used to be.” Gable pointed to the others around me to stay back, and we approached him. As I peered around the corner of his face, I saw that he was dead, sitting in front of his life’s work.

“What happened to him?”

“That phone of yours is like an arm. A distress signal. My partner here knew that he had to die to protect the secret of this place.”

“Did you kill him?”

Gable lifted up his face, and we saw a self-inflicted wound to his chest and a revolver in his lap.

“No. It was his way to throw me off. The minute he signed in, I would be able to track him, to find where this computer was being constructed. But I found where his signal went to, you, and you led me to my prize Sasha.” Gable pushed him out of the away.

I looked pass the console, and I saw five pods on the other side of the bowl. Everything in this room was extremely organized and clean. These pods stuck out, there were so many connections. Hordes of wires and screens were feeding into the back wall. They looked large enough to hold a body.

Could this be where my father was, inside of one of those pods? I tried to get a closer look, but Gable stopped me. This was the final stop and now the time to reconnect the world was at hand.

“Alright, Sasha. We’ve finally made it.”

“What are in those pods?”

“I’ve answered enough questions Sasha. Take out your phone.”

“No.”

“You still think you have any hope of stopping me?”

“I am still in control until I put my phone on that keyboard. What more can you possibly do?”

Gable smiled and drew his gun and shot Trevor in the leg. Trevor shouted in agony, and it distracted Floyd allowing Sergeant Kline to escape Floyd’s grasp.

“Are you fucking crazy Gable?”

Kline flipped Floyd over his back and grabbed his pistol out of the back of his pants aiming it at Floyd. “Don’t move.”

Arnold reacted quickly and drew his gun at Kline. Gable smirked and pulled me close to his chest; his hand began to shake from holding the grenade.

“My hand is getting awful tired Sasha. How would you like it if I threw this at your friends? You have so much more to lose than you realize Sasha. Kline bring the boy over here!”

“No!!!” I shouted, and Gable again hit me in the head with his gun.

Kline looked down at Floyd, contemplating what to do next. He stared at my cousin continuing to point the weapon at him. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but he made no move to pick him up off the ground.

“What are you waiting for sergeant? Bring him here now!”

Kline turned away from Floyd and aimed his gun at Gable. Floyd inched away to check on Trevor’s condition.

“What are you doing Sergeant?”

“I will not let you cause any more harm Gable.”

Gable laughed and aimed his gun at his sergeant. “Now you grow a conscious Kline? Your hands are just as dirty as mine.”

“I know,” I’m not sure what changed his judgment, but he looked intently at me as he continued to speak. “I have done some horrible things, but it’s never too late to be a better person.”

Gable then pulled the trigger, striking Kline in the neck. Blood sprayed from his body, and he collapsed grasping his wound and gasping for air, the life quickly fleeting from him. Gable was very disappointed. “Treason! After all, I have done for you! You were going to be my protégé! This is how you betray me? If you want anything done right, you have to do it yourself!”

The entire time Gable was shouting at his dying sergeant I decided to enact my plan. Gable didn’t notice because I wasn’t communicating with my words, I was signing to Floyd.

“Floyd. Throw Courtney into me.”

“What?”

“Tell her: batter up.”

During our time spent with a grenade next to my chest, I needed to think of how to get a 30-foot blast radius away from me. Courtney’s background explains why she was in every sport in school; it gave her time way from home. She was athletically gifted. But first, she had to reach me in the few seconds we would have before the grenade would explode.

Floyd nodded and looked to Courtney and gave her the sign. Courtney definitely understood as Floyd imitated swinging a bat. Floyd picked her up and began to rush towards Gable.

“What the fuck!” Gable quickly sensed our deception and aimed his gun at Floyd. I saw his finger try to squeeze the trigger and I grabbed his bandaged ear, squeezing it as hard as I could. He missed screaming in pain, and I elbowed him in the abdomen knocking the wind out of him. He dropped the grenade.

Floyd saw the drop and threw Courtney towards me.

“Don’t miss!”

Courtney reached for the grenade and kicked it before it hit the ground sending the grenade flying above Gable’s head. Gable recovered and tried to shoot us, but Quinn never let his eyes off of him and pulled the trigger. The minute Floyd covered Courtney and me on the ground, he took his opportunity and shot the bastard. The bullet hit right where I kicked Gable, and he dropped to his knees in front of the console. The force of Quinn’s bullet made Gable inadvertently throw his gun across the room.

“NO! What have you done!”

He looked up as the grenade nearly hit the ceiling and exploded above the sphere. The dome cracked and the sphere shattered, the water burst out of its containment, and its contents raining all over us shielded us from the deadly shards of the grenade.

The water and multiple screens fell from the ceiling as the body of sphere crashed into the bowl below, and we were all struck by the wave of water.

“You idiots! You’ve destroyed any chance we have of fixing this!”

Gable continued to pout and curse. My anxiety withered away as I saw the liquid from the sphere disperse and settle across the pearlescent floor. The bits of light that were once inside the sphere were fading one-by-one. Our moment was only illuminated by the light panel at the back of the room.

Quinn walked up to Gable and ordered us to move aside as he continued to inform us of the mistake we made. Quinn was not listening to Gable; he only had one thing on his mind.

“Without the sphere, a new network cannot be made. You destroyed something that could’ve created something beautiful, something so powerful it would’ve changed the world. You feel proud of yourself Quinn?” Gable stopped his banter when Quinn walked up and smacked him in the face with his gun. He pressed it against his head, and I saw the anger, the determination in his eyes. He was going to pull that trigger.

“What are you waiting for? Pull the trigger, Quinn! Do it!”

I saw Quinn’s face relax, and with much hesitation, he took his gun away from Gable’s head. He desire to avenge his friends was immense, but he didn’t want to be consumed by his hatred. I admired him for his moment of clarity.

“You are a coward Quinn. I have –“

“Shut the fuck up Gable.” He was done hearing Gable talk, as were we all, and he tore a piece of his undershirt stuffing it into his mouth, and went around his back to handcuff him.

“You have the right to remain silent Gable; I’m sure you won’t have the right to an attorney. I’m arresting you; you will stand on trial for the many horrible things you have done.”

Arnold stepped away after checking the vitals on the expired Sergeant Kline. “Quinn. You know he will never go to trial. They’ll bring him to a black site and reinstate him somewhere. His level of corruption will secure his future.”

“If he bleeds out he’ll never make it to trial.”

“He won’t bleed out with that wound Quinn.”

I saw Quinn look at Gable. Who I’m sure would’ve been smiling without that gag in his mouth. Quinn had this covered, he always had. So he shot Gable again and made sure he wouldn’t survive the night.

“He will with that one.”

Gable screams were muffled by the gag and blood began to pour of out him, mixing with the water glimmering on the floor. Quinn leaned down and spoke his final words to Gable. “You wanted to control the world, and now you can’t even control your bleeding. I want you to suffer, men like you are the reason this world can seem so horrible. Wither and die, you piece of shit.”

Quinn snapped his fingers at Arnold. He knew Quinn’s signal and smiled as he tossed him a cigar. Quinn lit it, and took a few more moments to bask in his triumphant victory before he would speak to us.

“Sasha?”

“Yeah?”

“Is VIRGIL still on your phone?”

I looked at the blank screen and went to turn it on. At first, nothing happened. But we had seen enough this journey to know that surprises had become a thing of normality. More than anything, I’ve also learned the value of patience.

A white light consumed my screen, and a loading page appeared. It only displayed one word.

Rebooting

“Yeah. It looks like it.”

“A system like this has so many backups it will never fail. It looks like my work is done.”

Arnold jumped up and quickly made his way to Quinn. “We may be safe, but we still have to write one hell of a report to cover all of this. We got damages to report, and we have to see if the network can still be saved.”

Quinn stumbled towards Arnold and put his hands on his shoulders, Arnold took the cigar from his hand. “Arnold. I have faith in Sasha; you have one more job left to do. Tell me how this all ends. I’m going to take a nap.”

Quinn took Arnold’s suit shirt off and began to fold it, leaving Arnold with his tank top. Arnold was confused, as were we all – but then again the man had been awake for almost 4 days straight.

“Quinn?”

Quinn didn’t want to talk anymore. He headed towards the only dry spot in the room towards the back and set the shirt on the ground. Within seconds of him lying down on the ground and adjusting his sleeping posture he was out, and we started to hear his subtle snores.

Arnold shook his head and made his way to Trevor, who had taken off his dress and wrapped it around the bullet hole in his knee. “You okay kid?”

“Yeah. I think I’ll live. This isn’t the first time I’ve been shot. But it hurts like a bitch. My dress is ruined though.”

“We’ll get you a new dress Trevor,” I shouted across the room to him as Floyd lifted all of us to our feet.

“Don’t worry about me, Sasha. Arnold can help me stop the bleeding. You finish this. You fix this; you’re the only one who can.”

I looked over and saw that the last of Gable’s strength had left him. He wasn’t writhing in pain anymore, he had paid for his transgressions with his life, and he deserved every inch of his agony in those final moments.

I glanced around the room and saw the damage – it was catastrophic. The sphere had been completely destroyed. The few screens that were still working were flickering around the room. Before we could’ve even figured out how to work this marvel of engineering it was destroyed. However, even though the center was broken I still felt like there was life breathing in the room. Quinn was right; there had to be a backup, I could still feel it.

“What now Sasha?”

“I’m not sure Courtney.”

I looked to my phone, but I didn’t see Virgil’s symbol. He was gone, my phone was – just a phone now. The thing that guided us here was now gone – I had to have something. The box, it had to be. As I took it out and raced to open it – the surviving light around the room dimmed down, and almost like spotlights they were focused on the center of the room.

From the center, a ball of light slowly started to rise from the newly formed pool.

It was like the stuff of dreams.

Small but concentrated, it began to rise out of the pool where the sphere had crashed. We all turned to gaze upon its brilliance as it levitated to the center of the room. Then the cracked screen covering the top part of the dome flickered on. It was ready to speak to us. And we saw its message as the single light in the center of the room finally stopped in place hovering gently and contently.

Hello.

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