Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
[AUTHOR’?S WARNING: This post is approximately 5,000 words long]
“Fine.” Although he tried to pout, Drake still couldn’t hide his enthusiasm for driving what could only be described as far and away the sleekest, coolest, most expensive car in his life. “At least Emily will see me with it.”
“Oh is that it?” Now she thought about it, Marion realized that this probably wouldn’t help anything. “Don’t worry, Drake,” she said when she saw his cautious look. “I want the cops to respect us. They’ll certainly look twice at this Lotus, more than if we pulled up in my minivan.”
In fact, they caught up with the police before the cavalcade reached the Titan Software complex, and drove up the long entryway surrounded by flashing red-and-blue lights that glittered off the brightly polished black curves of their car. Drake caught no fewer than a half-dozen distinctly jealous stares, and on the drive over counted sixteen passers-by watching and, in some cases, pointing at their car. If anything would impress a girl as he came to her rescue, this would definitely be it.
About half a mile from the complex, Marion glanced over at him. “Are you ready?”
“Sure,” he replied in his usual confident manner. “Grab Blackwell, let the cops sweep up the remaining bad guys, and off we go. Piece of cake.”
“No, Drake, that’s just it. We don’t know what might happen. What if Blackwell puts up a fight?”
“I’ll chase him down. No problem.”
“What if he shoots at us? What if he takes hostages to protect himself?”
“I’ve been shot at before—I’ve even been shot before. We’ll talk him out.” Again Marion glanced at her partner’s smug, calm face, and wondered what would actually happen. Only one thing was for certain: They could never guess what would happen. She could only trust that their training would hold this time, too, as it had held the previous times.
Then they were pulling up in front of the gigantic Titan Software complex, their police escort parking haphazardly around, blocking exits from the driveway. Looking around at the buildings, Drake commented, “This place has a ton of exits.”
“Heck, it has a ton of buildings. Let’s just hope that Ms. Pennyworth has Blackwell in the one where we met before. Otherwise he’ll be sneaking out the back faster than you can say ‘stop global warming.’” Marion rechecked her bag. The Desert Eagle nestled just beneath a digital recorder she had chosen over her preferred notepad. The recorder could provide hard evidence of Blackwell’s conspiracy that would stand up in court.
The police had grouped quickly together a little ways from Marion and Drake. The captain leading them broke away, trotting over to the N.U.N.S. agents. “What were you thinking here?”
“We have a meeting with Blackwell in there,” Drake explained, indicating the black-glassed building looming over them. “You block all the exits and send some men in for backup. There will probably be at least two or three accomplices with Blackwell, and we’ll need you to apprehend them as well. We will take care of Blackwell. Be warned, these guys will likely be desperate.”
“Yes, sir.” The officer trotted back to his group and started deploying the policemen and women. Pairs jogged off around the building to check exits while four moved in to flank Drake and Marion as they entered the sliding glass doors.
“Please!” Marion hissed at their escort. “Stand back a bit—be a little more subtle!”
“Sorry, ma’am,” said the ranking policewoman, motioning the other three back. “We’ll stay in sight, OK?”
“Good, thanks.” Drake and Marion strode forward, through the doors and into the vast, gleaming lobby. Having been here before, Drake was able to suppress his urge to rubberneck, but it still awed him. This was clearly the lobby of a corporation on the rise, and confident of its position.
The receptionist directed them to the same conference room they had met with Emily in before. This time as they walked into the small, table-dominated room, Drake steeled himself for the impact of seeing Emily again, this time with the man that had engineered this whole impending disaster.
But when Drake took in the scene, he found himself totally unprepared. Blackwell and Emily were sitting side-by-side, papers spread around them—to add verisimilitude to the ruse, Drake supposed—Blackwell’s large hand possessively over Emily’s smaller, delicate one. A surge of jealousy streaked through Drake’s body like adrenaline. It took all his self-control for Drake to not pull out his gun and blow the man away right there, but he restrained himself. They needed the man’s information; what happened to him after he gave that information would be a whole different story.
Emily and Blackwell looked up in surprise at the intrusion. Blackwell glanced at her, his face hardening, and jumped up. “Who’re these people?” he demanded suspiciously.
“National Underground Network Security!” Drake shouted. “Down on the ground, NOW!” He couldn’t see Marion’s eye-roll, or the look of dismay on Emily’s face. Instead, he kept his eyes locked on his nemesis. Blackwell, far from dropping obediently to the ground, pushed his chair out of the way violently and stalked up to Drake and Marion, standing in the doorway.
“What do you want here?” His dark eyes bored into Drake’s unwavering gaze. They locked stares for a moment, sizing one another up. Drake saw a man his own height, but skinny; his opponent couldn’t weigh more than 165 pounds, but he looked wiry and fit enough. Drake was confident that his 250-lb, 6’2” frame, in fighting trim, could take down this opponent in a matter of minutes.
“We’re here to talk to you,” Marion interrupted, pushing between them and looking up into Blackwell’s hard face. “About the back door you put in the Light Box 2007 operating system.”
In the background, Emily gasped miserably, her face sinking into her hands.
“I’m not interested in talking to rent-a-cops,” Blackwell said rudely, trying to push past Drake to reach the lobby. “Excuse me.” His insolent tone, as much as the insult to N.U.N.S., made Drake put his hand out against Blackwell’s chest, pushing him back into the room a step.
“I don’t think so,” he said, planting himself firmly. Marion stepped back into the room, finding a clear line of sight as she reached into the voluminous purse. Drake had never seen her reach for her gun before, but the cold, calm light in her eyes made him very glad that she was on his side.
“Step away from the door, Mr. Blackwell,” Marion told him firmly and calmly. “Put your hands on your head. We’re going to have to take you in for questioning. Anythi
ng you say can be held against you in court.”
“No way!” Blackwell yelled. “Soon there’s not going to BE any court!” As he shouted, Emily leaped up and ran to him, grabbing him and shouting.
“Frank, don’t! Please don’t!” Blackwell shrugged her off roughly and she stumbled into Drake, who thoughtlessly reached out to catch her. Marion, her clean shot confounded, dashed forward to try to grab Blackwell as he darted through the doorway and into the lobby.
Drake struggled to disentangle himself, only managing to mire himself, Emily, and Marion more firmly in the doorway as Blackwell made a getaway. Their police escort had vanished, being too discreet for a change, Drake supposed. Then they were disentangled and Drake was out the door and charging across the glossy marble floor of the lobby after Frank’s echoing, metallic footsteps. Frank ran out the front door, his thin legs flashing in the weak sunlight as he made for—it didn’t look so much like the parking lot as a covered bike rack.
Drake followed, feeling his new phone and gun to be sure they were still in place. Blackwell was definitely not going to come quietly. Just as he was drawing up, Drake saw Blackwell leap onto a narrow-wheeled, speedy looking bike and take off across the parking lot, dodging between cars and around people. Dang! He would never catch Blackwell on foot—he needed another bike. Here was one, miraculously unlocked; he would return it when he was done. It was a little small, and its pink paint job made drake squirm a little self-consciously. But it had wheels and pedals—what? As he stepped onto the bike, he saw that the pedals were some strange, tiny contraption that simply could not work that well with his shoes.
Glancing up, Drake saw that Blackwell was almost out onto the road, almost too far to catch by now anyway. Drake threw himself onto the strange bike and pedaled furiously, feet slipping and sliding, but making headway. He couldn’t think the last time he had ridden a bicycle; it had to be since high school. As Blackwell hung a tight right onto the road, Drake pushed himself harder. Now his quarry was out of view, and Drake had to at least see him. He pedaled harder, slewing sharply around the corner and feeling the bicycle almost slip under him. There was Blackwell, pedaling furiously, speeding up the road towards an entrance to the Sammamish River Trail. Cars swerved out of Blackwell’s way as he rode right down the middle of the road, almost flying. Drake pushed harder, harder, legs pumping furiously as he pursued Blackwell.
As Drake had expected, Blackwell zipped onto the Sammamish River Trail; its smooth, flat surfaces were perfect for that fancy racing bike he rode, and the police would have a hard time catching him by car on that narrow, heavily-used trail. Drake, though, was on two wheels and settling into a sort of groove, shifting up steadily to the bicycle’s highest gear and pressing onward after Blackwell.
Drake’s breath came in gasps now, a feeling he knew from running as pushing his outer limit already. But it looked like Blackwell was staying a steady distance ahead, not pulling way, so Drake thought he had at least matched his opponent’s velocity. They hurtled down the multiuse trail, Blackwell careening recklessly around mothers with toddlers, people out jogging on their lunch breaks, dog-walkers, some with unleashed pets—a terrifying hazard to Drake as he whizzed by them—preschoolers on bikes with training wheels, rollerbladers, and slower cyclists. Drake tried to politely ding the little bell attached to his handlebars as he passed people, or call “On your left,” but sometimes he flew by too fast for warning. He felt bad about that, but Blackwell was getting away.
They passed by apartment buildings and over driving roads, through underpasses marked with signs asking bicyclists to please walk their bikes. Drake’s conscience tweaked as he blazed by the sign, but Blackwell looked like he was pulling away as they rode up a slight rise, the elevation gain pulling at Drake’s riding-unfit legs. Still he pushed on, the Sammamish Slough sliding by smoothly, a few people out canoeing. Drake wasn’t sure how long he could keep up this pace—the little bike computer pegged him at 31 miles per hour fairly steadily—but he would do it as long as he could.
Larry watched his friend’s getaway from a second floor window with no small amount of regret. Now he would have to move the whole timeline up; they would wait as long as they could for the Chinese power plant to finish their install of Light Box 2007, but at some point they would have to send out the worm as it was, and let it do what it could. Meanwhile, they had to stall the N.U.N.S. people digitally.
“Tim, Sandy.” The two people named appeared at his shoulder. “I need you to hack into N.U.N.S. and shut them down. Do whatever it takes. They could still digitally stop the deployment of this worm, if they cut off our Internet connection.” Tim and Sandy glanced at one another in consternation. That was like being asked to hack into the NSA, but they would do their best. Quickly squeezing into a cube, they put their heads together and began brainstorming.
“I don’t suppose they have Light Box 2007 on their machines?”
“No, damn them, but maybe…” They slipped into a fast back-and-forth that Larry watched proudly. Those two were good; if anybody could crack N.U.N.S., they could.
Now Larry paced restlessly over the drab carpeting, past the featureless cubicle walls, back and forth. On each pass he checked his computer, which was updating automatically to show progress on the Chinese power plant installation. Back and forth, back and forth he paced, wondering if Frank had shaken the cops and N.U.N.S. agent he had seen following quickly behind. It was only a matter of time now until the cops came to get him and his crew.
“How’s it going?” he asked, pausing at Tim and Sandy. They didn’t reply, but Tim feverishly typed and clicked, which Larry took as a sign that they hadn’t failed yet. Then he heard the fateful heavy tread of police officers, and a confident voice asking for Laurence Kendrick’s desk. That helpful bitch down the way was leading them right to him!
“Hurry!” he called to Tim and Sandy. They still said nothing to him, but Larry heard a low, steady stream of swearing as they were defeated at every pass. Tim said, “These guys are damn good.”
Larry checked his computer one last time; 95% complete. That last 5% would be the ending of all their plans if these cops caught him first. He had to stop them somehow, stall for time to release the worm. “Tim, let Sandy do that. I need you to get the worm ready to go.”
“It’s done,” protested the younger man, but he obediently left his partner and sat at his own computer, calling up the worm code as Larry turned away, calling to everyone else in the area: “EarthFirst! members! Help stall the cops—we’re about to save the world at last. Remember that email we got—now’s the time. Help us!”
A half-dozen EarthFirst! members came from the cubes in the area, surrounding Larry, Tim, and Sandy as the police moved in, shouting for them to put their hands in the air. Somebody got antsy and threw a coffee mug at the approaching police force, missing the officers and smashing the glass against a desk. The police had pulled out their guns now. Larry checked the screen: 98% complete. Just two more percent.
“Wait until China is online,” Larry told Tim. “I’ll let you know when.”
“OK.” Tim looked firm and resolved, but his eyes were wide and his face pale. Larry hoped he wouldn’t crack.
The police closed in, walking steadily, weapons trained on Larry and his crew. 99%.
“So if you could go out with anybody in the world, who would it be?” Jake leaned back in his chair comfortab
ly, picking his teeth a plastic toothpick.
“I don’t know,” Jim said. “Why?”
“Would it be a guy or a girl?” That drew a sharp look from Jim, but before he could reply, Jake was jerked upright by his companion’s loud squawk.
“Jake!” he called, staring at the screen in shock. “Look at this!”
“What?” Jake leaned over, glancing at Jim’s screen, for once devoid of a little running character in a digital world. Instead, a task manager showing network activity was up, alongside a list of users.
“Look at this. This group from Titan Software—”
“They’re trying to hack US!” Jake screeched in indignation. “Why those low-down, despicable—”
“Shut up and stop them,” Jim told him brusquely. “We don’t need any stupid DNS attacks right when we need to keep a close eye on all the strange network activity going on here.”
“OK, I’ll give them a dose of their own medicine,” Jake said, grimly settling down to cut the Internet access from Titan Software itself. “Probably we should’ve done this a long time ago.”
“Yeah. Oh well.” Jim agreed. “I’m calling Verizon to see what they can do.”
“What was that clacking when Blackwell ran away?” Marion asked the red-eyed Emily as they gathered themselves after the two men had rushed away.
“He was wearing his bike shoes,” Emily explained. “He forgot his regular shoes today, I guess.” Her brow furrowed. “Although I would’ve thought he would leave a pair here, rather than carting them back and forth…”
“Listen, will Drake be able to catch Blackwell?” Marion asked urgently. “Drake’s in petty good shape.”
“I don’t think so,” Emily groaned. “Frank doesn’t compete, but he’s been commuting at at least a 20-mile-an-hour pace for the last few years. I’ve ridden with him before. He’s really fast.”
Marion nodded and looked around for the cops. Where had they gotten to? She said to be subtle, not to vanish entirely! She hurried to the receptionist. “Where’d the cops with me go?”
“Upstairs,” the receptionist indicated the wide staircase to the left. “Said something about EarthFirst! and backup.”
“Thank you,” Marion said, already turning back to Emily. “Quick, where were all the other EarthFirst! people seated who work here?”
“All over,” Emily answered, “But there were bunch around where Frank sits. Frank had some friend, Larry, who was in the cube next door. They talked a lot.”
“Let’s go there,” Marion decided. “That’ll probably be the place they’ll all go. Hurry.” The two women trotted up the stairs and into a vast open space filled entirely with gray, seven-foot-tall cubicles. Marion groaned; this was the perfect place for an ambush. A hundred corners, and no way to see around them. She pulled out her Desert Eagle, drawing a startled glance from her escort, and they wended their way briskly through the maze of desks and computers. Emily still seemed small and miserable, but Marion could see a flame of resolve burning inside her, which kept the younger woman from breaking down into a crying mess.
As they approached, Marion realized she could have found the place by herself. She could have followed the sound of angry protests, shouting, and—was that shattering glass? Marion broke into a run, Emily close on her heels. They heard one deep, loud voice shouting, “China’s online! It’s time! Get back or we’ll—”
Marion rounded the corner, gun aiming, and fired before the shouter could even finish his sentence. The police, standing with sticks and guns pointed at the small cluster of young men and women gathered around one cubicle, fanned out to keep everybody covered while letting Marion and Emily through. The shouting man had crumpled to the ground, left hand clutching at his shattered right shoulder. His remaining friends put their hands into the air, milling around and yelling that they surrendered, but through the crowd, Marion saw one person still hunched over a computer, a phone glued to his ear.
“Everybody on the ground!” she yelled. Several remained standing, looking confused and afraid. She fired a shot into the air; plaster fluttered down from the bullet hole. “Now! Do it!” They did it, including the one who had been at the computer.
“You!” She pointed at the computer operator. “What were you doing?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he sneered, unafraid. “I don’t have to tell you anything. I want a lawyer.”
“Listen, pal,” Marion said, coming very close to him, her gun prominent. “I just shot your friend here, and I’m willing to shoot you too. Tell me what you were doing.”
“No.” Still stubborn, a sliver of fear entered his eyes now. “If you shoot me, I won’t be able to tell you anything.”
Marion, without saying a word, took aim at his right knee, hands stead and eyes like ice. “No!” Emily yelled. “Just tell her, Tim!”
“I’m going to count to three,” Marion told him, “and if you don’t tell me by then, you’ll never run again.”
“OK, OK,” he cringed. “I was letting the office know we can’t send the worm. But the office didn’t answer—Frank will have to do it himself.” A triumphant sneer came across his face. “You can’t stop us, lady.”
“I’ve already stopped you,” said Marion in a very calm voice. She stood up and motioned the police to move in. “Round them up,” she said. Emily was squeaking and gasping in shock. The blood looked horribly red against the colorlessness of the carpet and walls. “They won’t be doing much more here.”
She glanced at the man she had shot. “Hi.” He was one of the assailants she had taken out during the World Business and Energy Conference; now her guilt at hurting those thugs vanished. Clearly he deserved it. When he actually looked at her, Marion smiled broadly and was rewarded by seeing his eyes widen in recognition, then roll backwards as he fell into a dead faint. “And call the paramedics,” Marion added. “We don’t want this guy bleeding to death here.”
It was only when she stepped back to let the police through that Marion noticed Emily standing nearby, her hands clasped firmly over a wide-open mouth, eyes the size of dinner plates. “We’ve got more work to do here,” Marion told her in her best “Obey Mom” voice.
“What work?” squeaked the clearly shocked young woman. Marion had seemed like such a—a harmless person to bring along, and now Larry was shot and bleeding on the carpet.
“You’ve got to send out that patch, right now. They said something about ‘China’s online,’ or something. That must be what they were waiting for before sending out the worm. It’s possible they haven’t sent it yet—we might not be too late. Come on, quickly.”
“Oh—oh, yes!” Emily jerked into motion, whirling from the chaotic scene to trot to her cube. Better to take the long way than try to press through the police, EarthFirst!ers, and gawking bystanders.
Coming to Emily’s cubicle felt surreal to her. It was exactly the same as always; Andy even called, “Hey, Em, you there? Coffee run in five?”
“Not now, Andy,” she called back. “Busy. Sorry.”
Emily shrugged expressively at Marion and settled at her desk. “It’s not really ready yet,” she said, looking up at the N.U.N.S. agent. That resolved, uncompromising look in Mrs. O’Grady’s face was new, Emily thought. Or perhaps it was there all along, and you just never suspected. “I do have all the code in place, but I haven’t gotten to do much debugging, and it could really be much cleaner. I don’t even know if it’s all that bulletproof yet…”
“Send it.” The tone brooked no
objections. “If you don’t send what we’ve got, nobody will ever debug anything again. Send it.”
Emily nodded and reached for the phone. First, she had to talk to the people who maintained the Titan Software webpage. At the same time, she began compiling the code into an executable file that would actually be useful for her poor, doomed users. Marion stood in the doorway of the cubicle, silent, waiting and hoping that Drake had caught Blackwell by now.
“Got it!” Jake yelled triumphantly, wiping his sweating fingers on his jeans. “Nobody at Titan Software will be getting online for a while.”
“Great. And Verizon said they’re cutting access too, so there’s going to be no workaround for those bastards.” Jim looked pleased. “All in a good day’s work.” Then he looked at his youngest coworker. “What did you mean, would I go with a guy or a girl?”
Drake thought his legs would probably never work again. He was slowly gaining on Blackwell by some miracle, but he couldn’t keep it up for much longer. Just then, his phone rang, the irritating jingling that he had picked to mark his mother calling. Somehow he fished the phone out of his pocket, slowing significantly as he started feeling wobbly riding one-handed at that speed. “Mom—no—time,” he gasped into the phone.
“Honey, you know what? I don’t like this new doctor after all. She’s just telling me to eat more fiber, and she says the hemorrhoids will deal with themselves! I bet she’s not even a real doctor. She’s definitely never been in the kind of pain I suffer from, I can tell you that much. I tell you, the quacks they let practice medicine these days—” Drake slid the still-open phone into his pocket, his mother’s thin voice issuing from the pocket as he pushed furiously after Blackwell, just seeing him dodge off the Sammamish Trail and out onto a busy road. Drake swerved into traffic, keeping Blackwell in view as he took sharp left turn at a major intersection right in front of a gigantic barreling semi truck. The driver slammed on the brakes, jackknifing his truck in the middle of the intersection and almost completely blocking it off as Blackwell fled up the road.
Assessing the situation quickly, Drake sped his bike around the front of the stationary truck, swerving around honking vehicles and angry drivers, looking hard for Blackwell’s figure ahead of him. He came around onto Willows Road just in time to see Blackwell turning right onto what had to be the world’s steepest driveway. Drake’s legs quailed at the prospect of pushing up that miniature mountain, but Blackwell was strengthening his lead, so Drake ignored the pain and turned up the driveway.
It was agonizingly steep. His legs screamed and his speed plummeted. Somehow, Drake made it to the top of the hill, riding slowly over speed bumps as he caught a glimpse of Blackwell running into the factory portion of a large blue-painted building. It was labeled Physio-Control. Drake hoped they didn’t have lots of readily accessible computers lying around, but he had a sinking feeling that this is where Blackwell had been intending to come in the first place.
He pulled up to the door, leaping off the bike and dashing into the eerily echoing room full of defibrillators. These were the fancy kind that talked to you, and in this dark room, lit by the glowing red power-indicator lights of hundreds of defibrillators, Drake heard the creepy echoes of one woman’s voice calmly saying “Clear…” over and over again. They sounded so odd, like demented robots wandering around in the Swiss Alps, he shivered in spite of himself. Or maybe that was just the sweat drying on his body; this room was ferociously air-conditioned.
Where was Blackwell? In the oddness of the room, Drake had lost him. Cautiously Drake pulled out his little gun and crept forward, trying to stay near the wall as he looked down long aisles of machinery. Blackwell had probably found—
Then Frank Blackwell appeared in front of him, a defibrillator’s paddles in his hands, reaching out for Drake’s sweat-soaked shirt. The icy paddles pressed against his chest, the feminine voice said, “Clear! Shock patient now…” and, before Drake could pull away, a horse kicked him squarely in the chest. At least it felt like that in the second before Drake’s pain receptors registered being defibrillated. The shock hurt so much it almost stopped hurting. Blackwell stepped back as Drake fell to the ground, convulsing wildly, arms and legs flailing in huge sweeping motions. Then the muscle spasms subsided, leaving Drake gasping on the ground.
He heard the sound of Blackwell’s footsteps echoing away, saw the feet receding along the floor, and struggled to get up. GET UP! Drake told himself. He’s getting away! You’re stronger than this! Somehow, Drake staggered to his feet, his legs feeling like poorly-set pudding as he pushed himself in pursuit once more. This time he had the advantage: he crept on Blackwell, who thought Drake was down for the count and had pulled out his cell phone. The screen’s light illuminated Blackwell in the murky blackness as Drake snuck up, a charged defibrillator in his hands. Gathering his strength, he put on a spurt of silent speed and caught Blackwell just at the bottom of some stairs. Blackwell had one foot in the air when Drake pressed the paddles against his back and pressed the lightning-marked red button.
Then it was Drake’s turn to stand back and watch his enemy thrash and quiver on the floor. By the time he had recovered, Drake had him covered with the tiny pearl-handled Derringer. Blackwell groaned and opened his eyes, looking defiantly at Drake. “So this is it.”
“For you it is.” Drake smiled grimly. “Get up. We’re leaving.”
Blackwell stumbled to his feet, shoulders hunched in defeat. But as he passed Drake on his way to the door, he lurched—directly into Drake’s gun hand, sending the small gun skittering beneath shelving. Then Blackwell was off and running again, up the stairs and into the brightly lit upper area. Drake, cursing the loss of his gun, fumbled his phone out of his pocket. The battery was low from having been on this whole time; his mother must have talked to his pocket for quite a while. Quickly he speed-dialed Marion.
“Where are you?” She asked before Drake could even say a word.
“Physio-Control in Redmond, on Willows Road. I’ve lost my gun. I’m still following Blackwell, but—” Suddenly Drake realized, with a sinking heart, “I’ve lost him.” He glanced around frantically, ignoring the puzzled stares of employees walking by.
“Find him, Drake,” Marion urged. “He’ll head for some computer with a fast internet connection. Ask an employee.” Drake looked around. A small, slender, fit-looking middle-aged man with graying hair and glasses was walking briskly by. “Excuse me,” Drake called, moving towards him.
The man paused and turned. “Yes? You new around here?”
“Er—kind of. If I needed a computer with a really fast internet connection, where would I go?”
“Your desk?” the man asked, kindly. “Are you lost?”
“No—yes—” Marion, still listening on the phone, was shouting something and distracting Drake. “I’m chasing this guy,” Drake said, “and he’s trying to get on the Internet. I need to find him.”
“Oh, um… I did see a guy running down the hall,” the smaller man told Drake. “He was heading for the LifeLink database—which, now that you mention it, would be the perfect place. Come on, I’ll show you the way.” He turned and started hurrying down the hall. “Why are you looking for him?”
“Uh, long story,” Drake told him. “By the way, I’m Nix.”
“Joe Sullivan,” the man said, quickly shaking Drake’s hand as they trotted down the hallway. “The LifeLink is this database
Physio-Control maintains for medical professionals around the world. It’s accessed all the time, so it has a very robust Internet connection. If your man could get in there, it would be perfect.” They rounded a corner and Drake saw a glassed-in room with a computer terminal, and Blackwell just pulling something small from his pocket.
“Thanks, Joe,” he said. “I can handle it from here.”
“OK,” Joe said, backing way. “I’ll just go call the police.”
Drake immediately forgot about his helper as he rushed to the door, throwing his weight against it as he turned the knob. It didn’t open. Then he noticed that Blackwell had barricaded the door using a chair against the knob. Classic, yet effective. But he could always shoot the glass—“Marion,” he said into the phone, which he still held, “I need to break down this door. Or through a glass wall.”
“Find a chair or something. Smash the glass.” Looking around, Drake poked his head into a cubicle. The person inside leaped up as Drake barged in, talking as he took the chair: “Excuse me, sorry, but I need to borrow this for a second.”
“Hey,” the person shouted, “That’s my chair!”
Drake ignored the cubicle dweller’s protests and wheeled the chair back to the room. He could see Frank inside. It looked like Frank had put some kind of USB device into the USB port—“Does Blackwell have a Flash drive or something?” Drake asked Marion as he hefted the chair with his other arm, heaving it towards the glass.
“Yes, and he’s got the whole worm on there. That’s why you really have to stop him.” Drake flinched away as the chair made impact with the glass, but the windows held. “The window didn’t break,” Drake told Marion. “I really need backup here…”
“They’re coming,” Marion promised him. “Seattle police and Redmond police. And I’m on my way right now.” Drake heard the screeching of tires from Marion’s end and wondered what she was doing with that gorgeous Lotus. If she was driving as fast as Drake thought she was, he would be insanely jealous later. But right now, he had to get into that room.
Blackwell was clicking away on the computer now, doing something with the smooth motions of much practice. “He’s doing it now, I’m sure of it,” Drake told Marion desperately. He threw himself against the door again, crashing against its unyielding surface. “I can’t get in.”
“We’re coming,” Marion told him. “Emily’s with me. She’s released the patch, but she might be able to help on the computer side when we get there.” Drake kicked the door, putting the full force of his leg behind it; it held. Frank continued to hunch over the computer, its monitor-light giving his face a fanatical glow. Suddenly Drake was surrounded by blue-clad police officers, all with drawn guns. He saw Joe Sullivan standing in the background, pointing towards the LifeLink enclosure and talking to several officers. They surrounded the glass room, and one yelled at Blackwell, “Step away from the computer, or we’ll have to shoot!” Blackwell either couldn’t hear or ignored; he kept working away, ignoring the people outside.
“Gotta get this door open!” Drake growled to the nearest officer, who nodded and tried the doorknob. Rolling his eyes, Drake shouted at the blockheaded officer, “Shoot him!” The officer shook his head, refusing to use deadly force: Blackwell had not attacked him yet; he couldn’t attack back. Impotently furious, Drake was about to snatch the policeman’s sidearm when Marion and Emily appeared at Drake’s elbow.
“You can put the cell phone away, now.” Drake looked down at his left hand, surprised to see the cell phone still open and on, its brightly-lit screen showing that Marion had hung up moments before. Sheepishly he tucked it back away into his pocket.
“Oh, there you are,” Drake said. “These doggone cops won’t shoot Blackwell, and he’s almost done. I can tell.” Marion stared into the glass enclosure, and glanced at Emily.
“What do you think?” she asked the younger woman.
Emily, her bloodless face and pale hair giving her the appearance of a character from a 1920s horror film, stepped close to the glass window, trying to see Frank’s monitor. His body blocked most of the screen, but as Emily ghosted by, Frank looked up. His eyes met Emily’s and he paused his frantic computer work. Emily put her small, delicately-veined hand up against the glass window, a pleading look on her face. “Come out,” she whispered to her erstwhile coworker, and somehow he seemed to hear her. His dark gaze rested on the small figure standing at the window. He leaned heavily against the desk, arms stiff, hands pressed flat against the gleaming surface. Drake thought that he would give himself up right then.
Then he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and when he opened them, fresh resolution hardened his face. He shook his head, a flash of longing and sorrow showing a window into his soul, and then turned back to the screen.
“I saw what he was doing,” Emily called to Marion, her voice soft and sad. “He’s just configuring it to send now. If you—do something—immediately, the worm won’t go out.”
Drake padded up, remarkably softly for a man of his bulk, behind Emily and put his hands gently on her shoulders. “You need to stand back now,” he told her, his voice gentle. “Come on, away from the glass.” Inside, though, he seethed. This evil man had somehow seduced the pure, gentle Emily, this golden and white angel, and brainwashed her. For the first time in his life, Drake wanted to kill somebody—preferably with his bare hands.
“I’ll take care of it.” She drew the Desert Eagle from her purse and took aim.
“Shoot to kill,” Drake told her. “He’s dangerous. He defibrillated me.” He didn’t say that Emily needed protecting from this devil; death was too good for him. Marion wouldn’t miss. Drake suppressed a grim smile as he stood, tense, at his partner’s side.
Marion’s mouth thinned into a perfectly flat line as she concentrated. “Shush,” she told him. She planted her feet. Her arms straightened, leveling the gun. She took careful aim, checked it. “Stand back,” she called to Drake and Emily. “This’ll be loud.” Drake took Emily’s arm, protectively guiding her away from Marion, trying to put her behind him to protect her from flying glass. But Emily silently struggled, pushing his hand away from her. She stood off to the side among the still-shouting police officers, eyes locked on Frank Blackwell.
Blackwell looked up from the computer, his look of triumph sliding into one of absolute fear as he focused on Marion, in her corduroy slacks, white mom-shoes, and striped Christmas sweater. She held the large gun rock-steady in her hands, her eyes steely.
Before Blackwell could turn to run or hide, the huge pistol went off, its roar deafening in the enclosed space. The earthquake-proof glass shattered and Blackwell slumped to the floor. Red blood turned the smooth, tiled floor slick as Drake, Marion, and Emilyrushed through the broken wall of glass. Drake knelt, not noticing Emily hot on his heels, to check his nemesis as Marion checked the status of the worm.
Drake didn’t have to spend long checking Blackwell. The bullet had passed through his knee, leaving a bloody, pulpy hole. Although he hated to help, Drake called for some medical aid.. It somehow wouldn’t be right to have Blackwell dying just now—or ever. Marion might never forgive herself for actually killing somebody. It came to him as a shock when he realized Emily had stripped off her sweater and was twirling it into a tourniquet.
“Frank? Frank, are you OK?” Tears coursed down Emily’s white cheeks, dripping onto Frank’s sweat-stained, blood-soaked, dusty shirt in large, dark drops.
can’t believe she shot me,” he replied, shock cushioning the pain and steadying his voice. “I’ll never ride my bike again.”
“Don’t say that,” Emily whispered. “You can get a prosthetic leg, you’ll see. It’ll be OK. We need to get you to a hospital…” Her hand reached for his face, touching it gently. Drake’s stomach churned as he saw Blackwell’s hand clasp Emily’s. How could she not see this—the injustice—Drake’s very thoughts stuttered in pained indignation.
Hi s heart heavy, Drake turned from the sight of Emily crouching over Blackwell, tying the already-bloody sweatshirt around his upper leg. They looked like lovers. It disgusted him. To Marion, he asked, “Did he do it?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “He sent something, right at the last minute, but if it works… Only time will tell.”
“How long will it take before we know if the worm worked?”
“I think Jim said like fifteen minutes or something. But it could be more or less, depending. And Emily sent the patch out just before we left Titan Software; who knows? Maybe some people will have installed the patch before the worm gets to them. It’s a race, now.”
“Well,” Drake said, taking Marion’s arm to keep her from looking at the bloody mess of Blackwell’s shattered leg on the floor as the police rushed in to surrounded their prisoner and the young woman clinging to him, “I guess only time will tell. But for now, the lights are still on in Redmond, Washington.”
Turning from the scene, Drake and Marion walked heavily down the hall.
“I shot him,” Marion whispered, still clutching her Desert Eagle. “I can’t believe I actually shot a person.”
“You didn’t kill him,” Drake growled. “Why the heck did you shoot him in the knee?” If that Blackwell had been dead, Emily would probably be hanging off of Drake’s arm right now, accepting his tender comfort, rather than accompanying a computer terrorist to hospitalized police custody.
Marion stopped dead in the hallway and put her hand firmly on Drake’s arm, dragging him to a stop too. She looked straight into his eyes and told him, “Nobody deserves to die. Not even for that.”
“What?!” Drake almost howled, “He plots to destroy civilization as we know it and he doesn’t deserve to die?” This was too much. Just too much.
“No, he doesn’t.” She started back down the brightly-lit hall towards the entrance. “And even if he does, I’m not the one who should decide that. That’s for the judge and jury when the time comes.”
Drake just snorted. “Sure, and what happens when he gets off scot-free, huh? And he gets the girl I like.”
“Oh, I see,” Marion’s tone, heavily laced with sarcasm floated back to him. “You want me to kill a man so you can get a shot at a cute girl? Drake, if you can’t attract girls without that kind of help, you clearly need some help of your own.”
“You don’t know what it feels like.” Drake had to widen his stride to keep up with Marion, who was trotting now, her face set and very angry. “I love Emily. She’s the only girl for me, and she’s going off with that demon, Blackwell!” Glancing idly down the intersecting corridor in an effort to look anywhere but his partner’s furious countenance, movement caught his eye. Drake, still on high alert and with adrenaline for blood, whirled to face the oncoming figure.
“Whoa, momma,” he murmured in helpless appreciation. Marion stopped a few steps down the hall, fury, amusement, and irritation warring in her face. But Drake only had eyes for the figure down the hall. It was some figure—tall, lithe, a perfect hour glass with curves in all the right places. Her black hair rolled in waves to her shoulders, meeting the spaghetti straps of a black sheath dress that left little for even Drake’s fertile imagination. Dark nylons encased long, shapely legs, which tapered to small ankles. Red stiletto heels encased her delicate feet. Her cherry-red lips, fingernails, and bag matched the shoes and brought out the rose in her cheeks.
“Now that is a girl I have to meet.” Before Marion could stop him, Drake advanced down the hall, straightening to his full height and trying to surreptitiously brush sweaty, dusty, ragged his clothes into a semblance of order. Marion shook her head. It looked like Drake’s heart, at least, had healed.
As Drake and the woman approached one another in the hallway, the lights flicked out, drenching them in deep, velvety blackness. Marion sighed. It was going to be another very long day.
Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.