… 40% … 50% … 75% … 98% … Full load. Starting the connection.
"Is there, Ray? Do you read?"
"Affirmative, I've read you, Cass.
Ray blinked in the dim light, hoping the overlay of the scheme would focus.
The reception was good, even here, in the perfumed and dirty drains of the government laboratory, but the raises were throwing it away every time. Vertigo. Nausea. Sometimes there are gaps in memory. There were medications that could help him deal with that, but they all numbed him.
The mission had no place to sleep.
Cold moisture seeped beneath her skin, and the smell of sewage did not do her stomach any good. Apparently, not even in their own buildings did the government pay for the previous treatment of the waste. Closing his eyes to block the mottled walls of fiberglass, Ray focused the overlay on the neon blue R that traced their movements within the green lines of the sewers. I live from Cass do She was at the other end of the building, moving cautiously to the north while she performed her own reconnaissance.
Above both, in the scheme of the closed federal building, outlined in red, he saw three red-orange amorphous spots indicating heat. There was no way of knowing through the lead floor of the building what Ando was, but all three were motionless.
"We have taught him to stay still since he was a baby," Cass said in his ear. "Do not read in that."
She was talking to herself as much as he was, Ray knew. At 15, Ando was already an expert, sensible and technically skilled operative. But he had gone alone for this, and Cass was suffering from a debilitating case of delays in the breeding of helicopters. Ray had spent his trip here to assure him that Ando knew how to take care of himself, never confessing the terror in his stomach. There was nothing like fatherhood to remind you how little you could control the universe.
"I'm not reading anything in that," he lied. "I'm trying to find out what he is, is this the best information you can get?
"Government labs do not label their floor plans, but based on the power grid, the medium is the computer lab, too much drone traffic to hide there." Cass breathed deeply into her ear. "Throw a coin. Ray, we only have one chance in this. "
Ray focused on his own blue icon and let his peripheral vision filter the distractions. There it was: a variation, almost insignificant, probably only the superimposers of the superposition who work to enhance what little they could distinguish through interference. "The north point," he told Cass. "Complete impulse".
Ray felt a sting in his left eye as the cloak blinked. The orange spot at the north corner of the building grew larger and more pixilated, turning red, then yellow, then white, filling his field of vision. Too big to be an animal, too hot to be a drone.
Was he moving? I was sure he was moving. Ando was there. It had to be
The throbbing became a throbbing pain, and the room became another place: silhouettes; unintelligible whispers; A familiar smell, metallic and moldy, out of place. The glow burned in her senses until there was nothing left. No shadows, no sound, nothing but white void and voices.
"Calibrate a little better. Do you see that line there? We just-"
Upload suspended. Buffering … resuming … Full load.
Ray was at the open door of the north library of the building. The voice had been low, worried, Ando's, but no. His, maybe? Why would he be calling his father? His father had been dead for 12 years.
How had he entered the building? Through the sewer?
That hesitant call again. "Father?"
It was Ando after all.
The boy came out of the shadows and threw his arms around his father, fear and relief tempered his habitual adolescent reluctance. "I have it, Cass," Ray said, relief gripping him in a dizzying wave. For a moment, he was not an agent in a rescue mission, but a father with his only child in his arms, safe and unharmed.
Cass, never one for the feeling, handled the situation in its usual way. "You tell him that he took me to his manufacturer and his cryptography team, and he can handwriting notes to his friends for the next 30 years, "she said angrily." And he can leave anarchy to adults. "
Ray felt Ando laugh in spite of the danger. The boy knew his mother.
"Surveillance?" Ray asked.
"A drone sweep every 21 minutes," Ando said in his chest. "Two minutes until I return."
"Back to the sewers," Cass directed. "We can go out the south door."
Ando said: "We can not leave."
Ray let go of his arms, and Ando stepped away from him, his eyes level with his father's. Ray frowned, uncomfortable. When had Ando become so high?
The boy's jaw was clenched, but there was no anger on his face; This was determination, not rebellion. "I came here to do this," said Ando. "I can not leave until it's done."
"You can do it another day!" Howled Cass.
But Ray knew what the boy was thinking. "They will be ready for us another day," he said. "He's right, Cass, we have to finish it."
She swore, repeatedly, the great lexicon of profanity of a sailor. "Good," he said when his vocabulary was exhausted. "But you have 85 seconds to get out of the way of that unmanned plane."
The cloak wobbled and, abruptly, Ray could see in Ando's face the man he would become one day: a solid jaw, cheeks still cherubic when he smiled, wisdom drawing deep lines around those passionate eyes, silver wires traversed For his jet black hair. Ray shook himself. The boy barely shaved, and Ray saw visions of him like an old man.
He gave Ando a quick nod, and with nothing but the flash of a smile, the boy disappeared into the shadows again. Now, of course, Ray had to remember how he had come to the library. Surely, he had gone up a floor panel or an auxiliary staircase, but his memory did not provide anything. "Cass?" I ask. "Where is it? The entrance to the sewer?
The overlay shone in white.
Buffering … 85% … Unstable connection.
"… in short, just give it a se"
It was in the main hall of the building. Behind him, he heard a low buzzing, possibly his imagination or maybe the patrol plane that was making its way preprogrammed down the corridor, about to turn the corner to detect it. Everything they had done, all of Ando's naive determination, would be in vain. He turned and ran out of the sound, but there were no stairs, no open doors, not even the room where he had found Ando, and why was everything getting brighter? One corner later. Surely, that's where he had entered, that's where he had left Ando, that's where …
"-Interruptions expected at this stage, they have been working on the problem for a while.
Buffering … 30% … 65% … 98% … The connection resumed.
What a problem? What connection? Where I am?
Now, he was standing in a room lit by a bank of computer monitors. Before him sat Ando, playing an old-style physical keyboard, completely absorbed in his task. Cass was standing next to her son, looking anxiously at Ray. Apparently, his perception of his wife also traveled through time: he saw him as young and elegant as the first time he had attended one of his protest meetings.
They had arrived at the computer room. Of course they had.
"I'm fine," he assured her. "Where we are?"
"We are overloading the main generator," Cass told him. "The auxiliaries should go up in sequence."
Well, that seemed careless. "No layoffs?"
"Tons of dismissals." She smiled at him, and felt pain in her left eye along with a bright white flash, like an old camera. "There are simply no safes."
there are simply no safe deposit boxes
A klaxon filled Ray's ears. The overlay shone red around his peripheral vision: impending disaster. Her back was against the heavy hydraulic door of the computer room, but it was not holding her back. His feet were nailed to the doorframe, and the structure began to press him in half.
Bad time for a memory void. "Cass! Ando! Now! "
"Just a second," Ando said, but Cass grabbed him by the back of his shirt and pulled him out of the chair like a rag doll. The door kept moving, and something in Ray's hip gave. He put his hands on the frame to reinforce his useless efforts. Ando jumped on Ray's bent legs and ran into the corridor. Cass followed him, grabbing Ray's arm when she passed, and he left the room.
In one step, Ray realized that his legs were not going to hold him. His hip, his eye … he was not sure what pain was worse now. "Run!" He shouted. "I'm right behind you!"
right behind you
His wife and son dragged him down the hall to the open exit door. I could hear the drones behind them: four, I could see in the overlay, and the pulsing red edge was getting bigger.
Why was the exit door open?
"Wait," said Ray. He tried to brake, but found that his feet were useless. "Wait! The door." Sus- "
the door is
They were outside, he and Cass, watching Ando run across the dimly lit lawn of the building, disappearing into the night, safe, when the explosive wave hit. Still under his arm, she was lifted up with him. He tried to put her in front of him, to protect her from the worst of the explosion, but she had gone, abruptly, from his hands, and the red of the cloak filled his vision, blinding him.
"Cass!" He shouted, while the red turned white. "Cass!"
And then there was nothing.
He was on his back, motionless, something roaring around him, deafening.
Everything he saw was white.
Everything is fine. This is not how this ends.
He is safe Even stunned, Ray felt relief fill him. His eyes did not open, but he tried to speak. Something remotely resembling a language came out of his mouth.
"Okay, you're fine."
Wait, this was not Ando. This was the voice he had heard before, the one he had thought was his. Part of Ray's relief vanished.
"Why can not he talk?" The voice asked.
"It's readjusting." A pleasant enough voice, but not deep, warm and hoarse. No Cass, then. "Your vital signs are good, give it a little time.
Ray felt his fingers tumble beneath him, and slowly he became aware of her body again. Weak, exhausted. His eye still hurt, but his hip hurt less than he would have expected, which had been shattered. His hand convulsed with strange fingers: they were long, thick, the skin dry and calloused. "Cass."
The hand gave him a squeeze. "She has gone ahead," said the man. Soft, soothing It is not an expected tactic of a government agent. Ray managed to force the opening of his eyes.
I was in a small space surrounded by medical equipment, illuminated by a bright light on the ceiling. An intravenous bag swung by his bedside. An ambulance, maybe, even though he had no sense of movement. The woman stood at her feet, looking at a screen that showed her vital signs. Robust and dark-haired, she wore a matching cotton shirt and pants: a doctor or a nurse.
The man holding his hand, looking at him with anxious eyes, had a mustache of salt and pepper and a well-outlined face that Ray could almost place, but not quite. The hair on his head was black with silver flecks: tight curls, carefully trimmed. The way Cass always kept her hair.
Easy to take care of, she always said. He could not remember if he had ever told her how much he loved him.
"My family," he told the man, managing to squeeze his fingers. So weak, his hand. "Is my family okay?"
Another squeeze of the stranger. What bright eyes this man had, and something familiar about them. That strong inward tilt, the way the left eyelid dropped, just a little. Ando had the same eyes. Maybe this man was a relative.
"Your family is fine," said the man.
The voice sounded familiar and thick, but all Ray heard was quiet, and when the relief took him back, white, clean and silent, he allowed himself to fall asleep.
"He was the one who wrote for his 65," Ando told his mother.
He sat on the grass, legs crossed, elbows on his knees. He was not sure he could stand after that, he had a knee replacement at age 45, but he could see it better when he was sitting. The ground beneath him was cool, but the afternoon sun warmed him even as the breeze cooled the moisture on his cheeks.
"You made me a brat on that, you know, but he always liked it, he became a hero." Ando laughed. "And you have to chase me away for once. I always wondered why you never did it in real life. God knows I earned it.
The breeze lifted, and a dry leaf fell on her lap.
"By tomorrow, I was thinking about the rocket launch, the one you wrote when I went to college. It's shorter, but he always loved sitting on an explosive fuel ball. I have been talking with the caseworker and, as it is still a prototype, she believes that they could get us an insurance exception. Maybe even for two others, which, at this point, may be enough. Nobody will say. "The words were getting harder now." They know it, but they do not say it. "
Carefully, Ando unfolded his long limbs and stood up, feeling his spine cracking as he got up. That would be the following: a lower lumbar replacement. They were improving these days, but I hated surgery, no matter how fast the recovery. Even so, he needed to be able to sit down when talking to his mother.
"There's so much I wish I could tell you, Mom, but maybe … maybe next time, I'll just write it down."
He leaned down to press his lips against the gravestone, only once, before leaving her alone in the twilight.
… 40% … 85% … 98% … Full load. Starting the connection.
"Colonel? Ray! It's you if you are? "
Ray's eyes snapped open at the sound of Cass's voice, and he breathed deeply of the oxygen generated by the space shuttle. Before his eyes, the superposition of virtual instruments shone in green.
"Negative, CAPCOM," he said. "Just making sure you're paying attention."
The overlay updated the countdown: T-minus 30 seconds. Damn it, he had almost lost it. He lowered the visor on his helmet and the hiss of the environmental systems of the capsule became quieter.
The overlap began to count back: T-minus 10, 9, 8 …
"Bring me some stardust, Colonel," said CAPCOM, his voice clear in his ear.
Ray smiled. "You have it, Cass."
The engine ignited with a deafening roar, striking him again in his seat. But all Ray could hear was the beating of his heart, turning the explosion into music, bright, hot and cheerful.