A beep on Dr. William Evans’ phone reminded him that he had to head down to the examination room. He tore himself away from the charts. He was certain he was missing the biggest piece of information in the study, but couldn’t put his finger on it. He popped a probiotic, took a drink of water and stood up.
“Hey Al,” he said, “I’m heading down for Mr. Briggs’ visit. I’ll be back in a few.”
Albert Carrie, Dr. Evans’ assistant, looked up at him.
“You have a good time,” he said. He pushed his chair back several inches and swiveled it so he was directly facing Dr. Evans. “Oh, and by the way, your good friend Senator Leastman is in the news again.”
“Is he ever out of it?” Dr. Evans asked. “It’s not about me again, is it?”
“Nope, though he’s once again said he’ll shut us down,” Albert said. “No, he’s just crucifying a few big name media types. You know, CNN, New York Times, MSNBC, Washing Post, and all. If history holds true they’ll be dead in a day or two.”
“Not funny. Don’t even joke about it,” Dr. Evans said. “Hey, and do me a favor and start doing some research on the good Senator. Make sure no one can see your tracks, if you know what I mean.”
“On it.” Albert pushed his chair back in and started to pound furiously on his computer. He did a lot of work through The Onion Router to hide his tracks, and even took it a step farther, spoofing a dozen IP addresses before he even reached the TOR and going through the TOR several times, in weird loops. He had also created a “super-agent” composed of various bots spread across the Internet. They all worked together as a single whole so most of the actually searches and correlation was being done on thousands of machines not associated with him. He once swore it would take the CIA 10,000 years to track him down even if they had all of the existing computer power on the planet trying to find trace his queries.
Dr. Evans nodded and left the room.
In a little over a year Sen. Leastman had gone from just another incoming Freshman Senator to being the most powerful man in Washington. The ultra-Conservatives loved him, and the more religious rallied behind his moral witch hunts. It was obvious to anyone on the outside that the witch hunts were aimed at his political rivals and detractors more than anyone who was actually doing something “moral or indecent”, as the Senator put it, but anyone saying so publicly found themselves at the wrong end of the figurative pitch forks as the crowds beat down their doors. Many of his most vocal critics became victims of unexplained accidents.
Dr. Evans couldn’t understand why his research was being targeted by the powerful politician, but he was beginning to have some guesses. The last interviews he had conducted with the study’s participants had given some clues. And there was the fact that Sen. Leastman was from Dallas, where Dr. Evans’ friend and mentor, Dr. Antonio Diaz, had been doing his research up until his death two years and half years previous. That Dr. Evans was continuing the research was a very big clue.
The research centered on intestinal microbes and probiotics. The only thing that added any controversy to the research was that most of the microbes being studied were ancient in origin. Samples of tissue, some dating back many thousands of years, had been analyzed to discover if humans have always had the same “bugs” in their guts or if some had died out over the centuries. Similar research had gone into isolated people with similar results. There were many strains that have disappeared from modern humans. Dr. Diaz and Dr. Evans had concentrated their efforts on four different strains. Three had been common around the world for many thousands of years but were not found in any current human population. The other had also been around for thousands of years and was as geographically well distributed, but it only showed up in about 1% of the population that had been tested, typically the most well to do or those in the highest religious offices.
Dr. Diaz was very far ahead in the research but had been killed in an accident before large scale tests could be performed. Dr. Evans had picked up and continued the research and was in the middle of a small scale test. He had eight subjects, half taking the probiotic with the four ancient strains and the other four with an over the counter probiotic. It was a double blind situation originally, but after only a few days Dr. Evans was able to guess which subjects were which. Once he noted the strong effects the probiotics had on his subjects he had secretly started to take ancient strain laced probiotics. He assumed his research partner, Dr. Kathy Hayes, had started taking them at the same time. They had never told each other, but there were hints.
Dr. Evans entered the main research office. On the far end of the room a large flat screen monitor showed the waiting area. In the waiting room George Briggs got out of his chair and walk to the video camera.
“Hi Dr. Evans,” Mr. Briggs said. “I’m glad you’re feeling better today. Probiotics help.” He smiled and winked at the camera.
“He greeted us all as we came in,” Arya Satay, the nurse in charge, said. She shrugged. There should have been no way for someone inside of the waiting room to know what was going on in the office.
Dr. Evans smiled and waved at the wall where he figured Mr. Briggs should have been standing. He was reminded of the little game he had played with the subject the day before.
Mr. Briggs waved back. “Oh, you say Cass did the same thing yesterday?” he asked. “Yeah, I know she’s one of us.”
“Mr. Briggs, besides this being a double blind experiment, there is the,” Dr. Evans said.
“…rule of confidentiality,” Mr. Briggs finished. “I know, hush, hush.” He held a finger up to his mouth. “Anyway, I’ve been communicating with the other three for weeks now, but to make you happy I just reached out and Cass said it was fine. She thinks we need to stick together, what with the political situation and all. Anyway…”
Dr. Evans nodded at Arya. She stood up and headed to the door to the waiting room. As she reached out to grab the handle the door opened into her hand. George Briggs waved at the camera again and then disappeared out of its sight and into the inner office.
“I brought my you-know-what specimen,” he said, holding a small bag that Dr. Evans figured held a vial. “I know, you moved the rack. I’ll put it in and go into the John and get you a urine sample too. And then Arya will take my blood, I’m sure. Good. She can do it a little more painlessly than Cheryl. No offense to Cheryl, of course.” He said the last a little more loudly, knowing Cheryl Hemmings was with Dr. Hayes in her office off of the main research room.
Araya continued to hold the door open longer than she needed, her eyes wide open. Dr. Evans knew she was shocked to have the door open into her hands and was still recovering from the effect. He walked over to her.
“Ms. Satay,” he said. He tried to keep his voice down so only she would hear. She dropped the door, letting it shut, and looked up at the doctor with her large, brown eyes. “I know all of this seems out of the ordinary, but we will all have to get used to dealing with anything that comes our way.” He felt he was lying since his words sounded braver than he felt. He then had a flash of insight. “A quick question, have you sampled any of the probiotic we are giving this patient?”
Araya shook her head.
“Please start today. Take it three times a day, once after every major meal. If you miss a meal, take it as soon afterwards as possible.”
“But Doctor…,” she said.
“I can’t force you to take it, of course, but I think it would be best if you did. Do not tell anyone else.”
“Dr. Hayes?” she asked.
“If Dr. Hayes asks directly, yes, tell her,” he said. “Also Ms. Hemmings, you can tell her if she asks.”
“Hey Araya, William is right, you need to listen to him and take it.” Dr. Evans jumped slightly at the sound of Mr. Briggs voice. The man smiled. “I put the sample in the rack as usual and am ready for you take some blood.”
Ms. Satay gave Dr. Evans another nervous glance before going over to her patient. Dr. Evans could see the tension lift as Mr. Briggs kindly teased the nurse. It wasn’t long before she was laughing naturally to his little jokes. He knew she’d be alright and went to his room in the research office.
He took his phone out and sent a quick message to his research partner, Dr. Katherine Hayes, who was in the next room over, “You should start today, as should Cheryl”. He wasn’t sure if his text was too cryptic, but didn’t dare to be more explicit. A second later a return text came up, “started 5 days ago, 3 times a day”. Right after that another one came up, “as did Cheryl, 2 days ago”. He wasn’t surprised.
Mr. Briggs came over and knocked on the door. Dr. Evans motioned him in.
“I have to tell you Doc,” Mr. Briggs said once seated, “I’ve been feeling great this week, and not just physically. It’s funny, I feel smarter. Not just a little smarter, but a lot smarter. Things have become clear to me that were always a mystery. I’ll admit I’ve felt a bit embarrassed about some of the things I’ve thought in the past now that I can see how wrong I was. I picked up some books on advanced subjects I never would have thought to tackle and was amazed at how simple they seemed. Strange.”
“You understand, Mr. Briggs, that we are working with a probiotic, not some type of intelligence enhancer,” Dr. Evans said.
Mr. Briggs nodded. “Of course. But hasn’t it been shown that many of our emotions are tied back to how our stomach feels? In fact, if I’m not mistaken you have done a lot of research on that very topic. Well, can’t it be the same with intelligence? I mean, the better nourished a child is during their formative years the more intelligent they are. That has been a big part of the nurture versus nature argument. Sure, genetics have something to do with it, but a healthy child that is well stimulated and well-nourished will be more intelligent than an identical twin who is not given the nourishment, attention and stimulation. I’ve read that the brain is very plastic and can change greatly even for adults. Isn’t it possible that these probiotics help me pull the right nutrients out of the food I eat and so literally feed my brain?”
“Yes, Mr. Briggs, it is possible,” Dr. Evans said. “One problem, though, is that I couldn’t imagine the effect being so great that you would notice it in the way you’ve described.”
“Maybe not,” Mr. Briggs said. “But isn’t that an issue with your imagination? If I were you and these trials continue, that is our friend the Senator doesn’t shoot them down, I would be sure to give a full battery of intelligence and emotional tests before, during and after the trials. I know you did some testing and continue to study behavior, I wouldn’t expect less given your background, but you need to pay more attention to intelligence and other things to do with the mind, more, uhm, controversial test, if you know what I mean.” Mr. Briggs winked.
“If you are saying tests for telekinesis or telepathy or other ‘powers’, I’m not so sure anything exists that is well respected through the sciences,” Dr. Evans said.
Mr. Briggs shrugged. “Perhaps not. On the other hand, you might want to check if this type of psychic power has shown up anyplace else, perhaps in, say, Dallas. Can’t say much more now and can’t tell you why yet. I just have to tell you to be careful of what you say, do and even think.”
Mr. Briggs had looked almost comically happy since he had first stood up and said “hi” to Dr. Evans, but he had turned serious as he spoke his warning. Dr. Evans wasn’t completely sure what the warning was about, but he had a guess. As his assistant Al had pointed out, many who have defied Senator Leastman had turned up dead.
Later that night, as Dr. Evans was getting ready for bed, his phone rang. He answered without thinking.
“Hi Dr. Evans,” a familiar male voice said. “You know, you need to be careful where you go. That assistant of yours, Mr. Carrie. Yeah, Albert has gone too far, asked too many questions. The automobile accident he will be in in an hour is just so tragic, isn’t it? Don’t worry, you’ll be next. Good night, Dr. Evans.”
The phone went dead. When he looked at it, there was no number. In fact, it showed the last incoming call as happening over three hours earlier when Katherine had called him over some lab results and to chat excitedly about the upcoming weekend.
Dr. Evans punched in Albert’s number.
“Oh, hi William. I wasn’t expecting you to call,” Albert said when he answered. “Anyway, I’ve been finding out a lot of interesting stuff on our nemesis. It seems Dr. Diaz was involved. I might have said too much over the air. I’ll save more for tomorrow after I verify a few things and can tell you face to face without trusting Ma Cell-Bell to keep quiet.”
“Albert, listen, where are you? Are you alright?”
“I’m home, where would you expect me to be at this hour on a work night, out drinking? Yep, Partying Al, that’s me. That was joke, by the way. I’m home.”
“Good. Stay there all night. Don’t leave no matter what.”
“OK, OK. What’s up?”
“Have you tried any of our secret formula?”
“Of course not. I’m not stupid. We have no idea how it will affect the human gut and I don’t want to be a guinea pig.”
“OK, fine. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Dr. Evans was relieved. The first call didn’t exist, it was just his overactive imagination.
When Dr. Evans arrived at work the next morning the lights were off in his office. He was a little worried since Albert almost always beat him to the office, but it was soon forgotten as he got busy with work. He had been in for almost twenty minutes when his phone rang.
“Oh William, I’m so sorry,” said Dr. Hayes, his research partner, on the other end of the line.
“What is it Kathy?” he asked.
“You haven’t heard? About Albert?” she asked.
“I talked to him at about 11 last night and he was fine, getting ready to go to bed. What’s up?”
“He must have left shortly after that,” she said. “At about midnight his car went off the road. He was going fast, very fast. He didn’t survive. I’m sorry.”
The call from the previous night came back, as did Albert’s statement about people dying as soon as they got on the wrong side of Sen. Leastman. It couldn’t be true, could it?
“Are you sure it was him?” Dr. Evans asked, knowing the truth.
“I know it is hard to believe. I can interview Ms. Leeds this morning if you need to take some time. Or perhaps we should cancel her appointment.”
“No, I’ll do it, work therapy and all, but I do want you there. You know as well as I do that she isn’t on the placebo. I need to talk to her and you need to hear.”
“Of course, William. I’ll meet you in a half of an hour.”
Dr. Evans opened the middle drawer on his desk to get a pen out. A hand written note from Albert greeted him. His eyes blurred with tears, but he read the note. “Dr. Diaz started trials with one subject. More later.”
He remembered Al’s statement the night before. Was it possible that Senator Leastman was that subject? Of course he wouldn’t have been a Senator back then, maybe not even running for office. He put the paper down and looked through the open door at his assistant’s desk. It was impossible to think that Albert was really gone. He decided that he would try living in denial for a few hours, so he could make it through the day.
When he reached the research room he could see that Kathrine had beat him there. Cheryl was leaning on Arya, sobbing. Tears were dripping down Arya’s face. Dr. Evans was about to turn and leave, finding it hard to control himself, but Dr. Hayes had already noticed him. She walked over and patted his back. He put his arms around her for an extended hug. She pulled him in very tightly.
A noise brought everyone back to the present.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” Britany Leeds, the subject scheduled for an interview said to the video camera. “Can I come in?”
Dr. Evans nodded and released Dr. Hayes. He was about to walk to the door when Ms. Leeds came in despite the door being electronically locked. She stopped a few feet away and started to talk, yet her mouth wasn’t moving. Dr. Evans could tell the other three heard it as well, that it wasn’t just his imagination.
“I’m sorry I have to talk to you like this, but we can’t risk anybody else hearing,” Ms. Leeds said in their minds. “It has started and we all are in grave danger. The director of your clinic is at this moment is one the phone will order your program to be stopped within the half hour. He’ll fire the four of you later today, which is for the best since it may save the lives of most of the people here. He’s on your side, but his back is up against the wall. When I leave, make hard copies of all of the research and take it with you when you leave. Take as much of the live cultures as you can. The microbes are all in you and multiplying, so you are good, but if you can continue adding, that would be best, particularly Arya who just started taking them. Expect the worst. No, even worse than that. We are trying to help, but he is still too powerful. Be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. I can’t say more even straight into your heads right now because I can’t protect your thoughts. Keep your eyes on the news. Goodbye. I will see you very soon.”
The door to the waiting room opened on its own. Ms. Leeds turned and walked through it. She did not appear on the screen in the waiting room itself.
Dr. Evans looked at the other three. “We all know what’s important, right?” They all nodded. “We need to get it out of the building before word gets down to us not to touch it.”
He went back up to his office and pulled a box out from under Albert’s desk. Albert had a paranoid side and had already prepared for this eventuality. Dr. Evans took a six-pack cooler and filled with the cultures. He had already taken three months of the probiotic pills with the ancient cultures home. He walked the box and cooler out to his car. When he returned to his office the Director, Dr. Gary Baines, was waiting for him.
“I’m sorry William,” Dr. Baines, said. “I know it is an awful day with what happened to Al and all, but we’re going to have to shut down this program. I’ve had calls from the FBI that we’re to destroy everything. Can’t let anything to leave the building. I wish I could tell you more but I have no idea what this about. I mean, the FBI is involved in some probiotic testing? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
“No, Gary, me either,” Dr. Evans said. “Can’t believe it. I’d worked with Al for years. And this to boot. I don’t understand it at all. I mean, I just learned about Al a little bit ago…”
“Anyway, William, why don’t you take the rest of the day off, no the rest of the week? And next week too. Just go home and relax, don’t think about work. When you come back we’ll get you involved in another project. And, hey, if you take anything out, don’t let me or the guards see, OK? Don’t want no trouble. I have to call them now and then I’m going down to talk to Dr. Hayes and the girls. I’m sorry, I mean the nurses that are on your project. ‘Were working on your project’ I should say. Yeah, I’m more than a little shook up about Albert.”
“Yeah, thanks Gary. I think I will go home. Thanks.”
As Dr. Evans collected non-project related material he overheard Dr. Baines calling the guards. Why didn’t he call them before he came down? Dr. Evans didn’t know or care, he was just glad he was able to get the material out.
He sat down at his computer one last time, but discovered that his account had been disabled, so he got up and left.
The news on the radio was awful. There had been simultaneous terrorist attacks on twelve shopping malls across the country with dozens, perhaps hundreds of casualties. Nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks and blame immediately fell on Muslim groups. In a very short time reports grew of a backlash against people in that community. Most of the backlash was violent and against normal men, women and children. However, within a very short time the authorities said that a Muslim group was not responsible, but that it was a domestic left wing, anti-business group.
A short time later, sitting glued to the TV, Dr. Evans saw some security experts pin the crimes on President Moore, several of the leaders of the Democrat party and a lot of people working for the media. When a reporter asked what evidence they had, the TV channel went blank. A half an hour later the screen flickered back to life. The person behind the news desk was an unknown. He had a long list of supposed crimes the President had committed. A “Breaking News” banner flashed across the screen. The unknown reported that the President and much of the Secret Service had been killed in a battle with a Patriot group. Senator Leastman was in control of the Whitehouse and had declared martial law with him in charge.
There was a knock at the door. George Briggs, the subject Dr. Evans had been working with the day before, walked in before he could answer it.
“Dr. Evans, William, you have to leave now,” he said. “You are not safe in this house or town.”
Dr. Evans looked over his shoulder at the TV to see his picture with the words “Most Wanted” beneath it. Without thinking Dr. Evans grabbed the box he had taken from the office and noticed that Mr. Briggs had the cooler.
They hadn’t been traveling for long when the flashing lights appeared behind them. Up ahead there were more lights, coming towards them. The sky cracked open and they were on a different road with no police around them.
“All of you are wanted,” Mr. Briggs said. “And us four ‘subjects’, of course. I’ll tell you more later, for now, don’t worry, they’re safe. We had almost no time to react, but we made it.”
The sky cracked again and they were in a different spot, the car no longer moving but parked in front of a low hill. Mr. Brigs grabbed the cooler and got out of the car. Dr. Evans also got out and then took the box out. The car between them vanished. Mr. Briggs motioned for him to follow. A door was standing in the field under the hill. It opened as the two approached. They walked through it and it shut behind them. Dr. Evans was surprised to find himself in a house. The curtains were all closed so he couldn’t see out.
Dr. Evans noticed the six of them, the three subjects Cassidy, Britany and Ray on one side of the table and Kathy, Arya and Cheryl sitting huddled together.
“William, thank God,” Kathy said. She sprang up and ran to him. The surge of emotion that struck him was physical, and he found he liked it. He could feel soothing hands of her mind smoothing him down, as she whispered soothing sounds straight into his mind.
“We’re sorry for any inconvenience,” Ray Kelly, one of the subjects of the tests, said. “Our powers are new and we haven’t had time to get used to them as we should have, our hand was rushed. It is amazing, though, what the four of us working together have found out. We are in what I can only call a ‘node of good power’. The Senator can’t enter, but he might send those who are not evil, merely misled, here to kill us, but we should be safe. Right now we are the only thing standing in his way of absolute power.”
“None of us are as strong as he is,” Britany continued. “He’s had the bugs in his gut for two years, after all, while it’s been closer to two months for us. In case you were wondering, yes, the rare microbe, the one-percenter, does affect people, but the others magnify it. They all work together in a symbiotic way to create a power, what people used to call ‘magic’. It grows slowly, but it is there from the very beginning, which is why it is in Arya, even though she just started taking it yesterday.”
“As we were saying,” Cassidy Jones, the forth of the subjects who were receiving the ancient probiotic continued, “he has had over two years to grow and so is very powerful. He has mostly used the power to influence people, to control opinion, to gain political power. The four of us alone are not close to his level but together we are a bit closer, though he has a great advantage. We have used the power for protection and to discover how the good Earth can protect us. You have been under a halo of protection for weeks, though we are sorry we couldn’t help Albert. We liked him, but we were stretched and he didn’t have any of the microbe so was unable to help himself. You are only alive now since you’ve been taking them for the last week or so.”
George picked up again. “We are growing, as are you. It will be a while before you are independent, but with our help you will start contributing very soon.”
“So,” Dr. Evans said, “Senator Leastman was the subject of Dr. Diaz’s tests, right?”
“Yes,” Brit said. “Your friend Antonio wanted to start with one patient, a man with little to lose, before he did bigger trials with more people. When Earnest Leastman discovered what was happening and guessed the source, he murdered your friend and took several more weeks supplies. Remember though, that once it is there, it will continue to multiply in your gut, so he didn’t need much more. Earnest used his powers to get elected and then to gain influence. He was never previously involved in politics and his rise from a nobody to beating the popular incumbent in the primaries should have clued someone in, but nobody was even watching.”
“What happens now?” asked Kathy.
The four study participants look blank.
“I can see a few big roadblocks,” Dr. Evans said. “He now controls the military, or at least part of it, and he controls the media, or at least has blocked it out and put his version in place.”
“There are some pluses,” Cass said. “The Vice President is in Japan and the Secretary of the State is in Germany. Right now the Senator’s reach is stretched, so they should be safe. The Speaker of the House is in hiding, though Earnest has an idea of where he is and may move on him. Most of the military is in lock down and not really on his side. He has captured a few generals, but his power works best on the weak of mind. The vast portion of his ‘army’ are local militias and other untrained civilian soldiers. The US arsenal of nuclear weapons are locked down and he can’t use them.”
“Again, so what now?” Dr. Evans asked.
“We were hoping you’d have some ideas,” Ray said.
Dr. Evans wasn’t sure how long they had been in the house in the “Node of Good”. His cell phone had stopped working almost as soon as he’d left his house and there were no working clocks. Did time even exist, or was the house out of time as well as space?
When he asked that question, the four trial subjects stared at him blankly. At last George said, “We move different through time than the Earth that you know. We are also displaced in space, though only by a millimeter.”
“How much time has passed out there? Can you get news?” Dr. Evans asked.
“It’s been about 24 hours out there since you arrived, though it’s felt like a week for you. One of us leaves every few minutes, at least in mind, to check.” George seemed slightly embarrassed and Dr. Evans guessed that he really didn’t understand how it all worked.
He started to play with the power again, reading the people around him. He had grown to feel every part of the space inside of the house and communicate directly with any of them. A few times he found himself in the community intelligence, but it frightened him to not be 100% himself but part of a bigger entity. Mostly when he reached out he connected with his immediate peer, Kathy. They talked silently about the world outside, about their past and future. He felt her smiling in his skull, knowing she had the same questions about time and space. As he was still scanning he felt Brit return and realized she had been outside, gathering news of the “real word”.
He called all of them together in his mind and then asked Brit for the news.
“Little has changed,” she thought. “He has consolidated his power and people are afraid. But he has friends. Too many friends. The world, the other nations, though, recognizes only Vice President Durant as the leader of the country, and then only until they truly know if President Moore really is dead. Nobody recognizes Senator Leastman. Most of the military is still in lockdown, but the vast majority of them will be loyal to The Vice President if push comes to shove. The militia, though has grown to almost 3 million strong, all willing to die for the Senator. The military does not want to go to war with them, afraid of slaughtering civilians.”
“Take me out to see the world,” Dr. Evans said.
He felt the presence of George direct him in a direction he didn’t notice. A small fraction of a second later and he realized he was in the middle of Nebraska. He sent his mind out and searched the landscape. A few people were semi-aware, but only Senator Leastman showed a strong presence. He stayed away and kept protective cover, but still observed his contours in the space outside of normal. Getting an idea of his opponent he searched out his friend. Albert Carrie was gone, but his agent was still on the Internet. William followed George back out of time and space into the house.
“I think I have it,” he said. “I need to think about it and plan, though. For now continue as you’ve been doing, sending one out at a time for observation. And us four newbies need you to help our powers to grow.”
George’s mind didn’t come back from the “real world” when expected. He was ahead of everyone else in the power, the most advanced. If were to be captured, the others couldn’t be far behind. It had felt like weeks to the people “out of time” but only a couple of days had elapsed in the “real world”.
“It’s now or never,” William said.
They went out together, but soon split. Cheryl went to Germany to connect with the Secretary of State and Arya went to Japan to connect with the Vice President. Since they had been takiking the probiotic for the least amount of time their powers were the smallest and traveling in mind only over such distances would be difficult for them, but they were the best choices for the mission. The two politically powerful people needed to return to the US to force a confrentation as soon as possible. The military would help them, as would the world. But it wasn’t enough.
Cass, Brit and Ray went out to confront Earnest Leastman. They had grown, but they weren’t sure if they would be enough, not without the stronger George. And, of course, if he had George’s mind as a hostage the situation would be even more complicated. They would come in from different angles, from different astral planes and different waves. The Senator was stretched so thin it was hoped that they could either break through or he would be forced to drop everything to defend himself. They hoped both.
William and Kathy went to work with Albert’s Internet agent. It would be difficult because they had to work in the virtual world while Earnest had set up roadblocks and “minions” throughout the web.
William had already found the first trace and pointed it out to Kathy. They each took a different path, slowly unraveling and combining the agent. Albert had left code on hundreds of thousands of machines. They slowly woke the parts up, but carefully. Albert was always paranoid, which helped keep Earnest away, but made it difficult for William and Kathy.
There was a breakthrough as parts of Albert’s agent began to gel and actually worked together with them to gather other parts together. William stepped out to see where the others were.
It was war. Earnest Leastman was stronger than anyone had imagined. He had tentacles throughout the system. He was aware in many dimensions. He watched and rebuffed any attack, weakening his opponents. His militia had attacked several military bases and there was a lot of death on both sides.
William jumped back into the virtual world only to find myself confronted with Earnest.
“Your four friends are each a hundred times more powerful than you, and I match their combined power without taxing my abilities one bit. And I have more in here than out there. Knowledge is power and I put most of myself in the Internet to gain the ultimate power. How do you think I tracked down your friend so easily even though he was an expert at hiding his tracks? How dare you try to confront me in my domain! I’ll squash you like a bug.”
With the weeks in the “place outside of time”, under the tutelage of the original four, William was actually far more powerful than the Senator imagined. He hit his opponent with everything he had. William wasn’t a match for Earnest, but Earnest, taken by surprise, was pushed back and realized that he would have to put effort into getting William. While Earnest was gathering forces to take on the bigger threat, William escaped into a small, private datacenter. Earnest wasn’t far behind, following William like a hurricane behind a rowboat. There was no out. At least not in the Internet.
William pulled his mind that millimeter back into the safe house in the “Node of Good”. As he did, he could feel Kathy sending an electrical power surge of trillions of volts into the datacenter. The servers instantly shutdown with Earnest still in them, not realizing William was no longer present. As the power went out, a large part of Earnest, being in violate memory, was snuffed out.
Albert’s agent went to work. All of the data on Earnest’s power grab was displayed on screens around the world, TV and computer. All of his planning, the terror attacks, the framing of innocents and the death of opponents, all of it went out and he was seen by all for the monster he was.
And yet he still had power. The Vice President’s plane was heading towards the shore and Earnest sent a power up to knock it out of the sky. On the other side of the world he sent up another block against the Secretary of State.
But then the air smoothed and the blocks were gone as if they never existed. The aircraft continued on their courses and eventually landed with no opposition.
Earnest walked out of the Whitehouse, a confused, powerless man. He knew he was lost and, with the world’s eyes on him, took out a pistol and shot himself in the head. His militia, no longer under his power, dropped their weapons rather than face the smaller but better armed and prepared military. Systems started to return to normal. The TV news came back. Blocks created by his power opened up again. It would take weeks, perhaps years, to undo the damage he had wreaked, but the US was back to healing.
William, back in the “Node of Good”, watched as the others returned, one by one. The last one in was George. He had raised the power of the Earth itself as the last defense against the evil of Earnest. All of them working together had ended it.
The sun rose yellow into the crisp blue sky. A few people wandered the park, seemingly at random. Nobody would ever think they were together. One would smile at another as they passed, perhaps even wink with the nod. It would be silly for anyone to suggest that a meeting that might shape the fate of the world was taking place.
Dr. Evans had worried about it since he had discovered the power. Who should have it? Who could actually control it? How would it be done? He had talked to Kathy about it a few times and she always replied that the need to just let time be their answer. It had been almost a year and no clear answers were forthcoming. He had called all eight of them together to discuss it. It had to be settled.
He noticed Cass with her newborn and smiled. He had known she was married, but had never thought about it. The child was most likely conceived shortly after the showdown with Earnest. How natural it seemed, the young mother walking in the ark with her small child in a pack on her back.
He next passed Kathy and smiled. Without thinking he fell in beside her and took her hand. It was as if being here with her had made him realize that he had fallen in love with her. He didn’t need to say anything, of course. She knew before he did.
They passed Arya and he realized that his nurse and friend was pregnant, thought it wasn’t yet visible.
“Actually, it is a moot point,” Cheryl said in the collective thought. “Have you checked any of the cultures lately? They’re all slime. It’s as if the Earth had struck back and destroyed our little experiment. I’ve checked and it’s all useless.”
William hadn’t checked, but he did know that all of the special probiotics with the ancient microbes had gone bad.
“Really, all of them are bad?” George asked. “Is it possible to make more probiotics? Oh, not without the cultures. OK. So it ends then. Since Earnest Leastman committed suicide it is down to us eight. I guess as it should be.”
William had a thought. “I suggest we stay quiet, but act as the protectors. We are at harmony with the world and should work to keep it and the balance. Us, the Protectors. It sounds silly, but we all need to vow to work for good, even in this quadrillion shades of grey world.”
The minds all echoed consent.
They continued to walk in seemingly random patterns, their thoughts mostly blank.
William and Kathy passed Cass again. The baby cooed at them as they passed. They stopped, turned and watched the back of the retreating mother.
The baby’s cooing was in their minds, not in the air.
Arya passed again and they could feel not just another life taking form, but a Power.
They didn’t have to do anything, nature had taken over. The next generation of Protectors was on its way.