00. Foreword
01. Keys
02. Search
03. Downward
04. The Undercity
06. Brain Surgery
07. Matter of Payment
08. Reboot
09. Biohazard
10. Cyberpuppets
11. Links
12. Encryption
13. Queries
14. Debugging
15. Disconnect
16. Downtime
17. Fletch
18. Learning
19. Predator
20. Decompression
21. Kinetic
22. Memory Leak
23. Chronology
24. Lockdown
25. Mind of the Monster
26. Empathy
27. Trojan
28. Reformat

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"How's the battle going?", Buchanan asked dryly. He'd been calling it a "battle" since Shodan started grabbing sattelites, but they didn't really have any way to fight back. All they could do was sit around and count down to the next loss, and come up with various projections on how long the total conquest of the network would take her.

One of the networking guys spoke up, "Looks like she's ignoring smaller birds so she can grab the critical ones. Our old projections assumed she would just expand outward and grab everything, but she's focusing on the major network arteries."

There was a long pause while Buchanan absorbed this. Finally he spoke, "So how does this affect your projections?"

"Well, total aquisition time is the same. It's still going to take her another nine hours to get everything, but since she's cutting sections off from each other, the network will be almost useless in about three hours or so."


"In three hours we will still have about a third of the network left, but it won't be a network anymore. All the nodes will be isolated from each other." He glanced down at his console. "Next one goes down in thirteen seconds."

Buchanan turned his back on the bad news and faced Rebecca, "Any word?"

She stopped clicking her pen against the console. "Nothing."

Suddenly almost everyone began speaking at once. First several people spoke up with reports of heat signatures and decompression coming from the station. Then came a grainy telescope view of the base of the station "falling" away. Seconds later someone else reported the hacking had stopped.

Within seconds the relentless attack had halted and the entire network was freed of Shodan's control. Applause errupted.

Bachanan let out a slight sigh, "Good. Now memory-wipe our comsats, reboot them, and get them back in service."

The smiling face of Morris poked up over the bank of consoles in front of them. "I have a better idea. How much data storage space do we have available here?"

Deck awoke to the sensation of icy droplets of water slapping him in the face. He was laying on some unidentified slab of metal. He didn't open his eyes, but was aware of a red light flickering somewhere above him. He regarded the falling water with a sort of disinterested confusion and slipped back into unconsciousness.

Time passed. There was no way to tell how much. He started to wake up. He knew something was wrong. He needed to wake up. Where was he?

He dropped off again without even opening his eyes.

There was another expanse of time.

He finally forced his eyes open. It was dark. What little illumination there was came from a red light somewhere behind him. All he could see was a curved metal wall. He was in a large puddle of icy cold water.

He rolled over onto his back, the water sloshing around him. Looking up, he could see a circle of light filtered through a thick black haze.

His limbs were numb, and he was groggy. It reminded him of when he woke up from surgery.

He lay there for several minutes, ignoring the obvious questions. He had been here for a long time; a few more minutes wouldn't hurt.

Eventually, he sat up and a wave of dizziness washed over him. It felt like his brain was sloshing around in his head. He was at the bottom of a round shaft, like a shallow well. He pulled himself over to the curved wall and leaned against it.

He looked to the opposite side, where a red light was mounted in the wall. It seemed to be a marker for a control panel.

Now that his head was no longer immersed in cold water, some of the numbness was going away and he became aware of a dull pain on the side of his face.

He leaned against the wall, looking up into the haze for several minutes before moving again. When he did, he crawled on his hands and knees over to the control panel. He had no idea why there would be a control panel at the bottom of a hole, but there it was. It had some airlock buttons, some other stuff he didn't recognize, a dataport, and an emergency light. He turned on the light.

Stinging white light came from a fluorescent unit mounted in the wall. He cried out in surprise and threw his hand up over his eyes.

Slowly, his eyes adjusted. He worked his eyes open and took in his surroundings.

The first thing he noticed was that the fingertip-deep water he was sitting in was red.

There was a ladder running up the wall. He knew where he was.

This was the shaft he had been climbing when the bottom of the station was blown off. The shafts all acted as airlocks. As the chamber below was torn away, emergency systems kicked in and shut the door at the base of the shaft. It had probably closed just in time for him to slam into it. He didn't even remember the impact.

The cold water was sapping his strength. He needed to climb out while he still could.

His weak, shaking hands pulled him upwards; out of the shaft. Despite the low gravity, his body felt like a sack of wet cement.

He pulled himself over the edge of the shaft and flopped onto the floor, facing up. Pink water streamed out of his suit and onto the floor.

The chamber was filled with a thick, acrid smoke. The top of the chamber was scorched and covered in black soot. Automated fire suppression systems had managed to put the fire out, which explained the water.

The walls were covered with small, puffy lines of expansion foam. The usually pink foam had been blackened by the fire.

Deck lay there for several minutes, fighting sleep.

Incoming signal: GOV-RL1.VID - Compatible video codec available. Encryption key matched.

He ignored it. He didn't feel like talking to anyone. It was good to know they had their satellite back, though.

Picking himself up, he began the long climb out of the communications tower.

When he reached the top, the hopper was gone. He was glad. He didn't have the energy for a fight.

He limped back to the elevator. Every step was an ordeal. Every breath was a major undertaking. His limbs were heavy and numb. His ribs hurt. The wound on his leg hurt. His head was heavy. There was so much pain coming from so many sources he couldn't focus on any one pain in particular.

When he reached the elevator, he waited for the doors to close behind him and then he sunk down in the corner. He didn't even know where he was going.

There was no point in returning to level one. The hospital didn't have anything except roving bands of mutants and cyborgs. The research level was out - there was a bot patrolling the elevator exit. The executive level had the same problem.

He spent several minutes trying to decide what he wanted to do, but realized he was just falling asleep again. He was hungry.

He reached up and hit the button for deck 3: Crew Facilities. He would go to the cafeteria.

The elevator chimed and the inner doors opened, but the outer doors remained closed. He couldn't get out. He crawled over and pushed on the doors, but they didn't budge.

There were lumps of solder sticking through the crack where the doors met. The exit onto level three had been hastily welded shut. He wasn't getting in this way.

Connected. US.GOV-RL1.VID

"He's alive, I got him!", Rebecca was yelling.

"I need help.", Deck was surprised to hear how distant and weak his voice sounded.

"What's wrong?"

"Too much for me to get into. I... I'm hurt. I need someone to do some thinking for me, my brain is fried."

She looked genuinely concerned. Her face had softened since the last time he saw her. She had lost the edgy professional detachment. Her face was turned downward in an empathetic frown. "How can I help?"

"I need to reach level three, but the main elevator on that level is welded shut. I can't go to research, there's bots around. Ditto for the exec level. I'm on the main elevator now. How can I get there?"

She nodded to someone off camera and turned back to him, "Give us a minute."

She stood up and walked away from the camera, leaving the frame. He had never seen her standing up before. He was surprised at how fit she was. It made sense, considering she was part of some emergency response team, but it still surprised him.

He realized it had been a couple of months since he'd spent any time with a woman.

Her form slid back into view as she returned to her seat. "Okay Hacker. I think we've almost got it."

"Good.", he grunted.

She smiled, flashing her teeth, "You did it!" The smile made her look younger. He wondered how old she really was, anyway.

"Yeah. It was nothing.", he said sarcastically.

"Well, a lot of people are relieved down here. Nothing like this has ever happened. People were talking like GlobalNet was going to go down and it was going to be the end of the world."

"I'm glad you're happy, but I'm still up here with Shodan - and I'll bet she's pretty pissed."

Rebecca nodded, "Okay, we finally got a hold of the layout of the entire station. TriOp provided it for us yesterday. I meant to send it last time we talked. Anyway, we've worked out a path for you."

Deck nodded absent-mindedly.

Rebecca paused and then continued, "You'll head down to the flight deck. When you get there, just cross the hall and take the freight elevator up to level three, which will drop you off near the cafeteria. We've marked the path on the map."

"Great, thanks.", Deck grunted as he tried to stand.

"Be careful.", she said as she closed the channel.

Deck leaned heavily against the wall and thumbed the button for level five.

Level five housed the station's three shuttle bays and control rooms. Most of the broad hallways led to the central area where the freight elevator, main elevator, and executive elevator were located.

Deck peeked warily out of the elevator. The lights were low, but other than that things looked more or less as he remembered them. He was in the central receiving area. It was strange to see it deserted. It was always a hub of activity, even during off hours. Cargo and personnel were always being shuffled around, and this was where it all took place.

The silence was haunting. Deck limped through the central receiving area. Stealth would have been pointless in a wide open area like this, and he was too tired and sore for that anyway. If someone caught him out in the open he was screwed.

He made it to the freight elevator without incident, and headed for level three.

The crew area was a disaster. The walls were scarred with bullet wounds and burn marks. Most of the lights were either turned off or blown out. The air was filled with a thin haze, leftover from some long-dead fire. The floor had the familiar dark spots that marked where members of the crew had bled and died.

There were several smashed and broken bots near the freight elevator. The bots were perforated with tiny holes, as were the surrounding walls. Someone had hit them with fragmentation grenades.

A wide set of double doors directly to his left led directly into the kitchen. This would be where food would be taken as it was brought up from the storage level. The doors had been welded shut and were pockmarked with bullet and impact damage. If the bots couldn't break through, he certainly wasn't going to.

The corridor continued forward to an open space just outside of the cafeteria. Normally a few tables were scattered around here during meal times to accommodate overflow when the main eating area was full. The tables were gone, and there were more wrecked bots littered about. Shodan had suffered some losses taking this place.

Most of the bots were low-grade maintenance or gopher bots. They wouldn't have been much of a threat. Judging by the number of them on the floor, they probably went down pretty easy. There were two security bots, and a single heavy security bot. They looked scary even when they were broken.

To his left was the cafeteria, and on his right was the exterior dining area and the restrooms. The wall outside of the restrooms was a mess of bullet and shrapnel holes. Huge chunks of paneling had been torn or burned away. This wall had absorbed a lot of damage intended for the bots.

Deck decided to try the bathroom first. He drew in a nervous breath and reached for his pistol. He didn't know what sort of surprises Shodan might have left behind when the battle was over.

His pistol was gone.

He looked around, as if it was just going to be lying on the floor beside him.

He realized it was probably sitting in a pool of cold bloody water at the bottom of the station. He groaned. He was unarmed. He wasn't about to go back down there and get it. At least not right away.

The signs indicating the gender of each restroom had been destroyed or blown off the wall. The bathroom on the left was dim and illuminated by a single flickering light, so he proceeded into the bathroom on the right. It was thankfully empty.

He staggered over to the sink and leaned against it. Looking up, he saw his face for the first time since the nightmare began. He could hardly recognize himself.

His face was thin and bony. His cheeks were ghostly pale, almost gray. The right side of his face was a mass of dried blood covering a swollen bruise. His eyes looked different, somehow older. They showed the burden of fatigue and pain that he had been bearing.

He reached up to touch his face and saw that his hands were a blackened mess. Greasy dirt had caked over numerous slashes, cuts, and puncture wounds. The grime and blood had filled in and dried in the creases of his hands and around his fingernails.

Half an hour later he emerged from the bathroom looking much better. He had cleaned his wounds and washed the worst of the grime from the rest of his body. Dermal patches covered the wound on his face and the cuts on his hands. The warm water had invigorated him, purging the numbness and cold from his extremities.

The cafeteria was even worse than the exterior dining area. The tables had been turned on their sides to be used as cover and had been almost cut in half by the automatic guns of the bots. Pools of dried blood marked the spots where the defenders had fallen.

Something had been bothering him since he arrived on the crew deck, and he finally figured out what it was: there were no bodies.

Spent shell casings and empty clips littered the floor, but there were no weapons to be found. Shodan had taken all of the bodies and all of the weapons once the battle was over.

The kitchen area joined the rear of the cafeteria. It was a wide space lined with the usual stainless steel appliances used to cook bulk food. The light fixtures had a film of dirty grease over them, giving the room a dingy yellow glow.

Along one wall were sacks of uncooked rice, flour, dried eggs, and pasta. In the corner was a stack of plastic bags filled with moldy bread. Beside the dry goods was a walk-in cooler. The door was hanging open and out of it rolled a thin and quickly dissipating layer of mist.. The cold air washed over his feet and sent a chill through his body.

He was exhausted. His body begged him to stop and rest, but he needed to eat.

He pushed aside the translucent plastic strips that hung in the doorway of the cooler and stepped inside. A thin layer of condensation covered everything as the cooler fought with the warm air from the kitchen. A rotten smell permeated the air.

He began ripping open boxes at random. Most of it was way past its prime. Some boxes of raw chicken lay rotting near the door, which probably explained the smell. The salad mix had long since gone bad and was now a black, wet mass inside of its plastic bag. The rest of the contents of the cooler were containers of bulk condiments.

At the rear of the cooler was another door that led to the deep freeze.

The lights were out in the freezer. The only illumination came from the outer fridge. The walls were covered with smudged and scratched stainless steel panels. The floor was a metal grate that clanged loudly with each step he took.. The bitter cold covered him instantly. His hands shook. He had been having trouble keeping warm even before he entered the cooler, and now he was standing in the deep freeze. Only his hunger compelled him to stay.

A simple dolly sat in one corner, used to transport to boxes of food out to the kitchen for preparation. The cardboard boxes were arranged in neat rows, with just enough room left over to allow movement.

The first row of boxes were meats, mostly ground beef. Behind those were a few boxes of chicken parts, along with some breaded fish. None of it was safe to eat in its current state, and he didn't want to get into trying to cook anything.

The next row of boxes contained frozen peas. His shaking, weakened hands clumsily tore open the stiff, cold cardboard and pulled out a plastic bag of peas. He ripped it open with his teeth and began stuffing peas into his mouth by the handful.

He sat for several minutes, crunching on the frozen peas until he was too cold to continue. He found another box that held frozen carrots. He took a bag of each and continued to search the rows.

The next few rows contained goods to be deep-fried.

At the rear of the freezer he found three bodies laying in a row along the back wall. Each one had a sheet draped over it. The bots hadn't come back here, or had no use for frozen bodies.

A rifle of some sort lay beside one of them. He didn't recognize the design, but that didn't mean much. He had almost no knowledge of guns beyond what little he knew about handguns.

The weapon seemed even colder than the room. The dead metal surface sucked the life from his hands as he lifted it. There were some unused sheets piled in one corner, similar to the ones covering the dead. He picked them up and wrapped them around the rifle.

Back in the kitchen, he found a stack of flattened cardboard boxes. He spread them out on the floor and covered them with the sheets. With the gun in his lap, he began to eat the frozen vegetables.

He felt safe here. Shodan had probably assumed he was dead. No bots had spotted him. He hadn't caused any trouble. The bots didn't have any reason to come back here since they had obviously already conquered the place and took what they wanted. As long as he didn't do anything stupid, they should leave him alone.

He ate a few more vegetables. He thought of going back for some of the other food, but there wasn't anything that interested him.

He looked down at the rifle. He didn't even know if it worked, or if it was loaded, but he felt safer having it nearby.

It was about the length of his forearm and cut from smooth black metal. On the left side was a tiny blank display screen. It was obviously a close-quarters type of weapon. Halfway down the barrel was a small knob inset into the surface. A few other buttons framed the empty display screen. Deck poked at them lazily as he ate, but couldn't get them to do anything. The screen remained blank. It occurred to him that the gun could easily have been left in the freezer because it was broken.

When he'd had enough to eat, he curled up in the sheet and tried to warm his aching body.

Thirty seconds later, Rebecca paged him and his HUD lit up, but he was already asleep.

Deck awoke. This wasn't how he was used to waking up. He was used to fighting his way out of unconsciousness to face some calamity, but this time he awoke because he didn't need to sleep any more.

He could feel he had been sleeping for a long time. He glanced at the clock that hung over the grill. 12:30. He didn't know if that was a.m. or p.m. - not that it mattered in space. He hadn't looked at the clock before he went to sleep, so he didn't know how long he'd been out.

He yawned and sat up. He had managed to roll over onto the rifle at some point, and the end of the barrel had left grooves in his face. He decided that maybe sleeping with a gun wasn't a good idea.

He visited the men's room, and - after taking care of morning business - peeled the dermal patches from his body and surveyed the damage. Most of his wounds had healed completely, although his bruises still looked terrible. The bruise on his ribs was an ugly patch of purple and green the size of his hand.

He stood, stretched, and performed a kata. This was his standard morning routine, although he hadn't done it in a while. The light exercise got his blood moving.

He was warm, and hungry again.

He decided on a hot breakfast. In the kitchen, he found the utensils necessary and cooked himself a large bowl of noodles. Eggs would have been a better breakfast, but he had no idea how to turn dried eggs into anything edible - assuming that was even possible.

The plain noodles were a feast. He stood in the doorway to the kitchen, looking out into the chaos of the cafeteria. He ate quickly, slurping up the pasta as if it would evaporate at any moment.

Around him were the bent, burned remains of tables. A thought had been nagging him, eating away at some corner of his mind. It was his fault.

He had played the game for years, ripping off big corporations, screwing The Man, fighting the power. That's how he used to see it. Now the truth was obvious. He wasn't a hero. He wasn't Robin Hood. Sure, he took from the rich, but "rich" was anyone who had more than he did. He didn't give to the poor, he gave to himself.

Now he had the blood of hundreds of people on his hands. Sure, Diego was responsible too - but he was dead, and dead men don't share blame. Deck knew he couldn't point at some charred corpse and cry out "He did it!".

It was his fault.

Then there was the other irony - that he survived. This was proof that his was a world without justice. He caused a disaster that killed hundreds (hundreds!) of innocents, and yet he alone - the one responsible - survived by chance. They had died, and they didn't even know why.

He had never really thought about God much, but he knew one thing: If there was a God, he was damned.

Nomen's words hit him again, "Its going to cost you more than you could ever imagine."

He pulled himself from this line of thought. It was just going to get him killed. He would deal with it once he'd escaped Citadel. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he deserved to die up here.

He needed to talk to Rebecca.

Incoming signal: US.GOV-RL1.VID

Rebecca appeared, standing in front of her console, "Hacker? Oh my God. We figured you were dead. Where have you been for the last...", she glanced sideways, probably at the clock, "..eighteen hours?"

Eighteen hours? That explained why his wounds had healed so much. "Hey, sue me. I needed the sleep."

She sat down in front of the camera and put her headset on. She was wearing her full uniform again. She seemed tense. Something was wrong. Well, more wrong than usual.

"We are still working on recovering the satellites that Shodan had taken over. We have reclaimed about half of them so far. Morris has been downloading the contents of their memory before we give them back to their users."

"I don't get it."

"These used to be part of Shodan's brain, right? We've taken them back, but some of her thoughts - or fragments of thoughts - are still in their databanks.. Morris is downloading whatever was stored on them as a way of peeking inside of Shodan's head and seeing what she's up to."

"So what have you found?"

Her tone had changed. She had reverted to the cool, businesslike demenor. She was choosing her words carefully, "He's found some genetic codes and blueprints. Apparently, Shodan has been dabbling in genetic engineering. Morris said this was a favorite subject of hers in her early stages of development. The chip that was disabled prevented her from experimenting in this area, but it looks like she's taken it up again."

"You found this in the memory banks of the satellites?", Deck shot back.

"That's right. Morris found gene maps, theoretical design projections, and even images of some of the life-forms. It looks like Shodan has been breeding these things in one of the groves. I'm sending you a sample."

A short loop of video appeared. Deck wouldn't have known it was one of the groves if Rebecca hadn't told him. The walls were caked in a thick yellow fungus. Numerous small creatures moved through the frame. They were small, translucent, and crablike.

Deck twisted his face as he watched the same ten seconds of footage over and over. "What the hell is that?"

"We don't have the whole genome, only fragments, so we don't really know what it is. Brocail can give you some details if you like."

"Put him on."

The screen changed and the chubby face of Morris Brocail was in front of the console. Deck had assumed that there was just one console and that they were taking turns with it. Instead, there was more than one, but they simply looked identical. The view had switched over to Morris' console.

"Hey dude."

Deck was puzzled by Morris. How could someone capable of designing such and elegant speech synthesis system, and yet still communicate like a teenage moron? "What's up?", Deck asked.

Morris smiled. "Hey, I gotta ask you... I heard the hardware you're using right now to talk to us is all built into your head?"

"That's right."

"So you don't have any external equipment? You can contact us by just thinking about it?"

"That's pretty much it."

"That is so cool!", Morris was grinning like a kid.

"I like to think so.", Deck answered wryly, "So what's the story with Shodan?"

"Well, like you saw, she's breeding some kind of new life forms in the northern grove. We don't have the whole genome on any of them yet, but we have some fragments, and we might be able to snag some more as we bring back some of these satellites."

"So this is what Shodan's been up to?"

"Genetic engineering was a favorite of hers during her development. She probably started on this as soon as you - er, as soon as the inhibitor chip was gone."

"Why is she so into genetic engineering?" Deck couldn't understand how a computer - even one like Shodan - could ever be "into" anything.

"It started with programming languages. We were working on a way to develop creativity, and that was a good place to start. We made a lot of progress in a short amount of time just teaching her how to code. She worked her way up from procedural stuff to modular coding, and finally outgrew all of the programming languages we could throw at her. She started developing her own languages to streamline the coding process for herself. Finally, she read about genetic code and that was all she wanted to do."

"Genetic code?"

"Look, DNA is just basically a really mega, mega complex program. It's complex enough to turn a single cell into any life-form you want, assuming you have the right input. She could just look at DNA and know what it was for. It just made sense to her. We encouraged her, and she did some amazing stuff. TriOp holds a bunch of patents based on stuff she taught us. Shodan was a super-secret project back then, and only a dozen people in the world were even allowed to know about her, so it was pretty tough explaining where all that knowledge came from."

Deck wondered how he was still even alive. How could he survive against something that smart? Shodan was clearly smarter than any human that had ever lived. He was alive because Shodan hadn't thought he was a threat, and because he was insanely lucky.

Morris continued, "So anyway, she was obsessed at how 'inefficient' most life-forms were. She was always re-coding DNA and running simulations on it."


"Yeah, most species are like, designed with these fatal flaws that keep them in check. Humans are smart, but we're totally weak and our reflexes are crap. Ebola kills too quick and burns itself out. Other creatures are lethal killers but have complex mating habits that keep their numbers limited. Others just have short life spans. Shodan was always working on ways to 'correct' these flaws. She used to claim she could take any life-form and make it the dominant species on the planet with just a few changes."

"Ebola? Holy crap."

"What can I say? Efficiency is in her nature. So, we had to pull the plug on all of that. I think its a shame, but it was better than letting her play mad scientist. She was always obsessed with creating the 'ultimate' creature. You know, just this one life-form that had all the good stuff from every other species on the planet. Eyes like an eagle, night vision of an owl, strength and speed of a lion, reflexes of a jungle predator, brain of a human, able to reproduce like rabbits... you get the idea."

"So now's she's free to take it up again, and that's what she's working on?"

"Its hard to say exactly what she's doing. She used to run computer simulations because she didn't have access to the facilities to actually test her theories. I think the north grove is now her sandbox, where she creates new stuff and releases to see how it does. We don't know what could be in there, but whatever it is, you definitely do not want to get any on you, if you see what I mean."

Deck nodded, "So, we need to blow this place up as soon as we can?"

"Rebecca will tell you about that."

The scene changed again, and he was looking at Rebecca. She was tense as she spoke, "Hacker, when we lost contact with you, we assumed you had died up there, and were getting set to blow up the station."

"What?", Deck couldn't believe they were finally going to blow the place up and were just going to do it with him still there.

She spoke in an even diplomatic tone, "That's why its important to keep contact. I know you value your freedom and independence, and we don't have a problem with that - but you need to let us know what's happening so things like that don't happen."

She was talking to him like he was some sort of madman who could go over the edge at any moment. Something had changed on their end. Their perception of him had shifted. Finally he responded, wanting to show them he was a reasonable guy, "Sure. I can understand that. Look, just don't blow me up and I'll keep you guys in the loop, ok?"

She nodded, and seemed satisfied, "That will be a big help. Now, we were getting set to nuke the station. We had a small tactical nuke ready and had begun the countdown when we received something from Citadel. It was the first time Shodan has made contact with us. She sent us a message. There was no text, just a single image,"

A moment later an image appeared in his head. It was a picture of the Earth and Citadel. Some wireframe lines were superimposed onto the image. A thin red line ran from the side of Citadel and down a gentle curve to the surface of the Earth. The bottom was filled with numbers.

Deck shrugged, "I don't get it."

"This is a firing solution. The groves, you see, detach from the station. In the event of an emergency, they are to be used as escape pods for all of civilians on board. They just get in, and launch. The station's crew uses standard escape pods on the flight deck."

"So she's going to launch the North Grove at you? Why send you a warning, why not just do it?"

"Morris believes she doesn't want to launch it at us, at least not yet. This is her pet project, her grand experiment. She probably doesn't want to just launch it and have to start over in another grove."

"So what is this, then?"

"It's a threat. Look, this grove she has aimed at us could contain anything. It could have something ten times deadlier than Ebola. We just don't know. The point is, she is showing us that she has worked out a firing solution to drop this thing on New York. We think the message is: If we launch, she will too. Mutually Assured Destruction."

She paused, she was getting to the point now, and he could tell she was trying to ask him for something, "So now we need to take out that grove before we move against Shodan. If we do anything that threatens her, we risk having her dump that thing on our heads. It would be the most horrible biological attack ever conceived. Now, I know you have insisted that you do not work for TriOp. I don't want you to think -"

He could see where this was going. He cut her off, "I'll do it."

If he didn't know her, he wouldn't have even been able to see how shocked she was. There was a slight pause before she responded, "That's good news."

He smiled. There was no way of getting out of here alive without doing what she asked, but that wasn't why he was doing it. He looked around the cafeteria and thought about what had taken place here. This was his chance to make up for his mistake. He had risked his life and ended up killing hundreds. Now he had a chance to risk his life again and perhaps save millions. He couldn't say no.

This was his shot at redemption.

7Disconnect = Fletch 8