Prologue I

Sonata to the Everlasting

            Marks awakes from his sleep, images from the most powerful dream in his life burned into his brain; he has seen himself passing a book from his withered and worn hands into the hands of a younger self. Marks swoops down to pick up his cat, Nuku, with the intent of traveling to his office in the tower. He grabs his hefty black overcoat from the door but fails to grab a shirt.

            Nuku lies quietly in the jeep as her gentle master drives to work in the early hours of the evening. Nuku likes to drive; every day she rides in the car with him, and when they arrive at work, she gets a cookie.

            Marks’ eyes gloss over with anticipation. Marks struggles to contain his excitement; all the mysteries of the last near hundred years have been revealed unto him. He has become the vassal of unspeakable power; the end game of his life is within reach.

            Marks grips his cat firmly in his arms like a child as he makes his way up the hundreds of steeps to his office with a vigor that might make a man in his twenties envies . He has the energy of a schoolboy, empowered by his dreams. The way to his desk is lit almost solely by a lone spotlight. All doors open in his wake.

            Nuku leaps from her keeper’s arms to the spot on the table where she typically sits; she feels as if something is horrible amiss. We’re here too early, she thinks. Where is the hairless man with my cookies? He meets us at the door every day?

            Marks slaps an empty notebook down on the table. Before he is done today, this one and maybe a dozen more will be full. Marks lifts a pen high up over his head and dramatically strikes ink to paper. His teeth grind as his pen flies from corner to corner; his face takes on an almost wolf-like expression as he goes over the book, digesting every line as he writes. His lip curls and he cackles as the images he constructs start to divide out before him.

            All the works of Marks’ life have been adding up to this moment, this glorious moment. A coworker of Marks had once said to him, “Loathe me for I am becoming death.” Marks is about to do the opposite. “I will conquer death. I will rob the reaper of his power and the predator of his teeth.” Like a composer demanding strength of his orchestra, he thrusts his arm to the side, throwing ink into the air, crossing his “T’s,” then again accenting the notes he need to remember. Finding he lacks the speed he needs to finish his calculations in a timely fashion, he employs a second pen to write in a second book calling on the greatest of dexterity.

            All strife, all heartache, his every experience, good and bad alike, is needed to align in this one instance of triumph. His adulterous wife, his deceitful best friend, the words of a monk in a distant land, his failure to protect one daughter, and the absence of another—all these events give him the passion to bleed out the poetry that must be his final works.

            Like a painter he lashes his pens. His liquid silver hair flows around his body like a typhoon, his hardy black jacket flutters like batwings in the night, the pages of his books thunder a warlike chant as page upon page flashes by. Marks laughs in madness, throwing his first completed book aside to make room for more. The work must go one. The doors remain locked long into the day, the lights remain off; Marks cannot be interrupted now.

            Nuku sees her master’s pain in his heaving breaths and the sweat rolling down his skin. She sits up and places a paw on his thermos, inviting him to stop for a drink. Marks is feverish; he struggles for air as he works maliciously. He must not stop even at the cost of his very soul. His hands are cramped and arms become numb with hunger; his veins grow dark, but with nerves of steel and a heart of stone, he pushes against his own mortality to carry on. Light trails from his pens as he slashes them across his body; his eyes burn with intellect.

            Nuku pushes a plush mouse with a bow wrapped around its waist to remind her owner that it is approaching dinner time. Marks falls to his knees and loses the strength, focusing to maintain his grip on his secondary pen. He throws his third and fourth books from the table and focuses with all his might on his fifth. Perspiration runs in abundance from his face and hair. He slaps the table hard with one hand, and the old man forces himself upright.

            He has found the soul—the very essence of life and humanity! A piece of coding in our neuroses that hides the tiniest pieces of our being that defines the differences between artificial-intelligence and true intellect. With this knowledge, he will become the master of destiny. His useless wife and her shallow ideas will be the first to see the truest extent of Marks Vigeta Karingson’s near omnipotent might than the fair-weather friend of his that is her boy-toy; his power will be their unmaking.

            His foolishness has seen the end of enough lives. This foolery will mark the end of it all; when this work is finished, there will be no more sins. This revolution beyond the limitations of physical existences will be the end of everything for him. No more death, no more hunger, no more sickness. Dr. Marks Vigeta Karingson will cure all the ailments of humanity with this strike of his pen. “We will ascend, we will endure. Hark unto ye, all the day of giving is upon us. The end of suffering is here and all men will be with their brothers and sisters, lovers and beloved. We will see the time of eternity as one mind. This is my last and finest gift unto humanity. We need not gods and messiahs; our saviors are ourselves and the endless reaches of the mind and our own consciousness. Christ offered you eternal forgiveness. I offer you eternal life.”

            Marks drops his pen; the last of his strength has left him. He lays his head on his desk and wraps Nuku in his arms. The slender black cat looks at him with a slight look of distaste and a hint of scolding in her eye, but loving adoration follows quickly as she places her paw on his shoulders and rubs her noise in his ear in  her own act of forgiveness. What goodness and humanity is left in this cold and hardened vessel seems to have leaked away and found its way into this motherly feline. With the loss of his children, Marks has become more metal than man. The hardest part of this ascension has passed. Tomorrow the next phase can begin; till then this old man can pray for the cleanliness of peace-giving sleep.

Prologue II

Call me N

            Reizuki Lowe stands before the vinyl player in the restaurant chosen for his upcoming job. Looking carefully over the selections of multinational music, he finds an Irish waltz “The Islander,” which looks like it might fit his mood. He reaches into the front pocket of his jeans and withdraws a dollar, three quarters, two dimes, a nickel, four pennies, and a bag of mandarin-flavored suckers.

            Reizuki unwraps a sucker and places a dollar and a nickel into the machine to bump his selection to the top of the play list. Reizuki is a particularly weak man; he is always drowsy. Terrible illnesses from his youth have done uncorrectable damage to his muscles making it so that he always stands slouched over; there are deep aging marks around his eyes. Rather than lifting his head to speak, he finds it is more productive to turn just his eyes to address someone. When that is inappropriate, he moves his whole body to square with one. He finds he must always speak slow and deliberate in order to be heard at all.

            Lowe takes a kabuki mask from his belt; today he has brought with him “the Uni,” a red bird-like mask with a long nose and a large toothy grin. Reizuki finds his weakness has emboldened him and allowed him a fascination with details, his collection of masks being a tribute to that precisely. The young eccentric dances interpretively [c1] along with the waltz for a moment, dances has interested him since his youth, in spite of his sicknesses dance is something he has always done.

 Reizuki’s phone rings, four times telling him that it is time for work. He rolls the mask onto the back of his head and places his hands in his pockets as he shuffles over to the table where a fellow “Letters” awaits.

            “Good evening, Fox. Is all well?” Reizuki asks as he leaps into the booth alongside his friend. Fox is a tall, slender man with sandy brown hair with just a hint of gray mixed in. Fox isn’t an old man, just older than Reizuki. A life of hardship has doubled his years. Fox was once a sheriff but due to events of nature he wishes not to discuss. He had left the force in favor of a life as a photographer. Reizuki has never asked him to explain.

            Fox leans in to whisper to his fellow teammate. “OK, our client is one Ambassador Laurence H. Walker. Laurence seems to be interested in a drug trade that he believes hails from our fair home—New York, New York.”

            “Narcotics?” Reizuki drops his sucker into a cup of chocolate milk that has been placed before him.

            “Pharmaceuticals,” Fox explains.

            Reizuki’s eyes turn upward. “I see. And what interest would an ambassador have in commercial drugs do you think?” Reizuki twirls his drink.

            “Let me be honest with you, N. I don’t know how I feel about this job. We have snuck into hospitals, insurances companies, and courthouses, but military RND, that seems a little heavy.”

            “It’s not the work that interests me. It’s the truth.” Reizuki leans forth nose to nose with Fox.

            “Who’s truth?” Fox lays his hand across the table, offering his counterargument.

            “That is the question, isn’t it?” Agent N bites on to one of his fingers, staring wide-eyed at his comrade. “Hmm . . . the only truth that truly matters is that which we preserve for ourselves, there, for the quest for truth, truthfully, is inherently flawed.” Reizuki never speaks with inflection; in fact, he always speaks in a monotone. He has lost the ability to raise or lower the pitch of his voice, only the tone. Also, he has learned to pause on words he believes are important to give his listeners time to reflect on the statements made.

            A dark-skinned man approaches the table at which Fox and agent N await. He is clad in a coat made of red snake skins, his hair is short and curled, he has a blue silk shirt under his snake coat, and his shoes are polished to a mirror-like shine. His taste is clearly rich; he is donning a ring on each hand and one on a chain around his neck. He has a handkerchief of bright yellow sticking out of his breast pocket as if to draw attention to it. In his front pocket, he seems to have a gold chain supporting a watch that can date back a good number of years.

            Reizuki is intrigued by the stranger; he rolls the finger he had been biting into from side to side, brushing his teeth with it, his eyes bright with anticipation of the fascinating hour about to come. “Ambassador Laurence H. Walker, I presume?”

            “You guess right!” he proclaims boldly.


            The ambassador examines his surroundings momentarily. “You I know. You’re Fox Giovanni. You work for The Fish-wrap. You’re a journalist.”

            “It’s The Onion and I’m a freelancer, journalist. I don’t Bring home a salary,  I work off commission.”

            “You I don’t know.” The ambassador looks at Reizuki.

            Reizuki pulls his sucker out of the milk and slowly wraps his mouth around it, staring deep into the ambassador’s soul, looking for that which he tries so hard to hide. “Call me N,” he finally answers. Reizuki places one foot on the ground, hugging the other to his chest. “Can we get this started?”

            The ambassador laughs. “Your friend is somewhat strange, Fox.”

            “And you, Ambassador, if that is your title, are a habitual liar. But nonetheless I am interested in what you have to say,” Reizuki challenges the ambassador’s inhibition.

            The ambassador takes off his shades to see Reizuki clearly. “And what makes you think that?”

            “Your appearance is all wrong. Your posture is too straight for a man that sat behind a desk for half his life. You have glide in your stride like that of a pop singer or a movie star. Your clothing is non-conventional, possibly offensive to your host. Nothing about you speaks of nobility, at least not in any way I can see. There also seems to be a stain on your paints high on your left side. I would think if I were one in your so-called position I would take care to make myself more modest looking. No need to draw attention to myself and all.” Laurence grins widely. Clearly he is impressed with Reizuki’s observations. “No, you look more like,” Reizuki bites onto his sucker as he rolls his eye upward, “a member of the KGB pretending to be a pimp. Or maybe you’re the real thing.”

            “Regardless of who I am, I still have a job for you and I’m offering cash.” Walker drops a stack of money on the table. Reizuki doesn’t even look down to count it.

            “We are not interested in your ill-gotten gains. Are we, Fox?” Reizuki speaks up at the palliation.

            Fox eyes the mess of cash that has been placed ahead of him. “No, not at all,” Fox declares weakly.

            The slimy aristocrat begins his speech. Reizuki is fascinated; if what this stranger claims is true, then mankind is on a course to life being on sale and the perfection of the human body going to the highest bidder. In future people like him will no longer exist—people with weakness, people with uniqueness.

            Reizuki places both feet on the chair and pulls his knees apart with his elbows; his mouth is slightly open and his eyes are in a frozen fix. He rolls his tongue slightly, pushing his sucker off to one side after a long moment of silence. Fox on the other hand looks stupefied. “You’re talking about bio-molecular manipulation on an unprecedented scale. By the method you just described, sickness can be bred out of an animal. You could command the genomes to make one younger. On a fetal level, you could control height, weight, ethnicity, intellect. You would remove evolutionary processes from the picture entirely.”

Reizuki slouches forward, settling his legs in a butterfly stretch. “Let me tell you something about myself.” He removes the mask from the back off his head and sets it on the table. “I possess a condition called ‘Park-Jacob Syndrome.’ I am quite literally rotting to pieces as we speak. My body produces an acid that has dissolved away 20 percent of my muscle mass. My lower brain has holes burned into it. At ten years old, I stopped dreaming. At fourteen I forgot how to sleep. At seventeen, I found I could no longer feel temperate change except in the most violent of causes. Last month I noticed I can now only taste salt and sugar. I am changing into something that will soon no longer be recognizable as human. And I believe that this evil you are describing will make you into something even less human than I.”

            Walker looks at Reizuki firmly. “I just want to know if the rumors are true. Can you do that?”

            “Yes. But you will never possess this power. No one ever will, if it is real . . .” Reizuki Lowe is a man that deals in absolutes; if evil applications are present, then surely evil will come, and there is no such thing as necessary, only a tolerated presences.


Act I


Chapter 1

Ascend Heartless Angel


The elevator door smoothly slides open. Marks steps out, dressed in his street clothing: a hefty black leather duster-style overcoat and matching chaps. His long, thick gray hair is tucked into his jacket. Under one arm, he carries with him a cat’s crate. His long-time companion travels with him, a slick black tabby named Nuku; she wears a red collar. Marks is nearing eighty years old but looks young and vital as a man half that.

            Marks strolls across the elegant lobby of the R&D office at which he works. Leaning against the security desk is a fellow doctor, Juan Sanchez; he is a Spaniard with dark hair tied up in corn rolls and a mustache. He’s switched out of his work clothes and into an outfit only a college professor would wear—a green silk shirt with a patchwork sports coat and faded slacks. It looks as if he was engaged in a powerful conversation with the security operator, a colored man named Dwight Egget; he appears young, strong, and bold.

            Dr. Sanchez waves to call Marks over. “Dr. Karingson! Got a sec?”

Marks looks down at his watch, a hint of distaste on his face. I really don’t. Marks begins to approach the desk.

            “Good evening, Dr. Sanchez, Officer Egget.” He greets his coworkers with a slow deliberate tone.

            “Working late?” Sanchez makes pleasantries.

            Marks looks down at his watch again, anxiety getting the better of him. “in a matter of speaking, I haven’t been home in almost week to be fare” he whispers to himself.

            Dwight had begun talking, but Marks has heard only half of what he said. “So your kid had some kind of an accident? That’s rough.”

            Marks hastily replies, “It was no accident. I attempted to conduct a procedure I was not qualified to conduct. In my arrogance, I made a fatal mistake.”

            “What was the problem?” Sanchez inquires.

            “Hemophilic glucose disorder crystallic mutation. It’s a type 1 disease. I’ll spare you the details.”

            “What possessed you to think you could treat that . . . ?”

            Marks cuts him off again, “Prior to my employment with Claw Co. International, I had served at DC’s Pentagon Health and Human Service Department vaccinating soldiers. I was granted a pharmaceutical license as part of my formal training.” Every question those two mutter is completely predictable; Marks has answered every one of them twenty times already around the office.

            Marks tones out again for a moment as he feels around in his pockets, checking for an assortment of tools he is carrying on him. Egget speaks up, “Marks, if there is anything you need . . . ?”

            “Yes, thank you.” He reaches into Nuku’s cage and unclips a portable hard drive from her collar. “Take this down to ‘B Ward’ next chance you get and plug it into my desktop.” Marks hands over the tiny tool as he makes his way to the parking garage door. “Also, can you tell me if VP Ako Karingson is still in the building?”

            Dwight laughs. “You could just ask me if your wife is in.” He looks down at his log book.

            Marks mumbles to himself “a minor formality”

 Dwight nods “Looks like she is with AC Dem-Row and your former lab assistant Allen Wesker, they are at a budget meeting.”

            “Good. Could you detain her?” Marks steps out.

            “How long?” Dwight questionably jokes.

            “Indefinitely,” Marks yells back as he is on his way to the subterranean levels.

            Dwight looks at Juan. “What does he do here anyway?”

            “Only: cryonics, bionics, cybernetics, gene slicing, genetic research, and robotics.”

            “Is that all?”

            Juan shakes his head. Dwight holds out the USB drive. “You handle this shit. I don’t want to risk breaking anything that might be worth more than my penchant.”

            Marks walks briskly through the silent parking ramps, making haste as he is a man with a purpose; it would seem strange that only ten hours ago one could not find a parking spot in this lot as every inch was covered, but now the only car in sight is Marks’ jeep. It’s the middle of August, but already there is frost on the ground and a stiff chill in the air. Marks unlocks his car door and places Nuku in the seat alongside him; the back is filled with an assortment of devices. Atop his dashboard rests a camera the size of a deck of cards. After starting the motor, he flips on the camera.

            “Vigeta, my old friend, I’m sorry things had to go this way.” Marks starts the engine. “I had hope for sixteen more months to work, but it would seem that the ‘powers that be’ have forbidden that from happening. I have no doubt you will have many questions about who we are and mayhap what we were. You will certainly find your way to my office, read the files I have written, but words on a computer screen do no justice when compared to the expertise that comes with seventy plus years of life experiences.”

            Marks turns the jeep around and makes his way down the street and onto the side roads. “You will hear many things about who we are. Allow me to illuminate a thing or two with the moments we have left together. My only true regret is that I will not be present to watch you being born. That will have to be left to far less loving hands. First off, we are wed. Our wife’s name is Ako Esuna-Karingson. We have been together for fifteen years as of October, but we do not love each other. Our union is one of conveniences. Shaun Clawed saw me as his own personal Nicola Tesla, a rock star of the scientific world, and it simply would not do to have a single superstar. So a wife was bought and paid for in our name. If she loved anyone it would be our old friend Allen Wesker.”

            “Next, we had a child. That is true, but we killed her. Her name was Tara. She was conceived as part of an experiment involving in vitro birth and such was pivotal in our project alongside Mercedes Vixon. I digress,  Ako and I both donated DNA for this project, hints why we were allowed to keep her. There was a deformity, and as a result of my attempt to correct the anomaly . . . well, you’ll figure it out . . . she would have been ten.”

            Marks makes all efforts to stay out of sight, staying on the side roads, weaving in and out of alleyways; he stays well below the speed limit. “Some may say that we consort with demons in order to harness our magic. This is not true. All that which we have, we have worked for. However, to say we know nothing of witchcraft would be far too modest. You will quickly come to find we possess certain abilities that are quite uncommon.”

            “After the ‘Big One’ we moved to Tibet for some time, wherein we came to know a golden-eyed Taoist who offered to teach us a very old and spectacular martial art he referred to as Ki-Ho, the blood sword style. With this knowledge in hand, a masterful individual could in essence separate their mind from their body and wield their spirit as an extinction of their will. It is no mystery why some perceive this as magic or devilry. You have this power as well, I only wish we did not need it.”

            “You too will need a Nuku by your side, so I have arranged for this to be so. You will find in my office, your own Nuku 2 or maybe I could say Nuku Nuku? . . . Poetry was never amongst my greater passions . . .”

            “My dear Vigeta, in the time I have worked for Claw Co. R&D I have seen things that were never meant for the human eyes. I have seen into other men’s fantasies. I have witnessed the fantastic evils that come from science that is conducted without moral or restraint. I have even looked into the book of life beneath Cronos’ (God of time) arm, and I have both penciled in names and rubbed them out.”

            “Vigeta, we have done things in our life that we would not wish for any to ever speak of again. I have killed off over two hundred men with my bare hands, and weapons I have constructed tenfold of that, modestly speaking. I’m told that when a great age comes to an end that sometimes it will leave behind a rage that will burn away the past and a curse is then born. You are my curse. There are so many things I wish I could change. But now my faith lies solely with you.”

            Marks is swift and he is silent, but in spite of that he is seen. Allen, his former partner, has followed him step by step till at last he reaches a place where he can do his bloody business without being seen. Allen drives an armored car disguised as a luxury sedan. He drives slow and stays quiet; he leaves his lights off and tracks his prey via a tracking beacon hidden within the jeep. Allen is a young man still in his thirties; in spite of his occupation, he is a fit man—six feet tall, 200 lbs; he wears his hair short, spiked up and pulled back.

            Allen pulls in close to Marks. He flashes his lights only once in warning as if playing a game of tag, then pounds the gas in his armored car, slamming harshly into his back end, pushing him into a building.

Allen steps out of his car and walks slowly to Marks’ Jeep, expecting that the “old wizard” will not die easily.

            Marks sits stunned for a moment, then smirks, whispering to his friend without having the need to lift his head in confirmation of his approach. “Allen, my friend, I wasn’t expecting you to be so jolly on the spot today.”

            Allen smashes in the driver side window, reaching in with one gloved hand. He grabs the old man, dragging him to the street. “Tough luck, old wizard. We have known for weeks you had plans to run.” Allen’s eyes glow like flashlights beneath the thick glasses he wears, reflecting a yellow glow onto his face. He is garbed in a tuxedo that would seem to fit the rich well; as for whatever Allen would be (murderer, assassin, contract killer, take your pick), it looks almost comical.

            “It looks as if time has been good to you. Have you been keeping up on your studies? Frankly, I’m surprised you came after me yourself. With your level of power and privilege, you had no reason to come all the way out here in person,” Marks asks tauntingly as he is thrown to the ground by the deceptively strong corporate executive.

            Allen reaches around behind himself, pulling out a rich-looking handgun. “What was the alternative? Hiring death-dealers? You would have killed them before they could get within fifty paces.” Allen cocks his gun and holds Marks to the ground with one foot.

            “I have a question, old friend. Will you look after Nuku when I’m gone?”

            “Of course, she was mine first anyway.”

            “Thank you,” Marks grins.

            Allen points down at Marks, drawing back the hammer of his pistol. “Aren’t you going to fight back at all? Struggle, yell, anything?” Marks just grins and shakes his head. “What part of this do you find amusing, old wizard?”

            “I’m wearing a biometer.”

            “So what? Someone is going to know your time of death.”

            “Oh, that will be only the beginning. When I die, I will become more powerful than you can possibly understand.”

            “Old man, you have finally lost your mind.” Marks laughs the laugh of a lunatic as he is shot three times, twice on the chest, once on the head. The echo of the gunshot is silenced well before the laughter of the doctor has gone . . .

            Allen waits and watches as Marks bleeds out on the cold blacktop. He kneels and checks Marks’ pulse. There is no question that it is done. Allen turns his back on his fallen friend; there is nothing left to do here. “The job is done. Send a cleanup crew.”

            .“Marks Karingson, we’re not through with you yet,” a menacing voice calls through the void. Marks burns away . . .

            Allen returns to the Claw Co. R&D building only to find the storm shutters bolted down. Allen rips down one of the doors with his monstrous strength and reaches for his phone. “Someone tell me what the hell is going on!” he demands.

            Lights are flashing on and off. Radio chatter makes all communications broken. The first full statement to come over the PA is a frantic call for help. The goddamn hardware has come to life.Next, “There is something fucked up in bionics. I need backup.”

Allen replies to the latter, “I’m on my way.”

            It is late in the day; most of the staff has already made their way home. The elevator seems jammed; Allen makes for the stairs. Along the way, he is joined by a number of his fellow executives—first Ako Karingson, then Shaun Clawed, who is being accompanied by AC Dem-Row. Ako is the youngest in the group, aside from Allen at barely forty. Shaun is middle-aged pushing fifty but is still built like a barbarian with wide shoulders and a stiff back. AC Dem-Row is an aging man; old and rich, he stands hunched over, shuffling his way behind them.

            Doors open and close of their own will all around the group as they hastily push their way down the halls into bionics. The PA has begun transmitting gibberish, mostly white noise with the occasional name seemingly coming up in a purring voice. Dwight Egget waits for them at the end of the next hallway. But in spite of all that has been seen already, the most horrifying sights have yet to come.

            The voices do not lie; the tools in the bionics lab are floating around a magnetic sphere, pounding, screwing, and fashioning together an alien device. It starts with the heart, twelve magnets arranged in a sphere—eight on the outer ring, three on the inner ring, and one in between. As the heart comes to life, the inner and outer rings press against the lone disk and begin to spin, creating a perpetual force. A set of pistons fall into place, attaching a set of spider-like legs to the heart which then pull together into a ribcage; next, a human skeleton begins taking shape. Two arms and two legs are assembled out of the cylinders’ field with a white liquid, then wrapped in a hefty aloe silver gray with a hint of blue in unearthly looking material. Near the wrist, a mass really system forms, a tiny Sentra-fusion generator; a set of hands snap into place made with the latest 32 point movement technology.

            A skull made of steel lowers into the sight of the spinal column still attached and ties into the spiderlike chest, and finally, a human brain is implanted. Sown with a web of electrons hidden within a contaminated field, the brain is loaded into the mechanical monster. A long sequence of muscles crafted out of cavalier plating are woven onto the bone followed by a rubber sealant. At last, a synthetic skin is drawn over the form and hair is weaved throughout the body in order to complete the human masquerade.

            Tendrils of light enter the magnetic globe and drill their way into the newly formed man, twisting around him like a great and evil angel’s wing. “What the hell is that?!” Shaun calls out. Needles weave in with silver steal hair.

            The monster lowers to ground level, and a team of robotic arms dress it in black slacks, dress shirt, and a trench coat with the Claw Co. seal on one sleeve, three lightning bolts, and a red banner. Assortments of belts snap onto the body, securing the outfit in place. At last, the beast has come to life, and the wing vanishes leaving the monster alone to do as it wishes. Allen replies to Shaun’s inquiry, “It’s Marks!”

            Slowly Marks’ feet touch the ground; he reaches behind himself, flinging his hair back, revealing its length, swaying around his knees like a might maim[c2] mighty mane in its metallic glory. “He has grown young?” proclaims Ako.

            “He is a monstrosity,” Allen declares.

            Marks smirks, “Mr. Egget, this would be a good time for you to leave.” Dwight runs without a word, disappearing from the rear of the group. Marks pivots to face his former comrades; his skin is cold and gray in the pale light. His eyes once green are now red.

            “What is he going to do?” Ako asks. Marks raises one hand and snaps his fingers; an invisible blade flies from his fist and cuts though his trader of a wife, severing her seamlessly into pieces.

            “Run,” Allen whispers to Shaun Clawed and AC Dem-row. Shaun shoves Dem-Row, almost dragging him out the door as he retreats. Dem-Row chokes down a chuckle with devilish glee.

            Allen adjusts his glasses as he steps into the room with the cyborg. “Interesting trick, old wizard, but why?”

            Marks lowers his head and closes his eye, a strange look of content burned into his expiration. “You never answered me, Allen. Are you keeping up on your studies?”

            Allen raises his fist ready to fight. “Well enough to beat you, I would say.”

            A spectral wind howls around Marks, blowing his hair up and back into the shapes like fluttering wings. Allen quick-draws his sidearm, unloading the magazine on the seemingly defenseless Dr. Karingson, the bullets burn out of existence mid-flight. Marks lifts his hand and snaps again, summoning another ethereal edge. Allen discards his gun and hold out both arms to catch the Ki attack, knowing well what it is. The attack cuts deep into his hand and drags him across the room before he can dispel it.

            Marks lift his other hand and points with two fingers, summoning a spear of light and launching it at his competitor. Allen jumps left; Marks throws a second spear, and Allen jumps right. At the next, he runs up the wall, then jumps to take initiative. Allen kicks and punches, hoping to take his teacher off his feet. Marks is fast, too fast; Marks dips and twists away. Allen launches a flurry of kicks; Marks lifts his leg only slightly to knee block, then steps in with a shoulder push to end the assault. Marks is playing with him, not bothering to take his hand from his pocket since moving into mala rang[c3] e. He really shouldn’t play with his food so much, but how often do you get to fight a Ki master (pronounced key)?

            Allen refuses to be intimidated; this thing only looks like Marks, and it can’t be Marks. After all even if it were him, he killed him once already. Allen begins anew; rushing forth, he hocks left, then right, then jabs. Marks plays with his old friend, walking backward, giving him a feeling of power, but not for too long . . . one devastating knee to the sternum and Allen collapses, his strength sapped with what could have been a fatal blow to a weaker man.

            Something goes wrong; the room starts to heat up the metal in the room sparks, the blast doors begin falling shut, and the BOW containment field in this sector has been activated. Allen jumps to his feet with all his remaining strength. The containment field is designed to kill any living organism, through mass acceleration bombarding them with macro-waves till every particle divides resulting in spontaneous combustion. Allen understands that the moment the blast door seals he is dead and no technology can bring him back after that.

            Allen runs; Marks lifts one hand, preparing another spell. Allen dives, sliding under the door as it locks. Rapid barrage of energy blast launched by Marks bends the door and nearly melts it before it is seemingly silenced. “I want that thing studied if it is still intact after this . . .”

            Juan walks to the upper floors, looking for Marks’ office as instructed; the room number was on record, but there are four room 1080s to choose from: 1080N, 1080E, 1080S, and 1080W. The only way it could have been harder to track the office down would have been if he was in room 440, then it could have added the “C” ward to the circuit.

            Marks’ office is something straight out of an Ann Rice novel; two giant springs hang from the ceiling, a constant stream of electricity connecting them. A dozen half-assembled bodies are spread across the floor. There is a leaning tower of monitors in one corner; there are no visible light fixers. In the center of the room is a lone desk upon which there is a computer in good repair and an army of radios in less so.

            Juan makes his way around the room, trying desperately not to step on anything, and a strange feeling of panic takes hold as he slowly moves about. Without warning, all the monitors come to life, and the almost phantom-like image of Marks appears dressed in his black overcoat with white makeup resembling some form of demon clown. Juan yelps and falls on his back after the images begin to speak in union.

            “Good day, friend, I’m sorry about the rude awakening. In better times, I would never have dreamed of so much treachery. If we are speaking now, it means I have failed, and it is time for ‘plan B.’ I am dead and you, friend, are the last hope I have,” Marks purrs.

            “Do you remember Mercedes Vixon? I do, and she was fine and strong. She had a vision, and I was more than happy to help her realize it. Mercedes saw then as I do now that there is a fundamental problem with computers. Try if you must to understand all that a computer is and all that we believe a computer must be. A computer can help us remember what we need as the grocer reminds us to change the oil in our cars. They can help us keep track of our friends and family. Soon they might even fly planes and drive trucks.

            “But in spite of all this, will a computer ever cook your dinner for you? Tuck you in at night? Wish you pleasant dream, then help you pick out a tie to wear to the office? Can your computer go to the market for you when you’re sick? Do you love your computer? Does it love you back?

            “Call this the last wonderful dream of a deranged mind if you must, but I believe it can. And so did Mercedes. This wonders technology is real. There are only four like it, and I wish to give you three of them under the strict understanding that you must take them out of here and it must be tonight. Shaun Clawed knew only that we had developed something like there has never been but has no idea what that might entail. This give us an advantage. They who wish us harm are looking for something strange and something revolutionary[c4] . What I offer you would hardly be so easily identified as say a touch phone.

            “So now I ask you to risk your life. Why? Because it is worth it. Do as I say and you will live to see sunrise one more time Dr. Juan Sanchez. I can guarantee you that much. After that, I’m sorry to say you will be on your own.” As the ghastly Dr. Karingson monologues, Juan finds his feet.

            “Now should you choose to accept this mission, here is the first thing you must do.” Juan heeds the voice. “To your left in the desk there are four cabinets. The one on the bottom right is unlocked. Open it!” Juan stumbles to the desk and frantically starts looking for the unlock cubby. “Inside there are four devices. First you will see a sphere, like a baseball made of aluminum. Don’t touch it. Next to it is a black box. It looks like a pack of cigarettes with five lights on it. Take it as well as the pistol! Finally there is a phone. You will need that as well. This recording will now self-destruct.” The screens go blue, and an error message pops up.

            As soon as Juan finds the tools described, the phone starts ringing. Bamboozled, Juan picks up. “Hello?”

            “Thank you, my friend. You follow instructions so swiftly.”

            “How are you doing this?” Juan asks in jest.

            “The device in your hand now is a SI simulated intelligence. It has been programmed to play a prerecorded set of messages and to recognize a sequence of predicted questions and answer them before shutting down.”

            “Dr. Karingson, you are amazing,” Juan whispers into the phone.

            “Thank you. Let’s get started. I have set this and a dozen other programs to execute at the time of my death, amongst them being a rather troublesome bug that has caused the building’s quarantine protocol to trigger. If you wish to escape, I have arranged for a safe path to travel. Leave the room now!”

            Juan steps out of the room; he looks left and he looks right. “What am I doing?”

            “Your objective is to reach the parking garage. You must enter from the E-block entry. Start by going to the N-C skyway.”

            In just the last several minutes, things have gotten strangely out of hand. Light are flashing on and off; doors are opening and closing on their own. Round the next corner, the fire suppressant system has gone off, drowning the hall in white chemical fumes.

            “The shortest bath would be to go through ‘test zone’. Don’t go that way. Go to the brake room. Use the cipher device to bypass the lock when you reach the skyway. It’s the tool that looks like a pack of figs.”

            Juan walks the way Marks instruct, making his way past an untold number of dangers before finally reaching the lower floors where Dwight seems to be waiting for him. The two men share a puzzling moment before receiving their final instructions.

            Juan looks at his phone. “Now what?”

            “At dock number fifteen, there is a truck labeled ‘Hot-Dog Tacos.’ The keys are in the ignition. Take it and leave,” Marks orders.

            “And then?” Juan asks.

            “Nothing. I leave you two to your own devices. If you’re still alive in forty-eight hours, I’ll be very impressed. The treasure hidden in the back of that truck is programmed to be fully self-sufficient and replicating. So long as Shaun Clawed never gets his hand on them I’ll be happy. God speed Friends.” The phone dies.

            Dwight looks at Juan as they start the truck. “Do you have a plan?”

            Juan shakes his head. “No, but I have friends...”