Book: Hero Born

Hero Born


Title Page



Dedication copy

Chapter 1- Abducted

Chapter 2- Bus 54

Chapter 3- Initech

Chapter 4- Hospital

Chapter 5- Flight

Chapter 6- Explanations

Chapter 7- The Ferry

Interlude- The Grey Men

Chapter 8- Oakland

Chapter 9- Hateya

Chapter 10- Crater

Chapter 11- Mom's House

Chapter 12- Attack

Chapter 13- Captured

Interlude 2

Chapter 14- Escape Plan

Chapter 15- Gun Battle

Chapter 16- Going Rogue

Chapter 17- Investigating

Chapter 18- No Such Thing As Werewolves

Chapter 19- Decisions

Chapter 20- Atonement

Chapter 21- Object 3

Chapter 22- Ka

Chapter 23- Revelations

Chapter 24- Reconciliations

Chapter 25- Alliances

Chapter 26- Mother Ship

Chapter 27- Docking Bay

Chapter 28- Escape

Chapter 29- Round Up

Chapter 30- Running Battle

Chapter 31- Meet the Grey Men

Chapter 32- Venting

Chapter 33- Project Solaris

Note to the Reader


Chris Fox

Copyright © 2015 Chris Fox

All rights reserved.



For Alida, Tammi, and Lisa. This book wouldn't exist without your tireless efforts.

For Alida, Tammi, and Lisa. This book wouldn't exist without your tireless efforts.

Chapter 1- Abducted

Before I became a super I was just your average kid. The war with the grey men hadn't started, and my biggest concern was not getting a D on my report card. It was one of those unforgettable summer nights, the kind you endure the entire school year waiting for. Magical and perfect, because I was falling in love for the first time.

Jillian was two months younger than I was, and had the softest smile I'd ever seen. Long, dark hair framed her sun-darkened face, quite unlike the bangs all the other girls in class had adopted. Her body was lean and toned, more athletic than mine. I had a hard time meeting her gaze, those eyes somehow more worldly than a girl her age should have had. There was something elegant about her that made me feel awkward with my tousled hair and ratty T-shirt.

She lived on the Miwok reservation a little bit south of Tuolumne, the place locals called The Dump. She liked to say she came from the wrong side of the tracks, though in a town like ours there wasn't really a right side. We'd grown up together, going to the same school since kindergarten. Not much of a stretch since there was only one school--Summerville elementary--serving a handful of kids K through 8.

That evening we were celebrating our 'graduation', the fake one that would usher us into the terrifying unknown of high school. Six of us had made the arduous hike to Hell's Hole. We'd come in Owen's truck, a godsend in a mountain town. Without Owen we'd each have been stranded at our own houses, prisoners at the whim of parental rides. Fortunately, Owen had a thing for Liv so he was willing to hang out with a bunch of 8th graders despite being a sophomore.

"What do you think it will be like?" Jillian asked, leaning into my shoulder as she gazed at the river from our perch on a flat granite boulder. It was the first time I'd smelled a girl's hair, clean and light like soap. I liked it enough that I wanted to bury my face in it, but I was far too cowardly to indulge that impulse.

"Like Summerville. Same name, only bigger, and we'll be the youngest kids there," I offered, wishing I had something wittier to say. I liked her laugh, but there wasn't often cause for it. There certainly wouldn't be that evening, and not for a long time to come.

We sat in silence as we watched the others play on the tire swing on the opposite shore, far enough away that we were almost alone. Mosquitos danced over the little ripples every time someone cannonballed into the water, but the buzzing insects hadn't found our perch on the boulders overlooking the rapids we used as a waterslide. The rocks were still warm from the afternoon sun, pleasant to the touch as night gathered.

The sun sank over the hills behind us, and the trees cast long shadows over Hell's Hole. It was our place, a place not even the high schoolers knew about. It took one hell of a hike to reach it, hence the name. If Owen were willing to drive, we'd see it a lot that summer.

Jillian's hand found mine, and I glanced down to see her looking up at me. Her eyes were pools of brown that I could just fall into. So large that I almost avoided looking down her shirt. She leaned closer, close enough that I could feel her breath. It smelled like chocolate.

I wanted to kiss her, but I was terrified. It wasn't just that Jillian could kick my ass with the Kajukenbo stuff she was learning. I liked her, and I didn't want to screw this up. I leaned closer, mouth slightly open like I'd heard it was supposed to be. Her eyes closed, and she leaned in. The world fell away: the splashing of the others in the water below, the few birds that hadn't given up for the night. All that mattered was Jillian, and my first kiss.

A spotlight came on above us, freezing me the instant before our lips touched.

For a moment I assumed it must be the police, but quickly realized that was impossible. Tuolumne PD might have a helicopter, but if they did we'd have heard it long before we saw it.

A deep thrumming began, sort of like a jet engine when you're forced to sit right next to the wing on a really long flight. The light pulsed in time with the thrum, filling the sky above us. Yet somehow the kids on the far shore didn't seem to see. They splashed and played like nothing had changed, oblivious to our plight. I tried to scream; nothing emerged.

Jillian and I were pressed flat against the boulder, rock digging into my back as I struggled in vain to sit up. Above me the light intensified, not quite pure white, and bright enough to make me squint. Oh god. What the hell was happening?

A low wail came from Jillian. I couldn't even manage that much, my traitorous body refusing my order to run or scream or even cry. The pressure reversed and we rose skyward, drifting slowly towards the light. I wet myself, both horrified and comforted that some part of my body still worked. The wet warmth was the only thing I could hold on to as our ascent continued.

Jillian was nearly close enough to touch, but our hands had drifted apart and I couldn't reach her. Couldn't even look at her. Oh god, oh god, oh god.

As we approached the light my eyes adjusted, and I saw the sleek black underbelly of some sort of craft. It was triangular, with an unbroken surface of black rock that seemed to drink in the light rather than emit it. We drifted closer and closer, until I knew we were going to collide with it. There was another moment of intense pressure, then the stone rippled around us and we passed through as if it were syrup.

The walls were smooth stone, the same as the outside of the ship. They sloped inwards as they rose, like the inside of a pyramid. Strange sounds echoed all around us, a terrible whispered chittering, and a low thrumming that rattled my teeth. The ship appeared to be one giant chamber, dotted with an entire forest of obelisks like miniature versions of the Washington Monument. Each was the same jet-black as the walls, though more than one glowed with a faint inner light. I drifted through them, losing sight of Jillian as she drifted in another direction.

My breathing came in fast little gasps, like a rabbit cornered by a coyote. My heart pounded in my chest, and I tried again and again to scream. I finally managed a smothered wail as my body drifted between the obelisks. I caught flashes of movement from the corners of my eyes, horribly pale bodies moving with jerky, inhuman steps. They stayed to the edges of my vision, terrifyingly close, and somehow worse because I couldn't get a good look at them.

I stopped in the center of a ring of obelisks, gasping out short, panicked breaths as something moved in the darkness. It was a quick flash of grey, of too-long arms and flat, black eyes. I thrashed wildly in my own mind, wanting to run and hide, to do anything to escape the inescapable.

My body rotated slowly until I was facing the dark marble floor. A pair of thin grey legs stood right next to me. There was a flare of pain in the back of my neck that made my eyes water.

Real pain began. Pulses of green wispy light came up from the floor, searing my flesh as they washed over me. They penetrated every part of my body, and I imagined my flesh cooking off the bone. It was the most excruciating agony I'd ever experienced, and I blacked out as it continued.

I snapped back to consciousness as the creature next to me gave a burst of strange chittering, which was answered by a second figure. Then a third. More pairs of thin grey legs appeared, until I was surrounded. The creatures sounded excited.

My body rotated again, and I finally managed a choked scream. A horrifying face with too-large, unreadable black eyes loomed into view, its bulbous head mere inches away. A four-fingered hand passed a device over me. It was a smooth golden boomerang, a little larger than the baton we used in track. The gold pulsed to white as it passed over me, growing brighter as it approached my face.

I blacked out again. When I came to I was back on the boulder. Alone. Cold. I didn't know it then, but twelve hours had passed.

Jillian was returned eight days later, but by that time I'd managed to repress the memory of the abduction. I couldn't face it, couldn't deal with the horror, or the idea that the grey men might come again.

The second I turned eighteen I fled Tuolumne, leaving her behind to deal with the fallout. It wasn't until I was twenty-one that I finally had to face the truth, on the day that my powers first manifested.

Chapter 2- Bus 54

Seven Years Later

My phone buzzed in my pocket as the 54 bus rumbled across Market Street, but I ignored it. I tapped the yellow strip on the wall, watching for Stop Requested to flare on the screen near the front of the bus. The engine's rumble slowed, and the bus rolled to a halt next to the curb.

I swiped my Clipper card against the payment machine, trotting down the steps and onto the wet concrete. Foot traffic was already thick, despite the early hour. People got started early in San Francisco's financial district, and they stayed late. That was the life at a startup, after all. Well, it was the life of hoodie-wearing interns like myself, at the very least.

Nearly every person I passed had their smartphone out, the soft glow illuminating disinterested faces. They wore a smattering of T-shirts and hoodies like uniforms, each emblazoned with logos. Everything from Fitbit to Facebook was represented, an army of intellectual slackers earning more than our parents had ever thought we could.

I threaded through the crowd, stopping at the corner of Mission and 1st. Something between mist and rain was falling, not enough to warrant an umbrella. I ignored it as we waited for the walk signal to appear.

It switched from red to white, and the girl ahead of me stepped into the road. She was wheeling a little suitcase behind her with one hand, while chatting away on her phone with the other.

She didn't see the black BMW rocketing through the intersection, flagrantly running the red light. I didn't think, I just acted. I lunged into the road, and tugging her backwards. It wasn't going to be enough. The car was moving too quickly, the driver staring down at a cell phone.

I winced, staring hard at the car. Pressure filled my skull and time elongated. The whirls of mist slowed, and the people around me barely moved at all. Something unidentifiable passed between me and the BMW, a burst of invisible energy.

Time sped up again, and the squeal of rubber overrode everything. The car drifted perilously close, but its brakes had locked and it slid to a halt inches away. The motion caught a puddle in the road, sending a sheet of muddy water all over my jeans and hoodie.

I caught the brunt of it, but the girl I'd saved was drenched as well. She blinked once, eyes large as she stared at me. Foot traffic flowed around us as people crossed the street. They ignored us, walking around the BMW as if it weren't there.

The girl blinked again, turned from me without a word, and rejoined the throng of foot traffic. I was left standing there, not sure exactly what had happened. I didn't start moving again until the traffic signal started flashing. Then I trotted to the other side of the road, numb and confused.

I shook my head to clear it, then looked down at myself. My clothing was ruined, on today of all days. Damn it.

My phone buzzed again, so I fished it out of my jeans with a sigh. It was probably another recruiter. They swarmed like locusts, and the cloud was thickest around engineers. Especially mobile engineers, even ones with next to no experience, like me.

"Hello?" I said, the phone somehow having found my ear.

"David?" a woman's quavering voice asked. Her tone was frantic. "They're coming again."

I was silent for a long moment, still reeling from what had happened in the intersection. I couldn't deal with this, not today. Not after what had just happened.

"Hi, Mom." I tried to force a smile I didn't feel. I was still shaking. About a third of the crowd veered into Starbucks. I kept going, struggling to find words as the rest of the crowd filed up the street. A jackhammer pounded in the distance, overpowering the smattering of car horns. "Listen, now isn't a great time. I'm about to head into work. Can we talk later? Tonight, maybe?"

"There may not be time, David," she said, pausing to quite audibly exhale a lungful of smoke. I could picture the haze blanketing her living room. Just thinking about it made my eyes burn. "I know how you feel about what happened, but you have to listen, okay? Promise me you'll hear me out."

"All right," I said, suppressing a sigh. I'd heard it all before. Grey men. Taken. Not safe. Come home.

I turned into the Specialties at the corner of Howard and 1st, joining the back of the line. A cute brunette behind the counter waved at me. She fished a cinnamon roll from the display case and started boxing it. It paid to be predictable.

"David, you need to get out of the city. Now. Not tonight. Not this weekend. Now," she said, voice firm, and carrying more authority than I could ever remember.

"Mom, I can't just drop my life because you're worried," I replied, more loudly than I'd intended. Heads swiveled in my direction, more than one person frowning. I'd broken the cardinal rule, showing any form of emotion in public. In the city, the rule was keep your head down; spilling one's business in plain view was an unforgivable sin. I lowered my voice, avoiding eye contact as the line moved. "Where do you expect me to go? I can't just quit my job."

"I need you to come home," she said. I heard a familiar tap-tap-tap in the background, her nails on the green ceramic ashtray that had dominated the coffee table for my entire life. "I have a lot to catch you up on, David. There's so much you need to know. I finally have answers. It's time, son."

"Mom, hold on a sec," I said, lowering the phone as I approached the register. I gave the clerk an apologetic smile. She slid my boxed cinnamon roll and a large coffee across the table.

"Five dollars and ten cents," she said, tucking a plastic fork and knife into the edge of the box.

"Thanks," I mouthed, waving my phone over the payment pad. She smiled again as I retrieved my breakfast and shouldered my way out the door. "Okay, I'm back."

"David," Mom said. Her lighter flicked in the background. "I know you think I'm crazy, and for good reason. You don't trust me, and you think I'm paranoid. This time it's different, believe me. You have to get out, and you have to do it now."

I closed my eyes for a second, taking a deep breath. Then I opened them and continued up the street. The buildings were run down here, two and three-story brick affairs that hadn't been renovated in decades. It was a stark contrast to the skyscrapers behind me. These buildings belonged to the baby startups, those that hadn't gotten enough funding to afford good internet or air conditioning. Startups like mine.

"Mom, I love you," I said, bracing myself. "I know you care about me, and you're just looking after my safety. Let's just say I'm willing to believe in the grey men, and let me be clear that I'm not saying I am. If they are coming, what will leaving the city do? If they want to find me, they will. You taught me that. There's no running."

"But David, this time--"

"Mom," I said, cutting her off. "I have to go to work. I will take tomorrow off, and will come home for the weekend. That's the best I can do. I'm sorry."

I knew it was rude to hang up on my mother, but if I'd let her she'd have turned this into a forty-five minute rant. I didn't have time for that. Today was an important day, and if I screwed it up my boss would eat my heart for lunch with a side of kidney beans. I tried to calm myself as I reached the battered three story building where I worked.

I slid my phone into my pocket, then juggled my coffee and cinnamon roll while tapping in the key code on the pad next to the big iron door. A buzzer sounded, and I rushed inside. I only had a few seconds to reach a second door and get through before the buzzer stopped, or I'd have to go back outside and try again. Break-ins were common in San Francisco, and building managers had all sorts of elaborate but ineffective methods of protecting their tenants. The second door was glass. Wouldn't thieves just shatter it?

I hooked the door open with my foot, careful not to let it slam on me. I'd spilled my coffee doing that once. Getting through the doors and onto the elevator was a delicate dance, but also one I'd performed dozens of times during my internship. This morning was no different, and I mechanically stepped into the elevator, stabbing number three. The elevator reluctantly closed, then groaned its way up with a truly frightening series of jerks.

My coffee sloshed, spilling a little through the glorified sippy cup Specialties had thankfully provided. I did my best to clean coffee from my hand as the door opened and I made my way up the hallway. The carpet was frayed and stained, and whatever its original color, it was a flat yellow now. I left a trail of muddy foot prints as I followed it to the last door on the left, keying in another code as I fished my keys from my pocket. The door required both to open, the only sensible security we had in the building.

I reached instinctively to flick on the lights, but they were already on. I was used to being the first person there, because mornings were the only time I could get any real work done. By nine or ten o'clock the office was buzzing with activity, which made concentrating nearly impossible. The room was lined with rows of desks, which management referred to as a 'collaborative workspace'. What it really meant was that our office was one step from a call center environment, and that engineers had to hunker down and wear headphones if they wanted any prayer of cranking out the volume of code demanded by management.

"Jesus, what the hell happened to your clothes, David? I told you to dress professionally, and you come in looking like a bedraggled dog," Dick called, dickishly. He hurried up to me, straightening a tasteful red tie. His suit was impeccable, contrasting oddly with the peeling walls and hoodie-wearing engineers like myself. "Come on, we're pitching investors, and I want you to babysit one of their liaisons. Don't fuck this up, because if you do I won't just blacklist you. I will murder your career, David. Then I will have the body made into hamburger, and I will eat the fucking corpse. Do you understand me?"

Chapter 3- Initech

"Uhh," I replied, falling into line behind him. I was a half a cup of coffee short of a witty reply, so I just followed him through the office to the front conference room. We had two: one in the front, and one in the back. The back one was nicer, but I couldn't hear myself think, because they were building the Transbay terminal right outside the window. The front conference room had thick concrete walls which cut off internet access. Not good when working for an internet-reliant startup.

Three people, only one of which I recognized, were seated around our conference table. The two on the right were an odd pair. The first was an elderly man, who's posture was stiffer than iron. He wore a black suit that had probably cost more than my Civic, and his snowy hair was artfully styled. A black cane topped with a golden scarab rested against the table next to him. He met my interest with piercing green eyes that somehow seemed younger than the rest of him, weighing me silently as I averted my gaze. The second figure was much more interesting--a beautiful blonde in her thirties. She wore a blazer, and flowing pants that looked both professional and comfortable.

Across the table sat the person I did recognize, Suresh. There was no official engineering manager at Initech, but if there had been it would have been Suresh. She was both the smartest person I'd ever met and the best programmer. I'd learned a ton in the few months I'd been working with her, and had the sense that she was just scratching the surface of what she could teach.

Instead of her usual jeans and flip-flops, Suresh wore a floral-print skirt and pumps. She'd even worn a muted red lipstick that matched her dark complexion. Her usual ponytail had been abandoned, letting her thick, dark hair spill down her shoulders. That drove home the severity of the meeting. If we were working this hard to impress investors, it could only mean that Initech was out of money.

"Now that David is here, we'll get started," Dick began, sliding into the seat next to Suresh. I took the seat next to him, giving a weak smile to our guests. "Before we get to the demonstration, do you have any questions?"

"I'm sure we'll have many questions after the demonstration, but I'm eager to see if your technology does what you claim," the elderly man said, his voice strong and deep. It bothered me that no one had introduced me properly, but I was just an intern, after all. "Show us, then we'll talk about whether Mohn Corp is willing to fund you."

"David, will you escort Ms. Summers and Mr. Usir to the back conference room?" Dick said, eyeing me critically. It wasn't a request.

"Of course," I said, suddenly aware that I was still clutching my boxed cinnamon roll and coffee. I set the box down with a sigh, but decided there was no harm in keeping the coffee. "If you'll follow me."

I left the room, threading through rows of desk back to the rear conference room. I was a little surprised Dick had chosen to use it, given the noise, but I understood immediately when I opened the door. Suresh's accelerator had been set up.

"What am I looking at?" the blonde-- Ms. Summers asked. She moved into the room, crossing her arms as she frowned at the accelerator.

"That's our light accelerator," I explained, moving to stand next to her. She smelled heavenly, though any attraction I felt was smothered by the terror of messing this up. "It's a vacuum tube. You see the mirrors on either side? The laser broadcasts light modulated at a certain frequency, and we measure the amplitude and speed using the distance between the two mirrors," I explained, trying to make it as understandable as possible. That was harder than you might think, because I didn't fully understand how the thing worked.

"And this thing somehow allows faster-than-light transmission?" she asked, giving me a skeptical look.

"Not yet," I said, darting a look at Usir. He stood at the back of the room, utterly relaxed in the same way a cat might be. His cane was cradled in his right hand, without resting any weight on it, and I realized it was merely a prop. "We're close, though. When we pull it off, satellites will be able to broadcast signals far faster than today's internet. We'll be able to transmit near-limitless data anywhere in the world-- instantly."

"And how exactly do you circumvent the speed of light?" Usir asked, raising a snowy eyebrow. "Einstein believed that was impossible."

I glanced through the doorway, but Suresh and Dick were talking quietly together about midway through the office's main room. Looked like I'd have to field this myself. I walked to the whiteboard and picked up a marker. "You're right about that. So far as we know there is no way to break the speed of light barrier."

I drew two ovals, labeling one normal space, and one different space. "The thing is, the speed of light might not be constant. Some areas of space have different characteristics, and those areas allow light to move faster."

"Ahh," Usir said, giving a chilly smile. "If you can simulate the same characteristics of this 'different space,' then you can, in essence, trick the light into going faster."

"Sounds pretty hand-wavy to me," Summers said, her scowl still firmly in place. "If you haven't achieved it yet, what exactly are you demonstrating today?"

"We'll be showing you how different space works," Suresh said, striding confidently into the room. Dick filed in behind her, moving to stand next to Usir. "My accelerator measures the relative speed of light. This demonstration will show you the speed of normal space, then show you the speed we can achieve using the special modulation I've created."

She moved to the far side of the accelerator, and fiddled with several switches. The machine hummed to life, and a thin green light shot from the laser at one end of the tube. "The normal time for light to beam from a satellite to earth is .12 milliseconds in perfect conditions. Atmospheric interference usually raises that to .15 or .16."

A digital readout at the base of the accelerator flared to life. The numbers flickered for a moment, then settled in to a steady .13. Suresh adjusted her glasses, her gaze sliding between Summers and Usir. "Any questions before we begin?"

"None," Usir said, raising a hand to silence Summers when she started to speak. "Begin your demonstration."

Suresh nodded, turning a dial on the far side of the accelerator. The light flared brighter for a moment, then began to pulse in an odd cadence. The brilliance hurt my eyes, so I focused on the readout instead of the demonstration. It was spiking upwards to the .012 level, which was now a typical reading for us.

"Watch this," she said, tapping another dial. The pattern began to change. "This is my first attempt at the new modulation. I doubt the speed difference over the normal speed of light is even measurable, but if we can find the right algorithm we could dramatically increase the speed. That's where Mohn Corp comes in, of course."

The machine began to hum more loudly; the pulses of light came in a wild staccato. Definitely new behavior. I squinted, wanting to look away but also wanting to see what was happening. There was a sharp burst of light in the tube, far brighter than our lasers should have been able to produce.

Another burst of light, this one even brighter. I staggered backwards, grabbing the edge of a chair as I nearly fell. Someone had just shoved an icepick through my skull, and now they were sending current down it. The final burst of light was even larger, filling the room with emerald brilliance. The icepick exploded, and I vaguely remember my coffee falling to the floor.

Chapter 4- Hospital

I woke up in an unfamiliar bed, mouth drier than the Sahara and body thick with sweat. A heart monitor beeped steadily; I sat up, blinking rapidly as my eyes adjusted to the soft halogens. The walls were sterile white, and there was a curtain screening off the other bed in the room. A TV hung from the wall across from me, though it was off at the moment. Was I in the hospital?

Someone was seated in the visitor's chair: a woman with casually elegant brown hair and dark eyes. She wore blue jeans that could have been painted on, and a cashmere sweater popular at colleges far more expensive than mine had been. She was gorgeous. Her legs were toned like a dancer's, and her posture backed up that impression. Her back was straight, but relaxed at the same time. That, combined with her sun-darkened complexion, gave her an exotic look, the kind that drew every male eye in a five-mile radius. She was peering down at an iPad, scanning intently.

It was only then that I realized I knew her. It was Jillian, and I could only gawk. When Jillian and I were growing up, she'd been even poorer than my mother and I, and we couldn't even keep the power on. The reservation was the scary place that most of our parents forbade us from going, for good reason. Tuolumne had a serious meth problem, and that problem had originated on the res. Back then, Jillian's newest clothing was third-hand, and a lot of it was older than that. She'd patched it herself, but there was only so much she could do. The kids had made fun of her every day, especially the girls. I'd been her male equivalent, teased mercilessly by the boys, which was part of why we'd bonded.

The days of hand me downs and too-big shoes were definitely over for Jillian.

"You look incredible," I croaked. Speaking was unexpectedly painful, and I tried swallowing to ease the pain.

She eyed me frostily, not the slightest hint of anything approaching a smile.

"Here," she said, rising gracefully and picking up a glass of water with a straw in it. She maneuvered the straw between my lips. "Don't drink it too quickly."

I gulped it down greedily until it was gone, and found myself breathing heavier afterwards. "How long have I been out?"

"Four days," she said, sinking back into the chair. She shifted her legs, drawing my gaze. I was staring, and I knew that she knew it. Her expression didn't look displeased, but then it didn't look pleased either. "Apparently you passed out in the middle of some lab. Paramedics brought you here and had no explanation for why you'd fallen into a coma."

"Coma?" I asked, more than a little confused. "I've been in a coma?"

"Yes, they're mystified," Jillian said. She looked more concerned than I'd have expected after that frosty glance just a moment ago.

"Not that I'm not grateful, but what are you doing here?" I asked, struggling to sit up. I finally noticed a little white remote for the bed and raised the back until I was sitting almost straight.

"You weren't answering your phone," she said, giving a quick shrug. Something flashed through her eyes. Anger, maybe. "Your mother is dying, David. I wanted you to be there before the end."

"Dying? What are you talking about? She can't be. I just talked to her," I said, swinging my legs off the bed. A wave of vertigo knocked me back into the pillows.

"Don't try to get up yet. Take a minute," Jillian said, rising again. She pushed my legs back onto the bed and covered me with the blanket. I felt naked in the flimsy hospital gown. "You talked to her four days ago, David."

"How?" was all I could muster. Mom couldn't be dying. I refused to accept it.

"We don't have time to talk about that here. We need to go." Jillian brushed a lock of hair from her face. "You and I both know what did this though, David. They've come back."

"They don't exist, Jillian," I snapped. "We were kids. We made it up." The heart monitor began beeping more quickly. "Neither one of us belonged, and it was a cry for attention. Something we convinced ourselves was true, because we wanted to be special. It's time to grow up, Jillian. Aliens don't exist."

"Do you seriously believe that?" she asked, tone unreadable. She paused for a long moment, studying me with those heavy brown eyes. "You do, don't you? You've convinced yourself it never happened, repressed the ship, the abduction. All of it. My god, your mother was right."

"My mother has been committed." I leaned back, trying to breathe deeply. I'd gone lightheaded, and was more than a little queasy. "She's been committed twice, and just because they released her doesn't mean she's sane. What I can't believe is that you're buying into her delusions. Jillian, I made it out. From the way you're dressed, it looks like you have, too. We've made something of ourselves. I can't afford to get pulled back in, and I can't believe you'd allow yourself to."

"Pulled back in? David, we don't have a choice," she replied hotly. She stalked over to the bed, withdrawing something golden from her pocket. My skin went cold when I recognized the little boomerang. It dredged up the terrible chittering, and the too-thin grey limbs, from the dark recesses of my mind. "You recognize it, I see. Your mother took it from a grey man. If that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will. Take it."

I stifled the urge to say something I'd regret, instead accepting the golden device. It was warm to the touch, more than it should have been. I rested my free hand on the metal arm of the bed, swinging my legs over the side. A vibration passed through me, like touching a live wire. I had no idea what it was, but an arc of current shot from my hand. It was like a spark of static electricity, but a thousand times worse. The electricity jumped, sending a bolt into the heart monitor next to the bed.

The heart monitor gave a brief scream, then went dark. Smoke poured from  the top. What the hell had just happened?

"We really need to get you out of here. Right now," Jillian said, throwing an arm around me. "Can you walk?"

Heels clicked on the linoleum outside, and Jillian released me as a tall blonde walked in. A tall black man trailed in her wake, dark dreadlocks spilling down his shoulders. He wore a trench coat, with his hands tucked into deep pockets. Not at all the type I'd expect a woman of Summers' bearing to keep company with.

"Ahh, David," she said, giving me a predatory smile that was probably meant to be friendly. Her artfully coiffed hair framed her face like a lion's mane; her lipstick was like blood. "I see that you're awake. How are you feeling?"

Jillian leaned closer, whispering. "Get ready to run."

"What are you doing in my hospital room?" I asked, raising shakily to my feet. "And who's your friend?"

"Marcus here is my associate. We're only here to check up on a potential investment," Summers said, raising a hand in a placating gesture. "Mohn Corp has decided there's merit in Initech's work, and you're an integral part of that. Doctor Usir has asked me to ensure that you will continue to remain a part of the project, before we send your CEO a term sheet."

"And if I've already received a better job offer?" I asked, clutching Jillian's arm for a moment. I released her when the shaking in my legs stopped. There was still a chance I was going to topple, but damn it if I wasn't going to preserve some shred of my dignity.

Summers stiffened, but it wasn't the words that had caused the reaction. She was staring at the golden device still clutched in my right hand. "Where did you get that?"

"None of your goddamn business," Jillian shot back, stepping protectively in front of me. "You need to leave. Nurses will be here any minute to check on David." She nodded at the still-smoking heart monitor.

"You're Phasic." Summers narrowed her eyes, and she took a threatening step toward Jillian. The word had an immediate effect on Marcus, who adopted a combat stance similar to the ones I had seen Jillian use during sparring bouts back when we were teens.

I wasn't sure what happened. Maybe it was instinct, or maybe it was something implanted by the grey men, but my hand shot up of its own accord. An arc of pure electricity shot out, tagging Marcus in the chest. He was hurled into the wall hard enough to smash the TV, much to our mutual surprise.

Summers danced backwards, raising both hands. The first pointed at Jillian, and an arc of electricity identical to the one I'd fired shot into her chest. Jillian was flung backwards, back arched and face locked in a rictus of pain. Summers' other hand pointed at me, and an unseen force lifted me from the ground. I dangled in the air, invisible fingers squeezing my throat hard enough to cut off the flow of air. Black spots swam across my vision as I choked and sputtered.

"The device," Jillian cried from somewhere far away. "David, use the device."

I was dimly aware of the golden boomerang still clutched in my hand, and I raised the device in Summers' direction. Her eyes widened, and the pressure on my throat disappeared. Summers dove for the doorway as a wave of green light erupted from the golden boomerang.

The lower portion of the door and the wall next to it simply ceased to exist, though Summers' rolled safely into the hallway. I toppled to the ground in a heap, shaking like I'd run a marathon. Whatever had summoned the electricity and activated the device apparently took quite a toll.

Marcus was already rising, extending an arm in my direction. His face was locked in a grimly determined expression, though there was no animosity there. He was a professional, doing what he needed with no personal feelings clouding his judgement.

Jillian, on the other hand, charged, launching a low kick at Marcus's ankle. He tried to evade, but Jillian was blindingly fast. The move spilled him back to the ground, and Jillian darted across the room back to my side.

"Hold on," she murmured, seizing my shoulder in a tight grip.

Something like ice washed through me, and I felt somehow lighter. Then the floor rippled around us, just like it had when I'd entered the grey men's ship all those years ago. We passed through the floor like it was water, dropping into the room below us.

Chapter 5- Flight

The room we landed in was occupied by an obese middle-aged man, who blinked wordlessly as we tumbled to the ground in a heap. The fall was painful, but thankfully adrenaline shielded me from the worst of it.

"What the fu--" the man began, but Jillian was already up and turning in his direction.

"Pain meds can cause hallucinations," she said, yanking me to my feet and pulling me toward the doorway, pausing to scan both sides of the hallway. "They'll be after us. We have to move quickly."

A strange sound like butter in a hot pan came from behind us, then Summers and Marcus tumbled into the room in the same manner we had.

"Crap," Jillian snapped, darting into the hallway. I stumbled after, a cocktail of fear and adrenaline somehow keeping me on my feet.

Several nurses were already staring at us, though most had the disinterested gaze earned over a twelve-hour shift.

"David, I need you to kill the power," she said, spinning to face me. "Can you do that?"

"How the hell am I supposed to do that?" I asked, risking a glance back into the room. Summers and Marcus were getting to their feet. We only had seconds.

"Just like you did upstairs, only stronger," Jillian explained in a rush. She rested a hand on my shoulder. "Grab the wall and feel the wiring inside it. Just add a lot more power and you'll trip the breakers."

"Won't that turn off life support for the patients?" I asked, horrified.

"Not on this floor. We're not in the ICU, so these people will be fine. Backup generators will come up quickly. They'll be fine." Jillian's eyes widened, and I didn't need to turn around to know why.

Something unseen picked her up and hurled her nearly twenty feet, Jillian's body sliding across the linoleum into the nurses' station across the hall. I slammed my palm against the wall, closing my eyes. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was out of time.

Sure enough I could feel the wiring within, long lines of humming power carried across copper wires. I willed an arc of electricity into the wall. Nothing happened.

"David, there's no need for this," Summers said, striding into the hallway. She raised a hand, and I was pinned against the wall, unable to move. "Come with us, and we'll protect you from the grey men. We aren't your enemies."

"Like hell you aren't," I snarled, anger rippling through me as I focused on Jillian's battered form trying to regain her feet. Blood dribbled down her face.

Energy exploded from within me, pouring through my hands and into the wall. The lights flickered, and then died. Chaos erupted as nurses and patients alike began yelling. I heard an 'oof' from Summers, then the pressure holding me disappeared. I caught a flash of blonde as Summers was flipped through the air, then Jillian loomed from the darkness.

"Come on," Jillian hissed from a few inches away. She grabbed my wrist, and we once again rippled through the floor.

This time we fell into a dark room that smelled of bleach. I felt around in the darkness, eventually reaching a metal shelf. I used it to get to my feet.

"Janitor's closet," Jillian said in a low voice. "Take a second to catch your breath while I figure a way out of this."

I wasn't the only one out of breath. Jillian's breathing was ragged too, and I could smell her sweat. If she was anywhere near the kind of exhaustion I felt, then we were in serious trouble.

"So, you have some sort of super powers?" I asked. Rather lamely.

"Obviously," Jillian said, voice tinged with exasperation. "Just as obviously, you do, too. Guess where they came from?"

"The grey men," I replied. I could almost feel her rolling her eyes in the dark. "Summers and that guy Marcus have them too. It looked like Summers could do everything we can, plus toss people around."

"Yep," Jillian said, sudden light illuminating her face as she held her phone aloft. "She's demonstrated too many legacies to be a conventional super. Your mother theorized people like her might exist. She called it a mimic."

"So someone that can steal other people's powers?" I asked, flashing back to one of my favorite X-Men characters.

"Essentially. This is the first one I've actually met." Jillian angled her phone's screen toward the door, a thick wooden one with a metal handle. "You ready to get out of here?"

"Yeah," I said, straightening. I'd caught my breath, though my legs were still shaky. "How do we get out without being caught?"

"Just trust me and stick close," she said, taking my hand. She slid her phone into the purse that she'd miraculously kept hold of, then opened the door.

It had been dark for less than three minutes, but the hospital staff had already reacted. The shouting was gone, replaced by confident calls as nurses moved around with flashlights. Jillian strode confidently down the hall, making for the metal door at the end.

"We'll take the stairwell to the first floor, then see if we can make it to an alley," Jillian said. She yanked open the door to the hallway, plunging inside.

I darted a glance behind me, but thankfully there was no sign of either Marcus or Summers. If we were lucky, the pair were still searching. It occurred to me that they might be able to sense us if they were getting close, assuming Summers needed to be close to others to mimic their powers.

"Come on," Jillian called from the stairwell.

I followed, closing the door behind me. Jillian had her cellphone out again as a makeshift flashlight. We descended several flights, and I was winded by the time we reached the bottom. Jillian waited patiently next to the metal door that led back into the hospital.

"This is the most tricky part," she said, eyeing me with concern. "If I was going to try to stop us from leaving the hospital I'd be watching the exits on the first floor."

"Will the hospital staff even let me leave in this gown?" I asked, looking down at the flimsy white garment. It barely covered me, and was open in the back. Not comfortable, and definitely not the outfit I'd choose to wear when escaping super-powered assailants. "I don't even have shoes."

"Good point," Jillian said, biting her lip. It made me smile. In that moment, she looked just like she had when we were fourteen. She peered through the narrow window set in the top of the door. "Okay, so we need to get you clothes."

"I have a better idea," I said, opening the door. I scanned the hallway, smiling when I located what I was looking for.

I moved to a wheelchair next to a nursing station. Sitting down felt wonderful, and would also make a perfect disguise. None of the nurses or doctors around us seemed to notice, thankfully.

"Great thinking," Jillian said, moving behind the wheelchair. She pushed me up the hall, keeping close to the wall to avoid other patients in the near darkness. "If we run into them, just grab my hand and I'll get us away. I think I have enough juice."

Jillian wheeled me out of the hospital and onto the rainy San Francisco sidewalk.

Chapter 6- Explanations

One of the things that fascinated me about San Francisco was that the people there had the ability to completely tune out anything they didn't want to see. The homeless people all over the financial district were invisible, completely ignored by the suit-wearing execs littering the streets. The 1% saw only what they wanted to.

For once that actually played in my favor, because passersby studiously ignored Jillian and I as we hurried down Mission Street. I clutched the rear of my hospital gown, teeth chattering from the chill. My bare feet slapped the dirty concrete as we ran, finally ducking into an alleyway outside a small credit union.

"Well, we got away," I said, peering around the corner. I turned back to Jillian. "Now what?"

"Now we find a way out of the city. We need to get back to Tuolumne and link up with your mother," she stated, eyes ceaselessly roaming the foot traffic.

"That sounds great, except that I'm just about naked and have no money. My wallet is back at the hospital," I said, rubbing my arms to ward off the chill.

"Even if you had it we couldn't use it," Jillian said, finally looking at me. Her jeans and sweater weren't standard fare for execs, but were common enough with the startup crowd that it blended in. "I don't think the pair from the hospital worked for the grey men. If the grey men wanted you they'd have just taken you, like they took us when we were kids. Those people worked for another agency."

"One of them-- the blonde-- came to Initech a few days back. They claimed to be investors for something called Mohn Corp, and Summers' boss was a guy named Usir." I supplied, teeth chattering. "That doesn't explain why I can't use my wallet though."

"They'll be looking for credit card transactions," Jillian replied, frowning. It did nothing to mar her beauty, and I found myself eyeing her in a way completely inappropriate to our current situation. "We don't know what abilities they have or what resources they have, and if your mother has taught me anything, it's that we can't take chances."

"That makes a scary kind of sense. Do you have money and a car then?" I asked, wincing as a blonde passed by the mouth of the alley. It wasn't Summers.

"Nope. All I have are credit cards, and we shouldn't use them. My car is back at the hospital, and we can't risk going back." Jillian started tapping a finger against her lip, her brow furrowed in thought. "I do have an idea though. Every person we've found with abilities has something your mother calls a lineage. Your first one is telemechanics. You have the ability to interface directly with machines."

I stood straighter, blinking once as I considered that. It made sense, given what I'd experienced at the hospital. "So, in theory, I could hack into a computer, like say..."

" ATM," she finished, giving a restrained smile.

I was silent for a long moment as I processed that. I'd been a fan of super hero movies and books my whole life, and the main character suddenly gaining powers was a mainstay. Most of those newly minted heroes agonized over their abilities, and how they might affect their lives. First they refused to believe they existed, then they wished they would go away. Not me. I'd spent a lot of drunken Saturdays with my geeky friends discussing this exact possibility. I was ready.

"That. Is. Awesome. Okay, let's do this." I walked boldly from the alley, trying to ignore all the pedestrians who were clearly struggling to pretend I didn't exist.

I glanced at the credit union, gauging my chances. They had an ATM, but it was just inside the vestibule. I'd have to go inside, and the teller behind the counter was already giving me the stink eye. I glanced at Jillian, who gave me a nod.

"I think I'm going to open a new account," she said, opening the glass door and walking inside. She made a beeline for the teller, whose gaze left me and landed squarely on Jillian. Now was my chance.

I darted inside, hurrying over to the ATM. Jillian was tall, and had positioned herself to block the teller's view of me. The cameras could still see me but, unless some bored security guard was manning them, the odds were good I was unobserved. For the moment. I needed to be quick about this.

The ATM looked like a million others: a place to insert your card and, next to that, a key pad. I rested my hand on the key pad like I was using the ATM, but of course nothing happened.

"Uh, give me money?" I asked in a low voice. Nothing, of course.

I thought back to the hospital. The electricity had first manifested when I'd been stressed, then again when I'd been angry. That suggested that my abilities might be triggered by emotional responses.

I thought about what had happened at the hospital, me being driven out of there. I thought about the possibility that the grey men were real, and about the life my mother had been forced to live thanks to their experiments. About the way I'd treated her, because I'd refused to believe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Something jolted through me, a moment of vertigo that quickly faded. I could feel the software, just sitting there waiting for input. Its normal operation was to access someone's account, verify they had the necessary funds, dispense the amount they requested, then record the withdrawal on their account. Each piece functioned more or less independently. I smiled, overriding the part that dispensed money. I told it to dispense $500, the programmed limit for this credit union.

It began to whir, then a series of $20 bills flowed into the tray. I resisted the urge to give a triumphant whoop, instead scooping up the money and shooting a glance at Jillian. She was still talking with the teller, so I hurried away from the machine and back outside, giggling like a crazy person. Once again, I received a few odd looks, but I ignored them. I couldn't stop smiling as I glanced down at the fistful of bills.

Jillian emerged a few moments later with a pamphlet clutched in one hand. She joined me on the sidewalk. "Did it work?"

"Beautifully," I said, showing her the rolled up wad of bills in my hand. "This will get me some clothes, but we're not going to be able to rent a car or anything."

"We won't worry about that yet. Let's get you dressed, then we'll take the ferry to the east bay," Jillian said, her eyes once again scanning the foot traffic around us. "Once we get there we'll figure out a way up to Tuolumne."

Chapter 7- The Ferry

It felt good to be wearing clothes again. We'd stopped by a Macy's, and the clerk had been gracious enough to let me walk out in my new jeans, a simple black T-shirt, and some running shoes. Jillian and I hoofed it down to the ferry building, and by the time we'd arrived the terror that we were being followed had faded to a dull fear. It was nearing 7 p.m., which meant there were only two more ferries before they shut down for the evening.

I walked up to one of the Clipper Card machines outside the ferry terminal. The cards worked on everything from the bus, to the ferry, to BART, and were as necessary as a driver's license in the bay area. I could probably have used my new abilities to get a card with preloaded cash, but elected to spend $40 from our dwindling supply instead. I was exhausted, and the Clipper machine's firmware wasn't nearly as straightforward as the ATM had been.

"I'm still unclear on something," I said, scooping up the plastic card from the tray where the machine had dropped it. To be honest I was unclear on a lot of things, but this one was top of mind right now.

"What's that?" Jillian asked, removing her sunglasses and stashing them in her purse. She'd worn them until it was too dark to see. I'd have done so, too, if I'd thought to buy them.

"Why were you at the hospital?" I asked, picking up the Clipper Card from the dispenser and moving to join the trickle of people walking onto the ferry.

"I told you. Your mom sent me." She threaded her arm through mine as we walked up the ramp and onto the boat. It was one of the larger ones, a double-decker affair designed to hold a couple hundred people. There were maybe thirty people heading across the bay, mostly commuters who looked like they were heading home early.

"Why did she send you?" I asked, gripping the railing as I stepped onto the boat. I headed toward the back, dropping into one of the plush seats in an unoccupied part of the cabin.

"She was worried about you," Jillian offered, sliding into the seat next to me. She peered around the cabin to make sure we were alone. "There's a lot I need to catch you up on. You remember your mother's reputation, obviously."

"Yeah," I said, softening my tone. Thinking about it made me sad. "Everybody thought she was insane, and not just because she talked about alien abductions. I love her, but my mom isn't exactly all there."

Jillian eyed me darkly for a moment before speaking. "Your mom is a great woman, David. And she is all there. She's the only reason the resistance got started, and, if not for her, abductees would have no idea what's going on--much less be able to protect ourselves, or harness our abilities."

"Wait, what? My mom started a resistance?" I asked. My tone must have been incredulous, because Jillian's dark look became positively venomous.

"Cut her some slack, David. There's a lot you don't know." She kept her tone low. "Your mom wasn't crazy. She really did hear voices, because she was a telepath. It was her first lineage. She had to live with dozens of voices in her head all the time. Of course she appeared crazy."

I didn't reply right away. That was a lot to take in. If Jillian was right, I'd been horrible to my mom, all but cutting her out of my life over the last few years. Worse, the grey men were really out there, and my mom could be right about them coming back.

It was time to make a choice. I could keep pretending it wasn't real, or I could accept the ugly reality that had just been rudely shoved in my face.

"I'm sorry," I offered, tucking my hands in my pockets. "I had no idea, Jillian."

"It's not me you need to apologize to." Jillian stared out the window as the ferry's engine thrummed to life. We pulled away from the dock and began backing into the harbor.

"True. I'll talk to her when we get there. In the meantime, I've got a lot of questions, and we've got nothing but time," I said, changing the subject. "You obviously know a lot about what's going on, about people with abilities. What can you tell me about where those powers come from? What do you know about Mohn Corp, or how they also have people with abilities?"

"Okay, I'll tell you what I can," Jillian said, turning back to face me. She looked tired, the dark circles under her eyes noticeable under the fluorescent bulbs on the ferry. "The grey men have been kidnapping people for a long time, apparently to turn us into supers. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me, and we've never figured out why they're doing it. What we do know is that they have the ability to track us."

Jillian turned in the seat, brushing the hair from the back of her neck. I leaned over, spotting a white scar directly over her spine. It was tiny enough that it took me several seconds to locate. "You think they implanted us?"

"I know they did." Jillian eyed me soberly. "A few members of the cell I joined took their implants out. They're little slivers of black stone, obsidian maybe. The people who removed them died within days."

"How?" I asked, shuddering. I knew I was imagining things, but I could feel something in the back of my neck.

"Their organs just...liquefied. Doctors said something about radiation, but they had no idea what killed those people." Jillian's eyes shone, but she blinked away the tears. Her jaw hardened. "You can see why we have to do something. Grey men experiments are killing us, but that isn't even the worst part. Your mom claims they have agents placed everywhere. Most of the world's governments have been infiltrated. That's part of why we need to avoid drawing attention to ourselves. Even being caught on camera might be enough for them to find us."

"If we have trackers implanted why do they need cameras to find us?" I asked.

"The grey men can use the trackers, but their agents have to rely on more conventional means," Jillian replied.

"What do the grey men want?" I asked. The ferry had picked up speed, bobbing gently up and down as it raced toward the east bay.

"Not even your mom is sure. She claims there are others fighting, but doesn't know whether or not we can trust them," Jillian replied, shrugging. "It's not a lot to go on, but the next step is clear. We need to get you to your mom and figure out why you suddenly became so important."

"Then that's exactly what we're going to do," I said, straightening. "I'm tired of running. I want answers. It's time to fight back."

Interlude- The Grey Men

The grey man raised his focus, aiming the golden device at the subject. The subject gave a muffled scream, struggling against the stasis field's invisible bonds. The futile thrashing knocked the red tie to the side, exposing a white dress shirt spotted with blood.

The hominid's eyes were wide with fear, its chest heaving with rapid, shallow breaths. The grey found this behavior interesting, as this particular subject had been taken more often than any other in the last century.

The grey gestured with the focus, and a wave of green radiation pulsed up from the floor. It bathed the subject, who writhed and shrieked as a holographic representation of its helixes appeared in the air next to it. The grey studied that map, interested in any changes. This particular subject had long since stopped developing, but that didn't mean there wasn't much information that could be gleaned. Most subjects eventually broke down, but this one's DNA had stabilized. It was one of the first to do so, and thus of interest to the grey.

A chittering voice came from behind the grey. "Statement- this is the subject you've trained to facilitate communication with the progenitors. Query- is this activity valuable?" The grey turned, facing the newcomer. Their minds instinctively joined, providing many layers of nuance to their communication.

"Answer- possibly. Explanation- their technology is crude, but has progressed much since they began studying ours." The grey turned back to the subject, waving a golden focus at the DNA map. The hologram disappeared, replaced by a hologram of the subject's brain. The grey deftly manipulated the cerebral cortex, sifting until it found the memory center it sought. "Statement- this is the memory related to the project."

A scene unfolded in holographic form, the memory taking place several times faster than it had been recorded. The grey watched as a laser was fired through a tube. The subject, which referred to itself as 'Dick', was showing the laser to several other hominids. The laser began pulsing, a crude approximation of the cadence the greys used for long-range communication.

"Statement- perhaps the experiment has some merit," the second grey said. Skepticism gave way to curiosity, felt through the joining.

Both were silent as the experiment continued. The laser grew brighter, then one of the hominids collapsed. The subject's perspective shifted as Dick studied the collapsed figure. The grey parsed his memory, bringing up all information about the hominid affected by the light pulse.

"Query- why would an experiment with communication affect a hominid in this way?" the second grey asked.

The first grey was silent, considering. Then it stated the only possibly solution. "Answer- the hominid is one of our experiments. It has manifested, and the manifestation is signal-based. It can interface with technology."

The second grey raised its own focus, and another hologram appeared. This one showed a vast cloud of subjects, each represented by a tiny skeletal image. The thousands of models had lines linking each other, a genealogy of every experiment conducted in the last thirty-seven centuries. It flipped through them, eventually settling on one. That one became much larger, and information about the subject appeared in the air next to it.

"Statement- the subject was examined seven solar cycles ago, and is scheduled for another examination in one more lunar cycle. Its maturation is expected. The subject's mother exhibits all necessary traits, but her helixes have grown unstable. She will break down in less than a cycle. Deterioration has already begun."

The first grey cocked its head, considering. "Hypothesis- if this new subject possesses the same abilities, it may be able to interface with the progenitors' technology."

"Statement- this would render the current subject's primitive experiment obsolete, thus ending subject Dick's usefulness."

The subject began thrashing, its eyes even wider. Its jaw worked, muffled sounds emerging. The grey cocked its head. "Statement- the subject is attempting to communicate."

The grey raised its focus, loosening the status field enough for the subject to speak. Hominid Dick licked its lips, then spoke in the human's primitive tongue. "The subject you're seeking. I can use him to complete my project. We can help you send a message home. Soon. Very soon. Let me live, and I can have it working in a month. Less, if you help me find David."

The greys looked at each other, then the first one voiced a thought. "Statement- subject David is not scheduled for testing for another lunar cycle. Delaying costs nothing."

"Statement- giving subject Dick this interval could yield interesting results."

"Query- what about subject David's mother?" the first grey asked.

"Answer- her usefulness has ended. She should be disposed of."

Chapter 8- Oakland

Night had fallen by the time we arrived at the Oakland ferry terminal. That was a blessing, as the parking lot on the far side wasn't well-lit. A smattering of cars dotted the area, mostly BMWs and Audis with the occasional older sedan mixed in. Most of the passengers debarked before us, heading off to their cars.

I moved to join them, but Jillian grabbed my arm. I jerked to a stop, more than a little annoyed. Being this close to Mom had me on edge, and the adrenaline was flowing freely. I needed to find her, to make sure she was okay, and make things right-- if I even could. At the very least I needed to sit down and listen, like I should have years ago.

"Hold on a sec," Jillian said, voice low. She pulled me closer as if we were a real couple just out on a stroll. "Wait to see who leaves. Once they have, we'll pick one of the cars still here and take it."

"Just like that?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. "How are we just going to take it?"

"Watch." Jillian picked up her pace, disengaging and approaching a black BMW X5 that hadn't been picked up by any passengers. She moved to the driver's side door like she had a purpose, shooting me a wink as she did so.

I followed, watching her carefully. She extended a hand through the driver's side door. A moment later the alarm beeped its disengage, and the door popped open. She gave me a broad smile. "Shall we get out of here?"

A howl sounded behind me, something otherworldly and a good deal deeper than any dog I'd ever heard. I spun around, scanning the dark side of the parking lot where the howl had come from. Something was moving in the shadows.

"Get in the goddamned car," Jillian roared, jumping in and pulling her door shut. I yanked my door open. I pulled it shut the instant was inside.

"What the hell is that?" I asked, peering through the window into the darkness.

"One of the things the grey men created to help their agents. We just call them beasts. They're part lizard, part spider. We don't want to be here when it arrives." She placed two fingers on the ignition, then her hand sank into it the same way it had gone through the door. A moment later the car roared to life. "Take the wheel."

I did as asked, swapping spots with her in an awkward tangle of limbs. As I settled into the driver's seat, something flashed in the darkness, a Chernobyl green as toxic as anything I'd ever seen. I recognized the blast as the same kind I'd fired from the boomerang back in the hospital. It struck the pole next to the passenger side door, and the affected part simply dissolved. That left the top half of the pole, which clattered to the ground just outside the BMW.

"Get us the hell out of here," Jillian ordered, closing her eyes.

I stomped on the gas, hopping a curb as I raced across the parking lot. There was another green flash from behind us, and just like that the back windshield ceased to exist. Worse, something large was moving in the darkness, racing toward us at breakneck speed. It had too many limbs, and skittered across the concrete faster than I'd seen anything move.

I depressed the gas even further, and the X5 rocked back and forth as it finally hit a level street. We were going forty miles an hour, but whatever was following us was still gaining ground. I slowed to go around a big pickup truck, and the creature got even closer. I caught a brief glimpse of something scaly when it passed under a light, then it disappeared again. Except for the eyes. They were the same toxic green as the blasts, and there were eight of them.

"Keep moving, but be aware that other cars won't be able to see us," Jillian said. Something cold pulsed from her. It was similar to when she'd phased us through the ground, but the effect was totally different. Wherever the energy passed things simply...disappeared. At first that was just Jillian, but within seconds the entire SUV was gone.

My stomach lurched as my brain fought to make sense of it, but I kept the gas depressed. It was tough navigating purely through touch, and I no longer had any idea how fast we were going since I couldn't see the speedometer. The engine roared as we began climbing a hill toward Tilden Park. I risked a glance at the rear view mirror, but realized it was invisible, just like we were. I focused on driving, whipping around a Honda Civic in a screech of rubber, then back into our lane.

"You turned us invisible?" I asked, gunning it as I took advantage of the empty road ahead of us. I gave a triumphant whoop, grinning in spite of the danger.  "What an awesome power."

"Awesome legacy," she corrected, her disembodied voice making the situation even more strange. "It's my second one. I still haven't discovered any others."

A frustrated howl broke the night behind us, more distant than the last one.

Chapter 9- Hateya

The wind roared through the missing back windshield, loudly enough to drown out everything but my thoughts. I drove. Jillian slept. I tried the radio for a while, but the wind made that impossible. So I spent the drive muttering to myself, circling around the same thoughts. The grey men were real. I had superpowers, but no idea how to use them. We were being hunted by Mohn Corp. My mom might be dying. That morbid cocktail of thoughts kept me awake, at least.

I let Jillian sleep until we'd reached the outskirts of Tuolumne. She looked up blearily, an imprint from the leather seat pressed into one cheek. "Huh?"

"We're here--well, here in Tuolumne, anyway. Where am I taking us?" I asked. It was odd being back home in the mountains. Everything looked smaller than it had when I'd last been here, though the wooded hills had quite a few more houses than they once did.

"Auntie Hateya's," Jillian said. She rubbed at her eyes, giving a big stretch. "How long was I out?"

"About three hours. The drive was uneventful. There's Taco Bell on the back seat if you're in the mood for cold tacos," I offered. Jillian reached into the back seat, and promptly began devouring greasy Mexican food.

I let her eat in silence as I turned onto Tuolumne Road North. The BMW eased onto a steep driveway as I began the climb to Hateya's house.

"Let me do the talking," Jillian said as we rolled to a stop on the gravelly hill. We were flanked by oaks and a few much taller pines, which completely screened us from the road. Hateya's place was only a few minutes outside the town of Tuolumne, but it felt incredibly remote, especially in the darkness. Her nearest neighbor was a couple hundred yards of forested hill away.

"Yeah, sure," I said, opening the door and stepping out. It was colder up here, and my teeth chattered. I wished I'd thought to grab a jacket on our little shopping trip.

"Hopefully she'll let us stay the night," Jillian said, throwing the strap of her purse over her shoulder. She started walking toward the house, a two-story affair with everything from solar panels to mahogany doors. The place must have cost a fortune, and was a far cry from the little shack that used to sit where the house was now.

"This place belongs to Aunt Hateya?" I said, goggling. When I'd known her, the woman had lived in a one-room trailer that was quite literally duct taped together. She used to mix six parts water to one can of soup to make it last longer. "Wow, she's really done well for herself."

"We all have. Karmic justice, the tribal elders call it. Black Oak Casino is making us all rich, and has put us in a position to revitalize the community. How's that for irony?" she asked, though her smile felt forced. Given the weight we were laboring under I wasn't surprised.

Jillian approached the door and rang the bell next to it. A moment later, competing barks from several large dogs sounded inside. A matronly woman with long grey hair opened the door, with the same kind smile I remembered. She'd put on weight since I last saw her, but she wore it well.

Behind her, two black labs and a golden retriever jockeyed to be the first to sniff us. "Jillian, this is a surprise. I thought you were still out of town."

"I know it's late, but we just got into town. Can we come in?" Jillian asked. She gestured at me. "I brought David home."

"David, it's been so long," Hateya said, gathering me into her arms. I felt a wet canine nose pressed against my hand, and a tail thumped against my leg on the far side. "Come in, come in. Make yourself at home and I'll get out some whiskey."

"Whiskey?" I asked, blinking. Hateya had always offered me tea when I'd visited.

"Grandma?" A girl's voice drifted down the stairs from the second floor. "Is that Auntie Jillian?"

"Come on down, child," Hateya called up the stairs. "Go in the kitchen and get some of those cookies I like, the black ones."

"Oreos?" the teen said, trotting down the stairs and into view. She shared Jillian's dark skin and high cheek bones, but her eyes were blue and her hair more of a ruddy red. Half Miwok, then, with some Irish mixed in, maybe. She was beautiful, just like Jillian.

I got the impression that this girl had no idea how pretty she was. She wore loose blue jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. Her hair was pulled into a simple ponytail, and her glasses were slightly bent. She wasn't wearing any makeup, though she didn't really need any to make an impression.

"Yes, those are the ones," Hateya said, already moving to a liquor cabinet to withdraw a fifth of Jack. She set up three shot glasses with the deft grace of a life-long bartender, then eyed the teenager. After a moment, she added a fourth.

"I'm Kali," the teen said, quiet as a mouse. She didn't make eye contact, but I was pretty sure the comment was directed at me.

"David," I said, extending a hand. Kali shook it, giving me a shy smile before dropping her gaze and her hand.

"Hello, Kaliska. It's wonderful to see you," Jillian said, smile broadening. She gathered the younger girl into a fierce hug, squeezing her for a long moment before finally letting her go.

The name surprised me. Most of the Miwok I knew had Caucasian names, though occasionally someone would name their child in the old way. Apparently Kali's mother had been a traditionalist.

Kali gave Jillian a huge hug. Her eyes teared up, but she blinked them away. "I missed you, Auntie Jillian."

"Hurry along, child," Hateya called from the bar.

Kali let go of Jillian and rushed into the kitchen, studiously avoiding looking at me. All three dogs followed her.

"You're not really going to let her drink that, are you?" Jillian said. She'd moved over to join Hateya over at the bar. Hateya offered her a shot, and Jillian eventually accepted it.

"Why wouldn't I?" Hateya asked, downing a shot and pouring another.

"Because she's seventeen," Jillian countered, back iron straight. This was definitely a new side. Jillian had introduced me to alcohol when we were both younger than Kali.

"Girl, you've got no idea what she's been through, and, besides, she's only a handful of years younger than you," Hateya said, leaning in to spear Jillian with a gaze. "I gotta be quick, before she figures out I already ate all the Oreos. She's putting up a brave front, but the girl's a mess. The grey men took her, Jill. Her and her mother both. Only her mother hasn't come back. It's been four days. They haven't kept anyone that long since you were fourteen," she finished significantly. The second shot disappeared and was replaced by a third.

"All right, I guess you're right," Jillian said. She eyed her shot for a moment, then downed it in one smooth motion. "We need a place to stay for the night, Auntie."

"Is it bad business?" Hateya asked, snatching up one of the other full shot glasses and bringing it to me. I took it with a nod.

"Worst kind," Jillian answered, glancing towards the kitchen. "Same kind Kali's dealing with. Maybe worse."

"God damn it." Hateya returned to the bar. "We've forgotten so much from the ancient days, but we remember the grey men. These fuckers have been here for a pile of centuries. There's glyphs up in the hills north of us, and no one knows how old they are. Meaning's clear though. You can't mistake 'em for anything else."

"Seriously?" I asked, glancing down at the shot for a moment. Why not? I downed it too, and the stuff burned.

"Haha, look at him tear up," Hateya said, cackling. She shot me a wink. "Yes, I'm serious. Grey men have been here a while. Your mama knew it, David. Spent the balance of her days learning all about 'em."

I went cold. Knew. Spent. Those were in the past tense. Had something happened to my mother? "Hateya, where is my--"

Kali emerged from the kitchen, a pack of dogs in her wake. "Sorry, Grandma, I couldn't find any. I think we're out."

She came over to stand near Jillian, withdrawing a smartphone from her pocket and staring at the screen. I couldn't see what she was reading, but I recognized the Kindle app. A book of some kind, then.  I bit back my questions about Mom, for now at least.

"Girl, you've earned a shot," Hateya said, offering Kali the last shot. The girl took it uncertainly. "Down it in one swallow. It will burn like bile, but in a minute you'll know why it's worth it."

Kali raised the shot to eye level, studying the contents. Then she tentatively poured it into her mouth, gagging. She started to tear up, but managed to force down the contents. "That was the most vile thing I've ever tasted."

"Yeah, well, it will fortify you in a minute, and that's a good thing for what we've got to discuss," Hateya said. She downed her last shot and slammed the glass down on the bar. "Kaliska, your Auntie's in some bad trouble with the grey men. She ain't told me about it yet, but she was about to. Things have been getting worse year after year with those pale bastards. Something bad is coming; I feel it. Now, they already know about your situation, so it's time you all pooled your troubles. "

So we told them. Everything.

Chapter 10- Crater

"It's right over the hill, toward Twainharte," Jillian explained as the SUV approached the summit. I stifled a yawn, surprised by how tired I was after a night's sleep. I'd wolfed down two plates of eggs, but was still hungry.

I was thankful Jillian had offered to drive, because I had far too much on my mind to be trusted at the wheel. I wiped at my eyes, just the thought of what might have happened to Mom tearing me up yet again. On top of that the grey men had agents everywhere, and those agents were after us. Usir was an unknown quantity, but whatever he wanted probably wasn't good for us.

"Something doesn't feel right about this place," Kali said from the backseat. I glanced back at the teen. She dropped her gaze immediately, waking her smartphone and acting like that was what she'd been focused on all along.

"Kali, have you experienced anything strange since the grey men returned you?" Jillian asked, blunt as usual.

Kali paled, straightening her glasses. She licked her lips, voice just above a whisper. "Yeah. I haven't really talked about it much, but things have been strange since I came back."

"Strange how?" I asked, glancing back at her again. We crested the summit, slicing into the dense mist. Pines loomed all around us, silent sentinels watching our approach.

The smell of burnt leather filled the car. I looked back at Kali in alarm. A thin plume of smoke curled from the seat where her hand had been resting. She recoiled in horror. "Omigod! I'm sorry...I didn't mean to ruin your seat."

"Pyrokinetic," Jillian said, giving a tight nod as if this was the most normal thing in the world. I was still staring at Kali, blinking.

"Pyro-what?" Kali asked, voice quavering.

"You're a pyrokinetic. You can light things on fire with your mind," Jillian explained, guiding the BMW smoothly down the road. A pair of headlights passed us from the other direction, the first we'd seen in a while. "It's one of the more common lineages, but also very powerful."

"So you've seen this before? Are there other powers too, then?" Kali asked, leaning forward.

"Yeah, from what I can tell we all have different ones," I answered, gesturing at the radio. I concentrated for a moment, feeling the components inside. The radio came to life without me needing to touch it, blaring a Kansas song. I gave a triumphant smile, but it was muted by the spike of pain now stabbing into the back of my skull. I shook my head, and the pain faded slightly. When it had abated I turned back to Kali. "Apparently I can control machines. Jillian is something called a Phasic."

"David," Kali said, shrinking back against the leather. "Your nose."

I reached up, feeling something wet and warm. It was blood. I gave Jillian a level look. "You know more about this stuff than I do. Please tell me this is normal."

"I know a lot less than you might think," Jillian said, stopping the car while she examined me. She tilted my head with a hand. "Maybe take it easy on your powers for a bit. This isn't something I've seen before."

Jillian guided the car down a narrow driveway. The fog was so thick that I had no idea where we were going until we emerged onto a wide gravel driveway. There was no house I could see, and nothing else that suggested why we might have come here.

"Oh my god," Jillian said, throwing the parking brake. She all but leapt out of the car. I followed, trotting after her into the mist, swiping at my nose with the back of my hand.

She stopped at the edge of a massive crater, easily a hundred feet across and just as deep. The sides were almost perfectly smooth, as if they'd been bored by a laser. They still smoked and smoldered, and I could feel the heat rising from the crater.

I was dimly aware of Kali approaching behind us. "Listen. There aren't any birds. There should be ravens all over these woods, but I don't hear a single one. Or any squirrels. It's like all the animals just...left. And the trees around the edge are bent away from the crater, maybe from the force of the blast."

"What the hell happened?" I muttered. My head continued to throb, building to a crescendo that spiked down into my gut. I sank to one knee, vomiting noisily into the pit.

"I can't imagine anything human having this level of precision. The grey men must have done this. We've never seen them intervene directly, not on this scale," Jillian said, staring down into the crater. She rested a hand on my shoulder, giving it a squeeze as I rose to my feet. "This is where the resistance was gathered, almost twenty of us. Only our members knew about it." She paused and reached out to take my hand. "Your mom was probably here, David."

I turned toward the car, walked back to the passenger's side, and climbed numbly back into the vehicle. This was the place where I was supposed to find answers, but all I had were more questions. Why had the grey men suddenly attacked? What had my mother been doing and, more importantly, what the hell was I supposed to do now?

Jillian slid into the driver's seat, eyes large with concern. Kali got in the back seat a moment later. The three of us sat in silence for several minutes.

"I don't know where to go now," Jillian said quietly.

"To my mom's house. There's a chance she wasn't here for this." The thought came to me even as I spoke. I wasn't going to give up, not until I found some frigging answers. "Even if she was, who knows what's still in her apartment? We go there and see what we can find. Mom was a pack rat. Is a pack rat."

"Won't it be watched?" Kali volunteered. "I mean, by the people you said chased you here?"

"Assuming they know it exists, it might be," Jillian allowed. She pursed her lips. "I still think it's a good idea to go. We need to find out if anyone survived the attack here."

"I agree, it's worth the risk. Besides, what the hell else are we going to do?" I said, staring out the windshield at the crater. "We're outclassed, and we need answers."

Chapter 11- Mom's House

Twenty-five minutes later, Jillian glided into a spot near the entrance of an apartment complex in downtown Sonora, right outside my mother's first floor apartment. She turned off the car, but made no immediate move to unbuckle her seat belt.

"Kali, I want you to stay in the car," Jillian ordered.

"What if you guys get into trouble?" Kali asked. She leaned forward between the seats, meeting Jillian's gaze. "I have abilities too. I can light things on fire with my mind, and if we get into a fight that might be useful. You know I want answers as much as you guys. My mother is still missing, remember?"

"I'll leave the keys in the ignition. You've got your cell phone, right?" Jillian asked, ignoring Kali's question.

"Yes, I've got it."

"Then stay in the car. I want you in the driver's seat. Keep an eye on the building, and if you see anyone approach I want you to call me immediately. Understand?" Jillian asked, a hard edge to her voice.

"Okay," Kali agreed, heaving a sigh.

"Thanks, Kali," I said, opening the door and stepping into the rain. It was starting to drizzle.

I stepped over a row of rocks bordering the walk and moved over to Mom's front door. The front patio was ringed by a waist-high fence, with mismatched Christmas lights strung along the top. They stayed up year-round. A single white patio chair sat near the sliding glass door, with an inflatable little green man sitting on it. He wore a Santa hat, though we were well into spring.

I reached under an empty flower pot next to the door and fished out her spare key. I had to jiggle it a little to get it into the lock, then opened the front door and stepped into Mom's apartment for the first time in three years. Nothing had changed. Just past the door stood a curio cabinet filled with colorful dragon statues. Beyond that were stacks of boxes and piles of old newspapers. They covered nearly every surface, except for the sky blue recliner where Mom had spent the bulk of her time.

It faced a tiny television with an old Playstation plugged in. I'd offered to buy mom a newer one, but she had been happy replaying Final Fantasy VII over and over again.

"Mom? Are you home?" I called out, already knowing she wasn't. The place was too still, too empty.

It reeked of cigarette smoke. Mom had smoked a pack and a half a day with all the windows closed, and she'd lived here for seven years. The walls were covered with an oily residue that had painted the walls the unmistakable yellow of a chronic smoker. Part of my mind recognized that stray thoughts were a way to avoid my feelings, but right now that was all I had the strength for.

"David," Jillian called, waving me over to the small kitchen table where I'd played about a billion games of Hearts with mom. "This is your mom's sketchbook. She never let anyone look at it."

I approached the table, picking up the battered black sketchbook. Some of the pages were full of pictures, others stuffed with hand-written notes. The last third of the book had a series of very disturbing sketches. Quite a few were of the grey men and what was quite clearly the obelisk forests inside their ships.

Others were less familiar. There was a sketch of the sun, with several fiery tendrils bleeding off the side. Another showed a jet-black pyramid jutting out of San Francisco bay near Angel Island. The last was by far the most disturbing, though. It showed a ravening horde of zombies packing the Golden Gate Bridge. They were unmistakable, the kind she could have pulled from any Romero movie.

A few days ago I would have taken them for a sign of growing psychosis, or just some idle artwork based on a TV show. Now, they were terrifying. I felt ill, and more than anything I wanted to be away from there. At least the headache had faded.

"If she left anything important it's probably in her room," I said, plunging past Jillian up the narrow hallway.

The bedroom door stood halfway open, and I slipped inside without touching the yellowed wood. The room looked the same as it always had, a queen-sized bed buried under a comforter that had once been white, with an army of pillows. A nightstand sat next to it, with a worn AM radio facing the bed. If I turned it on I knew it would be tuned to the station that played Coast to Coast, a conspiracy show about aliens and other phenomena that mom had absolutely loved, and I had abhorred.

The only other item of note was Mom's dresser, which was covered in snow globes. A large wooden jewelry box sat in the back, propped open. I approached, recoiling a bit at what I saw in the jewelry box's small mirror. My dark hair was mussed, my eyes swollen despite having just had a night's sleep. I looked awful and felt worse.

"See anything useful?" Jillian asked, entering the room behind me.

"Maybe," I said, leaning closer to the jewelry box.

It held many of the necklaces and rings I was familiar with. Mom loved turquoise, gold, and any gaudy semi-precious stone she could get her hands on. The funny thing was that she somehow managed to make all of that stuff look elegant, no matter how much of it she seemed to wear at once.

Near the back of the box was a massive green stone, far larger than anything else. It was maybe three inches tall, and cut into a perfect pyramid. The color was too light for an emerald; it was more like summer. I reached out to touch it, and a shock went through me the instant my finger brushed the warm stone.

"David." A familiar voice came from behind me, and it wasn't Jillian. I turned slowly to see a spectral figure hovering several inches over the carpet. The translucent woman was the same green as the stone, but she was unmistakably my mother. She gave me a warm smile, one that made me tear up instantly. "I'm so glad you're all right, and that you thought to look here. I wasn't positive you'd think of it, or be able to make it if you did."

"Dorothy?" Jillian asked, voice quavering. That grounded me somehow, the fact that she could see the specter too.

"Hello, Jillian. You did well in locating David. Thank you for that," Mom said, shifting her smile to Jillian. She looked younger somehow, more vibrant than last time I'd seen her.

"Mom, what is that crystal? How are you talking to us?" I asked, several competing theories playing through my head. Communication device? Mental repository?

"It's a genetic memory crystal. In essence, a mirror of my mind. I have all of Dorothy's memories up to the moment the crystal was imprinted, and her entire personality. At least I've lost quite a bit of weight," Mom said, giving me a holographic smile as she posed. Her expression sobered before she spoke again. "I don't know the fate of the real me, but I suspect the worst. The real me-- Dorothy-- headed to the safe house to meet with her resistance cell. I'm guessing you've already looked there?"

"Yeah. Nothing left but a crater," Jillian replied in a small voice. She sat on the corner of the bed, eyes locked on the spectral hologram.

"It's as I feared then. It looks like I was right to create the crystal. David, there's a lot I have to share with you. You're far more important than you realize, both to the resistance and to the grey men," she explained. "I have a lot to tell you, and not much time. If you're here they probably already know, and they'll be here soon."

"Who?" I asked.

"One of two groups: either the agents of the grey men, or a faction called Mohn Corp," the hologram explained.

"What can you tell us about Mohn Corp?" I asked, joining Jillian on the bed. I knew we had to get out of here, but I was hoping a minute or two wouldn't matter. I needed answers more than I needed air.

"The corporation is run by a man named Usir, who is definitely more than he appears to be. You'll need to learn the truth behind him, David. I wasn't able to, but your powers are uniquely suited to getting answers," she explained. "He wasn't created by the grey men, but seems to possess a lot of power. I don't know where he comes from, or how he relates to them. I do know he's old, centuries at the very least. It appears he's been gathering supers, but I have no idea what his motives are."

"He's interested in me," I said, scooting closer to Jillian. My hand found hers, and she gave it a squeeze. "He was trying to invest in the company I work for."

"I'm not surprised," Mom said--hologram or no, that's how I decided I was going to think of her. "Your powers are unique, and I believe they may be what the grey men have been seeking all along. As Jillian has no doubt told you, you're a telemechanic. You can interface directly with machines."

"Why is that so useful to Usir?" Jillian asked.

"In my limited research, I came across references to something called Object 3. I don't know what it is, exactly, but I think it's a grey man artifact. Usir has it, and is trying to find a way to use it," Mom explained.

A ringing came from Jillian's pocket, and she fished her phone out. She turned to me eyes widening, a voice rising a half octave. "It's Kali."

Chapter 12- Attack

"What's up?" Jillian said, phone shooting to her ear. I heard Kali's voice in the background, high pitched and scared.

A familiar howl sounded outside, rattling the bedroom windows. I shot to my feet, looking for any way to escape.

"David," holo-mom said, drawing my attention. "You cannot allow them to find the crystal. They cannot discover what I have learned."

The front door exploded inward, and something heavy advanced quickly up the hallway. Jillian tucked her phone in her pocket, then shouldered the door closed.

"That's not even going to slow them down," I said, scooping up the crystal. The hologram disappeared as I handed it to Jillian. "Hang on to that. If they're here for me, then I should be as far from the crystal as possible."

The door simply melted, dissolving into green mist that flowed across the carpet. A moment later, a Latino kid about Kali's age stepped into the doorway. Tattoos poked up from the collar of a black T-shirt, and I spotted several gold teeth when he shot me a predatory smile. "It's gonna go rough for both of you if you try to run. Just like it went rough for the tasty redhead outside."

"What did you do to Kali?" I snarled, a surge of something red and hot rushing up from my gut.

"She'll live. I want her awake for what comes later," the thug said, winking cruelly at Jillian. "You can join in if you want."

A hollow chittering came from the hallway, menacing and alien. A thin scaly leg appeared near the thug, but I couldn't see any more of the creature.

I had a moment to consider my options, all of them bad. The kid had abilities, and apparently a pet fast enough to chase down cars. That didn't give us much of a chance. Still, might as well go down swinging.

Rage surged through me, longing to be given physical form. Some latent instinct guided my hand as I thrust it at the kid's face. An arc of electricity played over my outstretched fingers.

Surprise flitted across the kid's features. I knew I was playing with fire, but I'd be damned if I was going to lay down and take this kid's shit.

I willed the energy from my hand, and it lanced at the kid. Elation surged for a split second, but faded quickly when I saw the effects. My 'bolt of lightning' was little more than a zap of static electricity.

A tiny wisp of smoke rose from the kid's pocket, and his eyes fell to his pants. He fished out a phone, glaring angrily up at me. I wanted to say something witty, but it's hard to recover from a situation like that--I'd tried to lay the kid out with a bolt of lightning, and instead had fried his phone.

"You think you've got some juice?" the kid roared, aiming both hands at me. "I'll show you some juice."

A wave of green energy burst from the kid's hands. My eyes widened as the terrible energy approached my face, then Jillian was tackling me to the floor. The familiar chill of her ability washed over me. My body faded, then disappeared all together.

"Clever, but not clever enough. Get em, boy," the thug growled, stalking into the room. He thrust his hand forward, and a torrent of green energy flowed into Mom's bed. There was a bright flash and when it faded the bed had simply ceased to exist. I scrambled backwards, chest heaving as I patted the floor in search of Jillian's hand. There was nowhere to go, no way to escape.

Then the beast entered the room. It was far more terrifying up close, all eight eyes scanning the room at once. One too-thin leg stabbed into the carpet, then another as it crept closer. The thing gave off a terrible stench, and I fought back a gag reflex, knowing that stealth was our only ally. Any sound could give us away.

Pustules oozed greasy grey muck from the beast's shoulders and back, and I realized that tiny little spiders were crawling out of them. The thing's jaws opened wider than I'd have thought possible, exposing hundreds of razor sharp teeth. I gave a wordless moan in spite of myself, the room fading as a powerful memory washed over me. I was fourteen again, hovering in the grey men's ship while they probed and experimented. Their flat black eyes, their tiny razored teeth. It all came back at once, paralyzing me at the worst possible moment. The memories refused to be repressed any longer.

"Don't kill them," the thug snapped. The beast gave a whine, then stalked forward with an excited chitter. "Just give it up, David. I can see the indentation in the carpet where you're laying, and my bud here can smell you. Drop the invisibility, or I'll have to kill your hot friend."

"Run," I whispered into Jillian's ear, then leapt to my feet. The instant I stood, I became visible. I glared at the thug as my hand slid into my pocket and wrapped around the golden boomerang. "You want me? Come and get me."

I whipped the device out, firing off a burst of green energy just like I had in the hospital. It hit the scaly beast in the face, melting several eyes and drawing a screech of pain. A spurt of grayish blood spilled out over the carpet, and the thing staggered backwards. Then it leapt at me, faster than thought. It knocked me to the floor near the dresser. The device went skittering away, and the creature's jaws hovered next to my throat, pus dripping onto my skin with hot, sizzling pain. It gave a low, deep growl, menacing enough that I scrunched my eyes shut and turned my face away.

"Not very smart, shooting the beast." The thug walked jauntily across the carpet, scooping up the golden boomerang. He tucked it into his pocket while turning a slow circle. "Damn. Looks like your girlfriend may have gotten away. I'm gonna have to take that out on you later." He knelt next to the beast, resting a hand on the intact part of the thing's face. "That's assuming my friend here leaves me enough to play with. Don't kill him, boy. But feel free to hurt him."

Chapter 13- Captured

"Wake up, David," came a familiar voice from somewhere far away. I didn't like that voice; it reminded me of unpaid overtime. I blinked awake, pulled up from the depths of sleep. Dick's dickish face hovered over me, wearing a plastic smile. "Ahh, good. You're awake. Welcome back to the land of the living."

I hurt. Everywhere. A burn on my neck competed with what felt like a cracked rib, and my right knee screamed when I moved it the tiniest bit. The pain shook off some of the cobwebs, but the grogginess persisted.

"Whe--" I croaked. I was parched. How long had I been out?

"Where are you?" Dick asked, gesturing at the room around him. "You're in the sub-basement. Initech is four levels above us. I needed a secure place to hold you, and this is the best I could come up with on short notice."

I tried to sit up, but thick bands of black rubber looped around my chest, pinning me to a cold, flat surface. Pieces of the same rubber had been duct-taped around my hands, too, sort of like boxing gloves. I looked around, but there were no windows. The room had only one door, and very little in the way of furniture. Just a desk in one corner, and what felt like an autopsy table that I was strapped to. The walls were whitewashed cinderblocks, perfect for blocking signals. Or any sound.

There was no sign of Jillian, or Kali. No sign of the strange beast, or the Latino who'd so thoroughly kicked our ass. I was alone, with no obvious means of escape.

"You probably have quite a few questions," Dick said, dragging a plastic chair near my head. He straightened his tie, then sat comfortably. "How did you get here? What's happened to you? What's going to happen to you?"

"Yeah, something like that," I muttered, wincing from the pain in my neck. "I know you want people committed to the company, but kidnapping seems a bit excessive."

"You've retained your sense of humor. That's good. You're going to need that," Dick gave me a smile you'd expect from a kid about to crush ants with his shoe. "Why don't we start by clearing away some misconceptions? I know about the grey men. In fact, I know a good deal more about them than you do. I know about your mother, that she was a precog, and a telepath. I know you thought she was crazy, and are now having to reassess your opinion."

That ran over me like a truck. Who the hell was Dick? Something brushed along the inside of my brain, like the precursor to a headache.

"You'll have to excuse the overzealousness of my henchmen." Dick was staring intently at me. Too intently. There was something there I was missing, but I was still too groggy to figure out what.

I just stared at him for a moment, trying to understand what was happening. The idea that Dick was in league with the grey men just wouldn't stick. It all seemed like too much of a coincidence. Again, I wondered who he was, and what his role in all this was.

"Your mother never told you about your real father, did she?" Dick said, tone somber. He leaned forward, eyeing me sternly.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? I knew my father. Knew him well."

"Did you? Or did you know the man she told you was your father?" Dick replied, pausing to wait for my reaction.

"What are you saying exactly? That you're my real father? That's bullshit. What are you, like, thirty-five?" I growled, straining against my bonds. "What kind of sick game are you playing?

"Yeah, I didn't think you'd fall for that. I'm thirty-eight, so you're right about me being too young," Dick said, giving me a cruel smile. "I'm a Star Wars fan, what can I say? No, I'm not your father, but it would make sense. Your mother and I share a lineage, one you're about to manifest. Assuming you haven't already."

"You're a telepath?" I asked, feeling that feather-light brush inside my head again. It suddenly took on a more ominous feel.

"You're quick," Dick said, grinning. "Yes, I can hear your thoughts. Eventually you'll be able to protect against that, but for now you're an open book, David. You have no secrets that I can't pry from that impressive little brain."

"What's your interest in all this?" I asked.

"You mean how am I related to the grey men? Every person with abilities--you'd think of them as supers--was created by the grey men. As you're no doubt aware, all of us have an implant in our necks," Dick explained, touching his neck with two fingers to demonstrate. "We're tagged like animals, which means we can't run. Can't hide. The analogy is a good one. We're far, far more primitive than the grey men. Resistance, as I'm sure you're aware, is futile."

"So you work for them," I said. "And let me guess, you want me to work for them too?"

"It's not a matter of what I want, David. If you work for them you get to live. If you don't, well, they'll put you down just like we do a dangerous animal at a zoo. We're tools, like it or not. Isn't it better to live as a trusted servant, than to die accomplishing nothing? Principles are great, but they don't mean crap if you can't change anything and end up dead in the process." Dick gave a heavy sigh. "Your mother refused to be used. She started fighting back. You saw what the grey men did in response. She could have worked with them, and, if she had, then she'd still be alive today."

"What is it you want from me, exactly? It seems like an awfully big coincidence that you happened to hire me, of all people," I said, even as the thought formed. It was all a little too convenient, a promising startup taking an intern from a junior college. Part of me had known it was too good to be true.

"Fair enough, you want the pitch. Here it is," Dick said, leaning forward until his face was only a few inches away. "What the grey men want more than anything else is to contact their masters, wherever they come from. Doing that requires faster-than-light transmission."

I blinked once, connections forming. "So...all the work we're doing here. You don't give a crap about faster global internet. You're building a way for the grey men to phone home."

"Precisely. That's the reason I like you, David. You're quick. Can you guess why I'm so interested in you?"

"Because you think my abilities will speed the project," I said, a million questions rolling through my mind. Since he could hear my thoughts anyway I decided to ask the most important. "Why can't the grey men call home themselves if they're so advanced?"

"Ahh, right to the heart of things. I asked the very same question, not a wise move. I was tortured in ways you don't even want described, and learned right then that some questions are safer not to ask. I don't know why they can't do it themselves, but it doesn't matter. What does is that if I'm the one to provide the tools they need, then I get to live. If not, then I'll be...recycled." The way he said the last word left no doubt in my mind that being recycled would be worse than death.

"So if I don't want to be recycled, I need to cooperate with you?"

"I'd highly recommend doing so. Nor is working with me without perks," Dick said, magnanimously. "If you help me I can teach you to use your powers. With telemechanics, you can have wealth beyond your wildest dreams. You can delve into every secret on the internet. Hell, if you want to fight back, then you can do it quietly, on your own terms. But that only happens if you work with me first, if you help me give the grey men what they need."

I didn't want to refuse out of hand, though every part of me cried out at the idea of working for the grey men. Could I honestly do that, if it meant being given time to come up with a real resistance? Would I be able to live with myself? Or was death preferable? Could I find a way to take my own life?

"No," Dick responded to my thoughts. "Your bonds are secure. I won't allow you to take the easy way out. Work with me, or I'll turn you over to the grey men. They are far less accommodating than I am."

"I'll think about it, but I have one more question," I said, being as honest as I could. I would think about it. "What do the grey men want?"

"They're honest about their goals," Dick said, giving a helpless shrug. "They want to colonize the earth. You can ask them about it yourself in a few hours, when they arrive."

I panicked, thrashing in my bonds as the desperation mounted. Dick merely smiled.

Interlude 2

Doctor Usir stared out the window of his penthouse office, hands clasped behind his back. He gazed across San Francisco Bay, enjoying the way the sunlight played across it. The Golden Gate Bridge dominated the view, its smooth, coppery arches connecting Marin to the city. He still remembered watching the workmen sink the foundation, with only a thin bulwark to shield them from the ocean's crushing weight. There was so much history in that bridge, a hundred little facts most had forgotten. What would people think if they knew that the concrete that formed the south pylon included ground-up headstones from a local cemetery?

History was near-sighted, which was why every generation had to relearn the lessons of their parents. It was only when one gained perspective bought over centuries that one understood the larger picture. Very few could make that claim; only those few understood how much the world had changed over time, and that deeper secrets than a few headstones were waiting to be uncovered. Secrets like the one that lay under the bay, the one he so desperately needed to find. His daughter lay within, assuming the Ark still had power. There was only one way to reach her, and that was Object 3.

"Sir." The door to his office opened; Usir turned to face Summers. "You're going to want to deal with this. The phasic we encountered? She just walked into the lobby."

"Interesting," Usir said, smoothing his blazer. The soft material calmed him. "Have her escorted here, please. Bring Marcus back with you as well."

Summers gave a tight nod and departed the office. Having Marcus present was a calculated move. It wasn't for protection, as a simple phasic was no real threat, not to him anyway. No, this was a statement. Usir moved to the trio of chairs near the center of the room. Sinking into the plush leather drew a sigh of contentment. He'd been hardened in battle long ago, millennia before mankind learned to write, but there was no reason not to enjoy the simple pleasures a life such as his afforded.

He waited in silence for several minutes before the door opened again. Summers came in first, then a pair of women. He recognized the first from surveillance photos, one Jillian Kotati. She was a tall, raven-haired beauty, perhaps five foot ten. The girl beside her was just a hair shorter, with very similar features. A younger sister perhaps? The younger one's hair was dark too, but more of a deep auburn than a true black.

Marcus was last to enter, six feet of thickly-corded muscle, dark skin, and menace. He trailed just after the women, stalking into the room like a panther. Usir nodded at him, and Marcus moved to stand silently next to the door. Summers led the two visitors to the seats opposite Usir, and he gestured at them to be seated.

"Welcome," Usir said, crossing his legs. He smoothed out his tie, giving them a disarming smile. One of the benefits of appearing elderly was the implicit trust younger people granted him. Show them a friendly smile, and they'd assume he was a doddering old grandfather. "How can I be of assistance to you ladies?"

"You can start by explaining why blondie there ambushed David and I at the hospital," Jillian said, folding her arms as she glanced contemptuously at the chair. Her companion eyed the chairs longingly, but remained standing. That, too, was interesting. They'd adopted an offensive posture, right in the proverbial lions' den.

"I don't believe we've been properly introduced. My name is Doctor Usir," he said, rising shakily to his feet and offering Jillian his hand. She eyed it for a moment, then took it. "And you are?"

"Jillian," she answered. She nodded at her companion. "That's Kali. Listen, we don't have time for pleasantries. David has been kidnapped."

"Has he?" Usir asked, sinking back into his chair. He steepled his fingers under his chin. "By whom?"

"We don't know, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't your people or I wouldn't be here." Jillian bristled, almost daring him to get angry.

"You're correct on that front, I'm afraid," Usir said. He relaxed into his chair, refusing to mirror Jillian's animosity. "To answer your first question, Summers and Marcus attempted to bring David in for his own protection. We wanted to prevent just the kind of kidnapping you're here to report. I can understand why the two of you ran; I'd likely have done the same. Summers mishandled that situation, and I apologize for it."

"I mishandled it?" Summers snapped. She took a step toward Usir. "You weren't there. She was phasic, and I didn't know what faction she was affiliated with. If she'd been working for the grey men--"

"She wasn't," Usir snapped, meeting Summers' glare. "And now David is, presumably, in their hands. He is the first telemechanic we've seen since Melinda Waters. Do you have any idea how catastrophic it will be if the grey men are able to use him to achieve their agenda?"

Summers didn't answer, instead stalking to stand next to Marcus near the door. Usir allowed the insubordination, but filed it away to be dealt with later. Summers had one of the rarest lineages, nearly as rare as David's, or David's mother. Yet even that might not make her worth the effort. She was becoming a liability, and the day was fast approaching when Usir would mete out the fate she seemed to crave.

"How do we get him back, and exactly what is that going to cost me?" Jillian asked.

"What are you prepared to offer?" Usir asked, raising an eyebrow.

That took the girl aback. Her eyes smoldered, but she contained her anger. A good sign, that. She was young, but already possessed self-control. Probably from her martial arts training. She'd make a formidable agent, if she could be recruited.

"It doesn't work that way. Name your price, and I'll consider whether it's worth paying." Jillian's eyes hardened, less fire and more steel now. Yes, a very formidable agent--with the right molding, of course.

"There's no cost, because I don't believe I can do what you're asking." Usir gave a helpless shrug, a calculated gesture.

"What do you mean? David is important to you, or you wouldn't have gone after him. So how do we get him back?"

Usir sighed, this one quite genuine. "We pray, child. If his captors make a mistake, then we will find them. If David finds a way to contact us, we'll act instantly. Otherwise? There's nothing we can do."

"What about us?" Kali asked, speaking for the first time.

Usir turned his attention to her, eyes widening when he realized he'd missed something. One of his many talents allowed him to examine helixes with little more than a glance. The pattern in Kali's DNA was familiar. Her powers hadn't fully manifested, but Kali was a pyrokinetic. That might prove useful in the days to come. "About you? I'm not sure what you mean."

"Are you going to lock us up?" Kali asked, her eyes wide as dinner plates.

"Of course not," Usir said, smiling as warmly as he could. "It's up to you what you do from here. If you wish, I can put you up in a local hotel, or you can go your own way. What the grey men want, we seek to prevent. They want David, not you."

"We'll be on our way, then," Jillian said, stalking toward the door. Kali followed a moment later, and the pair stalked from the room. Jillian paused at the entrance, meeting his gaze. "We will get him back, and when we do you're going to give us some answers about who you are, and just what it is you want." Then she turned and left.

"Summers, contact Yuri. I want a conventional team standing by," Usir ordered, rising to his feet. He approached the window, watching the bay once more.

Chapter 14- Escape Plan

Dick left me lying on the table--typical dick move. I couldn't see a clock and there weren't any windows, but based on my increasing degree of discomfort, hours had passed. My neck was sore, one hand itched, and I had to pee. After a time, I forgot about my neck and hand because the urge to pee was becoming irresistible. So much so, the effort to resist caused me to sweat.

There was something terrible about finally releasing a warm wet puddle, especially since I just had to lie there in it. I'd spent the preceding hours straining against my bonds, and had even tried summoning electricity. It didn't take long to figure out why my hands had been wrapped in rubber.

So I started to cry. Yeah, I know, I had powers. That was supposed to make me a hero, but try laying in a puddle of your own piss while you wait for your mind-reading boss to turn you over to the aliens that have been experimenting on you since you were a kid.

I didn't know how long the tears lasted, but when they stopped I was at rock bottom. That made the choice easy. If I was going to get out of this, I'd have to use my brain. I wasn't Einstein, but I'd always been fairly bright. I'd focused mostly on computers, spending a lot of my childhood learning to build and repair them, and my brief time at SRJC had been spent learning to program them. Now I'd apparently manifested the power to interface directly with them.

How could I use that to my advantage?

I looked around the room and considered my options. There were lights, but since I couldn't fire electricity out of my ass that was out. Even if I could, putting out the lights wouldn't accomplish anything. There was a sprinkler head but even if I could figure out a way to start a fire, that would just get me really wet. If the fire department showed up, they wouldn't have the means to get down into the basement.

I closed my eyes, considering. Over the last few hours I'd made a few mental leaps, and I thought I'd figured out how my powers might work. I could interface directly with machines, which communicated in two ways. The first was through electricity. The second was through signals. Nearly every computer in the world now had a Wi-Fi card, and we were blanketed by signals whether we knew it or not. The big question mark, of course, was whether or not I could see and manipulate signals.

So I listened. Seconds turned into minutes, but all I could hear was the pounding of my own heart. I forced myself to breathe deeply, knowing that I was close to panic. The grey men could arrive any minute, and the only resource I had was my wits. I had to keep it together.

I tried again, but this time I thought about my situation and how much it pissed me off. How angry Dick made me, not just today, but over the entire time I'd worked for Initech. To my shock, I realized that I could hear something faint, so faint I wasn't even sure it was there at first. It was exactly the sort of pulsing I sometimes heard when a cellphone was too close to a speaker. Something bubbled up inside of me, and that noise grew louder. I imagined it like a binary version of morse code, and tried to focus on what the data was saying.

"Oh my god," I muttered aloud. "Those are data packets."

I'd been a sysadmin for my high school, and understood the TCP/IP protocol very, very well. That, combined with binary, meant I could mentally parse data. Well, it meant I could do it with the aid of whatever the grey men had done to me. I slowed my breathing, trying to envision the packets. Light exploded in my head, a river of data I could see in my mind's eye. It was rainbow colored, every light pulse a different length and composition. The sounds were a symphony of connected light, and if I focused on any specific part I found that I could read it.

I laughed until I nearly cried again. It wasn't much, but at least I'd accomplished something. I could feel the Wi-Fi signals around me, which meant I could listen to data. The life-saving question still loomed, though: could I send signals as well as receive them? I envisioned a data packet, structuring the request in assembly, the lowest-level programming language I knew. The code flowed in my head, almost like I was typing it on a screen. It was like having a built in computer, one that responded far faster than its real counterpart.

I broadcast my little packet, a simple ping request. It was the smallest, easiest form of communication over a local area network. There was no answer. I waited a few more seconds, but still nothing. Damn it. I could send data, but the signal I was broadcasting was too weak to reach any of the Wi-Fi routers in the building.

I gritted my teeth, wishing I had a hand free so I could punch the wall. Every time I made a little progress, there was another barrier. There had to be a way to do this. There must be some way to strengthen the signal. How did real computer hardware do it? Increasing the power. Stronger routers used better antennas, but they also used more juice. Did that mean I could do the same thing? Time to find out.

I closed my eyes again, composing another ping request. Then I concentrated, so hard that I began to shake. I could feel the blood rushing to my head, feel the beginning of a migraine competing with all the other aches and pains. Then I released my packet. I waited seven long seconds, but there was no response.

"Are you frigging kidding me?" I yelled, thrashing powerlessly in my bonds. "What the hell do you want from me, universe?"

It took maybe fifteen minutes for me to calm down enough to try again, and that only happened because I literally had nothing else to do. So I concentrated again, but this time I channeled all the rage, all the helplessness. I began to scream, forcing everything I had into the ability. A trickle of warmth leaked from my nose, and I didn't have to see it to know that it was blood. I didn't care. I tried harder.

The first data packet whizzed through the air, up through the ceiling, to the router on the first floor. My brain facilitated a quick handshake, and, just like that, I'd established a connection. The room faded away, and I was surrounded by an endless sea of light streams. Rivers that could carry me anywhere I wanted to go.

I smiled, gliding up the river until I found a cell phone. It belonged to a barista at the coffee shop across the street. I bit my lip, trying to decide how I could use it. I didn't have Jillian's email address, or even Kali's. I had no way of getting in touch with Hateya.

Then it occurred to me. I could use social media. Kali was a seventeen-year-old girl, and most kids her age used Tumblr far more often than Facebook. So I started browsing, sifting through thousands of accounts almost instantaneously. Then I found her. Her username was TardisLover, and the picture matched her perfectly. So I sent her a message.

Kali. Need help. At 415 Howard Street. Please send help. Be careful. Initech works for grey men.

Chapter 15- Gun Battle

I must have dozed off. The door crashed open, and several figures burst into the room, the first a beefy dark-haired man in police-style body armor. He carried a large pistol in one hand, and a baton in the other. His thick goatee had a few strands of grey, and he moved like a professional.

Behind him came figures I recognized. Jillian, followed by Summers, her scary friend Marcus, and two other men in body armor. The first was short and stocky with a shock of red hair, the other one tall and blonde.

Jillian rushed over to me, withdrawing a pocket knife and sawing at the first of my bonds. Summers moved to another, and within seconds they had me free.

"I see you got my message," I said. I grunted as I rose stiffly to my feet. "Where's Kali?"

"She's with us," Jillian said, helping me to the door. "I got her out when they took you. She's driving our getaway van."

"You let a seventeen-year-old drive the getaway vehicle?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.

"She was determined to help, and I didn't have time to argue."

"Quiet," the first man in body armor snapped. He had a thick Russian accent. "Is combat op. Could be assaulted at any time. Focus."

He waved his baton, and the other two figures in body armor started for the stairs. The red-headed one paused. He turned toward his taller companion and shot the guy in the face with a monstrous pistol identical to the one the Russian carried. Then the red-headed guy turned toward the rest of us.

Marcus was already moving as the man raised his pistol. He extended a hand, jerking it violently to the right. The soldier's neck snapped, and he collapsed bonelessly to the floor. Everyone was silent for a moment, staring.

"Telepath," Summers said, turning to Marcus. "I can feel him. He's upstairs, watching us through a camera."

"You killed Murphy," the Russian snarled, seizing Marcus by the shirt with one enormous fist. "Could have subdued."

"We can't take chances, Yuri," Marcus snarled back, knocking the Russian back a step with a casual gesture and an invisible wave of force. "We need to get out of here. Now."

The door to the stairwell slammed open, and something large bounded into the hallway. Something familiar, scaly, and very pissed off. The beast still had a scar where the four eyes on the right side of its head used to be.

"Down it," Marcus barked, waving his hand in the beast's direction.

The beast seemed to strain against a great force; Marcus grunted as he generated that force. The beast slid back a step, then its eyes flared green. It inhaled, then spat an enormous gob of sticky, putrid goo into Marcus's face.

Marcus screamed, collapsing in a heap as he flopped about in a vain attempt to remove the goo. The scent of cooked meat filled the basement hallway, nauseating me to the point of gagging.

Several things happened very nearly at once. Summers waved a hand over Marcus, and the goo levitated off of him. Summers gave a chopping motion, flinging it against the wall, where it sizzled and hissed as paint and plaster melted.

The beast fired a second wave of goo, this time in my direction. My legs refused my order to dive out of the way, leaving me to watch in horror as it sailed toward my chest. Then Jillian was there. She grabbed my arm, and cool energy washed over me. I winced, but the goo passed right through our suddenly ethereal forms.

Unfortunately, Yuri stood right behind us. Whatever the beast had vomited hit him square in the chest, and his Kevlar began smoking immediately. It gave off a sharp odor of burnt plastic, but he seemed otherwise unharmed.

"Go, go," Yuri roared, his thick Russian accent lending the words even more weight. He glided forward to meet the beast, which had began an ungainly charge in our direction. Yuri brought his baton down on its face, driving it back a step with a sharp crack.

He followed up the blow with a trio of rounds from his pistol, each aimed at the remaining eyes. The first two bounced off, each shot snapping the beast's head back. The third pierced an eye, drawing a howl of rage from the creature.

It bounded forward, tackling Yuri to the ground. He managed to get an arm up, which the beast gleefully seized between massive jaws.

Jillian hustled me up the hallway as fast as we could run. I glanced back to see Summers helping Marcus in the same direction. We made it into the dimly-lit stairwell where the beast had come from, belting up the stairs at a full run.

I stumbled around like a drunken frat kid, because my hands were still wrapped in duct tape and non-conductive rubber. I tripped more than once, and would have gone down, if not for Jillian.

We pounded up two flights of stairs. I slipped, my knee cracking on the concrete step. Jillian grabbed my arm and shoved me forward, which I guessed was a kind of assistance. I wanted to tell her that we needed to go through the door, but she was already opening it. It took entirely too long for me to figure out that she'd come in this way, so of course she knew how to get out.

"Move your ass, Marcus," Summers yelled from a few steps below me. I risked a glance back. Marcus was in bad shape, but still moving alongside her. Raw pink skin covered the left side of his face, and one eye had been seared shut. The other was unfocused.

We plowed into the hallway, and I skidded into a wall. Fifteen feet ahead lay the glass door I passed through every morning on the way in to work. Fifteen feet past that lay the steel door that led to the street. If we could make it thirty feet, we'd be safe.

I lurched forward, hobbling most of the distance to the glass door. Jillian had it halfway open, but she froze with her hand on the handle. Marcus and Summers had frozen as well. My own traitorous body refused to move, no matter how I railed at it.

Like a quartet of puppets, the four of us turned as one, against our will. We faced back the way we'd come, and when I realized why we'd stopped I started to tremble. Violently. A grey man stood in the hallway, just outside the doorway to the stairwell.

The halogen lights bathed its skin in an even more corpse-like pallor, and its razored teeth glinted. Those flat black eyes focused on me, and the thing began to chitter. Memories of the strange language brought me back to age fourteen, scared and alone inside their ship.

If I could have chosen to stop my own heart in that instant I would have, but even that was denied me. The grey man had complete control, and it raised a golden boomerang, gesturing at the stairwell. We began marching as one, the implant in my neck flaring painfully as it made demands on my nervous system. It was the first time I'd been conscious of the device, but I could feel the signal coming from it. I wanted to rip it out, even if that paralyzed me for life.

Then Yuri stepped into the hallway and shot the grey man in the face. He fired again and again, each shot sending a shell casing spinning into the air as the gun's roar stole what remained of my hearing.

The scent of hot gunpowder mixed with a terrible, musky scent--the grey man's blood, maybe. The thing collapsed to the floor, and Yuri sagged to his knees next to it.

I started in his direction, but Jillian seized my shoulder and tugged me the other way. We turned and ran, and the cool energy passed over me again. We passed through the glass door, then the metal one, rippling through both without pausing to open them,

A white van was parked just outside, the side door open ahead of us. I caught a glimpse of Kali's red hair in the front seat, and I heaved a sigh of relief as I dove face-first into the van's backseat.

Jillian landed a moment later, turning to haul the door closed. I blinked once at her. "What about the others?"

"They'll have to fend for themselves," Jillian said, turning to Kali. "Get us the hell out of here, now!"

Kali floored it, and we sped off into the night, even as Summers and Marcus stumbled through the steel door and onto the street.

Chapter 16- Going Rogue

"Where am I taking us?" Kali yelled over her shoulder. She sped down Howard Street, turning right on 2nd. There were very few cars on the road, so it had to be after midnight.

"The Golden Gate Bridge," Jillian called back. She pulled out a pocket knife, slicing with expert precision through the duct tape wrapping my hands. "We need to get out of the city."

"Why not Tuolumne?" Kali asked, pausing at a red light. It turned green almost immediately, and we turned left onto Market.

"Because they'll expect that," I supplied, flexing stiff fingers now that my hands were finally free. I looked Jillian in the eye. "Thank you. I owe you more than my life. I can't believe you pulled that off."

Jillian seized me in a fierce hug. "I was terrified we wouldn't find you. Thank you for sending that message. We'd never have gotten you out otherwise."

"How did you get Mohn to help you?" I asked, glancing around the van. It wasn't the state-of-the-art vehicle I'd have expected from Mohn, just a plain van you might find at any Enterprise Car Rental.

"We met with Usir. He gave us that team to get you out," Jillian said, releasing me. I missed her touch immediately.

"So this van belongs to them, right?" I said, a sudden thought occurring to me.

"Yeah." Jillian eyed me curiously.

"They'll almost certainly be tracking it." I looked around me, trying to use the new senses I'd experimented with during my captivity. It look me several moments to find it, but there was a subsonic tone at the edge of my hearing.

I leaned down to peer under the passenger seat. "Aha!"

It took several attempts to remove a small black box about the size of a cell phone. I held it up for Jillian to inspect.

She seized the device, then pushed her hand through the van's side door. It rippled around her, just like the doors back at Initech had. When she pulled her hand back in, it was empty.

"Let's see them track us now," she said, giving me the first smile since the rescue.

"I could kiss you," I said, laughing. Damn, it felt good to be alive.

"Uh, I'm still here," Kali called from the front seat. "How about you guys make out later? We need a plan. David just got kidnapped by super-powered alien G-men, and we just double-crossed one of the most powerful corporations in the world, one led by a guy we know is centuries old."

We'd covered a lot of ground very quickly, and were passing the Palace of Fine Arts as we began to the gradual ascent toward the Golden Gate Bridge. It loomed in front of us, the hills on the other side promising at least temporary reprieve from the nightmare we'd just escaped.

"So what are we going to do?" Kali asked, glancing at me as she accelerated. I was impressed by how well she was keeping it together, though maybe that was because she hadn't seen the grey man, or the beast that Yuri had presumably killed.

"I have a rough plan," I said, shifting so I could see both Jillian in the back and Kali in the front. "We need answers. Jillian do you still have the memory crystal?"

"Yeah," Jillian replied, fishing it out her inner jacket pocket. She tried to hand it to me, but I shook my head.

"Not right now. We can examine it when we get somewhere safe." I turned back to the bridge, considering. "I went to college in Santa Rosa, about forty miles north. There's a motel across from the school that will take cash, which gives us a place to hide while we figure things out. My anthropology professor is a pretty smart guy. I trust him, and he might be able to help us make sense of all this."

We sped onto the Golden Gate Bridge, heading north. I took the opportunity to slide back into the back seat, next to Jillian. Her eyes were wide and inviting as she watched me. I leaned in closer, giving her a smile that I hoped left no doubt about my intentions.

Jillian blushed, averting her eyes. I cupped her chin, and went in for the kiss I'd never finished when we were fourteen. The world melted away, and in that instant there was only one thing-- Jillian. Her scent, clean and heady, just like it had been all those years ago. Her soft lips, something I'd imagined in dreams many times over the years. We lingered there for an eternity, lost in each other.

Chapter 17- Investigating

I awoke to the heavenly smell of greasy fast food and coffee. The bed creaked as I sat up, blinking away sleep as I looked around the room. We were on the 2nd floor of a small hotel on Mendocino Boulevard, across from Santa Rosa Junior College. Late morning sun streamed through the thin curtains.

The room had two queen beds, and Jillian was blinking awake in the other one, where she and Kali had slept the night before. Her long dark hair was mussed, which somehow made her even more attractive than usual. I wished we'd had enough privacy for more than a kiss.

Kali was shouldering open the door, wearing black yoga pants, a pair of UGG boots, and a fleece jacket. It was like the uniform of the college freshman, though Kali was about a year short of pulling it off. She still wore her glasses, but the new clothing transformed her from wallflower nerd into hot young hipster.

"Is the outfit too much? I saw a lot of the girls on the campus across the street wearing this stuff, and I figured I should blend in. I bought it with cash, so we won't be tracked," she said, looking down at herself self-consciously. She moved to the room's one chair, setting two big McDonald's bags on the table, then adding a tray of coffee cups. "I didn't know what you guys were into, so I got a bunch of stuff."

"You are an angel, and the clothing looks great. You'll fit in when we head over to the campus later today." I rolled out of the bed, still wearing my clothes from the night before. I felt disgusting, but a shower could wait. Even though we'd raided a gas station convenience store for snacks on the drive to Santa Rosa I was still ravenous.

Two Egg McMuffins and a hash brown later, I gave a contented sigh and settled back onto the bed with a cup of coffee. I propped the pillows against the wall, and relaxed for the first time in days.

Jillian had gone at her breakfast with similar gusto, though Kali was more reserved.

"I wonder," I said, considering. "I still feel like I could sleep for another day, and I don't remember ever being that hungry."

"Yup," Jillian said, popping half a hash brown into her mouth. She spoke around mouthfuls, covering her mouth with her hand. "Our powers take a lot out of us, mentally and physically. We eat more than we used to, and if you use your powers a lot you sleep like the dead. Sitting in the sun seems to help, too."

"Which explains why I'm the only one not eating like a wild bear. You guys didn't let me burn anything." Kali brushed a lock of hair from her face, moving to sit at the foot of my bed. It was the first time I'd seen her with her hair down, and it strengthened the resemblance to Jillian. "So what now, team?"

"Now we get some answers," I said, turning to Jillian. "Can I have the crystal?"

"Of course." She set her coffee on the nightstand, and retrieved the crystal from her jacket. She handed it across to me, then sat on her bed.

As before, the moment I touched the crystal it flared a brilliant green. A moment later the spectral image of my mother appeared in the corner of the room. Her expression was incredibly lifelike, all motherly concern.

"Thank god you're all right," she said, expression warming to a smile. "I feared the worst when you didn't reactivate me right away."

"Oh my god, what the hell is that?" Kali said, gawking at the hologram.

"I'm a memory crystal." Mom replied, mimicking Kali's tone of voice. She gave her a wink and a playful smile. "Think of me as a copy of David's mother."

"Dorothy, this is my cousin Kali." Jillian gestured at Kali. "She's also been taken, and the grey men have given her abilities. If you were, well, the real version of you, we'd be inducting her into our cell right now."

"Pleased to meet you, Kali," Mom said, then turned back to me. "So fill me in. Where are we and what have you learned?"

I looked at Jillian, and she nodded at me. I took a deep breath, focusing on Mom again. "We've got more questions than answers. Doctor Usir, and Mohn Corp, helped Jillian rescue me from agents of the grey men. The agent who captured me was the guy I worked for at Initech, and it turns out the project I was working on is designed to communicate with the grey men's home world."

"Come again?" Jillian said, blinking at me.

"That's right, I haven't had a chance to fill you in on everything, either," I said. "Dick, the agent who was interrogating me, wanted to recruit me to help finish the project. We were working on a way to project data faster than light. The idea was to create a faster internet that can be used anywhere in the world, or that's what I signed on for, anyway. Turns out the project is a smokescreen to create a way for the grey men to phone home."

"They can't call home?" Kali asked.

"That's what I said, too." I shrugged. "Dick doesn't know why they can't do it on their own either, but I suspect the answer will be important."

"What else have you learned?" Mom asked. She glanced at the McDonald's bags. "And, dear god, why are you eating that crap? It's terrible for you."

I ignored the jibe about the food. Mom had always been able to lecture me about eating healthy, while lighting up another cigarette. The hypocrisy wasn't lost on me, but I was far too happy to see her to let it bother me. "Jillian?"

"Usir was all too willing to help us rescue David. He claims that anything the grey men want, he wants to oppose," she said.

"That makes sense. We don't know much about Usir, but I learned some details. Like I said before, he's older than he appears. A lot older. Project Solaris, Mohn's experiments with supers, goes back to at least the early eighties," Mom said, frowning. "I'd start there. Also, we need to learn more about Object 3, whatever it is, and we know it's vitally important to the grey men. My investigation suggests he's holding it in Mohn's San Francisco office, but I was never able to confirm that. I still don't even know what it is, except that it's old and has something to do with the grey men."

"I might have some answers about that--well, I might have some clues, anyway," Kali said, withdrawing her laptop from the backpack on the floor next to her. She opened it, scanning something.

"Don't keep us in suspense," Mom said, planting her hands on her hips.

"I was curious about this Mohn Corp, and I had a couple hours to kill this morning while I was waiting for you guys to wake up," Kali said. She swept her long hair from her face as she looked back at the screen. "Did you know Mohn Corp is the world's leader in funding for archeological digs? That seems really odd for a tech company, so I started looking into that. My mom was really interested in Egyptology, and I was pretty much raised on documentaries. It wasn't hard figuring out the common thread to what Mohn's funding."

"You found a connection?" I asked, rising from the bed and moving to stand behind Kali so I could see the screen. Kali had several tabs open in Google images, one for Cambodia, another for Egypt, and a third for Mexico.

"Look," she said, cycling between the images. Each showed an archeological dig. "Notice anything? Each dig site is connected to a pyramid. Every culture Mohn is interested in worshipped the same structure."

It seemed there was a lot more to Kali than the shy, distracted, teen she pretended to be. I'd never have considered investigating how Mohn Corp invested their money, and I doubted Jillian would have, either. Kali had caught something both of us had missed, and demonstrated a knowledge of archeology far beyond the single semester I'd taken.

"Nice catch," I said, as I studied the screen. "The question is why? What is it about pyramids that's so important to Mohn Corp?"

"I don't know," Kali said, shifting to face me. "But if you think that's interesting, wait until you hear this. During my research I looked into Usir. There's a link to a Wikipedia page, which claims that Usir is another name for Osiris. That's the Egyptian god of the dead."

"We need to find someone who knows more about Egypt. Maybe they can shed some light on the Osiris connection, or on why a corporation would spend millions digging up pyramids," Jillian said. She bit her lip. "I don't think Auntie Hateya would know anything useful, and contacting her might be risky. David?"

"I wanted to talk to Professor Smith anyway, that's the guy I mentioned last night," I said. I gave her a victorious smile. "During my second semester, I took Meso-American anthropology. It was a fun course, and for a little while I considered becoming an anthropologist. Professor Smith knew all about pyramids. I'll give him a call, and see if we can pay him a visit today."

Chapter 18- No Such Thing As Werewolves

Professor Smith wasn't available to see us until after class that afternoon, so I did what any sensible fugitive does. I slept like the dead until about twenty-five minutes before we were supposed to meet him.

Kali shook me lightly awake, and I fumbled groggily to my feet. I was still tired, but the additional five-hour nap meant I at least felt human. My clothing was still soiled from my, uh, situation during my captivity, but I couldn't smell it and hoped no one else could either.

"I used the last of my cash to do some more shopping while you were asleep," Kali said, giving me a warm smile. She produced a Ross bag, fishing out a T-shirt, socks, underwear, and--mother of god--a clean pair of jeans. "I hope they fit and aren't too cheesy. I didn't really know what you wear."

"It's perfect," I said, shucking out of my soiled shirt and pulling on the clean one.

"I'm going to head to the JC library to do a little more research while you and Jillian visit this professor," she said, setting the Ross bag on the table. "I got a few things for Jillian too. How long do you think you guys will be?"

"An hour, maybe?" I said, fairly certain we could do it in that time. "We'll swing by the library to get you when we're done."

Kali gave a nod, picking up her laptop as she headed for the door. She slipped out quietly, but the door opening still woke Jillian.

"Issit time to go?" a sleepy Jillian said, worming her way out of the blankets. She blinked blearily awake, slipping from the bed. She wore nothing but a long T-shirt, which exposed tantalizingly bare legs.

"I think so," I said, glancing at the clock. I took twenty seconds to straighten my hair as best I could, then started putting on the rest of the clothes Kali had brought. "Kali bought you some new clothes. They're in the bag on the table."

"I love that kid," Jillian said, scooping up the bag as she walked into the bathroom. She emerged less than five minutes later, looking like she'd spent a day at the spa. I'd have given just about anything to know how ladies managed to do that.

She'd brushed her hair, changed into a pair of black yoga pants and a long blue sweater, and even added a bit of lipstick and some blush. She'd transformed into the typical college student, a smart disguise given where we were.

Of course I'd managed the same thing accidentally. I resembled a student who'd stayed up all night playing World of Warcraft, then stumbled into the only class I hadn't managed to miss that day.

I led Jillian from the room. We trotted across the street to the wide lawn in front of the administrations building. Some things were the same. The giant oak tree was still there, complete with a half-dozen kids sitting in a circle chatting.

Other parts were different. They'd finally finished the three story brick parking garage where the lot used to be. I'd have bet a whole lot of students were happy about not having to park three blocks from school. I threaded between buildings, enjoying the feeling of nostalgia. That surprised me, as I'd only been gone for two years. I hadn't even gotten a degree.

We finally reached the anthropology building, a three-story brick structure with dozens of classrooms. I held open the door for Jillian, admiring the view as she walked past. She slipped into the air-conditioned hallway, pausing to wait for me. Rows of stadium seating ringed the room, with a raised stage up against one wall. I'd attended a lot of lectures here, and still pictured it full of students despite it being empty. The only other person was Professor Smith, a mousy-looking scholar in his mid-thirties. He wore the same Harry Potter style glasses he'd had when I was a student, and had the same mussed, dirty-blond hair.

"David," he said, smiling warming as we approached. "I was quite surprised to hear from you. Welcome back."

"Thanks for seeing us, Professor Smith," I said, extending a hand. He shook it.

"Please, call me Blair. I'm not your teacher any longer. So what brings you to the alma mater? Your email was pretty vague."

I hesitated for just an instant. I felt I could trust Professor Smith with what was going on, but did I really want to draw him into all this? No, that wasn't fair. So I decided to lie. Awkwardly.

"My friend Jillian is a writer," I said, gesturing at Jillian. "She's working on a techno thriller and had some questions about how several ancient cultures might be related."

"Ahh," the professor replied, eyes going flat. "This isn't going to be one of those 'prehistoric alien' style books is it? I can assure you there's no such thing as werewolves, elves aren't real, and aliens didn't build the pyramids."

Jillian choked. Loudly. She blinked a couple of times, recovering quickly. "Not exactly, no. It's more of an Atlantis conspiracy style book."

"Ahh," the professor repeated. He didn't seem any more enamored with that idea. "What sort of help do you need?"

"Let's say a corporation was digging in Egypt, Cambodia, and Mexico," Jillian said, darting me a glance that promised swift death when we left. "What might they be hoping to find? Is there a common thread between all three cultures?"

"Well, there's the obvious," the professor said, giving a shrug as he began packing papers into his brief case. "All three built pyramids. I suspect you already knew that though, which is why you picked those three. I'm not surprised you're asking for more. That's a pretty flimsy connection, and one that's been done to death. Badly."

"So there are other connections?" I asked, trying to take a little pressure off Jillian.

"Several, yes. First, there's the common history. All three cultures have similar creation myths, and all three believed that time is cyclic," Smith explained. "I'm sure you've heard all that 2012 nonsense. It was kicked off by the Mayans and their belief in the long count. They believed that when the count ended the age would turn, though they were frustratingly non-specific about exactly what that meant. Most scholars assume it was just a way for them to mark time, and that we're looking too hard for meaning that isn't there."

"And Egypt has similar myths?" Jillian asked.

"Remarkably. They teach that their gods emerged from a great flood that wiped out the world, and that another such flood would one day come again." The professor adjusted his glasses, somehow managing to look even more owlish in the process. "In a nutshell, their Book of the Dead taught that it was possible the entire world might be wiped out, leaving Osiris and his legion of the dead as the only survivors. He was their god of the underworld. This fate wasn't certain though. The Egyptians believed it might be avoided, though they didn't say how.

"They also believed in cosmic cycles, which is where the connection to the Mayans comes in," he continued. "Their calendars were similar, and the Egyptians believed that there were many ages, just like the Greeks, the Cambodians and half a dozen other cultures. Does that give you enough to work with?"

"The Osiris stuff is interesting," Jillian said, perking up. "I don't suppose he's based on a real figure? Someone in history? And was there anyone similar in the other cultures?"

"Some Egyptian deities are based on real figures, like Imhotep. Osiris, unfortunately, was not. At least as far as we know," Smith said, giving an apologetic shrug. "There are similar figures in other mythology though, which is interesting since they're separated by thousands of miles and just as many years. It's interesting that several cultures seem to follow parallel lines, though I doubt that's because of any real connection between them. Still, it might be useful if you're pursuing the Atlantis angle. Each of these cultures was built on the bones of an even older culture, one that some people believe was quite a bit more advanced than anything that came after."

"Is there any evidence of these older cultures?" Jillian asked.

"Some," Smith said, leaning back against his desk. "There's a lot of evidence that the Sphinx is many thousands of years older than we assume. It suffered what appear to be millennia of water erosion, which would only have been possible in the Pleistocene--the last ice age. There's also Gobekli Tepe, in modern-day Turkey. The ruins are several thousand years older than either Egypt or Sumer, but are of a size and complexity we'd have assumed impossible in a pre-agrarian society."

"That's fascinating," I said, and meant it. I wasn't sure how that related to Usir, or Mohn Corp, but I felt certain there was a connection I was missing.

"How's this for a potential plot?" Smith asked, giving a smile. "All three cultures really are descended from a greater culture, your Atlantis. There really was a catastrophe that wiped out this culture, leaving nothing but a few clues scattered over the world. Whatever catastrophe occurred before is cyclic somehow, which is supported in all three mythologies. It's coming again, and your heroes are trying to learn the truth so they can prevent it."

The room dimmed, and I staggered. Jillian's arms settled around my waist, keeping me from falling. Images burst into my mind, somehow familiar, though I was positive it was the first time I was seeing them. The sun, with tendrils of fire bursting from the surface. A jet black pyramid bursting from the water near the Golden Gate Bridge. A platform made of black stone, with a golden disk in the center. That last was the most powerful, and I sensed a deep connection with the platform.

"I think I need to sit down," I murmured, allowing Jillian to guide me to one of the seats in the first row.

"I'll get you a glass of water," Professor Smith said. He hurried from the room.

"David, what happened?" Jillian whispered, squeezing my hand as she eyed me intently.

"I don't know. Everything got really fuzzy, and I guess I had some sort of vision. It's the first time it's happened," I said. My head was starting to clear, and color was returning to the world.

"Oh my god," Jillian said, eyes widening. "David, you're a precog, like your mother. She used to have visions. I never saw one in person, but she used to tell people that they knocked her on her ass. What did you see?"

"I don't really know. The sun. A black pyramid. They were familiar." It took me a moment to realize why. I met Jillian's gaze. "I know where I've seen them. They were both in Mom's sketchbook, back in her apartment."

Chapter 19- Decisions

Kali was gracious enough to let me use her laptop, a sleek, silver netbook that complemented her college student look. She'd gone for coffee and I'd spent nearly an hour browsing, but wasn't really sure what I was looking for.

Mohn Corp was funding excavations all over the world. Hateya had said there were glyphs showing the grey men in the hills above Tuolumne. Those glyphs suggested the grey men had been here for centuries, maybe longer. There was a connection there, but damned if I saw what it was. Then there was the pyramid from my vision. Was that what Mohn Corp was looking for? If so, why?

"Any luck?" Jillian asked, leaning against my back as she stared over my shoulder at the screen. The sudden intimacy was distracting, but in a very good way.

"Nothing yet. I'm going to try something stupid." I glanced up at her, but her expression was neutral.

"Something stupid, and probably desperate. Sounds right up our alley. What do you have in mind?" Jillian asked.

"I'm going to hack into Mohn Corp," I said, turning back to the laptop. "I'm beginning to understand how my powers work, and the internet is basically one giant extra appendage. I can parse data packets in my head, and that makes gliding past security insanely easy."

"What if they track the fact that you're hacking them?" Jillian asked, tone dubious. "If you do this, then we should move hotels right after."

"We can do that, though I'll take precautions. It's easy enough to spoof an IP address. I can make them think we're in Singapore, or Madrid, or anywhere, really." I wasn't much of a hacker, so there were probably a dozen things I wasn't thinking of. "Your concern is legitimate, though. Kali should be back soon. We'll leave when I'm finished."

"Go for it," Jillian said, giving my shoulder a squeeze. She returned to the bed, pulling a pillow to her chest. "I'm here if you need me, but I don't want to bother you while you're doing this. I'll keep watch I guess."

I nodded absently, already focused on the computer. I rested both hands on the keyboard, staring intently at the machine. I could feel the signals leaving the machine. They drifted downstairs to the router, where they joined the little pulses of light broadcasting through CAT-5 cable all over the world.

I browsed to the Mohn website, and forced my way into the server running it. A little snooping revealed an intranet, but getting inside required a VPN connection. Virtual Private Networks are very, very difficult to spoof, which is why most corporations use them to transfer sensitive data.

Having the ability to write code in my head on the fly gave me a totally unfair advantage. I spoofed Mohn's VPN, then walked right into their network with full permissions. That gave me access to all the data they had online, which proved to be considerable.

I dumped the most promising folders onto Kali's machine, but paused mid-search when I saw a reference to Object 3. It was in a report that had been scanned in from an original document, and the document was dated from 1977. I paused and started reading adjacent files.

The most interesting one contained a series of photos. They showed a large platform, maybe twenty-five feet across. The picture was grainy, but the material was mostly black stone--the same black stone I'd seen in the grey men's ship. The center of the platform was a golden disk, which perfectly matched the devices they carried. I went cold. It was the same platform from my vision.

"Jillian," I said, still focusing on the network. "I think Object 3 is a grey man device of some kind. It looks like Mohn discovered it in the 70s."

"How did Mohn get it?" she asked, moving to stand behind me again.

"Their files don't say, but they do mention it being moved to their San Francisco facility. Apparently it's stored on Level 4, somewhere under the main building."

"Can you show me a picture?" she asked. I dutifully called up the image on the screen. She studied it for a long moment. "Can you zoom in on the two men standing behind the platform?"

I did so, the photo becoming more grainy as we focused on the small part containing the two men.

"Is that--? David, that's Usir," she said, stabbing a finger at the screen.

"It can't be. That guy has to be pushing ninety. Usir's only sixty-five or so." I shook my head.

"Look at the cane," she said, pointing at the object in his right hand. "It's the same one I saw in his office. Plus his face is the same, plus a few wrinkles. He's older in this photo, but that's definitely the same guy."

"So what, he's getting younger?" I asked, more than a little sarcastically.

"You're right, that would be crazy," Jillian shot back, just as sarcastically. "That would be crazy, like you having visions of the future, or me walking through walls."

"Touché," I said, conceding the point. I focused on the image, zooming out a little. "So maybe he is getting younger. That raises a whole lot more questions. Who or what is he? And what is that platform?"

"You're sure that's Object 3?" Jillian asked.

"That's what it's labeled in their system, but there isn't much more than the name, and a few tests. Let me see what else I can find," I said, returning my attention to Mohn's system. I delved a little deeper, dumping another directory onto Kali's laptop. "It looks like it uses power somehow, a lot of power."

The door to the room opened, and Kali entered. She was cradling a cup of coffee in one hand, and used the other to shut the door. "Hey, team. What are you up to?"

"We're looking at a photo of Object 3," Jillian supplied.

Kali moved to stand behind me, leaning down to study the screen. "That's Object 3?"

"Yeah." I shifted in the chair to face her. "You sound surprised."

"I've seen it before. In the grey man ship when I was taken." Kali said, moving to sit on the bed. She'd gone pale, and was quiet for a long moment before she continued. "I was drifting through a forest of obelisks, and passed by a clearing. There was a bright flash of light, and three grey men appeared on a platform just like that."

I turned back to the system, diving back into the directory where I'd found the pictures. There was a video file, which I pulled onto Kali's desktop. It took a moment to download, and I double clicked it the second it was finished.

The movie player sprang to life, showing a forty second video. A woman in her mid-twenties stood atop Object-3, and she was smiling at the camera. She cleared her throat, then spoke. "My name is Melinda Waters, and this is test number one. I'm going to attempt to use Object-3, which we believe to be a teleportation device. We've wired it into the pre-existing architecture here at the San Francisco facility, which should allow us to power the device. Wish me luck."

The woman's smile faded, and she closed her eyes. A high pitched ringing began, and the screen was blotted out with intense white light. When the light faded Melinda was gone, the platform empty. The video ended two seconds later. We were all silent for a moment after that. It was a lot to take in.

"Kali, I had my first vision today." I broke the silence. "I saw that platform. I also saw a black pyramid in San Francisco Bay. Jillian says that my mother has the same power, and thinks that my vision is one of the future."

"That's. That's, wow," Kali said, biting her lip. "If it really is the future, and there is a pyramid under the bay, then that would mean Mohn has been digging in the wrong place."

"Maybe. They might know about the pyramid; in fact, they probably do." Jillian started to pace, her voice rising as she got more excited. "If there's a pyramid, an alien pyramid, under three hundred feet of water, then how would you reach it? You can't just set up drilling equipment. There'd be too much scrutiny."

"...Unless you could teleport inside," I said, suddenly understanding. "What if Object 3 is how they plan to get inside this pyramid?"

"Assuming our theory is correct, what do we do about it?" Kali asked. She crossed her arms, watching us intently.

"If we want more answers, we need access to Object 3. We have to break into Mohn Corp," I said, knowing it sounded like a terrible plan.

"You know I'm the conservative one, but I don't think we have any other choice," Jillian began, giving me a sober look. "Breaking in is a bad idea, but we're desperate. If we're going to do this we need a real plan, though. Usir has had almost fifty years to set all this up, maybe more if he goes back further than the picture you found. He has company money, the best tech, and access to super-powered agents. So how are we doing this?"

I considered the question for a long minute. Thankfully I had a lot of experience planning ops like this. Granted those ops had all been planned while playing Shadowrun with my gaming group on the odd Saturday night, but it was as close as we were going to get. "Let's start with what we know. We need to get through the front door and down the elevator to level four. The best time to do that will be after hours, since presumably at least some of the personnel will have gone home.

"I can neutralize security cameras, and Jillian can get us through the walls," I continued. "Once we hit the elevator I can prevent it from logging the trip, so, other than the doors opening, there will be no record of our presence."

"That works for security records, but they also have supers," Kali pointed out.

"Jillian can make us invisible. That should keep us safe from supers," I countered. "It's not a perfect solution, but it's the best we've got."

"You're assuming they don't have some sort of ability to detect us anyway," Jillian said, shaking her head. "It's risky. They could have a super than can use echolocation, or one that can sense minds. A telepath like that guy Dick. We have no way of knowing what they can counter with, and if they detect us it's going to mean a fight. We'll be outnumbered by people with abilities we don't understand, while they'll know exactly what we're capable of."

"They know what you and David are capable of, but they don't know anything about me," Kali pointed out. "If it comes to a fight I can give them something to think about."

Jillian gave Kali a hard look. "If we're doing this then we need to be ready to fight. I know none of us has ever killed someone, but if we get into a fight they're not going to hold back. We can't afford to either."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," I said. I knew she was right, but Kali was even younger than I was. She shouldn't be forced to fight for her life.

"We can't count on that," Jillian shot back, shifting her attention to me. "You know I was in Kajukenbo for most of my childhood. The first thing Sifu taught us was that if you're going to fight, you'd better be ready to kill. Otherwise don't get into a fight in the first place. Kaliska, if you're going with us, you aim to kill, am I clear? Otherwise you're staying behind." Jillian looked back at Kali, who'd gone pale.

"I'll aim to kill," Kali finally said. She set her jaw and met Jillian's stare. "The grey men have declared war, and, like it or not, I'm going to have to fight."

I was enormously proud of her, and I hoped I could show that kind of resolve it if it came down to a fight.

Chapter 20- Atonement

There was one more thing I wanted to do before we launched our raid against Mohn Corp. I knew our plan was suicidal, and I might not get another chance. I'd been putting it off since I first realized the grey men were real.

I needed to apologize.

I plucked the memory crystal from the table, slipping quietly out the door onto the balcony. I glanced behind me to make sure both Jillian and Kali were asleep, then closed the door and headed downstairs to the first level. Our van was still parked in the lot, and I quietly pulled back the door. I climbed inside, pulling it shut behind me. It made more noise than I'd like, but with the cars still threading down Mendocino I doubted it would wake the girls.

Once I was settled, I set the crystal on the seat next to me, and touched it. It flared to life, and my mother's spectral green form appeared on the seat next to me. She looked around briefly, sizing up the inside of the van. "We're alone. Is there something you didn't want to discuss with Jillian and Kali?"

"A few things, actually," I said. Proceeding was harder that I'd thought it would be. I shifted on the seat's noisy leather, trying to get comfortable. "Mom, I wanted to start by saying I'm sorry. I mean, I know you aren't actually my mom, but we're about to do something that might get us all killed. You're as close as I'm likely to get."

"Oh, David," Mom said, extending a ghostly hand. It brushed my chin, though I didn't feel anything. "It isn't your fault. I don't blame you for not wanting to believe the grey men were real. You did what you needed to, to protect your sanity and your life. I never wanted you to be an outcast like me, and I was happy you found a life away from Tuolumne, even if I did miss you."

"I still have to apologize, Mom." I cleared my throat, blinking back tears. "You were right all along, and I never believed you. I thought you were crazy, and I wanted to get as far from you as possible. I'm sorry, Mom. You needed me, and I wasn't there. And now you' might be...dead."

"That's possible but, David, I want you to remember something. This crystal was created only a day before you found it. That means everything I was, up until the moment I created it, is captured here." She gave me the warmest smile I'd ever seen, one that carried me all the way back to the safety of childhood. "I forgive you, David, and I love you more than anything. I'm proud of you--not just what you've done, but what you're doing now. You're picking up the cause I started."

A single tear slid down my cheek, and I smiled weakly at her, unable to continue.

"Now, what is it exactly that you're going to do that you think might get you killed? I already disapprove." Her expression was all mock disapproval, but a smile lurked near the edges.

"We're going to break into Mohn Corp. We think we know what Object 3 is, and where it might lead. It's a teleporter, one that might take us into a pyramid under the bay," I explained.

"I think you're on the right track," she replied, pursing her lips. "I've had visions of that pyramid, and of others. If you can use Object 3 to get inside, you might finally get the answers I was seeking. But be careful, David. You need to survive this. The resistance needs you. The grey men are powerful, but they've unwittingly given us the tools to resist them. It's time to fight back, and that fight needs a leader. They need you, David."

She was right. I clenched my fist around the memory crystal. "I won't let you down again, Mom. This time I'm in it for keeps."

Chapter 21- Object 3

"I can't believe we're doing this," Jillian muttered. She stared up at the massive Mohn skyscraper from our hiding place in the alley. The smell of Pad Thai and curry drifted out of the restaurant kitchen next to us. The interior of the Mohn building wasn't well-lit, but they'd left enough lights on that night-owl employees could still find their way to the elevators.

Kali stood next to Jillian, rubbing the arms of her thin North Face jacket as her teeth chattered. She'd covered her face with a black ski mask, but I could still read the resolve in her eyes.

"We could back out," I said, adjusting the nylon balaclava I'd picked up on the way back to San Francisco. I felt like an extra playing Terrorist Number Five in a Bruce Willis flick. "Of course, if we do that we don't find answers, and we have no way of stopping the grey men when they take us again."

"You're right," Jillian said, exhaling a deep breath that frosted in front of her. "We need answers, and this is how we get them." She closed her eyes for a moment, calling forth her powers.  A wave of chill energy washed over the three of us as our bodies faded from sight. Jillian's abilities were getting stronger, and she no longer needed to touch us.

"Let's move," she said, starting towards the Mohn building at a brisk pace. I followed, with Kali trailing after.

There was a little foot traffic on Market, but it was as light as I'd ever seen it. Perfect. Not much chance of anyone bumping into our invisible forms, and we crossed the street without incident. Jillian paused next to the building's south wall, waiting for us to join her.

"How long can you keep us phased?" I whispered, despite the fact that there was no one around to hear.

"I don't know. A few minutes? I haven't tried to do longer than that," her disembodied voice replied. "Why do you ask?"

"It occurs to me that Mohn almost certainly has motion detectors. Being invisible will stop cameras, but motion detectors will still detect us. If we're phasing then the signal they broadcast will pass through us, and they'll be none the wiser," I said, quite proud of myself for figuring out the trick.

"You can hack any computer in the world," Kali said. I could picture the eye roll, though I couldn't see it. "Why not just tell the motion detectors to turn off?"

"You with all your damn logic and facts," I shot back. Sometimes I was only about half as bright as I thought I was. "Give me just a minute."

I followed the Wi-Fi signal into the building, tracing it to Mohn's mainframe on B2. They had most of a floor devoted to servers, all of which had top-notch security. I was inside in a matter of seconds, and it didn't take long to find and disable the motion detectors.

"Okay, we're clear. If someone checks the logs they'll see that the motion detectors went offline, but no alarm will be raised and the sysadmin won't be notified. They have an alert system that texts their IT and security managers, but I've disabled it," I said. I felt Jillian's hand rest on my shoulder, and assumed she was doing the same to Kali.

"I'm going to phase us through the wall. We'll make our way to the elevators, then head down. After we're through the wall, I'll drop the phasing," she said.

This was the first time I'd seen her use both powers at once, and passing through the wall while invisible really underscored just how powerful these abilities could be. No bank in the world would be safe from someone like Jillian. We were intangible, ghosts in every way that mattered. Jesus. Mohn had a bunch of people with powers just like ours. What could they do?

Jillian dropped the phasing as we made our way quietly toward the elevator, though the occasional squeak of a shoe still split the silence. Thankfully, the lobby appeared deserted, just like any other after-hours building in San Francisco. Below ground, I knew it would be a different story.

"You can see through security cameras, right?" Jillian whispered from somewhere to my right.

"Yeah," I said, just as softly. "I can also control them. I'm going to cause a glitch when the elevator opens, and I'll scrub its activity from the log."

"Can you see, like, guards and stuff downstairs?" Kali asked, so close to my ear I could feel her breath.

Apparently all those late night Shadowrun games hadn't made me as good at this spy stuff as I'd thought. Kali's suggestion seemed like an incredibly obvious one, but it had never even occurred to me that I could see where other people in the building were. And I could track cell phones--if people below had them, I could find their locations.

"Good idea, just a sec," I said, closing my eyes and extending my senses. Doing so probably wasn't necessary, but it felt easier.

Within moments, my consciousness flowed through a series of lower-level floors. Most were deserted, but the last two most definitely were not. There were at least twenty people down there, and that was assuming everyone had a cell phone. Anyone who didn't would inflate that number further.

I focused on security cameras, but found nothing important. It made sense. Guards were all monitoring them, not sitting in front of them.

"There are quite a few people on the bottom floor, where we're going. We have to assume getting in is going to mean a fight," I said, pushing the elevator button. The down arrow lit up at the precise instant I killed the camera aimed in our vicinity.

"I'll keep us invisible until we get down there," Jillian said. Her arm brushed mine. "We'll get the drop on them, but I don't know how long that will last. I know we're supers and all, but I doubt we're bulletproof. We need to put them down quickly. I guess that's up to the two of you."

"I'm not comfortable killing innocent security guards," Kali said, much louder than a whisper.

The doors to the elevator dinged open and we shuffled inside, bumping into each other since we couldn't see each other's bodies. The doors closed, and we gradually came back into view. I waited a moment then sent the elevator the signal that would bring us to the lowest level. It wasn't even marked on the panel with buttons for all the floors.

"I don't want you to kill anyone unless you have to," I said, squeezing Kali's arm. "Defend yourself if you need to, but Jillian and I can take them down. If I hit them with electricity it should incapacitate without killing, and Jillian can just break them with that Kajukenbo crap."

"Okay," Kali agreed. She looked small and terrified, a marked contrast to her earlier resolve.

When the car reached Level 4 Jillian took us each by the arm. She closed her eyes for a moment and, by the time the elevator dinged and the doors slid open, we had vanished again. For the first time in my life I understood how Neo felt when he'd walked into the lobby to save Morpheus in The Matrix. I glided out of the elevator on the balls of my feet, one hand held out with my fingers splayed. I could feel the current just beyond my reach, waiting to flow down my arm and into anything conductive.

Level 4 wasn't anything like I expected. The walls were oddly curved, cut from the same black stone I'd seen in the grey men's ships. Strange golden glyphs marked the walls. Signposts, maybe? Beyond the entryway, the room expanded into a deep pit ringed by a catwalk. The pit had steep, black walls, cut from black stone. I couldn't see the bottom.

Two men waited behind a wall of glass between the elevator and the catwalk. Their little room had quite clearly been bolted on to the native alien architecture. It had been fitted between the walls of black stone, and provided an effective way for the guards to monitor traffic without exposing them to attack. They'd probably staffed it with guards after hours, just in case someone tried what we were about to.

I tensed, but then remembered that they couldn't see us. One of the guards rose and started speaking into a bluetooth headpiece, clearly alarmed by the fact that no one had gotten out. I'd hoped they would assume it was a glitch, but Mohn was obviously smarter than that. Anyone guarding a level like this would know about supers, and might expect us to be invisible. I had to move quickly.

I prowled to the far side of their little glass room, hoping Jillian was close enough behind me to maintain the invisibility. I touched the keycard reader next to the door. The door opened.

One of the guards started turning toward me, but the other was still focused on the elevator. I took them both at the same time, firing quick arcs of electricity.  The bolts hit them both, crackling from one to the other. They tensed, every muscle in their bodies rigid as the current pulsed through them. The one closest to the door took the brunt of the attack and slumped into the glass. Yes!

The other narrowed his eyes and charged through the doorway I'd just opened.

"Oh. Crap," I said, stumbling back as quickly as I could. Okay, maybe I wasn't Neo.

Three hundred pounds of angry security guard came barreling at me. He didn't bother with the baton at his side. The beating I was about to receive was too personal for that.

Jillian's form shimmered into sight to his right, just a split second before the punch landed. She hit him with a vicious knife hand right to the throat. The move arrested his momentum, and he veered sharply to the left as he clutched the wall with one hand and his ruined throat with the other.

"Hit him again. With the lightning," she said, cold in a way I'd never heard from her.

I extended an arm and let loose with another quick bolt, this one aimed at the guard's face. Cruel, maybe, but definitely effective. He collapsed backwards, spasming once before he settled into a drooling pile.

Kali had appeared at some point, and was now crouching behind a hunk of decorative black stone that jutted from the wall. She was ashen-faced, eyes anime-wide. She pointed up the catwalk at four more guards, these ones wearing Kevlar and carrying the kind of rifles you see in SWAT movies.

The lead guard raised her rifle, aiming it right at my face. I knew there was no way I'd get out of the way, but I tried anyway, wincing as she squeezed the trigger. The report of the shot was impossibly loud in the confined space, the smell of burnt gunpowder almost preceding the bullet.

Jillian knocked me out of the way, and I tumbled into the same stone outcrop Kali was hiding behind. Jillian took the bullet in the shoulder, and the force carried her back a good three feet before she crashed to the ground.

"No," Kali shrieked, extending her hands toward the guards as she rose from hiding. A river of white flame roared down the catwalk, washing over all four guards. It only lasted for a few moments, bathing the guards in its lethal heat. Three of them fell from the catwalk into the pit, tumbling end over end like embers from a kicked campfire.

The last slumped to the catwalk, twitching pitifully before going mercifully still. There was a long moment of silence as Kali and I stared at her handiwork. Smoke rose from the corpse still on the catwalk, and the smell of cooked meat thickened the longer we watched.

The elevator dinged behind us, and I turned to see two figures emerging. Summers and Marcus.

"Go," I roared, shoving Kali towards the catwalk. "We'll be right behind you."

Then I turned and grabbed Jillian around the waist, hauling her to her feet. We stumbled forward, hobbling up the catwalk toward the intersection, where we could turn left and break line of sight.

I heard footsteps pounding their way toward us, and I knew there was no way we'd be able to escape.

Kali's head appeared from around the corner where she'd disappeared off the catwalk. Her arm followed, gesturing directly at us. "Down!"

We dropped, Jillian giving a grunt of pain as her shoulder hit the stone. She very nearly toppled off and into the pit, but I grabbed her shirt and hauled her back. A whoosh of flame rushed over our heads and I heard a cry of, "Pyrokinetic!"

I was already scrambling to my feet, helping Jillian regain hers as well. Then we ran. This time we kept our footing as we rounded the corner. We sprinted down the corridor, hauling ass towards a door with a large golden iris.

I risked a glance behind us just as Summers rounded the corner, Marcus right on her heels. They looked pissed.

We redoubled our pace, finally skidding to a halt outside the iris. The door hissed open at our approach and we tumbled inside, none of us eager to deal with our pursuers. The door whirred shut behind us and I willed it to stay shut.

"We have to be quick," I said, scanning the room. "Summers might be able to steal my powers, which means she'll be able to open the door."

Object 3 lay on the floor of an otherwise empty room. There it was in all its glory, magnificent in a way the pictures hadn't captured. The stone casing had sloped sides, like a miniature pyramid. Those sides ended abruptly about four feet above the floor, with a raised dais where the top of a pyramid would normally be. That dais looked like solid gold, and was large enough for a dozen people. I had no idea how they'd gotten something so large into a room whose door was clearly too small to allow it.

I could feel the device in the same I could a phone or computer. The firmware was a little unfamiliar, but basic operation seemed simple. It was as if it wanted me to use it, and was explaining how best to do that. Apparently all I had to do was stand on the pad and will a destination. It would draw power from the surrounding alien installation to send us wherever I wanted to go.

"Come on." I helped Jillian up as something slammed into the door. Kali scrambled up after us, aiming her hands for the door.

The second blow landed as we stepped atop the pad, and the door exploded inward in a shower of golden fragments. Marcus came striding through, followed by Summers. Neither looked pleased, which was hardly surprising given that we'd abandoned them after they'd helped liberate me from Dick's clutches.

"Don't do this, David. We can still talk things out," he called, adopting a defensive stance.

Shit. I grabbed Jillian and Kali by their wrists and closed my eyes. I willed the pad to take us somewhere. Even as I sent it the message to get us out of here, I realized the ramifications of such a gamble, ending up at the bottom of the ocean or inside the middle of a mountain.

Too late now. White light washed over us, followed by a feeling of weightlessness. Time seemed to freeze as the system explained itself to me.

There were eight possible destinations, most at far-flung corners of the world. The one in the bay was both the closest and the easiest to reach. The system took more energy the further it transported us.

Unfortunately seven of the eight destinations were blocked somehow, including the structure in the bay. I didn't know precisely why, just that Object 3 was unable to form a link. Only the eighth destination was available, something like six thousand miles away.

It was deep under the ocean, some sort of city midway between Africa and South America. I had two choices. Abort the teleport and return to the pad with Marcus and Summers, or head to this strange city.

The choice wasn't difficult.

Chapter 22- Ka

The white light intensified, enveloping the whole of Object 3, along with us, in a sea of clear, white brilliance. The air was pressed from my lungs as my body stretched impossibly thin, twisted, and turned, making me certain Object 3 had just suckered me into killing us. The brilliance faded and we found ourselves standing on another black stone platform. I clutched my gut, then patted my arms, looked down to make sure I was still all there and hadn't suffered some cataclysmic change, like a foot where my ear should be.

"Oh my god," Kali said, catching Jillian as she sagged to the warm golden metal at the platform's center. "Help me, David. She's bleeding everywhere."

My vision swam as I dropped down on one knee next to Jillian. "Let me see it, Jill."

She clenched her eyes shut and gritted her teeth. One hand pressed against her shoulder. Blood had soaked through her shirt and squeezed itself out from between her fingers to run down the back of her hand.

"Come on, Jill. Jill, look at me," I said, taking her hands in mine. She looked up, eyes glassy. "You're going to be all right."

I pried her hands apart, then tore open the shirt around the wound. I knelt closer to inspect the wound, doing what I could to smear away blood.

"You're just trying to get my shirt off," Jillian said, giving a laugh that turned into a cough. I couldn't help but join in when I realized what I was seeing. I sat there laughing, relief flooding me.

"What the hell is wrong with you? She's hurt," Kali said, voice rising a full octave mid-sentence as she gave me a hard shove.

"Look," I said, still smiling, as I nodded at the wound. "This must be one of her abilities."

"Oh my god," Kali said again, jaw hanging open as she stared. Jillian's flesh had knitted itself back together; a thin scab now covering the wound. "That's amazing."

"Let's keep moving," Jillian wheezed, trying to struggle back into a sitting position. I held her down. "Come on, David, we have work to do."

"You can take a minute or two to catch your breath before we start exploring," I said, shifting my gaze back to Kali. "Make sure she doesn't try to get up. Sit on her if you have to."

I finally took in the majesty around me. The fluted columns with their ornate glyphs reminded me of Egypt, though nothing outside of Stargate glowed with their own inner light the way these did. They ringed the landing pad, with an opening that pointed down a hallway. I guessed this was their transporter room. This one was clearly of different make, its style more simplistic. The firmware, if that was what it was, was more primitive and easier to understand. Either it had been crafted much earlier, or by something more like humans, or both.

"Be careful," Kali said, grabbing my hand as I stood. "We need you, okay?"

"I promise. Wait here and keep an eye on Jillian." I released her hand and, turning toward the hallway, I started up the black marble ramp, noting the diamond-shaped lights set into the walls every ten feet. Each flickered grudgingly to life as I approached, shedding enough light to see a little further up the hallway.

I emerged into a wide chamber with a single golden disk set in the center. It was raised about two inches off the floor, and an array of rubies, sapphires, and diamonds dotted the surface in elaborate patterns. Beyond the disk, six tunnels led off in different directions.

I glanced up. The ceiling was made of glass and glowed faintly. It revealed the dark ocean, and, as I watched, a huge shape passed over the glass. I licked my lips, my breath coming in shallow little gasps. I was only a few feet from frigid, crushing death. We were so deep that not even light penetrated, and the only reason I'd been able to see the creature swimming above was the light being reflected from the room around me.

"Welcome to the Nexus. I am the Ark Keeper Ka, former sentinel of the First Ark," a voice behind me said, curiously human. "You are not a Ka-Dun. Neither are you Deathless. Yet your helixes have been modified. You bear telltale markers of a master shaper. How is this possible?"

My eyes snapped back to the golden disk as the gemstones flickered to life. A figure appeared over the disk. It looked a bit like the grey men, but was tall enough to be human. The eyes were the same flat black, but the skin was the deep green of summer-cut grass. Its face showed more compassion than the grey men, though it was still very alien. The thing was translucent. A hologram, just like the version of Mom in the memory crystal.

I could feel the disk, and as I studied the hologram I realized I could understand its base code. I could see the signal that was being broadcast from the disk and I understood the technology just as easily as I did my own computer. They were similar at their cores, suggesting a troubling connection.

"If you're talking about my abilities, those were given to me by creatures that look a lot like you," I explained, taking a step closer. The figure didn't react. "They're shorter and their skin is grey, but they definitely look like the same species."

"Ahhh," Ka said, cocking its head a precise forty-five degrees. "Then you are likely the result of the experiments conducted by the Progeny of the Builders. This is troubling. Your presence here suggests they are close to achieving their goals."

"So you're not working with the grey men?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. "What are you exactly? What do you mean by 'sentinel'? And what is an Ark Keeper?"

Ka flickered, fading a bit. I looked around and noticed that the lights had dimmed slightly as well. I glanced at the ceiling. We were still safe from the ocean's crushing weight...for now.

"Three Ark Keepers were left behind by the Builders when they departed this world in search of a new home," the construct explained. It flickered again, words a bit garbled as it continued. "We were left to monitor the Arks, to ensure that they remained in working order for the Builders' eventual return."

"What are the Arks?" I asked.

A second hologram appeared in the air before me. It showed Earth with seven red dots scattered across the continents. A third hologram showed a cutaway of a pyramid. It was absolutely massive; if the passageways were to scale, it was at least three miles tall.

"The Arks were created to harness the power of the sun, and to shape the earth's magnetosphere," Ka said, brightening for a moment then dimming again. Maybe it was simple age, but this thing was definitely damaged. I could sense the fragmentation of the code. "They were used as repositories for genetic patterns, and contain the helixes for nearly every species this world has seen in the past six million years. More than that, the Arks are the primary shaping tools used by the Builders to create their greatest works."

"So there's a network of giant pyramids hidden all over the world? And how the hell do you speak English?" I asked, realizing for the first time that this thing spoke perfect American English.

"I have been monitoring your communications for some time now. Ever since your first broadcast roughly seventy cycles ago. These communications allowed me to puzzle out the syntactic guides for a number of your languages," Ka said, flickering again as the gems on the platform dimmed. A sapphire popped and went dark, like a burnt out bulb. "Using this data I am able to render my output in a form you can understand."

I was aware of movement, and glanced over my shoulder to see Kali helping Jillian into the room. They waited near the doorway, close enough to hear but not close enough to join the conversation.

"What is this place? Are we in one of the pyramids now?" I asked, turning back to the construct.

"You are in the Nexus, deep beneath the planet's ocean. All seven Arks are connected to the Nexus, allowing travel between them. From here, you can manipulate the entire network," Ka explained. The flat black eyes conveyed little emotion, or maybe that was just the fact that this thing was apparently some sort of artificial intelligence. "Doing so requires the subject to be a master shaper. Your helixes have been modified to exhibit these traits. You can control the system."

It made sense. Different people had different abilities, but I was still the only person we'd seen who could interface with technology. I examined the hologram showing the Arks. There was an Ark in the center of San Francisco bay, probably fifty or sixty feet under the bottom of the bay. Exactly where Mom had drawn in her sketchbook, and where my vision had shown it.

"Could I wake up one of these Arks?" I asked, glancing back at the construct.

"You could attempt it, but it would be inadvisable," Ka replied, raising a four-fingered hand and offering a grand gesture. Another hologram engulfed the far side of the room. It was clearly our solar system. "The Arks are powered by the sun, but require more energy than it currently produces. The day will soon come when your sun enters its next phase, and will offer the necessary power. If you wake the Arks before then, you risk both catastrophic damage and the death of their occupants."

That explained the part of my vision showing the sun.

"Occupants?" I asked, looking back at the map of earth. "How long have these Arks been submerged?"

"Thirteen thousand years, give or take," Ka said. "Six of the seven Arks are occupied, some with more hominids than others. Nearly all of these hominids are a shaped version of your species. You would not recognize many as human, though all began that way."

I wondered what the inhabitants of these things must be like. Thirteen thousand years was a long time. How old was Egypt? Five or six thousand years? These people had gone to sleep another eight millennia before that. Wow.

"When will the sun enter this next cycle?" I asked. I'd have bet money that Usir knew it was coming, and was using Mohn to prepare for it. I'd also have bet he knew a lot about these occupants.

"The precise date is impossible to predict, but it will come soon," Ka said, offering an apologetic shrug. "Regardless, when this event occurs it will devastate your current technology. Anything that is sensitive to an electromagnetic pulse will be destroyed. Only the areas closest to the planet's equator will escape this fate."

I met Jillian's gaze and found my horror mirrored there. If the planet lost power, that would be the perfect time for the grey men to attack, assuming that was their goal. Who knew how Mohn was planning to capitalize on it? Either way, it would effectively render my powers useless, since our technology would be wiped out.

"I would also caution that this event will wake any Ark still in hibernation," Ka continued. Its mouth tightened, and if I'd had to ascribe a human emotion to it I'd have said it looked angry. "The returning Ark Lords have seeded your world with a virus. This virus alters the host into something you will not recognize as human."

"Come again?" I asked.

"This virus will be activated by the sun's progression into the next phase. The resulting change will introduce a new apex predator," Ka said, words clipped in a way they hadn't been before. "I do not believe the progeny of the Builders are aware of the virus."

"You've mentioned them twice. The Progeny of the Builders are the grey men, right?" I asked. That was mostly for Kali and Jillian's benefit, since they'd missed the first part of the conversation.

"Affirmative. The Builders constructed the Arks approximately six million years ago," Ka explained. "They departed this world roughly three and a half million years ago. They utilized the Arks to transmute themselves into energy, and broadcast that energy to a habitable world. I have no knowledge of their evolutionary path during the resulting interval, but it is reasonable to assume these grey-skinned creatures are their progeny."

"Why would their, uh, progeny return to earth? Why right before the sun changes? And why did they leave in the first place?" I asked.

If Ka was annoyed by my questions it certainly didn't show it. It cocked its head again. "The Builders left because the climate of the planet began to grow colder. This was the beginning of what you refer to as the Pleistocene epoch. The last great ice age. The Builders understood that this climate would persist for millions of years, so they sought a warmer home.

"It is merely speculation," Ka continued, "but I believe that they have returned now because we have entered a new epoch, the Holocene. The planet has begun to warm, a process your species has greatly accelerated. The planet is now warm enough to sustain them once more, so they have sent scouts to prepare for re-colonization."

"So what you're telling me is that the Builders started out here. They weren't aliens, they were another species on earth," I said, trying to wrap my brain around what I was hearing. "These grey-skinned creatures are true aliens, in the sense that they evolved on another world. But ultimately their ancestors are from earth?"

"That is correct," Ka said, giving a tight nod. The gesture was more human than I would have expected.

"How do we stop them?" Kali asked, taking her first step into the room.

"First, you must break the shackles they have placed on you," Ka replied. The holograms disappeared and were replaced with a giant hologram of the human skeleton. It zoomed in on the neck. "Each of you bear a sliver of imbued stone, which contains very complex circuitry. This device taps into your central nervous system, and allows the controller of the sliver to issue commands to the body regardless of the wishes of the host consciousness."

"That's how they control us," Jillian said, reaching up to rub at the back of her neck. "Can they be safely removed?"

"No," Ka said, shaking its head. "Doing so risks permanent damage to your spinal column, which could cause paralysis. The sliver is programmed to prevent removal, and will burrow deeper into the spine if threatened. However, I can render the control circuitry inert."

The aliens could control every abductee, and every surviving abductee had powers, which meant the human race was in some serious shit. They were building a potent army, one that could do catastrophic damage in a world where the lights had just gone off.

"Do it," I said, clenching a fist.

Chapter 23- Revelations

"Please, hold still," Ka said. I felt something feather-light brush my neck. There was a tingle and something at the edge of pain, but not quite. Sudden warmth suffused my neck, then faded.

"That's it?" I asked, sensing something different from the sliver. It was still putting off some sort of low level signal, but the activity was radically diminished.

"Yes. The receiver has been rendered inert, however the broadcast circuitry has been left intact," Ka explained, gesturing a four-fingered hand at a hologram showing an enlarged image of a sliver. "If the Progeny of the Builders perform a cursory examination my modification should go undetected."

I turned to Jillian, who looked a damned sight better than she had a few minutes ago. She still cradled her shoulder, but her face looked relaxed, without a hint of pain.

"Do either of you have any other questions?" I asked, shifting my gaze to encompass Kali. The pair finally approached, joining me near Ka's golden platform.

"I do." Jillian looked up at Ka. "Quite a few actually. How long have the grey men been here?"

"Indeterminate," Ka said, cocking its head. "I cannot establish with certainty the date of their arrival, but a cursory examination of your internet suggests they have been here for at least several millennia.

"Their communications suggest they arrived before the change of the cycle to measure climate and monitor the development of your species," Ka continued. "More than that, they have conducted a systematic program of genetic manipulation to breed desired traits into your species."

"What traits are they breeding us for?" Kali asked. She dropped her arms to her sides, and darted occasional glances at the ceiling keeping the entire weight of the ocean at bay.

"There is both a primary and secondary objective to their breeding, which are necessitated by my direct intervention in your species' early development," Ka replied. A map of the globe popped up with numbers superimposed over every continent. "Your species is vast, far too large to wage any sort of conventional warfare against. The Builders kept their numbers small, and I cannot imagine their progeny are all that numerous. It makes sense that they would force you to kill off your own species, rather than risk themselves."

"So, they're going to start a war." I said.

"Indeed," Ka said, nodding. "They will wait until the sun vents its fury on your world. Once your power grid has been destroyed, they can unleash their soldiers upon your leaders. They will systematically eradicate all organized resistance, gradually creating more soldiers until all surviving members of your species have been enslaved."

"Is that their primary objective?" Jillian asked.

"No," Ka said, shaking its head. Those large black eyes settled on me. "Their primary objective is communication. They seek to alert the Builders, to inform them that the conditions of this world are ideal, so that re-colonization can begin."

"That much we knew. They want Initech's faster-than-light transmission tech so they can broadcast a message home. My question is why? Why can't they do it themselves?"

"Their primary means of communication is blocked," Ka said, with the first smile I'd seen it give. It was rather creepy. "Their original goal was access to the Arks, which would allow far faster communication than the rudimentary technology you have created. I have prevented access, forcing them to find alternative means."

"If their ancestors built the Arks, why can't they get access?" Kali asked, adjusting her glasses. She'd taken several steps closer to Ka, and was staring at the hologram curiously.

"As I stated, this was caused by my intervention," Ka said, shifting its gaze to Kali. "Once the Progeny of the Builders learned that I had sealed the Arks, they began to study that seal. They realized that I had genetically locked them, and that only your species could gain access. This is why they began their experimentation. Their goal was to create a member of your species capable of accessing the Arks, one that they could control. If they achieve this end, they will be able to communicate with the Builders, and the eradication of your species will begin."

We were all silent for a moment. How could we not be? The plan was audacious, brilliant, and terrifying.

"What about these Arks you mentioned? You said they were occupied by things that used to be human," I said, forging ahead with my idea. "Surely these things don't want to be enslaved or eradicated. They can help us, right?"

"Can, yes," Ka said, giving a slow shake of its head. "Will they? I do not know. They are willful, independent beings who spent millennia warring upon each other. If the threat is made clear they may aid you, but you will need to convince them."

"And their Arks return after the sun goes through some sort of change?" I asked.

"All save one," Ka replied, gesturing as another hologram appeared. It showed a mountain range, then zoomed into orbit to show South America. "This one, the Ark belonging to the Ka-Ken known as Isis, will return before the sun changes. It was set to awaken earlier than the others, a ploy by its Ark Lord to steal a march on her opponents."

"So this would be the first person we'd want to recruit then," I said, turning to Jillian and Kali. Both nodded.

"When exactly will her Ark return?" Jillian asked. She'd stopped holding her shoulder, and was now clenching and unclenching her right hand as if trying to work feeling back into it.

"It will return when the sun enters the cycle preceding the final change," Ka said. Several graphs appeared showing what I assumed was solar data. "I can transmit this information into your minds, if you wish."

"Do that," I said. This information sounded critical. We were going to need all the help we could get.

I felt a tingle in the base of my skull as images began appearing in my mind. The feeling lasted only moments, and when it passed the lights in the room had dimmed considerably.

Ka began to flicker wildly. "Bzzt- stable. Must go. The power requirem-zzzznts. Extreme."

I glanced at the ceiling above; the thought of what might happen if the power failed turned my bowels to water. A single crack spiderwebbed across a small section of the dome.

"Time to move." Jillian beckoned me, then sprinted back into the teleportation room. We moved up the path between the fluted columns and back onto the platform.

"This thing is going to take us back to San Francisco, right?" Jillian leaned against me, and I wrapped an arm around her. It was totally for support, and not because she felt amazing there. I wished I had the time to enjoy it, but I focused on my job: getting us the hell out of there.

Chapter 24- Reconciliations

The sea of white light faded; vertigo washed over us. I blinked rapidly, taking in the room we'd arrived in. The same room where we'd narrowly escaped Summers and Marcus.

The soldiers were arrayed in a semi-circle, each far enough away from each other that Kali's flame, even if she had time to summon it, was unlikely to catch them all. They wore Kevlar like the others, but had also donned what appeared to be fire-retardant suits cut from some sort of white nylon.

Maybe we could have dealt with them, but it was the pair behind that I was more concerned with. Summers and Marcus stood with arms folded, both livid.

"There's two ways we can do this, kids," Summers called, shouldering aside a soldier and approaching the platform. "Me? I'd prefer the hard way given that you torched four of my people, and knocked out two more. Please tell me you want to do this the hard way. I promise it will hurt.  A lot."

A cool wave pulsed from Jillian. The familiar tingle passed over my body as I began to fade from sight, but before the process was complete Summers thrust a hand in our direction. Jillian was hurled into the wall with bone-crushing force. She fell limply to the ground and didn't rise.

"No!" I shouted, spinning to face Summers. All the rage and anger that had been building for the last few weeks came to the fore. My hands rose of their own accord, and waves of lightning burst forth.

Next to me, Kali unleashed a torrent of white flame, both of us pouring everything we had into the abilities. The twin elemental forces rushed towards Summers in a storm of death, but stopped just before touching her. Both fire and lightning were shunted away, leaving Summers and the soldiers unharmed.

Sweat beaded Marcus' forehead as he lowered his arms. I narrowed my eyes, considering. Whatever he'd done had clearly taken a lot out of him.

"Come on now, David. Some bad shit has gone down, but we can sort this out," Marcus stated. He seemed genuine.

"Last chance," Summers said, as if Marcus hadn't spoken. She raised her hand again. "Come quietly, or I'll snap your girlfriend's neck. It's you we're after, David. Usir won't care if I kill the others."

"I most certainly do care, my dear," came a cultured voice. Usir's cane clicked against the floor as he made his way through the gap where the golden iris leading into the room had been. He still looked old, but despite the cane he was far more able than a man his age should be.

I made a mental comparison with the image I'd seen in Mohn's files, the one from the early 70s when Usir appeared even older. How the hell did someone age in reverse, and what was his connection to the Egyptian god Osiris? I wished I'd had more time to question Ka.

"Hello, David. Why don't you put your hands down and go help Jillian?" Usir suggested. He continued forward until he was even with Summers. He gave her a level look, and she blanched as if she'd been struck. "Ms. Summers here won't bother you, as long as you cooperate. I assure you that we have your best interests in mind."

"They killed four of our men." Summers glared at Usir.

"A tragedy, but one precipitated by my own actions. Had I told David everything from the beginning, he'd have had no reason to break in," Usir countered, eyes hardening. "Nor am I prepared to deal with it at this precise moment. We are fast running out of time. Need I repeat your last lesson, Ms. Summers?" Usir asked. His tone suggested it was a mild rebuke, but Summers recoiled as if slapped. She gave a single tight nod of acquiescence.

I didn't wait for them to finish, instead rushing to Jillian's side. A thin trickle of blood threaded down her forehead, but the flow had already stopped. She was breathing, and I didn't see anything broken.

"Jillian?" I asked, cupping her chin. Her eyes fluttered open, but her gaze was unfocused. "Are you all right? Say something."

"Ouch," she said, pushing me gently away and rising slowly to her feet. She rolled her neck, and I winced at the sound of cracking vertebrae. "Did you get the number of that truck?"

I hugged her without thinking, relaxing my grip as I realized it might hurt her. She returned it just as fiercely, though, and seemed all right.

"Guys?" Kali called from the platform.

I turned to see the soldiers lowering their weapons. Usir had stepped atop the platform next to Kali, cane cradled absently in one hand like an unused prop. It was capped with a very Egyptian-looking Scarab, the kind I'd seen in books about King Tut.

"Now then, shall we head somewhere more comfortable to discuss all this?" Usir said, giving a grandfatherly smile. "There's no need for further bloodshed, and I promise that when you understand the entirety of the situation you'll realize we're all on the same side. I regret imposing on you, but please decide quickly. Your use of Object 3 has not gone unnoticed, and the grey men will arrive soon."

I considered our very limited options as I looked at Jillian, then Kali. If they had any ideas, they didn't communicate them. "Fine, we'll hear you out," I said, releasing a breath.

"Excellent. If you'll follow me please," Usir said, leading us back to the elevator. No one spoke--not the guards waiting outside the elevator, and certainly not us. Everyone eyed each other as we stepped inside, Usir first, and then me.

Jillian and Kali joined us, but Usir raised a hand when Summers moved to enter as well. "I think not, Ms. Summers. Even were tempers not flaring, I have other work for you. I need you and Marcus to secure the building and begin preparing for the coming assault."

"Assault?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "We're attacking someone?"

"No, my dear," Usir explained. "We are about to be attacked. Stand ready, Summers."

"Ahh--hell no," Marcus said, shaking his head and looking between Summers and Usir. "You want us to get ready for a grey men assault? Fuck that. We'll lose, and you know it. Those bastards can control us. Besides, I've seen enough action movies to know what happens to the black dude."

"Summers, handle this," Usir replied, pressing the penthouse button.

The doors slid shut and the elevator rose rapidly. I was tempted to ask about the coming assault, but decided to hold my tongue. Usir would explain what he wanted to when he wanted to. I wasn't going to try to tease secrets out, and I wasn't even sure I'd trust the answers he gave.

The elevator slid smoothly to a halt and the doors opened with a ding. We were looking in on a single, massive office with one wall comprised completely of windows. It afforded a spectacular view of the bay, complete with the Golden Gate Bridge. A wide marble entryway led into two distinct areas: a sitting room with three couches and a recliner, and a more traditional office with a wide glass desk aimed at three sixty-inch monitors.

"Please, make yourself comfortable," Usir said, crossing to the recliner and taking a seat.

I followed, taking a seat on the dark leather couch. It was without a doubt the most comfortable thing I'd ever sat on, and Jillian and Kali had similar reactions as they joined me.

"You've led us on the quite the chase, David," Usir began, giving that same grandfatherly smile. His tone suggested I'd done something mildly mischievous, instead of breaking into a secure facility, torching four guards, and then using a strange alien teleporter. "I'd hoped that we could avoid some of the unpleasantness, but that's in the past. All that's important now is what we do from here."

"And what is it precisely that you think we should do from here?" I asked, finding Jillian's hand with mine. She gave me a reassuring squeeze.

"The three of you no doubt have many questions, but our time is unfortunately brief," Usir said, giving a heavy sigh. His eyes held mine. "They are coming, most likely within the hour."

"How do you know?" I replied, straightening and glancing out the window at the skyline.

"Because you activated Object 3, David. The very instant you entered the Nexus, they were alerted to its use," Usir explained, leaning forward in his seat. He rested both hands on his cane. "Until now they've had no idea that we still had it. It took a great deal of effort to make them believe it had been destroyed when Melinda Waters used it twelve years ago. Now that they understand the deception, they'll be coming to retrieve it. What's more, they will do anything in their power to capture you, specifically. In fact you may be even more important to them then Object 3."

"Because of the abilities they gave me?" I asked. Jillian squeezed my hand again, and I could have kissed her for it. Ka had already told us as much, but I wanted to see what Usir was willing to divulge.

"You can control their technology, a lineage we call telemechanics," he said, leaning back in this chair. He rested the cane against his knee and steepled his fingers. "This is an incredibly rare gift, one we've only seen once before. Since then, I've finally puzzled out why. They seek to breed people with your ability, but doing so makes you a threat to them."

"Then why breed people like me?" I said, asking the obvious question.

"I have theories, but can't substantiate them yet. What I do know is that every member of what we call Project Solaris was given abilities when their DNA was modified. Most have several, usually in a loosely associated theme," Usir explained. He gestured at Kali. "Your young friend can channel fire, for example. But that is merely the first stage. She has several more impressive abilities that haven't yet manifested. Jillian is phasic, meaning not only can she turn invisible and walk through walls, she also possesses what we call an apex ability, the most powerful expression of your gifts. In Jillian's case, that means she'll eventually be able to master teleportation."

Jillian and I exchanged a glance. I read the mixture of wonder and concern there. If Usir was telling the truth, I understood why. Still, there would be time to learn about that power later. For now, I needed to focus on the imminent threat.

"So the grey men want people who can control their machines, but they fear another power you think I'll manifest?" I asked.

"Precisely. The next power you'll manifest, if you follow the pattern of our late Melinda Waters, is telepathy. You'll be able to read minds the same way you do computers. Eventually you'll be able to control those minds, as if they were machines. Nor is that your apex power, the same one your mother manifested I believe," he replied. His phone vibrated and he checked it before looking back at me. "Time grows short. They have arrived."

Chapter 25- Alliances

The entire building shook as the elevator descended, and the car screeched as it slammed against the side of the shaft. Kali, Jillian, and I grabbed for the chrome rail ringing the elevator. Usir showed no reaction. He was like a sailor at sea, rolling with the floor while the rest of us stumbled around

"They've arrived precisely as expected," he said, giving us a warm smile completely out of place given the situation.

"So where are we going?" Jillian asked. She looked a little green, and I probably did too.

"Back to Object 3. The bulk of our forces are arrayed there," Usir explained. He shot out a hand to steady Kali when the car bucked again. "We should be able to--"

There was a scream of metal, and then we were in free fall. Usir wore a look of consternation, but seemed far less concerned than the situation warranted. I very nearly lost my lunch.

"Jillian, our lives are in your hands," He said, meeting her gaze with stern emerald eyes. Had they always been that shade of green?

The car began to pick up speed as we fell, and our feet left the floor. Jillian looked around in panic, and I didn't blame her. Kali clung to the railing in one corner, face buried against the wall as she muttered, "Oh god, oh god."

"Concentrate," Usir's voice cracked like thunder, drawing our attention. "Jillian, we don't have time to teach you to master a new ability, so we're going to have you use an existing one. Just before we strike the ground you need to phase all of us. Can you do that?"

"How do we know when were about to hit the ground?" Jillian asked, eyes wide. She looked like she was about to throw up.

"David, link with the maintenance server. You'll find an alert tied to this elevator. There are motion detectors in the car shaft. Use them to calculate our rate of descent and figure out the moment of impact. Be swift. We only have a few seconds," Usir said. If our impending death phased him in the slightest, he didn't show it.

I fought past the panic, grateful to have something I could do. The maintenance computer was easy to find, and it took only moments to make the calculations. "Jillian, I'm going to count down. Six, five, four, three, two, one."

Jillian shot out her arms, and a pulse of cool energy engulfed all of us. A moment later we froze in place, the car rippling through us as it continued its descent. I stared down in mute shock as the car exploded into sparks and airborne shrapnel, impacting against the base of the shaft. Shards whizzed past us on a jet of flame, and I winced instinctively.

To my surprise, our momentum was completely arrested, and we hovered in the air next to the doors that opened on the lowest level.

"Well done, my dear. Very well done," Usir said. The doors opened a moment later, revealing a pair of well-muscled arms that forced them further apart.

"What the hell happened in here? Sounded like an explosion," Marcus asked, poking his head into the shaft. His dark skin was slick with sweat, and his dreads framed his head like a lion's mane.

"A minor mishap," Usir said, turning to Jillian. "Now if you could move us into the hallway I'd greatly appreciate it."

Jillian donned a look of intense concentration, and the entire world shifted. One moment we were hovering in mid-air, the next we stood on the hallway floor just outside the elevator. Jillian released the power and we became tangible.

"Did you just teleport us?" Kali asked, eyes wide as she stared at Jillian. I'm sure I wore a similar look.

"I-I guess so," Jillian said, blinking. She looked as surprised as the rest of us.

"Status report," Usir demanded, turning to face Marcus. Summers was there as well, but she hung back near hastily-erected barricades by the catwalk leading to Object 3.

"Something impacted with the twenty-second floor. We've lost communications with everything above that, but whatever it is hasn't tried to come any lower yet," Marcus explained, matter-of-factly. "I'm betting they're consolidating their position, but they'll be moving soon enough."

"Interesting," Usir said. He leaned against the wall, withdrawing a handkerchief to pad the sweat on his brow. "They'll be upon us soon. Is everything prepared?"

"Mostly. Some teams are away, but the agents we have are ready to intercept them on the first floor. We've deactivated all the other elevators, so the only way onto this floor is an empty shaft," he said, nodding at open elevator doors.

"Excellent. Marcus, I want you to head up and lead the lobby group," Usir ordered. He still looked out of breath.

"You want what now?" Marcus asked, his dreads swishing as he whirled on Usir.

"Wait a minute," Summers called, striding over like an approaching thunder cloud. "We fight together. That was the deal, remember? If you send him up there, I'll be powerless."

"Hardly, my dear," Usir countered, giving her an annoyed look. It was the only expression other than kind or jovial I'd seen him wear. "You have a telemechanic, a phasic, and a pyrokinetic right here. You can borrow their abilities while Marcus leads the battle upstairs. It's critical that we give David time to operate Object 3. If that means sacrificing the rest of us, so be it."

"Use it to do what?" I asked.

"You're going to teleport all of us onto the ship assaulting this building," Usir replied, smiling at me as if he'd asked that I fetch him a beer. "Since the grey men are assaulting us, the ship will be understaffed. That should give us enough of an advantage. We clear the ship, and you take control of it."

Chapter 26- Mother Ship

"You want him to do what?" Jillian asked, stalking up to Usir. She waved a finger under his nose. "I've heard some bad plans, but that's the worst. Ever. You know as well as I do that the grey men can control us. Hell, they're probably already doing that to the people you left upstairs to fight them."

"They can control most of you, it's true," Usir replied smoothly. "But I'm betting they cannot control David. Not completely. That's why they so desperately want him dead. If we can get him aboard one of their ships, then we can commandeer it. That will give us access to their network, and from there we should be able to disable their beacon."

"Beacon?" I asked. The building shook again, and we could hear screams from the levels above.

"It's a device that allows your 'grey men' to seek and locate their subjects," Usir explained. "If we can neutralize it they'll no longer be able to track their subjects. You will free every person like you in the world in one swift stroke, denying the grey men the army they're currently building."

That got my attention, and that of Jillian and Kali. All three of us stared at him. Even Summers stood there gaping, so I guessed this was a plan he'd been keeping very close to the vest until the last minute. He'd probably only told us to secure our cooperation.

"So we invade the ship, take out the few remaining grey men, and then sabotage this system?" I asked. It seemed possible. After all, I could control their technology. "I'm on board. Should we get moving?"

"Not just yet," Usir said, fishing out his smartphone and checking something.

I looked at the feed and knew immediately what he was waiting for. He wanted the grey men to engage his forces.

 A panicked voice came over Marcus's radio. "My god, Jones just turned on us! The grey men are controlling the supers!" If I'd thought Marcus was grim before, I'd been mistaken. His face tightened, and his eyes smoldered.

"If we're going to do this, let's get moving," I said, striding down the hallway towards the catwalk that led to Object 3.

"Do that," Marcus said, turning to face the elevator shaft. "I'll stay here and hold them off, but you'd better be quick."

We sprinted up the catwalk, skidding through the shattered iris. Object 3 beckoned me, its intelligence anxious to be used again. I walked up the black stone ramp to the golden disk, and the others joined me.

I took a moment to hack the security camera feed in the lobby, and my stomach lurched. A haze of smoke hung over the blackened lobby. Charred, broken bodies littered the room. There were at least twenty, maybe more.

The supers had begun descending the elevator shaft, carried by one or more telekinetics. The grey men clustered behind them, corpse-like bodies floating down after their charges.

"They've entered the elevator shaft. They'll be on us in seconds," I said, releasing the feed.

"Marcus..." Summers said, trailing off as she looked back up the hallway imploringly. It was the first emotion other than anger I'd seen her display.

"He's alive, for now, safe behind the barricades," I said, trying to affect a detachment I didn't feel. "Everyone group as tightly around me as possible. We're getting out of here."

I closed my eyes and reached for Object 3. I visualized my destination, the ship hovering above the building. I pictured the ship I'd been taken aboard, trying to give the platform an exact understanding of where I wanted to go.

Object 3 had apparently originated from a smaller version of the same ship and was designed to ferry passengers back and forth between them. All I had to do was pull the trigger. I opened my eyes and faced Usir.

"Before we go, you're going to answer a question, Usir." There was a crash in the distance, then shouts. Then gunfire.

Usir nodded at the hallway. "We have rather urgent business."

 I had leverage right now, and I was going to use it. "We know that Usir is a lesser-known name for the Egyptian god Osiris. We also saw a picture of you from the 1970s, and you appear to have gotten younger since then. Who or what are you?"

Usir's mouth worked for a moment, the first time I'd seen even a minor dent in his composure. He glanced at Summers, then back at me.

"I'll explain at length when we're safe, but the short answer is that I'm not getting younger. I'm getting stronger," he said, eyeing me coldly. "When the sun fully changes, I'll appear about your age, but I'm older than you can possibly imagine."

"David," Kali urged, peering up the hallway. The gunfire was louder and there was more than one cry of pain. "We need to go."

"All right, Usir. Promise me you'll give us the full story when this is all over," I met the frost in his gaze with some of my own.

"Done," he said, extending a hand. I shook it, then initiated the teleport.

As the energy built, I realized it was far more abundant than before. It wasn't much of a stretch to guess that because the ship was directly above us I'd somehow tapped into its power supply. Was that why Usir had seemed so unfazed by the alien attack? He'd not only expected it, but needed it for the plan to work.

Power gathered around me, and I extended the burst of energy, allowing the teleport to encompass not just the soldiers in the room, but those manning the barricades on the other side. There was a bright flash, and we teleported to the mothership.

Chapter 27- Docking Bay

I dropped to my knees as the light faded. Jillian clutched my arm, preventing a complete face-plant. My ears rang and my eyes refused to focus.

"David, are you all right?" Her voice sounded muffled and distant. I shook my head to clear it.

"I'm okay," I said, clearing my throat. I stood shakily, and surveyed the cavernous room where we'd landed.

Four smaller ships were docked inside the mothership, one in each corner of the room. We must have teleported into the launch bay. A dizzying forest of obelisks filled the space between the ships. Most were uniform in size, but a few were taller than the rest.  They blocked our sight; anything could be out there and we'd never know it. Platforms revolved above us, each about twenty feet across. They orbited around a central point, each at different altitudes. I had no idea what purpose they might serve.

The guards I'd transferred over with us took cover behind obelisks like professional soldiers. Unlike us. I scanned their ranks for Marcus, but didn't see him. My heart sank.

"Now what?" I said, turning to Usir. I felt a bit steadier, but grateful for Jillian's arm around me.

Usir pursed his lips, gazing out at the obelisk forest. Then he squared his shoulders, turning back to me, his bearing regal--a king dispensing orders to his subjects. "Now we find their control center." He started down the platform.

A wave of green shot out of the obelisk forest and hit one of the guards in the chest, vaporizing him. One second, a man; the next, a pile of gooey uniform atop the shiny black floor. The other guards raised their weapons, but there was no apparent target. They scanned the obelisks, waiting.

"Take cover," I yelled, grabbing Jillian's hand and sprinting for the obelisks. We dove behind one as more flashes of green erupted from the forest.

A grey man materialized not ten feet from us, shimmering into visibility the same way Jillian did. It raised a four-fingered hand as a bright blade of crackling energy surged into existence. I began to shout a warning, but it was too late. The grey man plunged the blade into a guard's back.

Kali dove behind an obelisk, and Summers faded from sight.

"Steady," Usir called, peering around his obelisk. He held his cane loosely in both hands, more like a spear than a crutch.

There was a rush of bright white light from within the obelisks, followed by a flash of heat. A chittering shriek that could not have originated from a human throat ripped through the room, and I covered my ears as I grunted in pain.

A moment later Summers came sprinting back out of the forest. She dove behind an obelisk and pulled herself into a tight ball. "At least two more out there. They're fast. Really fast."

Summers went rigid and her eyes became glassy. She stood mechanically, turning towards a cluster of four guards. Her arm rose, and a gout of white-hot flame lanced into them. They screamed, but only briefly. The torrent of fire continued until the stench of charred flesh filled the docking bay.

"She's under their control," Usir roared, turning to Kali. "Kill her. Do it now or we're all dead."

"Screw that," I yelled back, aiming my splayed fingers at Summers. An arc of electricity took her in the temple, and she flopped like a fish until she lay still, unconscious but alive. I saw a flash of grey as one of the aliens darted between obelisks. "They're flanking us. To the north."

Something moved behind me and I whirled around. A grey man raised his hand and I felt a tight pressure in the back of my neck. I felt more than saw the signal it broadcast: an order to slaughter my companions. Thanks to Ka's intervention, the command was ignored. I balled my hand into a fist and punched the alien in the face. It staggered backwards. Jillian appeared behind it and grabbed its bulbous head. If it was surprised, the flat eyes didn't express it. She twisted the head hard and fast. A sharp crack sounded, the body went limp, and Jillian dropped it to the shiny floor.

"Guess they have vertebrae," she said, looking more than a little ill.

"Thanks, that's another one I owe you," I said, scanning the obelisks around us. There was at least one more grey man out there, but it hadn't made an appearance since Summers had gone down.

"David, behind us," Usir roared. I turned to see where he was pointing and my heart nearly burst from my chest. Six supers and at least a dozen grey men had appeared on the transporter pad. Marcus stood at the front of the pack, eyes glassy as he took a step toward us.

It was blindingly obvious, at least in hindsight. Usir had left the soldiers where they were for a reason, knowing they'd be killed. The idea was to buy us time. In taking most of them with us, I'd removed the distraction, and the grey men had arrived that much faster.

Boomerangs began to fire and guards melted all around me. At least five died in the first volley, and there were only a handful remaining. Jesus.

I dove to the far side of the obelisk. How the hell was I going to get out of this? An ear-piercing tone echoed through the bay. I collapsed and wrapped my arms around my head, but they did nothing to block the sound.

Something loomed over me; I was in too much pain to see what. A familiar wave of green enveloped my body, and then there was nothing.

Chapter 28- Escape

I awoke suspended above the ground, slowly rotating in a ring of tightly packed obelisks. They were like the bars of a cell. In fact, as I reached out mentally I realized that's exactly what they were. I could feel the energy field around me, redirecting kinetic force, ready to rebound it back at me if I somehow managed to slip through the bars.

I spent the next rotation scanning the room to see what I could learn. Some of the obelisks outside my cage were familiar, and I realized I could sense them. One was the controls to my cell, another a communications device. Some sort of amplifier so everyone in the ship could hear them. A psychic intercom? The rest were as alien as the ship, just a series of obelisks that seemed to function as batteries.

In the distance I heard a sharp, feminine scream, which was abruptly cut off. I winced inwardly, praying that it wasn't Jillian or Kali. I'd made many such screams myself, when I'd been taken. At least I knew one other person was alive.

A grey man walked up, chest leaning too far forward with each step. It stopped next to the cell, and I could feel it touching the control obelisk with its mind. The bars flowed down into the floor, disappearing into the dark stone. I was left rotating in the field, but the barrier was gone.

I noticed something new about the grey man this time. They didn't wear clothes, but there was a golden bracelet around this one's right wrist. I probed the device, eyes widening in understanding. It was one of the boomerangs, but the grey man had willed the device to change shape. Doing so took energy, but there was energy all around us. I also realized something intriguing. The boomerang could be used to create the psi-blade I'd seen earlier. Apparently the grey men had only a single weapon, but that weapon could be modified to fit whatever form the wielder desired.

The beginnings of a plan formed as I completed another rotation. It was risky, but I had a feeling things were about to get very bad unless I did something.

I suddenly dropped to my feet, the levitation field gone. The grey man broadcast a signal at the sliver in the back of my neck, willing me to walk forward. So I pretended to obey, taking one stiff step after another as we made our way towards another clearing in the obelisk forest. I was a horrible actor, but the grey man seemed oblivious. It made sense. They saw us as lesser life forms, so the idea that I might be able to resist probably hadn't occurred to it.

It ordered me to stop just inside the next ring of obelisks, so I did. The creature moved to the center of the clearing and gestured at the floor. My eyes widened as I watched the grey man shape the stone at the center, changing it into a chair to hold me, a set of tools to probe me, and a set of restraints to prevent me from moving during experiments.

While the grey man was creating its tools, I crept up behind it. I tried to duplicate the move I'd seen Jillian use earlier, seizing the alien by the head and wrenching its neck as hard as I could. It gave a shriek of pain, and thrashed wildly.

We tumbled to the ground, but I managed to stay on top. I twisted hard, yanking its head to the left and then the right, while its long black claws dug furrows into my arms. The creature struggled to break free, but I held tight. I wrenched its neck again, triggering a chittering shriek of pain. I had the advantage of weight, and was at least a little stronger.

On my third try, the neck finally snapped and the thing fell limp. I was left panting atop it, and it took a moment to get to my feet. Maybe the oxygen was different here, but I grew winded very easily. I felt queasy, and took a moment to breathe as I studied the corpse before me. I definitely understood what Jillian must have felt when she'd killed one. Snuffing out a life wasn't easy, even a grey man's life.

I stumbled to my feet, then my eyes landed on its wrist. I concentrated on the boomerang, willing it to flow towards me. The weapon obliged, moving across the stone and up my leg far more quickly than I would have expected. It pooled in my hand, returning to the shape I'd seen when it was used against me.

I probed the weapon, gaining an understanding of how it worked. It could channel power from me directly, or from the surrounding obelisks. That energy was transmitted into a highly corrosive form of radiation, a sort of light-based acid. It was a nasty weapon, and I'd bet anything it worked just as well on grey men as it did on us. I briefly considered using it as a psi-blade, but while it might look cool it simply wasn't practical. I didn't have any skill with a blade, but I could sure aim a gun.

Now that I was armed, I needed a plan. They'd kept me alive, but what about the others? There had been that yell earlier, and it was unlikely that had been the only survivor. But how could I find them? I spun around, observing the obelisks around me. Damn. None of them was anything like an uplink to their main system. There had to be one somewhere.

There were two paths that branched off the ring of obelisks. One went back the way I came, so I started up the other one. I crept, but quickly. There was no telling how long it would be before they realized I was gone, or found the body of the grey man I'd killed. Surprise was on my side, at least for now.

I finally rounded a bend and came to another clearing. Three grey men stood in a neat triangle around a giant floating blue crystal. A grin spread across my face as I studied it, examining the myriad signals it gave off. Given the flurry of data, it could only be one thing: the equivalent of the central computer, and I doubted that kind of dense gemstone could be found anywhere on Earth.

I snuck to within about fifteen feet, then silently raised the boomerang. One of the trio must have heard something, because it spun to face me. Its too-wide eyes got even wider.

"Too late, you soul-less bastard," I said, unleashing a blast of dark green energy. The closest grey man was caught in the blast, melting instantly. The shot continued on, catching a second grey man's leg.

It collapsed, shrieking, while the third one dodged behind the crystal. I could feel him willing his bracelet to become a boomerang again, so I darted forward and dropped prone where the crystal was thinnest. I had a clear shot at the thing's legs and I fired. Green energy dissolved the creature's lower body, and the rest spilled into a pile that finally made me heave my lunch onto the dark stone.

I wiped my mouth, gagging on bile as I rose to my feet. The wounded grey man had an outstretched hand, and I could sense it trying to issue orders to my sliver. They really did underestimate us. I stepped forward and used the boomerang to put the thing out of its misery.

A quick scan of the clearing around the crystal revealed no other grey men. I glanced up and realized that I was probably standing in the exact center of the craft. The ceiling vaulted high above me, easily a football field away. A few black stone islands floated above, slowly rotating around an invisible central point.

"Well, since I have the place to myself," I said, stretching out a hand and touching the crystal.

Data and thought flooded through me. It was like drinking the entire internet through a watermelon sized fire-hose. I recoiled from the enormity of it, almost breaking contact with the stone. No. I needed answers, and this was the only place to get them. I dove back into the flow, fighting the tide of information as I attempted to locate my friends.

My head began to throb, but I kept looking. I couldn't make sense of most of it, but eventually I found a map of holding cells. I tried to hold onto it, but it went swirling away. Thankfully I'd seen enough to trace a path from my location. There were at least two people being held there, and once they were free the three of us could try to find everyone else.

Chapter 29- Round Up

I padded quietly down the dark stone. Odd sounds echoed through the craft: the occasional ping of metal, and something that sounded like grinding gears. I had no idea what either was, and right then I didn't care. The only sounds I strained to hear were footsteps or the grey men's odd chittering language. Fortunately I didn't hear either as I made my way farther from the control crystal. Sooner or later they'd figure out I was loose. They had four bodies to stumble across, after all. I quickened my pace, hurrying in what I hoped was the right direction.

I heard the steady drip of water as I finally rounded another bend, and found the cells I'd seen in the control crystal. The first held an unconscious Jillian, slowly rotating with her head lolling on one shoulder. The other held a very awake, very irritated-looking Summers. Frosty blue eyes glared at me as she rotated around.

I was about to take a step into the clearing when a pair of grey men entered from another direction. One of them wiped a hand across its mouth, smearing away something red and sticky. It didn't look like blood; it was too bright for that. Maybe it was whatever passed for food to them.

I ducked between a pair of obelisks as they approached. They chittered back and forth, one holding a golden boomerang in one hand. It used the device to scan Summers, then moved towards Jillian. As it passed my hiding spot, I aimed my boomerang. I concentrated on making the beam wider and stronger, and the grey man simply ceased to exist. The scanning device clattered to the ground, drawing the attention of the other grey man.

I darted from my hiding place, firing another blast. The grey man's boomerang was still pooling in its palm when the shot hit. The creature had enough time to give a brief cry as it too disintegrated.

A quick scan of the clearing revealed the cells' control obelisk, and I reached out with my senses to access it. A moment later the bars surrounding both cages melted back into the floor. I moved to Jillian, catching her as the field deactivated. She was breathing, and I couldn't find any obvious injury. I had exactly zero medical training though, and I didn't have any clue how to wake her.

"A little help, please," came Summers' irritated voice.

I gestured towards the control obelisk again, releasing Summers from the levitation field. My attention stayed on Jillian. That was probably why I missed the grey man coming up behind me.

"David, move!" Summers shouted.

I started to spin, but it was too late. The grey man had a boomerang raised, and it unleashed a wave of green energy that caught me full in the chest. I was flung backwards. Every muscle in my body was on fire. My shirt and the skin on my chest had been burned away, exposing bloody muscle and a few ribs. I could do nothing but stare at the hideous injury. My breathing came in rapid, shallow gasps, and I was dimly aware of Summers gliding forward. She scooped up one of the fallen boomerangs and fired a trio of pulses at the newly arrived grey man. It had time to give a shriek, then its smoking body tumbled to the floor at Summers' feet.

She stalked over to me like a tiger, kneeling next to me to study the wound. "Walk it off, princess. You'll be fine."

A surge of rage rushed through me. I could see my frigging ribs. I was not going to be fine. Unfortunately, I was in too much pain to speak, or even to glare.

"I know it hurts," Summers said, giving me a wicked smile. "And yes, I may be enjoying this a little too much. Remember that you killed four of my friends. Consider this payback. Besides, like I said, you'll be fine. Look."

I glanced down at my chest. The bleeding had stopped, and the wound was beginning to scab over.

"See? Quit your pouting. Most supers have different powers, but there are some commonalities. Regeneration is one of them," Summers explained. She stood and started gathering boomerangs and scanning devices. "Usir thinks it's a prerequisite to surviving the testing. Anyone who doesn't manifest regeneration dies from the intense radiation. If you survive, you have the ability to heal most wounds, though don't expect to grow back a limb or anything. You're not a starfish."

My skin itched and burned as the wound continued to scab. Each breath was a little easier than the last, and I was healing more rapidly than Jillian's bullet wound had. That raised a whole host of questions. I didn't think my regeneration was any stronger than hers, so why was it more effective? It had to be the place. Healing, like all our powers, required energy. It was all around us, infusing the ship.

Summers knelt next to Jillian, delivering a series of sharp slaps until Jillian awoke and started scrambling backwards. "Good, you're awake too. Take a moment to get your bearings, then help medium-rare over there. We need to get moving before more of them show up." She had a boomerang in each hand, and had tucked one of the scanning devices into her jeans pocket.

Jillian knelt next to me, taking me by the shoulder and helping me to my feet. I bit back a cry of pain as the scabs on my chest tore. I teared up and felt more than a little light-headed, but the feeling passed after a few moments.

"Thanks," I mumbled. I pointed at one of the boomerangs on the floor near Summers. "Can you hand me one of those? I don't think I can bend over."

Summers obliged, handing across the one in her left hand then picking up a replacement. "You and I are the only ones who can fire these, and I can only do it as long as you're awake. We have to keep you on your feet."

"I'll do my best," I replied through gritted teeth. Every movement was agonizing. "Remember that they can still control you through your sliver. They can't do that to Jillian or I, which gives us an edge."

"They can't control you?" Summers asked, eyeing me skeptically. "How the hell did you pull that off?"

"It happened when we used Object 3," Jillian said. I leaned heavily on her as we limped down a path in what I hoped was the right direction. "We met a guardian of some kind. It called itself Ka, and it did something to deactivate the slivers."

"I might be able to duplicate it," I said. The words hurt. Breathing hurt. "Need some time to study it, though. Maybe if we survive this."

"In the meantime, I'm going to keep out of sight," Summers said, shimmering out of existence. What must it be like to have access to so many powers?

We continued up the path, eventually reaching another clearing. This one was mercifully clear of grey men, though it did contain three cells, each occupied.

The first held a slowly rotating Usir, his cold eyes scanning us as they passed. The next held a guard I didn't recognize, but it was the last one I was most interested in. Kali was inside.

Her hair had been shaved, leaving a completely smooth scalp white enough to shine in the soft white light coming from above. That might grow back, but the rest of what they'd done to her was more permanent. The whites of Kali's eyes were just gone. In their place were the flat, black eyes of a grey man. The rest of her face was normal, jaw working soundlessly as she stared at us. If she'd been able to run and hide from us, I think she would have.

"Oh my god," Jillian whispered, stiffening next to me. "What did they do to you?"

"I don't know," Kali sobbed, though no tears came from those horrible eyes. "They're in my head. I can feel them, slithering around."

"You're going to be all right. We'll find a way to fix this," I said, though I wasn't confident there was anything we could really do.

"How do we open them?" Summers' disembodied voice asked.

I concentrated on the control obelisk, and the bars melted into the floor. A moment later, the fields followed, and the prisoners abruptly dropped.

Usir landed in a graceful crouch that belied his age; the others simply thudded to the ground. I'd missed it while focused on Kali, but I could have sworn Usir look a few years younger than he had when we'd arrived at the ship. That, too, made sense. He was feeding on the energy.

"Well done," Usir said, rubbing the back of his neck as he approached. "How did you escape?" He eyed my charred shirt and scab-covered chest.

"Our slivers have been deactivated," I explained. The pain was finally receding, but my chest still ached. "I broke loose and overpowered the grey man guarding me. They're powerful, but they tend to underestimate us."

"How many have you killed getting here?" Usir asked.

Jillian released me and moved to comfort Kali. The teen sobbed into her shoulder, arms wrapped around Jillian in a death grip. I knew what it was like to be ripped away by the grey men when you didn't understand what was happening.

"Eight," I said, counting quickly. "That means there are at least sixteen left. More than enough to overwhelm us if they get the drop again."

"Let's not let that happen," Summers said, shimmering into existence next to Usir. "Are there any other prisoners?"

The last guard was a wiry man with grey stubble and a strong jaw. He cleared his throat. "I saw at least four more people led off in that direction. They were being escorted by Marcus and a few other supers."

"We have to rescue them," Summers demanded, rounding on Usir. "I already know what you're going to say. It's too risky. Fuck you. I owe Marcus."

"Be practical," Usir snapped, his eyes flaring a very unnatural green. I'd never seen anything like it, not among any of the supers. What the hell was he? "Our emotions are the reason they have the advantage. Logic is what will save us here. If you try to rescue Marcus, you'll end up captured, and they'll use you to kill the rest of us."

"I hate to say it, but he's right," I said, squeezing Kali's shoulder in a show of support. The teen avoided eye contact with everyone, moving to stand behind Jillian. I wanted to comfort her, but now wasn't the time. "We need to seize control of the ship and do what we came here to do. That might mean we all die, but if we can shut down the beacon thousands of people will be free of the grey men. That's worth my life. It's worth all our lives."

"I'm with David," Jillian said, turning to Summers. "I want to save Marcus and the other supers. It's even possible we can do that, but the best way is using the control crystal at the center of the ship. David might be able to shut down their slivers, but whether he can or can't, he needs to deal with that beacon first."

"We need to deal with it," I corrected. "Summers has my powers, so she can help. We hack this control crystal. Deal with the beacon, then we free the supers. I'm not open to negotiation, so don't try. Let's move."

So we moved.

Chapter 30- Running Battle

We headed toward the center of the ship, using the vaulted ceiling for navigation. We could easily see where we were in relation to the center, which meant we could always orient ourselves towards the control crystal. It was a simple and very practical design--a hallmark of the grey men, it seemed.

I plunged to the front of the group, next to Summers, despite the pain each breath caused. It was manageable, but only just. I grabbed Summers by the shoulder. "If we're going to move, let's move smart. You and Jillian should cloak us. We can't afford to let them get the drop on us."

She spun to face me, raising a boomerang to my face. Her eyes were wild, and her lip curled up in a snarl. "Don't ever touch me. Ever."

I didn't even see Jillian fade out, but I definitely saw her reappear. Right behind Summers. She seized Summers' wrist in one hand, and the back of her neck in the other.

"Don't," she breathed into Summers' ear. Her entire body was coiled, waiting to strike if Summers resisted. Summers didn't move.

"Look, you're pissed. I get it. But this isn't going to get Marcus back," I said, stepping around her and into the lead. "Take it out on the grey men. They'll be after us soon."

As if to punctuate my words, we heard the chittering calls of our enemies. Several sounded in rapid succession, from all around us. Everywhere except for the direction we were going, thankfully.

"They're herding us," Usir said, joining me at the front of our little column.

"How do you figure?" Summers asked, starting back up the path towards the control crystal.

"That's the only reason they'd have let loose those calls," Usir replied, matching my pace with the easy gait of a lifelong athlete. This place was definitely changing him. "They want us to know where they are, or, more importantly, where they aren't. They'll have an ambush waiting at the crystal."

It made sense. Hell, I'd read about being herded like this in everything from The Wheel of Time to The Fox and the Hound. You harry your prey, and get them to run face first into whatever you have waiting. They're too focused on what's behind them to even notice.

"So what do we do about it?" Jillian asked.

"We use the only advantage we have. Right now they underestimate us," I said, pausing to let Jillian and Kali catch up. Kali still wasn't meeting anyone's gaze. "Summers, you want to save Marcus? This is how we do it. You'll sustain invisibility on the entire group. Stay in the rear. Our only real weapons are the supers they can't control. That means me, Jillian, and Kali. The three of us unleash hell the instant we see anything worth killing."

"An excellent plan, David. Does everyone understand their role?" Usir asked, giving me an approving nod.

There were some tense glances, but all of us nodded. Usir gestured up the obelisk-lined pathway, and Jillian took the lead. Kali and I followed after. The teen took several deep breaths, but looked like she was ready. More ready than I was, in all likelihood. I gave her a smile as cool energy washed over us and we faded from sight.

"Follow the right edge of the obelisks," I ordered, letting my fingers brush them as I walked. "Take slow easy steps and keep one hand extended in front of you so you'll know when the person ahead of you stops. We have no idea if this will fool them, so don't assume they can't see us. Be ready to react to anything."

We continued moving, slowly and steadily, towards the central crystal. As Usir had predicted, the chittering calls sounded again, a little closer. They came from behind and either side. Only the route to the crystal was exempted.

Several minutes later, the central crystal came into our field of view. It was mostly obscured by obelisks, but there it was in all its sapphire glory. I could feel the strength of it, feel it yearning to join with my mind. If there hadn't been an ambush waiting I probably would have.

"Kali," Usir whispered, just loudly enough to carry a few feet.

"Yeah?" she whispered back. She was right behind me, almost touching my arm.

"Thus far you've only mastered small bursts of fire, yes?" Usir asked.

"I guess so. I can certainly burn things," she whispered back, her voice smaller and meeker than it had been.

"I want you to try something a little more advanced," he whispered, forging on before she had a chance to react. "You're going to excite every molecule of air near that crystal. Heat them all until the very air burns. It will be faster and hotter than anything you've done before, and it will cause an explosion. That will knock them off balance and we'll begin our assault."

"Uh, give me a minute," she said. I couldn't see her, but I heard her shifting back and forth from foot to foot. There was a long pause before she finally spoke. "Okay. I think I can do it. When do you want me to try?"

"Like hell you're dropping a detonate on that crystal," Summers snarled from somewhere behind Usir. "Marcus could be there. Even regeneration won't save him if he's caught anywhere near ground zero."

"Summers," Usir replied, giving a very vocal sigh. "You're becoming a liability. I'll give you one more chance to master your emotions, after which you become expendable. Am I clear?"

"This isn't the time for bickering," I said, keeping my voice low. "If this is going to work, we need to work together, and that includes you, Usir."

"I'm not letting her do it," Summers said, tone as defiant as ever.

Usir shimmered into existence, stalking down the line of obelisks. I don't know how he knew where she was, but he reached out with a hand and a moment later Summers shimmered into view. Usir's palm was pressed to her forehead, and a pulse of sickly green light shone where the skin met. It wasn't the same green the grey men used. It was sharper. More primal.

Summers began to twitch and shake, mouth lolling open as her gaze grew unfocused. It went on for maybe two or three seconds, then she dropped to the black stone. I wasn't sure if she was unconscious or dead, and I supposed given the circumstances it didn't much matter.

"What the hell are you doing?" I snapped, stalking forward and grabbing Usir's shoulder. I spun him to face me. "There aren't very many of us, and you just took out the only other person who can control grey man tech. I needed her help to destroy the beacon."

Usir's eyes flared an unnatural green, and his face hardened. "The last thing we need right now is an unstable operative. The grey men would have turned her against us."

"You haven't heard the last of this," I shot back, leaning in until our noses nearly touched. "Right now we need each other, but that could change. Remember that, Usir."

"Oh, I will," Usir said, turning towards Jillian. "Jillian, could you cloak our approach?"

She hesitated a moment, catching my eyes. I nodded. Neither of us liked Usir's methods, but we couldn't exactly pick our allies at the moment. Her posture straightened, then a wave of cool energy pulsed from her, and we were once again hidden from sight.

"All right, Kali," I said, stalking a little closer to the clearing with the control crystal. "I want you to use this detonate ability Usir told you about. After the initial explosion, Jillian and I will engage any survivors. I'll count down from three. Three, two..."

On one there was a sudden flash of light and a concussion of sound. The blast knocked me back into the obelisks. The sudden burst of pressure sent fresh pain through the wounds on my chest and I began to tear up.

"Now, David. Go, go," Usir said urgently.

I charged, running heedlessly between the columns. I could hear Kali's feet slapping the stone behind me, and the others a little farther back. I charged towards the central crystal, sizing up the situation as I arrived.

Six charred bodies greeted our arrival. Marcus was the farthest from the blast, half-burned dreads still recognizable despite the extensive burns ruining his back. The other five were all human, but it was impossible to identify them beyond that.

"Where are the grey men?" I asked quietly.

"All around us," Usir said, cursing low in a language I didn't even recognize, much less understand. "They're waiting, because they understand our objective. We try for the crystal. They attack. We have no choice but to walk into it."

"Maybe we could wait them out?" Kali asked. Her voice was shaky, probably from the adrenaline. I met her gaze: flat, and black, and unnerving. But it was still Kali.

"Won't work," I said, softly but with authority. "Time is on their side and they know it. Hell, they may have already called for reinforcements. We need to end this, and end this quickly. They know that."

"Assuming we survive this, you'll make a fine strategist," Usir said, tone clearly pleased. "We have no choice but to walk into their trap. Are you ready, David?"

"I'll activate the crystal. The rest of you be ready to defend me when they attack." I took a deep breath and approached the crystal. I circled it twice, walking around the multifaceted surface as I studied it. I was just delaying the inevitable, and I knew it. I was terrified. The moment I touched that crystal they'd know, and odds were good I'd be disintegrated immediately afterwards.

Chapter 31- Meet the Grey Men

Touching the crystal was like diving off the Golden Gate Bridge, a long slow fall into a very deep pool of knowledge. It crashed over me in a frigid wave, and it was all I could do to keep my head above water. So much information, so many separate systems and data feeds. I felt like a child.

I closed my eyes and tried to orient myself. This wasn't really all that different from the internet, though the twisting flows of data winding around me were certainly more complex. But, like the internet, if I could learn it then I could master it. After all, I'd been working with computers since Junior High. I opened my eyes again, studying the colorful flows. It was dizzying--all that code, all those bitstreams--but I quickly spotted a pattern.

The data flowed in tides, just like the ocean. Depending on where I was, it pulled me in a specific direction. I found that, if I tried, I could drift along those tides, moving through the system at an incredible pace. Having some semblance of control eroded the panic, and I began breathing normally.

My confidence was further reinforced by the fact that I was still alive. Unlike in most movies or books, time did not appear to pass any less quickly inside a computer, so the grey men had already had plenty of time to attack. In fact, my allies were probably battling for their lives at that very moment.

I could probably find out, but not yet. My time here was extremely limited, and right now I had to make an impossible choice. I might be able to help my friends, I needed to destroy the beacon, and most importantly, to me anyway, I might be able to find out what happened to Mom.

I froze, indecision gnawing at me. I had to know. Mom took priority, besides, if I was fast I could take care of the other things too. I dove into the data flow, sifting as I sought records. It didn't take long to find the data store where they housed information about their experiments.

Unfortunately, there were hundreds of thousands, and they spanned millennia. I closed my eyes for a moment. There had to be a way to filter the data, to query their database looking for specific information.

I began sifting based on today's date, looking backwards. Then I added a gender filter, and tacked on an age filter. Then I added a geographic region filter. Each filter narrowed the list by an order of magnitude, until I was left with a half dozen. The very first one was familiar, but it wasn't mom.

It was Kali's mother, the picture was too similar to be anyone else. She'd been returned the previous day, her experiment marked as concluded. I wasn't sure what that even meant, but it least it looked like she was alive.

I searched the other five records. Mom was the last one. The record contained an attached bundle of information unlike anything I'd ever seen. It was something like a video, but when I observed it was more like a direct memory that had been recorded somehow. It included sounds, smells, even emotions.

I realized I was observing events through the eyes of a grey man. It showed a ship moving into position over a small house surrounded by trees. Familiar trees. Then the ship powered up and launched a devastating beam of green energy. The house was incinerated, all that remained a smoking crater. It was the attack itself.

My heart thudded. Was there any way she survived that? I reviewed the rest of the data, pausing at something I didn't really understand. The grey man had recorded something unexpected at the moment it had fired. Something it was labeling as a temporal surge.

Temporal. Time. A time surge? Did that mean that Mom had survived somehow? I didn't have any more time to spare. I needed to help my friends. If we lived I could come back and look for more information.

I returned my attention to the data flow, looking for anything that might resemble an internal camera. I was immediately shunted into a massive pool of data. It provided a top-down perspective on the entire pyramid, and when I concentrated I was able to focus on specific parts. I willed myself to zoom down to the center, and sure enough I was able to witness the battle raging.

Blasts of fire came from Kali's hiding place behind an obelisk, and she reduced more than one grey man to a smoldering husk. Jillian had taken a more defensive approach, tackling Usir out of the way and phasing through several obelisks when a boomerang pulse almost disintegrated him.

At least a half dozen grey men were down, but more than a dozen still fought. My heart sank as I realized this could only end one way. My allies would be overwhelmed eventually if I didn't do something.

You can do NOTHING. A voice thundered, digitized and without emotion, louder than the name of God.

A figure floated down to my data pool, a grey man, but somehow more menacing. Maybe it was a trick of this place, but it seemed taller and larger. A leader of some kind?

What are you? I asked, mostly as a play for time.

I am the arbiter of the host. The grey man thought back, its voice thunderous. You are nothing more than a failed experiment. Your entire species is an accident, enabled only by the departure of my race from this world. You come to this place, ignorant of even its most basic functions.

If we're so insignificant, why are you recruiting us to fight your war for you? I countered. I wasn't sure if making this thing mad was a good idea, but if it kept it talking then it was worth it.

Expediency. Knowledge. We learn from your DNA, and in so doing gain potent weapons. The grey continued. It didn't seem angry. If anything, it seemed amused. It was more emotion than I was used to from the grey men. One day soon our numbers will darken the sky of this world, more numerous than the stars. Until then there is much to be gleaned from your species.

So you aren't planning on using us as weapons against our own kind? I used the opportunity to study the data pool and consider my options.

Your motivations are rudimentary and short-sighted. You think in years, your elders in decades. Your entire history is only a handful of millennia. It responded. The words were harsh, but the tone remained emotionless. I wasn't even worth this thing's derision. My very existence is beyond your comprehension. I observe time in a way your limited intellect cannot begin to conceive. I witnessed the birth of your species, and now I am the herald of its destruction.  

I glanced down at my friends again. They were still alive. How could I help them? I studied the data pool, and began forming a plan. There was a way to help them, if I could keep this thing busy.

All I'm hearing is a lot of talk. We've killed dozens of you in the last few hours. We've beaten your control slivers. We'll beat you too, I shot back, forcing as much defiance into the words as I could. I hoped it sounded good, because I wasn't sure I believed it.

You exhibit the overconfidence common in your species. It merely contributes to your downfall. The grey continued. Our technology far surpasses your own. Our abilities have been honed over a thousand, thousand generations. The rudimentary abilities we have granted you are an insignificant threat.

Are they now? I said, with more than a little smugness. The creature had accused me of overconfidence, but I'd just spotted its weakness.

I reached into the data pool and issued a series of commands. The first slammed an energy field around the area surrounding the central crystal. Usir, Kali, and Jillian were trapped in the field along with two greys. Jillian made short work of one, while Kali incinerated the other. As long as that field was up, they'd be protected.

You overstep yourself, an insect wandering across the face of a deity. The eradication of your species begins with you. The grey thundered. Maybe I was ascribing emotion where there was none, but I thought I finally detected a note of anger. The grey's eyes widened, and a high-pitched ringing filled my ears. I could feel the creature forcing its way into my mind. I tried to stop it, to erect walls and somehow keep it out. It was like every bad horror movie, when people tried to board up windows and doors. The monster always got in anyway.

My concentration shattered, slivers of pain shooting up every nerve. Fire surged through my brain, though my eyes, through my pores. The grey man sifted through the substance of my mind, rifling through my memories and thoughts. With each passing moment, I was less myself, unraveling into nothingness. Panic streaked through my mind as I realized I was about to die, and with my death would come the deaths of Jillian and Kali.

Jillian. If the pain-induced clarity did anything for me, it helped me realize how I felt about her. It wasn't love, not yet. But it could be if I let it, if I had a chance to see where things could go between us. Now I was going to let her die without ever having a chance to tell her how I felt. Worse, after this thing killed us, it would move on to the entire human race. It would devour their minds the same way it was devouring mine.

Chapter 32- Venting

A desperate plan formed.  This thing didn't use emotion in the same way we did, and that cold logic probably offered a lot of advantages. But it also had no idea how potent fury could be. I thought about my mother, not just her possible death but her life, and I summoned every bit of anger and outrage I could.

She'd been ridiculed and ostracized. Called a freak, and much worse. All because this thing had kidnapped her and performed horrific tests that had scarred her both mentally and physically. It had taken her life from her, stolen any chance she'd had at being happy. Doing so had rippled across my entire life. It had taught me to be ashamed. How many countless others had this thing killed? How many lives had it damaged? Now it had casually dismissed me, assuming I was an insect it could crush. Yet Usir had told me that anyone with my ability had disappeared, so clearly I was somehow a threat. I had some ability I hadn't tapped into, and it was time to harness it.

I reached past the pain, past the unraveling of my own mind. I sought anything I could hold onto, and to my shock I found something: I could feel minds. Jillian's signature was distinct from Kali's, which was distinct from Usir's. All three were distinct from the fourth presence that crouched near the control crystal, invisible to the naked eye but not to me.

Summers. I thought, reaching for her mind. You're all right. How?

Whatever that bastard did was temporary. She thought back. You've finally manifested telepathy, about damn time.

Listen, we have to be quick. I interfaced with the control crystal, and there's an entity here. Their leader. It's unravelling my mind, and I haven't got much longer. I allowed the very real panic to infuse my thoughts.

What the hell do you want me to do about it?

Anything I can do, you can do. I want you to interface with the crystal. It will be disorienting, but go with the flow of the data. Look for the pool at the center. When you arrive, I want you to attack the creature you find there. Can you do that? I asked. I knew how desperate I sounded. My mind was eroding around me like sand in the tide.

I'll do what I can. She thought back, though she didn't feel very confident.

I couldn't afford to wait any longer. I pushed the panic down and focused on the anger again. I envisioned mom's face: her kind smile, and her pained expression whenever people whispered to each other as we walked by.

Then I looked up at the giant consciousness hovering over mine, and I attacked. I went in swinging, uncertain of precisely what I was doing. The attack seemed to catch the thing off guard, and I plunged into its mind in the same way it had entered mine. I saw its thoughts in the same way it was pilfering my own.

If my mind was the solar system, then this thing was an entire galaxy. It had lived for millions of years, and was one of the first servants created by the Builders. It had gone with them when they'd left earth in the early Pleistocene. I saw snatches of its time there, of the building of a new civilization, of a strange, larger world. It was alien, and too fleeting for me to hold onto anything specific. Its mind was just so vast. Navigating anywhere took precious seconds, and I couldn't readily orient myself toward anything. I was stumbling around, spotting tidbits purely by accident.

Then I saw something relevant, a recent memory, or relatively recent, given the thing's enormous life span. It had been sent ahead with a dozen large ships, a tiny fleet compared to the vast armada at the disposal of the Builders. The grey men were merely here to pave the way for the eventual return of their masters. Only there was a serious problem: The Progeny of the Builders had returned expecting to re-occupy the Arks their masters had created. Those Arks were occupied. Their new owners, humans, had locked them. This left the grey men unable to communicate with their masters. They couldn't send a message home, and in their panic they'd decided to use us to accomplish what they couldn't.

All of that lined up with what I already knew. What didn't, what chilled me to the core, were the plans for re-colonization. I saw the other side of the testing, the very testing that had just been performed on Kali. Her eyes were black, because they'd begun turning her into a grey man. That was the plan, and had been all along. Convert humanity into vessels--vessels that could be occupied by the returning Builders. They weren't making soldiers. They were making bodies to house their returning minds. Everything until now was a small scale test, but in the grey man's mind I saw all of humanity converted into empty husks, waiting for its people to occupy.

Your temerity is incalculable. The creature thundered, and flung me backwards. We returned to the construct created by the control crystal, and now stood on opposite sides of the data pool, staring at each other. Where the hell was Summers? I needed help, and I needed it now.

That's right. I shot back, trying to keep its attention focused on me. You're not as invincible as you claim. Do you know what I think? Maybe you made your human pets a little more powerful than you intended, and now you're paying the price.

Now I was positive this thing was angry. Its eyes narrowed and the high-pitched ringing began again.

We have a saying. I continued, battling through the pain. The best defense is a good offense.

I attacked, summoning all the anger, all the desperation. The ringing stopped and the grey went on the defensive. It casually swatted aside my attempts to enter its mind, but that meant it wasn't able to attack me.

Flail away, little insect. The thing taunted. Your strength abates. Soon you will grow too weak to continue and I will unravel your mind. Then I will visit the same fate upon your entire species.

The strain of constant attacks was beginning to wear on me, and I understood now what the creature had meant. My psychic batteries, for lack of a better term, were running dry at an alarming pace.

I finally missed a step, failing to launch an attack quickly enough. The grey sprung into action, slipping past my defenses and into my mind. Intense pressure beset me from all sides, and the pain was immense. I wanted to run away and hide, but there was nowhere to go.

Nor could I escape by attacking. I couldn't concentrate. Every time a thought began to form, a fresh spike of pain shattered it. I'd come close, but in the end I'd failed. Not just failed myself, not just Mom and Jillian, but the entire human race. If futile defiance was the last thing I was capable of, I'd give it all I was worth. I tried to attack, and was batted aside. I tried again with the same result.

Then the pressure abruptly ceased. I was returned to the data pool, mind reeling from the damage the grey had caused. It took several moments to fight through the fog and understand what had happened.

Summers was there, attacking the grey. I could feel her anger, her loss. She was consumed by the rage of Marcus's death, unleashing all of it on the grey. Like me, she was untrained, but she was also fresh. She hadn't endured any of the psychic damage, and she'd also caught the grey off guard.

I focused on the data pool, sifting through it until I located the beacon. It existed on all ships simultaneously, each containing a secondary control crystal created solely for that purpose.

I studied the structure of the one on this ship carefully, looking for weakness. A prolonged burst of energy in the right spot would cause it to shatter. Where could I find that energy? I searched the ship and remembered it was all around us. I could trigger a focused burst.

More, I could cause all the other ships to generate a similar burst. They were all linked, all overseen by the consciousness Summers was battling. With it distracted, I could attack them all at once, and there was no one to stop me. In that lay the Builders' greatest weakness. They functioned like a collective, and with their leader occupied they were utterly defenseless.

I closed my eyes and focused, mentally coding the routine that would do what I needed. I pulled together bits of data, existing routines floating through the alien landscape. Above and behind me I heard a pained scream, and the grey man landed its first blow against Summers. I risked a glance, and saw her on the defensive. It wouldn't be long before the thing finished her and came for me.

I turned back to my code, cobbling bits together like LEGOs. It was more difficult than it should have been, slower after the catastrophic damage my mind had suffered. An eternity later I slammed the last bit into place, hazarding another glance at the battle above. Summers had stopped moving.

 I willed my completed program to propagate through all the ships, praying I was fast enough. It replicated to each primary control crystal in the grey man fleet, all ready to fire off the same signal at the same instant.

Your companion's mind has been destroyed. Her body is nothing but an empty vessel. Came the grey's smug voice. I was dimly aware of Summers' presence fading. It had finished unraveling her mind, and was about to do the same to me.

I executed the program, then focused on the data pool. Each ship was linked through a sort of antenna at the top. The very tip of the pyramid. If I could disable that it would break the link between this ship and rest of the fleet.

The grey's immense consciousness burst into my mind in a shower of pain and fire, but I didn't try to stop it. I focused everything I had on the antenna, willing the ship to overload it.

Sun-bright agony split my consciousness, but I was dimly aware of two explosions. The first was the antenna, which burned out in a fiery explosion of stone and gold. The second was the beacon shattering into a lethal spray of crystalline shards.

The pressure on my mind vanished, and I could no longer sense the grey. I shook my head to clear it, and took stock of the situation. We were no longer connected to the rest of the fleet, and, if my program had gone undetected, the beacons on all the other ships had been destroyed. The one on this ship certainly had been. I had no way to verify the rest, but I certainly hoped they were toast.

I shifted my attention to the energy field I'd erected around the central crystal. Usir, Jillian, and Kali all stood with their backs to the crystal, waiting behind the protective field. My own body was there as well, slumped against the crystal.

Bursts of green energy slammed into the shield, sending out colorful ripples as the shield weakened.

"We only have moments before the field goes down," Usir said, kneeling next to the control crystal. He slid the top of the cane off, revealing a slender blade.

"David is weakening," Jillian said, rushing to my side.

Usir intercepted her. "No! Touching him while he's engaged with the crystal could destroy you both."

"What do we do if the grey men get through the shield?" Kali asked, shifting nervously from foot to foot. She looked so odd with that bald head, and those flat, black eyes.

"I suppose we die," Usir said, just a hint of sadness infusing his tone.

I had to save them. There had to be a solution, but I needed to calm down and find it. I focused on our surroundings, considering. How could I remove all the grey men, without hurting my friends? I began studying the capabilities of the craft, searching desperately for anything that might help.

"Hmm, this is interesting," I murmured.

Each of the four smaller craft we'd seen when we arrived could exit the pyramid through one of the main walls. That gave me an idea.

I willed the mothership skyward, away from Mohn's San Francisco headquarters. We shot up with immense speed, and within moments had broken free of the Earth's atmosphere. We hovered in space, three thousand miles above the Earth's surface, in a complete vacuum.

More green blasts weakened the field protecting my friends, but it held. It would have to do. I ordered all four walls to open. Normally a protective membrane of energy would form over each hole, to prevent explosive decompression--but explosive decompression was exactly what I was hoping to use. I suppressed the fields, allowing the four massive openings to vent the ship to space.

There was a huge whump as the atmosphere vented. The grey men firing at my friends were hurled into the air, sucked through the openings along with anything that hadn't been secured. Bits of stone and their technology followed their path, and all were ejected into space.

The four smaller ships were anchored, thank god. I hadn't had time to check that and it could have done serious damage.

A quick scan showed that the energy field around my friends was still active, and that it had maintained the atmosphere within. So far as I could tell, they were fine.

I willed the openings to close, and set the life support on overdrive so it would replenish our oxygen. Then I returned to my body, slumping to the ground in exhaustion.

We'd won.

Chapter 33- Project Solaris

I awoke to find Jillian hovering over me, eyes wide with concern. Her lips were slightly parted, and I didn't think she'd ever looked so beautiful. Behind her stood an anxious looking Kali, her strange new appearance reminding me of the grey men's true goals for colonization. I didn't let it faze me. This was a victory, even if there'd been a high cost.

"Maybe you should give me mouth to mouth," I croaked weakly, smiling at Jillian.

Jillian gave me the most brilliant smile I'd ever seen. "We thought we'd lost you. Summers."

I struggled into a sitting position and took a good look around. Usir stood by, watching, hands folded behind his back. There seemed to be fewer wrinkles on his face, and he stood straighter. He'd looked perhaps sixty-five when we'd arrive. Now he could have passed for fifty.

My gaze followed Jillian's, landing on Summers' limp body. Her mouth was open and her eyes stared sightlessly ahead. She was breathing, but there was no life in that gaze. I didn't need to probe her to know that her mind was gone.

"She saved me, you know. Saved us all," I said, clearing my throat as I rose to my feet. "We fought something. I guess you might call it the grey men's leader. It was old. Older than old. When I glimpsed its mind I saw millions of years. It was killing me, and she distracted it long enough for me to get loose and save you guys."

"So that was you?" Kali asked, gesturing towards one of the sloped walls. "You opened those to space and killed them all."

She sounded impressed, and I couldn't help but smile. "Yeah, that was me. I couldn't think of another way to get rid of them. The energy field was starting to fail. I know it was a tad extreme, but it was the only thing I could think of."

"Let's hope you didn't squander invaluable tech with that stunt," Usir said, mouth turned down in a frown. He turned slowly, surveying the control crystal and the surrounding area.

"He saved our asses, you ungrateful prick," Jillian snapped, taking a threatening step toward Usir. "And don't think we don't remember what you did to Summers. You're a cold bastard, Usir. I don't trust you as far as I can throw you."

"Given the nature of your powers, I'd wager that would be pretty far," Usir said, raising an eyebrow. "I realize you have no reason to trust me, but fortunately I also know that David is a pragmatic man. He'll work with me, because he has little choice."

"How do you figure?" I asked, adopting a bit of Jillian's anger.

"Think about what you know," he explained, giving me a calculating smile. It was just the sort of smile I'd always imagined him having, not the plastic one I'd seen up until now. This one fit his predatory nature. "This is far from the only grey man ship, and, while we survived the encounter, we've also become their primary enemy. The grey men will come after you, David. Are you so comfortable in your command of their technology that you believe you can evade them?"

It pissed me off, but he had a point. Not only were the grey men still a threat, but, thanks to Dick, they might have the means to summon more of their kind. We were in a world of shit.

I met Jillian's gaze and she shrugged. I turned back to Usir. "What's your point? It's not like you can help us. You know almost nothing about their tech."

"An accurate statement, but I still have something you need, David. Resources. I control the CEO of Mohn Corp, and, through him, billions of dollars and some of the best personnel in the world. The question is, will you capitalize on those resources?" Usir asked, smile never slipping. "You have a ship, but almost nothing else. I can provide money. Intelligence. Other supers to help you fight the grey men."

"What's to stop us from finding other supers on our own?" I asked, but I was bluffing and I think he knew it.

"How? You've destroyed the beacon. You have no way of tracking them. Your powers are considerable, but even with access to the internet you'll have a tough time locating more of your kind," Usir said. The predatory smile faded. "David, I know you dislike me. You distrust me. Both are understandable. But believe me when I tell you that everything I have done has been for the good of mankind. The grey men will invade, and when they do it will take a united humanity to stop them."

"What are you proposing?" I asked, narrowing my eyes.

"Work with me, David. Allow me to give you the resources you'll need to wage your war. I'll help locate supers, and you recruit them. Build a force to resist the grey men," he offered, ever the master orator. It certainly sounded good, but I knew his clever bait likely had a hidden hook. "Keep the ship, and whatever tech is left inside it. Keep your secrets about what happened with this master grey man you fought. You don't even need to tell me what happened when you met Ka."

"How do you know about Ka?" Jillian asked. It was an astute question. Everything I'd found suggested that Melinda Waters had never returned after using Object 3. If that was the case, there should have been no way he could have known of Ka's existence.

"As I said, I am older than you can imagine." Usir gave a heavy sigh. "I have been called many names, but the one you'd recognize is Osiris. You want to know what my connection to that name is? I was responsible for much of Egyptian culture. I guided them in creating the pyramids. Long before that, I helped Nar Mer weld two kingdoms into one. Meeting Ka came before even that. Millennia before that."

Usir faced Jillian. "Your hostility is understandable. How could you possibly trust me? A man who seems to age backwards, who claims to be thousands of years old? I understand that it sounds preposterous. Yet it is the truth."

He turned back to me. It was several more moments before he spoke again. "I know a great deal about our world and the events that are about to unfold. More than Ka, more than the grey men. Enough to tell you that if you do not join Project Solaris, if you do not lead Project Solaris, then all of us are doomed."

"Me?" I asked, giving a harsh chuckle. "I'm a twenty-one-year-old intern, Usir. What makes you think I'm qualified to lead anything?"

"You successfully led a raid on Mohn Corp. You penetrated our security and gained access to the Nexus. Your companions are fiercely loyal to you, and when we battled the grey men you demonstrated a head for tactics," Usir replied. He eyed me soberly. "You are a natural leader, David. You have the ability the greys most fear."

"What do you think?" I said, turning to Jillian.

"I think we keep our guard up, but he's right. We need the resources he can offer," she said, but she didn't look happy about it.

"Kali?" I asked, turning to the teen.

"You want to know what I think?" she asked, blinking in surprise.

"Yes. You're part of this. We're not going to treat you like a child, especially not after you saved us all with that detonation," I said, giving her a warm smile. "We're a team and you're an important part of that team."

"Then I say we join this Solaris. If nothing else, let's take the guy's money. I want a new car," she said, giving the first smile I'd seen since arriving in the mothership.

"I like the way the kid thinks," came a raspy voice from behind me. I whirled, already raising my boomerang to fire. I lowered the weapon when I saw who'd spoken.

Marcus leaned heavily against the control crystal. Raw pink skin dotted his body, and his dreads were nothing more than singed stubble. Streamers of smoke still rose from the remains of his clothing. But he was alive.

He grinned as he spoke. "Gotta be honest, man. After Usir here gave the command to have me nuked, I'm not in a hurry to stick around with Mohn. I'll tell you what, though, if you're taking control of Solaris I want in. You, I'd be willing to follow."

I turned back to Usir, confident in my decision. Marcus, Jillian, and Kali moved to stand beside me. It was time to fight back.

Note to the Reader

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