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Fall of the Faithful

Fall of the Faithful is my Honorable Mention winning entry into the 2010 4th Quarter of the Writer’s of the Future contest.  Please contact me if you have interest in publishing this story.

Fall of the Faithful

By Tom Wells

Department of Human Preservation Agent Harold Gains had been called out to the crime scene of an apparent suicide jump from a high-rise hotel. Agent Gains had been dispatched to investigate the death of a male suspected to be a member of the secretive cult known as the Faithful.  The subject’s fall from ten stories looked like suicide, which was common amongst the newly initiated Faithful.  The evidence that this was a suicide seemed clear when Agent Gains arrived on the scene.  What was unclear was why the Department had been called to the scene so early.  Local authorities normally resisted interaction with the Department until it was absolutely necessary, so Gains asked the detective in charge why he suspected the jumper was a keeper of the Faith.

The city detective spat the answer out with all of the prejudiced disdain most non-believers have for people of the Faith, “Well, I could have waited for you to show up at our morgue with your fancy scanning device to tell me, but seeing as the sidewalk has started the autopsy proceedings for us, I took the liberty of lifting a piece of the freak’s scull to see if he was one of them.”

As the city detective explained this, he had bent over and using the end of a network pad stylus, he carefully lifted a fragment of the jumper’s scull.  The blood was already starting to coagulate in the summer heat and the brain matter had been shaken up into a gray gelatin blob inside, but the microchips and interface wiring were there.  He was of the Faith all right, or so it seemed there on the street.

“I’m going to have to scan him before I can officially get involved,” Gains informed the detective.

“Be my guest, I know you Feds love to follow your procedures,” he replied sarcastically.

Agent Gains could tell the detective knew he was in over his head here, which could be the only reason he actually contacted the Department voluntarily on this case.  Suicide may have been common for the newly initiated Faithful, but this messy means of committing the act was not.

The newly initiated usually start with simple network to brain interfaces and work up to full bodily neural implants in the following years.  Gains pulled a scanner out of his satchel and began to run it over the Faithful’s body.  Only his brain contained implants.

This was consistent with all suicide attempts by the Faithful.  Even if the jumper was very willing to join the Faith, few humans can take the information overload from the direct computer interface provided by the implants.  It drives the newly implanted to the desperation of suicide.

The Faithful see getting past the suicidal tendencies as a right of passage, and the rest of the US citizens view the Faithful as a criminal cult largely for this reason.  This leaves the newly implanted isolated in their transition into the Faith.  What felt wrong to Agent Gains about this case was that initiates who try suicide use either drowning or suffocation as their mode to the next life.  This was the first implant he had heard of killing himself in a way that would defile his body temple for the implants.

Gains pulled out a well-worn black leather bound notebook from his satchel and jotted down some notes.  Then he retrieved his computer pad and typed in only a few select items from his notes before signaling them back to his office.  Then he headed up to the hotel suite the jumper had leapt from.

It was a simple high-rise hotel suite, with a small sitting room to the front, a bath area separating the sitting space from a small bedroom to the rear and a small balcony barely large enough for a single person to squeeze onto. The balcony was really nothing more than an architectural feature meant to attract patrons from the Internet images that didn’t reveal just how small it really was. Dust and city grime had built up on the little used outdoor space, but the city investigators had apparently taken turns stepping out to have a bird’s eye view of the body, effectively destroying any evidence that may have been left here in the first place.  Gains only hoped now that someone had exercised some small bit of forethought and that a halo-image of the balcony was imprinted before the peep show parade.

The suite had been registered to the jumper who’s name was Jeff Swift.  He had been in the room for two days prior, and was booked there for anther two weeks.  Hotel records indicated that he had taken all of his meals in the room, though none of the service staff had actually seen him face to face.

Gains walked slowly through the stale, empty suite.  The city investigators had already been through the room and had reportedly found nothing unusual.  He wasn’t surprised.  The circumstances seemed obvious, which had alarms going off inside his head.

The room was quite neat and orderly for having been lived in for the past two days without maid service.  Gains knew this wasn’t unusual for a new implant.  He would have been overwhelmed by the information overload having been connected directly to all of the computer networks over the world at once.  It was surprising he had found time to eat at all, especially the three square meals a day the records indicated.

This thought led to a hunch and he went to the media cabinet.  He pulled his scanning device out and checked the entertainment usage on the equipment not really expecting his hunch to play out, but it did.  Mr. Swift had ordered a total of five movies over the past thirty-eight hours, and he had channel surfed the broadcast stations when he wasn’t watching a movie.

This activity was not consistent with someone overloaded with information.  The jumper may have been implanted just before taking the leap, or his implant might not have been working during his stay in the room.  Then again, he may not have been truly alone in the room for the past two days.  What was now obvious to Gains was that there were clues to be found in this room.  He signaled his findings back to the Department who would send out a sweeper team of technicians to scour the room for more.  Then he used his scanner to change the lock code on the entry door.  No one but members of the Department would be allowed in the room now.

An hour later he was across town and twenty stories below grade, inside the city morgue looking down on the jumper’s vicerated body.  The Department had sent their own technicians who had swiftly dissected the man while the City Chief Coroner stood to the side and ate his ham sandwich.  The Coroner had objected to allowing the technicians in his sanctum. A call from the Mayor who was simultaneously online with a Department of Human Protection official had silenced the coroner’s protest while having no effect on his appetite.

One of the technicians had to silently pressed on the Coroner’s protruding belly to move the man and his flying breadcrumbs out of range.  Being present at an autopsy was nothing new for Agent Gains but the smell of the salted ham mixed with the squishy chewing noises from the Chief Coroner was making him downright sick for the first time since he was a mere cadet.  He was relieved when the coroner received a call which led to the man excusing himself from the room.  The technicians took the opportunity to share their findings with Gains in private.

“So what’s the news on our jumper?” he asked the two stone faced men dressed in impeccably white lab-gear, save the bright crimson blood contrasting where it had found its way from the body to the technicians.

“Well for starters, Agent Gains, this is no jumper,” said the one on the right who was soaked the most from digging deep into the body.

If the technicians were expecting a surprised reaction from Agent Gains, he disappointed them.  The idea that the victim wasn’t a jumper had been in the back of his mind.

“I’ll take it then that you have evidence he was dead before hitting the sidewalk,” he said in a matter of fact tone.

The bloodied technician answered, “Of course. The head was traumatized by a round wooden object several times prior to the impact.  But that’s not the most revealing thing.”

The technician paused, apparently for effect, which only served to annoy Agent Gains.  He twirled his finger to start the man again.

The second technician spoke this time, “The interface implant was put inside his head after it was opened by a bat or whatever wooden club that was used leaving wood fibers imbedded in the impact sites.”

After?” Gains stated as much as he asked.

The first technician added, “You should know that whoever stuck the implant inside the head after the victim’s death knew what he or she was doing.  The implant was precisely located and would have worked if the victim had been alive.  It just never had a chance to graft with the brain.  That was the only clue that it hadn’t been placed in the victim’s head before he died.  The effort to throw us off was really quite amazing.”

“Can you tell how soon after the beating the implant was inserted?” Gains asked.

“It was after the beating, I’m sure of that, but how long is hard to tell considering that the evidence was neatly scrambled on the sidewalk. All I can tell you for sure is that the time of the beating was 0832 hours, give or take no more than a minute.  The red blood cell decay can be precisely read with our instruments.”


Some simple detective work on the ride back to the scene of the murder answered the rest of Gain’s question.  Death had occurred at 0832 hours and the street monitor on a nearby lamppost recorded the image of the impact at 0836 hours.

Someone skilled in interface implants had to have been present at the beating, or even the one who administered the head trauma.  Since the only known people who were skilled enough to perform an implant were members of The Faith and implants themselves, Agent Gains realized his case had now become more disturbing.  The Faithful were criminal for what they had done to themselves, but there were no known members of The Faith who had gone on to commit any crimes or acts of aggression after they had become members of The Faith.  The only known physicians with the training and skills to implant the Faithful were members of the Faith themselves and considered High Priests at that.  Now one of them was involved in a brutal murder.  It was the turn in the sect everyone had feared since the Faithful had formed as an underground movement.

As his car landed at the hotel, Gains called the technicians who were finishing their sweep of the room.  The sweep had turned up no more conclusive clues, which was notable because a man beaten about the head as he had been would have left some trace evidence on the surface he was beaten down on.  Either he had been killed on something that was removed from the room, or he had been killed in another room altogether.

Gains went to the Manager’s office when he arrived at the hotel.  He flashed his badge at the manager and insisted on access to the hotel registry.

None of the registered names matched names on the known Faithful watch lists and the biometric ID scan matched all of the names.  One hundred fifty six parties had checked and out in a usable timeframe around the murder. Forty-five of the occupied suites were high enough to have thrown the body from. He needed to find a way to narrow the scope of his search. Gains then checked the finger scans for each of those rooms. Sure enough, his murder victim had ID’d in at the room on a floor below his.  He had entered just an hour before his leap.

Gains signaled the Department and started a trace on three other men who had keyed entry into the same room. He then ordered the scan team to the room before going there himself.

A new guest had checked in and had to be moved to a new suite under much protest before learning that she would be getting a luxury suite and that the Department of Human Preservation would be paying for her stay at the hotel.  The scan team arrived just as the last of the guest’s bags were transferred out of the room.

Agent Gains had the shower scanned first for evidence.  Trace blood was found in the grout joints, but not enough to identify the source or how fresh the sample was.  He was a bit deflated, but one of the technicians who had been part of the scan of the first room earlier offered an idea.

“Excuse me, Sir.  I suggest we have a look at the underside of the balcony next.”

Agent Gains was duly impressed by the suggestion and said, “If you’re bucking for a good word, Son, you’re earning it.”  He whipped out his network pad and made a few entries. “The room below is open so I just checked you into it.  Go down and have a look while I check over the rest of this room.”

While the technician rolled his scan equipment out of the room, Gains was signaled that two of the three former guests of the room had been located and that a soft surveillance was initiated on each of them.  They were still trying to locate the third.  Gains was calling up the locations of the suspects when an excited technician ran back into the room and interrupted him.

“I have a positive blood match on some material found on the underside of the balcony.  My guess is that the strong wind up here blew off a bit of the jumper’s blood, which was carried back to the building. There’s a trail all of the way down as far as my scanner will read.”

“What is your name,” Agent Gains asked with a respectful tone in his voice.

The younger man bristled with the attention from a DHP Agent, the likes of whom seldom seemed to notice that the Department technicians were human at all.  He answered, “My name is Kevin Murphy, Sir.”

“Thank you very much for your intuition, Mr. Murphy.  Don’t leave here until I have a chance to talk to you again.”

“Yes, Sir,” Murphy answered as the Agent moved away to take care of new business.

Gains initiated a three-way conference with the surveillance teams.  They reported no suspicious activity and no apparent bookings to leave town.  He ordered an increase in their detail and stepped up the surveillance to full.  He then ordered the entire floor of the hotel cleared and asked for interviews of neighboring guests.

As Agent Gains reviewed information on the three suspects the image of the second suspect made his heart sink.  He knew the man, but not by the name listed under the image.  Agent Gains had presumed (and even hoped) that the man he was looking at had been dead for the past ten or twelve years, yet learning that this man was alive did not surprise him either.

His heart grew colder the longer he stood transfixed by an image, which opened a rush of memories.  The suspect’s current alias was Dan Leveler, but Gains had known him as Dr. Robert Galveston, the father of his now deceased wife.

Gains placed the blame for his wife’s death squarely on his own conscience, but if there was anyone who deserved at least equal share in the blame, it was her father.  Gains beamed the images of the three suspects to a nearby printer, but it was only the image of his former father-in-law that he folded and filed away in a thick leather bound notebook.  He tore up the other two prints and threw them away.

Other Department agents and technicians had begun to fill the room.  Kevin Murphy’s work was complete, but he was standing by as asked. With little else to do he was watching Agent Gains discretely from across the room.  He could see the crack in the agent’s hardened facade.  Murphy’s own expression must have read plainly because another agent came to him.

“You’re watching Gains over there with more interest then I’d expect from a technician.” the man said startling Murphy who hadn’t noticed his approach.  This agent was much older than Gains.

Murphy snapped to respectful attention and answered, “Sorry, Sir, Agent Gains asked me to remain until he had a chance to ask some questions.”

“Yes, well, try not to read too much into our Agent Gains over there.  I’m afraid he’s one of the more, well,” the man paused choosing his words carefully, “one of the more complex agents the Department has.  It isn’t surprising considering his history.”

“His history, Sir?” Murphy asked intrigued.

The agent seemed uncomfortable now having let slip something he should have been keeping to himself.  Neither of them had noticed that Gains had finished his review and had approached the two of them.

“Go ahead, Jones, tell the bright young man all about me. I have no secrets,” Gains said not hiding the contempt he obviously held towards the other agent.

Gains had been an agent for the Department of Human Preservation since its inception twelve years before, but he had never been accepted as a true equal in the ranks of law enforcement.  He had been an engineering school drop out before the Department had approached him about putting his unique situation to use ridding the country of the then growing sect of the Faithful.  Before then, Gains had neither had the temperament nor the inkling to become an officer of the law in any capacity.

To start with, it usually takes a very specific personality type to want to put oneself in harm’s way every day and to engage the worst that society can put forward.  Most agents of the Department had come from other law enforcement agencies like the FBI and state police agencies.  Each and every one of them believed in the classic “cop” ethic.  They would track down and rid the world of whatever “bad guy” their current assignment sent them after. Gains was singularly devoted to ridding the world of the Faithful only.  His career in law enforcement would end today if the Faithful could somehow be eradicated all at once.  He was as skilled in the art of investigation and if necessary as deadly a combatant as any of the other Agents in the Department, but he would never truly be part of the inside of their ranks.

The second Agent quickly lost his feelings of guilt for bringing up the hint of Harold Gain’s past.  He and his colleagues regarded Gains as an outsider in their ranks as much as Gains had felt about them.  He gruffly told Gains, “Look, Harold, you can tell the boy anything you want. I have to go join one of your surveillance details now.”

Seeing the rift he’d apparently opened between the two agents, Kevin Murphy suddenly found himself wishing he’d conveniently forgotten Gaines’s request to stay.

“I’m sorry, Agent Gains.  I was just wondering too openly what was troubling you on your network pad over there.”

Gains put a hand on the technician’s shoulder and started to lead him out of the room.

“Let’s grab a soda at the greasy spoon down in the lobby and I’ll tell you what’s bothering me.  I need to get some fresh input from someone who’s more detached from my unique situation then any of the Department agents are going to be.”

When they were alone in the elevator ride down, Agent Gains informed the young man the most sensitive fact of his “history”.

“Mr. Murphy, you are standing next to the only agent of the Department of Human Preservation, who is technically also a brother of the Faith.”

Kevin Murphy didn’t know what he had expected to hear, but he certainly hadn’t expected a bombshell statement like this.  The sole mandate on the Department was the enforcement of the Humanity Preservation Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed all tampering of the human physiology.  It was unfathomable to imagine how a member of the Faith could be an officer sworn to the arrest of his brethren.

As the doors of the elevator opened onto the lobby, Gains said, “I can see that you are a little taken aback by my revelation.  The truth of the matter is that I was one of the first generation of implants, before the HP Amendment was ratified.”

As they made their way across the lobby filled with guests and hotel staff, the young technician was starting to feel as if all eyes were upon him for what he was learning.  It was a crime to knowingly associate with a member of the Faith.

“If you aren’t trying to see how gullible a Department technician can be, tell me why you aren’t out there arresting everyone using your connection to their network, and why don’t you already know who sent that man over the edge and onto the sidewalk below?”

“Mr. Murphy, you could make one hell of an Agent one day.” Gains answered before pouring his attention into the lunch menu.

The technician was flattered.  Becoming an Agent had been a secret desire of his, despite the fact that no staff member of the Department had been promoted to the Agent ranks.  They were exclusively recruited directly from law enforcement agencies, with the notable exception of Agent Harold Gains.  Murphy had become a technician with the Department because he had shown an aptitude for the job in high school.  His desire to become a Department Agent hadn’t been spawned until he began helping to round up criminals of the HP Amendment such as keepers of the Faith, genome modifiers, species mixers, cloners, steroid laboratories, and generally the country’s entire odd assortment of mad scientists hell bent on tampering with the human form to the ultimate end of their existence. Before the HP Amendment, science was reaching ahead of the laws of the day. Those laws had been cobbled together in what often was a contradicting patchwork of attempts to stem the blurring line between doing good for disabled people and changing the very nature of what it is to be human.  It took the twenty-ninth amendment to the United States Constitution to define a simple guiding principal that all past and future laws were to build from.

The twenty-ninth amendment to the Constitution reads as follows. No person shall be allowed to alter their physical state from conception until death, except in the case where congress shall make law to allow for specific corrections due to birth defects or injury, and which does not alter the unaffected personal physical or mental state. Corrective measures allowed by congress shall not give the recipient abilities which are beyond those that would have existed or had existed prior to the birth defect or injury. Persons so altered in violation of this amendment prior to its ratification shall not be prosecuted so long as their corrections are not used beyond abilities that would have existed or had existed prior to alteration.

Gains explained, “I had my implant deactivated about the same time Congress passed the HP Amendment on to the States for ratification but before it had become the law of the land.  It was a time before you probably remember the debates about the Humanity Preservation Amendment. So you wouldn’t know that I was a poster child for the Amendment’s approval.”

The waitress had come over to take the men’s orders and had heard the last part of the conversation.  She studied Gains closely a moment and then said, “Oh yea, I remember you.  You’re that poor man who lost his pregnant wife to her insanity after having that implant put in her head.”

She realized that she had touched a sensitive nerve and quickly changed up and asked, “Sorry, hon, what would you like to order?”

Gains put the menu in her hand and said, “I’ll just have an iced tea, thank you.  I just lost my appetite.”

“Suite yourself, I didn’t mean nothing by what I said.  I thought you were coming clean with the boy here,” she turned to Murphy and asked, “What’ll you have young’ in?”

“I’ll just have milk in a spill proof cup and a bib,” he answered sarcastically.

The waitress puffed and walked away making no attempt to hide her utterance, “Damn sensitive fools men have become is what I have to say.”

“Nice comeback,” Gains complemented the tech appreciatively. Then his face lost some of the amusement as he explained more.

“My father-in-law had convinced my wife, Christine that his implants would be perfectly safe and he wanted to see if a direct neural interface would somehow be indirectly connected to our child she was carrying.

“I was against the idea initially, but I was also a young industrial engineering student with a head full of promise for the future.  My wife had been raised to think of her father almost as a higher being in many aspects.  He had pioneered much of the neural interfaces of the day, many of which were renowned for helping paraplegics to walk again and other such medical miracles.  So it was easy for her to believe him when he insisted that the whole procedure would be harmless.

“They convinced me to go along with the experiment.  Dr. Galveston offered to implant me as well so I could directly monitor the proceedings.  I was the first to receive the implant and was instantly caught up in the information overload I experienced then.  My brain naturally sought out to explore every byte of information it was now directly linked to.  I had almost become a zombie to the outside world and hardly noticed when my wife and her bastard father announced that they would be proceeding with her implants.”

The waitress returned with the drinks.  She had thoughtfully included a pacifier with the milk the Tech had ordered.  It was enough to put a crack in Agent Gain’s grave face and the waitress left them alone again. He went on.

“That’s why I blame myself for what happened next.  If I hadn’t been so god dammed caught up in the network, I would have had enough sense to insist that they didn’t proceed.  Dr. Galveston had made our interfaces very specialized to allow us to not only access the network directly, but we could also directly access each other’s minds. I knew the instant she was connected, which was also the instant our son was connected to the network.”

Horrified by what he was hearing, Kevin Murphy could only mutter, “Oh my god,” while Agent Gains went on.

“Our son was just starting into his third trimester of development.  The science of the day had suggested that he was only just beginning to develop his brain into something capable of any even rudimentary thought.  Dr. Galveston had chosen this point of the pregnancy in the hopes to carefully and slowly observe the child’s emergence into consciousness.  I had hoped to be the one of the first images impressed on my child if he could somehow be reached through the interface, which we all agreed was a remote possibility at best.

“Well, my wife’s implants were brought online, and before a large gathering of academics and a live web documentary crew, we both shrieked in terror as we experienced or son’s abrupt bombardment of the seemingly infinite network.”

Harold Gains had tears running down his face in a steady stream now, though his voice remained steady.  Murphy didn’t realize he was tearing up too.

“As I said, I had been part of the network for a few hours by then, and I was just starting to learn how to navigate the interface.  I mentally reached out past my wife’s confused presence and tried to wrap my thoughts around my son and shield him from his overload while Dr. Galveston frantically tried to sever my wife’s connection to the link.

“For what seemed to be an eternity, but in reality for what had been the briefest of an instant that a human can comprehend, I felt our son mentally hug back at me as he somehow recognized who I was and that I was trying to shield him.  In that instant, my wife’s mind had found her way there too.  It was especially incredible to me that she managed to do this when she had never had a chance to learn how to manipulate her access to the interface, but she found my son and I. To this day, I can still feel us all hugging each other as if we had all been there in a birthing room somewhere in the never to be future when my son would have been born. It felt real, it smelled real, and it sounded real so to me it was as real as if we had been allowed to experience it in the physical world.  We were the closest family on the face of the earth in that instant, and it seemed like it would never end.”

Harold Gains was sitting in the diner booth with his arms holding the air tenderly while his open flooded eyes saw only what he saw thirteen years before. He was no longer aware of his surroundings or who he was telling his story to.

“We held each other for that instant, and then we were washed over by the waves of stimulus from the network. Just as if we had been washed over by a tidal wave, I felt the rush of information rip my wife and child from the grip of my own thoughts.  She was still holding our son as they were whisked away, but I still imagine I heard her tenderly say goodbye as her interface was finally severed from its connection to the network and from me.”

Gains shook his head a little as he realized how much he had been caught up in his telling of what had happened.  He had told this story on only two occasions before now, but he had not been so caught up in the moment to feel as if he had physically been there as it was then.  He began to realize that something had changed, but he knew he couldn’t tell anyone about it.

“She and the baby both flat lined immediately after and died before a horrified web cast audience who had been forgotten by Dr. Galveston and his staff in their frantic attempt to save them.  I insisted on having the abdominal hardware in my head removed immediately, but they couldn’t remove the it without killing me.

“Not that I particularly cared if I lived or died at that point, but I did become the poster boy, as our eloquent waitress described, for the movement to pass the Constitutional Amendment and the rest is as they say, history.”

It wasn’t until Gains had finished the story that Murphy realized he’d been crying.  He sheepishly dried his face and was glad to see that the agent had been too busy drying his own tears to notice.  Then it occurred to him that Gains was finished with the story and apparently getting ready to leave without telling him why he had brought him here.  It took a quite a bit for Murphy to muster the will to ask him why.

“I don’t know how to respond to your story sir, and I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but why did you bring me here to tell this to?” Murphy asked.

Agent Gains was starting to become more and more distracted.  He replied with a, “huh?” and then regained his focus and pulled out the print he had made of the suspect that couldn’t be found. He slid it over to the tech.

“There were three people who keyed into that room upstairs, in addition to our victim of course.  Two have been put on surveillance,” Gains began. He gestured to the print and continued, “This third man couldn’t be located, but that’s because he’s using an alias.  I haven’t seen him since the day of my wife and son’s funeral.”

Murphy stared at the image of an old man with wild white hair. He was a little gaunt. Despite the composure the man exhibited on the rest of his face, his eyes had a hint of insanity in them.  He couldn’t help but feel a little chill staring at the man after the story he just heard.

“The funeral had been less than a week after they died, but in that time, Dr. Galveston’s hair had gone from a dark gray to full white and he had looked like he’d lost at least twenty pounds on his already slim build. But the most startling thing then and now is that look he has in his eyes,” Gains swallowed hard before he could say more.

Murphy understood that this was hard for the man sitting opposite him, so he prompted him on by observing, “So,,, you know where he is and you intend to go after him, don’t you.  What do you need a tech like me tagging along for?”

“I have a pretty good idea of where Dr. Galveston is, and I intend to go there to find him, and when I do, only one of us is coming back.” Agent Gains said gravely.  “I hope that bringing a smart young fellow like you along will help the odds of it being me who returns.”

“Why me?” Murphy asked amazed.  “Why not bring another agent, or ten for that matter?”

“Son, you have to ask yourself, why does that old man with no background in law enforcement before joining the Department, manage to bring so many keepers of the Faith into justice?  Is it that I am smarter than all of the other agents, most of who have college degrees in criminal justice?  Is it because I have a more developed insight into the criminal mind than all of the others who were learning about the criminal psyche on the streets years before I was made an agent?”

Murphy could only shrug and shake his head no.

“In the years that followed my wife’s death, America came to grips with the moral crisis humanity was facing in the wake of the technological advancements that were beginning to call into question when we would cease to be the beings we were before the turn of the century.  The Human Preservation Amendment was passed and the Department was formed. The first thing they did was round up all of the implants like me who had experienced the interface, but had shut down our connection to the network.”

Murphy knew this part of the history.  Gain’s simple description of being rounded up was putting it mildly.  Those who didn’t come in voluntarily were arrested as if they were an active criminal, despite the fact that new laws enacted in support of the new amendment exempted those who had received implants or genome therapy or whatever before the amendment was enacted.

He asked Gains, “Did you volunteer to come to the Department, or did they bring you in by threat?”

“I was the first to sign up,” Gains answered incredulously. “I wanted to be sure my wife and son would be the last ones to die the they way they did.  My brief experience while connected to the network taught me one important lesson.  If you put anything into a network device, the Faithful will be able to read it.”

“Sure, but not everything, right?  I mean the government has some of the best firewalls against such a thing, and the corporations and such do too,” Murphy answered as much to assure himself as convince Agent Gains.

Gains produced his trusty old-fashioned notebook and placed it on the table and shook his head, “no.”  Then he asked, “What did you observe me doing while Agent Jones was trying to drop the bomb on me.”

Murphy had to think a moment.  He started out slow, but his recollection improved as he thought about it.

“You were told who the suspects were.  It was obvious something was up when you saw the image of one of them, obviously Dr. Galveston.  Then you printed out the wrap sheets at one of the scan stations. Then you came over to, no, wait, you tore up a couple of the prints and then joined in on our conversation.”

Agent Gains was not disappointed, so he tested the tech a little more. “And why would I shred the info on the others, but keep this printout,” he asked patting the shiny paper with the wild-eyed image of Dr. Galveston staring up at the two of them.

Murphy quickly answered, “Because the other two were already under surveillance and,” but his answer died there while his mind realized a better reason.  “You think the Faithful, and probably Galveston know you had all three up on the network pad and you printed out all three so they wouldn’t suspect you were more interested in one more than the others.”

“I knew I was picking out a sharp one when I invited you down here,” Gains said admiringly.  “I may have stared at Dr. Galveston’s image just a little too long anyway, but I’m hoping he won’t think he was recognized, and if I kept pulling up his image on the pad, to show you the same info here for instance, then the Faithful would most certainly pick up on the extra attention.”

Murphy put his hand reverently on the black notebook. The surface was well worn and only showed a ghost hint of the embossed pattern that must have shone prominently when it was new.  The pages inside no longer lay neatly against each other. They were now interrupted by wrinkling and had folded over corners and evidence that the book had seen its share of use in rainy weather.  There were also several computer printouts stuffed inside, as well as napkin notes.  The Department technician hadn’t even considered that anyone would be keeping such a pre-computer aged vessel for information.  It suddenly became obvious why Gains was such a successful agent for the Department.

“Do you have a wife or girlfriend expecting you home soon, Murphy?”

“No, sir,” he answered.

“O.K. then, boyfriend? Dog?  Cat or anything that would access the network to find out where you are if you come home late?” Gains pressed on.

“I’m a twenty-five year old tech geek who was planning to go home and find some shoot’em up flick on the 3DV.”

“Good, go back upstairs and clock out and meet me on the street, we have a long drive ahead.”

“Where are we going?” Murphy asked as they were getting up from the table.  Gains was accessing the bill for their drinks on the tabletop display and apparently having a hard time concentrating on entering his credit information.  Murphy had to tug his sleeve to get his attention.

Gains snapped out of it, and then deftly finished paying the bill and just pointed up to send the tech upstairs without any other questions.

Ten minutes later, Murphy was out in front of the hotel standing not far from the dark spot that that otherwise did not betray the fact that a dead man had been thrown there that morning.  He had never met Agent Harold Gains before today, but it didn’t surprise him all the same when the agent rolled up to the curb in the boxy vintage Ford Bronco. He had no way of guessing the year it had first been built. Gains actually had to lean over to manually roll down the window and call him in.

Murphy looked the antique over from bumper to bumper and only half jokingly asked, “Are you sure this thing is street-worthy?”

He was waved in and as he settled into inner coil spring cushioned bench seats for the first time, Murphy was reminded why Agent Gains was such an outsider among the other investigators.

Responding to the last question Gains warned the tech, “It’s not the streets you should have been worried about.”

The agent moved the steering column shifter down and the vehicle rolled forward.  Unlike the original operation of the truck, Gains pulled back on the large steering wheel and they flew up above the ground traffic and quickly merged into the public air corridor for personal flyers.  Murphy latched onto the door handle after failing to find a shoulder restraint to strap on.

Gains apologized, “Sorry son, they didn’t believe in seatbelts back in 1965 when this beauty was practically hand crafted exclusively by men on the factory floor. Of course, I’m sure the Ford Motor Company never envisioned this beast flying sometime in the future.”

Murphy was relaxing a little in his seat as he got used to the ride.  It finally occurred to him that the whipping wind blowing through his window wasn’t going to end until he cranked up his window. With that closed, he was pleasantly surprised at how smooth the ride really was in this thing.  Personal flyers were great modes of travel, but they were small and light which meant that they were prone to a bumpy ride in the turbulent public air corridor.

Gains’s monstrosity however stuck out like a beetle walking in line with ants on their way to a picnic.  Its mass bullied through the wind turbulence as if it wasn’t there.  The only internal sign that the Bronco had been modified at all however, was the way the driver used the steering wheel forward and backward to adjust their altitude.  He used the same foot pedals to speed up and slow down as they had been installed for use on the ground.

Gains had noticed the tech scanning the interior of the vehicle.

“I was only months away from an Industrial Technologies degree when, well, you know,” he said stifling emotions he hadn’t allowed to surface in over a decade. “Anyway, so while the Department tried to reactivate my neural implants, I actually had a lot of free time on my hands with nothing to do on the abandoned Air Force repair depot that the Department had taken over for their implant reactivation program.  As long as I didn’t try to run, I could do pretty much what I wanted on the base.  My implants were in perfect working order, so they spent nearly two years trying to make up a program or relay station or anything they could think of to reconnect me to the network

“Of course I had no desire to be reconnected so I wasn’t about to help out with that endeavor. I found this antique truck in an old bone yard and I started restoring it to full working condition in an abandoned but fully stocked auto shop on a lonely part of the base.  Eventually I decided to give her some modern upgrades to fly too.  I adapted anti-grav coils to the space under my truck where the gas tank went and put my engineering skills to good use adding some well placed manually operated dampers for the grav-bubble and viola.”

“So what you’re telling me is that you don’t have one microchip aboard this flying brick,” Murphy summarized in disbelief.

“That’s right. While your predecessors in the tech branch of the Department stared at their computer terminals and fussed with their little gadgets trying every which way to bring my implants back online, I realized the key to stopping the growing brotherhood of the Faithful right there in that shop building. This flying brick as you named it, taught me just how dependent and interconnected our civilization had become.”

For a tech, it was hard to imagine that he was traveling in a flying vehicle without the aid of a computer, let alone considering that the only way to stop a secret cult of computer implant enhanced fanatics was to hunt them down the old fashioned way.  But the more he thought about it, the more obvious the technique seemed.

“So they never could get your implant to work, did they?” Murphy asked.

“Nope, I was with the Department for nearly two years before they gave up. I spent the first six months or so building this thing, and the next couple months convincing the Department that I should be allowed to train to become an agent, and the last year plus making it happen.

“In the mean time, all of the other, ‘volunteers,’ who had allowed themselves back onto the network had succeeded in quite a few arrests initially, but eventually the Faithful fire-walled most of the others and some were converted into the cult’s own ranks. That did nothing to improve my acceptance amongst the other agents in the Department.”

Murphy had been watching the landscape steadily change below from dense urban cityscape to the suburban sprawls of the net-commuters, finally to the rural farmlands and large tracks of re-claimed forests.  They had long since left the public air lanes and only occasionally passed mass transit dirigibles from time to time.  It occurred to him that he had never physically gone this far into open country before.  He had been on many virtual hikes at his gym in the past, but the vastness of the real world had never properly been impressed on him using those holographically projected programs.

“So how far upstate are we going?” he asked after nearly a half hour of silence, “and how the hell do you know where you’re going?”

“We’re going up into Canada actually. You’ll be seeing a Mountie squad flyer pulling up beside us any time now.”

“Wait, wait, wait a minute,” Murphy broke in. “Tell me you don’t mean Canada as in ‘the country of’.”

 “Hopefully it’ll be one of the officers I’ve dealt with before and we won’t be forced to land for inspection.” Gains continued in answer. “I know where I’m going because I’ve been up this way a lot over the years.  Canada is a favorite place for HP fugitives, and the Canadian government does not want them. The Department and the Canadian government have an unofficial working relationship. My father-in-law owned a little cabin on a lake as far north as possible in Canada while still being able to get in and out of the region in winter. I’m absolutely certain we’re going to find him there, though I couldn’t explain why if I tried to.”

Murphy was about to protest more when a Royal Canadian Mounted Police flier pulled up along side of them as predicted.

Gains touched his earpiece phone and answered the Mounties’ call, “Officer Meadows, have they taken you off the night shift?”

Murphy couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation. Gains nodded and chuckled as he looked out the driver’s side window.

Then Gains answered an unheard question by saying, “No, sir, not this time.  I’m taking a friend with me up to an old family cabin for the fishing.”

Again a quiet moment passed while Gaines nodded.  Murphy tried to protest the whole ruse that Agent Gains was obviously trying to perpetrate on the Canadian Government.  Gains sent an unseen swift sideways kick to cut the protest off.

“Will do, Dave, maybe on the next trip up.  Happy hunting,” Gains said wrapping up the conversation.

 And with that the Mountie flyer veered off and swiftly banked back in the other direction.

“I think I see why the other agents have a thing against you, Agent Gains,” Murphy said trying to sound perturbed.  Fact was that he had really begun to enjoy the whole scenario.  This was just the kind of thing he’d imagined himself doing if he were to become an agent himself.

Knowing he needn’t explain himself, Gains tried anyway, “The laws against human alteration are almost non-existent in Canada.”

“This part I know,” Murphy interrupted, “I’ve seen figures that up to thirty percent of all Canadians may have some form of alteration. The majority of those being members of the Faith, but a growing number are members of the EU syndicate these days.”

“Those are public statistics meant to keep the US citizenry sufficiently alarmed against the threat of the Faith without creating panic,” Gains countered.  “The Department really thinks the percentage is more like fifty-five in Canada.”

Murphy couldn’t help looking shocked at the number.

“My Mounted Police friends are part of a small resistance group who believe the real number is closer to seventy-five percent of all Canadians,” Gains reported somberly. “They’re too close to the problem to have an accurate number so I would guess it to be more like sixty percent.”

“Holy shit! And you’re flying me into the heart of it all,” Murphy said unable to hide his discomfort.  They were passing over a small Canadian town now.  The Bronco flew low enough to clearly see people moving about the town going about their daily lives.  With all that Agent Gains had been unloading on him this evening, Murphy couldn’t help feeling as if they were the last people alive flying into some zombie movie scene where they would be swarmed by the angry public the moment they landed.

Gains could see the panic welling up in his passenger.  “Take it easy.  I’ve been coming in and out of Canada for over a decade now and can assure you that you will be coming out of here alive and unaltered.”

Murphy realized how much he was letting himself loose control.  He knew he didn’t stand a chance in hell of becoming a Department agent if he couldn’t make it through this without wetting his pants.

The summer daylight was only just starting to dim at the late hour of 11 PM according to Murphy’s watch when he caught just a glimpse of the lake they were headed for. Gains eased his controls forward sending the Bronco into the thick pine forest.  Branches from the trees slapped the sides of the Bronco as it slowed and rolled onto a narrow path in the dense vegetation.

“Couldn’t find the road?” Murphy asked.

“This is the road,” Gains answered.

The road was once wider with dual tire ruts thirteen years ago.  With the advent of personal flyers, the residents of these parts had apparently stopped using the road for commute traffic and it had instead become a horse trail.  The two tire tracks on either side had now become one wide trail down the middle and the ferns and brush had slowly been attempting to fully choke off the rest of what was a road at one time.

It was dark as night down on the ground under the forest canopy.  Murphy was briefly surprised when Gains pulled a knob which lit up the headlights.  It had been years since Murphy had seen true headlights in action.  He had been expecting that the windshield would switch over to night vision mode instead (but of course that would require computer power).

The Bronco lurched and flopped along the road at a maddening slow pace for someone who had never taken a vehicle off a paved surface in his life.  In fact, Murphy couldn’t recall having ever hiked on real native soil either.  He had always stuck to the sidewalk or paved path in the past.  Now his fears of zombies had instinctively switched over to fear of the thousands of wild animals he was sure would be lurking behind every bush in the forest.

Gains leaned over and pushed a chrome button in the dash wall and a compartment clunked open.  He pointed inside and said, “Do me a favor, Murphy, and fetch me out those goggles in the glove box there.”

Murphy pulled out a pair of antique looking night vision goggles and handed them over.

“These were Russian Army issue goggles before the Soviets regained power,” Gains explained as he slipped the awkward headset over his hair.  “They were the only night vision equipment I could find that didn’t come coupled with satellite mapping connectivity.”

The truck cab was plunged into darkness as Gains pushed the headlamp knob back in.  Murphy had not liked having the narrow view of the headlamps through the darkness before, now he was only grateful that the dark was hiding the terror he was sure his face would betray.

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of the dark too,” Gains asked from behind two faint green circles looking in Murphy’s direction.

“Guess I’m just not the outdoorsman I thought I would be,” Murphy said trying to appear interested in something outside of the cab.  To his surprise he could see a lot more than he assumed he would have been able to.  His eyes had adjusted now and the twilight of the sunset revealed just enough of the landscape to keep him from feeling as if they would run into a tree trunk at any moment.

The Bronco’s old drum brakes squeaked as Gains brought the vehicle to a stop and the shadows of the forest ahead parted to reveal shimmering lake water beyond.  Gains removed his headset and exited the Bronco.  Murphy joined him at the front of the truck.  The night was moonless, but it didn’t matter.  Murphy had never seen the stars so thick and bright before.  There were many more houses lit up and ringing the lake than he had expected.  His fears of animals had gone back to a fear of implant zombies again.

The Human Preservation Amendment had been the law of the land in the US for so long now, it hadn’t occurred to the populous or even most DHP personnel, just how much of a security blanket that law had become.  The Land of the Free in the United States now stood for freedom from the blurring of the line between man and machine as much as it had once stood as an expression of the freedom from tyranny in the world.  Like his parents and their predecessors, Murphy never really appreciated the freedoms of the good-ole USA until he had stepped into another country.

“If it’s as bad as you make it seem here in Canada, do you think it’s this bad in the rest of the world?” Murphy asked fearing the answer he expected.

“I think it may be worse in the other industrialized countries,” Gains gravely explained.  “The Faithful seem to only operate here in North America.  In places like the European Union and the Soviet Republic, religion plays no part in limiting just how far the citizenry allow the ‘improvement’ on humanity to go, and in some instances, the government itself mandates a minimum level of implantation to control their citizens. We need to get to the other side of the lake so we better get going.”

“Couldn’t we have simply landed on the other side?” Murphy asked not wanting to tread along in the dark with wild animals and implanted humans seemingly ready to jump out from every bush and rock.

Gains went to the back of the Bronco and pulled out a backpack and slipped his night vision goggles into the pack.

“Thirteen years ago this road was the only way to the lake,” Gains explained pointing into the woods. “There was a dock here then and we would grab a boat to get to my father-in-law’s cabin, which was then one of only a dozen or so around the entire lake.”

There seemed to be hundreds of homes to Gains now.   Thirteen years ago none of the cabins had electricity.  He might believe he was at the wrong lake if it wasn’t for the pier legs still sticking out of the water where the boat dock once extended out onto the lake just as he remembered.  Plus, the place felt right in a way he couldn’t explain if he wanted to.  At the time, Gains was thinking that his mind was playing tricks on him because there were moments when he not only thought he was remembering the way the docks once looked, it seemed that they actually were there.  Then that moment would pass as if it never happened.  Something was happening in his head and now was possibly the worst time for it.

Murphy asked, “Fine, we walk, so which way?”

“That would be the shorter route,” Gains said pointing west. “But as you can see from the lights, it looks pretty crowded over that way.”

“Wouldn’t we be O.K. if we stuck to the shoreline in the dark?” Murphy asked not wanting to go deeper into the darker side of the lake where he was sure bears would be waiting to make a short meal of the two of them.

As if reading the mind of the tech, Gains said, “It has been my experience that you should fear the people more than you fear the wildlife out here.”

Without further debate the two headed east into the dark.

The walk along the lakeshore was made easier by the late summer lower level of the waterway.  It took a few hours to walk around the undeveloped side of the lake, which was littered with downed tree branches and had several rock outcroppings to traverse. By the time they had reached the populated area, many of the house lights had been put out by the occupants who had gone to bed.  Occasionally dogs would bark, but only one owner actually came out of the comfort of their home to investigate.  Gains and Murphy stood still while the man looked in the wrong direction for the source of the dog’s attention.  The dog knew they were still there though and he kept barking.  True to his probable urban roots, the man scolded the dog and brought him inside rather than looking harder for the sentry’s quarry.  Gains and Murphy continue on.

The way along this part of the shoreline was much easier to traverse.  With the new houses came imported sand carefully raked along the waterfront. Gains was sure there would have been more rock outcroppings to climb over as well, but the developers had made the shoreline more “people friendly.”

Harold Gains was beginning to wonder if the cabin would still exist.  It seemed far more logical that such and old place might have been bulldozed for a larger home like the ones they were now walking past.  If the cabin wasn’t still there, would Dr. Galveston still own the property?  If he did, would there be any distinguishing features Gains would recognize?  He and his wife Christine had walked along these shores before, but the development along the lake was mercifully sparing him painful memories of the past.

Gains was thinking this when the string of beachfront homes abruptly ended and the beach looked more untamed and natural. The moon had come up now and though the colors were all blues and grays in the light of the night, the features were plain to see.  Gains now recognized the terrain.  He had never been shown the extents of what the Galveston family had owned on the lake, but it was a fair guess they had walked onto that property since the other new development had stopped.   The trees and rocks and each dip and curve of the waterfront all seemed as familiar to him now as if he had just walked here yesterday.

A flood of returning emotions washed over Harold Gains as he tried to walk on without showing it.  He was forced to remind himself that the person walking next to him was not Christine.  He had hoped that his control was in place over emotions and memories that streamed into his consciousness.  He was wrong.

Murphy had stopped walking and had to grab Agent Gains’s shirt to stop him as well.

“Is everything alright, Sir?” Murphy asked.

At first Gains could only answer with a distracted, “huh?” But with the stopped cadence of the walk, the trance he was in was sufficiently broken to bring him back to the here and now. He was shocked as he looked around at a landscape that had gone back into the same manicured and developed shoreline he had thought they had walked past.

“Pardon me for saying so, Agent Gains, but you’ve been acting funny all night and I think its getting worse,” Murphy informed him.

“I can’t explain it. We were walking along and all of a sudden it was if I was transported back thirteen years ago to the last time my wife and I were here together.”

 “When did we walk back into a populated area?” he asked.

“What do you mean? We’ve been walking past these houses for half an hour now.  Does this have to do with your implants activating, Sir?” Murphy asked not sure of the reaction he’d get.

“My implants are as dead as the day Dr. Galveston de-activated them,” Gains tried to protest.

Murphy’s face could be seen clearly enough to show that he wasn’t buying what the agent was trying to sell him.

“Alright,” Gains said grudgingly, “something has been happening since I first laid eyes on Galveston’s image back at the hotel.  I was told this would happen someday.”

“What would happen?” Murphy asked as he sat down on the bottom of an overturned boat lying on the sand nearby.  They had been walking for hours and he was suddenly aware of just how tired his feet and ankles had become.

“Most of the early implants like mine were re-activated almost instantly by the Department.  For others it took a few days or weeks.  A smaller number needed a few months before they were reconnected to the network, and by then the first of the reactivated implants had began to disappear.  After a year, I was the only one who couldn’t be reactivated.

“My implants were in perfect working order.  The techs could measure activity between my brain and the implants and the network.  But I couldn’t access any of the information.”

“Good thing too,” Murphy offered. “I don’t think you’d be alive today if they had.”

“Yes, and that’s what the techs thought too back then when the Department’s reactivates were dying, committing suicide, or disappearing. So they figured my inability to access the network had to do with some psychosomatic defense mechanism,” Gains explained. “I was referred to shrinks for a while after that.  I had refused to go at first until the Department heads agreed to let me become an agent if I was cleared by the psychiatrists.  We were both getting what we wanted, though I ended up getting the most out of the deal”

“So what, did the shrinks tell you that one day, poof, you would be able to access the network again?” Murphy asked skeptically. “Because I’ve got to tell you as a tech, I know that you couldn’t access the network even if you wanted too anymore.  The technology in your head is ancient compared to the stuff the Faithful are using today.  You being able to access the network now would almost be like me using an antique am transistor radio to pick up satellite broadcasts.”

“Well something’s going on in my head anyway,” Gains said defensively.  “It’s not like it was thirteen years ago when I was hooked up.  Back then I could instantly read and see all of the information within the network, but it never seemed real.  It felt more like some drug-induced trip.  Not long after I saw the image of Galveston on the display, I started hearing voices.  It was like I was standing in a crowded party and I could hear everyone talking at once, but I couldn’t understand what any one person was saying.”

“Then just now, we were walking and I thought we had simply walked past the development because I was walking along this beach as it existed thirteen years ago.  It wasn’t like a memory either, it felt real.  The smells, the feel of rocks under my feet instead of the imported sand that’s here now, and the crackling of leaves under our feet, it all felt real. Then you stopped me and it all went away.”

That’s because our connection was broken.

“I don’t understand,” Gains answered.

“Understand what?” Murphy asked confused.

“You just said that, ‘our connection was broken.’ What did you mean?” Gains asked.

“I didn’t say anything, but I do have an idea of what it might mean,” Murphy answered.

I’m here to help you.

Gains turned and looked around. Then he took the night vision goggles out of his backpack and looked around some more.

There’s no one there, Harold.

“There’s no one here, Agent Gains,” Murphy said at the same time.

Gains ripped the goggles off his head and began to breath fast.  He realized now that one of the crowded voices in his head could clearly be heard above the rest.

Slow down, Harold, you’re going to give yourself a heart attack.

“Take it easy, Sir. Don’t go having a coronary on me here,” Murphy said again in unison with the other voice.

“Murphy, please, I have something going on inside my head and you talking at the same time is confusing the hell out of me.”

“Sorry, Sir.  Just put a hand up or something when you’re hearing the voice and I’ll shut up,” Murphy suggested.

That’s a bright boy you brought with you, Harold.

“Thanks,” Gains answered. Murphy looked as if he was going to answer back so he shot his hand up in the air to shush the thought.  The other voices were still a loud rumble in his head so it was hard to recognize who the one speaker was.  “Who are you?” he asked.

There’s no time for that, Harold.  You must get going again.  He’s in danger.

Suddenly without recognizing the voice, Harold Gains understood who the voice belonged to and it sent a chill over his body.

“Don’t you realize he’s only in danger if I can catch up with him,” he said aloud in a cold voice.

Murphy couldn’t help asking, “Who?”

I know you better than that.

“My father-in-law,” Gains answered Murphy.  “The voice I hear tells me that he’s in danger.”

And not from you.

“Well sure, I thought that’s what you came here for,” Murphy said.

They’re going to kill him now.

“She thinks someone else is trying to kill him too,” Gains explained to Murphy.

Please don’t refer to me as if you think I’m alive now.

“She?” Murphy asked suddenly understanding.  “You can hear your dead wife talking to you now?”

Listen to him, Harold.

“Aaahh!” was all Harold Gains could manage to express to show his frustration.

Murphy however had managed to come to terms with what was happening.  “She must have figured a way to access your implants though all of the electronic signals our world is laced with these days. I mean, if your consciousness is still linked to the implants and they are still reading whatever radio waves are passing through your body, maybe you’re wife can refocus them into information you can understand. The voices you hear could be cell phone calls or radio broadcasts or something like that. It’s at least feasible if you can believe that her consciousness can somehow survive all of this time in the network.”

Don’t let him start thinking I’m alive either.

“Aren’t you?” Harold asked tenderly.

“I don’t have implants,” Murphy answered.

I haven’t been for thirteen years.

“Then why can I hear you now?” Harold asked.

“Are you?” Murphy began to ask, and then he realized whom Gains was talking to.  He decided to stay quite and be content to only hear one side of the conversation.

I’ve always been here, darling. You just never let me talk to you.

“I never stopped you,” Harold said, “I thought I had lost you.”

You did, but I was never far, you never looked. You wanted to believe that your link to the network could never be restored.

Tears were streaking down Harold’s face now, “Oh, Christine, if only I’d known!”

He’s in trouble, Harold. Go to him now.

“Why should I?  Why would you want me to anyway? He did this to you, to us!”

You’ve become quite an accomplished assassin. Why have you waited until now to come get him?

“I never knew where he was.” Harold tried to explain.

You never looked.

“Does that mean he’s not here?” Murphy couldn’t help asking.  He felt as though he was standing naked fifty miles behind enemy lines.  He certainly didn’t like the prospect that he had come here for nothing.

He’s here, hurry!

“Don’t worry, Murphy, you didn’t come all this way for nothing,” Gains said returning to the agent personality that put Murphy at ease.

Or at least the tech no longer felt naked.

“So do you know where to go then?” Murphy asked hopefully.

Gains looked down the beach.  It looked again as it did thirteen years ago.  Twilight was beginning to show on the horizon.

“Why can’t I see you too?” he asked.

I’m not here.

“Oh shit, Agent Gains, please don’t tell me you’ve gone blind.” Murphy asked.

Gains looked at Murphy and laughed. “C’mon, we’ve got work to do,” he said starting down the beach again.

The way was clear to him now, and soon he could see the cabin up in the tree line, which was further back from the beach on this part of the lake.  The cabin had been built on a small rise just above the high water mark for the lake and the trees had been cleared for a clear view of the water.  Gains stopped there and looked up at the house.  A shadow passed over the moonlight and he then saw the landscape as it was in the present again.

The cabin was gone and replaced by an impossibly large mansion in its place.  There was a wall up at the top of the sand where the lawn had started before.  The only opening in the wall was a large wrought iron gate that was securely locked.  Gains walked up to the gate with Murphy following close behind.

“You’re in-laws sure had an understating way of referring to their ‘cabin’,” he said under his breath.

As Agent Gains reached out to try the gate, the red light on the handle turned green as if controlled by his will.  He understood who had accessed the lock however and said, “Thanks.”

He walked through and Murphy followed.  On the other side, Gains quietly shut the gate and told the tech to wait there. Murphy tried to protest, but he understood that he should trust the agent for the time being.

“Do you have a gun Murphy?” Gains asked.

Murphy shook his head yes and showed the DHP issue gun under his jacket.

Gains put a hand on Murphy’s shoulder and nodded approvingly. Then he walked alone up the long expanse of grass leading up to the mansion.

“What now?” he asked aloud.

Don’t talk Harold, it’s unnecessary.

Oh, god, you can hear my thoughts?

Only since this afternoon, and only when they’re of me.

That was a relief to him.  He didn’t like the thought that his dead wife had somehow been privy to every conscious thought he’d had over the past thirteen years.  Especially with some of the things he’s done in that time.

I know enough about that, Harold, and it saddens me to think of what has become of you.

He understood more now of how superior the Faithful could be over the implants in the rest of the world.  Their adoption of a religious approach to the implants would give them the discipline to be interconnected without loosing their individuality.  He did not have this training on the other hand and it was hard to compartmentalize what he was doing in the physical world from the experience he was having inside his head.

Don’t think too much, Harold. Just focus on the task at hand.

Now, instinctively for the first time, Gains pulled out his stunner and blindly stuck it around the corner of the corridor he was now in.  His newly restored connection was now allowing him to feel the presence of others. He wasn’t surprised to hear the loud thump of a body collapsing to the floor.  He went around the corner and stepped over the lifeless body without having to look down.

“I see what you mean about thinking too much,” he whispered knowing no one else was close by.

He went up a flight of stairs and crouched down at the top.  He waited there a moment before he could hear the approaching footsteps.  Then without looking, he thrust out the stunner and connected with the calf of the approaching sentry who fell dead almost silently on the thickly padded carpeting on the landing.

He could now feel the emotions of his disembodied wife.

I haven’t had to always kill, you know that, he tried to explain.

You didn’t feel too guilty about the ones you did have to kill in self defense though.

Yes, he knew that the Harold Gains that existed while his wife was alive would have struggled with the moral implications of killing for whatever reasons.  But that had changed when he learned what implanting people with computer interfaces did to them. Besides, he had never been the executioner.  He had only had to kill in self-defense in the past, in situations like this where he was infiltrating a Faithful stronghold, trying to get to the leaders.  He had a license to kill as the cliché went, as long as he only killed the Faithful.  Some Agents had crossed the line over the years and killed innocent suspects by mistake.  Agent Gains had never made a mistake and he had made a point of scanning everyone he had ever killed in the past to be sure of it.

Tonight was different.  However it was that he could now connect to whatever had become of Christine, he could also sense the presence of other implants.  The first one he had killed in the corridor on the main floor had been a member of the Faith.  The one on the landing below him now was another matter.  He could sense the humanity remaining in the Faithful, and there wasn’t a trace of it in the zombie he had just killed.  Harold Gains was now starting to grasp what his true purpose was returning to this place on the lake, and the only one who couldn’t die here was Dr. Galveston.


Gains instinctively stayed near the wall in the wide second floor corridor.  He stopped at a door before he could hear the muffled voices behind it. As Gains gently tested the knob to see if it was locked his ears could only hear the mumblings from beyond without detecting the actual words.  His mind however was receiving what was being said loud and clear.

“Come on Dr. Galveston, you can’t hold out against us much longer, we can sense it,” voice number one said with the same emptiness behind it that Gains had sensed from the last man he had just killed.

“You know that we are going to get in.  The harder and longer you block us out of your mind will only do more permanent damage to you.  Why loose your mind with the information you’re holding back.  Just tell us what we want to know and you can at least be spared your faculties,” a second zombie like voice said.  Actually, this voice did have a glint of emotion behind it, but the emotion was a hint of pleasure feeding off of Dr. Galveston’s pain.

Agent Gains put his stunner back in the backpack and drew out his service revolver.  He hadn’t used it very often in the field for the past eleven years as an agent, but he had been naturally accruate with the weapon when it mattered.


Dr. Robert Galveston sat slumped against the restraints holding him to his chair.  It was a movie cliché scene with him bathed in bright light while two thugs towered over him taking turns at sending knock out blows to his head.  He had been prepared for the mental anguish the EU Syndicate would use on him to gain personal access to his memories, but he hadn’t considered that these monsters would be so devoid of humanity as to use brute force to get at him.  Each time they knocked him unconscious, these two worked as conduits to all of the Syndicate members tasked to gain access to Galveston’s mind.

While he was unconscious, his mental discipline training as the founder of the Faithful struggled to keep them out of his head.  Some one else was there to help then, but he had no idea of who could be there in his mind to help at a time like this.  His implants had been screened from access to the public network and from the Faithful.  It was only the Syndicate who could touch by his mind now.  Yet someone else was there just the same and that presence was the strength he had drawn from to keep up his defense from the assault from the others.

He heard the words of warning from the thugs, but their heavy French accents almost sounded comical as they tried to intimidate.

Hold on, help’s just about here.

“Good,” Dr. Galveston tried to squeeze out his swollen and bloodied mouth.

“Good?  You trying to goad me into killing you?” the colder of the two thugs spat back at him.

Galveston didn’t know where the voice had come from, but it was obvious that the other two hadn’t heard it.  He struggled to open the one eye that hadn’t swollen fully shut yet, but the glaring light was too bright to see if another person was in the room now.

There was a blasting crash from behind then, followed by two deafening explosions. The doctor was sprayed with blood, which burned his one opened eye.  He assumed the blood was his own and waited to feel where he had been shot and for his life to mercifully drift away.


Agent Harold Gains had executed a textbook forced entry. He shot out the locked door handle while simultaneously kicking the door in and shooting his first mark before the door had opened fully and striking the second mark before the man had reached across his torso for the holstered gun on his chest.  Gains peered through the smoke from his gun.  He could see the man he assumed was Dr. Galveston struggling to sit up in the chair.  Gains stepped into the room thrusting his gun in each direction he scanned.

You missed one, darling!

But it was too late. He felt the unmistakable sensation of a steel barrel on the back of his head.

“Alright, cowboy, let’s have it,” a voice said from behind.

Gains couldn’t sense the mind behind this voice.  He wondered if he had missed his presence because this one didn’t have implants.  He held out his arms with the revolver harmlessly dangling from his index finger.

The man from behind removed the weapon first and then tugged at the backpack. Gains relaxed his shoulders and allowed it to be removed.

“Who are you, cowboy?” the man asked.

Beware of this one, Harold.

“Christine?” Dr. Galveston asked hopefully.

“Holy shit old man, would you give it a rest about your dead daughter, she isn’t coming back you crazy bastard,” the man snapped, obviously aware of the Doctor’s history.

Gains was relieved he may not have been recognized.

“O.K., cowboy, turn around and explain yourself,” the man insisted by pressing his gun harder against Gain’s head.

What if I did come back?

Now the pressure eased off of Agent Gain’s head.

“Who’s there?” the man asked angrily, though some of the cockiness had faded from his voice.

Gains could feel the man’s presence now.  He was an implant, cold and indifferent like the others, but scared now too.

“You’re doing this somehow, aren’t you?” he snapped at Galveston.

Gains felt the air move across the back of his neck as the man swung his gun at the Doctor.  Instinctively he whirled around and wrapped his torso over the gun as it was fired at Galveston.  Gains felt his belly burst into fire as a second gunshot exploded in the room.

Oh my God! Harold, no!

Harold gains stumbled back clutching his reddening gut. As he moved away, the lifeless body of the unknown assailant fell to the floor and Kevin Murphy stood in the door still holding his revolver at the ready. He leapt over the twitching body and carefully eased Gains to the floor in a seated position against a nearby bed.

Murphy then moved to Galveston and cut him loose of his bindings and left him to struggle to his feet on his own as Murphy quickly went back and intercepted Agent Gains as he was slumping over.

Thank you, Harold.  I knew you could do it.

“Christine?” Dr. Galveston asked again hopefully.  “Oh my beautiful girl, is that really you?”

Yes, daddy, it’s me.  I’m here just like I always have been.

“You never let her go, did you Bob?” Harold Gains managed to say through his labored breath.

“I knew she was never really lost to us, Harold, don’t you see?” Galveston explained.  “You were willing to give up on her, but I wasn’t.  I knew we could bring her back to us.”

The Christine you knew is dead, daddy.  And now you’ve taken Harold from the world  too.

“But Christine dear, I feel you with us now.  It’s exactly what I’ve built the Faith around achieving all of these years,” Galveston pleaded.

“What about our son, Christine?” Gains gasped.

He tried to stay back with me, but I made sure he went on, just like he was supposed to.

“Was he alright?” Gains asked. “Did he understand what happened?”

He knew. He also knew how hard you tried to save him, darling.  He was so proud of you.  He said he loves you as he went on.

Harold Gains could only sob now.  His wounds hurt more as he cried, but he didn’t care.

“You make it sound like I’ve trapped you,” Dr. Galveston said to the air hurt.

Murphy was only hearing two-thirds of the conversation but he was hearing enough to get the meaning so he responded, “You’ve built an entire religion of human mutants around the goal of keeping some part of you’re dead daughter alive, Dr. Frankenstein. Is that putting it plainly enough for you?”

Gains struggled to pull Murphy closer.  Dr. Galveston realized how close his son-in-law was to death. He came over to see if there was something he could do, despite his own injuries.

“His motives were in the wrong place, but the results have grown to exceed this man’s selfish deeds.  I’m going to count on you to help keep things right,” Harold Gains managed to say. Then he drifted away.

Kevin Murphy wept as he sat back from the now lifeless body of Agent Harold Gains.

“So how can we make things right?” Murphy asked as he gently eased is friend’s lifeless body to the floor.

“Their together again, I know that much,” Galveston said choking back his emotions. “I need to get beyond the dampening field these bastards have put over my home and tell the Faithful to let them go on, together.”

“But what did Agent Gains mean by your results exceeding your motive?”

Dr. Galveston motioned at the death in the room and said, “The free sharing of information can only work if it does not provide a means of controlling and subverting humanity.  The Faithful have been given the self-control and discipline to reject using their connectivity for power.  I’m afraid that in the rest of the world, there are no such restrictions.”

A DHP agent was dispatched to clear the scene and take Agent Gain’s body back to the States. The agent wasn’t going to be there for at least twelve hours, but Kevin Murphy only managed to sleep a few hours while he waited.  He couldn’t shake the paranoia that he might wake up as an implant if he allowed himself to sleep too deeply.  He hoped that feeling would subside when he passed back into the good old U S of A.

Between moments of dozing off, he thumbed through Agent Gains’s notebook.  Putting together Harold Gains’ notes with the new notes Murphy made himself of what had transpired.  Murphy was beginning to put the whole case together. He transcribed information from both his and Gains’s notes onto the deceased Agent’s network pad taking care to both omit and embellish information as he and Dr. Galveston had discussed.

The most important embellishment was to downplay Christine’s roll in the final showdown.  He described her as a shadow computer routine that had been invented by Galveston to shield himself from the Syndicate attacks on his memories.  There was no mention of Harold Murphy or Dr. Galveston communicating with her echo.  Murphy and Galveston both knew that his entries would immediately be scanned by the Faithful and they needed to keep the cult from creating messiah figures out of Harold and Christine.  Dr. Galveston’s continued freedom was only going to happen so long as he worked to change the focus of the Faithful from trying to resurrect his daughter to spreading their moral foundation into the implanted populous in the rest of the world.


Murphy immediately recognized the arriving DHP agent when he landed in a Mounted Police Flyer on the front lawn.  Agent Jones had also not forgotten Technician Murphy.

“I figured you would be the tech I’d find here when I arrived,” he said shaking Murphy’s hand.

Murphy read some Sinicism in Agent Jones’s voice.  It was obvious that the agent did not approve of his presence.  He had hoped to start off impressing the DHP Agent with his report.  Now he wondered if his report would even be read at all.

“Sorry to disappoint you, sir.  I know it’s no excuse to say I was just following Agent Gains’s orders so I’ll just offer my assistance in any way you may need.”

“Thank you, Murphy, I expect a full report when you get a chance to key one in,” Jones said.

Without saying anything, Murphy held out the network pad with his report showing on the screen.  Agent Jones took the pad and glanced at the facts on the screen.  He was impressed to see it laid out in the official Department format.

“Well I certainly see why Gains was so quickly taken with you young man,” Jones said. “Now if you wouldn’t mind taking me to the scene of the shootings, we can start there and work our way back to the time where I excused myself from the hotel suite back home.”

Murphy led the Agent up to the second floor and explained how it was that Dr. Galveston had slipped away while Murphy was trying to comfort Agent Gains.  Jones showed no sign of disbelief as the tech stretched the truth of the timeline at this part.  By the time he’d worked back to cutting the doctor loose of his bindings and quickly returning to Gain’s side, the story was back on a fully accurate account and Agent Jones listened attentively, while glancing at Murphy’s report to see if everything being told was in the notes.

There was an awkward moment for Murphy when the agent stood silent after Murphy completed his account with, “that’s when you had just excused yourself and went on one of the surveillance assignments.”

When Agent Jones realized Murphy was waiting for him to say something, he said, “Sorry, Mr. Murphy, you were doing such good job summarizing your report that I was waiting for you to add the conclusions you have at the end.”

“I was just ending at where you had requested,” the tech replied apologetically.

Jones put his hands on his hips and said, “Mr. Murphy, you are going to have to learn to watch for the subtle cues from other agents if you are going to make it as a successful Cadet.”

Murphy couldn’t help his surprise at the statement.  That comment seemed quite improbable.  Then he noticed that the Agent was still waiting for more, so he put his astonishment aside.

Murphy collected his thoughts and said, “As you now know, Dr. Galveston’s motive for founding the order of the Faithful was based on his desire to keep his daughter’s consciousness alive in the world network.  As the years passed, he was successful in retaining something, but what it really was will probably never be known.  What I do know, however, is that as he got closer to contacting what he believed to be his daughter, he became more and more desperate to expand the number of implants that together could collectively reach out to the scattered data points of that fateful day. Put together they might have been able to create the echo of who his daughter was.”

“And so I see here that this is why you believe that Galveston sought out the aid of the European Union Syndicate,” Agent Jones said without looking up from the network pad.

“Yes, sir,” Murphy answered, “He met up with Jeff Swift who professed to have connections with the Syndicate and offered to broker their first meeting.  What Swift had apparently failed to mention then was that his connections to the Syndicate involved some steep gambling debts from a trip to the French Riviera.  Swift had hoped to pay back those debts by helping the EU Syndicate break through the Faithful’s firewalls allowing them to expand their presence into the United States.

“Galveston and the Syndicate were meeting at the hotel when they put two and two together regarding Swifts double dealing.  Galveston and his people simply wanted to send the man away, but were shocked when the Syndicate boys abruptly beat the man’s skull in front of them.  The two you were sent to watch simply ran right away, but Galveston was too focused on reaching his daughter to run.  I believe he actually thought a shared murder might gain him access to their network for his own purposes so he helped them cover up the crime.”

Agent Jones looked up from the pad and said, “Well let’s just hope he’s learned his lesson on dealing with the Syndicate.  The Faithful have been hard enough to contain, we don’t need that Euro trash getting a foothold on our continent.”

Murphy and Jones slowly been walking out of the mansion as they talked at length about how complicated the mission for the DHP had become.  When they exited through the front doors out onto the lawn, they watched as a coroner carefully loaded Harold Gains’s body into the Mounted Police flyer Jones had arrived in.

The agent who was much older than Gains had been gestured sadly at the body and said, “Promise me one thing, Mr. Murphy, and I will personally see to it that you are not only made Cadet in the Department, but that you become as important of an agent as our man Harold Gains was.”

Murphy was surprised to hear Agent Jones refer to Agent Gains so reverently, but he was a bit saddened that Gains never had the chance to see the respect he had earned from an elder Agent.

“Name it,” he answered.

“Promise me that if you will become as devoted an agent as our man Gains here was.”

“I’m not sure of what you’re getting at, Sir,” Murphy returned confused.

Agent Jones made an overt gesture of his tossing the network pad into the back seat of the Mounted Police flyer.  He led Murphy away from the Officer and Coroner who were reviewing the border crossing paperwork.

Quietly but firmly Jones asked, “Off the record now, man to man, do you think you can trust Robert Galveston to help you use the Faithful to contain this new threat by the Syndicate?”  Then as if he could read the protests welling up in Murphy’s throat, “Don’t go trying to deny anything.  You’re better than that.  I just want us to understand each other if I’m going to trust you enough to train you.”

“Train me?” Murphy asked astonished.  In the past twenty-four hours this sort of thing had become commonplace for Murphy.

“It won’t be enough that I just train you, Mr. Murphy, if you are going to retire out of the Department rather then leave the way Harold Gains went.  I will see to it that you are fully accepted into the ranks, unlike one of my former Cadets.”

Murphy turned and regarded the flyer where Agent Gains now lay in waiting. He turned back to Jones and looked him squarely and resolutely in the eye for the first time.

“I will never betray any trust and responsibility the Department places on me.  My loyalties will be with the duty of upholding the laws of the United States first, and I will choose how I use any, connections, I may develop to that end.  Do I make myself sufficiently clear, Sir?”

Agent Jones beamed and clapped Murphy on the back as he led him towards the flyer and said, “Well answered my young student.  Can I offer you a ride back into the States?”

“I was planning pick up Agent Gain’s truck across the lake there.  I’m looking forward to the walk back to clear my head before starting this new career direction you’re offering.”

Jones pointed to a second Mountie flyer hovering above and said, “I’m afraid our Canadian counterparts have been ordered to not leave any of us Yanks out of their sights.  I could arrange to have that flyer take you to Gains’s antique if you’d like.”

“If you don’t mind, just see if you can get the Mountie to follow me at a discrete distance.  I’ve grown accustomed to the solitude of the wilderness.

“Will do, don’t take too long returning.  I am going to arrange for your debriefing first thing tomorrow morning.”


Kevin Murphy finally found the Bronco four hours later.  It wasn’t until the evening’s light began to fade that the features of the overgrown access road became familiar to him.  He waved at the Mounted Police flyer, which had moved in closer when Murphy had walked into the cover of the woods.  When he sat down into the driver’s side, a familiar voice spoke out unseen from under a canvas tarp in the back.

“I was beginning to wonder if you had forgotten our plan, Mr. Murphy,” Dr. Galveston said.

“I was enjoying the fresh mountain air for the first time.  I can see why you exiled yourself to this part of the world.”

“Yes, well while you were on your little nature hike, I had no choice but to sit here and second guess our little arrangement, after all, what good will the help of a Department Technician be to help my people overpower the likes of the Syndicate.”

Murphy pressed down on the accelerator pedal and pulled back harder on the steering wheel than he needed to.  There was a muffled grunt from the back as the Bronco leapt into the air.  The take off was much more jarring than it had been with Harold Gains at the controls.  The antique flew like modern flyers, but there was no computer to compensate for operator inconsistencies.  Murphy was learning how to truly fly for the first time.  Luckily, Harold Gains was as good of an engineer as he had been an Agent for the DHP. He could have earned a comfortable living had he not experienced his life changing moment thirteen years ago.

Murphy said proudly, “A technician would be of no use to you.  But as a Cadet I’m sure we can work something out.”

“Well, congratulations Mr. Murphy,” Dr. Galveston said with little sincerity. “Now, can I come out from under this cover, its getting rather rank back here.”

“Not until we cross the border, we still have a Mountie shadowing us,” Murphy said. The Mountie had turned on its pursuit lights and flown away to some unknown emergency ten minutes before but he still didn’t like the fugitive he was harboring and the longer he could keep him out of sight would be the better.

Dr. Galveston tried to protest, “Oh, come on, I’ll stay low just let me take this damn,”

Murphy pulled out his gun and pressed it on the moving mass under the cover and sternly warned, “I only had to use one bullet out of this gun this morning, don’t go giving me a reason to use more of them now.”

The movement under the canvas ceased.  Murphy put his weapon away as they flew on towards Canadian / United States border in silence.

A quietly subdued voice spoke out from under the canvas, “I’ve decided that I really don’t like you, Mr. Murphy.”

Murphy said with a sly smile, “I’m glad to know you’re putting this unnatural alliance in the proper perspective Dr. Galveston.”


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