New Eden. June 3, 2085
Jack Walker opened his eyes and knew today his life would change. Heíd been thinking about it for two years, planning it for one. Now the time had come. For better or worse, there was no going back.
He glanced at Maria, sleeping next to him on the bed. Beautiful Maria. If only he could have convinced her to go with him. Then he looked through the sleek glass walls at the end of the luxurious bedroom, seeing the darkness of the night, dawn not yet broken. Noting the time on his wrist comp, he slipped quietly out of bed.
"Donít go," she whispered. The room was dimly lit, but he could still see the outline of her delicate face as she sat up.
"Iím sorry, Maria. I canít stay here anymore."
"But weíre safe here."
Jack nodded. "Thatís the point."
"Itíll get better. Youíll see. Just give it time... Zurk says --"
"Zurkís a liar."
"Please, Jack, donít go... "
"Come with me."
Her eyes showed fear, and she shook her head slowly.
He walked around to her side of the bed and caressed her face with his hand. "Iím sorry it has to end like this."
Jack turned and walked into the dressing room, where he picked out his clothes. He dressed in black clothing and filled a backpack with the supplies he needed. Then he took out a small knife and looked closely at his right thumb. Gritting his teeth, he jabbed the knife into the thumb, cutting deep into the skin. With the knife he pried out the locator chip imbedded there and placed the chip in a closet drawer. Then he bandaged his thumb, slipped the backpack on and headed toward the front door.
"Open," he said.
"Iím sorry, Mr. Walker," it said, "your sleep segment is not complete."
The door slid open and he walked out into the night, rounding toward the gardens in the back. Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the darkness. It was a cloudy night, the moon casting a faint light on the elaborate gardens, pools and fountains that sprawled on the grounds of his assigned estate.
He hugged the back wall of the mansion and slowly approached the cluster of security cameras mounted on the wall, ten feet up from the flagstone deck. Reaching into his backpack, he took out a cable cutter and cut the thick cable that snaked down from the cameras. The red light of the backup camera came on, and he cut that cable also.
Glancing at his comp, he knew he didnít have much time. Jack sprinted south through the gardens, to the back gate a mile away. Halfway there, a security android drove up in a carbox. The carbox stopped in front of him, and the droid got out. It was wearing the usual blue security uniform.
"Mr. Walker," it said, "your sleep segment is not complete."
"I know," Jack said. "Couldnít sleep. Thought Iíd take a stroll -- clear my head."
"Mr. Walker, the security cameras have malfunctioned. You need to go back inside, sir, where youíll be safe."
Jack smiled. "I thought Iíd go for a walk, outside the gates."
"You know thatís not permitted, sir. Not without an escort."
"Maybe just this once?"
"Iím sorry, sir."
Jack shrugged. "Okay, have it your way." He turned around and started to walk toward the house. Then he stopped, took off his backpack and took out a laser weapon. Turning back toward the android, he leveled the gun at it.
"Sir, youíre not allowed to have weapons."
Jack pressed the trigger, and a bolt of red light struck the droid, burning a deep hole in its torso. The android crumpled to the ground, and the acrid smell of burnt plastic and metal hung in the air.
"Thereís a lot of things Iím not supposed to have," Jack said. Then he walked to the carbox, got in and drove toward the gate.
Southeast Security Control Center. June 3, 2085
The alert light came on over the image of estate 319. Tesa looked at the wall of images at the end of the room and tapped her control board keypad. The hundreds of small images dissolved, replaced with a large one of 319.
She spoke into the open com. "Director, weíve got a problem in New Eden, estate 319."
"Whatís the problem?" Zurk replied into her headset.
"The house cameras are down, and the security guard is not responding to my signal."
"Who lives at 319?"
"Jack Walker and Maria Walker, contract partners." "Iíll be right down," Zurk said.
Using satellite cameras, she zoomed tighter on the house, checking the front lawn, then moving to the back.
Zurk walked in the room and sat down next to her at the control board. "What do you have?"
"Nothing yet," she said, still glued to the image in front of her. "I dispatched a security team -- theyíll be there in a minute. Iím checking the grounds for anything --"
"Look, Tesa, in the back gardens. You see that?"
Tesa zoomed in for tighter look. "Itís the security guard... "
The android was on down on the ground, not moving. It was an older model, a Series 16. Its badge number and series number were clearly visible on the lapel of its uniform.
"What the hellís going on, Tesa?"
"Donít know, sir."
"Check the locator chips -- I want to know where they are."
Tesa tapped on her keypad, and a series of numbers superimposed over the image of the grounds. "Maria is still in the house," she said. "In the bedroom... but Walker... his chipís malfunctioning. It appears itís not embedded anymore."
Zurk slammed his hand on the control board. "Thatís impossible. Re-scan."
Tesa tapped again, but the results were the same. Just then they saw the security team arrive at the estate. Half of the team went into the house, the other half fanning out over the property. A few minutes later, they heard the security team leader over the open com. "Weíve got a serious breach," he said. "The locks on the back gate have been blown off, the house security guard is inoperative and thereís a missing carbox. We canít find Jack Walker."
"What about Maria?" Tesa asked.
"Sheís here, but she refuses to talk."
"Damn it," Zurk said, "this canít be happening. Tesa, Iím putting you in charge of this. Iíll assign someone else to manage the control center. Go to 319 immediately. And you report only to me. No one else."
Downtown Miami, Florida. June 3, 2085
It was a brutally hot day, the sun baking the deserted downtown area. Heat rose from the cracked asphalt streets and from the abandoned carboxes that littered them. Jack hid on a fifth-story balcony and peered down at the street below. After escaping New Eden, he had driven the carbox until its charge was used up, then walked the rest of the way.
A large rat scurried in the pile of trash by his feet, and he kicked it away. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and scanned the street again. Other than the rats, some wild dogs and a few coyotes, he hadnít seen any sign of life in the city. No people and no androids. So far, his plan had worked. But he had to stay out of sight, away from the open areas that the sat cameras could pick up. He was hiding in a residential condo building, one of many in this part of Miami, deserted a decade ago after the virus hit.
He shook his head in disgust, thinking about the billions who died across the world. The virus started with a high fever, followed by open sores, coughing up blood and internal bleeding. Death came in a matter of days. His wife, his son, his parents, all gone, long ago. Now only a handful of people were left. One percent, the news reports had said. For some unknown reason, one percent were immune from the virus.
His stomach growled, and he realized he hadnít eaten since yesterday. Crouching, he made his way back into the condo, closing the glass slider behind him and drawing the blinds. The abandoned condo was a mess, trash and cobwebs everywhere, roof leaks dripping on moldy furniture. It was stifling hot and smelled of mildew and dead things. In the dim light he walked to the kitchen and started to riffle through the cabinets. He found a couple of cans of vegetables and one of Spam. He looked at the shelf date on the Spam -- May, 2075 it said. Close enough. Opening the can, he heated it with his laser and began to spoon it out. He washed it down with the bottle of water he had brought with him.
Then he found the bedroom, stripped the bed of the moldy sheets and lay down, putting the gun on a bedside table. Closing his eyes, he was asleep in minutes.
He felt the cold steel at his throat and heard the voice at the same time.
"Donít move," the voice said, a manís voice, low and gravelly.
Jack opened his eyes and stayed still, seeing the long knife gleaming in the dim light. A big man was holding it. Jack glanced to the bedside table and noticed the weapon was gone.
"Donít move," the man said again. "I got your gun, so donít even think about fighting back." He pulled the blade back a bit, then said, "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"The nameís Walker. Jack Walker."
"Okay, Walker, what are you doing here?"
Jackís mind raced. Tell the truth or make something up? He glanced at the knife again and decided on the truth. "I left New Eden."
The man laughed harshly. "New Eden. That damn place. You left? Nobody leaves the Parks. Unless you escaped... "
"Yeah. Last night."
The man laughed again. "Well, Walker, I can see from your eyes youíre no android." Then his grip tightened on the knife and he pressed it against Jackís neck, cutting the skin and drawing blood. "But maybe youíre one of those android lovers... Iíve run into a few of those."
Jack stayed very still, but his voice was cold. "Listen, you... whoever you are... I hate the androids... what theyíve done to us. Thatís why I escaped."
The man shrugged, then pulled the knife away and slid it in a sheath by his side. "Okay, Walker. I believe you, for now. But if I find out youíre lying, or youíre a spy, Iíll kill you. Understood?"
Jack nodded, then sat up in the bed.
"Iím Alexander Harrison," the man said, holding out a huge hand. "Originally fromAtlanta, then EastCoast Park. And now beautiful Miami."
Jack shook the manís beefy hand. "Good to meet you, Harrison." Then touching his neck, said, "At least, I think so."
Alex grinned. "Sorry about that. Iíve been roaming the city so long by myself, I donít know who to trust." He sat down on one of the armchairs in the bedroom, the old springs creaking. The man was huge, over six and half feet tall, and wide, and mostly all muscle. He had long brown hair and a shaggy beard and was wearing a worn green shirt and ragged black pants.
"You were in EastCoast?" Jack said.
"Yeah. Escaped five years ago. Been dodging the andys ever since."
Jack took a swig from the bottle of water next to the bed, then offered it to Alex.
"Thanks, Walker." The man gulped it down, finishing the bottle. "So it looks like weíre in the same boat."
Jack smiled. "Letís just hope our boat doesnít sink."
Alex laughed again. "Funny man. Good. I havenít had much to laugh about for a long time." He dug into his pocket, took out the gun and handed it to Jack. "Here. This is yours. I like knives better myself."
"Youíve been on the run five years?"
"Give or take. I lose track of time. But, yeah, a long time."
Jack nodded. "Are there other people around? Others who escaped?"
"Some. Yeah. But some were captured by the androids, others were killed by coyotes. Why do you want to know?"
"We need to find as many escapees as we can. To fight the androids."
Alex roared with laughter. "Fight them? Youíre loco, my friend. They outnumber us ten to one. And they have technology on their side."
"Weíve got to try, damn it."
Alex shook his head. "The people who survived the virus live in the Parks. And a lot of them like it. Itís safe there. No stress, no job to hate... a carefree life... plush homes... good food... "
"Yeah, and droids telling you what you can and canít do."
A smile spread on Alexís face. "There is that."
Jack stood up and stared at the large man. "So, what do you say?"
"I think youíre crazy, Walker. But then, Iím kind of crazy myself."