Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Open Letter to my “30 Days” Characters

Dear Alex, Elena, Carrie, Misty, Julia, and the rest of the “30 Days” Cast.

I’ve just spent the last few days reviewing the Blogvels I wrote for the last couple NaNoWriMo’s. The first one, 30 Days: The Infinity Event, is pretty poor. Terrible characterization, no story structure, random events with no purpose. It was completely written on the fly, with no direction, and it shows. A wholly unbelievable mess.

Last year’s entry, 30 Days: The Singularity Matrix, was far better. Perhaps having 11 months to think about it helped a lot. There’s a distinct story arc, much better characterization, yet the same zany atmosphere as the first. A huge improvement, with characters you can actually care about. I hadn’t re-read it since last year, so I was surprised how well it worked, given that it too was written on the fly.

I’ve been planning the exciting conclusion of 30 Days since the last one ended. I have plans for all of you. It involves a tremendously exciting struggle to save the planet from annihilation. You will all be tested to your limits, beyond anything I’ve put you through before. It’s the climactic end to a three-year journey, with the entire world, nay, perhaps the structure of the Universe, at stake.


I’ve decided that for NaNoWriMo 2009 I will be going in a different direction. I want to let you know you’ve all meant a lot to me over the last couple years.

My circumstances have changed drastically. This year, NaNoWriMo counts. I need to focus on writing that will lead somewhere. There’s nothing wrong with my plans for you, but I’ve decided to use NaNoWriMo to work on a new story with new characters and a new setting. I don’t want you to think this is a better story. I haven’t even written it yet, so I don’t know. I’m not saying Prudencia, Thomas, and Beatrice are any more deserving of my attention than you. You’ve been great. I love your stories. But it’s been said, “kill your darlings” and you certainly are mine.

I do want to say a few things. First, this is not necessarily the end of 30 Days. I do want to continue the Blogvel at some point. I want you all to achieve the closure you so desperately need. Second, I want to thank you for being part of my life for so long. I will never forget you.

Third, there’s some things I want to say to each of you.

Alex. You’ve come so far. You’ve transformed from a timid computer nerd to Captain of a Pirate Ship and now owner of a social networking startup. You’ve proven you were worthy of being Main Character. But you still have more to learn, more ways to grow. You have a wife and a daughter, challenges you’ve never faced.

Ellie. You’ve been through so much, and never had a moment’s peace. You are one of my all-time favorite characters, you’re so full of life and energy, ever fearless and strong, always full of surprises, yet I always felt something was missing from your life, something you tried to achieve with Alex but couldn’t. Someday you know you will have to go home. You’ll have to close the loop with your own family before you can consider having one of your own.

Carrie. You are so ready for redemption it’s not funny. Your blind ambition has destroyed you, now you have had a chance to become something you could respect. You have the opportunity to save the world. Some day you will forgive yourself for what happened and move on. I don’t know if you can do it. I hope so.

Misty. It’s amazing how you kept your wits in the midst of chaos. Keeping a strange family like yours together is tough. Dealing with Alex and Julia is tough, but you’re the one person who could probably pull it off. You’ve emerged so much stronger after this experience, ready to take charge of your life.

Julia. We hardly got to know you. You have so much fire and energy, and you’re a great cook. Your life is just starting and already you’ve lived a lifetime. Someday you’ll trust Alex and Misty with you innermost struggles, and become a real asset to the world.

So I wish you guys the best, and I feel like we’ll see each other again. I just wanted to let you know and I hope you understand.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

An Update

An Update

Hey everyone!

This is Alex again. I've decided to post some occasional updates on how Misty, Julia, and I are doing here in our West London flat. I plan to post these updates from time to time, whenever anything exciting happens or just to let people know how we're doing.

Well, you wouldn't believe how quickly London has recovered from the detonation of the QC1. It's almost like nothing ever happened here. Apparently the blast caused much less damage than initially reported. However the QC1 completely vaporized, leaving no trace of it whatsoever. Hopefully all that terrible technology died with it. I think about Ellie and Carrie a lot, and how I got caught up in the whole mess.

The last couple weeks have been extremely busy for all of us. Misty and I have been in endless debriefings and meetings. She wants to continue her work at MI6, but they've given her a month or so to decompress. She will report back to duty after the New Year. For Julia, we've looked at various schools in the area and we think we've found one that will fit her. It's not the most rigorous academically but they do offer a kind of culinary apprenticeship that she might enjoy. She won't start until after New Years.

As for me, I've been talking to the local software startups and I think I've found a small niche group to work for. Misty has vetted the owners of the startup and determined they have no nefarious connections, so I hope to stay out of trouble. I may start that in a couple weeks if everything works out.

As to our legal status, it's still pretty murky. The UK has granted me temporary asylum from US extradition. They're trying to negotiate with the US to get my charges dropped. We've even gone as far as to inquire into receiving a pardon from the President. They've completely suppressed any mention of our involvement so we can go on with our lives.

We've been slowly adjusting to life in rainy London. We've begun looking at various houses, as Misty's flat is cramped, and Julia doesn't really have her own room. Fortunately housing prices are pretty reasonable right now. We have a couple we like, and we hope to be moved in in the next couple weeks. In Misty's flat we've put up a few Christmas decorations, although Julia didn't really appreciate them. We're trying to find a mosque she might want to belong to.

Julia has definitely been a challenge. Since everything ended, she's become a bit moody and withdrawn. She's spending a lot of time on the Internet, hoping to find some of her old friends online, and perhaps some family as well. Misty says that she's just experiencing some PTSD and she'll get better, but I think she may be a bit lonely and homesick. On the QC1 we never really had time to reflect and think about our losses, but I think it's really hit her hard. And frankly, London culture is so different from her home that she's having trouble adjusting. We hear that her new school may have a few Filipinos attending so we hope she can start making friends. She's trying really hard to be nice and to fit in but I can sense frustration building inside her.

One thing that may help is our trip to the Philippines next week, our combination honeymoon/adoption trip. The UK has made us foster parents for now but we do need to at least try to provide some real paperwork for her. They've granted us British visas so we can travel. 

Well, we're surviving. Some days I feel like just sitting in front of the TV all day drinking beer in my underwear, and after all I've been through can you blame me? Misty isn't thrilled about it but I guess everyone needs to deal with this in their own way. I've been with Misty now for most of the year, but now that it's "official" it's hitting me that I'm going to spend the rest of my life with this woman. Don't get me wrong: I love her and I do want to grow old and raise a family etc, but she does have a lot of annoying habits and things I don't want to get into. She insists on taking us to "cultural" events whereas I'd prefer to just go to the movies or a soccer match. We've disagreed on what's best for Julia. It seems like we need to argue about everything. I hope moving into a new place will help, or maybe we'll spend weeks arguing about how to set that place up as well.

Whew that was a lot. Seriously, I think things are going really well. We're just going to take things one step at a time. Until next time!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Introducing Alex, Misty, and Julia Ross

Introducing Alex, Misty, and Julia Ross

I'll get to the meaning of the title of the post in a minute. The last couple days have been hard as you might imagine. We've been to countless funerals and services, including ones for Rod Portman, Bethany Jacobson, and some of the other agents we knew from Kastle Klingon. Beth and Rod both received posthumous medals for their part in stopping Carrie. The Chinese had seized the base and recovered many of the bodies. We've still got more scheduled in the coming days. We've also had to sit through exhaustive debriefings as the government tries to put everything together, and there's more to come of those.

We've been staying in Misty's flat. When we first arrived, it had no electricity or heat, and everything had been covered with sheets and a layer of dust. We cleaned it the best we could. She's gotten her car out of storage and we had power restored the next day. We converted one of her rooms into Julia's, but we plan to move to a larger place as soon as possible. With all the refugees from London looking for homes, the market is a little tight right now.

On Friday a man arrived at our door, and handed me some paperwork. Apparently Ellie named me as the heir to her fortune. He also gave me sealed envelopes containing the account numbers and passwords to her secret off-the-books accounts. I haven't checked yet, but from what she's told me, these accounts are far into 8-digit territory. I think I'm pretty set for life. To my surprise, she also mentioned Julia in her estate, giving her a small sum as well, although a note suggested I use it to bribe Filipino officials so our adoption paperwork goes through smoothly.

Now for the big news. After talking it over with Misty, we realized that our best bet was to get married as soon as possible, so that we could begin the adoption process without delay. Our plan is to head to the Philippines for our honeymoon.

So this morning, in a small ceremony, we were married! Misty's parents were there, as well as her two older brothers and their families. My dad made it out, as well as my brother Brad and his wife Marcia. Everyone was simply thrilled with Misty, and treated Julia very well. It's amazing that we found a wedding dress and tux on such short notice, especially with the chaos that is London. I think I did well with Misty's relatives, and they got along with mine. Also attending were Commander Jeffries and General Tam.

Some day when I have my US passport restored, I hope to return to America and have another ceremony where all my friends and more distant relatives can attend. Misty thinks her government can speak on my behalf, but it may take a Presidential Pardon before I can enter the States again.

After the wedding, I took a few of the flower arrangements, and Misty and I drove down to the River Thames while our parents entertained Julia. At the river's edge, I said a few prayers for Ellie and Carrie, and tossed the flowers into the water. They would have no funerals or services, no headstones or monuments. I hoped to contact their parents some day and try to explain things, but I had no information as to their respective whereabouts.

Well that's about it folks. Hopefully I've put my life back together, and I really think our lives will be pretty good from now on. If not, then at least somewhat sane. Drop me a line at if you ever want to find out how we're doing.


Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2008 @ 3:33 PM

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nuclear Thanksgiving Part IV

Nuclear Thanksgiving Part IV

We blasted through the cabin door with Julia's gun and gathered our weapons. Ellie found her earpiece and put it in, listening to the attack. We found some towels and a sink, and tried to clean away the blood as much as possible. Ellie studied her face in the mirror for a moment. "Damn. I think I have a broken jaw, nose, and maybe my zygomatic bone. My head's gonna start swelling up like a balloon. This is gonna hurt."

She spit a huge gob of blood out into the sink. Julia's wound seemed superficial but her eyes didn't seem too focused. I worried she might have a concussion. I felt fine for my part, just some aching ribs, nothing broken I hoped.

Ellie listened intently for a moment, then shouted, or rather spat, "we've secured the ship. Alex, tell them how to restore power. We'll need to do a room-by room search."

She handed me the earpiece and I instructed them, and in a minute all the lights flashed back on.

"Okay, let's find her," said Ellie, grabbing her weapons and backpack.

I led the team over to Carrie's cabin. I knocked on the door and shouted, "Carrie, it's over! Come on out."

The door exploded from a shotgun blast. "Carrie," I yelled. "It's over. We have control of the ship."

"Fuck you, asshole," came the response along with a couple blasts, knocking down the rest of the door. Ellie nodded at me, holding up a knife. I stuck my shotgun around the corner and fired randomly, then Ellie jumped into the doorway and threw her knife. I heard a scream.

I rushed in behind Ellie, who grabbed the woman and pinned her up against a wall, a knife at her throat. Carrie had another knife protruding from her arm.

"You bitch," she screamed at Ellie, who back-slapped Carrie hard and returned the knife to her throat.

"Say the word, Alex," she breathed, blood still foaming out of her broken mouth and nose, "and I'll end this right now."

At that moment, the ship lurched to one side. I ran over to the console Carrie had been using. "There's flooding in the SMD. Carrie, what have you done?"

Carrie laughed. "That water will cause containment to fail, and this thing will blow sky high."

"Alex, tell the men to evacuate," said Ellie. I relayed the instructions to the men.

Ellie took the knife and jammed it into Carrie's shoulder. She screamed in agony. "I'm going to keep doing this until the end," whispered Ellie, her face inches from Carrie's. "If we die, you will die in agony." Ellie began twisting the knife, digging it into Carrie's shoulder socket.

"Ow! Stop! Stop! Aghh!" Carrie clutched her shoulder, and dropped to the floor, trying to escape Ellie.

Ellie grabbed Carrie's foot, and plunged the knife into the ankle socket. Carrie screamed. Ellie didn't relent, digging the knife through the tendons and cartilage. Ellie grabbed Carrie by the neck, and threw her into a chair. Carrie screamed and cried, writhing in the chair, trying to hold her shoulder and ankle at the same time. Ellie produced some quick ties, and bound Carrie's arms and feet to the chair, making sure the ankle tie was extra tight.

"Everyone has a breaking point," she told Carrie, waving the knife in front of her face. "You can't send someone to the breaking point, unless you've been there yourself. Listen to me!" She slapped Carrie hard. "Now we'll see what you're really made of. Not many people can survive this level of pain before their heart literally bursts. I'm going to try my best to keep you awake, all the way until the very end. Are you with me?"

Carrie just howled and whimpered, struggling against her bonds.

"What's the point of this," asked Misty. "Let's just end this and be done with it."

Ellie looked up at us, then grinned at Carrie. "Fine. Looks like this is it then." She raised the knife, and Carrie squeezed her eyes. Ellie stopped, then looked at me. "No, you do it, Alex. She's done far more damage to you. Come over here."

Ellie handed me the knife, and I approached Carrie, who struggled and writhed in her chair, gasping and whining with every breath. Her eyes found mine. I looked down at the knife, and then at the bound woman. Yes, I killed dozens of zombies today, but that was self-defense. This was a cold-blooded execution. Not that Carrie didn't deserve it. I looked around the room. Misty seemed a bit sickened. Julia simply stared at the drama with wide eyes. Ellie motioned me forward. I turned to Carrie again.

"Alex, please," she begged. "You don't have to do this."

"Why the hell would I spare your life," I asked her. "After everything you've done? All the people you've killed? All the lives you've ruined?"

"Alex," she wheezed, "I can ch-change. I see that now. I've been b-bad, I've hurt people. I...I can b-be different. You s-said it's never too late. You said it. Is it too late?"

I hesitated. "You want to change, Carrie? Then tell me, how do I end this? How do I destroy the Singularity Matrix without destroying the Earth?"

"Let me go and I'll t-tell you," she said.

"No. You tell me what I want to know without conditions. This change starts right now. Do the right thing."

"Just fucking kill her," yelled Misty. "She's messing with your head!"

I held up my hand for silence. Carrie struggled for a moment, perhaps an internal battle. She nodded to the side. "Over there. Your answer is over there."

I looked around the room. I only saw a bookcase and a desk. At the top of the bookcase sat a large box. "Fuck," I screamed, not believing I hadn't thought of it. "That's it! The twin singularity."

"Yes," agreed Carrie. "Why do you think I h-have it? If you put them together, they d-destroy each other. It's my 'other' insurance policy, if someone tries to s-steal the Matrix. But you don't have much t-time. You've got to add this one to the containment field."

I glanced at the console which flashed red. "Ellie, we've got to move. Misty, take Julia up to the deck and get into a transport helicopter. I'll meet you there. Ellie, help me get Carrie up. She'll give me instructions as we walk. Everyone ready?"

Misty gave me a big hug. "Be careful Alex, I don't trust her one bit."

"Take care of Julia. I'll be up there as fast as I can." I gave Julia a hug and kiss too.

Ellie cut Carrie's bonds and Carrie flopped to the floor in a fetal position. She tied Carrie's hands together in front of her, then tied a strap to it. "Move it," ordered Ellie.

Carrie struggled to her feet, not able to put much weight on her damaged ankle, but the pain in her shoulder when yanked didn't give her much choice.

We headed down the hall while Carrie explained the basics. I carried the heavy box with me. All I needed to do was place the box in a receptacle, set a timer, and at the end of the countdown one wall of the box would be breached and the singularity guided into the heart of the Matrix. From then, there was no telling what would happen. It might take microseconds, it might take months, but the two singularities would circle each other faster and faster until they merged and annihilated each other, releasing any residual energy, which might be substantial.

"How substantial," I asked.

Carrie waved her good arm. "Goodbye, London."

We entered the Palace, a smoke-filled land of corpses. As we passed the center, Ellie gave Carrie a painful tug, causing her to fall.

"Alex, do you have everything you need from her," Ellie asked me. I nodded. "Good. Now get up here, bitch!"

She yanked Carrie up the stairs leading to the cage platform.

"Alex," cried Carrie, "you said you would help me if I changed! Please, don't do this! I helped you!"

"Shut up," growled Ellie. She pulled Carrie onto the platform, then threw her down onto the middle. She walked to the corner, and lowered the heavy steel cage over Carrie.

"Let's go," said Ellie, waving to me, and the room filled with the sound of gunfire. I dove to the ground, rolling down the stairs. I pulled the gun off my back and looked around. Nearby I spotted a wounded Pirate looking around. Apparently he had been left for dead. I took careful aim, and discharged a round into his head. He dropped. I ran back up the stairs.

Ellie lay on the stage, motionless. I ran to her, and knelt down. "Ellie," I cried. "Ellie, talk to me."

Her eyes blinked. "Shit. I've been shot. I think it's fatal, Alex." I looked at her. A pool of blood formed behind her. One bullet pierced the upper right breast, the other through her leg. They both looked bad. She grabbed my jumpsuit and pulled me close.

"Alex," she wheezed, the blood gurgling in her lungs, "you've got to finish this. But after that, I want you to have a good life. Misty is a really good person. She's strong and steady. You need to take care of her, but for goodness sake listen to her. Alex, I'm so sorry about how things turned out between us, but I'm truly happy for you now. Go live your life, be the best person you can be. Don't let me die for nothing."

"Ellie," I cried as her eyes closed. I shook her. "Ellie, please, don't die! Ellie! The world still needs you! I still need you! Don't go!" She lay motionless on the stage.

I stood up slowly. The woman who I spent night and day with for eight months of my life lay dead before me. I screamed. My earpiece crackled.

"Alex, what's the status," called Misty. "We're loaded and ready."

"Ellie's dead," I replied. "I'm heading for the Matrix now. Ross out."

I picked up the heavy box.

"Alex, let me out of here, please," begged Carrie, clinging to the bars of her cage. "Don't leave me here to die! Alex! Alex!"

I kept moving. "You made this bed, Carrie, now sleep in it!" All I could think of was Ellie lying there. If not for Carrie, Ellie and I could still be together. Not that I wanted to go back, because I've found something greater in Misty, but still, I put Ellie's death on Carrie's head.

Carrie responded with a stream of epithets and screams.

I ran with the heavy package through the Palace and down through the flooded corridor leading to the Matrix. The water helped me carry the heavy load but impeded my progress. It also felt a bit warm, like a sauna.

The Singularity Matrix stood only a couple feet above the top of the water. I found the receptacle for the box and placed it in there. I keyed in the transfer sequence, and set it for fifteen minutes. Given the rise of the water, I wasn't sure that was short enough, but we needed a chance to escape the blast.

I swam back through the rising water, almost getting trapped at one point, then climbed the ladder of to the deck hatch. I instantly saw the lone Merlin helicopter in the middle of the deck. I ran over to it and hopped in. The British Naval airmen strapped me in, and I waved and blew a kiss to Misty, who had tears in her eyes.

"We've got ten minutes to clear the blast zone," I shouted. "At least ten miles, twenty if you can. We need to be on the ground in a shelter by then."

The helicopter lifted and headed towards Northwood. I studied my watch anxiously.

"We're not going to make it," said the pilot, "I'm putting her down."

We landed in a field near Harrow on the Hill. I grabbed Misty's hand and she grabbed Julia's, and we ran like madmen towards the train station. My watch beeped as we ran down the stairs, down as far as we could.

I think you've heard what happened next. For a few minutes, nothing. We sat there panting and gasping for air. Then the ship began belching steam, not just from the cooling towers, but from every opening in the hull. The back of the ship began glowing, boiling the River Thames into huge clouds of steam. The glow grew brighter and brighter, until the entire ship detonated in a ball of white hot gas, sending a blazing mushroom cloud up into the sky and leveling all the surrounding structures, leaving a mile-wide crater in the Earth, slowly filling with water mixed from the Thames and backing up from the ocean.

We could see the mushroom cloud from Harrow, but it didn't radiate dangerous radiation. The blast had vaporized everything. The river, the Tower of London, and the surrounding blocks. I held my loved ones tightly, knowing that somewhere in that cloud floated the ashes of Ellie and Carrie.

Well I've got to rest now, I have another busy day tomorrow. Misty's been extremely supportive and understand of what I'm going through. I'll write up a little something tomorrow to let you know how we're doing and what our plans our. Talk to you soon.

Posted: Saturday, November 29, 2008 @ 8:35 PM

Nuclear Thanksgiving Part III

Nuclear Thanksgiving Part III

Julia collapsed in the middle of the pathway in grief, unable to continue. She sobbed uncontrollably. Misty and I knelt down next to her.

"Please, Julia, we've got to keep moving," said Misty softly, stroking her back.

"Rod's gone," she bawled.

"Come on," I said, looking around, "it's not safe here."

Ellie knelt down. "Have you guys never been in combat before? Let me talk to her. You keep guard."

We stood up and surveyed the area. We were just at the end of the path, in a corner with no exits if zombies attacked.

"Julia, Rod was a very brave man," said Ellie. "He sacrificed himself for you. He did it so you could keep up the fight, because he knew you have the strength to do it. If Rod were with us right now, what would he say to you?"

Julia sniffed and rubbed her knees. "I don't know."

"What would he want us to do?"

"He'd, he'd--" she gasped a few times, her breathing ragged. "He'd want us to kill Queen Carrie," she said finally, looking up at Ellie.

"What about you? What do you want?"

Julia scratched the ground with one hand, picking up some fallen leaves and throwing them. "I--I want her dead. I want everyone on that ship dead!"

A grim smile flooded Ellie's face. "And we're killers, right? We're here to kill. Nothing else. We will avenge Rod's death. At all costs."

Julia started nodding, a determined look grew on her visage. "Yes. Kill. Or be killed."

"We kill our enemies without mercy or hesitation," continued Ellie. "As long as there's an ounce of life in our bodies we continue the fight. We're warriors, and the world will tremble beneath our fists."

Julia made two fists with her hands and rose to her feet. "Yes. No mercy, no prisoners. All our enemies will die. Their screams of death will be our sweetest music."

Ellie stood up with her, smiling. "I think she's good now."

"Splendid," mumbled Misty, shaking her head.

We crossed back over to Thames Street, only encountering the occasional zombie. After a few minutes, a new sound filled the air. The zombie growls and hisses began transforming in cries and wailing. One zombie appeared, a man with useless crumpled arms at his side, his body covered with blood. He walked a bit, then stopped at a corpse.

"Mary," he cried, trying to manipulate his broken arms, "what have I done? Argh!" He flopped down next to the corpse. As we passed, he wailed, "please, help me, we've been in a wreck or something. My wife is all torn up, I don't think she's breathing! Please! Hey!"

We kept moving. More and more of the zombies began waking up from their nightmare, begging us for help, crying for the dead. From a distance, we began hearing the wail of sirens fill the night as ambulances from outlying areas descended on the city. A helicopter floated by, shining a light on various streets. In the distance, I spotted the remains of the Tower Bridge. "Come on, just a couple blocks now."

We came upon the Tower of London, an ancient and majestic site the held England's prized Crown Jewels. Underneath the approach to the Tower Bridge we spotted a group of people, and proceeded slowly. We breathed a great sigh of relief to find the Chinese and British operatives gathering, checking their supplies. Considerably fewer made it than had set out, the zombies had taken a toll among these men as well. They led us over to a corner where we found Cmdr. Jeffries and General Tam sitting on the ground. Jeffries' head was bandaged, and Tam's arm was in a sling.

"God, I thought we'd lost you," said the Commander. "We barely survived ourselves. Bloody zombies. Where's Portman?"

"He didn't make it," said Misty. "But he died a true British hero. He sacrificed himself so we could go on."

The men distributed some energy bars and bottles of water. I walked over to the side, and peered out over the River Thames. A short distance away sat the Queen Carrie 1, with no lights or activity, a small column of steam rising from the cooling towers. That meant the Matrix was still too hot to enter.

"We have some time," I told the officers. "Maybe an hour. Then they might be able to fire it again safely. But they might be able to set it off at any time, so it's best that we move fast."

"We've got to disable it, at least the controls," said Ellie. We huddled around a laptop with a schematic of the ship.

"If we could get back to the power junction here, we could do it," I noted, pointing to the sabotaged room. "You know, where you blew the power that day."

"I didn't do that," said Ellie. "I've been up in those rafters the whole time, except to occasionally steal food. I was as surprised as anyone when that happened. Maybe it really was an accident, or one of the pirates was making a power play."

Cmdr Jeffries spoke. "Then let's get you aboard. You'll have ten minutes to disable it, then the main assault begins, whether it's down or not. You've got five minutes to prepare. Good luck."

Ellie led us over to a small tent they had erected. "You stay out here, and get this suit on. They'll help you."

A Chinese officer assisted me in donning a black wetsuit. I had never worn a scuba outfit before. He placed the snorkel and regulator on my head, and strapped the tanks and a pack full of weapons to my back. I practiced breathing for a minute. The ladies emerged from the tent, similarly garbed. Julia seemed to struggle with the weight.

"There's fifteen minutes of air in there," they said. They led us down to the water, and placed big flippers on our feet.

Julia hesitated at the edge, fearful of the black water.

"It's okay, Julia," said Ellie. "You're a warrior. You can fight this. Just breath nice and easy." She splashed some water on the girl. "See? You can't even feel it."

Julia dipped one foot and than another into the water. We walked out until our heads submerged. Julia breathed quickly and thrashed for a second, but Ellie helped her relax. We started swimming towards the boat, guided by a directional watch on Ellie's arm. I could barely see Misty next to me in the murky water. We all held hands, forming a line. We popped up near the bow of the ship. A few ropes dangled down from above.

"We shot these ropes over the ship a couple hours ago," explained Ellie. "They're anchored over by the dock." She pulled out her pack, and removed a few metal items which she placed on the rope. One by one she fastened us to the ropes, then spoke into a device on her wrist. The ropes tightened, and slowly we rose out of the water. We hung like fish on hooks for a while.

"We've shot out every camera we could spot on the deck," explained Ellie, "but they may had replaced them or put guards up there. Doing great, Julia. A true warrior."

The rope slowed as we reached the deck. Ellie produced a night-vision telescope with a bending sight to look around corners. She studied the deck for a minute. "All clear," she said. The rope yanked us the final ten feet and plopped us onto the deck.

"We have ten minutes from now," said Ellie, clicking a button on her wrist. We quickly removed the scuba gear. Now I see why the women dressed in a tent, we all only wore underwear underneath our suits. Misty pulled out some black jumpsuits from her back. We donned them quickly, then attired ourselves with weapons. Julia pulled out the vest Ellie had provided her, the only one of us with any kind of protection. It felt good to have a shotgun strapped my back again. Ellie applied dark pigment to our faces so we couldn't be easily spotted.

We ran down the length of the deck, huddling low and keeping to the darkest areas. We discovered our designated hatch. I pulled it open while Ellie held her weapon, but the hatch lay unguarded. "I don't like this," said Ellie.

We proceeded along gangplanks and walkways, not encountering any Pirates. "Five minutes," whispered Ellie as we approached the power station. Ellie used her scope to look around the corner. She produced a small package of darts and a blow tube. A couple puffs later, and the guards fell to the ground, constricting in a painful rictus as the nerve toxin coursed through their system. We stepped over them as they spasmed. We entered the control room, and I jumped over to a console.

"Okay," I said, "I can pull up internal security footage."

"Let's blow the lights at T-minus-ten seconds," said Ellie. I pulled up a view of the Palace. Carrie addressed the Pirate crew, and I turned up the speaker so all could here.

"This night will mark a new era in the history of Mankind," she declared. "We have destroyed the City of London. Their defenses have proven useless against us. As we speak, they sit in fearful masses, counting their dead and broken. The entire United Kingdom is on her knees, begging for mercy. We will show her none. We will first collect the treasures of the Tower of London, then we will raid museums, historical archives, and the local banks until all the treasures of England are ours. Nothing can stop us."

Xyllan came over and whispered in her ear. "In ten minutes we'll be able to fire the Matrix again, destroying any stragglers or idiotic commando units in the area. Then we pillage. I want to see fires! I want flames! I want the world to never forget this night. This city will burn when we're done. Now get yourselves ready. London is ours!"

The men cheered, brandishing weapons and holding up bottles of liquor. The four of us checked our weapons. Ellie counted down from five. "...three, two, one, hit it."

I flipped over the switches to power down the boat, leaving just the power for the Matrix containment field. In a moment, the floor of room shook, followed by a muted concussion. Ellie's team had blown holes in the sides of the boat and poured into the ship. We put on night-vision goggles and I led the team back towards the bow, to reunite with Ellie's team.

As we approached the cabin section, we started hearing the echoes of gunfire, sporadic bursts of noise. Ellie listened to a headset. "They're pinned down, let's go."

We quickened our pace, running through the pitch-black corridors. The floor seemed a bit slanted. "Ellie, are we sinking? That's not good."

"Just the bow," she said. "The Matrix should be safe. The ship won't sink far."

"Great." We arrived at the scene of the fighting. We had no armor, just the thin jumpsuits. Ellie peered around the corner with her scope. She withdrew her rifle, then blazed away around the corridor. The gunfire ceased.

She led us over the corpses and we met up with her unit which she talked to in Chinese. They led us over to the Palace door, which they lined with explosives.

Ellie pushed us back. "Fire in the hole!" came the order, and a huge concussion knocked us off our feet. In moments, the ship filled with noise as Ellie's team charged through the breach in the wall. They had knocked a hole ten feet wide in the solid lead wall of the Palace.

Tracers whizzed everywhere and I saw her team get cut down like weeds. Then a number of them fired grenades into the Palace, and the whole room lit up like the Fourth of July, raining shrapnel and carnage down everywhere. The rest of her team charged through, and Ellie waved us along. We slid down over to the kitchen area, while Ellie's team fought inch by inch against the Pirates.

I pointed along the Palace floor. "Look," I cried. Two hatches had opened, allowing the Pirates to flee. Among them went Ellie and Xyllan.

"After Carrie," ordered Ellie, instructing her team to cover us. Fires spread throughout the Palace, lighting it up in a deadly glow and filling the room with smoke. Some Pirates still put up resistance, but by and large most of them surrendered. Ellie's team began chasing the men escaping towards the stern.

We crawled over the debris, and reached the doorway. A guard stood just beyond it and fired at us. Ellie threw a knife at him and he fell with the knife cutting through his neck. Ellie yanked it out and wiped it off.

We moved slowly through the corridors of the cabin section, wary of any traps. A set of emergency lights lit the area, so we could remove our cumbersome goggles. Ellie picked off a couple more guards. We crept through the halls, weapons drawn. We had traversed one floor of cabins and started down the next. We hadn't gone very far when I heard a yelp behind me.

"Drop your weapons," screamed Xyllan, holding Julia in front of him in a bear hug. She struggled against him as he held a giant paw against her face. "Now! Or I'll wring her little neck and rape her corpse."

Ellie nodded at us. We disarmed, throwing our rifles, pistols, and knives on the ground.

"Throw them in there, then lock the door from the inside and close it." We complied, pushing them into a cabin and locking the weapons out of reach.

"You're so tough with a little girl," said Ellie, pushing Misty and I behind her. "You think you can take on a real woman?"

Xyllan laughed deeply. "You four have been nothing but trouble since you first came aboard. I should have killed you when I first saw you. Now I'll finish the job." He slammed poor Julia against the wall with both hands, and she dropped motionless on the floor like a rag doll.

Misty screamed but I held her back. Ellie crouched like a tiger, and Xyllan stepped over Julia's body, beckoning to Ellie.

A low growl purred from Ellie's throat. She sprang, slamming her hands into his throat, pounding her elbows into his ribs. Xyllan picked her up by the throat and threw her to land heavily at our feet. He chuckled a bit and rubbed his neck. "That's all you got?"

Ellie rose, looking up at us, rage contorting her face. Her hair had broken free, pouring down her face, dripping with perspiration. She flung herself at the man, who caught her, slamming her into the wall, punching her face with his fist, then throwing her gut into his knee. Ellie fell to the ground, writhing in pain, clutching her abdomen.

"God, Alex," breathed Misty, clutching me. Ellie started crawling towards us, but the giant landed on her back, driving an elbow into her kidneys. Ellie howled with pain. He flipped her over, and slammed her face with his fist until blood flowed from her mouth and nose.

"Get off her," I cried, jumping after him. He caught me by the neck, and threw a knee into my gut. He tossed me down the hall, gasping for air.

"You want some," he shouted at Misty, who shrank and shook her head.

With one hand he ripped away Ellie's jumpsuit. "Now I'll make her a real woman." Ellie fought weakly, whimpering in pain. "First I will break this bitch once and for all. Then I will rape the little girl, ripping her insides apart, then you can watch me take your whore, Ross. Then I will tear you apart limb by limb until you beg for your death. Or maybe I'll just rip off your dick and let you live, unable to perform again. You'll never forget this moment as long as you live."

We heard a small pop, and Xyllan's face grew blank. He swayed, then fell directly on top of Ellie. Behind him stood Julia, the small pistol Ellie gave her in her hand.

"No mercy, no prisoners," she said, blood soaking her head from a cut on her scalp. A wisp of smoke seeped out of the barrel of the weapon. Blood poured out of the hole in Xyllan's head.

Misty and I sprang over, and pushed with all our strength to roll the dead man off of Ellie. We helped her sit up. She pulled a tooth out of her mouth. "Dammit, not another one." She looked at the dead man, and rage filled her eyes. "Aaah!" She began beating on the corpse like a zombie, pounding it with her fists and kicking him with her feet. Her breath grew ragged and raw. She screamed Russian epithets at him.

Finally spent, she turned to Julia, who still held the gun. Julia extended a bloody hand to the girl, and embraced her. "Warriors to the end," she told her.

"Warriors to the end," repeated the girl. "No mercy, no prisoners."

Ellie rose to her feet, blood flowing down her face. She held her ribs in pain, possibly suffering from a few cracked bones. "And you guys didn't want to bring her. She's a fighter, through and through. Come on, let's bust down this door and get our weapons back. We've got a war to finish. There's a bitch on this boat who still needs to die."

Posted: Saturday, November 29, 2008 @ 12:30 PM

Friday, November 28, 2008

Nuclear Thanksgiving Part II

Nuclear Thanksgiving Part II

Ellie led us out to a back alley where a number of British convoys lay waiting for us. A number of British and Chinese soldiers stood together conversing. When they spotted us, they began jumping into the vehicles.

"So Ellie," I asked, "what's the deal with the Chinese and British? Why are they cooperating now?"

"Well, after that assault deep into China, the two governments almost began World War Three. When you began sinking Chinese freighters, the Chinese relented, hoping the British could help. In return, the British have allowed our small of commandos here so we can assault the ship. Yes, this assault will be an entirely Chinese operation, with the Brits just here for support. We take care of our own."

We hopped into the vehicle. Cmdr. Jeffries jumped in too. "You think I'd miss this," he asked. "What's with the kid," he said, motioning towards Julia.

"She's an expert in infiltration and commando tactics," responded Ellie quickly, "and an integral part of my team."

Jeffries huffed, and turned around. Julia stuck her tongue out at him.

We hadn't gone more than a half a mile before traffic came to a halt. "What's going on," I asked.

I heard a dull rumbling, like a clap of thunder.

Jeffries listened on his headset. We all had donned combat helmets with earphones. Julia could barely see out of hers, it covered so much of her head. "They're shelling the city," he said. "Mortars, we think. Our snipers can't get an angle on them. The residents are panicking and trying to flee, many on foot."

The convoy stopped completely. Even with our police escort, the gridlock was complete.

"Come on," said Ellie, "let's go on foot. We'll make better time, and it's only a few miles."

We jumped out of our transport. A couple dozen black-clad Chinese followed us. We picked our way through the back streets of London. We came into a park known as Coram's Fields which contained a number of soccer fields and recreational facilities. It also contained a number of mounted policemen who blew whistles at us. We ran a block, but then a SWAT team cornered us with drawn rifles.

"Get down! Down, now!"

"Shit!" cried Ellie. "Come on, this way." We headed for an alley, but another SWAT group ran in and cornered us.

"Hands up, let's see them."

"We're the good guys," I cried. "We're heading towards the attack! We can stop it."

"Shut up." The shoved us up against the wall, and started disarming us.

"What's this," said one man, finding my liquor bottle. "You're no fighters, you're thieves!" He smashed the bottle on the ground. The other men did the same thing with the other packs.

"You idiots," I cried. The man hit me hard in the back of the legs, sending me to my knees.

"Alex," shouted Misty.

Then I heard it. The sound Jeffries had warned me about. A rising wail filled the air. Carrie was about to engage the zombie ray!

Ellie slammed her foot into her captors heel then spun her elbow in his throat. She grabbed his rifle out of the air and let it rip on full automatic into the other SWAT members. "Come on, grab your shit and run for it," she yelled, "fifty seconds!"

We ran down the street as fast as our feet could fly. "There!" We ran into a bar, and Ellie fired her rifle into the ceiling.

"Whisky, now! 30 seconds." The barkeep just stood there so Ellie jumped over the bar and began throwing us bottles. I started chugging mine as fast as I could, Misty and Rod did the same. Fortunately Julia still had her bottle, and she too drank it. I coughed and sputtered and retched but I somehow managed to drink most of it.

The floor felt cold against my head. My ears rang, and my vision swam, the room spun in big circles. Car alarms and horns filled the air. My head felt tight, painful, aching. I looked at the ground and the other people struggling to get up. I felt a rage building inside me. I wanted to hurt someone. I wanted kill, to rip someone apart, feel their blood and bones in my mouth, to tear their flesh apart.

A wave of nausea washed over me and I felt the whole room spin. I tried to get up but I couldn't. "M--m--misty," I mumbled. She lay in front of me, trying to rise, a confused look on her face. I didn't see anyone else on our team. Her face started to contort, she bared her teeth and glared at me, breathing quickly.

"Ahh!" She jumped me, snapping at my throat. I held her arms and then got behind her, holding my arms under hers and behind her neck in a full Nelson.

"Misty, please! It's Alex. Misty, you've got to come out of it! You can fight it!"

She struggled and struggled against me as I called her name. With a great push, she freed herself and faced me. Behind her rose Ellie, a rifle in her hand. Misty jumped and Ellie fired.

"No!" I cried as Misty landed in my arms. "Ellie, what the hell did you do!!" I felt Misty's body convulsing against me. "Misty!"

Ellie shot again, this time over my shoulder. The other patrons of the bar had awakened, and the more sober ones attacked each other. I felt Misty, searching for the bullet hole.

"Alex, I didn't shoot her," cried Ellie. "She's just coming out of it. Now put her down and help me fight!"

I looked at Misty's face, now dull and unfocused. "Alex, Alex," she said quietly. "What's happening?"

I hugged her, then put her down. I had trouble focusing on the attacking zombies. The room still spun, and they seemed to be multiplying into twos. Rod pulled himself off the floor. "Julia's still out," he said.

We shot all the zombies in the bar. Misty had crawled over to Julia to try to revive her. "Julia, baby, come on, get up." The girl stirred, but couldn't seem to wake up fully. I felt close to passing out myself.

"Here," said Ellie, passing us out some pills. "This may not make you sober, but it will wake you up, and counter some of the effects. Hurry up."

Outside, a number of zombies roamed around the streets. They attacked each other, gnawing on each other and beating their heads. I could hear the cracking of bones as they used every ounce of madness in their attack.

Misty coaxed Julia to take the pill. As we stood guard, I started feeling better, and more alert. My head stopped spinning, and I could focus again. Julia got up, and gasped at the sight of all the dead bodies.

"You still ready for this," asked Misty, and Julia nodded.

"I'm not afraid," she said, even though we could all see her trembling. "Let's go." She started leaning hard to the left and Misty propped her up.

We peered out the door. For the moment all the zombies in range seemed occupied. "We've got to move fast," said Ellie, "before they can reload the zombie ray."

We started scampering down the street, stepping around the mutilated bodies and pools of blood. Screams and growls came from all the buildings surrounding us. Piles of damaged and steaming cars littered the street, some with zombies inside beating senselessly against the windows, unable to manipulate a simple door handle. As we approached one car, the window busted open, and the bloodied zombie crawled out on broken arms. It spotted us and started ambling towards us, but Ellie felled it with a single shot to the head.

A thick drizzle settled in on us. "Is the weather always like this," I asked aloud.

"Where do you think I got my name," replied Misty. "Apparently moments after I was born, my dad looked outside and said, 'it sure is misty out there,' and my mom loved it. It wasn't even a name on their short list."

"I'm sorry," I responded.

"Nah, it's better than 'Choon-Hee' which was their original choice. Shit, look up there."

A group of zombies seemed to be milling about.

"Why aren't they attacking anyone," I wondered. "Are they recovering."

A woman began running down the street, somehow not zombified. The group spotted her and began chasing her. She screamed and ran harder, but tripped over a body and went down. Instantly the group pounced on her, and in moments I could see fingers and entrails raining out from her body. Momentarily satisfied, the group stood back up, surveying the street.

"They're forming packs? This is not good," said Ellie. "Come on, before they spot us."

We slipped around a corner, trotting towards the river. Either the pill Ellie handed me began wearing off, or the alcohol continued to flood into my system, because I started feeling a bit drunk again. It became hard to run in a straight line. Julia bumped into me and we both fell down into the wet street.

"Hee hee," she giggled, her eyes a bit glazed. She started speaking in incomprehensible Tagalog, singing something. She wrapped her arms around Rod who helped us up.

"Rod," she started saying, "Rod, Rod, Rod."

"Fight it," said Ellie, not looking so steady herself. "Behind you!"

A group of about 5 zombies charged us. Ellie fired on them, missing our heads by inches. The last one dropped right at our feet. "Dammit," she cried, "I can't fucking shoot straight. We've gotta get sober! And those were all the pills I had."

We began to lean on each other for support, like a group of drunk partiers. Misty started singing, "As I walk through, this wicked world."

"Ssh!" said Ellie.

"Wait...I know this one," I said. "Um..."

Misty continued, "searching for light in the darkness of insanity."

Rod picked it up. "I ask myself, is all hope lost? Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?"

"Guys, knock it off," hissed Ellie.

We all joined in, "And each time I feel like this inside, there's just one thing I want to know: What's so funny 'bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?
What's so funny 'bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?"

The last lines we shouted out into the gathering night. Ellie blasted at oncoming zombies.

"As I walk on, through troubled times, my spirit gets so downhearted sometimes."

We shouted the next lines: "Where are the strong?? Who are the trusted? Where is the harmony? Sweet harmony?"

"Shut the fuck up," screamed Ellie. "Look behind you!"

We turned around to find about thirty zombies closing in on us. We clumsily reach for our weapons, almost knocking each other down. I tried firing but nothing happened. I fiddled with the safety and released it. At about ten feet distance, I emptied my gun into the oncoming screaming mass. In a moment, they all lay down on the ground. Then slowly, they started picking themselves up.

"Head shots," yelled Ellie, firing down the street at another approaching group.

I reloaded my gun, and this time took careful aim, dropping them one at a time. The assault seemed to clear my head a bit.

"Move it," we're about a block away from the river now." We sprinted down the street as the rain increased. The zombie ray had knocked out all power to London, but the suburbs still lit the clouds enough for us to see. Ellie didn't want us to use headlamps.

At last we made the river, and started heading East towards the remains of the Tower bridge. We saw no signs of British or Chinese forces, except some abandoned military vehicles and some corpses that could have been soldiers. Hard to tell in the dim light.

We made decent progress, then we came to the Blackfriars Bridge underpass. Ellie switched on a small light to see through the impenetrable darkness. Julia pressed close to us. We passed through the first one without incident, but under the second bridge we heard some rustling. Ellie held up her hand. "Lights," she whispered, and we turned them on. Surrounding us were dozens of faces, peering out from the dark. Only now do I remember hearing that some zombies just like to lie in wait, springing on unsuspecting prey. As one the horde screamed and jumped out at us. As one we opened fire with everything we had, completely surrounded.

We formed a ring with Julie in the middle. Inside the tunnel, the sound of guns deafened us, and the only light came from the muzzle flashes of our guns. I shot at all the faces I could see. My gun clicked, and I stepped into the ring to reload, coming out again to fire. Still they came, some with missing limbs, some with holes in their heads but not completely dead, most with blood pouring out of their bodies. The carnage was unbelievable. The pavement pooled with their blood.

"This way," shouted Ellie. We walked our little ring East, trying to get out of the tunnel. The way beyond seemed clear. My gun emptied again, but before I could reload, one of the zombies snatched it from me, and I stood face to face with a crazed man reaching for my throat. I whipped out a pistol and shot him between the eyes. One of them jumped towards me. I shot this one too, but his momentum carried him into me and knocked me and Julia down. Rob turned to help us up, but two zombies grabbed his waist and pulled him away. I heard him screaming somewhere in the dark.

"Rod!" screamed Julia. "Rod! Someone help Rod!"

I shot into the darkness, hoping to hit something and save Rod. We shot like crazy, beating off the zombies for a moment, and climbing over the bodies to find Rod. We discovered him crumpled in the corner, bleeding from a dozen places, a knife in his hand.

"You good," I asked him, and he nodded. He screamed when he tried to put weight on his foot.

Ellie knelt down and felt it. "Broken. Come on, help him."

Misty and I put his arms around our shoulders, and carried him out of the tunnel. We hadn't gone fifty yards when Julia screamed. A huge horde of zombies ran towards us, down from White Lion Hill.

"Give me your guns and leave me here," said Rod. I'll fight them off, you run. The river walk looks clear."

It looked like every zombie in the city converged on our position.

"No!" screamed Julia. "We can make it."

Rod sat down painfully, and held Julia's hand. "Julia, I have to. It's the only way. You can't carry me. I'll be alright. I want you to live. Please. Now go, before they spot you."

"Come on, Julia, please," begged Misty. "It's the only way."

Julia tore herself away from Rod. We handed him a pile of everything that could fire a bullet, and ran down the river walk. In a moment, we heard firing from behind us. Rod shot and shot, and then, silence. Only the screams of the zombies filled the night.

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008 @ 11:19 PM

Nuclear Thanksgiving Part I

Nuclear Thanksgiving Part I

I've been saying all along, and I'm repeating it now: I am not a terrorist. Yes, I am involved. I participated. It's because I've been trying to stop it, to prevent these kinds of things from happening. Yes, maybe there were times where I could have just run away, thrown up my hands and refused to be a part. Last year I had the excuse that I didn't really know what was going on. This time...I don't know. I never wanted to see anyone hurt, so I've been doing my best to prevent the ultimate disaster: the destruction of the entire planet. And yesterday, that almost happened.

So let's go back to yesterday morning, and I'll try to explain the day's horrific events as best I can.

Misty and Julia had crawled into a bed and huddled together, trying to warm up and get some rest. Rod found another bed to lay down in, after taking a quick shower. My mind raced a mile a minute. The only thing I really wanted to do at that point was to jump on a plane and return to San Francisco and try to return to some kind of a normal life. I finally lay down next to Misty, but no sooner had I closed my eyes when a hand began shaking me.

Ellie stood over me, now dressed in her black SWAT-type outfit, her hair pulled back in a tight pony tail. She motioned me to follow her, and leave the others to rest. I looked at my watch, and couldn't believe I had slept half a day. It was already after noon. She led me to a room where I met Cmdr. Jeffries, General Tam, and a few other military types. They all greeted me warmly.

Ellie started. "Alex, tell them what you think the condition of the ship is at the moment."

I cleared my throat. "Right now they're stuck. If you keep the river low, they can't move. However, they are able to maintain enough coolant aboard to power the zombie ray. I'm surprised they haven't used it yet."

"Bollix," said Jeffries. "This damn rain will cause the flood gates to fail and the river will rise again. How long does it take before they can re-fire?"

I shook my head. "It only takes a few minutes for the Matrix to cool down enough to fire again. But they'll need to reload the coolant tank. They were working on cutting an alternative intake system, but that may take a while. Remember, cooling this thing is like cooling down a nuclear explosion, it take an enormous amount of water. Not only that, they have to evacuate the entire ship into the Palace and stay there while the Matrix cools before they can resume work. They may be waiting for the river to rise before they act."

Ellie and Jeffries exchanged a look. "Alex," she asked, "did you find a way to destroy the singularity? What are our options?"

I sighed. "You might as well try to destroy the Sun. The only way I can think of is to shoot it off into outer space, out of the Solar System. You'd have to shoot the whole containment system, which weighs several tons. Remember though, if the containment system loses power, even for a moment, the Earth is doomed. The singularity could swallow the whole world."

Ellie asked, "so our best bet is to seize control of the ship, and keep the Matrix powered up at all times?"

I nodded. Something nagged at the back of my head though. "That's like living with gun to your head, never knowing when it will go off, because given enough time, it probably will. And talk about your tempting terrorist targets. After what Carrie's done with it, there's not a country in the world who wouldn't want to capture this power."

"Then it's set," said Jeffries. "We must take the boat at all costs."

"Well," I reminded them, "if you back them into a corner, they may panic. Fire it without coolant, blow the whole thing sky high, and then who knows what the Singularity will do after the meltdown."

"That's where you and your team comes in," said Ellie. "We need you to get in there and shut it down safely, and prevent them from scuttling the whole thing."

I sprang up and raised my hands. "No. No. No way. We are not going back there. We have been putting our lives on the line for far too long. I'll give you all the information you need, but I am not stepping foot on that goddamn boat ever again."

Ellie stood up. "Can you all excuse us for a minute?" She waited while the others filed out of the room. After the door shut she put a hand on my shoulder. "Please Alex, sit down and talk to me."

I grudgingly sat down and put my head in my hands. "I am so damn tired, Ellie. My life has been put on hold now for a year. And the last few weeks, my life could have ended at any moment. It's not fair. We've suffered so much, and I just can't do it any more. I just want Misty and Julie and I to go somewhere and be safe and happy."

Ellie sat quietly for a moment, then breathed heavily. "So you really like Misty. Do you love her?"

I nodded. Ellie lifted my chin and caught my gaze. "Then listen to me, Alex. If you want love, and if you want happiness, then you need to be willing to sacrifice everything for it. I know you're tired, I know you're scared, I know you've done everything asked of you and more. We need your help. You know Carrie better than anyone, you know the Matrix better than anyone. I'll be there with you, I'll make sure no one gets hurt. I know I've let you down in the past, and I truly regret that. I've had a lot of time to think in the last few days, stuck up in that machinery room. One thing I've realized is that I, too, have been stuck in a rut, not being the person I want to be, fooling myself into thinking I could escape myself. Ever since I first met you I've been running away from myself. I swear that if we get through this, I'm going to start making things right. We need to do this, you and me. We need to make our stand, do what's right, and blowing fucking Carrie Park away. Are you with me?"

I looked at her for a moment. I've been running, too. Ever since the day that I was involved in ruining Carrie's life, way back in High School. I ran from that responsibility, I ran away from dealing with the Infinitae incident, and I've been running away from dealing with the Singularity Matrix and preventing the destruction of the world.

"Okay," I said quietly. "Let's do this. I want this thing ended."

Ellie grabbed my hands, and then hugged me. "We'll get through this. We have to. And then we'll figure out a way to get our lives back."

After bringing back the brass and discussing a few things, we called Misty and Rod back to the planning room. They seemed a bit groggy but at least somewhat rested. I took Misty aside for a moment.

"You're okay with going back to the ship," I asked her.

"I don't love the idea, but I'll do whatever it takes to stop that monster," she stated.

"You're not afraid we could all die?"

"Terrified. But Alex, I didn't volunteer for this whole thing to back out at the end. I need to see this thing through. I owe it to my country. Don't you feel like we need to do this?"

"You know," I said, "I never volunteered for any of this. From the first moment, I've been manipulated, lied to, and forced into these situations. I've never had a choice. This has all been thrust onto me."

Misty looked at me for a moment, and took my hands. "Well, Alex, I'm sorry for that. I know you're not an agent, I know it's not your responsibility to deal with all this. I'm so grateful for everything you've done. You've carried yourself so well, even in your darkest moments. I think you simply are underestimating yourself. You've been there for me and Julia and Rod so many times, and we owe you our lives. We can never repay you for what you've done. You're a special person, you really are. We're counting on you now. I know you can do it, I know that deep inside you're brave and noble and ready to deal with whatever comes. I love you Alex, and if I'm going into the bowels of Hell there's no one else I'd want at my side."

I think that was the moment it finally struck me: this was a do-or-die time, for everyone. No more plotting and planning, no more watching and waiting. We had to strike, we had to conclude it. This might be the final moments of all mankind. Everything had to be put on the table, nothing held back.

"I love you too, Misty, and there's no one else I'd rather be with at the gates of Hell. Well, let's descend into Hell then. I'm ready." We hugged, and I kissed her for a moment.

The team discussed a few more things, and finally Ellie said, "we leave in 20 minutes, at 1530. I'll have your gear sent to your room."

We returned to the room and ate a quick meal. I wished it had been turkey and stuffing instead of chicken and rice but it was filling. Ellie arrived after a few minutes and sat with us.

"How is everyone feeling? Are we ready to go?"

We nodded.

"I want to go too," said Julia, eyeing our equipment.

"Julia," said Misty, "it's too dangerous. I want to keep you safe."

"No! I don't want to leave you. I want to go with you. I'm not afraid," insisted the girl.

"Julia, we've got to keep you safe. They can protect you here. I don't want you in danger any more."

"NO!" shrieked the girl, looking around. "Don't leave me here, please! I do whatever you say, just don't leave me. Please." Tears streamed down her face and she clutched Misty's shirt.

"Alex, can you talk to her," asked Misty, turning to me.

"Julie," I said, "we're doing this for you, so you can have a life, so everyone can have a life. We just want what's best for you."

"NO!" She screamed. "No, no, NOOOO!" She shrieked in such a high pitch I thought my ears would bleed.

"Hold it," shouted Ellie. "Everyone listen to me. Julia, dear, would you rather be dead than be without Alex and Misty?"

The girl nodded emphatically. "You want to be part of a family? You want to be with Alex and Misty forever? Do you love them like parents?"

Julia nodded. "Yes, yes, they are so good to me. They are the best people I know."

Ellie announced, "then I say she comes along."

Julia squealed and shook Misty's arm. "Please, please Miss Misty?"

"Are you daft," cried Misty, jumping to her feet.

Ellie rose slowly to face her. "She's about the same age I was when I started down this path. She's got as much at stake as anyone. If her choice is to stand and fight with us, I'd be hypocritical to not support that. And you two. What exactly is your plan for her? She has no home, no family. What are you going to do when this is all over? She needs a family. She needs support. Do you guys want to be together? Do you want to be a family? Let's get it all out on the table."

Misty turned to face me. I looked at her and at Julia. Misty seemed speechless.

"Yes," I said. "If Misty will have me, after all we've been through, then I want us to be a family. What do you say, Misty?"

Her mouth moved, searching for words, and then looked around the room. "Alex, are you saying what I think you're saying?"

I looked around as well. Rod and Ellie and Julia nodded at me. "Yes, yes. Misty, I want us to be together. Forever. I want us to be a family, and I want Julia to be our adopted daughter. I don't think I'd want to go on living without you two, you've made me become a much better person than I would have been otherwise. Misty, you're my whole world."

I took a deep breath, then got down on one knee. "Misty, will you be my wife? Will you marry me?"

Misty grabbed her face for a moment. "Oh, Alex. Yes. Yes, I'll be your wife. Yes, I'll marry you."

I got up and we embraced, as tears filled both our eyes. Even Ellie wiped away a tear.

"Okay," said Ellie, "we're running late. Let me grab some equipment for Julia. You guys are now officially a family, and you're going to live and die as a family."

"Hold on," said Misty. "One last thing. I want you and Rod to be Julia's Godparents, just in case anything happens."

They both agreed heartily.

Ellie grabbed some clothes and returned momentarily. She talked to Julia as she dressed her.

"Now Julia, I want you to stay close to Alex and Misty at all times. If you hear any guns, get as close to the ground as you can, and make yourself small. Hide under something solid. If Misty and Alex are dead, and you're afraid of being captured, there's a small gun in your back pocket they don't know about. Just put it to your head and pull the trigger. I promise you won't feel a thing. Here's a knife, some flashlights, a radio, energy bars, some flares, and a map. I don't think you'll need most of that stuff. Oh, and here is your bottle of liquor. If you hear an air-raid siren, it means that we think they're about to set off the zombie ray. Drink it as fast as you can. I put a bunch of sweetener in it so hopefully you can do it."

"Thank you Miss Ellie," she said, feeling all the little pockets in her bullet-proof vest. "What if I get scared? What if I freeze up like I did jumping into the river?"

Ellie smiled and hugged the girl. "It's okay to be scared. I'm scared all the time. I know you're a very brave girl, otherwise you couldn't have survived what you did. Look at everything you went through. Most kids would have fallen apart. I think you might be a little like me. A fighter. Are you ready?"

Julia nodded.

"Okay everyone," Ellie announced. "It's time to go save the world. Let's go."

I took Misty's hand and squeezed it, then Julia came over and hugged both of us. One way or another we were going to see this thing through.

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008 @ 3:08 PM