Chapter 1— The Crusader

“On this ground I lay motionless in pain
I can see my life flashing before my eyes
Then I fall asleep
Is this all a dream?
Wake me up,
I’m living a nightmare”

Three Days Grace—Time Of Dying

Recently Earth has suffered a population boost—due to augmentation availability to anyone at the price of a computer many people started to live over several hundred years, theoretically to eternity. This, however, didn’t stop them from having children, who, in turn, were also augmented to be nearly-immortal from birth, thus boosting Earth’s population to 20 billion people by 2140s. That caused famine, even though UCs were manufacturing tons of food every day out of air. As a result of the population boost new cities appeared in Canada, Australia, Russia, Alaska and The Midwest and the West of the United States of America. Those new cities were founded by Helios to host billions of immigrants from overpopulated regions and thus to keep population density more or less equal everywhere in the world. The poles were also populated. We made it easier to lived there by setting up arcologies—cities in one building, like one in Cairo and SkyCity in Japan. To lure people to live there we had to create working spaces with high salary. Although poverty was long eliminated by absolving the tax institution, people really went to places like Greenland and the whole new Antarctica continent because it’s never too bad to have a bit more money. The biggest arcology (the word is derived from “architecture” and “ecology”), was build on the Shackleton Ice Shelf, right on the spot JC Denton’s sanctuary after the Collapse was.
There was another major issue—the ecological problem. The warnings of 20-century scientists proved right—the global warming was hard to stop even with nanites. Of course Paul’s ApostleCorp, where I also had a prominent share, was working hard in patching the ozone hole, and as a matter of fact we were quite successful, but we were already too late—the Global Warming hit Earth even before we established the one-world government of Helios, So we had to build dams around the major port cities of the world including New York, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and the whole of the Netherlands. The Thames was also to be separated from the ocean by a dam. The normal temperature was now kept only by the means of nanotechnology—nanites and nanoformer bots were doing their best to preserve the main climate zones around the world, including the preservation of warmth the Gulf-stream was responsible for a century ago. Mars, on the contrary, was flourishing in a manner of speaking. Even though the overall state of climate, temperature and atmospheric pressure were less of advantage than those of Earth, the Red Planet was showing great progress in terraformation. Earth, however, was struggling to preserve its nature. Both processes were tremendous and hard to achieve.
There were some differences in coping with other problems. For instance, in the Middle of Nowhere there was no democracy and freedom. There was only one party—the Secret Council of 6. On Earth we had the same situation in the economic area—ApostleCorp became a thrust in 2072, but on request of people, Helios reestablished the anti-trust law that was first introduced in the USA in the nineteenth century, so another nanotech company emerged. It was American Industries. Together, the two giants worked to save the world.
Deep in the East corner of the fault of Valles Marineris, 5000 meters below Martian surface, The Middle of Nowhere, or Medionusquam lies untouchable. The location for a new city was picked out very carefully and prudently. This corner is located in the southern hemisphere, where temperatures can reach 54.0 °F warmer than in the northern hemisphere. The warmest temperature on Mars does not exceed 81 °F, and that happens in that particulars place, while the average temperature on the red planet is -50 °F, which is an increase from 2000s’ -67 °F. The seventeen degrees was a major progress made due to terraforming from the Middle of Nowhere and a couple of military installations of the OPM, and Ares-3 military base of the United States and numerous scientific bases. Being five kilometers below the “sea level”, the atmospheric pressure is higher than on most places on the planet. The few exceptions include several small craters and a large plain, Hellas Planitia, where the atmospheric pressure is high enough to keep water liquid, provided it’s warm enough. In fear, that we might attack them, as if we intended, the OPM established the colony in a rocky landscape, and, in order to make the atmospheric pressure high enough to keep water liquid, they excavated the bottom of the Valley of Mariner down to several kilometers more, so that not only the Omar cyborgs, who do not require air of normal pressure, can live.
That is all our intelligence could ever have gathered. Now it was up to me and JC, NSF’s top agents. It was spectacular to see Mars through the windscreen of our spacecraft; it seemed that if was falling right on us. I’d been to Mars several times before that, and now I was flying there for the third time. Not that every time was like a vacation. The first time I’ve been to Mars was in 2076, when I lost the UFO’s first piece and had to help my army against the OPM in the first battle of the war.
The second time was a supervision of one of ApostleCorp’s scientific bases that were working to form a thick atmosphere.
Now I was on a mission again. Despite all the hostilities, I’ve been anticipating the return on the reviving planet. I’ve always admired Martian desert landscape and the fact it is the third space body humanity now inhabits. The Moon was inhabited even before the collapse, I’ve been there myself on a mission for X-51. Since the Great Advance we’ve been actively colonizing the Moon with permanent scientific bases and tourist facilities, but any attempt to build a real residential city resulted in failure due to bad environmental conditions and an even more perilous danger—Ophelia, the military space station of the OPM. The dark side of the Moon was always watched by this station, and we never could even approach there, because every time we did it, the station sent battleships. Rumors were that on the dark side there were even the OPM’s settlements that they were protecting. Occasionally the station even sent scavengers on our side of the Earth’s satellite, but Ophelia would not risk showing up where Helios’ defense was set up, and various defense satellites could attack it in response. All in all, the Earth was in kind of a blockade, so we never sent manned missions to other bodies of the Solar system than the Moon or Mars.
JC and I approached a thick cloud over the Middle of Nowhere that had been covering it from our intelligence for many years. I didn’t know where we would fall. I just put my confidence in a thing that had never let me down. My biomods. They, as anything electronic on Earth, were a part of Helios’ grid, but they were working on me in the first place, and Helios could not turn them aggressive or inactive. I was sure he wanted as much, but they were older than the A.I., and perhaps of that they obeyed me, unlike other biomodified people. JC and Paul were not among everybody else. Their biomods were even more ancient than mine, and that is why we often refer to them as “augmentations”, than biomods.
It was time to eject and let the craft find its way to Ares-3, the nearest, and only military installation of the US on Mars. I’ve been in a freefall for a very long time. Maybe ten minutes. I didn’t need a special suit to breathe on Mars or to protect myself from the low pressure. I had biomods to do that for me. JC as well. I neither felt the extreme cold. As soon as I had turned the environmental resistance, I felt nothing at all. I became absolutely numb. When I entered what lied beneath the great cloud, I lost my vision—everything was dark, with a thick mass of snowflakes falling down with me. Falling down in hell.
I saw the ground very suddenly, and I picked a good sight to land right away. I notified JC via infolink that I wasn’t to land on the roof of one of the buildings, that I supposed to be residential, but couldn’t be sure. I was right, though, and landed effortlessly on the top with the help of the gravitation aug. JC did the same thing sharing my aug with a brand new American Ind. invention—the biomod synchronizer. It works much like Bluetooth headphones. If there’s an aug JC doesn’t have, like gravitation, I synchronize with him and share my augmentations and vice versa. JC wasn’t used to my augs, though, and landed clumsier, on a pile of boxes on the top of the roof. I looked over the city.
It was a horrid view, worthy of being a cover picture for Dante’s ‘Hell’. A heavy snowfall combined with high flames from numerous factory pipes that were working to keep the city warm enough to survive. I could see a roughly dozen people down on the street walking without special protection, and my sensors said it was safe to travel without environmental resistance on, so I switched it off to avoid running low on bioenergy. Now we had no time to waste. I found the tallest structure in the city we could see—the presumed Uber Alles’ palace.
It was an immense structure stood, a pyramid, as if reconstructed from the one dollar bill—the ancient symbol of the Illuminati. It was rising high into the sky of Mars, or, better to say, up to the surface, like this city was deep below, like hell. Like frozen hell. It reminded me of Russia—where I had been living for 20 years. It was snowing just like in Russia, but still Mars was different—the capital and the only city of the OPM never saw daylight. Only on the outskirts of the city people could see the Sun, the outskirts that were well-guarded, inhabited, except for military personnel. But since Uber Alles introduced universal obligatory conscription, soldiers contributed 70% of Medionusqvam’s population. I wondered if on the top that great pyramid one could see those places—and the Sun. I tried to take a better look on the top of the pyramid, where the eye was supposed to be, but I couldn’t see a thing in the sky, for the top was lost in the clouds, which made it look even higher than the ApostleCorp towers in New York and Los Angeles. But it was just an illusion born by the ignorance that the snow brought. The fact that we knew was that the ApostleCorp towers both have the height of exactly 5 kilometers, while the Palace of Über Alles must have been something like a kilometer high, but also a kilometer wide at the base. The pinnacle of the pyramid was crowned by an enormous greedy hand of Majestic-12, pointed into the sky, half concealed by the clouds.
As for the snow, I was wrong to think it was frozen water. At least not even a half of it. There was very little water in the Middle of Nowhere, and the flakes turned out to be nanites. Every day the forecast said tomorrow nanite clouds are expected with 100% chance of nanite snow. Artificial hazard only added to the natural dangers of the red planet, no doubt there was a Grey Death or another Nanite Swell epidemic. No man could live in these conditions, only monsters, the demons of Frozen Hell. Down on the streets I could only see a few Omar cyborgs and grays.
“So.” JC started. “How the hell are we going to get in the palace?”
That was the question. Put very adequately—how the hell…
At the speed of snowstorm my nanites covered the area and the pyramid. The sixth sense was on. My modified brain analyzed the situation and gave out three ways to get inside the palace—the main entrance used for military parades; a maintenance tunnel from the other side of the pyramid; and by walking on the tilted walls.
I could forget about the main gate—I didn’t want to make this hive angry from the very start. The maintenance tunnel was blocked by bars and monitored by cameras and protected by booby-traps. Two men walking on the walls would attract a lot of attention too, besides, JC didn’t have the gravitation biomod, although I could try synchronizing. Then I took another look around. The rooftops were all over the place, and many high rise buildings were just across the street from the palace. Keeping in mind Mars’ lower gravity combined with my gravitation and JC’s speed enhancement, I picked another way to penetrate the imperial residence—jumping from rooftop to rooftop on a helipad located some 20 floors above the ground, almost the base of the structure. Although the building was solid concrete with no windows, under the helipad I could see the only set of windows put vertically unlike the rest of the walls.
“Follow me.” I breathed a long stream out.
It was a sensation of lightness when I first jumped without the help of my augmentations. The test with biomods was an even more amazing feeling. With no fear I jumped from one building to the other, JC moving closely. Then I made it for the helipad on the pyramid. It was much lower that the rooftop of the skyscraper I was jumping from, but JC overjumped it several stories higher, while I landed successfully at the helipad. JC had to roll a couple of dozen feet before he steadied himself. Making sure nobody noticed that, I approached a door which led inside. It was protected by a keypad, but I had a multitool under my coat to help me with that. I wanted to step inside, but JC held me by the shoulder—there was a laser grid. Besides, I spotted a guard in black armor and big guns on the stairs inside. Having decided not no try my luck, I closed that door and tried the elevator next to it. The shaft connected the helipad to the penthouse, obviously Uber Alles’ residence. Jumping down in the shaft I stopped at the nearest doors. JC did the same thing, and I gestured him to open the doors. JC’s microfibral muscles slid the elevator doors open, and the next moment both of us were standing in an empty room. That turned out to be maintenance room, dimly enlightened.
“I can't believe, we made it in!” I heard computerized whisper of JC.
“You sure we weren't spotted? Ok. Looks like Uber Alles' quarters are somewhere close...” I scanned the wing with the 6th sense biomod. It spit millions of nanites in the area of one cube kilometer—exactly the volume of the palace. On the top level there was the hangar of Lord Protector Über Alles. We were in the maintenance room of the 19th level. On the same level there were the bar, the cinema and other entertainment for Über Alles. I also noticed a small room. A dark room, with a wooden chair in the middle. The use of this room was obvious, and it hardly was a joke, even when I felt a baseball bat on the floor. Uber Alles could never joke. On the floor above us was the private Über Alles sleeping quarters, and one level higher I felt a conference room. I notified JC about that. To see anything else was beyond my augmented vision abilities, but I didn’t need it. I was unable to find Über Alles, but I had never been able to do it before, for Über Alles had some kind of a protection against this kind of augmentation, supposedly the stealth augmentation.
“You wait here, DX, I’m gonna place the bugs myself, because there’s laser alarms all over the place, and I can turn invisible to them. You wait here and warn me if we got problems.”
“As you wish, JC” I approved. Then he left. He was absent for only 3 minutes when I noticed something perilous—a group of 4 or 5 people was approaching our wing.
“We have guests. Move your butt!” I sent a transmission. As JC was finishing, I felt the guests clearer. There was an Omar cyborg; a person with an old-fashioned hat and a coat, who looked like one of those early 20 century detectives or spies; a priest; a person with the Knights Templar insignia and…Bob Page! Just when I finished examining the Templar, who had seemed very familiar to me, the door on the maintenance floor opened and JC stepped inside.
“Good job, JC! I got the picture.” I said putting out my PDA that was connected to the bugs.
“Quiet!” He silenced me. “I got the signal. They’re in. Über Alles and someone else...maybe even the secret council of 6.” I looked down at the PDA screen. Three bugs were placed in the entrance hall, near the portrait of Walton Simons; the other gave a good view on the living room, a spacious richly-furnished quarters with the only windows in the building and portraits of other two bad-ass cold-blooded villains—Anna Navarre and Herman Gunther, JC Denton’s psychopathic ex-partner and her boyfriend, who literally had balls of steel. The last was placed in the conference room. The first camera showed as the penthouse elevator’s doors slid open, and the group of people I’d seen previously entered the suit. And then I saw him—Uber Alles crossed the hall, then the living room, and finally the conference room and sat right in front the nanoscopic camera, his back facing the bug.
“My servants!” A deep, cold voice echoed from the speaker. It was so unexpectedly loud I had to tell JC off for jeopardizing our operation by turning the sound up so loud. “Members of this noble council of the selected of the best! I have something important to discuss with you.” What luck! We were just in time for a closed conference of the Secret Council of 6! It all was there—all six of them! Has any mortal ever seen them all? But I and JC were IMmortal…and we were lucky immortals, weren’t we? I was wondering why they spoke in English? Everybody I encountered so far in the Middle of Nowhere spoke Latin, but that language was not the language of that Council, as far as I could say. The Lord Protector continued. “I believe the time has finally come. We have been in the shadows for too long. We have been working to terraform this planet for 80 years, and in that time we reached so much we have created the biggest and the most glorious city in the universe—Medionusqvam. All the people of Earth that founded our great city have already perished, and now the only living real people that have seen Earth are me, Peter and James.” He pointed at the priest and the templar that were sitting close to each other and I let go a silent sigh—it was unbelievable, but there they were, just like Alex D supposed. The Peter and James that were there in the X-Ʒ when it was just formed by the executive order of the President of the United States to assist the CIA in the War on Terror! Did they remember the time? We all thought they were dead, and now I was happy to see my old friends. Even in the Secret Council of the OPM. I continued listening. “The OPM will rise against humanity. We have parted completely from humanity, and we proudly call ourselves Martians! The time has come to invade the Earth and make them respect us. Make them serve us! There will be only one kin of people. As our ancestors from the mysterious and faraway First World we will dominate the Universe once again! But first we must erase the old predecessors and restore the ancient tradition of shifting our species from planet to planet! Let us prove that Mars deserves the name of the fifth world!”
“What should we say to the people, Lord Protector?” asked Peter, the Japanese Templar, who in his former life was a brave US marine and who was chosen from all the soldiers of the United States Marine Corps as the strongest physically and morally to join the augmentation project. “They have been asking me the official theory of where really we must search for the First World?”
“The First World must be located far away, perhaps even in another Galaxy.” The Lord Protector supposed.
“That is not enough, sir. Maybe we should say Venus was that First World? Our scientists certainly discovered it was inhabited by men like us millions of years ago, our people are so excited that we sent men to Venus and organized a base there before the one-world Earth government, before the United States. We’ve already lied to them so many times it doesn’t seem to matter anymore.”
“Silence, Templar!” The man in the coat and a hat barked. “You heard the Lord Protector, how dare you ask his justice?”
“Þ[1]is right, Peter. I know what I am doing.” Alles told Peter.
“Lemme tell ya da opinion o’ da Priory of Sion and da church” I was so glad to hear another familiar voice—the one that belonged to James, the black kind man who had been a poor homeless person when I met him, but when the Illuminati took him from the streets of New York to perform experiments on him it changed his life for better due to the success of the augmentation project. James had always been very religious and now he was in charge of the religious matters for the OPM. “People don’t even know what they are going to fight for, we must not invade Earth, isn’t there enough blood spilt?”
“No need, Þ.”  Über Alles abruptly prevented the “detective guy” from interfering again. “James, James, James…you’re a nice guy, but don’t forget I PAY you to do what I say.”
“Ok, ok, jus’ expressing ma opinion, know what I’m sayin’?” James D said. I still didn’t understand why he worked for Über Alles. Suddenly I noticed a cat creeping to the camera, probably it belonged to the Lord Protector, a rough compatibility. The cat seemed to be interested in our nano-camera. Maybe cats and some other animals can see or feel some other was things people can’t. The cat stretched in front of the camera, which was located over the chair of the Lord Protector.
“Stand back, kitty!” I said in the maintenance hatch, full of apprehension it might spoil our plan. Then Über Alles noticed the cat and stretched his arm to take it by its back. The cat became angry and it ran away.
“What did I do?” I heard the leader of the OPM in the PDA.
“He makes it better.” JC noticed Über Alles’ sinister manners and appearance that could scare the hell out of even a cat.
“Fine.” Über continued. “Now back to our victory. Rjol, I want you to report me what was the answer of Reney on my generous proposal.”
“You know what he said.” Replied the ghost of Bob Page. The alien on Liberty Island said the truth. Bob Page was only one of many masks of Rjol, the gray. “What, you expected him to listen to me?”
“I thought you were brothers.”
“You didn’t know Reney. He’s hard to cooperate. He doesn’t want his machine to work again.”
“You disappoint me, Rjol!”
“Listen, I can’t do a thing with him, so what are you going to do about it? You can’t kill me! And can’t free me either. I created you, I gave you life, and you made me your slave!”
“You would probably do the same thing.” Über Alles turned to the man called Thorn, whose name, as I found out later was spelled into one Old English Runic letter—Þ.  This tough-looking guy was standing on the right from Über Alles and was the only person in the room standing. “Þ, remind me to punish Rjol later tonight.”
“Aye, sir.” His bodyguard said.
“You all should follow the steps of Þ!” The Lord Protector began to glorify his bodyguard. “I appointed him my personal bodyguard and the leader of the Illuminati precisely because he’s cooperative.”
“My Lord, I am but a humble servant”
            “This is what I was talking about. Now what should I do with Reney? I’m gonna teach the bastard a lesson not to mess with me. I’m gonna make sure no one will awaken him again. Peter D!” He applied to one of the Denton clones. I noticed this “D” instead of the second name. I was sure Über Alles knew exactly what it means, but I made a correct guess that neither Peter nor James had known that they are Dentons. “I order you to order your men to guard the Key in the Castle of the Knights Templar.”
            “But Sir,” Peter objected, “I thought the machine of Reney would lead us to victory...”
            “Silence! Our scanners noticed no machinery in the palace. It was destroyed. And Reney refused to help. This is his punishment. Another 200 years of prison.”
“Good justice Mr. Lord Protector. But how are we going to defeat the US?” Asked Þ, the leader of the Illuminati of the 22nd century.
“The question is WHERE, my servant. And the answer is…everywhere. We attack every Marian colony of the US, crash their military bases, destroy their Earth satellite defense with the power of Ophelia Space Castle, and invade the Earth. We’ll bring about Ragnarok! We’ll bring about Apocalypse!” That was big words and I wanted to hear how exactly he was going to destroy mankind.
“That’s only words!” objected Rjol in the appearance of a ghost of Bob Page. “You don’t even have the sufficient military power!”
“Oh, yeah? Well, I’ll let Asmodeus speak. He will explain everything.”
Asmodeus was the Omar guy and he was sitting at the right side of Über Alles. He didn’t look like most Omars. He had a strange part of the body even for the Omar—the tail. He stood up and started a speech.
“I’ve just had a communication with brothers Neon and Argon and received their report on the progress of creating the army of hybrids, mutants of the gray and the man. Just 5 years ago we had only 100 experimental monsters, but now we have created more than 10 millions. The experiment on population of Medionusqvam exceeded all our expectations: hybrids know no mercy, no fear, they will not betray, as they have no thoughts and merely an animal’s mind. They are well-resisted to bullets and they are hungry. The army of hybrids is being created at Panopticon, there on the surface, at the military base run by Commander Kabanov. The hybrids are under total control of the Omar organization. No defection is possible. The United States will have no chance against the army of hybrids of gray’s abilities and man’s survivability. And soon I will be the master of the Universe” Asmodeus certainly found it funny to be the master of everything.
            “You meant to say ''we'' will be its masters, didn't you, Asmodeus?” Über Alles pronounced with a sinister intonation.
“Yes, of course, Uber Alles. I made a mistake. Но рано или поздно ты всё равно склонишься передо мной[2].” Asmodeus’ face was inaccessible and invisible, the gas mask all Omar cyborgs wear as a part of their face after phase I of horrific Omar mutation. Poor Leo Jankowsky was fooled by this organization in 2072 and he still wasn’t able to remove some parts of his frogsuit, but he managed to escape phase 2 with the aid of Alex D, and he was saved from the worst. But his words said everything—Asmodeus was going to betray Uber Alles, but no one spoke Russian to understand what he was saying. No one except for me.
From becoming a part of Asmodeus.
“That’s more like it, Asmodeus. You should work on your English or Latin, because here in the Middle of Nowhere people do not understand your Cyrillic opcodes. Now all—remember, you have time to get your men in position by December 19. Now to the next point of our agenda. The most important today.” I was intrigued. What could be more important than warning about the end of the world 4 days in advance? “I also want to find and capture DX Denton. And JC Denton.” I looked into the eyes of JC, covered with a pair of shades, and he looked in mine. “I want their heads on my table as soon as possible. “Luckily, I had my agent sell a Trojan horse to DX Denton—the Apache he presented to JC on his birthday.” I couldn’t believe what I heard. “I not only placed a bug on the helicopter, I mean the latest invention of our scientists—the S.E.R.P.E.N.T., but I also made them think I stole a piece of the Roswell UFO from the ruins of Area 51! They still don’t know we had all the pieces of the puzzle when we stole the piece from the ruins of Chernobyl Power Plant in 2076, and they surely took our hint to follow us to Mars. Now I know they are in the Middle of Nowhere. And what’s more, I know they are here, in this very building, eavesdropping, listening to our every word, hiding in the maintenance room a level lower. And they are scared.” My heart sunk. I had only one thought in mind. Run. Run without losing any time. Then I looked down at the screen of my PDA and I saw that helmet, laughing at me. Über Alles was holding the bug in his hand. “DX, you shouldn’t have used the 6th sense augmentation. I feel when nanites are spilt near me. Mwahahhahahaha-hahahahaha! Ha ha!” The megalomaniacal laughter mixed with the alarm siren was following us long after I and JC left the maintenance room on the 19th floor of the Palace of Über Alles.
            Everything that was told at that conference—from end to beginning—all was a lie, nothing more than a show that would be interesting for us to watch. The OPM used the Roswell UFO to find and open the doors to Reney’s palace 74 years ago. But the fact that they still didn’t win tells about Reney’s prudence or incredulity. At any rate, he did NOT cooperate.
            I ran like hell on top of Frozen Hell, up the tilted 45 degrees wall, my steps stamped on the concrete of the walls of luxurious halls, secret facilities and God-knows-what-else separated from the dysfunctional neighborhoods in the Middle of Nowhere. The rich and powerful were safe from the meanness of the city streets. The decrepit streets that hardly were illuminated, and from the height I was at, they were completely shielded from my sight by smoke and clouds.
            I ran till my feet felt the concrete, and I stopped only at the top, on the index finger of the hand that was symbolically placed instead of the Illuminati’s all-seeing eye, both watching anyone who disobeys even through the clouds, and it found me and JC without any effort. A military helicopter appeared so instantaneously, even as noisy as the rest of the Soviet MI-16, the loud hum of its blades was homogeneous to the growl all around. JC turned invisible, I switched the Ballistic Protection. The MI-16 turned the spotlight and opened fire. The big-caliber rounds disappeared half-way to the target—my heart, but I knew I had to escape, not have fun with their pathetic futile attempts to kill me. When the helicopter was only 15 feet away from me, like a swimmer runs on a desk to jump into the pool, I made a run for the helicopter and grabbed it on one of the wheels. The gunfire could never reach me there, and I felt JC did the same thing as I, and now we were hanging on an attack helicopter half a mile above the ground, with strong wind trying to blow us off, and the noise of the blades of the copter deafening us. The helicopter started to fly away from the Pyramid, and solid surface became lower and lower under us. It was a part of my plan. When the palace of Uber Alles was out of my range of view, I synchronized the gravity augmentation with JC’s systems, and jumped down.
            I fell with the snow feeling the air pressure intensifying gradually as I flew through the night. I felt JC hindering with the jump. I use the word ‘feel’ to describe a special sense all augmented people who were connected in a network have. He released the wheel only when I finally saw the ground, and I used my gravity augmentation to land painlessly on the roof of one of the buildings in the ghetto.
            I started running again as soon as my feet touched ground. I had to leap over a few alleys in order to get away from another MI-16 helicopter that noticed me. JC landed on a box pile again. Looks like he’s either too lucky, or he makes it on purpose. Anyway now we were on the roof of the same building, but the helicopter lost trace of us. Its spotlight was searching the roof of the building I had previously jumped from. I used this moment and hid behind an advertisement poster of a playing card, I thought it was the ace of spades. There was a neon sign next to it, which read ‘THE ACE’. The letters were stylized as bolts of lightning, making it look pretty nice. JC found some other place to hide; I didn’t have time to see where, because it was imperative that I should have lost that copter. Besides, I was pretty sure JC was invisible again. Praying not to be spotted, I listened to every sound. The blades hum became very loud—the copter was near. Then it doubled, and the MI-16 that had spotted us on top of Uber Alles’ palace was searching for us again.
            For 30 seconds they have been scanning the area with their spotlights, but none of them found me, and JC became invisible again. Then the old helicopter flew away to the direction they supposed we’d run, and the new one scanned a little longer, however in vain. Then the sky was clear again, except for snow, falling down like ashes.
            It was safe to go try to find a way to escape the ‘hood without being detected. That’s why I led JC inside the building on top of which we were standing.
            The weak rusty door opened with a squeak that could have exposed us, but I was pretty sure we were finally left alone. I entered the interior first, JC staying close. When he closed the door, a deafened tune reached my ears, as if somebody downstairs had been having a party. I took a look at the staircase. It was clean but plain, only one lamp was enlightening it. This flight served obviously as a maintenance room, judging by the presence of a mop and a bucket, as well as a broken cleaner bot. The staircase was blocked by bars, like a prison.
“You got a lockpick, man?” I turned to JC. My friend, being visible by now, said: ‘Stand back, I’ll handle this!’. The next moment I heard a humming that belonged to JC’s microfibral muscle. His arms, armed with nanite enhancers, pulled the bars apart as if they were made of sticks. The noise of metal cracking echoed down the staircase, but the beat of the music was too loud for anyone to hear us vandalizing OPM’s property.
            We came downstairs. This building was a nightclub. At a single look at it I realized it was thematically stylized as an aviation club. The ceiling above the bar was a huge radar indicator, illuminating the room in green tracing light. There were models of different jets on the ceiling including an F117 and SR71. The building was pretty small for a nightclub, so I could see the other room from where I was standing. Both rooms were dancefloors, its flickering light revealed several military plane pictures, including vintage, and a mirroring ceiling, which was reflecting the dancing.
            I really liked this small but cozy place. I don’t know why, I just felt like it. Maybe it was the environment, featuring US air force. Really, it was unusual for this city to feature anything relating to America. Could it be that of all the rooftops of Medionusquam I happened to land on the only building that was full of non-brainwashed people? Time will show.
            “So what are we gonna do?” JC suddenly said into my ear, trying to make me hear him speaking through the loud music.
            “Let’s wait.” I said as close to JC’s ear as he had to mine. “By morning I think it’ll be safe to try to leave.”
“Dude, it’s always night in the Middle of Nowhere.” JC spoke into my ear shrewdly. “This nightclub must be a 24/7! Non-stop fun.”
“Yeah, you’re a famous party-boy, man.” I told him. “Before the Great Collapse you always used to save the world in clubs, while I was on my missions at military bases.”
And that was true. The ‘Lucky Money’, ‘La Porte de l’Enfer’, the ‘Underworld Tavern’…JC had more fun saving the world than me, but I never really was fond of clubbing. I can’t dance, and I prefer playing for my band. I despise alcohol, which can be found in abundance in nightclubs. But most of all, it makes me sick when people let their libido go on a spree in nightclubs. That is so immoral.
“I was there because of the people I needed to contact, the most dangerous in the criminal underworld.” JC boasted. “Anyway, we are here in a nightclub now, and we both are on the same mission, so why don’t we have some fun in the meantime?”
“I’ll leave that to you.” I answered. “I’d better keep my eyes peeled for the OPM.”
Then JC went to discover other parts of the club through the second door in the radar-lit room. I took a closer look around. There were six people in the room: a young couple dancing and kissing with each other, a plump man looking up at the jet models, and two templars cornering an omar in the far corner of the room. They seemed to have had some argument, their voices were loud, but deafened by the music. Pretending I was wandering about the room, I tried to eavesdrop their conversation.
“The ‘Ace’ is a club for everyone!” The omar snapped at the knight templar, a guy in dark armor with a dark cap.
“Not for freaks like you, it’s not!” The templar paladin, the guy in heavier armor that made him bigger than he really was, barked. “Look at your tripe—polluting your body to the extreme like it’s a computer or a car!”
“They ARE computers, Terry!” His friend said. “Nothing more.”
“Then give me a reason not to smash this piece of hardware before it goes on spreading heresy around our splendid city!”
“Thanks to the biomods the Omar will soon remain the dominant lifeform in this city and this planet,” The Russia-originated cyborg said with a Russian accent. “while non-biomodified people like you will become extinct, just like dinosaurs, mammoths, and tigers. Your movement is not powerful enough to stop the evolution.”
“And who are you to decide the future of mankind?” Yelled the huge templar paladin and pushed his enormous finger at the omar’s seemingly fragile body, an illusion, one has to admit, that is deluding. The omar grunted, but didn’t resort to violence.
“Yeah,” Terry’s friend joined the bully. “who are YOU, scumbag? Personally, I’m OK with biomodification, but you freaks have gone way too far! Your playing God will end before you can say ‘what the hell!’.”
“You haven’t learned anything since the Middle Ages!” The omar spoke. “The concept of ‘God’ is just an illusion in your head born by ignorance.”
“You’re gonna pay for that, infidel!” Whispered Terry the Templar.
“Is the world fare if you say your God is loving?” The omar went on. “God was replaced by the Nietzschean Superhuman, and we, the Omar, are an entire species of Superhumans!”
On which the heavy-armored paladin took out his Mag Rail from back and fired an EMP round at the omar, whose body fell on the floor like a puppet, deprived from electrical energy.
“That’ll teach the bastard a lesson.” Said the paladin.
“Making a nice inquisitor, Terry!” Said his friend. “Dura lex, sed lex[3]. Now let’s hide the body somewhere nobody would find it to recharge the heretic!”
“Serves him right.” I thought and went away, the way JC had gone.
Here is the evidence—in Medionusquam everybody is at war with everyone else, at least each major faction. And I was surprised at another thing—one of the templars said he wasn’t against biomodification in general, only the Omar, precisely like people on Earth! Does that mean we could build an understanding between us to fight Uber Alles together? Only time will show.
I went through a hall and had an impression I was going through the board of an airliner. There were armchairs, TVs, illuminators—a typical 737 interior, only lit with a shimmering dark cyan light. In some armchairs sat clubbers, eating. Some people were coming down this hall back to the dancefloor, laughing. One strange man was just wandering. He looked strange in the extreme—dressed up like a WW1 aviator, with an overcoat, a leather helmet and pilot glasses.
I reached the mini restaurant. JC was standing at the bar.
“You’re not gonna drink that shit, are you?” I asked him from behind his back.
He started and took something from the bartender, a woman dressed like a stewardess.
“My liver is augmented.” He said. “And so is my brain. And so are yours. If bullets can’t take us, neither can booze.”
“You are on duty, after all!” I tried to explain JC as he went with his bottle of beer in the 737 corridor, I followed him closely. “Besides, booze takes over people’s minds. It makes you do and say things you would never do or say without it. Bad things! That’s why we re-introduced Prohibition all over the Earth!”
JC looked at me with his shades into mine.
“Well, since we’re on vacation on Mars, Prohibition doesn’t work here, so why not trying?” He asked and sank into the armchair with his bottle in his hand. “Look, I’m not gonna impose it on you, but what can possibly happen to me? I’m modified, and we don’t know the effects alcohol can produce on our bodies.”
And then JC raised the bottle to his mouth. I couldn’t stop him, and I didn’t wanna limit other people’s freedom.
But I wasn’t the ultimate authority over JC. As soon as he tried to connect the neck of the bottle to his mouth he started twitching. It actually looked funny, a man struggling to take in beer. I couldn’t help laughing—the short ‘he-he’ I use without a smile when I see something that can make non-augmented people roll on the floor laughing their asses out.
JC finally ceased the futile attempts to cheat with Helios’ program.
“The A.I.” JC sighed, and put the beer away.
It was only then that I’d noticed the weird pilot-guy coming to us with a friendly smile.
He stood right in front of JC and said in a joyful voice: “Quid agis, amicus?” That was a ‘how are you, friend’ in Latin. I hoped we would never engage in a dialogue with the locals, because neither of us speaks Latin perfectly, but the next cue, luckily, was in English. “Good Flight! You’d better take some before you take off!” This made JC stare at the pilot guy with a blank look at his face. We didn’t expect any undercover agent. I exchanged a thought with JC that maybe this was a code phrase, and now the man is expecting a continuation to secretly fly us out of the neighborhood, but in a second the pilot continued himself: “It’s for not falling apart under a force of 9 G and over.”
“Yeah, but we’re not pilots.” JC stretched in bewilderment.
“We ALL are pilots here!” The odd man cried in elation. “This splendid nightclub hosts all the pilots in Medionusquam! It was built for people who know what the meaning of life is—flying high above the ground, above the mountains, above the sky! Above all those people driving around in cars, unable to reach you!”
JC and I exchanged looks, not showing any emotions, but feeling ridiculously awkward.
“Well, as a matter of fact, we really fly things every now and then.” I admitted.
“Ave Aviatia, potentia mundi![4]” The pilot exclaimed. “So how do you like the club?”
“It’s good...”JC said.
“Really good!” I confirmed.
“Glad you like it!” The pilot was happy with the answer. “Being the owner of this club, I really appreciate it!” So that explains it! Everything in this club was reminding of aviation. Only this guy could run a place like this…a real fan of the flight.
“So you own it?” I asked.
“Sure do!” The club owner replied. “If you want anything—ask me! I usually hang out right here on this 737 board to talk with amazing pilots!!!”
He made one step away, but I wanted to ask him something else.
“So what can you tell me about this place?” I referred to the club owner.
“Awww, it’s the best place on Mars!” The club owner proudly stated. “We are the biggest pilot community in this city, we have live performance every night, and it’s a gathering place for the ‘reds’! If you haven’t check out our VIP-zone, do it right now, all you have to do is to ask me, and I’ll sell you the key from the bridge for 100 credits!”
“Not interested in the key,” I replied after having thought. “but could you tell me what do mean by ‘reds’?”
The club owner looked at me surprisingly, but didn’t pay much attention to it.
“Well, we are a group of environmentalists.” The club owner boasted. “Our main thesis is that man must not touch the virginity of planets’ natures, in particular Mars, by the process of terraforming. Unfortunately the government declared us illegal throughout the Middle of Nowhere, so we are the only real rebel group in this city who realize Uber Alles is a bad pilot…” He broke his line, his eyes showing the fear of me, a stranger who can report on him to the OPM. “Oh…I’m sorry, I talk too much. You’re not gonna commit me to Knights Templar Asylum, are you?”
I had no idea of what the club owner meant, but I thought it was better to play like I had. All I could say, this asylum was a notorious place, judging by the awe the club owner had pronounced it.
“But how are you gonna survive on a planet without air, water or thick atmosphere?” I contradicted. “Without terraforming these things are not existent!”
“We don’t need to ruin Mars’ natural environment for that—the craters, the canyons, beautiful mountains highest in our Solar system! Our Martian cities should only be supplied with air and water inside buildings—leaving the nature undamaged! The OPM’s been digging so deep into the core it starts to cave in at some places. Someday the Nature will get so angry it will destroy this city, mark my words!”
“If not for terraforming, this planet is only environmentally friendly with the Omar.” I reminded him.
“Then maybe we should think about going back to Earth!” The club owned exclaimed. I looked at him, and so did JC. “Never mind what I said.” The club owner cut unexpectedly and turned away to leave us. However he stood still, and turned to us again. “You don’t happen to know how to sing and play the guitar?”
JC and I exchanged looks one more time. Music is what we do for a living when the war is not raging.
“As a matter of fact, we do.” I said, confident that this man, as well as anybody else on this planet, doesn’t know about X-3.
“Really?” The raging pilot brightened. “Wow, banzai! Would you mind if I asked you a big favor?”
“Go on.” JC stretched.
“Our rock band, ‘Red Baron’, is performing today, but their vocalist and rhythm guitarist have got Grey Death, so the band is now performing without them, which is bad for our reputation. Feel free to say no, but could you replace them? All you would have to do is to improvise or perform popular rock songs…you two look very rockly, so the public must like you! I would pay you 1000 credits and grant you a VIP membership!”
The club owner looked at us with eyes full of doubt and hope. I actually planned just to get mixed in the crowd to wait for the next day, but I didn’t think that it would hurt to, as JC says, ‘have fun in the meantime. I sent my ideas to JC, and received a confirmation.
“We agree.” I said, backed by JC’s ‘yeah’.
“In the name of Wilbur Wright, you are cool!” The club owner jumped with happiness. “Come with me, let’s show them some virage!”
The ridiculously dedicated to his vocation pilot went to the room with a small stage, we followed him closely. The stage was really small indeed, and almost on the same level as the floor. The band was finishing their performance. As soon as they’d played the final chord, the club owner invited them, me and JC into the management office, which, as all rooms in this nightclub, was small and produced an impression of being an overhauled building, previously used for some other purpose. In the club owner’s office the maniacal pilot explained the band his plan, and then we had to pick up a song to play. I immediately thought of one of my bands songs—‘Nevermore’, so in a few minutes I taught the drum part to the drummer, the first guitar part to the guitarist, the bass guitar part to the bassist, and the keyboard part to the keyboardist. JC was going to play solo guitar and rhythm guitar parts, and I was going to sing, so, without any rehearsal due to lack of time, we went onstage, the public screaming out loud at the news that the band is gonna perform with a vocalist and a rhythm guitarist.
Then the lights went out, and I gave a sign to the keyboardist to start. The air on the dancefloor was filled with a tune I’d composed a very long time ago, and as soon as the catchy melody was performed on the main guitar accompanied by a bassline and drums, the public burst with applause, screams and whistles. Even people from the other dancefloor, the restaurant and the VIP zone came to hear us performing. Then I started to sing:

“I am standing on a crossroad,
Sun is hiding shine from me,
I’m a pawn, must cross the chessboard,
Find a place to hide from greed.”

Trust you—nevermore,
Believe you—nevermore,
Be uncertain, unaware for more—NEVERMORE! NEVERMORE! NEVERMORE!”

By the end of the first chorus everyone in the club was jumping with the beat of my song. But the fun was soon to be over. A squad of Templars came into the club through the main door, and the bouncer was trying to charge them for entry. That’s what you probably wouldn’t want to do when you are under a mag rail, so the bouncer, the guy in the uniform of a US air force officer, gave them way. The Templars started searching for me and JC everywhere, but ironically, the stage was the last place they would check for our presence. Yet I knew I was just stretching my time before a massive squeamish. The Templars ordered the crowd to disperse, but they went on having fun, and I decided to make the situation even funnier, if there was any fun in it at all. I started playing and singing even louder to win the contest for the public’s attention.

“Gone away so instantly,
I deserve much more than pain,
I was looking for some liberty,
Freeway turned to be one way.

Trust you—nevermore,
Believe you—nevermore,
Be uncertain, unaware for more—NEVERMORE! NEVERMORE! NEVERMORE!”

With my last chord the audience burst into applause, the Templars recognized me, and with the first mag rail shot in the air with the scream: “Hands in the air!” the party was over.
Instead of giving myself in, I took an electric guitar from the fleeing Red Baron guitarist, and pointed it at the crowd of Templars. With the first E minor chord I hit, hundreds of volts were discharged through the guitar in the knights, leaving them paralyzed on the ground.
I threw the guitar aside and rushed to the way we’d come—the stairs leading to the roof, but that exit was blocked by more templars. The way to the main exit, likewise, was blocked by a bunch of hybrids. There was no other escape.
I needed to analyze this situation quickly, that's why I enhanced my reaction. People started to move slower, the clubbers' screaming grew stretched, the projectiles started to crawl in mid-air at the snail’s pace. Everything seemed frozen, and even the flickering of the lights turned into a pulsing blinking.  And since time was now tenfold slower for my perception, the 30 seconds it takes radiowaves to reach the Earth from Mars would seem like 5 minutes for me, that's why I couldn't use Helios to investigate and analyze the situation. I was with my own mental abilities and judgment. With the exception of the reaction boost.
It grew upon me that even if I used electrostatic discharge on the templars, I'd still put their lives in danger, because they could have fallen from the stairs, which is risky and bad for health. Moreover, the discharge or microwaves would have given them pain, unlike the hybrids. That's why I took a railgun from one of the unconscious bodies of the knights, and shot my way to the main entrance through the hybrids. As soon as the last hybrid fell dead, me and JC rushed to the exit, but were blocked by the bouncer bot of the club. Its guns, loaded with rubber bullets (my sixth sense told me so), were pointed at us, but didn't shoot.
"Rocky-1, Rocky-2, this is nest!" The aviation-fixed club owner screamed to us. "Sending reinforcements, repeat: sending reinforcements! FOR MARS TO REMAIN A RED PLANET!"
With no time to say thank you, JC and I ran out of the club before the 'pilot' realizes we back terraforming.
The next minute I came over the thought that the pilot may get injured, but he came along. When we were on the street, he ran to a one-seat Cessna, and started the engine. I and JC didn't watch him fly away, because we needed to run away ourselves.
We found ourselves on a public square, the place where the military parades end. I could tell because the unpaved red ground preserved long tank tracks and robots’ footsteps. In the middle of this square I saw a logical termination of the trite hand sculpture—the stretched fingers grew from a marble hand that was attached to a samurai-shield decorated arm of a humanoid cloaked figure with a skull-like helmet. Uber Alles’ five times bigger replication reminded me of other statues and trademark poses of dictators—Lenin, Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler—all with their arms stretched.
The gothic architecture of the Middle of Nowhere now revealed itself to my sight. The dark spires and towers were the city’s claws.
I didn’t have the time to admire or be scared the hell out of by the local landmarks, as the flood of Templars, hybrids, Illuminati commandos, Omars backed by a flock of military bots streamed from every street and alley and got us completely surrounded. Never have I ever seen so many troops on an ambush. They must have been waiting for us for hours, ever since we left for Mars. My scanners revealed a gravity barrier twenty feet above us created by the nanite snow that wouldn’t let us jump into the sky.
“If we have to die, were gonna do it beautifully” JC Denton said and took out the dragon’s tooth sword.
The army of the OPM opened fire. I wasn’t sure about how they were going to kill the immortal, but that would be interesting to watch. Mag rail rays, gray spits, bullets, flame—all crushed at us, but our biomods protected us against all kinds of projectiles. My bioelectric energy replenished all by itself each time it ran low. Then I decided to show them who’s the boss. As JC was now fighting with grays, bringing the most of enemies’ attention on himself, I concentrated my universal constructor powers to summon a greasel ally to help me out. I set the size and damage parameters to unusual for a normal greasel, and I initiated construction. The nanite snow changed its direction abruptly. It started to move slower, with more order, meeting and accumulating in one and the same point—at the statue of Uber Alles. In twenty seconds, with a thundering sound of a UC construction, the biggest greasel ever lived appeared in the center of the square. It was the size of a dinosaur, taller than even the military bots, perfectly resistant to bullets, plasma or radiation. The OPM’s warriors immediately attacked the greasel, but I still couldn’t find a breech among their battalions to escape the area. My choice of constructing a greasel was primarily determined by greasels’ venom in their saliva that they spit at their victims to paralyze them. That was especially helpful against human opponents—the Illuminati and the Knights Templar. Greys were being slaughtered by JC’s sword here and there, and I was busy kicking mostly Omars’ asses. Bots were also a great problem. I ordered the greasel to attack them, but since spitting poison at them would be useless, it just rolled them until the fell on the ground, struggling to stand up, like beetles lying on their backs.
But the enemy was only coming again and again, it seemed like the whole population of Medionusqvam rallied against us three, and the greasel was not enough to support us anymore. The constant flickering of plasma started to get on my nerves, and I started to feel tired. This was their strategy—to tire us to captivity, then trying to find a way to kill.
In the end they would have succeed, if an unexpected salvation hadn’t occurred. A huge explosion erupted where the military bots had been standing, and a line of smoke connected it to an Apache helicopter. The OPM’s two MI-16s were trying to bring it down but the pilot quickly turned them into Swiss cheese with its gun. They started to smoke and slowly fell on the ground.
“What are you staring at?” Alex D’s shout from the cabin of the chopper was like music to my ears. “Get in!”
“But Alex, it's an apache, there're only 2 seats.” I said before realizing I didn’t really have a choice.
“I didn't guarantee any comfort.” Alex said and lowered the copter. “Get in, quickly!”
            That was enough to induce me. I jumped in the cabin effortlessly. JC had more difficulties, and managed to jump on Alex’ seat after the second attempt. JC was doubtlessly less used to the gravity biomod.
Before we took off, JC warned Alex about the bug: “Alex! The copter is a Trojan horse! The S.E.R.P.E.N.T. is a bug, eject it, right now!”
“If you say so.” Confirmed Alex and pressed the eject button of the vehicle A.I.
The bot fell near the statue, amidst the soldiers of the OPM and their bodies. It stood on its feet and watched us leave. The whole city focused their eyes on us as we were leaving. The only windows of the pyramid were also watching us—I saw Uber Alles and his gang standing their silently, probably already scheming to recapture us.
“So…” JC Denton started when the clouds of Frozen Hell were already below us. “Thanx for the help, bro.”
Alex turned to JC, who was sitting on his lap. “Just couldn't resist it. I guess there were too many troopers. I was watching after you from Ares-3 in the mariner valley.” Now it was clear for me. Clear as the Sun that just showed up in the dusty sky as we crawled out of the hole we left the city in. “We’re on our way there.” Alex said speaking about Ares-3.
“No,” I contradicted. “we still have business to do in The Middle of Nowhere.”
“OK, I’m your taxi driver.” Alex agreed. “So what’s the news?”
“Uber Alles knew from the beginning we have been spying on him. Every event since the attack on JC’s birthday was planned.” I said thoughtfully. “It was a conspiracy to capture us.”
“But he failed.” JC captured my thought. “We successfully got away with the info we gathered from the meeting of the Secret Council of 6.”
I continued: “I wonder if the meeting was a real one with real problems or if it was just a performance to hold us in the maintenance room before the police arrive.”
“I bet it was real.” Argued JC. “They couldn’t have kidded about the attack on Earth.”
“Perhaps you’re right. If so, the only thing we can do is to find Reney and ask him if Uber Alles really asked him to help the OPM and what exactly did Reney tell him.”
“Agreed. But to find Reney we’ll need the Roswell UFO, the map and the key in one. As they mentioned on the meeting, it is being held in the Castle of the Knights Templar.”
“We discovered a lot today.” I drew a line. “The Secret Council of 6 is lead by Uber Alles, but there's a guy who seems to have almost the same authority—Asmodeus. And they don't like each other. We also saw Bob Page’s ghost, and he openly despises The Lord Protector of the OPM, but Page seems to have no power.”
“And we also saw Peter and James Denton.” JC remembered our old friends. “You were right, Alex. They have been in the Middle of Nowhere ever since the Great Advance. And they are working for Uber Alles.”
“I can’t believe they have become terrorists…” Alex seemed absolutely not surprised by the news. It was the time of no more surprises. “Okay, I think I’ll land there. I’m glad this thing has stealth cover, otherwise we would have been long caught. I think we have some time to prepare for the intrusion.” Alex said and we went off for Ares-3 to put up an appropriate plan for the following day when we would return in Frozen Hell.

[1] Thorn (Old English)
[2] But sooner or later you will bow down to me anyway. (Russian)
[3] The law is harsh, but that’s a law. (Latin)
[4] Hail aviation, the power of the world! (Latin)