“Und dann hat er sie geküsst
wo das Meer zu Ende ist
ihre Lippen schwach und blass
und seine Augen werden nass[1]


Life. Death. There is no longer a difference. The boundaries are dissolved. My whole life I sought immortality with the ideas of transhumanism—brain uploading, human augmentation, virtual reality. Those ideas killed death itself, but suddenly, with the Utopian Age of Aquarius drawing nearer, a cult of spirituality started to emerge, formed in the rhetoric of the Order Church. In their belief, Homo sapiens species of the past thousands of years were in a way transhuman, as their souls are immortal. Their theory gained popularity through the back up of scientific experimentation on human consciousness. 
There used to be no explanation to the phenomenon of the human soul, only doctrines and faith, until the human-machine interface became a reality and proved that something inexplicable, something divine exists. The Order demagogues like Lin-May Chen had a great sway over the general population, giving the idea of an afterlife a comeback. The other half of humanity, the adherents of transhumanism and the Singularity, argued that nobody, even people who want to go to heaven, want to die to get there. So instead, we had to build heaven here on Earth, if not heaven, then at least a utopia.
But we were far from that.
It was so long ago that these events are historical footnotes today. Everybody knows this story in 2150. How I was falling from the top of the torch of the reconstructed Statue of Liberty after Uber Alles had defeated me but what most people don't know is that the last thing I wanted to do was to die. I wanted to see my wife again. I wanted a pay-back match with Uber Alles, the mysterious Martian dictator who now had his biomods upgraded by Helios A.I. to the same level as mine. Like his name supposes, Uber Alles would become unstoppable in his pursuit of world domination, and without me, only JC Denton would be able to challenge him. 
Still nobody knows how he managed to successfully assimilate his mind with the A.I of Helios. And, as if to make it even more horrifying, Helios himself had been sure that only me, JC or the other X-3 Dentons were able for initiating the assimilation. If not for other moments of my life, if I believed in good luck I would say we got lucky, because nothing had happened to the world speaking of its Helios-controlled administration. He kept his promise to keep whoever's made of flesh from controlling the worldnot even me and JC, leaving no chance for Uber Alles; but even with this fact Uber Alles' sinister plan turned somehow victorious, leaving him stronger than ever, boosted to the level of near-immortality, augmented down to his teeth and bones, enhanced to become even more than posthuman, leaving once avant-garde agent Paul Denton fragile as a mech. Helios couldn't do anything about it, or do anything to stop the Ordo Primae Mundi.
The Ordo Primae Mundi. The ancient secret society led by Uber Alles that made the list of things why I didn’t want to die full. Throughout years it has been assaulting our men with excessive force.
Now it's the year 2150. The OPM had a great advantage having such a powerful dictator as Uber Alles, and they've been winning fight by fight, leaving us no such luxury as choosing battles. None of these bloody skirmishes happened on the Earth, though. So far.
No. I didn’t die. The distance to fall was more than 70 feet. The ruthless gravity called me to itself, the concrete ground below ready to embrace me with a mortal hug, but Helios kept his word again. I felt like I bribed Death not to take me. I had the power Helios had left me after the assimilation process, the power that stops death and numbs pain, but it doesn't wash away the fact that I lost. Uber Alles dropped me from Lady Liberty like a useless candy bar. So much for “another kind of question with another kind of answer”, as a wise electronic sentience called Morpheus once said about the Denton kin. 
            As for this eugenically created kin, X-3 reformed this time not only as a team of special operatives for the NSF, but as a "part-time" alternative/industrial band, our music reflecting each other's depression. I was trying to fill the gaping hole left in me by doing music, and also because there was little action in the war against the OPM. Writing nihilist or Transhumanist songs was what I killed my time with, while Paul was in charge of a corporation, having a headache from the stagnation of the economical model we practically created, as opposed to the booming, almost Chinese over-industrialization of the OPM. Alex D was the head of the NSF, which was a busy position, whereas his guru and prototype JC Denton, was simply recovering, for the lack of a better description. 20 years under the ice in the state between our world and Helios' virtual reality can only be compared to what I had to go through when the entire Bob Page-ruled world hunted me like an alien body in its blood. The thing is I also was in coma for 20 years like JC. Only my attitude was different. Now all four of us were playing music heavy as the world that hung on our shoulders. Very soon we attained the popularity of  NG Resonance, a star as old as Helios himself, but due to biomodification, unfading, as many people who wanted it and undertook the procedure in one of ApostleCorp augmentation clinics around the world.
            This was our life until December 11, 2150.
            I was flying a retro model of a helicopter—an Apache. It was no longer usual to see any manned aerial vehicles, Helios took all the air defense under automated control. Still I savored every moment of a smooth flight on a modified and modernized version of a heavy military helicopter, christened “Geronimo” by its manucacturer. 
I was flying towards the sunset. Everywhere around me was the desert—an extraterrestrial landscape on Earth, admired by a poet in the helicopter. The desert in the Southeastern United States has always been my home, I was spawned in a tank deep beneath the Nevada desert. Helios and I were doing a great deal of effort to preserve this region the way it was in the previous century, away from the Global Warming effect, that would spread the desert and make it uninhabitable. By the means of nano-construction everything was possible, but it was getting more and more challenging every year as the ecological situation all around the world.
            Finally I saw on the horizon the fabulous Las Vegas. Soon I was flying above the Strip with its neon lights just starting in anticipation of an evening. Below me was “Luxor” and “Excalibur”, “New York New York” and “Paris”, “Monte Carlo” and “Aladdin”, “Rio” and “Canals of Mars”, “Sahara” and the “Venetian”—the entire world and its stereotypes shrunk in one city.
            But my way lay to the “Stratosphere”, one of the highest hotels and casinos in the city. Soon my vessel landed smoothly on the helipad near the tower of the casino. The rotors stopped, and my boot hit the concrete of the hotel roof. A bunch of mechanics approached Geronimo with tanks labeled with a picture showing a green Earth and the word “Unimflammable”. Now the Apache was officially not mine, and I almost had a second thought when I realized that in the modern world there is no “second-thought”, and I entered the building without regret.
The doors of an elevator in the Stratosphere hotel slid open and I saw a large disco hall with its party in its bloom. The mortal enemy of parties stepped out from the elevator and gave his new environment a look. It was a split second after I realized something was standing in front of me, something an unarmed eye cannot see. The moment after JC Denton was materializing before me.
“JC! I thought you were in Hong Kong!” I started trying not to show any unnecessary emotion.
“No, you didn't, DX.” JC started gravely, his voice, distorted by Helios’ intervention contributed to this illusion.
“You know I didn't. I guess it's the part where I wish you a happy birthday.” We both now were one of our happier moods—humorous, but still under a gun.
“And I suppose it's the time when I give you a gangsta hug.” 

JC Denton was always up to something, and not always did he agree with me or Helios. But I was just like him in this respect, and he always was my best friend.
“So I guess I’m the last to arrive?” I asked, assessing the hall with my luminescent eyes that were not covered by my usual shades that evening.
“Yes. Paul and Alex are already here. Also Tong and Nicollette…” I noticed Tong dancing deeper in the hall, and Nocolette was sitting at a table, engaged in a talk with Paul’s wife, Tiffany Savage. Is Magdalene with you?”
 “Magdalene’s at home.Followed my answer “She couldn't leave our youngest son alone, and he just didn’t want to leave home—you know them kids.
 “Not really. JC said, feeling a shade of regret. But he believed he was doing the right thing. “YOU're the one living the American Dream. My belief in my bad genes does not allow me to reproduce. If more people subjected to self-birth control the world wouldn't be so overpopulated. But it always must come from self-constraint, not the government. At least Helios doesn't introduce a birth-control policy. I have to admit there are some advantages in Helios’ reign.”
“There are.” I admitted. “I just wish there was some other way to achieve all this…sometimes I don’t know if I did the right thing by merging with Daedalus in the first place, allowing Helios to form…yet if you think more about it, it was the highest virtue I ever did. And of course you played a major part in the great advance too, didn’t you?”
JC Denton was one of the key people to an event called the Great Advance. It was a toss-up between him and me on the subject who was the founder of the new world order. JC used to renounce his involvement in this affair very often, however.
“That WAS a mistake. And you know that. He tried to kill you.” He reminded me of the incident in the very beginning of the military conflict with Mars, that some policymakers described as World War III, though it was a war between two worlds. Indeed, Helios has been plotting my assassination ever since. I couldn’t argue with that.
“I only have one difference of opinions with Helios.” I finally said. I slowly approached a gambling machine on my left. I put out a coin, inserted it and pressed the start button to try my luck. “I think I have to live. In the last 50 years he tried to assassinate me a dozen of times…and he always tried to make it look like an accident.” The wheels on the gambling machine all displayed different numbers. “A construction crane…an airplane…cut wires near water…I’m glad there’s no such thing as killswitch as there was when I was back in the service.” Gambling with the machine made me feel again how important they are for human. They work for us. They play with us. But is that the meaning of playing with a machine—to lose to it? No. We created them so that they lose to us and do it beautifully.
“Or a killphrase that killed agent Navarre.” A voice brought me back to reality from my reflections. I turned around and faced Alex D, another key figure in the Great Advance and another member of the reformed X-3.
“Alex! Having a break from the office?” I greeted the messy-haired former trainee.
“Yeah…the National Security Forces will survive a day without me in charge. Same thing Paul.” He turned to the farthest side of the bar and called JC’s clone-brother. “Paul! There’s somebody you’d like to see!”
“I told you he was coming. Now we all are here.” Paul approached, his old dark-violet trenchcoat covering him.
“Hey, Paul. Any progress on that new hologram augmentation?” I greeted Paul, whom I had seen only a couple of days before.
“Not much. Managing a huge multi-national corporation is not always research and development. Anything new in your life?”
“DX has been livin’ under a gun recently.” Alex replied for me. So he heard after all. “I guess Helios will not rest while he’s alive. Wish there was something we could do to help you. And do you still have those random visions and static sound in your head?”
“Not anytime recently.” I said honestly. It took me several seconds to think about what to say next, as everybody's yeyes were fixed on me like I was a test subject. “Hey, how ‘bout a game of blackjack?” I said in the end.
“I’m in.” Agreed Paul. Now I switched their attention from the dreams about Helios’ thinking-learning process. I was never against gambling for the fun of the game, but you have to know when to fold your cards and take a rest. And I never bet a lot of money. If it’s money you’re after while gambling, that is what, in my opinion, the religion is against, because when you pursue money you can fail to notice how you’ve flown into passion and become addicted to it. So I bet a one dollar bill, the one with the Illuminati sign on it. 
Paul drew first.
“So, you think it has something to do with Helios?” Paul asked, drawing a jack.
“I’m sure. It’s either just unintentional visions or maybe the A.I. wants to drive me out of my wits.”
JC interfered in the conversation: “Strange why don’t I have them…and why it doesn’t want to kill ME…”
“Yeah, but imagine what would become to you if you remained merged with it.” Alex made a “what-if” supposition, while Paul got 20 points and passed the turn to me. The first card I pulled from the deck was a ten of spades. Only 11 to go. “Imagine what it would have done to you if you hadn’t split up back on Liberty Island!”
“Really, it already has changed your voice, now you sound more like a machi…”
A moment of awkward silence. My hand froze over the deck of playing cards. Finally Paul spoke.“I okay…maybe we should go see DX’s present?”
“That’s a good idea, Paul.” I caught his idea and decided to keep it up to be politically correct. “Actually I arrived here on this thing. This toy is surely not for kids under 2. C’mon, it’s on the roof.”
            And so we went. The sky outside was of a warm, peaceful orangeish tint. It was absent from clouds, and the sun has almost set.
Before we beheld the gracious retro-style vessel that I had brought with me, I infolinked my friends a promo of the chopper that was made by ApostleCorp only as a teaser for a deep-in-development project. Paul was not in charge of this project, though he was the one financing. The project had been started by me, and that is why I presented the first prototype, not Paul.
            The promo, flowing directly through their minds via the neural interface, said:
“If you feel like going shooting something from the air, here is the new state-of-art invention of ApostleCorp Incorporated. AH-64 “Apache” of the last modification. Made of radar-consuming materials, uses 4 types of missiles—hellfire, stinger, phoenix and Abraham (not included), able of super-sonic ride. Did I mention the ability of a spaceflight? And, most importantly, this bird has a port for robot connection—meaning it can be piloted by an independent from Helios bot. Buy it online NOW for only 1 million dollars!!! Loans available for three items at the price of two, as soon as we manufacture more of them, and you will also be able to choose your unique Apache color—black, red, green and even pink for ladies. ApostleCorp™—Commodification of Ability!”
            The machine was really impressive, but extremely out-of-date, so we had to do a lot of work to modernize it. Apart from the 30mm gun, that was included in the initial design, we put an additional non-lethal microwave railgun. The cells for missiles were empty, because we didn’t include it in the test model. It’s a shame Jock was never able to try it out. At least we hired an Australian pilot, Sid Black, to test it for the first time.
“So this thing doesn’t need a pilot?” JC wondered.
“Practically yeah,” I confirmed. “UAVs are more effective in an air fight than human pilots, but an augmented human can augment the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle by manning it. So, for instance, if I have the ballistic protection biomod, the UAV will automatically have the same protection.”
“Besides, it’s much more interesting to handle these things yourself!” Noted Alex.
“Sometimes.” Aknowledged JC. “I just hope I won’t have to use this thing in the war over on Mars.”
Don’t get your hopes that far, JC.
            The rest of the evening was spent pretty fine. The city was brightly lit that day, and that night, as all the other 365 nights of the year, was a festive carnival. After the supper JC expressed a will to go and test his new wheels, or, rather, wings. Or even blades. So he sat as the first pilot and I as the second. The sound of its rotors pleased my ears. Of course it was extremely noisy, comparing to modern helicopters, but it just brought back the memories of the late twentieth century—true classic.
“Geronimo...the meanest of all Apache on the West. Where did you get it?” JC said feeling himself in his pilot seat as in a throne.
“It’s my personal project at ApostleCorp. Remember, you waived the Seraphic/8x clearance for...sensitive matters, so now I’m the only person in the world with the access.
“I know. So what bot is in control of this bird? I don’t think you also presented me your bot, the Oracle, did you?”
“Nope. I’m not willing to leave that bot. He’s like a part of my family, Billy adores him…The bot that controls this copter was included in the set by one of the scientists at ApostleCorp Aerospace.”
Now we left the city and headed to explore the desert to the north. I went on: “This bot has an epic name The S.E.R.P.E.N.T. You can see it as a lower part of the fuselage of this baby.”
“Yeah, I’ve got to check that out, DX! Say, why don’t you follow my example and waive the 8/x clearance as well? Think of it—that would shudder the whole system! The man will again prevail over the machine!” JC’s voice expressed great enthusiasm through the mic.
“I realize the A.I wanted to kill me, but that doesn’t mean I oppose it. Everything we did was for a good cause, and the results are still formidable—we brought the world up from the separation of the great Collapse to the second era of Enlightenment! Tell me, would you stop yourself in the past if you had a chance?”
“Sometimes I remember how it all has started and I realize only now that THAT was a choice, a fork of the road. Every action or lack of thereof, provokes a reaction. The World is now what you, I Paul and Alex have built it. Maybe it could be worse, but now the values of Transhumanism replaced basic democratic institutions.” Here we go again. Another endless controversy.
“For Christ’s sake, JC, the A.I. betrayed us, I admit, but that doesn’t mean that Transhumanism is wrong, we only tried to create a better world. Transhumanism and Democracy can go hand in hand, we already have this system working. There’s nothing wrong with the system, there’s something wrong with the A.I. It was when Uber Alles illegally assimilated with Helios that the Artificial Intelligence started to malfunction. It has machine access and human wisdom from three individuals: me, you and Uber Alles. The first two know what it’s like when human rights are violated, we’ve seen it with our own eyes, we’ve experienced injustice, humiliation, we’ve seen people die for no reason, but we always stuck to non lethal methods of takedown. THAT made Helios what it was in the period the Great Advance of humanity, and the following four years were the years of utopia, Earth was the Garden of Eden before the OPM wanted to take us over by terrorist attacks. But Uber Alles partially succeeded when he polluted Helios mainframe with his own mind, unclear, used to ice-cold kills, shadowy of any other activity…”
“So what do you propose doing?” JC said as we were passing another dried lake on our way to nowhere in particular. I was starting to thing it was about time we get back to the city and get some sleep before I get tired of JC’s harping upon Helios’ policy. “We can’t alter Helios mainframe, we can’t take Uber Alles’ part out, so should we replace it with a new arti…”
The next moment the ground beneath us burst with light. A sinister explosion sound followed as thunder after a lightening.
“Holy CRAP!” I swore out loud.
“A BOMB! We’ve gotta check it out.” JC sounded grave, but not emotional.
“You think it’s the Ordo Primae Mundi?” I supposed, not knowing what else it possibly could be.
“The OPM? I don’t know what else it can be. But what is their business in Nevada? And how did they come through our defense?”
“I hope you’re not saying Helios is involved in some kinda conspiracy with the OPM?” I mocked at JC’s skepticism.
“Very funny, Mister Comedian. Why risk crossing the distance between Mars and Earth to make a terrorist attack in the desert anyway?”
“In the Nevada desert…” And an idea came to my mind instantaneously, like in an animation movie when a light bulb switches on over a character’s head. “JC, this is the site where Area 51 used to be! We know that the OPM is looking for the debris of the Rowell UFO for an unknown reason…Of course! There is at least one more piece of the flying saucer—and it was held at Area 51!”
“A second piece? I don’t think anything was left after the blast in the bunker, I hardly escaped the facility when Bob Page went mad. Anyway, whatever the OPM is up to we’ve gotta stop it. You shoot, I fly.”
“Affirmative!” I always liked to say this word.
            So JC pointed the bow of our craft to Groom Lake. A fire made a huge hole in the ground visible even from the air. Here and there the ruins of a once powerful military base, where I was born, revealed themselves to an unarmed eye.
            Immediately a spaceship rose above the ground. It carried the OPM insignia—a circle divided by a lightening into a red part on the right, and a yellow part on the left. It started running away when it saw us, and we were left only one option—to chase. It was still to far away to start shooting without killing anybody, and the guns were on me. Yet I never lost them from the crosshair.
            Helios summoned back-up pretty soon, but we were flying so quickly the reinforcement came only when we were in California. We were heading West.
            Where does it want to hide? The ocean appeared on the horizon. The ship didn’t turn back.
“A-ha!” Exclaimed JC victoriously. “There’s no way to go for you to go now! We blocked the sky with the “Star Wars” SDI system! You’re going nowhere but down!”
And that was true. The ship did exactly that—when we were pretty far from the shore, it descended to the ocean, and the blue waters devoured the vessel, completely concealing it from sight.
“WHAT? How did you know they would dive into the Pacific?” I demanded my friend.
“But I didn’t mean that! We need to follow them! We can’t let them go!”
“We can’t!”  I objected. There was something JC hadn’t known yet. “This thing can fly in the air or in the space, but never underwater! We lost ‘em, JC.”
“Alright, I admit it. Let’s pull back.”
“They cannot hide there for long, JC! Helios is already scanning all the surface of the waters on the planet, and when they jump out, we’ll be ready.”
“What are the chances of the OPM attacking in the same place at the same time as my birthday?”
            It was almost morning. The Sun was rising behind our backs, and we made a u-turn, and headed towards the Earth’s brightest star, leaving the perpetrator to be searched by warships, submarines, and other helicopters.
                                                                        *          *          *
            I came home late. It was noon, and I promised to be back by morning. Before opening the door to my cottage on the shore of the Hudson facing Manhattan just in front of the ApostleCorp tower, I reached Alex D with the infolink and immediately, he told me to meet him at the Statue of Liberty in two hours. I was somewhat disappointed, because all I wanted to do on that moment was to stay with my wife and my kids. Spike was the first to meet me, he smelled me from his kennel in the yard and attacked me in a friendly way. He whimpered just like a hound. He also was augmented, and if not for his augmentation, he would have been as ferocious and hostile and most karkians, but ApostleCorp made him as docile as a puppy.
            “Daddy! Daddy!” I heard the voice of Billy upon nearing the house. Even when Billy, my youngest son, was a fetus he has already been living in a symbiosis with nano-robots. He had all the enhancements I have, but the facial wires were curling slightly differently from mine. Only one line grew from his temple, curved upwards to the forehead and got lost in the hair.
            “Hi, Billy. Did you have a good time here without me?”
            “Why not?”
            “Was boring!”
            “But haven’t you played with Spike or something?”
            “You’re funnier! I wish Spike could speak!”
            “Good advice, I’ll work it out sometime.”
            “Which reminds me, I have a present from Vegas for you!” And I took out a Speed Enhancement augmentation canister, which I bought on the Strip.
            “I already have one in that biomod slot!” Said Billy indignantly. It was an awkward moment, because I made an obvious mistake. Billy had his legs slot occupied with my own gravity augmentation.
            “Right...Of course.” And I put the speed enhancement away on the nearest table. Apparently Billy didn't seem so upset.
            “Dad, wanna see something really cool?” He asked.

            “What might that be?” I asked and Billy ran away from me, ran up the opposite wall and reached the ceiling from where he shouted “Cool, isn't it?”
            “Coolest thing I've ever seen. Where’s mommy?” I asked. the two were the reason for me to go on in the midst of two worlds in neither of which I was welcome.
            “I’m here, DX.” My favorite voice sounded on the stairs.
            Magdalene Denton descended and we almost ran up to each other.
            “My God, DX, I hear you’ve been though a disaster in Nevada!”
            “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”
            “They say there was an explosion! And an armed OPM spacecraft! You’ve got nerves of steel!”
            “That’s my Dad!” Said Billy with pride.
            “Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. DX Denton’s fanclub’s next meeting will happen later this evening. I was just summoned to Liberty Island. Alex’s up to something big.”
            “Can’t you talk by infolink?” Magdalene asked sweetly, and put her arms around my neck.
            “Sorry, I think I should be there in flesh. You can come with me.”
            That brightened her face a little, and she came along.

New York City, Liberty Island, December 12, 2150.

It was a bright Saturday morning in New York City. The sky was steel-great with clouds, and the cold wind was blowing, bringing more of them. The streets were white from snow, but I didn’t use them to get to Liberty Island. Instead, I went there by speedboat I kept in my private dock next to my cottage. It took us less than half an hour to sail down the Hudson River to New York Bay.
The recent Global Warming effects made us build several dams around Manhattan. The city is located very luckily for such an occasion. Its location was as if carefully picked out to build the city center not right on the coast, but between a system of islands with straights narrow enough to build dams all over them. On my way to Liberty Island I saw two of those dams—one blocking the Hudson River, the other blocking floods from the Atlantic between Staten Island and Long Island. The coastline of those two islands was significantly flooded in areas facing the ocean. That did not grow in a catastrophe, however. Instead, those areas became adapted to the new environment, and New Yorkers, being New Yorkers, developed them into tourist attractions, resorts and prestigious residential areas, where traffic was accomplished using mini-submarines, houses were reinforced against water pressure, and people on the streets were able to do their banking, buy groceries and do other everyday business by walking on the flooded streets with their aqualung biomods on.
But those areas were not numerous in NYC. There were more of them in Miami, Los Angeles, Shanghai, and many other coastal cities around the world that were not so profitably located to build a system of dams. Huge coastal walls had to be erected to surround the area between Los Angeles and San Diego in order to prevent New West Coast from re-emerging. Billions of credits were spent on those projects by ApostleCorp.
Liberty Island fully preserved its shores, and Magdalene and I successfully docked at its North Dock. The island was off-limits that day especially for this occasion, and we saw nobody but a few air security bots, and later, in the middle of the island, on the land near the flag, our old Australian pilot-friend Sid Black giving service to his old harrier.
“Sid Black,” I greeted, and he stood up from his Harrier. “You’re a long way from home.”
“G’day, mate!” He greeted back, putting on his multi-colored sunglasses to protect his eyes from the bright snow.
“So the NSF business, huh?” I continued, keeping in mind the fact Alex doesn’t want us to keep him waiting. “Let me guess...Giving Alex D a ride around New York?”
“That’s bloody right, mate.” He nodded, leaning on the tail of his jet. “He’s near the entrance to the old UNATCO bunker. You’d better not keep him waiting.”
“I know. He sounded very urgent on the infolink.” I agreed, and thought it was the time to terminate the conversation. “Talk to you later, Sid. Hope the NSF won’t replace your job with a robot-pilot.”
“That A.I. chick Ava Johnson is currently my only rival.” He laughed. “But I’m still the best pilot if not in the Northern Hemisphere, then in the Southern at least! Later, lad!”
We went away, and Sid returned to his bird. I found Alex standing exactly where Sid had told me, waiting for us with Sam Carter, Magdalene’s father. We greeted each other, but when I asked Alex what he was up to, he refused to discuss anything until the other X-3 members arrive.
In five minutes a helicopter landed on an ancient helipad, and JC came out of it, followed by Paul. I recognized the copter. It was my present—Geronimo.
“I am glad you all came in time.” Alex greeted them. “This is quite important.”
“Do you have some kind of idea what the OPM is currently up to?” Asked JC, his whisper was hard to hear on the background noise of the chopper they had arrived.
“Not yet. But I needed all of you to come.” Alex D said and started moving towards the bunker. Every movement showed something was going on. “Come on, in the old UNATCO Headquarters. Time is short.”
“You sure they will let us in?” Asked JC, following Alex.
“As long as you guys stay with me.” I said, keeping close to Alex. “I can use my Seraphic/8X clearance to enter any room at this facility and take you with me.”
Alex didn’t say anything, but his thoughts showed he wanted me to come with them partially because of the fact I could let them pass. We entered the bunker. The entrance hall was large and brightly lit. Behind the security desk sat two security guards. One of them was John Denton.
My older son.
“Hey, guys!” John waived to us and stood up. His inborn nanite wires were partially covered by a black cowboy hat. His passion for the Wild West was expressed by a sheriff suit, that made him different from other security guards. When I looked in his face, I felt I looked in the mirror—so alike he looked as I. But not his eyes and hair. They were inherited from Magdalene—he was blond, with blue eyes, however you couldn’t describe the color of his iridescent, because they were radiating bright indigo luminance, the same color as my own, and with the same biomod architecture as mine. “Helios has authorized me to accompany you.”
“That’s good news, son.” I said, and another guard replaced John on his seat at the security desk.
“So how’s my little brother? I haven’t seen him for a while.” John inquired after we entered the narrow winding hall, leading deeper in ex-UNATCO HQ. The ‘while’ he talked about was about 3 months, the longest period of my sons separation.
“Oh, he’s a really smart child, just like you were. He’s a bit shy and prefers to play with his pet karkian Spike and with The Oracle than with other kids.”
“Yeah, when I was younger I could only dream of a military-grade bot as a toy.” Laughed John. “But I had those powers, unlike my peers. Man, that made them jealous! And I remember I took it for granted. Ha-ha!”
John has always been a funny, happy man, having avoided the hardships I’d suffered in youth. I only was sorry he had to grow up without his father for 20 years. He only visited me in anabiosis. And his mother. Paul practically replaced me as his father, that’s why they still were acting like good old friends. Even now in the old UNATCO bunker they came close to each other to discuss some ApostleCorp issues as the rest of us was walking silently pass the halls and offices of level 2, where JC, Paul and Joseph Manderley used to work a long time ago. Alex went on, and we followed him on the stairs down to level 3.
“So why exactly are we here?” Paul engaged in the conversation with Alex after a discussion with John about ApostleCorp’s new project of mining on asteroids.
“As you and the rest of the world knows, thanks to the media,” Alex D thought for a moment and started unveiling his agenda. “yesterday’s terrorist attack in Nevada was a success for the OPM. The craft of the terrorists got away into the Pacific Ocean, and we did not locate them leaving the Earth.” We were now on level 3, the deepest in there. UNATCO hid MJ12 on that level, but that facility was totally ruined and collapsed. “We also know it was not a suicide dive, because it was obviously a part of their plan. Now they stole something from the Area 51 ruins, supposedly the Roswell UFO. When DX reported me the situation I came up with the idea to gather with you here at the Statue of Liberty to ask our alien friend, the only survivor of the incident about what is so special in that flying saucer that might interest the OPM. But first I would like to ask General Carter what he thinks about the terrorist attack in Nevada?”
“Just Carter.” Replied Sam instinctively. “I know I’ve been appointed General again by Helios, but, seriously, that’s way too much for you to call me by my rank, friends.” He thought for a moment. Alex was now leading us to the left, in the old armory and prison sectors. Suddenly Sam exclaimed: “Yeah…more than one hundred years and this place has not changed much. Wish I could see it all with my own eyes. I wonder what’s now with my old office in the old armory sector?”
“I’ve been there before, General Carter.” JC said, as if making a report, while I could see Sam frowning his forehead. “It was used to keep Uber Alles’ Scythe before he stole it.”
“Drop the formalities, soldier. Just call me Carter.” Said Sam, not frowning in the end of the phrase. I couldn’t see his eyes, because they were now always covered by a pair of large shades—the wound he’d received in Merced operation made its slow way all through his eyes, killing his vision. The only way to bring it back was mechanical augmentations, but he refused, and, instead, he made a sixth sense augmentation surgery, and covered his messed up eyes with shades, constantly seeing with the 6th sense similar to mine.
“I’m not a soldier anymore, Carter.” Said JC finally.
“So what do you think?” I asked to draw Sam’s attention back to the point.
“Not much really.” Said Sam, when we entered the hall, that previously was occupied by UNATCO top mechs—Herman Gunther and Anna Navarre. Anna’s seat was now occupied by another guard, who only nodded in approval at the sight of me. That was a Seraphic 8/X clearance zone, the one that served as a habitat for a real gray. “I came from Mars a little bit later the Roswell incident. All I know is that our spacecrafts met too much air resistance in Earth’s atmosphere and both survivor spacecrafts crashed. Both were in the United States, because we were planning to receive some hospitality from the most powerful nation of the world, but we crashed into the desert. I survived the crash in El Indio, Texas, and headed to an ancient alien, supposedly Martian base in Giza, Egypt, where under an old pyramid I found all the stuff I needed to replace my Martian gray body with an ordinary body of a man from Earth, which I found perfectly preserved from the impact of a period of some 4000 years in one of the rooms of the pyramid.”
“And why didn’t you stay in a gray’s body?” Alex asked, trying to get more out of him. The story he told wasn’t exactly new for us. Sam likes to boast about his adventures.
“I would have died in Earth’s conditions. The grays VersaLife has created are able to live on Earth because they are simply transgenics, clones. And the second reason I had to change my body was that from the news I heard from the press, there was already a UFO crash in New Mexico, and I knew exactly what it meant. That was the spacecraft of Rjol, and that was an evil grey, who supposedly destroyed our home planet, but, unfortunately, I don’t know more than that.”
Something was just a bit cleared up, but neither Alex nor I was satisfied.
“Hard to believe, but that means I’m partially of extraterrestrial ancestry too.” John exclaimed excitedly. “Sam’s my granddad! So when Paul says ‘how’s it going, MAN?’ he’s only 75% right.”
“Yeah, boy, you and your mother are half Martians, this is why even without your biomods you could live a thousand years without getting old.” Sam confirmed, laying his hand on John’s shoulder. “You have grey’s survival abilities in your DNA.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, as everybody finally stopped at a cell of an ex-cell block. “we have arrived. This is the sector where the only survivor of the Roswell UFO incident lives.”
“I may not see too well, but I suppose it was the old cell block of UNATCO.” Sam guessed.
“It was.” I confirmed. Everybody’s attention was drawn to the cell that was transformed into a kind of a living room but with requisites of a bedroom and a bathroom. Even though the general atmosphere was that of a typical American household, the furniture was customized and everything else was designed to make life for the only living alien easy. A pale grey mass on a concrete bed with a pillow, but with no blanket, started to move as I pressed the ring button. The gray moved graciously and equally fast, with no rushes. He approached us visitors, showing his small body, long arms and big head with big black eyes.
“Oh my gosh, a real space alien!” Magdalene said to me that telepathically. “You should have taken me to a tour here before, DX.”
“I’m currently fixing the mistake, Mag.” I replied using the same way—the infolink.
            The alien examined each of us, and finally started talking to us telepathically: “You are so soon, DX! And you…I remember you too, JC! I don’t know my other guests, but I can say that one is not human.” He said, pointing his long finger (which also served as a toe) at Sam.
            “Yeah, yeah, you aren’t a homo sapiens either.” Sam replied.
            “So, how’s life, Gray?” I asked. It’s been a while since I last talked to him. 80 years. But the nameless gray perceived that like several days. Or maybe he was joking when he said I was back so soon. Aliens also have a sense of humor.
            “Same old, as your people say.” He said. I noticed a flatscreen TV on one of his walls. He must have picked up all those phrases from our programs. “Homesick for the old planet, but at least Helios treats me better than Majestic-12. I heard on the news there was a terrorist attack yesterday. Is this why you paid me a visit?”
I was glad he was informed about the current affairs. Again, that could be only the television, because the alien was about the only sapient creature on Earth not connected to Helios. “We would like to know what is so important about the spacecraft you have arrived on Earth so dramatically.”
“Ah, you mean you want to know which door it can open?”
This unpredicted reply confused me a little. A few seconds after JC said: “Did you say ‘door’? What does it mean? Is the UFO some key or something?”
“Yes, a key.” The alien continued. “It opens the door to the ancient Martian palace of Tantalus!”
“Who is Tantalus?” JC asked again.
“Centuries ago two brothers lived and ruled on Mars.” The gray started a long narration of an ancient story. “They were Rjol and Tantalus. They were not only powerful kings of the worldwide state called the Order of the First World that is the same name for the OPM, but also gifted scientists. Tantalus constructed a machine that could control all the physics in the Universe.”
“You mentioned the device that controlled physics.” Paul said with a concern look on his face. “What do you mean?”
“No one knows how it works, but Tantalus and Rjol could rule everything.” The alien was obviously enjoying our attention, that was really drawn by that moment. “They could become gods, but suddenly they fell apart. Rjol wanted more power, he was urging Tantalus to turn that machine as quickly as possible, but Tantalus wasn’t sure if that was a good idea. One day, when it was the year 1945 on Earth, Rjol sneaked into the engineering room of Tantalus’s palace and activated the machine that would give him infinite power. But something went wrong, and a storm of grey clouds covered the surface of the whole planet, consuming everything—people, houses, nature. Tantalus has blown the machine up just in time to prevent Mars from becoming a middle of a black hole, but everything that was on the surface of the red planet was consumed and disintegrated into molecules. During the blast of the machine, both Tantalus and Rjol died, but that was a sacrifice enough to stop an unstoppable process of mass destruction. But even that was not enough to stop Rjol. Both brothers became no more than ghosts thanks to the abilities the machine endowed them, but Rjol has overthrown Tantalus and ordered his survived men, including me, to leave him in his palace, from where even a ghost was unable to flee without our spacecraft that later crashed in Roswell. The few survivors followed Rjol to find a new home on the Earth, and I was one of them. I also can see there was another vessel that left Mars—that man” He pointed at Sam, “was not in our crew. The vessel we came on was set to find its way to the ruins of Tantalus’s palace again, so it is a key and a map in one.”
All that was unbelievable! But not impossible. In fact, that was a pretty sane explanation for things.
Alex hit one of his glove-covered hands on the other and exclaimed. “So that is what the OPM is up to! It wants to find Tantalus and make him build another machine for their goals!”
“Tell me, what happened to Rjol?” I tried to extract even more information. “He’s a ghost, I think he also survived the crash…”
The alien savored every moment of our attention. He continued: “He lives today. Ever since he came from Mars he was collaborating with the most powerful people of the Earth. He gave alien technology to Majestic-12 to cover up the UFO and me and to have influence there. He also had the ability to possess certain individuals to control other factions to weaken the humanity and start the alien invasion. He always possessed only the most powerful people. First it was Joseph Stalin, it was when Rjol gave nuclear weapons to the crazy Soviet regime. Then, Rjol entered Kim Il-sung, the North Korean dictator to bring another threat to democracy. Then Osama Bin Laden, who was in charge of the order of Hashshashins, and it was him again, who organized the 9/11 attacks in the USA. And then it was Bob Page, a rising billionaire who killed millions of people with the Grey Death virus. Then he finally took over mj12 and overthrew the Illuminati. He made kings abuse their crowns…throughout the 20th and 21st century there’s a bloody track of Rjol.”
“That’s horrible!” Said Magdalene, standing closer to me. “What if he is still among us?”
“You do not have to worry yourself with that.” The gray went on, as calm as before. “I was at Area 51 when Bob Page installed Aquinas Hub and gave the control over it to Icarus electronic sentience. He wanted to assimilate with an A.I., but somebody stopped him. JC did. That ended Rjol.”
“But I saw the ghost of Bob Page in 2076!” I said quickly after a swift reminiscence of a pueblo house interior, a face of a Native American and a transparent figure of Bob Page in a white suit. “He was trying to capture the Roswell UFO in New Mexico!”
“Maybe he is still hanging somewhere as a ghost, but he has no more power he used to have.” The alien said.
“Then who the heck is hunting on the UFO?” Sam asked, sounding confused, and, apparently, incredulous towards the gray.
“Uber Alles does.” I said instantly. “I’m sure he wants this kind of power for himself. I just wonder why he sent his men to recover the UFO yesterday when he already got it in 2076”
“The UFO crashed into two pieces and a great many smaller debris.” Said the gray, and his voice echoed in my head several times. “But if one connects the main two parts, the UFO is going to work perfectly and bring whoever uses it to the abandoned Tantalus’s palace.”
“To free Tantalus and make him construct this machine once more.” John said very seriously and gravely.
“To take over everything.” I said in the same, somber tone of voice. “Now it's literally the god from the machine.” I thought of the prospects of living in a world like this, and I said what I had to say: “We have to stop them.”
“As we speak they are looking for the location of Tantalus’s palace.” Paul said very fast. “Perhaps they have already freed him if they already have arrived on Mars.”
“Who the hell can stop them? And how?” John asked, looking at me, Paul and JC consecutively.
Immediately a voice sounded in my head, and I knew the other heard it as well. It belonged to Helios. The transmission said: “Calculation complete. We have 95% chance to stop the OPM if DX and JC Denton will go to Medionusqvam, the capital of the Ordo Primae Mundi, yes. I require you to spy on Uber Alles and find Tantalus because your biomod architecture is superior to any other inhabitant of Earth, but not homogeneous to each other. You will fulfill weak points of one another with your own unique powers and the powers I endowed you. Do not get caught. You have one hour to prepare for the flight to Mars. I will send a spacecraft in an hour.”
Nobody said anything for a second. Magdalene was holding my hand, and looking in my eyes. I felt like the world was on my shoulders.
But I couldn’t brake.
“Helios has upgraded our biomod systems, now it's the time to use it.” I said encouragingly. “If, of course, JC is ready to work for Helios this time.”
JC thought for a second, and said: “I am. DX is right. We don't have much time. We have to find the key and bring it back to the Earth.”
The gray seemed to be bored by that moment, and went to the table in his room, where he had a microwave, and started to make some chicken wings, the only difference in the mode of preparation between us, humans, was the fact that the gray burnt it, and ate the wings very hot, black, and he did it very quickly, swallowing even the bones.
“Well, guys, good luck.” Paul said, as we were on our way back to the surface. “Don’t mess with Uber Alles, he's nearly invincible just like you, and he’s a bastard.”
“Not like us.” I added witty.
“Right.” Paul gave a shadowy laugh. “I wish I could go with you. You will need help.”
“Paul is right!” Alex took this idea. “We’re a team! We’re X-3!”
“You must stay.” Sam contradicted. “We can't risk losing you, the directors of ApostleCorp and the NSF. Besides 2 spies have fewer chances to be caught.”
“Yes, but they will need back-up!” Alex was looking for a pretext, and I adored his commitment to the X-3. “I can provide air support if they find themselves in a tricky situation.”
“I think that’s a good idea.” JC helped him out. “You can use my Apache to provide helicover.”
“Yeah, and The Oracle to have somebody with nerves of steel!” I made my token of support of Alex’s joining us on the mission.
“Alex D will follow you on JC’s apache and with DX’s Oracle.” Helios approved. “Now you must hurry. Go right now.”
And with no more talk we hurried away, to the chopper, harrier and a speedboat.
At home I only needed to pack a couple of lockpicks before I leave. Just in case I spared some room in my pockets for multotools. As for arms, I always carry a weapon inside, the most powerful of them all. An invisible weapon. The weapon that was the cause of my duty to save the world one last time. Augmentation.
Was it too much to ask from me? I didn’t care. JC thought I lived an American Dream made reality, but I had to defend it. Everything was so smooth for such a long period of time. Now I was standing with a mini-crossbow again, hidden up in the sleeve of my black trenchcoat.
I was going to fight for freedom that isn’t so free. I didn’t wish anybody to pay the ultimate price for it, when I could do everything all by myself with JC. Because we couldn’t pay the ultimate price. We were immortal.
When I was ready, I came down from my bedroom to the living room, where John was sitting of the sofa.
“Er...” He stretched, tipping his hat, looking for some nice good-bye.
“No need for a good-bye. We both know nothing will happen to be while I am in the Middle of Nowhere.” I interrupted his thoughts.
“When you come back, I’m gonna throw a party in your honor!” He said when I was at the door. “In my penthouse on Upper East Side. Cya there.”
I nodded, and went out, leaving my son emotionless--a family resemblance.
The cold wind was shaking the trees, the sky was now completely overclouded, the snow was falling, as the forecast predicted. The weather was changing. A storm was coming.
Amidst the gathering storm, I stood with Magdalene, so close we seemed one person from the distance. I was saying good bye, standing in my backyard, on the cliff of the Hudson, looking not in the cold December waters of the river, but in the eyes of the one I love.
We didn’t say anything for a while. Then she whispered: “I have a bad feeling about all this. You did enough already, DX. You don’t have to go…” She said, telling me to stay, but eyes letting me go, understanding me better than anybody, knowing me better than Helios.
“You’re right.” I  don’t have to go, but I choose to go because I do it for the people who need me. For you. Hey...I will forever be with you. In your head, remember?”
“But I need you beside me...” she said, with eyes full of warm tears, merged with falling snow. I read  her heart beating faster than usual. I read in her eyes a struggle—let me go to try to prolong our dream came true, or meet the end together.
“I swear, I’ll be back.” I promised. 
“I know.” She said, and put her arms off my neck. Immediately I felt so cold and so numb at the same time. I couldn’t feel her anymore. “What are you waiting for? Go!” She said, but the wind devoured her words, and I slowly stepped back, keeping looking right in her eyes until the blizzard distorted her image, but only in the world, not in front of my eyes. I kept this image. Without realizing  it, I stored in my datavault.
Even when I got into the spacecraft as the first pilot, I was thinking of Magdalene. Then JC brought me back to the ground.
“Speed up, DX.” He said slowly. “The flight to Mars itself will take about a day.” I let my systems be integrated with the navigation systems of that ship, and my neutral interface started the engine. “Jeez, Nicky gave a hard time for me about goin’ there. She’s currently in Paris and I’ve just talked to her through the infolink and she’s not very pleased I’m going to Medionusquam without saying goodbye in person. As if I’m gonna die there.”
“Tell her to got no fear—I’m with you.” I joked seriously.
“That’s what I said. Let’s go now. Alex is right after us on my copter.” And we took off. I saw a small beautiful figure looking up at me through all the snowstorm. Then she was too far away from me. “So, d'you know anything about Medionusquam?” JC asked me.
“Not much is known about Medionusqvam, or The Middle of Nowhere City, as it is called in English.” I briefed him a little. “It's twice as big as New York plus Tokyo. Cult of the Secret Council of 6, and brainwashing on every billboard. Did I forget something? Oh, yeah. And they speak Latin there. Do you speak Latin?”
“I have no idea how to even say “no” in Latin.” JC said, as I expected.
“Take it easy, I studied some Latin at university.” I said, but not recalling anything that could be of help in communication. I think I could read stuff, but hardly communicate successfully. “We should worry more about the state the city is always in—the martial law, curfew.”

[1] and then he kissed her
where the sea ends
her lips, delicate and pale
and his eyes tear up (German)

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