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IMAGINE


Book Two of the Fuzed Trilogy




David E. Stevens




2018 Edition

Copyright © 2016 by David E. Stevens

Revised Edition 2018


Fuzed™ is trademarked for books, movies and video games.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing, except for brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information regarding permission, contact FuzedSeries@comcast.net.


Cambridge Free Press


ISBN 978-0-9989808-1-2 print

ISBN 978-0-9989808-6-7 ePub


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.



DEDICATION



This book is dedicated to the visionary men and women who are creating the wonders ahead … and understand the consequences.

CONTENTS



PROLOGUE

I IMPACT

II CONSPIRACY

III DEFCON

IV EXECUTION

HOW REAL IS THIS?

PREVIEW BOOK 3

CHARACTER REVIEW

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

INTRODUCTION



This story is based on a simple extrapolation of existing technology, making the risk real and … unfortunately, inevitable.

PROLOGUE



IMPACT Review: Commander Josh Logan (call sign Fuzed) was a Navy test pilot in charge of the robotic fighter program. During a routine flight, his F-18 caught on fire. Staying with the burning jet to prevent it from hitting a neighborhood, he ejected too late. Paralyzed and hemorrhaging, his heart beat its last beat.

A year later, he woke up in a hospital. He remembered a voice offering him a new life and mission. The price? Everyone he knew would believe him dead. Looking like an omni-racial Olympic athlete, he realized his body wasn’t repaired … it was replaced. A genetic blend of every race with humanity’s best genes and one-in-a-billion abilities, he looked completely different. Elizabeth, his tech-savvy ICU nurse helped him create a new identity. There was a strong mutual attraction, but he was still in love with his wife who believed he was dead.

Josh was re-contacted by the voice he called Jesse. Hearing it only in his head, he believed he had an audio implant and was working for a secret government lab. Ironically, Josh suspected that he had become a biological version of the robotic fighters that he was helping develop.

He learned that a comet would strike Earth in two years and annihilate almost all life on the planet. A test pilot brought back from the dead … by a voice in his head … to save the world? He realized he was probably insane, but with no other options, he used his insider knowledge of the Military Industrial Complex to create a counterfeit classified program. Recruiting a brilliant international team, he convinced them that they were secretly working for the U.S. government to build a powerful laser to deflect a comet.

Josh recruited his first squadron commander, Joe Meadows, and his old squadron mate, Carl Casey, who worked for the CIA. During the missing year, Carl married Josh’s pregnant “widow” and they had a baby daughter … Josh’s daughter. He was crushed and torn, but knew he couldn’t tell them who he really was. His platonic relationship with Elizabeth heated up.

Their secret program expanded. With no agency claiming it, the FBI saw a fake program developing and deploying the world’s most powerful weapon to a secret base in Antarctica. The FBI and CIA planted a mole in Josh’s team. They also contacted Carl Casey and Josh’s program Security Chief, Tim Smith. Josh’s elaborate house of cards began to collapse. The CIA targeted him as an international terrorist, making it clear the voice in his head couldn’t be from the government and might not even be human.

He had one chance to prove the laser’s real purpose. They had to deflect a comet fragment that would destroy London in 24 hours. As they arrested his team, Josh used his genetically enhanced body to escape. He stole an Australian fighter and flew it to the Antarctic base.

Before they could activate the weapon, however, a SEAL team captured Josh and his team. With cruise missiles inbound, Josh made a heroic dive to fire the laser. Deflected, the comet fragment detonated over the Atlantic, but Josh was shot in the process.

The CIA Director was fired and Josh was medevacked to an aircraft carrier. Thinking he wouldn’t survive, they flew Elizabeth to the ship, where Josh proposed. Observatories finally detected the Mount Everest-sized comet. The laser deflection system was proven, but with the impact less than a year away, dozens of additional lasers were needed to deflect it. There wasn’t enough time.


Click here for Character Review.



I IMPACT





1 THE END


The sound of surf rose from below as the couple stood on a South American clifftop overlooking the Atlantic. Silhouetted by the setting sun, hair tousled by a tropical breeze, it would have been remarkably romantic ... if not for the end of the world.

“Yes sir, it all hangs on this last shot.” He paused. “Thank you, Mr. President; I’ll pass that on to the team.” As Admiral Joe Meadows set the phone down, he looked out over his Antarctic base. His office, wrapped in heavily insulated glass, sat just below the airfield tower. The panoramic perch reminded him of the bridge of an aircraft carrier. Peering through the Antarctic twilight, he saw the last cargo jet land on the ice runway in 40-knot, 40-below-zero winds.

He was tired, but he could still appreciate the surreal beauty. The blue taxi lights embedded in the solid ice runway illuminated the snow swirling around the huge Russian jet. It was the last of an international bucket brigade that had built the nuclear-powered base of 10,000 engineers, scientists and construction workers.

His hand shook slightly as he poured himself a cup of coffee. They had failed. Although they had prevented a direct impact, the comet would penetrate the atmosphere, and if it broke up—

The elevator ‘dinged.’ He turned to see his highly efficient taskmaster, also known as his Flag Aide, bounding out. Lieutenant Molly Cardoso was dark, wiry and always in motion. Studying her tablet, she answered his unasked question. “We still have a few minutes before we have to be down in the Control Center.”

Looking back out the window, he put both his hands around the warm coffee cup. “You’d think after 10 months, I’d be used to the cold.”

“I’ll have them check the heating system.”

He shook his head with a small smile. “It’s fine, Molly.” He nodded toward the three-story, windowless building, nestled at the base of the mountain. “Nuclear reactor’s putting out plenty of power. In fact, we risk melting the ice runway.” He paused. “It’s probably just the 8,000-foot elevation.” The reflection of his face in the window contradicted him. He’d gone from captain to three-star admiral in ten months. The crushing responsibility and lack of sleep had taken its toll. No longer looking like a large, black, defensive lineman, he’d lost weight and let gray hair grow on his normally clean-shaven head. Did he really look that tired? The reflection of genuine concern on the face of his young aide confirmed it.

Turning back to her, he smiled. “Molly, you keep up with the news. How’s the world handling it?”

“Well, the conspiracy theorists still don’t believe there’s a comet or Antarctic base. We’re just actors in a studio. Then there are those who are convinced the world’s ending and are partying their brains out.” She smiled. “But I think the majority accept the situation with cautious hope.” She paused — unusual for her — and added, “Things once important become trivial; things trivial become important.”

“Why, Molly, you have the heart of a poet.”

“Doubt it, sir. I hate poetry.” She looked at her tablet.

Getting the hint, he grabbed his coffee cup, took a last look outside and followed her to the elevator.

As the doors closed and the elevator headed down to the Control Center, she said, “Sir, you’re scheduled for a short talk to the team as soon as we arrive. It’ll be televised across the base, and,” she looked at him meaningfully, “picked up by the press and broadcast around the world.”

He gave her a tired grin. “I promise, Molly, I won’t tell any more sea stories.” He paused. “Have you talked to your folks recently?”

“Talked to my dad in LA yesterday. He’s fine.” She hesitated. “Wasn’t able to talk to Mom. She flew back to Venezuela to be with my grandparents.”

Meadows frowned.

She sighed and looked down. “She knows about the comet’s trajectory over South America. I told her if things don’t go according to plan ….” Gently shaking her head, she looked back up at him. “She just said it’s where she’s needed.”

Meadows put his big arm around her shoulders and gave her a gentle hug.

As the elevator doors opened and they walked to the Control Center, she quickly attached a wireless lapel mic and snatched his coffee cup.

It looked like NASA Mission Control. The front wall was a giant display. It included multiple status screens as well as a live view of the laser domes 1,600 feet above the base. The entire mountaintop had been flattened to install 90 of the world’s most powerful and accurate lasers in a geometrically perfect, phased array pattern.

Facing the giant display were rows of monitoring stations occupied by two dozen engineers and technicians. Above and behind was a glassed-in press gallery. There was a subdued but constant buzz of voices and keyboard clicks.

As Meadows moved toward the front of the room, he saw his Deputy Director and Chief Scientist, Dr. Victoria Chandra. Standing near the center of the room, very tall with long black hair and an intense visage, she was hard to miss. She was conferring with the Control Center Director and her astrophysics team: former astronaut and B612 CEO Dr. Ed Lu; Scottish extraterrestrial impact expert Dr. Bill Napier; and legendary comet finder and astrophysicist Dr. Carolyn Shoemaker.

Meadows also exchanged a head nod with Elton Muske, who was standing quietly near the back of the room. If it hadn’t been for Muske’s initial surreptitious funding and construction support, none of this would have been possible. Muske had also been instrumental in the rapid production and installation of the 90 lasers. He had a brilliant knack for out-of-the-box thinking.

Over the loud speaker, a calm voice said, “T-minus 60 minutes.”

That was his cue. As he stepped up in front of the main display, the room quieted.

“I’ll make this fast. You have more important things to do than listen to speeches. After 10 months of back-breaking work, around the clock, in the harshest possible environment ... you’ve delayed the Millennium Comet by three minutes.” He paused. “Doesn’t sound like much, but it allows the earth to move 6,000 kilometers in its orbit and out of the comet’s crosshairs. Although it will graze the atmosphere, you, and the millions who’ve supported us, have prevented a direct impact that would have erased almost all life on Earth.” As he looked around the room, he continued, “I’m incredibly proud of each and every one of you.”

There was a round of spirited applause.

He glanced at the display behind him. “We’re 58 minutes from our final salvo ... the most critical to date. You’re about to stop the rotation and stabilize the attitude of a 15-kilometer mountain. Nothing must stop us.”

He paused. “Just got off the phone with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the United States. They, along with all the world’s leaders and citizens, send their heart-felt thanks and prayers for our success.” He paused again. “We’re a truly international team and come from many belief sets, but at this point, I don’t think any of us would believe it unreasonable to request supernatural help. Please join me in a quiet prayer.”

After the prayer, Meadows moved through the Control Center, patting backs and shaking hands. He knew everyone by name. Finally working his way to the back, he grabbed a fresh cup of coffee for himself and Chandra.

Nodding to Lu, Napier and Shoemaker, he handed the coffee to Chandra and said, “Graduation day.”

Over the loudspeaker they heard, “T-minus 30 minutes.”

She gave him a small smile as he asked the same question he’d asked her every day for the past 10 months. “How are we looking?”

She nodded toward Napier.

With a strong Scottish brogue, he said, “Latest projections have it penetrating 50 kilometers into the atmosphere and coming within 70 kilometers of the surface. Computer models still show multiple earthquakes, tsunamis, major meteoroid damage and a very powerful electromagnetic pulse, but they’re all events we’re expecting and hopefully prepared for.”

Meadows looked at Lu. “Comet orientation?”

Lu shook his head. “Hate having to wait ‘til the last minute, but we can’t fire until our potato-shaped comet’s skinny face is forward. We’re going to hit it one last time with everything we’ve got. It should stop the rotation and lock it in the optimum orientation for atmospheric entry.”

Meadows looked at Chandra.

She exhaled sharply and said quietly, “Even firing all of them, it’s barely enough to stop the rotation.” She paused. “And this is the first time we’ve fired all of them at the same time.” She shook her head. “They finished installing the extra capacitors and power conduits last night, but we haven’t had time to test ‘em.”

Meadows nodded and then asked Lu, “What are the odds it’ll hold together when it hits the atmosphere?”

“With the correct orientation, it’ll have 15 percent less drag.”

Meadows frowned. “Ed, I know you’ve done a lot of atmospheric entries yourself, but ...” he raised an eyebrow, “optimistic press releases aside?”

Lu looked him in the eye. “Joe, you know the story. We’re dealing with a mountain of ice and rock moving 100 times faster than a rifle bullet.” He shook his head. “There’s no way it’ll hold together through dozens of G’s of deceleration while being superheated thousands of degrees. All we can hope for is it’ll hold together long enough that the pieces won’t hit us or explode in the atmosphere.”

T-minus 15 minutes. Target data upload complete.”

“And if they do?”

Napier, staring past them, inserted, “Latest simulations say that if it breaks up and explodes in the atmosphere, we’re talking a 10-million-megaton blast.”

Meadows gave a slight shrug. “Better than a two-billion-megaton direct hit.”

Nodding, Napier quietly added, “Yes, but that’s still a thousand times more energy than all the nuclear weapons in the world combined. It’d melt the three kilometers of ice this base sits on and scorch half the planet. The other half would eventually freeze and starve.”

As Meadows was responding, the Control Center Director, Colonel Carlos Comulada, turned around and interrupted, “We got a problem.” With one hand on his headset, he pointed at a display. It showed a schematic of the ninety Blasters, but three branches of ten were blinking red. “Just lost the power to 30 Blasters. Probably wind damage to the conduits. We’re clocking 70-knot gusts on the mountaintop. I sent in the emergency team.”

Meadows signaled Muske to join them.

T-minus 10 minutes. Targeting servos aligned.”

Meadows asked, “Can we realign the remaining Blasters?”

Chandra said, “Yes, but 60 Blasters aren’t enough!” Calling up data on one of the consoles, she added, “We’ve got to get at least 20 back online or we don’t have enough power to stop the rotation.”

Muske asked, “Can we delay the firing?”

Lu and Napier shook their heads emphatically, as Chandra said, “Absolutely not! We have to hit it right when it’s in the optimum orientation.”

Comulada looked at them. “They have six minutes to evaluate, repair and evacuate.”

Meadows noticed the press had sensed something and were pointing cameras their way.

Lu leaned in and whispered, “If it hits the atmosphere with any angular momentum, our simulations say it’ll tear itself apart and explode in the atmosphere.”

T-minus six minutes. Capacitors at 100 percent charge.”

One of the mountaintop cameras zoomed in on a dome damaged by the wind. Next to it, they could just make out shadowy figures in the twilight. The camera zoomed in further to a car-sized power junction box. With dozens of leg-thick cables coming out of it, it looked like a giant spider. They watched the team trying to repair the connections while fighting subzero, hurricane-force winds.

T-minus five minutes. Core super-cooling commencing.”

Comulada turned back to Chandra, “We’ve got to realign the remaining Blasters before the automated firing sequence locks them out.”

Chandra closed her eyes. When she opened them, she said, rapidly, “Realign — assuming we get the first two branches of 10 back online.”

Comulada’s eyes narrowed. “You sure? If we end up with only 60, realigning for 80 will mismatch the phasing, making the shot ineffective.”

T-minus one minute. Dome doors opening.”

Chandra snapped, “Do it!” Softer, she added, “Carlos, if it’s rotating when it hits the atmosphere, we’re toast. We’ve got to go for broke.”

Comulada nodded.

The two technicians looking back at him turned around and keyed in the changes.

T-minus 45 seconds. Dome doors open.

Meadows tapped a pen on his leg and Chandra unconsciously rocked back and forth, as they all stared at the video feed from the mountaintop. Everything hinged on the frostbitten repair crew.

T-minus 30 seconds. Capacitor initiators armed.”

Comulada pointed at one of the screens. “They fixed one circuit! That’s 10 Blasters back online.”

Lu shook his head. “Not enough!”

Muske quickly said, “Reroute the power intended for the dead Blasters to the others.”

Comulada shook his head. “They can’t handle that much power. We’ll melt their cores and blow them apart!”

Muske turned to Meadows and Chandra. “They only have to fire one more time!”

Nodding, Meadows and Chandra simultaneously said, “Melt ‘em!”

Comulada put his hands on the shoulders of the two wide-eyed technicians and said, “Emergency override! Reset the phasing and redistribute all power to the live Blasters.”

Their fingers flew over the keyboards. As they hit enter—

T-minus 15 seconds. Target coordinates locked. Abort disabled.”

At the front of the Control Room, the display of the Blaster’s status changed. Twenty Blasters went black. The remaining 70 changed from green to yellow with a flashing “128% POWER” next to each.

There was a buzz around the room and in the press gallery. Over the noise, Meadows told Comulada, “The Blasters may explode. Tell the repair crew to take cover in the dome of one of the dead Blasters!”

Comulada nodded, speaking quickly into his headset.

On screen, they saw the shadowy figures running toward one of the domes.

T-minus ten, nine ...”

As they reached the dome, Meadows quietly said to Chandra, “Whatever the outcome, it’s been an honor and privilege to serve with you.”

... six, five ...”

She whispered back, “Honor’s all mine. Just wish Josh had lived to see this.”

... two, one ...”


Blindingly beautiful, blue-green lasers lit the Antarctic plain like a flash photograph. Several of the domes exploded as 70 beams stabbed at the comet in what might be humanity’s last act of defiance.

2 COMET


“Look!” Standing on the cliff top, Elizabeth pointed northeast across the ocean.

Just above the horizon, Josh saw pinpoints of light in the distance sparkling like tiny, green fireflies. He nodded his head. “That was it ... our last shot.”

Still staring at the horizon, she slipped her hand back into his, and gave him a small smile as she nodded at the phone in his hand. It had been softly playing music in the background. As he listened, he realized the song was Stand By Me.

Watching her out of the corner of his eye, he saw a beautiful combination of dark exotic eyes, olive skin and blonde hair. He glanced down at their hands. His skin was a shade darker. Most would identify him as multiracial, but they often did a double take when they saw his eyes. The flecks of color embedded in gray were strange, but Elizabeth had told him his eyes were what first attracted her. That was good enough for him.

She asked, “How close will it get?”

Looking back at the horizon, he said, “It’ll enter the atmosphere over the Caribbean and cross South America coming within about 40 miles of the surface.”

“No, I mean how close will it get to us?

He pulled his eyes from the horizon and gave her a half-smile. “Did you bring your sunglasses?”

She just looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“Sorry. It’ll cross the coastline about 10 miles north of us, moving 200 times faster than the speed of sound.” He smiled. “We have ringside seats.”

“Is it safe?”

He shrugged. “As long as it doesn’t break up when it hits the atmosphere.”

“And if it does?”

Josh stopped smiling and looked back at the horizon. “We’ll be the lucky ones. We won’t drown, asphyxiate, freeze or starve to death.”

“Let me guess ... because we’ll be incinerated?”

With a slight nod, he said, “Along with everyone in North and South America.”

Looking back at the horizon, she said, “Kind of a buzz kill on the ringside seats.”

He couldn’t help but smile.

They stood together for several moments, lost in their own thoughts. Then Elizabeth said, “After the comet, it will be a different world, won’t it?”

Josh nodded. “It already is. There’s been a huge renaissance in science.”

Elizabeth added, “Spirituality, too, and armed conflict is at an all-time low.”

Josh gave a small shrug. “Not surprising when we’re all facing our own mortality. Time will tell if war’s obsolete or it’s just a timeout.”

“The United Nations is actually effective and doing good things,” she said optimistically.

He looked at her. “Is that why you decided to work for the U.N.?”

She smiled. “In part.” Her smile faded as she looked back at the horizon. “Guess in a few minutes, we’ll find out if there’ll be anyone around to help or be helped.”

Nodding, he lifted his phone and said to it, “Play live BBC broadcast.”

After a couple seconds, they heard, “... five minutes. We just received confirmation that the last laser strike fired successfully, although there were some ... technical problems. We won’t know if that will affect the outcome until it enters the atmosphere. All commercial aircraft are now on the ground. The U.N. verified that evacuations are complete for those under the comet’s flight path, living in coastal areas and near earthquake fault zones. If you’re within 500 kilometers of the comet’s flight path or in a designated risk area and could not or would not leave, authorities recommend you take cover immediately.”

Elizabeth glanced from the phone to Josh with obviously raised eyebrows.

Josh pretended to focus on the phone as the broadcast continued, “We just received reports that the comet is now visible to the naked eye from on board research vessels in the Atlantic. The picture on your screen is live from a ship near Tobago.” There was another pause. “I’ve just been told the world’s cellular communication systems and Internet servers are powering down in 30 seconds to protect them from the electromagnetic pulse. Authorities strongly recommend that everyone within 5,000 kilometers of the comet’s flight path unplug and shut down all electronic equipment, including your cell phones, until the comet passes. This is Jim Cantore, reporting from Manizales, Colombia.”

Josh turned his phone off.

Elizabeth pointed northeast over the ocean. “Is that it?”

Barely visible, just above the horizon, was a tiny red dot. Although the comet’s surface was as dark as fresh asphalt, this close to the earth, it dimly reflected the sun’s rays.

Shooting stars began to lace the dusk sky as the cloud of debris surrounding the comet reached Earth’s atmosphere. The largest left ghostly green tracks.

As the comet approached, it appeared to double in size every 30 seconds. With the orange-red cast of a lunar eclipse and a tenuous white halo surrounding it, it began to look like a sinister eye with an angry red pupil. The eye seemed to be watching them ... measuring humanity.

Josh put his arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders. Despite the tropical temperature, he felt a shiver run through her body.

As it grew to the size of a full moon, the evil eye transformed into an ominous red orb, right off the cover of a science fiction novel. Jesse had hinted that human eyes might have seen a close approach like this in the distant past, long before the pyramids. Josh suspected that the handful that survived the encounter were probably responsible for many of humanity’s legends and myths.

The meteor shower increased in intensity. Brilliant flashes illuminated the horizon as comet fragments began to explode in the atmosphere. Josh realized the larger fragments could release energy equivalent to a small atomic bomb. Even if everything went right, standing 10 kilometers from the flight path of a 15-kilometer-wide comet might not have been one of his best ideas.

Now appearing three times bigger than the moon, the comet hit the earth’s atmosphere. Its surface instantly superheated to incandescence, transforming the twilight into daylight. Even with sunglasses, the new sun was too bright to look at. Countering the visual spectacle was utter and eerie silence. The sonic shockwave lagged far behind the hypersonic mountain.

Jim Cantore checked his watch while his camera operator, Steve Spencer, pointed his camera toward the northeastern horizon. Spencer and the rest of his slightly crazy Weather Channel crew were the best in the world. The other two members of the team — his producer and the satellite operator — were inside the broadcast van behind him. Actually, it wasn’t a van; it was a massive, heavily armored SUV. When word got out about their plans, a South African company called Paramount donated one of their Marauders. State-of-the-art in personnel protection, it could shrug off automatic weapons and high explosives, but if the comet broke up in the atmosphere, nothing would protect them.

While waiting to go live again, Cantore said to his camera operator and producer, “The President sent his personal thanks to us via our CEO this morning.”

Spencer, looked at him curiously, “But we haven’t covered the comet yet.”

Cantore smiled. “Actually, our real mission is already done. World’s been on the brink of panic because many think the deflection effort isn’t real or it failed. They’re certain the governments are lying to their people. The President believed that having the best-known TV meteorology team in the world reporting from under the comet’s flight path would reduce that fear. He arranged for our exclusive coverage in the evacuation area.” He paused. “And our highly promoted presence here has already saved lives.”

Spencer nodded, but with a wry smile, added, “Kinda hope the deflection effort was real.”

Cantore smiled back. “Yeah, me too.”

The producer gave him his cue. As the camera’s record light came on and swung toward him, he said, “Reporting from Manizales, Colombia, this is Jim Cantore. We’ll be able to see the comet appear over the horizon any second. They fired the lasers to stop its rotation and ‘poke’ it into the best possible entry attitude.” He hesitated. His mission to reassure the world was over, and he was free to tell them what he really knew and call it as he saw it. Blowing out a lungful of air, he continued. “But ... even with the perfect entry attitude, the comet will unleash titanic forces when it hits the atmosphere. It’s so big that the bottom of it will be 15 kilometers — almost 10 miles — deeper in the atmosphere than the top. That thicker air means the bottom will slow down faster than the top, which will try to rip it apart.”

With a small smile, he said, “Even if everything goes as predicted, standing under the comet’s track is ...” he shrugged, “risky, but you can see we’ve taken precautions.” He tapped himself on his combat helmet. “And we’re wearing Kevlar body armor, ear and eye protection. We also have ...” he nodded back toward the van. The camera swung around. “An armored Marauder broadcast van with EMP-hardened electronics.”

Spencer swung the camera back to him. Cantore recognized each of his team by name, and then continued, “We’re volunteers, and regardless of the outcome, know that we’re doing what we love and I’m very proud to be a part of this team.”

He looked back over his shoulder, and the camera followed his gaze. “We positioned ourselves 800 kilometers — 500 miles — inland from where the comet will cross the northeastern coast of South America. We’re right under the point scientists believe the comet will finish its trip through the atmosphere, and hopefully, head back into space.” Pointing over his shoulder, he said, “We’re on top of a hill overlooking the city of Manizales to our east. Normally, it has a population of a half million ... not today. Today, it’s empty, completely evacuated.”

The camera panned down and slowly zoomed into a valley with the city at its center. The camera view lined up with one of the main avenues. Although the sun had set, there was enough light to see buildings lining both sides of a deserted street. The camera zoomed back out and panned up, centering on the northeastern horizon. The inactive 17,000-foot volcano, Nevado del Ruiz, nicely framed the picture to the south. The timing was perfect. There was an obvious brightening in the sky as if another sunrise was starting.

Too late, Josh realized he shouldn’t have come here. Jesse brought him back from his fatal crash to initiate the greatest engineering feat in human history. After his rogue program proved deflecting the comet was possible, Josh needed to disappear. Humanity had to work together, and there could be no doubts or loose ends. After he recovered from the gunshot wounds, however, watching the deflection effort on TV was like sitting on the sidelines during the championship game. He had to see the comet with his own eyes. He had to be here.

No ... no, that wasn’t entirely true. If he were honest with himself, his presence here was more of a childish act of bravado. His bullet scars reminded him of his modus operandi. His engineering mind would try to figure things out, but if that failed, his fallback plan was to light the afterburners and see what happened. It was one thing to risk himself; it was entirely different and very selfish to put someone he loved at risk.

Now five times the size of the sun, the comet didn’t look like it was skimming the atmosphere — it was coming right at them.

Cantore knew the networks were broadcasting video of the comet from research ships in the Caribbean. While waiting for them to switch the final live coverage back to him, he realized in the next few seconds, he and the human race faced extinction. Yet, he felt surprisingly calm. Early in his career, he was covering a hurricane off the Carolina coast. A woman came up to him, and her words left a lasting impression. She simply said, “We know it’s going to be really bad here, but you’re going to get us through this.”

The producer cued him.

Cantore took a deep breath and said, “We’re uplinked to a dedicated geo-synchronous satellite, and I’m being told that this broadcast is being followed by billions of viewers.” He glanced at his watch. “Right now, the comet is approaching the coastline. Its transit through the atmosphere should only take a little over a minute.”

The bright burning ball appeared above the mountain range — show time. “There it is! It looks like a time-lapsed sunrise.” He shook his head. “It’s closing on us incredibly fast. This is truly amazing! It’s already bigger than the sun and growing.” Cantore saw Spencer adding progressively stronger filters to avoid blinding the camera.

“I can’t believe this! It’s strangely beautiful and terrifying.” The camera had to keep zooming out as it grew. Cantore took another deep breath and said, “Hate to say this, but ... it looks like it’s coming right at us.”

Josh was sure it couldn’t get any bigger, brighter or closer ... but it did. Now 10 times bigger than the sun, the deflection effort must have failed. He could feel the comet’s intense radiant heat as Elizabeth buried her face in his shoulder.

Looking at the ground behind him, he saw their shadow shrink rapidly toward them. As it disappeared under them, he kissed his wife’s head, and said, “I love you.”

The world watched in fascination. The intellectual mind, driven by computer simulations, said the comet would fly on by. The primitive mind, driven by the eyes, told a different story. During the longest seconds in human history, almost every conscious mind shared the same thought. Were the scientists wrong? Could governments have decided it was best not to share they’d failed? For interminable seconds, billions of people: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, agnostic and atheist, shared the same prayer.

3 IMPACT


Holding his breath, Josh followed their shadow as it began to grow again on the opposite side.

A loud boom broke the silence.

Elizabeth looked up. “Was that the comet?”

He shook his head, as the booms continued. “Just fragments blowing up in the atmosphere. The comet’s shockwave is still a couple minutes out.” Shading his eyes, he looked up to see the blinding ball transiting overhead at ludicrous speed. The comet dragged a huge, burning-white tail that bisected the sky. Squinting, he realized he was seeing multiple tails. The comet was coming apart!

Blocking the comet’s light with his hand, Cantore said, “It’s impossible to look at but I can feel the heat on my skin.”

Spencer zoomed all the way out, rotating his camera upward to follow it.

Cantore added, “We’re seeing flashes on the horizon from meteor detonations.” He frowned. “It’s on top of us!” Glancing at his watch, he added, “It should have left the atmosphere!” On the repeater monitor, near Cantore’s feet, the burning ball completely filled the screen. He shook his head and said, “God help us.”

With his camera pointed straight up, Spencer peered around the viewfinder and said, “Look!”

The blazing orb was dimming.

Cantore, looking up, yelled, “It’s leaving! It’s leaving the freakin’ atmosphere! My God, we’re going to make it!” Its blinding incandescence was gone. Still bigger and brighter than the moon, it moved across the sky at phenomenal speed. He jumped and did several enthusiastic fist pumps, repeating, “We survived!”

Narrowing his eyes, he added, “Wait! It’s not a comet ... it’s three comets. The atmosphere tore it apart!”

The camera zoomed in and confirmed three brightly glowing objects were separating and heading out on slightly different trajectories.

Realizing what that meant, Cantore said, “If that happened seconds earlier, I wouldn’t be here to report it. Neither would many of you.” As he said that, they were overwhelmed with multiple deafening booms.

Elizabeth pointed back toward the ocean. “What’s that?”

Turning around, Josh saw a single cloud near the horizon. As he watched it, it grew. It looked like a waterspout hugging the surface of the ocean, but it was moving rapidly toward them. “That is the comet’s shockwave.” Narrowing his eyes, he added, “We might be a tad closer than we should be. Probably a good idea to get on the ground and cover our ears.”

They hit the ground. Lying on their stomachs, elbows propping up their heads, they watched it approach. The shockwave looked like the wake of a humongous speedboat. Kilometers wide with curtains of spray thrown a hundred meters in the air, it cut a path toward them moving faster than a jet.

They cupped their hands tightly over their ears as it hit the coastline. Hammered by the loudest, longest sonic boom in recorded history, the ground shuddered as their bodies vibrated. It felt as if they were inside a subwoofer at a heavy metal concert. If they had been standing, the pressure wave might have knocked them off their feet. The vibration amplified the ache from Josh’s gunshot wounds. He felt all three bullet entry points: shoulder, lower stomach, and a few inches above eunuch.

They watched a cone of water vapor and dust rise over the land as the shockwave raced inland.

Tearing his eyes away from the receding comets, Cantore looked back at the horizon. “Steve, swing back around.”

The camera returned to the eastern horizon and tracked what looked like a dust storm moving toward them insanely fast.

Cantore said, “Here comes the shockwave.” As he said it, the wall of dust and vapor crested the far side of the valley and rushed down to the city below. The camera zoomed in just in time to catch a line of exploding windows ripping through the city toward them. With enthusiasm, Cantore said, “What a spectacular illustration of the sonic power of a shockwave!” Joining his photographer in a braced crouch, he said, “We’ll broadcast as long as we—”

Josh and Elizabeth were still on the ground when they felt the shock-induced vibration morph into a full-blown earthquake. As the ground shook, they heard rock in the nearby cliff pop loudly as it fractured. Pieces of the ground less than 10 meters away broke off and fell toward the ocean.

Cantore, the consummate professional, rolled, but hung on to his microphone. He saw Spencer lying on his stomach, still videoing. The bone-shaking sonic booms were replaced by a strong earthquake. Never missing a beat, Cantore continued to describe what they were experiencing, hoping the shockwave hadn’t damaged his mic. Cantore nodded toward their armored vehicle. Spencer swiveled his camera toward the huge SUV. Rocking and rolling on its giant tires, the hydraulically stabilized satellite dish countered the vehicle’s motion to maintain the uplink.

Finally the quake subsided. Josh and Elizabeth removed their hands from their ringing ears and heard another sound. It was the whooshing sound of surf ... but they were 100 meters above the Atlantic. Standing up, they crept carefully toward the broken cliff edge. Feeling the cool spray of the ocean, they looked down to see building-sized waves crashing into the coastline.

Cantore was now having fun. The world wasn’t going to end, and broadcasting under insane conditions was his specialty. Into the silence following the earthquake, he said, “The comet’s shockwave pounded us as it crossed South America, but its tiny gravitational field reached far below the surface. As expected, the tidal force — ripping across the planet at hypersonic speed — is triggering earthquake faults. The faults would have slipped eventually. The comet’s just smoothing out Earth’s age-induced wrinkles at a massively accelerated pace. The booms you hear are sonic shockwaves from fragments hitting nearby or exploding in the atmosphere. The destruction is horrific, but today ... today, humanity will survive.” He wrapped up with, “The Millennium Comet changed the world it grazed, but our world also changed the comet. Neither will ever follow the same trajectory. From Manizales, Colombia, this is Jim Cantore.”

Coverage would now switch to global damage reports, but as he looked back across the valley, he saw a huge plume of gray smoke rising from the top of Nevado del Ruiz. Patting Steve on the back and pointing toward the mountain, he said, “Looks like we’ll be adding volcanic eruptions to our resume.”

Like a finger brushing across the surface of a desktop globe, the comet’s gravitational pull changed the length of a day by a fraction of a second. The result was a cascade of earthquakes circling the world as huge meteors continued to detonate in the atmosphere. The impacts created massive fires, and the earthquakes woke volcanoes and created tsunamis that inundated coastlines.

As the world watched the departure of the trinity, it became clear the impacts, earthquakes and tsunamis would inflict massive destruction, but would not be apocalyptic. Slowly, a collective sigh swept the globe. Around the world, came all manner of voices. Some cheered. Some chanted. Many sang, laughed or cried. For the first time in history, humanity had successfully intervened and protected not only themselves but all life on Earth.

As the sonic booms stopped and the surf quieted, Josh noticed an amazing silence. There was no sound from aircraft, birds or insects. Even the wind had died. They looked around and then at each other, simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief.

In the incredibly peaceful silence, they were startled by the sound of their phone’s text message tone. They looked at each other and laughed ... back to the real world.

Elizabeth pulled her phone out first. “It’s a text. It just says ‘imagine.’”

Josh asked, “Who sent it?”

“There’s no number.”

Josh looked at his phone and shook his head. “Weird. Mine too.”

“Josh ...” she frowned, “our phones were turned off.”

4 IMAGINE


Deep inside the iMagination Corporation headquarters, Ryan Armani and his team were working hard to bring the servers back online. Armani was intense on the inside, but short and roly-poly on the outside. After receiving confirmation that their apps were up and running again, he made a beeline for his chief programmer’s office. Poking his mostly bald head over the top of Stan Boyd’s three monitors, he asked, “Was that us?”

Boyd was his opposite, a redheaded scarecrow with a relaxed demeanor and southern drawl. “Was what us?”

Armani fired back, “You know ... the text!”

Boyd looked back at his screen and shook his head. “Dude, we just survived the extinction of the human race ... chill.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s really great ... so, was that us?”

Boyd shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Maybe? Every phone in the world gets an “imagine” text, and our digital assistant — on almost every phone — just happens to be called iMagine.”

“We’ve got no market penetration in China.” Boyd casually corrected.

Undeterred, Armani just stared at Boyd with raised eyebrows.

Sighing, Boyd took his hands off his keyboard and looked up at him. “Yeah, probably was our system. Just some stray trons caused by the comet’s electromagnetic pulse.” He shrugged. “Or, maybe it happened when they rebooted the global communication grid. It’s surprising we don’t have more anomalies.” He paused. “Why? Is someone complaining?”

Armani shook his head. “Not yet.”

Smiling, Boyd said, “I seriously doubt anybody cares. We just escaped a death sentence.” He shrugged. “Besides, bet a lot of people thought it was cool ... I did.”

Armani frowned. “I just want to make sure no one hacked our system again.”

“Wouldn’t worry about the text....”

Armani tilted his head, waiting impatiently for Boyd to finish. Finally, raising his eyebrows, he asked, “But what?”

Boyd quietly said, “Our phones turned themselves on.”

Armani shook his head dismissively. “Our app can’t do that.”

“No, it can’t, but ...” Boyd raised his eyebrows slightly and glanced around, “what if someone besides us figured out how to—”

“Ixnay!” Armani whispered forcefully.

Trying not to laugh, Boyd whispered back, “Pig Latin? Seriously?”

Their rented Jeep came in handy as Josh and Elizabeth drove west, away from the comet’s destructive flight path. Although the roads were empty, earthquake damage and wild fires required multiple detours. They finally reached Simon Bolivar International in Caracas, the closest operational airport.

With the evacuees returning, the inbound planes to Caracas were full, but the outbound ones were mostly empty. It was easy to catch a flight back to the U.S. Having had little sleep during their adventure and sporting “sunburns” from the comet, they slept most of the flight.


Landing in Houston, they were only an hour and a half from their new house on the Texas Gulf Coast. They listened to the post-comet coverage on the drive. Earthquakes and tsunamis swept the globe, but it appeared only a few areas received catastrophic damage. Overall, casualties were lower than expected.

As they crossed the Intracoastal Waterway on a tall bridge, they could see much of the mile-wide, twenty-mile-long Bolivar Peninsula. Aside from a ferry out of Galveston, this tall, two-lane bridge was the only access. Elizabeth, originally from Texas, had chosen this isolated location for Josh’s recovery from surgery. She used the money the CIA had paid her to buy a beach house.

It was the perfect place to keep a low profile. With no central government, the peninsula fell under the control of nearby Galveston, which usually ignored it. This was fine with most of Bolivar’s residents, continuing a slightly rebellious and colorful history that included infamous characters like Bonnie and Clyde. With a mix of beautiful beachfront homes, beat up trailers and oil derricks, residents tended to view zoning laws more as ... suggestions.

Ten minutes after crossing the bridge, Josh turned into an unassuming subdivision called Canal City. As the name implied, small lots lined canals. The canals, perpendicular to the beach, gave boat access to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico. Josh liked having multiple exit options. Their house sat on 18-foot-tall pilings 150 yards from the surf. On the huge wraparound deck, they had an unobstructed view of the Gulf.

The Bolivar coastline didn’t have the white sand and emerald water of Florida, but it was a fraction of the price. Someday, the world would discover this place. Prices would skyrocket and zoning would triumph, but until then, it was one of the world’s best-kept secrets.

They grabbed a bottle of wine and climbed another flight of stairs to a smaller, rooftop deck. Almost 40 feet above the ground with a 360-degree view, it felt like a castle parapet.

A warm, balmy breeze blew steadily off the ocean, accompanied by the soft swooshing of the surf. To the west, the rays of the setting sun sparkled off the saltwater marshes of an Audubon bird sanctuary. Turning south, Josh saw the ocean’s darkening horizon defined by tiny, lit dots — huge cargo ships bound for the Port of Houston.

Below the seagulls and above the mosquitos, they sat, sipping wine and soaking in the scents, sights and sounds.

Elizabeth looked at him carefully. With a smile and raised eyebrows, she said, “Josh Fuze, I think you look happier and more relaxed than I’ve ever seen you.”

He let out a contented sigh. “For the first time since I woke up in your hospital, I feel ... totally at peace.”

She looked a little surprised. “Even though the astrophysicists confirmed Earth’s entering a period of increased bombardment?”

He smiled. “They say it’s something that happens periodically, but now we’re doing something about it. We’ve got the Sentinel Space Telescopes scouring the heavens, and they’re designing a space-based laser, 1,000 times more powerful than our Blaster. We’re no longer helpless victims in a cosmic shooting gallery.”

She matched his smile and nodded. “I guess stress isn’t when bad things happen ... it’s when you can’t do anything about them.”

He finished with, “And on top of all that, I married the most beautiful woman in the world, who happens to be my best friend.”

She leaned over and kissed him. Then, with her hand resting on his, they both leaned back in their Adirondack chairs and watched the world.

His eyes followed a formation of pelicans flying parallel to the beach in search of fish. Just past them, he noticed a flash in the distance. He refocused his eyes to the eastern horizon where the ocean blended into dark, cumulonimbus clouds. Illuminated from within by lightning, the prevailing winds pushed a storm their way.

Elizabeth looked down and pointed at several large pools of standing water. “Must have rained a lot while we were gone.”

Josh knew tsunamis swept through the Gulf, and the Bolivar Peninsula was only a few feet above sea level. “That’s probably the remnants of one of the comet’s tsunamis that swept through the Gulf.”

Elizabeth nodded thoughtfully. Then, biting the side of her lip, she stood up. “I need to find out what’s happening. They may be activating me soon. Be right back.”

There went his Zen. He wished he hadn’t mentioned the tsunamis. While he tended to look at the big picture and live in the future, Elizabeth lived in the present.

After a few minutes, she returned with her tablet and phone.

The tranquil beach panorama was lost as they watched the continuing post-comet coverage. Airborne video showed the swath of destruction under the comet’s path. They also saw dramatic images of a dozen impact craters surrounded by raging forest fires, but most of the damage and injuries were from earthquakes and tsunamis. The hardest hit areas were in South America. Equally concerning were reports from the Pacific Rim, where they were seeing an increase in volcanic activity.

A U.N. press conference followed. The man speaking appeared relaxed and confident. The tag line under him said, “Doruk Turan, U.N. Director of Global Security.”

Elizabeth looked from the tablet’s screen to Josh and then back again. “Hey, you two could be brothers.”

Josh studied her tablet. Nodding, he said, “You’re right. He is phenomenally good looking.”

She rolled her eyes as Turan spoke of the extensive relief effort they were deploying.

As if on cue, Elizabeth’s text message signal sounded. Reading it, she held her phone up. “Just got the notification. Have to report to D.C. immediately. I’ll be part of one of the deploying U.N. teams.”

Josh frowned. “The news said most of the damage occurred in the evacuated areas, and the casualties were much lower than anticipated.”

She looked at him. “Josh, they were anticipating millions of casualties. Even a fraction of that’s a ton of injured people, not to mention damage to infrastructure, like hospitals. You’ve seen the pictures. The earthquakes and floods were devastating. Besides, statistics are irrelevant if the casualty is your child or mate.”

“Yeah, I know. Just didn’t think they’d be deploying you so soon.”

She smiled. “I appreciate your concern, but it’s not like I’ll be trekking through mountains and jungles. I’ll be in D.C. for several days. Then they’ll probably assign me to a major medical center where they can put my neurological background to use.” She grabbed his hands. “Honey, I’ll be fine. You know how excited I was when I found out they’d accepted me into the program.”

“I know. It’s very competitive, and I’m proud of you.” He paused and then smiled. “Hey, can I come?”

“Come where?”

“To wherever they send you?”

She grinned. “Now you know what it feels like to be on the other side. I should just pat you on your head and tell you what you told me when you left for the Falklands.”

He laughed. “Yeah, and I could do exactly what you did — show up anyway.” More seriously, he added. “I really would like to help.”

She shook her head. “Doing what?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.” He paused. “I can speak Spanish.”

“You can?”

“Took three years in high school.”

She looked skeptical.

He rattled off several sentences in Spanish, surprising both of them. He realized his new photographic memory allowed him to recall the long forgotten lessons. “And I can pay my own way. Davidson gave me that retirement account. Haven’t touched any of it.”

“You said you didn’t want to use it because it felt more like a retainer than a retirement.”

He shrugged.

Finally, she smiled and nodded her head. “Actually, it would be really cool to have you with me. I’ll ask them when I get to D.C.”

The wind picked up, and they heard thunder in the distance. Even in the twilight, they could see the dark anvil clouds growing, suggesting a powerful spring storm.

Elizabeth nudged Josh and pointed at the ticker scrolling across the bottom of the news screen. Instead of the usual breaking news stories, little emoticons, mostly smiley faces, marched across the bottom. Elizabeth laughed. “Oops. Someone pushed the wrong button.”

Looking from Elizabeth’s tablet to the approaching storm, Josh suddenly felt uneasy. With an unexplained premonition, he said softly, “I think our vacation may be over.”

5 DEPLOY


The next day, Elizabeth was sitting in an orientation session in Washington, D.C. She learned they were deploying to Colombia, one of the hardest hit areas. An 8.5 Richter earthquake caused some damage in the Capital of Bogota, but was devastating in the southern part of the country near the epicenter.

During a break, she called Josh. “We’re flying to Bogota tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? That’s fast. So what’d they say about me coming?”

Enjoying his suspense, she said slowly, “Well ... they said ... if you have a passport and shots they’ll put you to work. They were mostly interested in your ability to speak Spanish.”

Josh said, “I’ll brush up and book a flight ASAP.”

She frowned. “That could be a problem. The airports suffered damage, and they’re only letting citizens and rescue flights into Bogota right now. The whole country’s under martial law.” She paused. “Wait! I know someone who can help, and he’s here in D.C.”

“Who?”

“Brian Davidson! He owes us. I’ll call him and see if he can get you some type of official access or something. I still have the private number he gave me when I was on the aircraft carrier.”

Josh said, “Worth a try.”

“I’ll let you know. Gotta get back to the briefings. Love you.”


After the briefing, Elizabeth called Davidson. There was no answer and no way to leave a message. She was trying to figure out how to reach him, when her phone rang with an unlisted number.

“Hi, Elizabeth, welcome to D.C.”

She wasn’t surprised the Director of the CIA knew who she was and where she was. “Hi, Brian. I’m here working as a Medical Relief Supervisor for the U.N. Know you’re way busy, and sorry to bother you, but wondered if you might be able to help us with a little challenge.”

“I’d be happy to. How can I help?”

“I’m deploying in a few days on a medical mission to Bogota.”

Davidson said, “One of the worst hit areas. Please be careful.”

“I will. Thanks. My ... husband would love to join me and help too. But due to the earthquake, they’re controlling who can enter the country right now and—”

“Consider it done. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Uh, thanks, no. That would be great.” She paused. “When things settle down, love to have you and your wife over for dinner sometime.”

Sounding surprised, Davidson said, “Why ... that would be wonderful. Thank you, Elizabeth.” He paused. “In case you ever have trouble reaching me, let me give you Carl Casey’s number. You remember Carl?”

“We never met, but I heard wonderful things about him.” She paused. “I assume he knows about my husband’s, uh, status?

“Yes. I’ll have him call you just to make sure everything’s taken care of.”

“Thank you so much, Brian.”

“Anytime. If I don’t talk to you again, have a safe and successful trip.”

Within 15 minutes, her phone rang. “Hi, Elizabeth, it’s Carl Casey.”

“Hi, Carl.”

“I know you’re only in town for a day and busy getting prepared, but can we take you to dinner tonight?”

Elizabeth said, “That’s very kind, but not necessary. I’m really doing fine.”

Carl said, “It’d be our pleasure. I’d like to meet the woman who ... let’s just say, was instrumental in changing certain beliefs at a critical time. Besides, my wife will kill me if she doesn’t get to meet you while you’re here, and it might be your last chance for a good steak dinner for a while.”

She laughed. “Okay, I’m sold. Sheri Lopez told me about Kelly. Can’t wait to meet her.”

“Pick you up at six?”

“Sure, I’m staying at the, uh—”

“Holiday Inn on Sixth,” he finished.

“Uh, yeah, see you tonight.”

Elizabeth immediately called Josh. “Good news! Brian’s working your travel clearances.”

Josh said, “I’ll pack my bags.”

She looked at her watch. “Gotta go, Brian hooked me up with Carl Casey, and he’s taking me to dinner tonight.”

“Ask him about Bogota, he’s a walking encyclopedia.”

“OK. He’s bringing his wife, Kelly. Have you met her?”

Silence.

“Josh, you still there?”

She heard coughing and then, “Uh, yes ... we’ve met.”

After she hung up, Josh just stared at the phone. He had a hole in the pit of his stomach right next to the bullet hole. Several emotions were in play. The first was fear. He imagined his outgoing, never-met-a-stranger wife, meeting his outgoing, never-met-a-stranger widow. The fear revolved around what knowledge of his true identity might do to Kelly, Carl and Elizabeth. The second was guilt. Guilt at not sharing his past life with Elizabeth. She knew he had a prior life and identity because she’d helped him establish a new one, but even after they were married, he’d never shared what really happened.

The last emotion was the worst. On his phone, he pulled up a picture of his daughter, Caitlin. She was now three, but he’d never seen her, not in person. She was growing up knowing only Carl as her dad, and would believe her father died before she was born. Although he knew his old friend would be a great father, there was a perpetual hole in his life far more painful than the bullet wounds.

Staring despondently at the floor, he jumped when he heard his text message tone. Shaking his head rapidly to clear his anxiety, he picked up the phone. Anything would be a welcome distraction, but as he looked down at the message, he got another shot of adrenaline. The text simply said, “You were designed.” There was no name or phone number, and he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who had his number.

Josh texted, “Who is this?”

“Jcn.”

He texted back, “You mean Jen?”

“Yes.”

He knew no one named Jen, from his current or previous life. Fishing for information, he texted, “What did you mean by designed?”

“Your DNA coding is very streamlined. Mine is too.”

He reread it. That had to be about his genetically blended body! No one knew about that except Jesse. Could Jesse have created more than one of him? There was a certain attraction to the idea he might not be alone. He replied, “You’re suggesting we have something in common?”

“We were both designed.”

He wasn’t going to admit to anything yet. “Interesting, I’d like to talk more. Can we meet?”

“No.”

If she was really like him, she might also have to keep a low profile. “Are you being monitored?”

“Yes.”

Josh realized that with no telephone number, this must be an encrypted text, similar to what Tim used with their team in Antarctica.

Frowning, he asked, “How did you find me?”


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