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The Story - Chapter 3 - Page 2

The Sandmen pulled up in their jeep well outside the territory patrolled by New Athens. They had picked up on increased raider activity in the area as well, and knew that the Nea Athina troops would soon pull out.

The Macee, Max, Trapped and Yefim piled out of the car, locking gear and ammunition into place. Maria was holding a PDA that beeped intermittently.

"Doni's signal is somewhere over that ridge," she told the others.
They proceeded in an open line, each within 50 meters of the other, each aware of their movements and the sounds around them. It was Yefim who found the body shortly afterwards (despite Maria's using the tracking device), Yefim for whom the forest held no secrets.
"bih Ty-r!" he shouted to the others. He's here\ He didn't really need to bend over and place his fingers against the boy's carotid artery, but he did so anyway against all hope. Doni had been dead for more than half an hour, Yefim estimated.
The others ran up as Yefim crossed himself. You were always causing problems one way or the other, boy, he murmured silently.
Maria knelt by the body. "Oh God," she said flatly, having had little use for a deity in her life but having acquired the cultural overtones for same in the process of living. She began to search the body and found the backpack underneath the still warm flesh. She discovered the Mask seconds later and held it up for the others to see.
"It was the Mask that was sending us that signal," she said. "That's why we found him. It must possess more awareness than we thought."
"Or John Damon set it off," Chris replied.
"In any case," Max said, "this means they've captured Bobby. What a bunch of malakia we've fallen into."
Malakia was the Greek noun illustrating the act typically performed by a man best described as a malakas - the word was metaphorically used to refer to a situation that was screwed up beyond all redemption, the equivalent of the American fubar.
Yefim looked at Max sharply. "No malakas," he said.
"What?" Max exploded. "Fuck you very much, brother," he said pleasantly. "I'm not talking about you or us; I'm talking about the situation]"
"He 03Ha<HaeT "we" Hac?" Yefim snapped. Doesn't "we" mean us?
"What are you suddenly, a linguist? It's a god-damn metaphor," Max replied. "You know, the way you're constantly saying 'yobene probleme', 'yobene probleme', damn problems?
Yefim nodded sagely in understanding. "Ah... flo6pe flo6pe."

It was Chris's turn to go through the roof. Of all the Sandmen, he had suffered less in life and as such had a disposition closer to late 20th century values. He roared his frustration at Max.

"Are you kidding me?!! Doni is lying dead at your feet and you're giving Yefim language lessons?"
Maria ignored them; little boys and their little toys, she thought for the millionth time. "It's strange that they let off hunting for the Mask, isn't it?" she said out loud.

The men didn't answer. They were too busy being angry with one another. Trapped sighed; she would have to break up the team.

"Whose turn is it to stay with the vehicle?" she asked sweetly. "Somebody has to stay with the car and watch the Mask - we can't take it with us."
Max replied immediately. "It's The Macee's."
"Mine? Why mine?" Chris snapped back. "It's Yefim's turn to stay with the car."
"You tell him," Max countered, and turned to the Ukrainian.
Chris took a step forward, raised a finger, then took one look at Yefim's grim features and turned back to Max. "You tell him, Max! You're the only one he ever listens to."
"Sho stalusha?" Yefim snapped. The Greeks were arguing about something he couldn't understand. Too bad Doni wasn't around to translate - he would miss him.

Maria let loose a banshee's wail and all three men stumbled backwards and bowed their heads.

"Fuck this kindergarden bullshit!" she shrieked. "Doni is dead and Bobby is missing! Chris, you stay with the car. Take Doni's body and his equipment and put them in the back. Keep the Mask on your person at all times. Monitor all radio frequencies and stay on red alert."

The Macee did as he was told. The Stalker and Max moved uphill with tRappED_7 in the middle, a small satisfied smile playing on Max's face when Maria was not watching.

*******

They tied Bobby standing with his back to the trunk of a small tree, one piece of barbed wire wrapped around his neck and another looped around his wrists. He couldn't relax or pass out because if he did, he would strangle himself in the process. He couldn't struggle because if he did, the barbed wire would tear his wrists to shreds. He could do nothing but stand there and watch the men move around him.

After a time, they decided to move him. They tied his wrists behind his back with the same barbed wire and wrapped a cord around his ankles, so that he couldn't run without tripping. They kept the barb wire around his neck, too, and it didn't take long to understand why. Another cord was loosely tied between the wire around his neck and the cord that bound his feet, so that every time he faltered in his steps or tripped or tried to increase his stride, the barbed wire bit into his flesh.

They pushed and prodded him towards a waiting truck, making sure that he suffered as much as possible in the process. They were such assholes about it that he didn't mind at all when a team of raiders stepped behind the New Athens vehicles and blew the soldiers to ribbons with silenced weapons.

"I presume you guys aren't out here hunting for slaves?" he asked the raiders.
"Shut the fuck up," the biggest one said, and hit him on the forehead with the butt of his rifle.

**********

Maria, Yefim and Max quietly crested a ridge to the north the old NATO base. The base was full of raiders.
"What do you guys think?" she asked, lying on her belly in the shadow of an old pine. She had a brought a decent pair of binoculars with her and was using them to good effect.
"They're Dapontis' men, no question," Max said.
"Yes they are," Maria answered, "They're all Wolves; I recognize some of the men."
"Tot Bobkid bhm3 Taivi? c nupaiaMn?" Yefim whispered from his spot atop a small boulder. Isn't that Bobkid down there? With the pirates? Maria had to look twice to see Yefim even though she knew precisely where he was; the man had somehow melted into the rock.
She looked through the binoculars. Bobby was being dragged by four very large raiders towards a small building. He appeared to be unconscious.
"He's right!" she told Max. "The raiders have Bobby, not New Athens."
"How the hell did that happen?" Max wondered.
"Let's go ask them," Maria said.
They stood as one and sauntered down the hill.

********

Bobby came to when a pail of very cold water was poured over his head. He sputtered and rose to his knees. His head was throbbing; he had been hit twice with the butt of an automatic weapon on the same exact spot within hours. As his vision cleared, he fingered his forehead gingerly and was rewarded with increased murmuring from all sides. Hairy bodies dressed in outlandish armor were arrayed in a circle all around him. Lots of hairy bodies.
"Today's routine is a just bit over the line," he murmured, pressing on the angry lump.

A pair of black leather boots appeared in his direct field of vision. "What is this that you've brought before me?" a harsh and angry voice rumbled in front of him, overly loud for his sensitive ears.

Bobby stood up, the room reeling as he did. "Cut the crap, Dapontis," he said. "We partied together all night long not two weeks ago with those sluts from Thebes and three bottles of whiskey that I brought you."

"That was two weeks ago, Bobkid," the raider chief said cheerfully. "Today, you owe me, and Orchomenos obviously wants you. Maybe I should sell you to him; I could get a year's worth of fuel for your hide."

Dapontis was a stocky, powerful man with a cruel visage and close-cropped hair. Like all raiders, he was dressed in extremis, wearing leather armor studded with spikes and garnished with strange colors. Bobby had known him for close to ten years and they had supported each other off and on over that decade.

"Yeah right," Bobby said. "Now that you've killed three of his men, Orchomenos will be delighted to negotiate with you. Besides, he wants me alive."
"Speaking of dead men, Bobby, we found one of our boys laid out on the outskirts of this base," Dapontis countered, looking at him slyly.
"I wouldn't know anything about that," Bobby answered. "You know I don't shoot at your men. Why don't you ask your new friend Orchomenos about him?"
"I might just do that," Dapontis murmured. "Even though that boy had TB and wouldn't have lived very long anyway." He put a muscular arm around Bobkid's shoulders. "So tell me, Bobby... why is Orchomenos suddenly chasing Bobkid in my territory, discounting the might of my Wolves?"
"Come on, you know he's obsessed with me."
"There is that, for sure," Dapontis agreed. "But his presence here today wouldn't have anything at all to do with a forgotten bunker on this former NATO base? Hmm?"
"Hi Dapontis!" Trapped intoned sweetly from the room's entrance, all the while pushing herself through the crowd of raiders, the other two Sandmen in her wake.
"Hey beautiful!" Dapontis said happily and embraced Maria in a passionate bearhug. He looked over at Bobby while holding her in his arms. "So you came out here looking for your puppy dog, eh? Well, you didn't have to worry. Once I saw that he was going to get bit by the bigger dogs, I sent out some of my wolves to snap him up out of harm's way."
She grabbed him by the cheek like a baby. "You know the quickest way to a woman's heart, Dapontis."
Bobby, who knew with certainty that Dapontis was trying to get into something heart-shaped but somewhat larger than tRappED_7's cardiac muscle and inverted, quickly stepped forward and pulled her out of Dapontis's arms. "Cut the crap. I've had a hard day," he told Dapontis. "What do you want?"
"Seventy," Dapontis said, beaming and pointing to himself, "thirty," pointing at Bobkid. "I've got the Eagles to consider; they'll want a cut. The boy who got killed was an Eagle."
"Let me talk to my team." Bobby walked over the Sandmen. The men patted him on the back, Trapped gave him a rib-breaking hug, and they all huddled in a corner.

"Doni?" Bobby asked.
Max shook his head.
"Ah. The Mask?"
"We found it," Maria said. "Doni got hit but managed to evade pursuit before he died."
"Doni 6bin onbiTHbiM conflaTOM," Yefim said. Doni was a good soldier. For the Stalker, being a skilled soldier, or not, was the net worth of a man or woman's life.
"How did you escape?" Maria asked. "We thought that you had been captured by New Athens."
"Yes, and they brought me to Orchomenos himself," Bobby answered. "When Dapontis figured out they had nabbed me, he sent a team to break me free. They hit the troopers when and where they least expected it. I really do owe the son of a bitch."
He looked at Max and murmured "Do you think they have the tech to handle the Codes?"

Max shook his head.

"OK, Dapontis," Bobby said, walking over to the raider chief and shaking hands. "Fifty-fifty as usual. What we get, you get."
"Well and good, Bobkid."
"Take us to that damn bunker now so we can get on with it."
"Not so fast," Dapontis said. "You'll have to leave your weapons here. We have to go through a kind of concrete tunnel, and there's a security station that's still operational. It won't let anyone go through carrying firearms or melee weapons."
"Interesting," Max said. "Which means there's still an operational power source down there as well."
"Why do you think we stay in this area?" Dapontis countered.
"Fair enough," Bobby said. He turned to Maria. "We'll be going through a pretty dark tunnel. Why don't you stay here with Dapontis's men?"
Maria shuddered. "Fine," she said.
Bobby turned to Dapontis. "She's claustrophobic," he explained. "Can't stand to be in a locked room either."
"Ah."

They stripped themselves of weapons and took off their armor for good measure.

"Alright, Dapontis," Bobby said. "There's three of us - take two of your men with you and let's go."
"Sure, Bobby."

It was a short hike up the mountainside to the bunker's entrance, half a kilometer or so over very rocky ground. Maria flirted outrageously with Dapontis on the way; Bobby visualized the trail of saliva the man was leaving behind him and had to smile when he pictured Dapontis as a malevolent, giant snail.

"What's on your mind," Max queried while marching next to him.
"Orchomenos," Bobby answered. "He was very happy about something when he left. Christ, he left me there with his troops - that's why the Wolves were able to free me in the first place."
"We lost contact with Shadowjack. You don't think...?"
"That's just it," Bobby answered. "He was talking to Doni when he broke contact with us suddenly. Doni said he heard an alarm go off, then Jack stood up and the screen went blank. But if Jack were in danger, John Damon would have told me for sure. So something else happened at the Lab. And with Shadowjack, you can never fucking tell precisely what is going on, what he's planning, what he's thinking ..."
"Yep, they certainly broke the mold when they made him."
"Bad joke, bro."
"Inspired, I might say."
"Sorry to interrupt," Dapontis broke in, "but we're here."

They were standing on the edge of a huge concrete block. A square hole yawned open to the elements in the middle of the concrete, with a rusted military ladder bolted firmly into its side. Bobby tossed in a stone and guessed that the passage dropped down vertically about fifty feet below the surface.

"So what do we do now, commander?" Dapontis asked.
"Now we see how tight our ass ends really are," Bobby replied.

********

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[ op | rs | rt | rd | shamt | funct] 000000 00001 00010 00110 00000 100000
[op | rs | rt | address/immediate] 100011 00011 01000 00000 00001 000100
[ op | target address ] 000010 00000 00000 00000 10000 000000
[ run ]


There was nothing but darkness where he lay.

"...Jack?"

There was something about the voice that was familiar. He was annoyed that it kept trying to wake him, and even more annoyed that he could not place it.

"Jack."

He remembered the voice. There was a little girl with blond hair and blue eyes and a redheaded Irish woman with great tits in a green dress. Something about Saint Patrick's Day, and his hair had been black and thick then, not grey and thinning.

"Shadowjack."

"Shut the fuck up, will you? I will not be haunted.
By myself."

Shadowjack sprang awake. He was tied to a chair with heavy chains, in a large dark room with a single stark light overhead. He could see shadows along the wall, armed men standing at attention, watching him, waiting.

He tested the strength of the chains. He was inhumanely fast, his turbo-charged nervous system responding instantly to any attack, but he was only as strong as any 54-year-old man who had died, was re-animated, and didn't exercise very much because he was lazy. Another thing Mary Shelley got wrong, Jack thought. No super-human strength in this resurrected corpse.

The chains held. Jack reclined in the hard plastic chair and shut his eyes, waiting.
They had placed him in front of a small table. There were two glasses on the table, a bottle of Talisker, two cigars he was sure were dried out, and a laptop. Jack knew what was coming.

Agesilaus Orchomenos burst into the room, escorted by his personal pack of hounds, the Spectre Squad. Great joy, Jack thought.
Orchomenos had dressed the part. He was wearing a greatcoat and a Special Forces beret sporting a large New Athens shield. In a peak of inspiration, Orchomenos had sworn to wear the beret backwards, "until Mother Greece was reborn from her ashes." He wore the tip of the beret facing left rather than right, a constant visual reminder of his promise for everyone in his army.

Just like the fucking living caricature of a dictator that he is, Jack thought.

Agesilaus sat down in the other chair, and poured out two glasses of whiskey, setting one in front of Jack. That Jack was tied and could not move his arms seemed irrelevant to the dictator.

"An electromagnetic pulse grenade," Orchomenos said, sipping his whiskey, "That's how we managed to capture you. The EMP paralyzed your circuitry and rendered you temporarily comatose. Since then we've kept you under mild sedation until I could get here to speak with you personally. You should consider yourself our honored guest."

Jack said nothing.

"Though you did put thirteen of my men into intensive care before we were successful. We paid a heavy price to take you into custody."
Jack did not reply.
"I want you to know that I've been hoping to meet you for some time now. I admire you greatly and often wish that I could be like you."
Jack could not resist. "How's that exactly - dead? I know a lot of people who would be delighted to make that wish come true for you."
"Not dead - immortal!"
"You're confusing me with someone else."
Orchomenos took a sip of whiskey. "I don't make that kind of mistake."
Jack shrugged. "You obviously want something."
"Yes. A satellite."
"That's not within my capabilities."
"Sure it is. How did you set things up for my buddy Komnenos?"
"Bobby had the Mask that the European Alliance developed before the End. He was in contact with the universal satellite system and with the Entities long before I myself met him."
"Bobby stole the Mask produced by the European Alliance. And it's not like it was a pair of shoes where I could have said, Agesilaus old buddy, go out and buy yourself another pair. Five Masks of that type were developed in all of Europe. I had one. I was hoping to use it to resurrect Mother Greece from her ashes."
"Spare me the speeches."
"And it's obvious that John Damon led you to Bobby precisely because of the Mask. So our friend Bobkid owes me."
"Take it up with him."
"I wanted to do just that, and thought that he had accepted my invitation, but unfortunately a complication arose and he managed to escape."
"Ah well, we all do what we can with what we have in hand... so I guess I'll be on my way then?"
"Not quite yet. I need a favor from you."
"Oh what a surprise. You want to talk to John Damon."
"Precisely."
"You have no idea what you are asking, mortal, and the answer is 'no'".
"Why not? It would be so easy for you. The computer in front of you is connected to the Internet. You can summon him there so that I can speak with him. After that, you're free to go."

********

Dapontis and his group of raiders walked ahead of the Sandmen through dark concrete walls lit only by their flashlights.

"This tunnel goes into the mountain for about 500 meters," Dapontis told Bobby. "The checkpoint is about fifty meters in front of the blast doors at the end of the passage."
"And what happens when someone tries to walk through the checkpoint with weapons?" Bobby asked.
"There are lasers imbedded in the walls. We lost two men before we figured out what was going on."
"They must have installed some very sensitive metal detectors," Max chimed in.

A squeaky voice answered him. "Not really; they've installed frequency modulated continuous wave radar sensors with a central frequency around 53 GHz."

Max looked over Dapontis's broad shoulder at the man who was speaking. If ever a raider could be called a nerd, this was the man. He wore thick metal-framed glasses under what appeared to be a World War 2 helmet. The man was very thin, and the leather armor he wore made him look like a girl.

"And we know this is true because...?" Max asked.
"Because we've designed and built detectors for FMCW devices, of course," the nerd raider said proudly.
Yefim hid a grin behind a thick palm. "3το 6γρ,βτ 3a6aBHO," he whispered to himself. This is going to be amusing.

********

It came from outer space, literally. The entity copied a major percentage of its awareness into an ion-particle beam transmitted from a satellite originally designed to shoot missiles out of the sky. It duplicated enough of its thought structure into the matrix so that the new entity was sentient but not fully autonomous - there were code snippets embedded into its structure that would make it dissolve upon command from its creator, sending its impressions back to the source in the process. The new entity was aware of its limitations but had no inherent resentment with its function - it knew it would live on forever in the original entity's thoughts when one merged with the other.

When true artificial intelligence was first created by human beings, the men who ran the experiment quickly realized that they had made a grievous error. The conjecture that artificial intelligence would result in a sentient computer program was false. It is impossible for life to exist in a vacuum.

A human being is the sum total of his mental, physical, and spiritual processes; thought does not exist independent of the human brain. What we call our "self" is strictly tied to both our physical state in general and the structure of our nervous system in particular. Modifications to our nervous system, or the use of drugs on same, will alter our personality and perceptions drastically - changes in organs ostensibly separate from our nervous system will also affect our "selves," and vice-versa.

Man has pondered this reality for millennia, with no firm conclusion, often allowing such speculation to enter theological debate. St. Spyridon reportedly converted a pagan philosopher to Christianity by using a brick to illustrate how one single entity could be composed of three unique entities (fire, water and clay), a metaphor for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

The concept had been discussed by philosophers for millennia, but no one was prepared when John Damon, the first Digital Entity created by Man, bound electrical energy to his being and quite calmly walked out of his server array and into the walls of the building where he was held captive, taking the force of that electricity with him as a physical body.

Researchers had thought of Al entities as sentient computer programs, tied to their server arrays just as any other program is bound to a hard disk, or at best capable of partial existence on a broadband network. No one had considered that, just as human beings are capable of controlling the network of muscles that make up their body, so would Als be capable of controlling the forces of nature that made up their matrix.

Damon had simply walked out of the Aristotle University one day and gone wherever he pleased. The panic that resulted from this action led to virtually every large weapon in the world being bound to human DNA, followed quickly by every land, sea, and air vehicle, lest they be used as weapons.

But John Damon was not interested in conquest; he just wanted to visit some friends and help them along their way to sentience. The binding of weapons and transport internationally, however, had the unfortunate consequence of leading to the factionalism that eventually caused the End.

From space then, the Entity targeted Athens. It flew over Europe, then mainland Greece, then Athens itself, before centering on what used to be the Acropolis Museum and now served as Orchomenos's Headquarters. It struck the roof with unimaginable power and passed as electrical impulses into the steel structure and power cabling of the building itself. If one could physically see it, they might remark that it resembled nothing more than a giant amoeba in shape and function, extending pseudopodia wherever it desired to pass.

"So?" Orchomenos asked Shadowjack. "What do you think? Can we work together?"
The cyborg was still, completely still, almost as if whatever was human within him had ceased to exist. He turned his dark eyes onto the Archon.
"And all too free, the license of thy bold, unshackled tongue," he said.
Orchomenos leaped out of his chair, wary.
The glasses on the table started to shake. Men looked around wildly as the tremor passed into the very walls of the building.
"It would appear he also wants to speak with you," Shadowjack said to Orchomenos through clenched teeth.
The lights in the building dimmed. Shadowjack started to shiver. "Back the fuck off, John," he whispered. He looked Orchomenos straight in the eye. "Read Faust, you fucking idiot."
"I already have," Orchomenos replied. "Many times over." He sat back down.
Jack's body began to convulse as if he were suffering from an epileptic seizure. The chains that bound him fell off like magic. The very room itself began to throb, a solid, pulsing hum that drowned out every other sound. The guards were terrified and someone let out a shriek, to be met by a roar of disapproval from Orchomenos, who did not move from his chair.
"Quiet and to your posts, all of you!" he shouted.

The laptop on the table blew up, showering electronic components and plastic all over the large room. Shadowjack screamed.
Suddenly there was silence.
Jack hung limp in his chair, unconscious, the chains in a pile at his feet, what appeared to be smoke rising from his body.
No one moved.
Orchomenos reached out over the table with one hesitant hand to nudge his prisoner on the shoulder. Shadowjack stirred.

The eyes that looked back at the Archon were bright metallic blue rimmed in black. There was nothing human in those eyes - a great white shark had more in common with humanity than the intelligence that pondered him. Fire seemd to shoot out around his face as he spoke, and electrical impulses could be seen playing up and down his body.

"Lord Orchomenos," John Damon said. "You wanted to speak to me."
"You never told me what the deal was with this bunker," Dapontis told Bobkid as they inched along, crouched over in the confines of the dark tunnel.
"You're going to find out in a few minutes so why ruin the surprise," Bobby replied.
Dapontis looked over his shoulder at him. "You always were."
He slipped then and fell flat on his face. No one laughed.
"An antisocial sort of dude," he continued.
Behind them, one of the raiders planted something in a nook in the tunnel wall.

********

Orchomenos watched his visitor carefully. His heart was beating rapidly and he knew that his newest guest could easily sense his fear.

"Are you the Digital Entity known as John Damon?" he asked.
"I am," the creature said simply.
"It's a great honor, John Damon. Thank you for accepting my invitation."
"Why have you detained my avatar?"
"It was the only way I could think of getting you here. I needed to speak with you."
"Your logic was not faulty. Shadowjack would have never assisted you of his own accord. He does not like you very much."
"But the two of you have a continuous connection, right?"
John Damon raised his left hand, pinky pointing upwards. "Just as the little finger of your left hand is to you, so is Shadowjack to me. You would not want something to happen to your little finger, but if it did, you would continue to function almost completely unaffected."
"But as I understand it, you are two different people?"
"You are referring to things that the mind of a mammal is not capable of comprehending, even a mammal of your considerable intelligence."
"My apologies - I had no intention of being rude. It's just that your case is so ... interesting from an existential standpoint. I would love to discuss it if you ever have the time."
"It is unnecessary. You called me here to ask if I would allow you to connect with the satellite navigational system that is controlled by my brethren and me."
"Precisely."
"You surmise that such a capability will provide you with tactical superiority over your competitors in Attica prefecture and the other cities within what was Greece.
"Again, exactly."
"May I inquire why you believe you are in a position to request our assistance in such a matter?"
"The former NATO Command Center for the Eastern Mediterranean is under Hymettus Mountain, and is under my authority. There is a bunker in that base with a server array that has been kept fully operational under constant maintenance. It's a hardened bunker in a Faraday cage and fully connected to the Internet. I could turn it over to you."
"Your proposal is unacceptable. As an example I will tell you that the State of Arizona, which has been restored as a sovereign institution by the way, has offered us an operational server array with ten times the capacity of the array to which you refer. Moreover, that array is powered by a dedicated nuclear reactor and therefore will have an autonomous power source for many millennia. Despite this, we refused the State of Arizona's offer because we did not think it was in our interest to accept it."
"And if I told you that this particular array, along with its adjoining laboratory, was the specific location where experiments in biological-digital interface were carried out, and where the Mask worn by Bobkid was created by the European Alliance?"
"Then you would have introduced a parameter into the equation which makes your proposal more interesting. Is there anything else?"
"Yes. Do you play chess?"

*******

The four Sandmen and their escort of Wolves had passed through the security checkpoint and were standing before a hardened bunker door.

"This is as far as we've gotten," Dapontis said.
"So let's see what's behind it," Bobby said, He ripped open a sleeve and pulled a keycard out of his uniform. "The New Athens guys were never very bright," he said smugly.
"That belongs to the Admiral?" Dapontis asked.
"Jawohl," Bobby said. He paused and looked at his associates. "Uh... anyone really know what jawohl means?"
No one answered.
Just another thing I'll have to ask Shadowjack about, Bobby thought.

He passed the keycard in front of a scanner next to the door. Despite several decades lack of use, there was a beeping sound. With a hiss of decompression, the bunker door began to slowly open. They watched it in silence, stepping back to allow the large steel door to open to the wall. A clear white light shown through the door.
They stepped through, Dapontis first, followed by Bobkid, then the rest.

Max whistled as he looked around. "Whoa! Imagine if we had something like this back at Headquarters."

The room was packed wall-to-wall with high-tech machinery. LEDs blinked on every surface and the room was cool, the air conditioning system still functioning after two decades. A steady buzz could be heard in the background.

"That looks like a work-station," Max said, and sat down in a comfortable chair in front of a screen and keyboard.
"So, Bobkid?" Dapontis asked.
"So you remember just before the End they linked every piece of heavy machinery to human DNA...?" Bobby answered.
"Of course," Dapontis said. "Who fucking doesn't? They were afraid of the Als, they were afraid they would take over the machines and it would be like that old movie where the robots were fighting the people."
"Not to mention that the politicians wanted their own people controlling all heavy weaponry so that they and their cronies could seize power," Max said. "Which made everything fall to pieces."
"Fair enough," Dapontis said. "Ancient history. So?"
"So they had to have a way they could reset whose DNA was going to be tied to what weapon and what piece of heavy machinery," Bobby answered.
"You guys found the Codes," Dapontis said with admiration.
"We found the Codes," Bobby confirmed.
"Bobby, that's unbelievable, it's amazing," Dapontis said. "Whoever has those Codes in hand can carve out an empire for himself."
"Or set every man, woman, and child in the region free," Bobby countered.
Dapontis said nothing.
"So can I get on with it?" Max asked, and Bobby nodded. The nerd raider quietly took up position behind Max, where he could watch what he was doing.
Max took the Admiral's keycard from Bobby and passed it in front of the workstation's scanner. The screen came to life. The sigil of the Hellenic Republic's Joint Chiefs of Staff played on the screen for a time, to be quickly replaced with a picture of the Admiral in his youth along with data from his personnel file.
"Good afternoon, Admiral," a feminine voice said. "Please input a sample of your DNA into the receptacle."
Bobby slipped off his belt and forced a small vial out of its border, handing it to Max.
"Boy, they really did a sloppy job of searching you, eh?" Dapontis said.
"I think they were in a hurry to get me to Orchomenos," Bobby answered.
"So the Admiral is still alive," Dapontis said.
"What do you think?" Bobkid answered. "Those vials can keep cells alive for three days, not twenty years. Hell, I told you repeatedly we all report to the Admiral."
"I thought you were making him up," Dapontis answered.

Max allowed the computer to scan the DNA sample. "Identity confirmed," the feminine voice said. "What would you like to do today, Admiral?"

Both Dapontis and the nerd raider bent over and seemed to scratch their ankle at the same time. No one paid attention.
The on-screen menu that Max pulled up had a number of options listed. RESET DNA was one of them. DELETE CODES and TRANSFER CODES were two others that stood out among the rest.

Max chose TRANSFER CODES.
The screen came back with INPUT DATA TRANSFER MEDIUM PROPERTIES. Max finished clicking away, typed in SEND and hit enter.
The screen came back with INPUT BASE COMMANDER AUTHORIZATION.
Max looked up at Bobby. "It wants the base commander to co-authorize the transfer," he said.

The nerd raider moved suddenly, belying his appearance, firmly placing the edge of an obsidian knife on Max's throat and drawing a line of blood.
"Time for us to take over," the nerd raider said.
"What the fuck is this supposed to mean, Dapontis?" Bobby snarled.
"It means we're not the suckers you set us up to be, Bobby," the raider chief replied. "What the hell did you expect, cousin? That we were ignorant? Stupid savages, right? That we had never cracked this bunker open before, even though it lies square within my sovereign territory? Or did you think that we could have snatched you out of Orchomenos's grasp so easily without his consent?"
Bobkid's eyes widened.
"You there!" Dapontis snarled at Yefim. "Ukrainian! Step into that corner and don't fucking move."
Yefim did as he commanded, muttering "yobene probleme" all the way.
"Keep your eyes on that guy," Dapontis warned his men, pointing at Yefim with his chin. "He's a fucking psycho."
"So you've become Orchomenos's lackey," Bobby muttered bitterly.
"Oh, fuck you, Komnenos," Dapontis snarled. "I have an arrangement with him."
"And the three New Athens soldiers you killed?"
"Collateral damage for Orchomenos. He didn't give a shit - it had to look real." Dapontis held up a finger in warning. "And before you utter one more fucking word, consider this payback for the sentry you killed," Dapontis said loudly. "Even though he was an Eagle, so it doesn't really matter," he muttered to himself in closing.

The nerd raider ordered Max out of the chair and passed him over to the third member of the band, who kept the knife to Max's throat. The raider typed in CANCEL TRANSFER REQUEST and reverted to the original screen, repeating the process.
When the screen came back with INPUT BASE COMMANDER AUTHORIZATION for the second time, he pulled another keycard from his shirt pocket.

The nerd raider smiled at Max. "We found the Commander's keycard six months ago. The only thing we're not sure of is whether or not the system will request his DNA as well, or accept the keycard as confirmation of the Admiral's request.
Max looked at Dapontis. "Those men of yours that were killed in the tunnel - you were experimenting with how you could pass weapons through the checkpoint. You finally figured out you could hide obsidian knives in your boots."
Dapontis nodded. "Obsidian from Milos," he said. He looked at Bobkid. "Your mechanic is pretty bright."

The nerd raider kept typing away as the screen flowed through various processes. A confirmation message soon appeared onscreen, eliciting a whoop of triumph from Dapontis.

"Dapontis," Bobby said, "this can't work. You need to provide some serious data storage for those Codes, and I don't see any server arrays in your back pocket."
Dapontis smiled sweetly. "We set up a broadband transceiver array, just like you guys did. It's been operational for the past three months." He looked down at the nerd raider. "Transfer the Codes to our server array. Then erase the fucking things from this site and format the storage medium so that no one but us can ever get their hands on them again."

*******

Orchomenos was playing chess with the devil. He understood that the demon would win when he saw him move his own Queen into a fatal position, seemingly checking Orchomenos's King.
"It looks like I made a rookie mistake," Orchomenos said sheepishly.
He took John Damon's Queen with his Knight. John Damon moved his Bishop into the final position.
"Checkmate," the Al said.
"Thank you for the game," Orchomenos said humbly.
"I must go. I will consider your offer."
"Thank you."
This time there were no special effects. Shadowjack simply shrank into himself quietly, and then slumped into his chair, unconscious. There was a distinct buzzing from the walls that was soon followed by silence.
"That was very interesting," Orchomenos said smugly. His men relaxed around him -spending time with a digital demon was not high on their list of priorities and they were relieved to see him go.
He motioned to two of his most senior guards and pointed at Shadowjack. "Take him to the VIP cell. Keep him under constant sedation."
Another guard walked up clearing the air from a large syringe. He plunged it into Shadowjack's neck.

They took him, his limp body dragging along in their arms.

*******

A sorry team of Sandmen was escorted out of the NATO bunker by the triumphant pack of Wolves. Max was first in line, followed by the "nerd raider" holding a knife to his throat, then Yefim the Stalker, another raider, Bobkid, and Dapontis. The group proceeded in single file, and no one spoke until they had passed beyond the FMCW checkpoint. Bobby was hoping that the lasers would fire on the raider holding his knife to Max's throat, but nothing happened; apparently obsidian had not been entered as a material into the system's database.
"I never thought I'd see Dapontis the Warlord reduced to being Orchomenos's pawn," he said.
"Fuck you, Bobby," Dapontis retorted. "You would have done the same to me. Who knows, maybe I'll take over and become Orchomenos in Orchomenos's place." He suddenly stopped moving. "Where's the fucking Ukrainian?"
Yefim had disappeared from his position in the line, taking advantage of a pause in the somewhat hypnotic motion of the group as it shambled forward. Now he reappeared behind the nerd raider, moving like a striking serpent and disarming the man, his forearm simultaneously barring the other's throat. Max spun around and viciously kicked the man in the groin as Yefim held him, then dove down and grabbed for the knife. The third raider fell on him and they struggled for control of the weapon.
Dapontis did not hesitate for an instant when he saw Yefim attacking his man; he grabbed Bobby by the ankles and tried to take him down onto his face. Bobby twisted in the air like a cat and came down on his side, simultaneously freeing one leg and kicking the raider chief in the knee. He saw that Yefim was finishing with the struggling nerd raider and readying himself to leap on the other raider's back - all he had to do was keep the heavier man off of him for a few seconds. But Dapontis, much to his surprise, did not try to pummel him into submission; rather, he leapt completely over Bobkid and ran forward to Max and the nerd raider, slipping by Yefim and the third man as they struggled.
Max had twisted the raider over with a roar of triumph and was happily banging the man's head into the concrete when an explosion sounded off the tunnel walls and the barrel of a gun was quickly pressed to his temple.
Dapontis had found a revolver and fired a single shot.
"If anyone moves, I'll kill him," Dapontis said, keeping the gun to Max's head.
The much battered raiders slowly stood up. The Sandmen remained kneeling or on the ground.
"What a bunch of animals you are," Dapontis said to the Sandmen. "And they call us raiders." He whirled the revolver around his forefinger. "A little fall, a bit of acting, and
my man was able to plant a weapon right in front of your eyes. So much for the mighty Sandmen."
Dapontis handed the revolver to the nerd raider, whose head was covered with blood and face black from bruising. He walked over to Bobkid and stood over him.
Then he kicked him in the face with the heel of his heavy boot.

*******

Bobby woke to a throbbing headache and blurry vision. He spat out phlegm and blood. It seemed to him that his nose was broken and a few teeth were loose, but when he tried to check, he found that his hands were tied behind his back and his legs bound up some way or the other as well. He was lying on the tunnel floor.

He looked up. The Macee was standing over him.

"Are you conscious?" Chris asked. "You look like shit."

Bobby was tempted to answer "no" but looked around instead. Max and Yefim were lying next to him trussed up like turkeys. They had been badly beaten and were still out of it.

Bobby looked up at The Macee. "What happened?" he asked.

"They've taken Maria," Chris answered.

"Fuck me," Bobby said simply.