About 90 miles north of Los Angeles, along the Ventura highway, is the small beach community of Santa Barbara. Home to the rich and powerful, and the
poor and unacknowledged alike, it sits on a small peninsula, with the beach on one side, and the mountains on the other. The weather is always
beautiful, and the people more so. It is unremarkable, easily forgotten, and quickly bypassed for those heading north to San Francisco or south to San
Peter Johnson was happy to grow up here, close to the excitement of L.A., but far enough away to be largely unaffected by it. His identical twin
brother, Max, would’ve preferred to be closer to the action. Peter was more into computers, books, and boring History Channel specials. Max loved to
be outside, throwing a football, or enjoying the ocean tides. They were both athletic, and good at all the sports they participated in, but Max was
better. Where Peter could out think anyone, Max could outdo them.
For their 14th birthday, their father, Kevin, decided to take them on a camping trip in New Mexico, near Las Cruces, practically in Texas. Their
weekend was full of blistering hot days, snake skins, and cold desert nights. Late Sunday night, Kevin got a phone call, and left the tent to talk,
telling the boys not to listen in.
He walked about 20 paces from the tent, then hit a small switch on the phone. A blue energy field enveloped him, and he checked to make sure the boys
were still eating their dinner inside the tent.
“Kevin, it’s Josh. Are you secure?”
Kevin checked the indicator light on his phone, “Yeah, the sound-dampening field is in effect.”
“Ok, good. Look, we got a problem. General Burks was just here and-“
Kevin felt a flash of anger sweep over him, “What the hell is he doing there on a goddamn Sunday night?”
“Trying to shut us down, that’s what. He and Director Davids have decided that we have two weeks to find suitable subjects, or they’ll kill our
Kevin turned his head to the side and felt frustration well up in him, “That’s not going to be possible. They have to be either dead, or about to
die. Don’t they get it that we have to kill someone? And the chances of success are less than-“
Josh cut him off, “I know, Kev. That’s why they want to cut the project. Apparently ALPHA has a similar project going, but they’ve solved the neural
Kevin nodded, “So they can introduce the implants into anyone, alive or dead.”
Josh signed, “Yeah. Well, their nano-tech group isn’t advanced as ours, so they’re implants are more like an exoskeleton, but it’s only a matter of
time. After all, like you said, ‘Technology advances...”
“...are ultimately unavoidable.’ I know, I wrote the damn thesis, remember?”
Josh chuckled, “Yeah, I do.”
They both remained silently for a minute, then Kevin spoke, “Look, I’m on a camping trip with the boys in Las Cruces. We were gonna head home in the
morning, but I’ll leave now. I should be home by mid-morning.”
Josh seemed taken aback, “Las Cruces? Why so close to Base I?”
Kevin shrugged, “I know the area well. Plus if anything went wrong, I wanted to be close by.”
“Well, if you hurry up the street, you might be able to catch Burks. He just left.”
Kevin chuckled, “Nah, I’ll save it for tomorrow. See you.”
Kevin turned his phone, and with it, the sound-dampening field, off, and put it in his hip re-charger.
He walked back to the tent, and opened the flap, “Sorry, boys, trouble at the office. We gotta get going.”
There was a groan from both of them, “I’m tired, dad,” Max said, “Can’t it wait?”
Kevin shook his head, “I’m sorry guys, but it can’t. Come on, let’s get going.”
They were packed and on the road in an hour. They got into Arizona 4 hours later. It was midnight, local time, and Kevin saw the gas light was on.
Driving up to the gas station, its lights splayed out onto the desert sand, Kevin couldn’t believe how much it resembled some sort of alien
spacecraft getting ready to lift off. He pulled up next to the pumps, and turned the car off.
“Boys? Come on, wake up, bathroom time.”
They stirred, and looked around groggily, “Where are we?” Max asked
“Somewhere in Arizona,” Kevin said. “Near Flagstaff, I think. Now come on. Go use the facilities, while I pump the gas. Oh, and someone grab me a
“I’ll get it, dad,” Peter said. His hair was a mess, and his glasses were a bit crooked. Kevin laughed and tussled his hair..
“You look just like Harry Potter.”
Peter gave his dad a disbelieving look, and rolled his eyes, “Whatever dad. Can I have a coke?”
Kevin unhooked the gas nozzle, and popped the tank open, “No, but you can have a Gatorade or some water. No caffeine this late.”
Peter nodded, and rubbed his eyes ,walking towards the store front. Kevin went around back of the car to check the luggage.
Max was exiting the bathroom just as Peter got there, “Hey, Max, grab me a Gatorade and dad’s coffee while I pee.”
Max cocked an eyebrow at his brother, “What am I, your personal slave?”
“Just do it, Caspian,” Peter said, walking past him.
Max looked at him in mock-anger, “Don’t call me Caspian, four-eyes.”
Peter’s face lit up with a smile, “But it sounds so regal!” he said, trying to sound like their mother.
They both laughed. Peter closed the bathroom door, and Max headed for the drinks counter.
Suddenly, the bathroom door erupted, and Max ran through it. Peter looked at him quizzically, “Since when did you-"
Max cupped his hand over his brother’s mouth, “Shut up. Some guy is holding up the store.”
Peter looked back at him, wide-eyed, “Did he have a gun?”
Max shook his head, “I don’t think so.”
Peter chewed on his bottom lip, “Think we could take him?”
Max grinned, “Sensi will be pissed.”
His brother chuckled, “Yeah, what else is new. Let’s see how numb-nuts feels about two cans of salsa on the back of his head.”
They headed for the door, moving silently, and crouched low.
Sammy was thankful he found this little # place. There was some guy out front pumping gas, but if he tried to interfere, Sammy could pump him full of
lead, no problem. The double-barreled 12 gauge was getting heavy, the sales clerk was taking her damn time.
“Hurry the **** up! Before I give your ugly Mexican face a few more holes!” She was crying and blubbering, trying to get the drawer to open when the
first impact came.
At first it was just a numbness on the back of his skull, followed by a cold sensation. His head swam precariously, then tiny little pricks spread
all over the back of his neck and head, and something dripped down the back of his t-shirt. He spun and saw a foot running behind a display. He fired
the shotgun a little ahead of it, hoping to hit whoever was back there.
Then his face exploded
Something slammed into the bridge of his nose, and a sharp crack echoed through his ears. Hundreds of tiny shards bit into his face, and something
wet drenched him and stung his eyes. He fired blindly in the direction the impact came from, and heard a small cry. He wiped the mixture from his
face, and coughed. It was salsa, he thought. The liquid had found it’s way up his nose, and in his mouth, forcing another cough. He blinked several
times, and the blindness turned to blurriness, and he saw a kid lying at his feet, the obvious culprit. Sammy frowned at the body. He had always felt
bad about killing kids, but it was the little #’s fault for being stupid.
“Peter!” he heard someone yell, and turned to look. It was another kid, practically identical to the dead one in front of him, except this one didn’t
wear glasses, and seemed a little more muscular.
Sammy pointed the shotgun at him, his vision clearing a little more. When he spoke, his voice was raspy, “Freeze, kid, or join your little brother
The kid was overcome with anger, and rushed him, “I’ll kill you, you-”
The gun fired once, and it was all over.
Sammy shook his head. Two dead kids, and probably no more than two hundred bucks in the damn register. Talk about a #ty night. He turned back to the
sales clerk. She had fainted dead away, the drawer was open. Sammy reached for it, and suddenly realized the counter wasn’t where it was supposed to
be. He was dimly aware of the floor swimming, and his head cracking against it, before he fell unconscious.
Kevin lowered the neural incapacitator, and rushed through the doors. The thief and the store clerk would be out for several hours, the device in his
hand assured that. But his primary focus right now was his boys. He yanked his phone out, and spoke into the microphone, “Base I.”
It rang once, and Josh answered, “Hey, Kev, what’s up?”
Kevin could barely hold back his tears, “Peter and Max, Josh, they’ve been shot.”
“What? Oh my god, Kevin, I’m so-”
“Shut up! Get Copter Three online, and get over here. I’ve got our subjects.”
Josh was silent for a moment, “Kevin, you can’t mean the boys.”
“Get the **** over here, now. That’s an order, lieutenant!”
Josh swallowed, not wanting to entertain his superior’s wrath, “Aye, sir. May I respectfully remind you of General Burks? He won’t like this,
Kevin wiped a tear from his eye, “Let me handle him. You just get here. We’ll need a medic team. And have the surgery bay prepped. I want them in
there 5 minutes after arrival.”
“Aye, sir. See you in 15.”
Kevin flipped his phone off, turned both boys on their backs and checked their vital signs. They were both still breathing, but Peter just barely.
Max was going into shock, staring at his father with wide eyes, and tightly clenched teeth.
Kevin keyed the neural incapacitator for light sleep, and put Max out, letting his body relax. Then he put his face in his hands and wept.
Light and darkness, retreating, returning, spinning, no sense of direction or stability. Color explodes, greens, yellows, reds, blues. Visions pass
by, pictures of memories, and dreams, things wanted, things accomplished, people known, those admired and scorned. Dreams and reality, life and
Sounds followed. Echoing voices to accompany the images. Sometimes making sense, oftentimes simply confusing. Reality slinking away, nightmares
dominating the landscape.
Peter woke easily, his eyes opening slowly, his vision a blurry green.
Green? Why is everything green.
White letters appeared at the bottom of his vision.
VISUAL CORTEX STIMULATED. WARNING: TARGETING SYSTEM OFFLINE. BACKUP SYSTEM ACTIVATED.
What the heck is going on?
WARNING: VITAL SIGNS ACCELERATING. COMPUTER ANALYSIS SHOWING SIGNS OF NERVOUSNESS. NEUROTRANSMITTERS SHOWING FATIGUE PATTERN. ATTEMPTING TO
Why aren’t I breathing? Where am I?
Suddenly, his last memory came to him. Rushing the man in the convince store. His shotgun fired. Pain...
He reached for his stomach, and felt it gingerly. It was whole, undamaged.
A flash of fuzz shot across his eyes. The static thinned, then dissipated and the green tinge left, leaving vibrant color in it’s wake. Peter
literally couldn’t believe his eyes. Every color was unimaginably perfect. He could clearly make out the glare on his bed’s metal posts. He continued
to look, and his vision sharpened even further, and he seemed to sink into the surface, becoming aware of each molecule, and it’s place. White text
appeared again, explaining the contents of the metal and identifying weak spots. He moved down to the edge of the bar, and where it curved the text
became a readout of the pounds per square inch it would take to bend the metal straight, and how many it would take to snap it in half. He pulled back
from his concentrations, and was somehow aware the entire episode had taken less than a second.
He sat up a little further, and lifted his hand, flexing it a few times in front of his face, wondering aloud, “What the heck is going on?”
“That’s going to take some explaining, I fear.”
Peter jumped at the sound, and looked. A boy stood there, clad in all black, looking exactly the same as him. Not in the way that Max and he looked
alike. Even in twins, there are differences. This boy was an exact replica, down to the same pair of glasses Peter always wore.
This thought brought a question to Peter’s mind, but even before he could answer it, his doppleganger merely smiled, “You don’t need them
“You can read my mind.”
The smile widened, “In a manner of speaking. Can you stand up?”
Peter swallowed, the fear in his gut sending a shiver up his spine, “Look, I don’t even-“
The smile finally faded, and the boy raised a hand, “I will answer every one of your questions in a moment, first I need to see if you’re capable of
standing, and walking. There’s some people who need to see you. I can assure you, you are not in any danger. Now, can you stand up?”
The tone, and the way in which the comment was delivered, a slight deflection of an answer, and a repeating of the former comment, reminded Peter so
much of his father, it was astonishing. He took a deep breath, scooted down the bed past the bars, and swung his legs over the side.
He pushed off and felt his feet hit the ground. He was acutely aware of each and every muscle as it moved, each nerve ending in his foot identified
him of pressure and shock intake; the coolness of the floor was transferred from each nerve individually. He felt his knees bend slightly to absorb
the leftover shock, and knew precisely how much shock that was. He swayed for a moment, then felt his body right itself without needing any input from
his brain. Peter looked up at the boy, whose smile had returned.
The boy nodded, “Please take two steps towards me for calibration.”
Peter nodded back and did so. Again each muscle movement and sensation were reported to his brain in amazing detail. The first step was somewhat
off-balance, but the second was better.
The boy looked up and seemed to think for a second, “Calibration analyzation commencing. Please stand by.”
Peter felt his brow furrow. This kid was beyond weird.
The boy snapped back and looked at Peter again, his manner seemed to be a little too jerky to be truly human. Peter surmised he was some sort of
robot, and this was a very bizarre dream.
"No, dream, Peter, I promise. Maybe a dream come true though, hmm?”
Peter felt questions rise again, but was again deflected, “As I said there will be time for those in a minute. I need two more steps, please. Towards
Peter sighed, but complied. These steps were much more fluid, and his balance seemed much more normal. The boy looked off into space again, then
nodded and smiled.
“Calibration complete! Now, if you will follow me, please. We have quite a big day ahead of us.”
The boy spun on his heel, then looked back over his shoulder, “By the way, you can call me PJ.”
“What’s that stand for?” asked Peter.
The hallways where as painfully white as the room Peter had woken up in. He finally looked at his clothing, and saw he was wearing baggy white linen
pants, and a tight white tank-top. Peter studied the floor as they walked, and was informed it was a poly-carbon fiber, woven so tightly it appeared
to be perfectly smooth. He was also informed it was three feet thick, and could withstand a direct hit from a 105mm battleship gun.
They walked down the hallway for almost three straight minutes, when PJ finally stopped, and turned to look at the blank wall. He surveyed the wall,
then looked at the boy in front of him.
“There’s a door there.”
PJ grinned, “Sure is. Know what the password is?”
PJ chuckled, “Let me in the Batcave.”
With that, the wall slid smoothly back, and Peter saw two familiar faces smiling back at him.
They laughed and grabbed him, hugging him tightly. Peter wrapped his arms around them both and squeezed. Something seemed to hold his arms back,
keeping him from squeezing too tight. Suddenly all of the burning questions sprung to his lips, and he pushed back, opening his mouth.
“Dad, something weird is going on. I can see into stuff, and these white words keep popping out everywhere, and-“
Kevin put a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder, “Hold on, son, hold on. I’ve got answers for everything, I promise. Come over here and sit down,
and we’ll go over all of it, okay?”
Peter frowned, and nodded, and began to walk over. Max nudged him, “Dude, this is gonna be awesome.”
Kevin looked at Max, and it was enough. The boy rolled his eyes, but stopped talking, and then did something that made Peter’s jaw dropped. As Peter
watched, Max leapt 15 feet straight up into the air, touched, the ceiling, and landed perfectly on the blue velvet chair next to the one Peter was
currently heading towards.
“Oh my god! How did you-“
”Caspian Maxwell Johnson! You will behave yourself. You understand me, young man?”
Max shrunk in his chair; he hated his full name, “Yes, sir.”
Kevin’s eyes lingered on him a moment, and he shook his head slightly, turning his gaze back to Peter, “Go sit down, son. We have a long morning
ahead of us.”
Editied for Format
[edit on 23-7-2004 by RockerDom]