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Eden's Ore - Secrets

Eden’s Ore – Secrets

B. V. Bayly

 

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Any names or persons in this book are entirely fictional. They bear no resemblance to anyone living or dead.

Book One of the Eden’s Ore Series

www.edens-ore.com

 

Copyright © 2015 by B. V. Bayly

 

First Edition: Nov 2015

 

 

Cover design by Steve McGhee

www.stevemcghee.com

 

This book has been formatted for International English

 

Table of Contents

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty–One

Chapter Twenty–Two

Chapter Twenty–Three

Chapter Twenty–Four

Chapter Twenty–Five

Chapter Twenty–Six

Chapter Twenty–Seven

Chapter Twenty–Eight

Chapter Twenty–Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty–One

Chapter Thirty–Two

Chapter Thirty–Three

Chapter Thirty–Four

Chapter Thirty–Five

Chapter Thirty–Six

Chapter Thirty–Seven

Chapter Thirty–Eight

Chapter Thirty–Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty–One

Chapter Forty–Two

Chapter Forty–Three

Chapter Forty–Four

Chapter Forty–Five

Prologue

 

Acknowledgements

First and foremost I want to thank God for the path I have been blessed to travel. No one said this would be easy but, despite the struggles, I am reminded everyday about His wonderful blessings and encouraged to believe in this dream.

To Mary Rosenblum, my editor – you helped to clear away the fog and expose what I had worked so hard to show my readers. To my mentor, Kathy Tyers – teaching someone to write and teaching someone to write a book are two very different things. I want to thank you for showing me the difference.

To my wife, who lovingly pushed me to pursue my dream and share my story with the world – you stayed beside me every step of the journey and didn’t let me stray. This book is as much yours as it is mine. To my boys – without knowing it, you both took care of me on my rough days with a simple smile and snuggle. To my parents – thank you for never giving up on what you saw in my writing even when I didn’t see it myself. To my brother – our adventures are fuel for my stories. I will eternally laugh and enjoy our time together. To my father-in-law – I would not have walked down this road if you had not gently pointed out the way first. And, to the many others who have all played a part in making this novel what it is, I thank you.

Foreword

First, let me say thank you to the fans who read and fell in love with the original Eden’s Ore – Secrets. I know many of you questioned why I would rewrite the opening books of this series. I would like to answer that question now.

When I first wrote Eden’s Ore, it was intended to be only three books. It was very different. Through the process of writing the first book, the story began to evolve. It expanded, growing in places I didn’t know about in the beginning. The world really had a life of its own. I was just along for the ride, trying to capture what played out in my mind as best as I could. By the time I wrote the fourth book in the series, everything had gone through a complete transformation.

The problem arose when I looked back at Secrets and Revelations, books one and two. They were already on the market in national stores and selling. I had completed Judgment and Uprising and was working on the final book in the series. I was excited to share books three and four with my fans. I was pumped for you to experience it: to see where the story was going and what this world had become. The characters had changed; their true selves had emerged from the recesses of my imagination. The plot had tightened, found its pace and moved smoothly. And, above all else, I had found my voice as a writer.

It wasn’t long before a fork in the road came. A chance to change course. I thought a lot about it. I prayed a lot about it. It felt right to step away. To start over and re-examine Secrets and Revelations. They deserved better from me. You, as the reader, deserved my best. Many of you agreed, offering helpful suggestions and breaking down issues you had with the books. You sent emails and wrote on my blog. Many of you took the time to explain your thoughts and help me see things from a different angle. All of your input helped open my eyes to some issues and, in the end, that was all that mattered. Thank you.

So here it is. I am thrilled to present to you a new Eden’s Ore -Secrets. While we arrive at the same place by the end of the book, the path taken is very different. If you have never read Secrets before, then enjoy. If you have, I hope my efforts make the experience feel brand new.

Chapter One

It had been ten years since Calvin Roberts death. Ten years without a father.

Gabriel Roberts twisted the wrench on the old rusted nut, grunting as he tried not to snap the bolt. The old wind turbine was machine built alright. There was no space for a human hand inside the turbine compartment.

He grunted and cursed under his breath. “Give me a break!” The bolt snapped off with the old nut. He smacked the machine several times with the wrench, wishing the thing could feel pain. He breathed out in a huff. Why his father had insisted on using such old technology was beyond him. Now he’d have to rewire the whole thing.

“At least, I can change it to a standard clip,” he murmured under his breath, trying to see the upside. The bright light above his head flickered out.

Not now. His anger only rose as he shook the light, hoping it was just the bulb. Nope – it was out of juice.

It was almost eleven o’clock at night. He had been trying to get the turbine up and running all day. They were down to only two working power cells to run the ranch. The other ten needed to be recharged and the forecast was full of wind for the week – hopefully enough to fill the rest of the power cells. But not if he couldn’t get the turbine working. He climbed down the ladder in the dark, taking the small tool belt with him. The old steel ladder creaked as he pulled it back from the tall wind turbine. The ladder’s hydraulics were slow. It took several minutes of standing in the dark and pressing the button over and over for the twenty-foot tall ladder to shrink to four. Gabriel sighed, picked it up, and walked back to the barn.

A gust of wind blew his long hair across his face. “Great.” He sighed. They were going to miss a prime opportunity to get a positive charge on the power cells.

Sometimes he hated living on the archaic ranch. His father had designed it to function off the grid, a pet project he loved to tinker with. At least, he did when he was alive. Now the system was in serious disarray, half the solar dials were burnt out, the turbines were falling apart. The only system that still worked was the bio-compost, a fancy machine that turned animal manure and scraps into bio-fuel. Why they didn’t just move into the radiant zones like everyone else was beyond him. There you could just plug in and get power. They weren’t even that far out – around fifty miles. Tomorrow he would have to go into Burlington, a small town on the outskirts of the zone around Denver. Maybe the scrap yard had something he could use until he could rewire the turbine.

Gabriel tossed his tools into the barn and leaned the ladder up against the wall. He glanced up at the roof – nothing in the old loft made a noise. Nate Reinhart, their ranch hand, was probably asleep by now. He had said goodnight to Gabriel hours earlier before reminding him that the turbine repair was his responsibility. Nate was ex-military and wasn’t the most tactful person; most of his reminders sounded more like orders to Gabriel. He was used to it by now. His father’s best friend had moved into the barn the week after Calvin died. It was like Nate had always been around. Gabriel decided to check in with him in the morning. Maybe he had another idea of how to get some charge on the cells. By the  end of the day tomorrow, they’d be running dangerously low on power.

He crossed out into the yard. The wind had picked up. He kept his head down as he jogged back towards the old farm house. The side door to the kitchen had just the screen open, and the wind knocked it around with each gust. He stepped inside and secured the screen door. The house was cool; the wind outside had a chill to it. The summer months were vanishing and fall would be here soon enough. It reminded him about school. Gabriel still hadn’t picked out a college to attend. His mother had been all over him about it lately. It was the only reason he was working on the turbine so late. Dinnertime had revolved around the same conversation. He didn’t know what he wanted to study, let alone where to do it.

He pushed the thought from his mind and opened the fridge. The light inside was weak. Another reminder about the heavy work day he would have tomorrow. He sighed. At least if he went to school, he wouldn’t have to deal with the unending maintenance of this place anymore – a big plus in his mind. He grabbed everything he needed for a sandwich and shut the fridge, crafting the food in the dark. He crept up the long, narrow staircase to his room, careful not to wake his mother. He slipped inside and shut the door. Hopefully, tomorrow was going to be a better day. 

He kicked off his clothes and climbed into his bed. On his bedside table was a clear case that protected his glowing crystal. It was a memento left to him by his father. “Too bad I can’t just hook you up to something.” He picked up the case.

The crystal inside was a rare ore, a sample of one of the only energy sources left on earth. He had been barely nine when his father discovered it, buried deep within the ground, under the rumored resting place of the Garden of Eden. All across the globe, news stations broadcast the story, dubbing the ore Eden’s Ore. Not even a year later, Calvin was found dead at work, the result of a mysterious accident. The crystal had sat on Gabriel’s bedside table for the last ten years. He knew every line and angle on the glowing shard as well as he knew his own face. It was the last thing his father had given him and was worth more to him than anything else he owned. Every time he stared at it, his mind filled with the few happy memories he could remember about his father. His eyes followed the weak glow of light from inside the large crystal as it pulsed out towards its sharp corners.

Crack. Gabriel jolted in his bed, his heart instantly thumping in his chest. “What the?” He tossed the crystal onto his bed and stared at the window in his room. The glass pane was cracked. He climbed out of bed, confused. What had hit it?

A series of thuds echoed against the outer wall of his room. He crept towards the window, unsure of what was happening. The thuds multiplied. The glass pane cracked again as a small white ball crashed into it. Then another. And another. The window shattered under the force and his room was filled with the howl of wind. His muscles jolted at the sudden explosion and he scrambled the rest of the way to the window, trying to not step on the broken glass.

“Hail?” He picked up a round chunk of ice off the sill. As his eyes lifted, his jaw dropped.

Across the horizon was a menacing wall of black clouds. It lurched forward in the dark. Lightning streaked across its surface, cutting through the dark clouds as it connected wildly with the ground below. The wall of black stretched up to the moon and blocked out its light, a blanket of darkness sweeping across the fields. As the storm moved closer to the ranch, its surface began to distort and twist. Dirt and debris were scooped up from the fields by an invisible force. It twisted and spun around in a huge column, giving shape to a massive tornado. The thuds of hail multiplied by a hundred, and the house shook as they struck against it. Gabriel immediately crossed the hallway and burst into his mother’s room.

“Mom!” He rushed to her side. She was already sitting up in bed, looking upwards at the ceiling. “We’ve got to go! Come on! We gotta lock down the house and get to the basement.”

“Gabriel! What is happening?” She climbed out of bed, glancing from him to the ceiling and back as the sound of the hail only increased.

“We got a storm!” Gabriel grabbed his mother’s dressing gown and threw it at her. “Let’s go.” This wasn’t the first storm they had faced.

He ran back to his room and grabbed the first pair of jeans he saw. Once they were on his legs, he kicked at the other clothes sprawled across the floor, searching for a pair of shoes.  He whipped a T-shirt off his bedpost and pulled it over his head, fighting to get his arms through. Out his window, he could see the black wall of terror was just beyond the barn. His mother shuffled into his room in her lime-green housecoat, still looking up at the rapid bangs of hail bombarding the roof.

“If the storm is dangerous, why haven’t the sirens…?” She gasped and pointed to the window. “Oh my goodness …” His mother’s mouth hung open. She seemed frozen where she stood.

He twisted her around and pushed her towards her room as a howl blasted in the distance, warning all to take cover and hide.

“Get the blinds down!” He pointed to her windows. Nate had drilled him on how to lock down the house ever since he was a boy. He sprinted back to his own window and pulled down on a steel chain. A series of metal blinds cascaded down over the windows, covering them inside and out. He bolted them in place then raced to the next bedroom just down the hall – his brother Adin’s old room. He pushed through the stacks of boxes stored in the abandoned room; they tumbled down across the floor as he clawed his way past them to the window. He yanked on the steel blinds and snapped them into place. As he raced out of the room he slammed into his mother, nearly knocking her to the ground.

“My room is done and your father’s office is too,” she told him as he steadied her from falling.

“Good!” He pulled her towards the stairs. “You get the rest of the windows downstairs!” Gabriel yelled over his shoulder as he raced down before her. When he hit the main floor he ran for their front double doors. He heaved on a large steel panel hidden within the door frame. It was only halfway out when the wind crashed through, kicking the front doors inwards. The hinges on the right door sheared off from the wall and swung against the steel panel with a crash.

“Help me!” Gabriel’s sweaty hands slipped on the handles as he tried to push the door out of the way. With the help of his mother, they jerked on the steel panel, but it was useless. The heavy steel panel only retreated back into the wall as the force of the wind drove the front doors inward.

The sound of broken glass filled the room as the windows shattered around them, the metal blinds failing to hold back the storm. Protecting his face with his hand, Gabriel abandoned the steel panel and staggered back towards the kitchen, holding onto his mother. Pieces of the living room wall exploded, punched in by broken fence posts. He dropped to the floor with his mother, shielding her from the splinters as more unknown objects slammed through the outside walls and windows.

The wind burned his eyes as he stared through the broken walls. Lightning flashed in the yard – so close he could feel the electricity in the air; every hair on his body stood on end. The tornado battered everything in its path, tossing steel feed containers like paper cups. Pieces of wood ripped off the barn, disappearing into the black emptiness of the storm. The old tractor flipped onto its side and was dragged across the yard. A painful grip dug into his forearm. He turned to find his mother’s hand gripping him. He planted his feet and stood, pulling her up with him as they watched the barn. The old building was being torn apart piece by piece like someone had placed it in a giant blender. Nate!

“Nate!” His mother echoed his thought. She went limp in his arms, tears streaming down her face. He jerked her back up and dragged her towards the basement door.

“What about Nate?” she cried.

“I don’t know!”  He needed to get them to the shelter in the basement. Nate would have to fend for himself.

Gabriel reached the old wooden door and had barely opened it when the wind ripped it from his grip.  He pulled his mother down the steps, the howling winds chasing after them in the narrow stairwell. As his feet hit the concrete floor, he jerked his mother in front of himself and pushed her towards the short steel door in the corner. The flicker of automated lights illuminated the dark space as she ran straight to the back wall of the shelter.

She collapsed against it. “Nate might still be out there. He might need our help!”

Gabriel didn’t know what to say. Everything outside was being destroyed, nothing would be left. He turned away from her to secure the metal door on the shelter. Just as he slid the final bolts into place, he stopped. The shard on his bed … Dad’s crystal!

He began to slide the bolts back to unlock the huge door.

His mother mumbled something behind him then yelled, “Gabriel! What are you doing?”

“Just stay here. Don’t leave no matter what!” He didn’t have time to explain. His heart thundered in his chest. Gabriel opened the door just enough to slide through and leapt up the staircase into the gusts of wind. His vision blurred as he burst onto the main floor, barely able to see his way through the broken kitchen. The wind drove him up against the counters as he clawed his way towards the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. A loud snap began to repeat itself above his head, like the crack of a whip. Gabriel grasped the unsteady hand railing and bolted up the stairs. The ceiling overhead shredded away with each step he took. Pockets of blackened sky swirled above him as the tornado devoured the roof, spitting rain and dirt into his face. He focused past the roof being torn off the house, past the cold pellets of hail stinging his chest, past the distant cries of his mother. He pictured the pure white, soft glow of the piece of ore his father had given him. He ignored his pain, his muscles pumping faster than he’d ever worked them before. His heart thundered in his ears, blocking out every other sound. He barreled down the hallway. The roof was nearly gone, pieces rained down all over his path. A gust of wind knocked him out of the doorway as he reached his bedroom. A slice of pain dragged down the back of his left shoulder as something dropped on him from above. His skin was on fire, and the warm trickle of blood rolled down his back. Almost there. He gritted his teeth and clawed his way into his bedroom.

One of the outer walls had been torn off; the room was completely exposed to the storm. His bed was flipped over and pinned against a remaining wall. He crawled to where his bed should have been. He scrambled on the floor for what seemed like an eternity, wildly searching for the hard, clear case. Then he saw it.

The crystal was in the far corner of his room, free from its container, driven around by the relentless wind. Don’t touch it! His father’s voice screamed out in his head. Gabriel quickly grabbed a shirt that was wadded against the wall. He twisted it around his hand and bellied along the floor towards the glowing shard. He scooped it up in the shirt, careful not to let it touch his skin. He pressed the bundle to his chest and staggered to his feet. The gale winds tossed him around like debris. He slammed up against the doorframe and was spit back out into the hallway. He couldn’t stand up anymore, and crawled along the floor towards the top of the stairs. His forearms ached with pain as he dragged them along the sharp edges of wood and nails scattered across the floor. He could feel them stick into his skin. Each one punched in deeper as he leaned down on each forearm, desperate to get back downstairs. He grasped the top of the steps and pulled his chest over the edge. His stomach wrenched. There, at the bottom of the stairs, was his mother. She clutched what was left of the outside wall of the kitchen. Her hand reached out towards him.

“Go back! Get downstairs!” His voice was overpowered by the storm. Any sound he could push from his lungs vanished.

He twisted around and slid down the steps on his back, trying not to get sucked out into the open rage of the storm. His eyes met hers. She barely hung onto the broken outer wall. Her lime green dressing gown blew in all directions as she continued to reach out to him. Gabriel traveled towards her, gripping the stairs with his free hand. The shirt around the shard began to unravel, and the fabric pulled the crystal free from his grip. He latched onto the crystal with his other hand as the shirt was stolen by a gust of wind. His hand burned, as if dipped in fire. The crystal flashed with light at his touch. He buried it against his chest and fought to get down the stairs. His back scraped against the metal edges of another two steps as he pushed towards her. The storm raged overhead. Pain erupted in his head from the immense pressure. He had made it halfway down the staircase. She was still trying to reach for him. He needed to get to her faster. He needed to leap the rest of the way. Gabriel gripped the jagged edge of the outer wall still attached to the staircase and pulled himself up. He braced himself on it as he prepared to leap for her, but it collapsed under his weight. His stomach lifted into his chest as he plunged off the edge of the stairs. Unable to stop his free fall, he smashed through the old cellar doors outside the house.

The roughly cut wooden steps broke his fall as he tumbled into the dark pit of the old root cellar.  He stopped face down on the hard earth floor. A sharp pain blasted in his chest. Dazed, he tried to stand, but was pelted from above by nail-studded boards. He collapsed in agony under the bombardment, and rolled onto his back. His fingers dug through the warm blood oozing from his chest. Whatever was there, he tried to pull it free, but it refused to leave. It sank deeper into his ribcage. His body shook as he gasped for air. He was sick and dizzy. As he prayed against death, a white light flooded his vision.

Chapter Two

A repetitive low thud echoed in Gabriel’s head. Each beat of his heart sent a pulse of pain through his body. Something crashed in the distance, and his eyes jerked open. He stared up through several broken beams, a calm blue sky above him – white clouds drifted by in a light breeze. Everything hurt; he was lying in a pile of rubble. Carefully he pushed himself up into a sitting position. Dozens of pieces of wood and bits of the old wall covered him. He ducked his head under the broken beams snapped in two above him, and crawled onto his knees. His last conscious memory was of the outer wall failing to hold him. He had fallen through the darkness and into the old empty cellar just off the side of the house. He surveyed the scene around him. Several beams had caved through from the floor above him. The structural supports should have crushed him, but here he was, still alive.

He crawled forward from under the tepee of broken wood and rose to his feet. He was sore, but nothing appeared to be broken. He surveyed the loose wood around him and ducked under several other large beams. He groped along the cellar walls, searching for something that could hold his weight. Finally, he found some compacted chunks of wall strong enough to hold and cautiously climbed up onto solid ground.

Gabriel twisted slowly on the spot; the scene around him was like a war zone. The tornado had focused its fury on the small ranch and left nothing standing. The barn had completely collapsed onto one side, leaving the livestock pinned under the wreckage, their bodies still and bloodied. Farm equipment had been picked up and thrown all over by the storm. Even the short, heavy steel water tower was tipped over on its side, water leaked out from the breaks in the steel walls.

He walked over to a small metal water trough strapped to one of the few fence posts left standing. His reflection bobbed in the still water, his face covered in a thick paste of bloody dirt. Breaking the image into ripples, he cupped the cool water and splashed his face. He continued to wash until the prickles of his day-old beard scratched at his finger tips. As he scrubbed his hands clean from the dirt and blood clinging to them, he remembered the searing pain he had felt in his chest. He placed his right hand over his chest and breathed deeply. There was no pain as he inhaled and exhaled. Thank God. As he pulled his hand back from his chest, a smear of blood marked his palm. What? He looked down. A jagged tear in his T shirt was soaked with blood.

He gingerly tugged the t-shirt over his head. He breathed deeply and gently pressed the area where clotted blood was caked onto his chest. It didn’t hurt. He pressed deeper and found something hard under the tips of his fingers. He swallowed hard and tucked his chin towards his chest for a closer look. A glint of light caught his eye. Puzzled by the flicker, Gabriel leaned over the trough, and washed his whole chest with water. The area was thick with dirt and clots of dried blood. Satisfied, he stopped and stared at his reflection in the ripples of the disturbed water. He froze. His lungs struggled to suck in air as he stared at his own reflection, every muscle in his body locked in fear.

A glow reflected in the surface of the water as the ripples calmed.   The glowing white crystal was embedded in the centre of his chest.

He panicked, desperate to get the shard out of his chest. He clawed at the sides of the crystal to free it from his skin. This couldn’t be happening. He stared down at it, a pulse of light matched the rapid beat of his heart. What had happened to him?

His father had told him that the ore killed. Any prolonged exposure would kill any living thing near it. It wasn’t possible. He wasn’t even feeling ill. He touched his forearms; the dozens of jagged cuts had vanished. He reached around to his shoulder; the slice down his back was gone. He looked down at his chest and noticed his skin had completely healed around the ore – like it belonged there. It had merged with his body. How?

His pulse quickened as he recalled the series of events. The branch. The storm. The shelter. The stairs. The fall. Something wasn’t right. He was missing something. He was missing … someone.

He spun on his heels. “Mom!”

An empty silence answered him back. Nothing in the broken landscape moved. He pulled his shirt back over his head and sprinted towards the ruins of the house, hurdling over any debris in his path.

“Mom! Where are you?” He yelled so loudly it hurt.

Despite everything Nate had taught him about what to do in an emergency, he panicked. His breathing was erratic and his stomach cramped in pain. He spun around on the spot, and screamed again. “Mom!”

Pain seared his throat as he paused to breathe. He surveyed the destruction, searching for any sign of her. He ran towards where the kitchen should have been. Broken cupboards, chairs, dishes, and sodden drywall littered the area. He threw them in every direction until finally he found the stairs leading to the shelter. The door, broken into pieces, partially covered the top of the stairs.

His heart leapt with hope. “Mom, I’m coming down!”

Gabriel pushed debris out of his way and climbed down to reach the bottom of the stairs. He saw the grey steel door of the shelter and banged on it with his fist as he leaned against its heavy frame with his shoulder. The third hard shove on the steel door moved it. He looked inside the thin gap.

“Mom?” He pushed the large door open far enough to slip through. His eyes met a blanket of darkness, but as his eyes adjusted, items appeared before him: an empty cot, a shelf full of supplies, and a small table with two empty chairs. “Mom?” Why wasn’t she here?

He turned and left the empty shelter. He reached the sunlight and sat down on a pile of debris. He felt numb. Confused. Where was she? He began to shake, and his mind filled with the conflict of hope and loss.

He took several deep breaths, calmed himself, and stood. There had to be something. A clue. Maybe she had already left. He carefully navigated through the broken house. He recognized every shattered piece of his life. A picture he liked. A vase he made at camp as a child, still holding yesterday’s flowers. Bits of their couch. Broken dishes. His mother’s trinkets from the third shelf on the wall. He didn’t stop to pick up anything. He continued towards the front of the house, where several of the largest walls had come crashing down, piling atop of one another, forming an impassable mountain of rubble.

It rocked under his feet as he stepped onto it. Better go back the way he came. As he turned, something caught his eye. Sticking out from under a wall, speckled with blood, was a piece of lime green material. It was the same color as his mother’s housecoat. He remembered it whipping in the wind as his mother held onto the section of broken wall in the kitchen. Gabriel saw her hand next, the smooth skin white with death. He collapsed to his knees and crawled towards it. He was suddenly dizzy. He swallowed hard as he reached out to touch the lifeless fingers. The cold skin shocked him. No! His jaw quivered. Tears burned his eyes, and he couldn’t catch his breath.

He clung to her hand. “No … No … Please, no!”

He had experienced death many times on the ranch, but as he held his dead mother’s hand, the world around him suddenly got darker. He stared at the enormous wall that had come crashing down, killing her. He threw his head back and screamed. A rage surged through his body, just like when his father had died. He shook his head, desperate to wake up from the nightmare. He leapt to his feet, grabbed the wall lying on his mother, and tried with all his might to lift it off of her body. His hands dug into the jagged edge of the broken wall. Blood dripped from between his fingers as he continued to struggle to free her. Debris slid away from the wall as it began to rise. Gabriel screamed as his arms burned with pain, they shook as the wall rose upwards. A blast of light erupted in his chest, searing him with a pain he’d never felt before. It boiled up and crashed across his chest, spreading out towards his arms. The portion of the wall he held broke off. He tumbled backwards into the rubble behind him as the wall crashed back down on top of her.

Gabriel burst into tears. He hurled the chunk of broken wall away and wailed in pain. He charged the wall and pounded at the metal siding with his fists, leaving dents and blood all over its flat surface, until he could no longer swing his arms. He dropped to his knees, the rush of heat still building inside him. The fiery sensation crawled across his chest, down his arms and up his neck. Light coursed through his flesh, cracking through his bones and boring through every muscle. More light rolled down his arms like a liquid until it covered his hands. It spread, covering every inch of skin on his hands and arms. It slowly crept up his neck towards his chin. There was nothing he could do to stop it. The light surged with power – his skin was burning. Hot. Strong. Fierce. His body was being consumed. He screamed at the heavens as his tear-blurred vision filled with the strange, blinding white light.

Chapter Three

“I’ve got reports of teams already heading there.” The radio on the dash of Nate Reinhart’s pickup truck blared as he barreled down the abandoned road leading to the ranch.

“Almost there.” Nate pressed down on the gas pedal. The main road to the house was littered with debris, forcing him to take the back way.

“We need to get the lab locked down immediately!”

“I know, Alex! Is there anything about survivors?” Nate twisted the steering wheel to the left as he drifted around the bend in the gravel road.

“Nothing yet.” Alex’s voice was quiet.

Nate felt sick. “Keep monitoring them. I’ll be there in under a minute.”

“Yes, sir. Contact me when it’s finished – and be careful. TERA wants that lab more than anything. Over and out.”

Time was of the essence. Nate needed to focus. He pushed his worry about Gabriel and Jessica aside. Alex was right – locking down the lab was critical. He couldn’t let his feelings get in the way, but his heart ached to know they were alright. The truck struck potholes, and bounced violently all over the road as he struggled to control it. It skidded sideways as he slammed on the brakes, barely avoiding a smashed up gardening shed. Damn it. Turning off the ignition, he kicked the door open, snatched up his duffel bag and sprinted up the hillside. As he reached the top, the leveled buildings came into view. The barn had fallen over onto one side – crumpling the entire structure down onto itself. Farm equipment was turned over everywhere, their steel frames bent and beaten by the storm. The house was a pile of shredded wood, littered around the foundation. His home was destroyed. It hit him like a punch in the stomach.

“Gabriel! Jess!” He raced down the hill so fast he nearly fell.

He reached the level ground of the yard and he sprinted towards the house shouting their names. Let them be alive. Please. Nothing in the shattered house moved. His military training told him not to panic, but his heart sank. It was his job to keep them safe. He had promised Calvin he would. It couldn’t end like this. He scaled the side of the flipped over tractor and stood on the huge tire.

“Jessica! Gabriel! Where are you?” The strain of his scream left him coughing as he tried to catch his breath.

He was torn. Dr. Cymru’s team from TERA would be there soon, hoping the storm might have uncovered a clue about Calvin’s hidden laboratory. If TERA found Calvin’s research – the war would be over. Nate had spent the last ten years protecting it – he wasn’t about to give up now. He jumped off the tall tractor, absorbing the shock of the landing as he dropped to one knee in front of the barn. He focused on the fallen structure, searching for a way to enter. Everything was in shambles. He circled the building and found a break in the wall. He dropped his duffle bag and knelt down, carefully crawling under the structure. The small space was tight, he could barely get through. It was slow, but he got close enough to the spot he needed. He stretched out along the floor and brushed away the broken bits of wood littered across it.

Nate dug into his vest and pulled out a small flat, metallic plate no bigger than the palm of his hand. The cover slid open at his touch to reveal a keypad. He punched in a ten-digit code and slid the cover closed then stretched his arm out as far as he could and laid the metallic plate against the flat wooden floor. A high-pitched buzz filled the air around him, and the ground trembled. A minute later it stopped. He picked the plate back up and slid it back into his vest. It was done. He squirmed out from the wreckage of the barn and snatched up the duffle bag. Nate knew he would need both keys to unlock the lab later, but the second one was in his strongbox in the loft. He scanned the barn wreckage for the one-and-a-half foot by two-and-a-half foot silver box. It was more than strong enough to have survived the storm. The loft should have been right on top of the broken barn, but nothing in the ruin looked familiar. It had to be here. As he climbed up on the wreckage, the quiet was broken by the hum of an engine and a stranger’s voice. He ducked back down behind the rubble of the barn, keeping silent as he moved to get a view of the main road.

“Carl, just move the debris off the road so we can get the truck closer,” the driver yelled out the window.

A thin man hurried along the road in front of the truck, dragging pieces of wreckage off to the side. Nate watched them silently. They weren’t TERA. He slipped quietly back up the hill without being spotted. As he crested the top, he dropped to his belly and crawled towards some tall grass for cover. He retrieved the high-tech binoculars from his bag. Resting his chin on the dirt, he lifted the binoculars to his eyes.

The black screen illuminated. He held steady on the strangers and opened the bottom of the binoculars. A tripod dropped out automatically, positioning itself in the dirt, each leg perfectly balanced. An earpiece also dangled underneath. He stretched out the cord and hung it over his right ear. The two men’s voices came in crystal clear.

“– be the worst one.” The voice was deep and couldn’t belong to the skinny one.

“I dunno, the last house was pretty bad, too, Brett. That whole family was dead.” The high-pitched tone was a better match.

“Let’s hope it ain’t the same here.”

Nate zoomed in on the heavier man – Brett. The man ran his fingers through his thick red hair, then scratched at his full beard. His hair and beard made a mane around his face, his mouth hidden in the fuzz. He was a mountain of a man. His chest and arms were thick, and he was a solid foot taller than the other one. He put on his protective overalls, his hands moving routinely to each button and strap, as he stared at the leveled buildings.

Maybe they were from TERA after all?

His concentration broke as Brett shouted, “Carl! Get your ass over here and put your gear on before you go checking things out!”

Nate zoomed out to see the small bean-pole of a man hurry back to the truck and start suiting up. The two men were total opposites. Carl was short and thin all the way from his feet to his hair line. He wore thick-rimmed glasses that made him look like a big-eyed goldfish.

Nate switched back to Brett, following him back to the cab of the truck. He grabbed a handset off the dash of the truck and spoke, “This is unit 619 on Range Road L19. We are going to need some heavy equipment here and a medical team on standby. I am turning on the GPS unit.” He took his finger off the handset and waited.

Rescue  workers. Nate resisted the urge to rush down and help them. He needed to keep watch. Alex said TERA was on their way, and he was always right about those types of things.

The speaker finally buzzed back after several minutes. “Roger, we copy. On our way to your location.”

Brett got out of the cab and reached for the toolbox resting in the large truck bed. He handed two laz-saws to Carl who had finally gotten his overalls on right.

“Why’d you call in a medical team? I doubt anyone is alive,” Carl whined.

“Because that’s the procedure!” Brett barked. “It don’t matter if no one’s left alive, it’s part of the protocol.”

“This was the biggest storm we’ve seen in years. None of the other teams have found anyone alive,” Carl pointed out. “Seems like a waste of fuel if you ask me.”

Brett grabbed the handle of the three foot laz-saw and swung it up onto his shoulder with ease. “Well, no one is asking you, Carl! Now let’s go check this out!” He marched towards the farm house, slowly looking around the area. Carl clopped up behind him, tripping over his own feet as he tried to keep up with Brett’s large strides.

Brett pointed. “You go check out the barn. I’ll go through the house.”

Good, send the stupid one to the barn. Nate followed Carl, zooming the binoculars out to see the wreckage. The lab still needed time to completely lock down. Nate took a deep breath and pulled a pistol  from his duffle bag. He might have to deal with these two.

Carl fired up the small high-pitched saw, a red glow forming around the spinning blades. He sliced up a poorly chosen piece of the barn and the rubble shifted. Part of the barn collapsed around the dim-witted man, narrowly missing him.

Nate grinned. The dolt might just bury the whole thing.

Brett stormed over. “You call out for survivors first! How many times do I have to –” His focus shifted back towards the road.

“Who’s that?” Carl pointed.

Nate twisted and watched as a black cube van rolled down the lane towards the house, every window tinted to hide those inside. It was TERA.

“We better talk to them before they rush the wreckage. It’s probably the family.” Brett grunted. “You stay here.”

It was definitely not family. It was Dr. Cymru’s men – Calvin’s old research partner. Behind those van doors was most likely a death squad. No doubt he had sent his men down to see if the storm had uncovered the hidden laboratory. Nate grabbed his pistol and checked the clip, then loaded the weapon. He kept it in his hand as he watched two men in black suits step out of the van and marched towards Brett.

“Gentlemen, I cannot let you approach the wreckage. I realize you might have family here, but you need to let us look for them. I must ask that you get back in your vehicle and we will contact you as soon as we find something. ” Brett crossed his arms in front of his large chest.

“I understand you completely.” The driver of the van spoke. “However, we are not with the family – we are representatives of TERA: The Energy and Resource Acquisition.”

“I know what it means.” Brett didn’t move, blocking them from walking any further.

“Of course, you do.” The driver smiled. “This location is of interest to us. Have you found anyone yet?”

“We were just getting started as you arrived. Once you gentlemen leave, we will continue.” Brett just stared at them.

“There could be sensitive material on the site,  and we are just asking to do a quick sweep of the area. The faster we can do that, the faster we will be out of your way.” The stranger attempted to hand Brett a card.

“Can you do it from where you’re standing right now?” Brett kept his arms crossed.

“No, I’m afraid not.” The stranger shook his head.

“Then, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait. I have to clear the area before the rest of our team arrives.” Brett turned to walk away.

“You don’t understand. TERA needs to scan the area now!” The stranger followed  Brett.

Brett pivoted on the spot and stepped up to the stranger, towering over him. “Either bring me a court order, or get lost. This is me being nice.”

Nate chuckled as the two men got back into their van and slowly backed down the lane. He knew they would be back and with the court order. It didn’t matter. By then the lab would be invisible to almost any scan.

“Let’s do this, Carl!” Brett shouted, drawing Nate’s attention back.

Carl gave a thumbs up and Brett called out, “Hello, anyone in there? If you are, please do not move! I will be clearing some safe paths around the house to reach you!” After a few moments, he sighed loudly. “Just like all the rest.”

Nate’s heart sank as he watched them work. That was his home, shattered and broken. He swallowed, his throat dry. Somewhere down there were Jessica and Gabriel. He could only pray they had made it to the shelter.

Brett made quick work of the house, despite Carl’s cries of disgust from the barn. Carl’s constant commentary of what he was finding let Nate keep a visual on Brett’s progress in the house. The large man had made several paths into different areas of the house, and he now stood in the direct centre of the rubble calling out once again for anyone to respond. Silence.

Nate watched his movements, willing him to see the entrance to the basement in the wreckage. Please, let them have made it to the shelter. He thought Brett had tripped when he saw the man take a few steps then drop quickly to the ground. Nate’s heart quickened. Brett was clearing debris – same as before – but something was different. His movements were faster, not as careful. He zoomed the binoculars in on the wreckage. What was Brett looking at?

“Carl! Get some med-packs and some blankets!” Brett commanded from his knees.

“Why?” Carl yelled back.

“Because I got someone here. Now stop asking stupid questions and get me what I need!” he roared.

Nate nearly charged down the hill. His hands dug into the dirt as he watched. He took a deep breath and held it, his heart pounding in his chest. Brett didn’t move, and the wreckage blocked Nate from seeing who was lying at his feet.

 

Chapter Four

Gabriel felt a large, heavy hand on his neck. The sensation sent goose bumps across his skin. His muscles twitched as he awakened, and he struggled to open his eyes against the bright light of day. The face of a stranger with a huge red beard and matching fluffy red hair filled his vision. Instinctively, Gabriel smacked the hand away and rolled over onto his hands and feet, crouching like a cat. The huge man stumbled backwards, his face full of shock. A yelp echoed out as a small man behind him fell over the rubble.

Gabriel stared at the strangers. “Who are you?”

“Relax, son. My name is Brett O’Connor and this Carl Ellis. We work for the state, as part of the disaster rescue team. We’re sent in to give assistance to anyone in need after a severe storm happens. We’re here to help.” The big man spoke as though he was reading from a piece of paper. “Are you okay? That was an awful big storm that hit your farm.”

“The clouds … I watched it come towards us across the plain. I tried –” Gabriel stared down at his hands, drifting away from the conversation. My hands – that light.

“The storm hit a pretty big area.” The little man – Carl – leaned against Brett’s side as if he was stuck in his back pocket.

Brett handed Gabriel a blanket. “Here, wrap yourself up. You might be in shock.”

Gabriel pulled the blanket tightly around himself and let it drape down like a cocoon as he rose to his feet. Still unsure of the two strangers, he eyed Brett suspiciously. The large man towered over both Gabriel and Carl.

“Who else is out here? What family might still be around?”

Gabriel froze as Brett’s question pierced his heart. Mom. His eyes stung. His vision blurred with tears. Unable to speak, he turned and pointed at the thin white hand reaching out from under the huge wall.

“My … my mom.” He swayed.

A large hand gently came to rest on his shoulder, holding him steady.

“Come on son, we will get her out of there … I promise.” Brett gave him a gentle push and guided him out of the house, away from the rubble.

Carl rushed ahead of them and pulled a pile of plastic out of a box in the truck. He dragged it off to the side of the road and through the tall grass, away from the wreckage of Gabriel’s home. It expanded, unassisted, into a small tent.

Brett stepped away from him and nodded to Carl in approval. “I want that medical team and the heavy equipment here now. I don’t care what HQ says! You get them here ASAP!” Brett’s shout echoed in Gabriel’s ears. When the tent finished expanding, Brett motioned for Gabriel to enter. He obeyed and sat down on one of the inflated cots. Brett knelt before him, putting them eye to eye.

“Is there anyone else out there?”

“In the barn. I didn’t see him before the storm … Nate might … I … I dunno. He’s our ranch hand.” Gabriel felt shattered.

“Alright, son, you stay here and we will do the rest. Just lie down – more help will be here soon.” Brett gently patted him on the shoulder. “I know it doesn’t mean much right now, but you’re lucky to be alive.” With that, he left Gabriel alone in the tent.

Gabriel wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but the ranch became a hive of activity. Several different rescue teams arrived. Everyone stared at him as they passed by. No one could believe he had survived. Even Gabriel didn’t understand how. He stayed alone in the tent with only Brett coming in occasionally to check on him. The giant of a man constantly assured him  that a medical team was on its way and Gabriel should just lie quietly and wait. He curled up into ball, feeling safer with the blanket wrapped tightly around himself. His hand rested against the shard. Its surface was warm, giving off a small pulse of heat with each beat of his heart.

Why am I alive? The ore kills people.

He breathed in deeply, feeling the weight of the crystal rise and fall safely in his chest.

That light. The pain. My hands and arms – my skin felt like I was burning alive. Was that how it starts? Is that what it feels like as it kills you?

Gabriel struggled to figure  out what had happened to him. Nate had once told about certain people who had a connection to the ore. They were special. The ore acted differently around them. Was Gabriel one of them? He did his best to remember what else Nate had said. “These people are special, even rarer than the ore itself. They’re called ore users. Most of them hide, if not their killed. The Church of Humanity executes them for being abominations. TERA steals them and, cuts them up to figure out why they’re like that. I’m not really sure what to make of them.” A chill ran down Gabriel’s spine.

No one can know. A terrifying future played in his mind. Him, strapped to a table, a bright operating light burning into his eyes. The heads of scientists moving between him and the light as they prepared to examine him. Tools readied to dissect him and take the crystal. It would be more valuable to them than he was.

The front of the tent opened, startling him. Brett squeezed through the doorway. “Well, son.” He breathed out loudly and cleared his throat. “No one on the team has found anything alive. None of the animals in the barn survived. I’m not sure about your ranch hand, we’ve cleared out as much of it as we can. I doubt anyone could have lived through it. I’m sorry.”

Gabriel felt numb – if numbness even was a feeling. He thought about Nate. Gabriel had still been pretty young when Nate had moved into the barn. He remembered first seeing him standing at the front door with a silver chest. He’d given Gabriel’s mother an envelope. She had wept as she read the letter and then allowed him to move into the barn. Gabriel never really knew why Nate was there, but, as the years passed, it didn’t really matter. Nate was family. He was the one who had shown Gabriel everything – how  to punch, shoot a gun, drive a tractor, fix machinery. Every skill he had was because Nate had taken the time to teach him, but now he was gone.

“With all the livestock and mess in there, we need to spray the barn area down with some pretty nasty chemicals. It’s just gonna become a big bio hazard if we leave it. Was there anything you wanted out of there?” The large man waited.

Gabriel ran his fingers through his dark hair, combing out some chips of wood. “You guys find a silver trunk? A strongbox?”

Gabriel had asked Nate many times over the years what was in the chest, but Nate always gave the same answer, a smile and a ‘don’t worry about it’. It was important, alright. It must have been if Nate had guarded it all of these years. He didn’t know why, but if Nate was dead, Gabriel wanted it.

“Not sure, I’ll double check with the boys.” The big man nodded and left the tent. Eventually he returned, carrying the silver strongbox.

Relief surged through Gabriel as Brett set the chest at the end of his cot. “Want anything else, son? We’re about to start spraying.”

He shook his head and sat up on the cot to look at the metal box. Locked. Gabriel eyed the mechanism on the lid. Nate had taught him how to pick simple electronic locks. This was more complex.

“Well?” Brett stared at him.

“Sorry … I don’t know where to begin …” Gabriel shrugged.

“It’s alright. We’ll put aside anything salvageable and make sure it goes in the storage container.” Brett nodded and left the tent.

Gabriel was mentally making a list of things that might have survived, when a new vehicle pulled into the long driveway. The blanket slid off his shoulders as he stretched his neck up over the tent wall to try and see what was coming. Unable to get a good look, he pulled the blanket back around him and stood up to peer through the open entrance.

The sun reflected off the vehicle’s windshield, stopping him from getting a good look at it until it neared the plastic tent. It was a white ambulance.

Not good.

Chapter Five

Gabriel panicked, looking around for somewhere he could go. He needed to leave. Who knew what they would do once they found the shard in his chest.

Before he could run, Brett barreled through the plastic doorway. “Good! The medical team is here.” Brett pointed to the ambulance. “Now they can have a good look at you. Also, I got a little something for you. Sit.”

Gabriel sat on the cot and opened the small duffel bag Brett handed him. Inside were shiny silver envelopes that had “Financial Relief Aid Packages” stamped on them in bold red letters. “What are these?”

“It’s a little against procedure, but I gave you three. These have food cards and vouchers for free hotel stays. Also, some government cash cards for buying new clothes and things. Typically, you only get one per person, but I figured you could use a little bit of extra help.” Brett smiled so widely Gabriel could see a couple of molars missing in his giant yellowish grin. “They’re easy to set up.”

“Set up?” Gabriel was confused.

“Um, they’re tied to you. Like to your person.” Gabriel could see Brett had a hard time explaining it. “Look.” The big man peeled open the packets. “Each one gets coded to you. Here.” Brett took out a small three inch plastic strip. “Give me your arm.”

Gabriel held out his forearm. Brett  pressed the strip down into his skin and scanned the back of the device with a small red pen. The strip pinched, causing Gabriel to flinch.

“It’s alright, the strips are just encoding.” Brett smiled.

Gabriel stared at the grey plastic strip as Brett lifted it up off his skin. The bottom of it was covered with hundreds of hair like spikes. “What’s that for?”

Brett struggled with his words. “It codes to your blood, or DNA. Anyhow, you just need to be scanned at any store or hotel and you’re  good – you don’t have to worry about trying to prove anything. Makes it easier. Everything will be all set up for you in the system. Just two more times.” He chuckled and pressed the next two strips into Gabriel’s forearm. “That should do it.”

Gabriel rubbed his skin after Brett lifted the last plastic strip. “Thanks, Brett.”

“No problem.” Brett cleared his throat. “I got one last thing for ya.” He pulled out a gold locket. It looked so small in his large hand. “I figured you’d want it.” 

Gabriel’s chest quivered as he picked it up out of Brett’s hand. The smooth golden locket was flecked with blood. It was his mother’s. Tears filled his eyes as Gabriel spoke. “You got her out?”

“Yeah.” Brett’s voice was soft.

“Can I see her?” Gabriel bit down on his lip as tears slid down his face.

“Not yet – let the paramedic guys clean her up, you don’t want to see her like this.” Brett took a deep breath, and his voice trembled. “I’m sorry.”

Gabriel couldn’t speak. His insides twisted as heat spread across his chest. He nodded at Brett and let out a jagged breath.

“I was happy as a pig in mud to find you breathing!” Brett gave Gabriel a gentle pat on the shoulder. “Things will get better.” His smile was forced. “Take care of yourself.”

Gabriel didn’t say a thing. He couldn’t. He just nodded and watched Brett leave the tent. Gabriel kept his eyes on Brett and his partner as they stripped off their gear and climbed into their truck. He gave them a final wave as they drove down the lane, and suddenly he felt very alone. The heavy equipment was quick to follow, headed for the next site. He returned to his cot and cocooned himself in the blanket once again.

“Hello.” A friendly voice interrupted his thoughts. The female paramedic placed a medical bag on the ground in front of him and sat down on the other cot. She wore a pair of thin glasses that matched her round face and the small bun on the top of her head. “My name is Rita. And you are?”

“Gabriel.” He shifted on the cot, uneasy about the new guest. He closed his hand around the locket.

“Hi, Gabriel. I just want to check some of your vitals. Is that okay?”

A male paramedic joined them, standing silently in the corner of the tent.

“Alright.” He tried to remain calm.

She smiled and reached for his right arm. He carefully slid his arm from beneath his protective blanket, and watched as she wrapped a metallic band midway up his forearm. She then pulled a small set of goggles out of her kit. They looked a bit like binoculars.

“Alright, I want you to just look into these.” She held the goggles up to his eyes. “And try not to blink.”

Maybe they wouldn’t see anything. Gabriel took a deep breath and pressed his face into the goggles. A surge of red light flooded his eyes, blinding him. The burst of light vanished and she removed the goggles.  He rubbed at his eyes until his vision returned to normal.

Rita looked at a small LCD screen attached to her forearm. “Well, your retina scan looks good – vitals all really strong,” she reported. “I see you’ve had some trauma to your chest though.”

Gabriel swallowed hard and tightened the blanket around himself.

“Let’s see now.” She smiled at him. “Here comes your medical history … alright, that looks to be fine. You appear to be in good condition, but I want to take a look at your chest before we let you go. Can you tell me about what happened?” Her eyebrows rose.

He cleared his throat. “I don’t remember,” he lied. “I feel fine though.”

She stood up and started to ease the blanket off his shoulders. “Let’s just have a quick look. Lie down, please.” She patted the cot.

“No.” Gabriel shook his head and made a point of staring her in the eyes. “I feel fine, thank you.”

She frowned and tilted her head at him. “I just want to take a look. Sometimes we feel fine, but our bodies are in trouble.”

“Your computer says I am fine, and I really don’t feel like being poked at!” His hand tightened around the locket.

“Sir, I need to look at your chest!” She used a stern tone.

The male medical officer stirred beside her, pushing his sleeves up to his elbows.

“I don’t care what you want. I don’t want to be looked at! Get it?” His voice rose as his fear quickly changed to anger.

The woman reached out and grabbed his arm. “Just lie down.”

The man put a hand firmly on his shoulder.

Gabriel jerked his arm back from her and stood up from the cot. “I said no!” His chest burned. “Get the hell out!” He pointed to the door as the blanket slid down from his shoulder.

Her eyes fixed on his chest. “What’s that in his chest?” She pointed.

The male paramedic shouted. “That’s ore!”

Gabriel glanced down and realized that the ore was visible.  He readjusted the blanket to cover it. “No!” It was too late.

The male paramedic lunged at him and wrapped his arms around him, pinning Gabriel’s arms to his side. “Sedate him!”

What? A flash of heat spread across his chest as Gabriel struggled under the hold. They fell back onto the small cot. “Hurry up!” The paramedic grunted as he twisted to stay on top of him. 

“I’m trying!” Rita fumbled with her bag as Gabriel struggled to roll over. He fought to get his hands free from the blanket and shoved the paramedic back. The paramedic leaned down on him, his knee pressed painfully into Gabriel’s chest. “Hold him down!” Rita shouted, a syringe in her hand.

“Get off me!” Gabriel roared. His arms flashed with light as he shredded through the blanket and hurled the male paramedic straight up into the air. He bounced off the roof of the tent and tumbled to the ground, but he recovered immediately and charged Gabriel again. Gabriel slammed his fist into the center of the paramedic’s chest. The blow spun the paramedic back through the air and into Rita. The two of them crashed into the corner of the tent. They stared at him, terrified, their mouths open and eyes wide.

“Leave me alone!” Gabriel screamed at them. He could barely breathe. His hands shook, bathed in a blinding light. His feet were frozen to the ground. His whole being was on fire. Pain.  Suffering. His vision flooded with light as an immense torment rattled through his bones. He cried out, and a powerful shockwave tore his chest apart.

Chapter Six

“Gabriel!” The familiar voice seemed louder than normal. Again, it called his name.

Gabriel couldn’t move – his body was overwhelmed by what had happened. He forced his eyes to open and stared up at the blue sky. The tent was gone. He twisted onto his side and gasped with pain. The ground all around him was scorched. Burnt black and charred. The smell of burning plastic stung his nose.

“Gabriel!” Footsteps thundered towards him. A pair of hands grabbed him, tugging him onto his back. “Gabriel, look at me!”

Overwhelmed with relief at seeing his brother, Gabriel struggled to control his emotions. It had been at least a year since he had last seen Adin. He hadn’t changed. An expensive-looking black suit matched his dark sunglasses. His black hair was short and gelled forward, every hair perfectly in place.

“My God.” Adin pulled off his glasses. “Gabriel…” He stared down at his chest.

Gabriel followed his gaze and saw the brightly glowing shard, which had burnt through his shirt. He didn’t know what to say. He reached for Adin’s hand, their mother’s locket tumbling from his grasp. “I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

Adin hoisted him up to a sitting position and pulled the locked from his grip. Adin stared down at it and then looked at him. “Where’s Mom?”

Gabriel just shook his head. He didn’t have anything left.

Adin pocketed the locket and hauled Gabriel up, leaving his arm around him. “We need to leave now.”

Gabriel didn’t understand. What had happened? His chest burned, his head was like soup. He staggered to his feet and looked around. There was nothing within a fifty foot radius of him. The tall grass had burned away.  Only a small piece of the ground beneath him had remained unharmed. He stumbled away from Adin’s grip and fell to the ground.

“Gabriel!” Adin barely caught him.

“What happened here?” Gabriel was physically sick, he struggled back onto his legs. They ached with pain, but held him. He trudged forwards towards Nate’s silver strongbox – it sat just beyond the edge of the scorched grass, a half melted piece of plastic covered it.

Adin hesitated. “I just saw an explosion.”

“An explosion?” Gabriel turned to face him. “From what?”

Adin’s nostril’s flared as he breathed in. “I’m guessing, you.”

“Me?” Gabriel shook his head. “What are you saying?”

“The ore in your chest…” Adin slowly shook his head. “I saw the blast of light as I drove up.”

Gabriel didn’t want to believe it. He couldn’t. “Adin, what’s going on?”

“We can talk later.” Adin pointed at his SUV. “We need to leave.”

“Adin!” Gabriel yelled. “What’s happening to me?”

Adin unexpectedly pulled him so close that their noses almost touched. Adin stared into his eyes, while tightening his grip around Gabriel’s arms. “That ore in your chest, it is dangerous. They’ll hunt you down for it – we need to leave. Now.” Adin’s deep blue eyes were blurred with tears, but they still managed to burn into him. “Gabriel, please! We need to get out of here, before anyone else sees you.” Adin pressed his forehead into Gabriel’s – just like when they were kids and Adin needed Gabriel to listen to him. “Trust me.”

Gabriel nodded in surrender.

Adin let him go, put his glasses back on and ran towards his black SUV. Gabriel grabbed the chest and painfully picked it up. He jogged after Adin, forcing his legs to move with each step.

Adin popped the passenger door and waved him to get in.“What’s that?” Adin nodded towards the chest.

“Nate’s.” Gabriel wasn’t going to leave it behind.

“Fine.” Adin quickly took it from him. “Get in.”

Adin loaded the chest into the hatch at the back of the SUV and climbed into the driver’s seat. The SUV whipped around on the gravel road as Adin accelerated. They shot forward down the driveway.  Adin kept both hands tight around the steering wheel. He didn’t look back. Gabriel sat silently and watched tears trickle from beneath Adin’s dark sunglasses. Their mother’s bloodied gold necklace was clenched in his fist.

Chapter Seven

Nate opened the glass door to the empty electronic repair shop on the east side of Burlington. It was important they know that TERA would be coming for the hidden lab. They had found Gabriel alive, and Nate could only hope Jessica was in the same condition. He had managed to slip away from the ranch unseen as more emergency crews arrived, but he still needed to be careful. He glanced around outside before shutting the door and locking it. A man stepped up beside him and flipped a switch, illuminating a hologram on the door that read “Closed for lunch.”

“Alex.” Nate kept his eyes on the street. “Any updates?”

TERA channels just went crazy.” The young man took a deep breath. “They’re saying there was some kind of explosion on the ranch.”

Nate’s head snapped towards him. “What happened? Is Gabriel alright? Did they find Jess?”

“No one knows – a TERA medical team was the only one on the ground at the time. The rest had left, and  TERA had three teams en route to scan the site. The medical team was examining Gabriel.”

“And?” Nate’s mind buzzed.

“And they lost contact.” Alex shrugged. “Even TERA is in the dark on this one. A garbled message came in from the medical team just before the blast. They were screaming something about an ore user.”

“An ore user?” Nate frowned. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would an ore user be in the area?” They were an anomaly within the population – under one percent – the only individuals in the world who could bond with the ore. 

“Maybe they’re after the lab.” Alex suggested.

It didn’t make any sense to Nate. “Why would an ore user want the lab?” He shook his head. “How would they even know it exists?”

“I dunno.” Alex shrugged. “But it complicates things.”

“I need to talk to Osho.” Nate pointed towards the back of the shop.

“An encrypted line is all set up. It should be clean to call from.” Alex leaned against the wall beside one of the front windows. “I’ll keep watch, sir.”

Nate nodded, turned around and marched to a door at the back of the shop. Inside was a large work table covered in electronic parts and small tools. In the centre was an old headset wired to an open box that contained a complex circuit board. Nate chuckled. Alex must be getting bored.  He rigged up something different every time. At least it kept him busy. The headset fit over Nate’s ear without too much discomfort. Still, it was awkward.

He waited, tapping his fingers on the table until an English accent echoed in his ear. “The connection is secure, Nathaniel.”

“We’ve got problems. I don’t know if you saw the news, but a massive storm hit the ranch.” Nate cleared his throat as his emotions welled up. “I wasn’t there, but Gabriel and Jess got caught it in.”

 “Are they alright?” The voice quickened.

“I saw them move Gabriel out of the wreckage … Jessica – I don’t know.” Nate slammed his fist against the table. “I shouldn’t have been out on a mission! I should have been at home with them!”

“I’m sorry. If we had known this was coming, you would have been. Believe me.”

Nate exhaled, rubbing his face with both hands. “Damn it.”

“The storms are nearly impossible to predict in advance, with all the climate change. There is nothing you could have done differently. Let it go. God willing, Jessica is alright.”

“It’s my job to keep them safe!” His fingers clenched the table edge, lifting it upwards.

“Calvin’s last request was that his family would be safe from any retaliation from Cymru or TERA. Not from a storm. Gabriel will be alright, your training over the years will kick in. He’ll manage on his own for the time being. What about the lab?” The voice crackled in his ear.

Nate stood up and wandered the small room as he spoke. “It’s locked down. Cymru sent a team in immediately – they showed up right after the first emergency team. Luckily, the emergency crew wouldn’t let them on the property. The lab should be completely hidden by the time they get back, but it won’t stay hidden forever. The system will run out of power eventually if we don’t maintain it. Once the area is cleared by TERA I’ll need to get my chest to unseal the lab. It should still be in the wreckage.”

“The chest shouldn’t draw too much attention. Cymru is looking for the lab – he knows of its existence – but I don’t know if he truly believes it is on the ranch. Once their scans come up empty, he should move on. Then we can deal with the lab.”

“You sure he doesn’t know where it is?” Nate didn’t believe Cymru would give up that easily.

“Calvin said Cymru knew about his private lab when they were partners, but he never revealed its location. Regardless, we will need all of Calvin’s research on the black ore. If TERA gets their hands on it, no one in this world will stand a chance.”

“Why Calvin ever partnered with that man is beyond me.” He shook his head.

“They were both the top researchers in their respective fields. He was determined to find a new energy resource and TERA had nearly unlimited resources. Partnering seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime. If he’d known it would cost him his life, he would have never agreed to it.” The voice sighed. “It doesn’t matter.”

 “Yeah, well, things are now more complex – apparently an ore user blasted the area. Some kind of an explosion. TERA isn’t going to leave so easily.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

Nate sighed. “I know.” The door in the room opened as Alex poked his head in, signaling Nate that the line would not be secure for much longer. “I don’t have much time left.”

“Ensure that the lab is safe. Then find your family – make sure Gabriel and Jessica are alright. I’ll have a team track Cymru’s movements for the time being. You’d better increase your contact. I will meet you in Denver in two days, the usual place.” An audible click ended the conversation.

Nate set the headset down and walked out of the small room to join Alex.

Alex glanced over from his lookout at the window. “What did he say?”

“The usual. Keep an eye on the ranch for me and continue tracking TERA’s signals. I’ll be back in a couple of days.” He could trust Alex with anything.

“You got it.” Alex walked over and unlocked the door. “Have a good day, sir. Thank you for shopping here.”

Chapter Eight

Gabriel didn’t say a word as Adin drove along the old gravel roads away from the ranch. It was an indirect route. Adin was worried. Gabriel leaned his heavy head against the cool glass of the window. The scenery drifted past, revealing the path of the storm. Fence posts and power poles, broken into scrap wood, littered the road and fields. His neighbors’ houses and barns had been torn apart. More work crews were trying to pick up the pieces strewn across the fields. Ambulances sat quietly in front of the homes, not a single one was rushing away. Did anyone else survive? The scars left by the storm disappeared behind him as they finally reached the freeway and headed for Denver. An hour passed, filled only by the sound of the tires humming along the freeway. He stayed pressed against the window, his eyes closed, not sure what to feel.

Adin finally spoke. “What happened? Why’s that shard in your chest?”

Gabriel straightened in the plush leather passenger seat, and cleared his throat. “I had just gone to bed.” His lips tightened. “A piece of hail cracked my window. I looked outside and saw  a wall of black moving towards the house. The tornado came so fast. We scrambled to try and lock down the house but … it was too strong. Nothing we did helped – the blinds, the storm doors – nothing held. The house just started to come apart.”

“So you didn’t make it to the shelter?”

Gabriel’s eyes burned. His throat was dry as his voice trembled. “We did … She was supposed to stay there until I got back … the storm hit the house and everything started to break apart.” He covered his face with his hands, dragging his fingers down across his cheeks as he exhaled. He was sick, his stomach twisted with guilt. He turned to Adin. “I went back for the ore – I didn’t want it lost in the storm. I never made it back to the shelter. Neither did Mom.”

Adin huffed. “Why, Gabriel? It’s just a stupid hunk of ore.”

“Because it’s all I have of him!” Gabriel shouted back. “I don’t remember him like you and Mom.”

Adin sighed. “And now that damn thing is in your chest, and Mom’s gone.” He took several deep breaths.

Gabriel touched the shard in his chest. “What do I do?”

“I’m thinking.”

“Can it be taken out?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what do you know Adin? You work for TERA! And TERA is supposed to know everything about this stuff!” Gabriel focused on his brother.

“You’re an ore user!” Adin glared at him. “Something I didn’t believe existed, until I found you on the ground with a piece of that crap embedded in your chest. I don’t know what to do!” Gabriel could see Adin’s fear. “All I’ve heard are rumors – who the hell knows what’s truth and what isn’t.” Adin pulled the vehicle off to the side of the road. It stopped abruptly as he slammed it into park and rested his head in his hands.

“Then start with the rumors.” Gabriel tried to be calm.

Adin peaked out at him from the corner of his hands then slammed his hand on the steering wheel. He stared out the window.

“Please, Adin. I need to understand this.” Gabriel reached out for his arm. “I need your help.”

 “So, you suddenly want us to act like family?” Adin scoffed.

 “That’s rich coming from you!” Gabriel wanted to whip Adin with his words. “Dad was never home, Adin! He died working. Not at home, not with any of us. And did that make you act any differently?” He barely paused. “No, first you run off to university, and then you go to work for the same company that killed Dad! Mom would have given anything to have you around more. Anything, Adin.” He scowled. “But that just didn’t work for you, did it?” Gabriel had always resented Adin’s priorities, choosing to work rather than be with family – even through the holidays. The last time he’d seen Adin, they’d had one hell of a fight. “Look, I know we don’t get along. I get it. When Dad died – you went your way, I went mine.” Gabriel shrugged. “But I don’t have anyone else. So either you help me, or I get out right here.”

“First of all, stop with the lies! TERA didn’t kill Dad! It was an accident!” Adin shook his head and breathed out, his voice returning to normal. “And I left because sitting around pitying the dead doesn’t help anyone. Mom turned our house into a shrine for Dad. He didn’t deserve that!”

“She did it so she could survive – his death nearly killed her!” Gabriel yelled the words at him. “But you weren’t around for any of that, were you?” He pounded on his chest. “I was! I had to keep her together at the age of eleven after you left.”

“I had to.” Adin’s nostrils flared. “I couldn’t stay there any longer. I was lucky Dr. Cymru helped me get into university early, helped me get my first job at TERA. He did more for me than Dad ever did!”

“Your precious doctor.” Gabriel despised Dr. Cymru. He was the one who had taken Adin away from his family after their father died. The man was evil – Nate had given him enough reason to believe that, but Adin seemed blind to the fact.

“This is not about him! Dr. Cymru has been nothing but supportive since Dad died. He was Dad’s partner at TERA, for crying out loud! He has done nothing but help me along my path. You should be so lucky to have someone like him in your life.” Adin gripped the steering wheel tightly, his knuckles turning white.

“You had Mom, Nate, and me. You didn’t need him!”

“Really?” Adin glared at him. “Who helped me through all my schooling? Mom? Nate – the washed up soldier living in the barn? You, my little brother who barely made it through grade school? None of you could, but he did! When I left for school, he was a lot more supportive than the rest of you. Hell, he even paid for it all – just like he plans on paying for yours.”

“Your family needed you!” Gabriel was tired of having the same fight with Adin every time they saw one another. “You know what?  I don’t care!” He threw up his hands and opened the door of the SUV.

“Damn it, Gabriel.” Adin popped up on the other side of the vehicle. “Stop!”

Gabriel twisted around on the spot, kicking at the gravel on the shoulder of the road. “Why?” He didn’t want to look at Adin.

“Because you said it: We’re all that we have left.”

Gabriel looked at him. “So you’ll help me?”

Adin sighed and leaned against the hood of the SUV. “Yes. That thing in your chest is more dangerous than you know.” Adin stepped back towards the driver’s door. “Get in.”

Gabriel reluctantly got back in. The air in the SUV suddenly felt thick. The whirl of the tires was the only noise in the uncomfortable silence. Neither of them spoke. Gabriel thought it best to let their emotions calm first. His chest was burning “Why is this thing so hot?” He tapped the surface of the ore, feeling the sting of its heat against his finger tips.

“Because it’s energy. Pure, unbridled energy – at least that’s what we think.” Adin leaned back in his seat. “Look, some of this is going to make sense – some of it isn’t. We’re still learning about what it is.”

Gabriel nodded. “So, start with what you know then tell me the rumors.”

Adin nodded. “Fair enough.”

Chapter Nine

Adin retold his father’s story about finding the ore and the different types they’d discovered. As the energy crisis peaked, the North American government had seized control of the area that used to be Iran. His father had gone hunting there for any remaining oil reserves. Seismic imaging had revealed an anomaly deep within the earth’s crust, and they dug for months before finally reaching it. They speculated that it was the resting place of Eden. At least, that was their best guess. Nothing in the world was like it. Despite their appearance, the crystals they found were more ore-like in composition and properties; so they called it Eden’s Ore. As they unearthed the different colors, they discovered the immense amount of energy locked inside each piece. They surmised that the ores had been the source of the garden’s perfection. Each unique color had a specific effect. Blue ore purified water of any quality, even the most toxic, and could gather moisture from the air. Green ore promoted plant growth at exponential rates. It appeared to affect animals in a similar way, or could make them completely docile. Red ore produced a constant low heat.

These life-giving colors were found surrounded by crystals of a very different color – a pitch black ore. It was like crystallized death, killing anything exposed to it within minutes. Handled incorrectly, it would release an uncontrollable, destructive energy. Dozens of workers were lost when they first unearthed it. The black ore had a strange aura that affected the other ores too – cancelling their effects and polluting them until they turned completely black. The white ore was discovered last. The crystal’s soft glow seemed void of any effect, nothing like the others. Gabriel’s father had carried two of the largest shards everywhere he went.

“One piece went to you. The other to me.” Adin continued. “All of the ore was taken out of the ground. It was supposed to solve the energy crisis, and, so far, it has. But it’s barely enough. Most of the radiant zones are shrinking in geographical size, even though they are increasing in population. There are whispers that it’s not enough.”

“That’s a scary thought.” Gabriel couldn’t imagine the chaos that would ensue if they didn’t have enough power.

“The rumors about the ore are strange – like ore users.” Adin stared at the road straight ahead.

Gabriel listened closely as Adin spoke. 

“Ore users are so rare, they think there might only be a couple of thousand of them worldwide. Maybe even less. No one really knows.” Adin shrugged. “Apparently, they found out about ore users because some of the researchers at TERA could work with the ore without any protection.”

“Right.” Gabriel remembered his father telling him about the polymer they’d invented to block the ore’s effects. 

“Most people are dead within a couple of hours of exposure to the ore. It just swallows their essence or something. The cells just begin to break down, and before long the entire body is in critical failure. At least, that’s what happens to normal people. Ore users can apparently control the ore somehow.”

“What do you mean?” Gabriel frowned.

“No idea.  This was all stories and hocus pocus until I saw that in you.” Adin pointed at Gabriel’s chest. “Supposedly, some people have a special ability to control the ore. Command it or something.” He glanced at Gabriel. “Can you do anything with yours?”

Gabriel shook his head. “I don’t know … it just cooks me.”

“Well, that blast at the ranch came from you.” Adin eyed the ore. “It does something.”

Gabriel recalled the paramedics. “They were trying to sedate me. They were so aggressive. I told them to leave me alone. Then I just lost it. All I remember is a burning light. The paramedics were right there. I was so angry.” The words made Gabriel feel sick to his stomach. “What happened to them?” No one else had been there when he woke up.

Adin swallowed hard. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Adin,” he said sharply. “What happened to them?”

“They’re dead.” Adin didn’t look at him. “The blast turned them to ash.”

“What?” Gabriel’s head dropped down into his hands. “I  … I didn’t mean …”

“Hey!” Adin grabbed him by the shoulder. “Look at me! The ore did that, not you – the blast – that was the ore. That wasn’t in your control.”

“But I triggered it.” Gabriel struggled to take a breath. “I killed both of them.”

“Gabriel, it was an accident. Nothing else. You can’t think about it that way. It’s the ore – not you.”

“How else do I think about it? They’re dead!” Gabriel’s hands curled into fists and his chest burned with heat. “I don’t want this thing.” He clawed through the hole in his shirt. The shard in his chest glowed bright. He dragged his nails along its edge, drawing blood. “Get it out of me!”

“Gabriel!” Adin jerked the vehicle to the side of the road. It skidded to a stop as he slammed on the brakes and fought to grab Gabriel’s hands. “Stop!” Horns blared at them as other vehicles passed.

Gabriel didn’t want to stop, he wanted that thing out of his chest. Tears dripped down his face. “Just get it out,” he spit through his teeth.

“We will. Take a breath.” Adin stared into his eyes. “You need to be calm. Emotional trigger, remember? You can’t freak out. You need to stay calm. That thing is glowing too much. Take it easy.”

Gabriel swallowed hard. His heart raced in his chest, and the shard surged with every beat. Adin was right – he couldn’t lose control. He breathed out several heavy breaths.

“Good.” Adin let him go. “That’s good. Just breathe.”

Gabriel nodded, and focused on his breathing.

Adin pulled the SUV back onto the road. “We’ll get it out. I just need to keep you hidden until I can figure some things out. TERA knows you were at the site and, if anyone saw that blast, they’ll be looking for you. I think I was the only one who saw it. Maybe we got lucky.”

Gabriel wanted this nightmare to be over. “Why would they want me?”

TERA has a pretty strong interest in everything related to the ore, so they’re going to take an interest in you. Anyone with a special connection to the ore seems to vanish.” Adin hesitated. “The important part is that we got away in time.”

“Vanish?” Gabriel swallowed hard.

“I don’t know.” Adin took a deep breath. “A couple of years ago, a girl on my research team was exposed to some ore in an experiment gone wrong.” He shook his head. “We all panicked. She just stood there, frozen in fear. The red piece of ore had burned through her protective glove. It sat there glowing in her hand. Not even burning her skin.” He paused. “A containment team came to get her, and she never came back to work. No one heard of her again.”

The story terrified Gabriel. “So where am I supposed to go?” Gabriel pulled the blanket back up around his shoulder and covered the shard with the fabric.

“We’ll find something. A room somewhere – maybe a motel or a lodge in the city. Something quiet and private. No one will know you’re there.” Adin grinned at him. “Just try to think of it like a vacation.”

“Fat chance of that.” Gabriel worried about Adin’s connection to him. “What about you?”

“I’ll play stupid. Pretend I never went to the ranch and have no idea where you are. In the meantime, I’ll dig a little bit deeper at work – see what else I can find out about ore users.” Adin squirmed in his seat. “I’ll see if there’s anyone we can trust.”

“Okay.” The tall towers of Denver crested in the horizon as Adin turned towards it. “The city’s gotten bigger.” Gabriel stared at the network of neighborhoods that stretched out across the horizon.

Adin drummed the steering wheel as they turned off the freeway and approached their first traffic light into the sprawling metropolis. “It’s a little bigger than Burlington, huh? You will get used to it. It’s really all the same. Just a lot less elbow room. 

 “We need to stop at my place first. Get you some things. You should stay in the car though.”

Gabriel nodded.

 Adin sighed. “I’m not going anywhere, Gabriel. We’ll get through this.”

“I hope you’re right.” “We will. You just trust me.” Adin chuckled. “You listened better when you were little. You weren’t so stubborn.”

“I blame Nate.”

“So do I.” Adin paused. “Did he make it?”

Gabriel shrugged. “They couldn’t tell me.”

Adin hesitated. “He was a good man – tried his best with us.” He reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “I’m glad you’re still here. We’ll find a rhythm – you and I. We’ll figure out this thing in your chest.”

Again, he just nodded.  What more was there to say? They didn’t have any answers yet.  About anything. “What’s with the old train?” He pointed out the window. “Sometimes new problems are fixed with old ideas.” He quoted a huge sign that showed a steam engine from centuries past travelling along modern day streets.

“That’s a project I worked on. It was one of the first re-inventions Dr. Cymru thought of. It uses the power of the red ore as a heat source, producing an almost infinite amount of heat that is then used to boil water. We found a way to amplify the output using super efficient heat shields, thereby focusing the heat on a water containment system …” Adin went on for several minutes.

Gabriel blocked out the technical talk and stared out the window at the hundreds of people pouring out of the underground metro station. His arm stung as Adin jabbed at him. “Ow! Jerk!” He rubbed the spot Adin hit.

“You aren’t even listening to me.” Adin shook his head.

“I was, too.” He rolled his eyes. “You use red ore to produce heat for the water, creating steam. It powers the trains and then you collect all the steam using the blue ore, changing it back to water so you can reuse it. And voila! We have underground trains. It’s not that hard.”

“Well,” Adin pointed at him. “The whole system is virtually self-perpetuating. There are some minor moisture losses, but it’s easy to top back up. It’s a clean energy system for public transit.”

Gabriel was impressed; he had thought they only used the ore in energy and food production. What else do they use the ore for now?

“It’s truly amazing what Dr. Cymru has invented. He’s finally gotten approval for all his systems to go commercial over the next six months. We’re going to fix a lot of problems. Who knows? Someday we might even be able to get energy back out to the dark zones.” Adin drummed his hands on the steering wheel as the traffic slowed. “Once the systems are fully implemented, everyone will have access to free energy.”

“I highly doubt TERA would give anything away for free.” Gabriel had grown up after the radiant zones were established. They were segmented areas of the country where the power grid had been upgraded for maximum efficiency. Everywhere else, power was just turned off. TERA claimed it was the first step to beating the energy crisis. Who really knew? The braver folks -- like his parents -- stayed behind and learned to live off the grid. It was a hard life without any support, especially when you had to contend with solar storms, radiated burnouts from the lack of ozone, and climate change. Some made it, but a lot didn’t. Most people just moved – leaving their old lives and homes – desperate for a spot in the new zones.  Entire states had been wiped out, turned into nothing but dust bowls, full of abandon cities. 

“Well, we will have to recoup the funds spent on the development of the technology by charging every user at first, but in the end we plan to make it free.”

“Always a catch.” Gabriel laughed. “You know, I still don’t really know what you do.”

“What?” Adin changed lanes gently. “How do you not know what I do?”

 “Hey!” Gabriel put up his hands in defense. “You’re boring. That’s not my fault.”

“Maybe, if you tried listening, you would find out I do some pretty cool work with the Research and Development department for TERA. New technologies.”

“Yeah…still sounds boring.” Gabriel leaned his head against the window to stare up at the tall buildings they were passing.

“You’re hopeless.” Adin sniffed.

After several minutes they turned and descended into an underground parking structure, approaching a small set of gates and a guard shack. The Ion Pinnacle Apartments. “Let me do the talking and just act normal.” Adin pushed a button on his visor and an oddly shaped polygon projected onto the window.

“What’s that?”

“My parking pass – one of the new technologies I worked on. Pretty ingenious. Everyone has a different shape, and the gate scans the image as we drive up. Guards get everything they need before you even get to the shack.” The black SUV stopped at the gate, and a uniformed guard stepped up to the driver’s window.

Adin rolled down his window. “George.” He smiled at the guard.

“You’re all set, Mr. Roberts. Welcome home.”

The gates in front of them lowered into the pavement with a loud beep. Adin maneuvered through the parking structure quite quickly, and Gabriel lost his sense of direction. After they came to a stop in an unmarked stall, Adin got out and paused at the door. “Just stay put – I won’t be long. Just keep your head down.” He went around and pulled the chest out on the hatch of the SUV. “No point in you hauling this thing around. I’ll toss it upstairs for now.” He strolled to the wall in front of the vehicle.

Gabriel undid his seatbelt and stretched out, preparing for the wait. A loud buzz filled the air, and something vibrated under his feet. He nervously grabbed the door handle.  The SUV was being lifted up off the ground.

“Relax!” Adin knocked on the window, and chuckled. “It’s just the anti-theft.”

“Huh?” Gabriel popped the door open, unsure if he should get out.

“The vehicles parked here are lifted just enough that the tires don’t touch. Basically, if you don’t have the code – you can’t move the vehicle.”

“That’s pretty damn smart.”

“If you’re impressed by that, you should see some of the other things my RD department came up with.”

Chapter Ten

The motel room was clean. Gabriel still had the blanket wrapped around him as he wandered around the humble single room.  As he stuck his head through the bathroom door, he sighed. “There’s not even a shower in here.”

Adin promptly leaned over his shoulder and stared inside the room. “Look on the wall, the four switches.”

“That’s a shower?” Gabriel felt stupid. “Did you make that as well?”

“No, smartass.” Adin slapped him on the back. “That’s pretty much a standard shower – you’re just a country bumpkin.”

“Whatever.” At least he could have a hot shower.

“Look, it’s only for a night or two at the most. I need to head into work and-”

Gabriel cut Adin off. “You’re going back to work?”

“Yeah, I have to keep up the charade. Besides, it’ll give me a chance to dig around in some of the files to  see what I can find out about ore users.   Perhaps I can find someone we can trust to help us.” Adin nodded. “You’ll be fine.”

“Yeah.” Gabriel couldn’t help but feel nervous.

“I brought you some food, so you don’t need to leave the room. Just keep the door locked and I’ll swing by tomorrow after work. We’ll find something better in a couple of days. By then, I can get what I need from work and take some leave. From there, we can find a way to get that thing out of you.”

“If it doesn’t kill me before then.” Gabriel’s eyes caught Adin’s. “Or anyone else.”

“Hey, that was the ore – not you. Just keep calm.” Adin walked up and half-hugged him. “Hang out. If something happens you know the way to my place, right?”

Gabriel nodded. It was only about ten blocks away.

“Good. The key card will be hidden where I showed you in the parking garage. It’ll get you inside to my apartment.” Adin took a deep breath. “It’s just a backup plan – I doubt anyone will bother you. No one even knows you’re here.”  

“Get going.” Gabriel just wanted to have a shower and forget the current situation.

“Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Adin waved and walked out the door.

Gabriel watched as his blurry silhouette disappeared behind the fogged window at the front of the room. As soon as Adin vanished, Gabriel rushed over to the door and double checked the locks. Uneasy, he snatched up the chair beside the small table. He tilted it back under the doorknob, like in the movies. The rickety chair didn’t look like it would help much, but he still felt better having it there.

Gabriel grabbed the bag Adin had packed for him and unzipped it, dumping its contents all over the ugly comforter on the bed. A pile of clothes fell out: T-shirts, socks, shorts and a pair of jeans. It was good enough for now. Along with the clothes, a dozen small food packages tumbled out. He recognized them as something Nate had made him try once. It was flash-frozen food where  a tab on the side of the package released and chemically cooked the food inside. They tasted like plastic, as he recalled, but were better than nothing. He shook his head and grabbed a T-shirt and jeans, then headed towards the bathroom, dumping the big blanket on the floor.

He chuckled at his reflection in the mirror as he shut the bathroom door. He looked like a homeless person. Which, he was.  He stripped out of his blood-stained clothing and tossed it into the trash, then turned and faced the mirror again, and took his first close look at the ore. My God. Light rippled out from the crystal in waves beneath his skin, each pulse trying to reach further than the last. His calloused thumb outlined the crystal, his skin perfectly sealed around the edges. It pulsed softly with each beat of his heart. Despite the danger, it somehow seemed to belong there. How was that even possible?

Pushing the thought from his mind, he turned to the four buttons on the wall. It couldn’t be that hard. As he stepped up to them, he heard a click on the floor. A drain appeared. He pushed the button at the top. It flashed green, then a cylindrical panel rotated out of the wall. It smoothly arced around him, meeting the other wall and locking into place. Gentle, warm water rained down from overhead, and the temperature increased rapidly. The small space filled with a warm mist scented with a hint of eucalyptus. He touched the other buttons, turning up the heat of the water just a bit more.

Not bad. He breathed in deeply with his eyes closed.

His mind drifted back to the sight of his mother’s limp hand splattered with blood. Mom. He leaned against the cool wall of the shower. Tears blended with the hot water as he sighed heavily. His heart still ached from the loss. He didn’t want to think about it, but the image seemed to haunt his mind. The intense heat in his chest returned, and the sound of sizzling filled the stall. He opened his eyes and stared down at the shard. Water droplets evaporated as they touched the brightly glowing crystal. He needed to calm down. He took several slow breaths. The heat disappeared, and soon the water ran  easily across the crystal’s surface. He stood there and watched the drain. Bits of wood and dried blood swirled around it before they were sucked down. What was going to happen to him? Nothing felt real. It was like a bad dream.

“Mom! Go back!” Gabriel screamed over the howling wind.

He screamed again and again at her, but she refused to leave the bottom of the stairs. She just held on to the broken outer wall of the house, stretching her hand out towards him. He slid down the stairs. The metal edge of each riser dug into his skin. The pain didn’t matter. He had to get to her. One step after another, he dragged himself faster and faster towards her but she stayed just out of reach. No matter how fast he pushed, her stretched-out hand was always just out of his grasp. The steps between them seemed to multiply  like an escalator, keeping him away from her. He tried to stand against the wind, but invisible weights kept him pinned to the painful metal edges of the stairs.

“Just go! Get back to the shelter!” he pleaded as his strength faded.

The house swayed back and forth under the wind. He continued to descend the endless staircase towards her. Sections of the roof landed around him like pieces of shattered glass, exploding into splinters of wood and rusty nails. He covered his face as shrapnel pierced his body. The walls broke apart and were carried away by the whirling wind. A black wall rose up behind her. It climbed higher and higher, casting its shadow over her. She didn’t notice anything; she just kept trying to reach for him. The wall that would crush her fell slowly towards her.

“NO!” He screamed and felt his chest break open.

He shot up in bed, barely able to catch his breath. Sweat and tears ran down his face. Pain stabbed his chest.  He’d fallen asleep in his clothes, the TV still on. The remote control lay beside him on the bed and he clicked it off before peeling off his sticky shirt. An eerie glow filled the room as he stood there in only his jeans – the crystal illuminated the dark. A strange burnt smell lingered in the room. He lifted the sweat-soaked shirt up in front of him, and his jaw dropped. The shirt had a hole burned through it. The crystal. His upper body tingled as sweat evaporated from him. Lowering his chin, he stared into the source of the light. The crystal pulsed with the loud, hard beat of his heart. Waves of light rippled outwards, through his veins. He grabbed a new T-shirt from the pile of clothes on the small table.  What if he had another dream? What if the bed caught fire? He shook his head. He wasn’t going to burn the place down. At least, he hoped not. He pulled the shirt on and looked at the digital clock. 3:38am.

Maybe some more TV would help. As he crawled across the bed to find the remote, a rustle of feet echoed from just outside his room.

Chapter Eleven

The door to the room was kicked open, tossing the useless chair to the side. Gabriel froze as flashlights blinded him from the doorway. Three muffled pops sounded in the room. They hit him in the chest. Three small glowing green darts pinched into his chest. The attackers at the door rushed into the room.

The first one headed straight for him. Gabriel didn’t think. Instinctively, Nate’s years of training took over. His leg shot up and slammed into the attacker’s right thigh. The blow knocked the attacker down onto one knee. The man grunted in pain. Gabriel twisted hard and drove his elbow into the man’s temple. The momentum from the heavy blow carried the man’s head into the nearby wall where it crunched into the old drywall and paint, knocking the dazed attacker to the floor.

Out of the corner of his eye, Gabriel saw the blur of the next attacker charge him. He turned and swung a combination of hits against the masked stranger. The stranger was quick to block the attacks and drove Gabriel backwards with a blow to the chest. Gabriel was barely fazed. He jabbed back, but was snatched around the wrist by a steel cable. The attacker jerked on the cable and tightened it. A second later, a rush of electricity zapped him. The attacker pulled the cable again, jerking it forward and trying to force Gabriel to the ground.

A rush of heat exploded through Gabriel’s arm. The room brightened from the glow beneath Gabriel’s shirt as he recovered from the jerk forward and reefed his arm back, dragging the attacker towards him. Gabriel didn’t waste any time slamming his head into the masked face. He grabbed the attacker by the vest and hurled him into the old TV bolted onto the wall. The screen exploded with a pop as the man slammed into it. He dropped to the floor and groaned in pain. One left.

Gabriel tore the steel cable free from his wrist and charged the last person in the room. Two more muffled shots punched into his skin like before, but it was too late. Gabriel slammed his forearms into the attacker, forcing him  backwards, up against the glass window. The attacker crashed up against the window, cracking the glass, then fell to the floor. Gabriel was fast to get on top of him, pinning down the attacker’s arms.

“Who are you?” He pressed down on the attacker’s throat with his knee.

The response was high-pitched.

What the hell? Gabriel pulled his knee away from the attacker’s throat, struggling to tear off the mask. Underneath was a young woman. Her eyes were fierce as she fought against his grip on her wrists. Gabriel tightened his grip and pinned her to the floor. “Who sent you?” He shouted at her, just inches from her face.

She spit at him. “You’re an abomination!” She continued to fight.

Gabriel needed to get out fast. He leapt off of her and rushed towards the door. Two more masked men in combat gear charged into the room. He stumbled back from them, ready to fight his way out.

A jolt from behind ignited his spine with pain. He cried out and twisted on the spot. His arm knocked the female attacker away from him. A blue taser glowed in her hand as he toppled to the ground. More muffled shots popped in the room. More darts pinched into his skin, up his spine and into the back of his neck. The room around him blurred. He fought to get back on his feet. His head spun and his whole body began to slow.

“He’s done.” The female attacker stepped up to him and slammed the taser against his chest.

“He’s waking up!” A man’s voice erupted in Gabriel’s head. “Hurry up.”

Gabriel’s eyes barely opened. He could feel the hum of the road just below him. They were taking him somewhere.

The driver of the vehicle shouted from down by Gabriel’s feet. “I’ll take the next alley. We’ll need to do it there – I don’t want this guy waking up.”

“You sure?” The voice from above Gabriel shouted back.

“Absolutely, he nearly took out the entire extraction team, and he took more darts than any ore user I’ve ever heard of.” The vehicle jerked to the left. “We need to cut that ore out of him before he gains his strength back.”

They abruptly stopped. A rush of cold air blew across Gabriel’s body as the side door of the van opened. He was dizzy. His body refused to move, his limbs were heavy. Even the stranger’s grip on him was numb, not real. Pain erupted through his body as he hit the rough concrete outside. They dragged him out of the van and marched away from the idling vehicle. The flicker of rain washed across Gabriel’s face.

“I’ve never seen a piece of ore like that. What’ll happen when we cut it out of him?”

“It doesn’t matter – he’s an abomination. You know the rules.”

They continued to drag Gabriel.

“Come on!” One of them turned to shout back towards the van. “Get the stuff.”

A third voice echoed in the distance. “Yeah, yeah – I’m getting the tools.”

The cold concrete rubbed roughly against Gabriel’s skin. Each bump and uneven crack that dug into his skin helped to wake his body up. His eyes snapped open. They were in a dark alleyway. Dumpsters lined each side and sealed steel doors led to the unknown. He was still in the city, but how far from the motel?

They finally stopped, leaving him in a puddle of cold water. His hands felt like they were wrapped in thick gloves, as did much of his body. But, he could move, and that was all that mattered right now. Gabriel swung his leg at the back of one man’s knees. He stumbled backwards and grabbed his partner, toppling them both over and onto the ground. Gabriel rolled across the rough ground and up onto his knees. He slammed his fist into the crotch of the third man. He dropped to the ground hunched over in pain. The other men scrambled to their feet and charged Gabriel.

The hit was more than Gabriel could handle on his rubbery legs. He fell backwards against the steel dumpster as one of his opponents slammed his fist into Gabriel’s face. Hit after hit erupted against the left side of Gabriel’s eye. He lashed his hands out towards the attacker’s face, his fingers looking for anything to grasp. His right hand found the man’s ear and Gabriel peeled back on it with all the strength he could muster. The man screamed in pain and arched backwards. Gabriel raised his left fist and hammered it down onto the man’s neck. The man crumpled. As his lifeless body slumped to the ground, Gabriel twisted away, scrambling down the alleyway.

The poison in the darts was still affecting him though, and his legs couldn’t move fast enough. He spilled across the slick concrete. The thunder of the remaining two men’s footsteps echoed on the concrete as he fought to get back up onto his feet. It was too late. They tackled him and pinned him down again. 

“Pass it here!” One of the men grunted as he stepped on Gabriel’s arm.

The loud clunk of cold steel slammed up against his forearm. The hiss of compressed air howled across his skin and a flood of pain punched through his arm. Gabriel screamed as tried to move his arm, the sting of the heavy steel bolt ripped through his skin and flesh, pinning him to the concrete. They did his other arm next, bolting him to the payment.

One of the men climbed on top of his chest. Gabriel did his best to hammer his knees into the man’s back. “Hold down his legs.” The man grunted. “Hit him with more darts – keep him still!”

“Hurry up!” The other shouted as he grappled with Gabriel’s kicking legs.

“Forgive them, Father.” The man pulled a small laz-saw out and pulled up Gabriel’s shirt. “They know not what they do.” The spinning blades of the surgical tool glowed red. Gabriel fought as hard as he could against them, but it was no use. “Shoot him with the darts again!” Gabriel bucked his torso up, throwing the man off balance.

“I got it.” One of the men let go of his legs and stepped towards his head. He pointed his dart gun at Gabriel’s throat. “That’s enough out of you.”

The walls buckled all around them. The brick and concrete exploded as a rush of green light swarmed over them. The men instantly panicked. “Green User!”

They abandoned Gabriel. Each of them drew their weapons and twisted around on the spot, looking for whoever was there. The walls came to life around them. Gabriel couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Huge, barbed, glowing vines now covered the walls. They lashed out at the three men, slicing and whipping at them as the men discharged their weapons. The vines were lethal. They twisted around the men at an incredible speed, breaking their bones, and gashing their skin. Their faces went blue as the vines strangled them to death. Only one of them was spared. He was hoisted up into the air stretched out, held by the thorny barbs covered in blood digging into his skin. He was held there.

The flutter of light feet rushed towards him. It was a young woman, about his age. Her eyes glowed green along with her entire back. She knelt down beside Gabriel, her hands covered in a silky green glow.

“This might hurt.” She touched his left forearm.

Gabriel’s eyes widened. His skin, muscles, and tissue all opened up at her touch. They widened around the steel bolt punched through his arm. She lifted his arm right over the bolt and washed her hand over the wound. The area pooled with an eerie green light.  When it drifted away, the wound was completely healed. Gabriel’s entire body felt rejuvenated by her touch. He tore his right arm free from the ground with a shout of pain.

She was quick to grasp his arm and heal the wound. “That was a little impatient of you.”

Gabriel didn’t care. He climbed to his feet. “Who are these people?” Gabriel was hot and panting.

“Settle down.” She touched his shoulder. “He’s not going anywhere, and you’re safe. Just calm down.” She placed her hand on his chest and frowned. “That feels different.”

Gabriel brushed her hand back. “I am calm.” He pointed back at the man strung up by the glowing green vines. “Who is he?”

“He’s a priest.” She eyed the man. “Trained to hunt and kill ore users – believing they have some God given right.” She twisted her grip on the vines around him.

“You’re an abomination!” He spit at her.

She tightened her hand into a fist and the vines crushed the man’s chest with a sickening sound.

Gabriel wanted to throw up. He dropped to his knees and stared at the dead bodies around him. “What’s happening?”

“Come with me.” She held out her hand. The vines all around them drew back into her spine and her eyes returned to normal. “I mean you no harm … Trust me.”

Gabriel took her hand and jogged out of the alleyway with her. They picked up their pace as they reached the end of the alleyway and ran out into the street. “Come on, another team will be here soon.” She charged ahead, zipping across the street and through another alleyway. She was fast. Gabriel struggled to keep up.

Finally, they reached a tall office structure with a series of water fountains in front. The young woman leapt straight into them and waded towards a group of tall green trees. The trees had grown out of the back of the concrete holders, and their roots extended straight out towards a storm grate. She stopped just before it and turned back to him.

“You should be safe here – there’s an open hatch on the side of the wall. It’ll take you into the maintenance shaft in this building. Climb the ladder and stay put on the top floors until morning. ” She smiled at him. “I need to go.”

“Where are you going?” Gabriel didn’t want to be alone. “Why can’t I stay with you?”

“Because you’re not ready.” She sighed. “Look, you’re new, that’s obvious. If you had control of your ore those guys wouldn’t have stood much of a chance. This is a war. Stay away from anyone in the Church or with TERA. You don’t want to be found by either of them. Just stay here till morning, then keep hidden and find a Sphere.”

“A Sphere?” Gabriel was confused. “What is that?”

“It’s us. A place you’ll be safe.” She frowned. “Head to a club called Persephone. Find the part of the bar covered with plants.” She waved her hand across the tree’s roots and they lifted the storm grate out of place. She slipped down into the hole below. “Tell the bartender that Celes sent you. They’ll show you the rest of the way.”

“That’s your name? Celes?” Gabriel didn’t know what to do next. “How do I find you?”

“Disappear. Hide. Wait a couple of weeks – once your trail goes cold, they’ll back off. Then get to the Persephone. Just stay alive. You’ll find us soon enough.” She disappeared into the darkness and the roots lowered the storm grate back down.

Gabriel grabbed on the steel bars. “But where do I hide? How did they find me?”

It was too late – she was gone.

Chapter Twelve

Adin swiped his badge on the door’s security panel, and it automatically opened. He entered a small concrete corridor and continued walking through several other doors. Electronic eyes followed his every movement through the building. After a series of twists and turns, he emerged into a large lobby.

This was TERA’s main research and development operation in North America. TERA was the biggest, wealthiest company in the world. Inside this structure were all of TERA’s R&D projects. Adin was a project manager for the civil engineering and city structural planning aspect of the company. It wasn’t the best position, but he had worked hard to get where he was. Concrete walls and two gigantic pillars made up the lobby. Beyond them was a clear protective panel, with two security staff guarding the entrance. They looked like two bored fish in a giant grey aquarium. There was nothing flashy about this place – it was all business. 

A loud voice projected into the huge, empty lobby. “Check your ID’s and clearance at the front desk.”

Adin approached the fish tank and scanned his badges into the computer console on the side. He smiled and nodded at the guards. When the scan was complete, a 3D image of his face projected onto the clear panel for the guards to inspect.

“Working late tonight, Mr. Roberts?” One guard spoke, while the other looked as if his face was set in stone.

“Just trying to keep my mind off of things.” His voice echoed in the empty space. “Hopefully, I can get some work done.” It was close to the truth. Searching for information on ore users would be easier now that everyone else was gone for the day.

The stone-faced guard hit a button on the keypad in front of him. “Fair enough. If you remove any property of TERA, have it scanned out before you leave the building.” A steel door behind the desk split apart and opened for him.

“Of course.” Adin waved and marched towards the elevator behind the guards’ glass box. The silver doors slid open and a large, red downward pointing arrow appeared above the doors. Most of the facility’s labs were underground. It made it easier to maintain ideal environmental controls. Security was always tight at work – everything was controlled from the inside, sealed, and required clearance. Luckily, Adin had access to nearly the entire building.

The elevator stopped, and he emerged into a large open room filled with cubicles and whiteboards. Adin continued on towards his office. For being underground, the place was bright and airy. The tall ceilings and artificial skylines lining the walls of the office made it feel like an actual office building, dozens of stories up, not a hundred feet below ground. He glanced down each aisle as he zipped past the cubicles, making sure no other hard workers were left hunkered down at their desks.  All of the spaces were different. Some had schematics all over the inner walls, designs of technologies being retrofitted to use the ore as a power source. Others were covered with statistical data that some poor soul in the cubicle had to translate into something understandable. It was grunt work, and something he was happy he didn’t have to do.

As he neared the last line of cubicles, they increased in size, giving their residents a little more space to work. Adin twisted around and studied the room behind him. Nothing moved. He swallowed hard and ducked into the cubical. He was nervous. Stealing someone’s access key wasn’t something he would have ever considered. But he couldn’t go looking for the information he needed under his own ID – that would be a sure way to get caught.

“Come on,” he said in a hushed voice. “Where are you hiding your keys, Andrew?” Andrew was forgetful. More so than the average person -- a lot more. He was the only one on the floor who had an extra set of access keys for the terminals to the mainframe. It was the only way to keep him from getting constantly locked out of the system. “Gotcha.” Adin found the key. It was a thin slender piece of metal etched with a unique pattern that fit into the access port on the mainframe.

He scurried over to his office. With his hand pressed up against the palm reader on the door, he tapped his foot and waited. The door popped open as the reader flashed green. He slipped inside and shut the door behind him, letting out a huge breath. He needed to be smart about this. Use the right tools. Every computer in the building was coded with a hand scan, except one terminal. It was stationed in the IT lab three floors down. All that he needed was the key he had just pocketed from Andrew’s desk. Adin sat down at his desk, placing both hands down on the cool glass surface. The desk came to life and shone a beam of light upwards to become a 3D workspace. He opened several documents. His eyes scanned across the words and paragraphs,  searching for a specific case number. He had read about something a couple weeks ago regarding the ore’s effect on organic life.  It wasn’t anything classified, but it would at least give him a sense of where to start. There was the case file. CS: L914TZ. Once he loaded it on the mainframe, he could see what other files were linked to the document. Adin memorized the case number and left his office.

“I had forgotten how much you look like your father.” The voice nearly gave Adin a heart attack.

He twisted around. “Dr. Cymru!” The older man was bald on the top of his head, and the white hair around his ears had thinned since the last time Adin had seen him. His thin wire glasses perched on the tip of his short nose, his brown eyes as sharp as ever.

“Sorry to startle you.” Dr. Cymru eyed him. “I must say I’m surprised to see you at work – I thought I was the only one who was burning the midnight oil, as they used to say.” He smiled.

Adin controlled his composure. “Yes, well. Sitting at home was a challenge, with everything that’s happened.”

“Yes, I heard. Adin, I’m so sorry.” Dr. Cymru talked with his hands. “I never got the chance to see Calvin’s farm. It’s a pity that storm had to happen. Your father and I were partners for a long time – it’s odd to spend that much time with a man and never see his home.” Dr. Cymru looked mournful. “Your brother and mother were lost as well?”

Adin’s heart twisted as Dr. Cymru spoke. “Yes, my mother was lost to the storm.”

Dr. Cymru sighed. “A tragic end to such a beautiful woman. Please, let me cover the arrangements for the funeral. It’s the least I can do.”

“Thank you, sir.” Adin bowed to him.

“You’re like the son I never had. I’m always happy to help you, Adin. Never forget that.” Dr. Cymru’s face was intense. “I only want the best for you. And what of your brother? Any news?”

“Still missing.” Adin shrugged.

“So, he survived?” Dr. Cymru eyed him.

“Yes.” Adin thought before he spoke. “Although he vanished shortly after. I don’t really know what to make of all this. I just want to find him safe.”

“Of course.” Dr. Cymru held out his hand to Adin. “I want to be clear about this. If there is anything you need – anything at all – even if you think it’s crazy. You get in contact with me. Just ask.”

Adin shook his hand. “Thank you, sir. I …” He couldn’t help but feel relieved. Dr. Cymru had always been in his corner. Maybe he could help Gabriel.

“What is it?” Dr. Cymru put his hand on his shoulder. “You can trust me.”

“It’s nothing.” Adin stared at his feet. “I just wanted to thank you for everything. Not just for this, but when I lost my dad, too.” He smiled at the man. “I’m not sure where I would be if you weren’t there.”

“I never had the opportunity for family of my own, but I always thought of Calvin as a brother. I always treated you as my family. I know we don’t see one another as much as we use to, but I feel no differently about you. We are family. I only want the best for you.” Dr. Cymru opened his arms to him.

Adin hugged the man. “Thank you, again.”

Dr. Cymru patted him on the back. “Now,” he took a step back, “Take all the time you need to deal with this. Don’t worry about the HR nonsense. If it’s a week or a month, or even a year, you take all the time you need.”

Adin was moved by the statement. Dr. Cymru really did care. “Your generosity is greatly appreciated.”

“What is the point in having unlimited resources if I can’t use them to help my family? I’ll take care of the details. Oh,” He pointed a finger at Adin. “I forgot to tell you that I added Gabriel to your benefits plan – just in case of medical bills or whatever. Just as a precaution. I hope he turns up soon.”

Adin frowned and put his hands in his pockets. “Me too – I just hope he’s alright.”

“Yes.” Dr. Cymru stared into his eyes. “Strange he would vanish after the rescue team found him in the wreckage. Please, let me know once you find him – I’ll feel better knowing he is alright.”

“Absolutely, I hope one day we can all sit down together.” Adin fumbled with the key in his pocket. 

Dr. Cymru pointed his finger at him. “That would be glorious. I haven’t seen him since he was a boy.” He paused. “Head home, Adin. There’s nothing here we can’t take care of.”

Adin nodded. “Forgive me, but I have something to do. Being home … it doesn’t help.”

“So much like myself.” Dr. Cymru nodded his head. “Fair enough – staying busy always keeps the devil at bay. You have a lifetime ahead of you to do amazing things for this company, but right now, you take some time to mourn; it’s human after all.”

“I will.” Adin watched as the old man wandered away. Perhaps he was the key. Dr. Cymru knew more about the ore than anyone. If anyone could help Gabriel, it was him. Maybe. The rumors about kidnapping ore users and using them as experiments swirled through Adin’s head. He needed to keep Gabriel safe. The elevator on the far side of the room dinged, and Dr. Cymru disappeared behind the silver doors.

Adin marched forward. He still had a job to get done. The IT room wasn’t far. He picked up his pace. The sooner he got the files, the sooner he could get back home. He would take some time away from work and focus on finding a safe place for Gabriel. Together they would find a way to get that shard out of his chest.

Chapter Thirteen

The early morning sun cast it rays through the window near the top of the maintenance shaft. Gabriel sat frozen to one spot on the upper platforms. He was exhausted, his body freezing cold. His bare feet were black from dirt and completely numb. His mind had swirled all night with questions, and, combined with his paranoia, meant that Gabriel hadn’t gotten any sleep. But he had made it till morning. Now he just needed to get back to Adin’s. He clung to the steel railings on the platform as he pushed to stand up. His feet felt as if they were missing, and he was walking on stumps. He was so cold. Where was the ore’s heat when he needed it?

He thumped his chest with his fist. “Sure, burn holes in my shirt, but you can’t even heat me up?” He focused on the ore in his mind. Just a little bit of heat, please.

“What the …” Gabriel lost his breath. The rush of heat across his body was immediate. He could feel it spread under his skin, down his limbs and into his extremities. It had listened to him. Gabriel didn’t move; what had he just done?

“Okay,” he said in a hushed voice. “Not too hot, just enough.”  A comfortable glow remained in his skin. He decided not to press his luck and rushed down the steel ladder and out into the street. The roads were already busy with traffic, and the sidewalks were full of people. Gabriel slipped into the crowd and kept pace with the pack as it headed down the street.

After ten minutes of walking and crossing two streets, he realized he had no idea where he was going. As he waited to cross another street, he glanced at the man beside him. “Excuse me.”

The man looked him up and down. He immediately reached into his expensive suit pocket and handed Gabriel a small plastic strip. “Should be enough on there for a coffee or something.” He broke off from Gabriel and crossed the street.

Gabriel pocketed the charge strip and realized he stood out from the crowd of business folk, all headed for work. He turned to an older woman on the other side of him. She smiled briefly at him and looked away.

“I just need some directions.” He hoped she would listen.

She paused a moment and half-smiled. “Where to?” Her eyes flicked towards the light as it started to change.

“Um, the apartments building – Iron particle?” He couldn’t remember the name.

“The Ion Pinnacle Apartments?” She frowned at him. “The luxury apartments?”

“My brother lives there.” He stared down at his feet. “I kinda had a bad night.”

The crowd began to move as the light changed. The woman started to walk almost immediately, despite the fact she was still talking. “You’re just outside the downtown core. So, you’re still going to need to walk quite a ways.” Gabriel chased after her and listened closely, putting everything into his memory. “Follow this street for about twelve blocks. Then go left on Blake Street, keeping going until you cross 15th. It should be a couple of blocks north from there.”

“North?” Gabriel stared at her.

She shot him an annoyed glance and pointed to the left of them.

“Right.” She sped away from him. “Thank you.” Gabriel slowed his pace. His feet were starting to hurt on the rough asphalt. Several blocks later, a street vendor sat near a corner of the main intersection. Her high tech cart was cooking up something, the robotic arms swung and moved before a layer of glass. It was almost mesmerizing to watch. Gabriel fumbled around in his pocket for the charge strip. The smell of the food set his mouth watering.

“Hey, not sure what’s on this?” He handed the strip to the vendor.

The woman didn’t seem to care about his attire. “Let me check – not much. Maybe a juice?”

Gabriel half smiled. “It’s better than nothing.”

She smiled at him. “Apple or orange?”

“Orange would be great.” Gabriel’s lips were parched.

“There you go.” She handed it to him and turned to help the next customer.

Gabriel took his drink. He maneuvered his way out of the crowd of people and hoisted himself up onto a short granite wall surrounding a statue at the entrance of an office building. The slender glass bottle of juice was nice and cold. Gabriel twisted the top off and drank half of the liquid in a couple of gulps. It was good – a bit sweet, but refreshing. He set the bottle between his legs and leaned back off the wall, stretching out his torso and giving his feet a chance to rest in the air.

“Hey!”

Gabriel was knocked from behind. He fell forward onto the sidewalk, along with his juice. The glass shattered on the concrete. He twisted around. “What the hell!”

A uniformed guard stood on the granite wall. “You ain’t supposed to be here.” He pressed a silver disc just behind his ear, about an inch in diameter. “I’ll call this in!”

Gabriel lifted his hands, and slowly backed up. A sharp pain pierced the bottom of his foot. He grunted. “I don’t want any trouble.” He wasn’t sure what this was all about. Who the hell was this guy?

“You know the rules – no vagrants, bums, punks or any trash around my building!” the guard shouted.

“Fine, I’m leaving.” Gabriel limped back from the granite walk. A sharp pain stabbed through his foot with each step.

“Good!” The guard pointed at him. “Don’t let me catch you here again.”

“Asshole.”  Gabriel limped along with the crowd. He had barely made it  around the corner from the office building when he couldn’t take walking on his foot anymore. He hobbled over to the next building and leaned against the wall. He lifted his foot and peered at it. The entire bottom of it was covered in blood. “Damn it.” Gabriel could see the broken piece of glass jammed into his heel. He grunted as he jerked the piece out and dropped it onto the street.

Great. He took a deep breath and sighed. This wasn’t going to heal anytime soon. He stared down at the cut. It needed stitches, for sure. A wink of light glimmered deep within the cut. What? Gabriel watched as it pooled under the skin. It glowed like pure white snow. Ten seconds later, it faded out. The pain in Gabriel’s foot was gone. He wiped at his skin with his thumb – the wound had vanished.

Gabriel didn’t know what to think. He put his foot down and leaned on it. It was completely healed. He hopped up and down on the foot to make sure. He noticed a few people looking in his direction, and realized he must have looked foolish. He felt edgy around all the people so started to walk away, then began to jog down the street. What was that all about? He thought while he ran. The ore? His pace only increased.

“Watch it! Slow down!” A random shout came from behind him.

Gabriel halted immediately. He was already at the end of the block. What the hell was happening?

Gabriel kept himself and his pace in check as he marched the rest of the ways to the Ion Pinnacle Apartments. He was different. His feet didn’t ache while he walked, he wasn’t cold. In fact, he wasn’t even tired from the dozen or more blocks he had just travelled. Now wasn’t the time to figure it out though. He needed to figure out a way to get into the underground parking. The guards weren’t going to just let him stroll through. Even if they did, TERA owned the apartments – and he didn’t want to be found by them. There had to be another way in. He began to circle the three massive towers that composed the apartments. Every entrance and exit was monitored by guards and cameras. He looped around behind the building that Adin lived in and ducked into the alleyway. It had no exit but led into the middle of the three towers. He followed the curve of the road until he noticed a short set of stairs leading down to a steel door. Why not try it? He hopped down the stairs and grasped the steel handle. The door didn’t move. Damn.

“Come on!” He jiggled the door handle. “Just open up!” he growled. His arm flashed with heat as he jerked at the door.  With a screech of steel it popped open. Gabriel froze and stared down at the side of the door. The lock was broken. He stepped through the doorway and into the underground parking.

Chapter Fourteen

Nate stood on the opposite side of the street, keeping watch on Dr. Cymru’s driver as he strolled back to the restaurant after parking their vehicle. The pace at which the driver moved meant there was no need for Nate to rush. “Let’s keep our distance. Looks like he’s going to take his time here.”

His team had spent the last several days tracking all of Dr. Cymru’s movements outside of TERA. They knew more than enough about him; who he knew, what he was doing and, more importantly, his patterns. He had no significant other or family. The man spent very little time outside of the office and he always kept his meetings short. He didn’t socialize with others in power, and rarely attended any events despite being invited to every prestigious gathering in the city. The man was an enigma, however his intentions for power and the ore were clear. Nate knew he was going to make a play for the lab at the ranch. Somehow an ore user was involved, hence the  blast there, which meant TERA was involved. After all, they created them.

TERA had been systematically absorbing other energy and research companies for the last ten years. The company was almost untouchable. They didn’t acquire shares or stakes in any of the companies they took over. TERA – The Energy and Resource Acquisition – was a government organization designed to regulate the energy market and maintain prices. With this decree came the right to acquire any private resources deemed necessary to maintain energy production and keep the market stable. Sure, it required a lot of red tape, but in reality TERA was like a spoiled kid, pointing at whatever it wanted and getting it. The funny thing was that the government didn’t seem to care. As long as the energy market was stable and the power stayed on, nothing TERA did carried a consequence, even if they broke the law. The lines were beginning to blur as to who was really in control. TERA or the government? 

“Sir?” A voice whispered from inside his ear – connecting him to the rest of his team.

“Go ahead.” He surveyed the area. 

“Crossing your path in twenty seconds. Man in a green coat, black pants, glasses. This is his fourth time circling. He’s using an alley down the street to loop around the restaurant.”

Nate waited, counting each second until the described man strolled in front of him. “I see him.” Nate whispered.

“We’re detecting a signal from him. It’s electronic. Too weak to be dangerous. He’s scanning for something. He might pick up our signals, sir.” The voice went quiet.

“Hold all communication.” Nate moved after the green coat. He lagged behind, keeping his eyes on the man and waiting for the right opportunity. As his team had predicted, the man in green rounded the next corner and darted down the alley. Nate followed, trying to keep his feet light and not give himself away. Too late. The man sprinted, briefly glancing over his shoulder at Nate. The chase was short as Nate accelerated after the stranger, stretching his hand out for the green coat. He yanked the man backwards, and the motion slammed the stranger into the ground.

Nate stood over him. “Who are you?” He paced around him, prepared for anything.

“What’s your problem? I’m not doing anything.” The man in green struggled to his feet.

Nate grabbed his shoulder and kicked the man’s feet from under him. “Stay on the ground, please.”

The man rubbed at his knee. “What do you want?”

“Who are you?” Nate remained focused on his target.

“I’m – I’m George Clark. Who are you?” The man glared at him.

“There are four holographic ads at the end of this alley. Two of them have the word ‘George’ in them and one is for Clark and Company. Let’s try again – Who are you?”

The man glared at him, his mouth shut.

“Fine.” Nate grabbed him by the front of his green coat and threw him against the alley wall. “We can do this the hard way.”

The stranger’s quick jab barely missed Nate’s jaw, as he smacked the fist to the side. The green coat could fight. Sort of. Another combination of punches drove Nate backwards as he tried to dodge them. He ducked under a swing and drove his elbow into the man’s nose. The stranger’s eyes filled with tears as his nose popped. A flood of blood gushed down his green coat.

Nate grabbed him by the front of his jacket and pressed him hard against the wall. The flash of a white collar caught Nate’s eye and he peeled back the coat, yanking the white collar off. He sighed and let go of the man. The stranger dropped to the ground.

Nate handed the collar back to the stranger. “You’re a priest.”

The man nodded. He fumbled in his pockets, pulling out a handkerchief to wipe his face. His eyes pierced Nate.

“I’m not your enemy.” Nate crossed his arms. “What does the Church want with Dr. Cymru?”

“I can’t answer that.”

“Call Riley.” Nate insisted. “Tell him Nate Reinhart wants to know.”

The priest pulled a silver disc from his pocket and slid it behind his ear. “Bishop Riley. A man named Nate Reinhart is with me. He would— right … I understand … Of course, yes.”

Nate was impatient. Riley had to be behind this. He and Nate had served together in the military. Riley was once a military intelligence agent who excelled working behind enemy lines, but too many missions had driven him over the edge. He was discharged and sought sanctuary with the Church. Nate wasn’t surprised when they gave him a fancy title and put him back to work for their own benefit.

“The Bishop says to remind you that you are a sinner and have not been to confession in your whole life. Perhaps you should see him. He would like to pray for you.”

“Funny. What else?” Nate crossed his arms.

“Dr. Cymru has taken an interest in black ore. Which means we are taking an interest in him.” The priest opened his jacket and pulled out a small electronic device. “We recorded everything from inside the building. Every sound. Every conversation. Up till when you attacked me. Once it is filtered, perhaps we will find some answers.”

Nate smiled. “So, if I want to hear what’s on it I have to get ‘prayed’ for?”

“Bishop Riley said he will see you in two days.” The priest wiped his nose a final time, faked a smile, and disappeared down the alley.

Nate sighed. “Well, I guess I’m off to church.”

One of his team members spoke in his ear. “Why is the Church of Humanity so interested in the black ore?”

Nate walked back to the street, keeping his voice low. “The Church wants the black ore destroyed. They believe it’s pure evil. Anyone who has any affinity towards any ore is considered a threat. Especially an ore user. The Church considers them abominations and usually executes them.”

“So if Cymru is studying the black ore –”

“Which, we know he is,” Nate added.

“Then the hidden lab must be at the top of his wish list.” The voice sighed.

“Yeah.” Nate walked back into the crowds on the street. “We’re going to have to find a way to move it and fast.”

Chapter Fifteen

It took almost an hour for Gabriel to even find the spot where Adin had hidden the key card to get into the building. Every level of the parking garage looked the same. It was a slow process hiding from other vehicles, the guards, and avoiding the cameras. Gabriel was amazed that he wasn’t caught. He followed the instructions attached to the card. It led him through a maze of twists and stairwells, but it got Gabriel to the floor he needed without using the elevators. As he followed the path, he kept his head down and stayed close to the walls. There were cameras everywhere. Hopefully no one was looking for him. He finally reached the door of apartment 871. He swiped the key card across the handle and the door popped open. 

He stepped inside. The black slate entryway was cold beneath his feet. Gabriel leaned forward to get the full view. Everything was either black or chrome and spotlessly polished to give off a perfect reflection. The entryway was clean and contained an empty chrome coat rack and a strategically placed floor plant that Gabriel could only assume was not real. To the right was a huge kitchen, looking perfectly clean and symmetrical, as if it was never used. He had heard his mother rave about high-tech kitchens where everything was hidden behind panels and revealed with the push of a button. An island topped with black marble defined the edge of the kitchen and was flanked by four tall chrome bar stools. The only items in the kitchen that had any color were the bright lemons and limes and a single orange in the fruit basket on the island. The room’s lighting felt natural, almost like he was outside. He twisted his head up at the ceiling. It glowed. Not from individual sources, but rather, the entire ceiling gave off light. As Gabriel roamed through the room, the ceiling above him increased in brightness, following him. It was mesmerizing.

To the left of the entryway the floor dropped down several steps into a sunken den. Gabriel was happy to see that it was decked out with creature comfort in mind: high back leather chairs that looked as if they reclined, a glass table magnetically floating in the centre of the room and, finally, a huge realism projection television unit. Gabriel remembered begging his mother to buy one. RPTV’s used thin fiber optic strings, hundreds of thousands of them, running from the floor to the ceiling in a tight rectangle that formed realistic 3D images. One wall was made entirely of glass. It was the largest window Gabriel had ever seen.

“Gabriel?” Adin stepped out from the hallway with a surprised look on his face.

A wave of relief hit Gabriel. He had made it – Adin would know what to do. “They attacked me. Tried to kill me, then a girl showed up. These, these vines were on the walls.” He was rambling, his hands mimicking the vines.

“Whoa, whoa!” Adin rushed towards him. “Slow down, what happened?” He looked him over. “Where are your shoes?”

“You don’t get time to choose foot wear when someone tries to kill you in the middle of the night!” He glared at Adin.

“Alright.” Adin put his hands on Gabriel’s shoulder. “That was stupid of me. Start from the beginning.”

Gabriel told his tale at breakneck speed. He probably forgot a lot, but the details weren’t nearly as important as the fact that people were trying to kill him, and he had been saved by another ore user.

“She could control the vines?” Adin’s eyes widened. “Just with her thoughts?”

“Yeah, she told me I need to get to a Sphere.” Gabriel barely took time to breathe. “Do you know what a Sphere is? I think it’s them, or a place. I don’t know.”

“Okay.” Adin marched over to the door and locked it. “We’ll figure it out. Right now you’re safe here. Did anyone see you come up?”

Gabriel shook his head. “I followed the route you said to take.”

“Good.” Adin nodded his head. “They’ll probably think you’re just me. I take the same route every day.”

“Do you have any food?” Gabriel suddenly remembered how hungry he was.

“Sure.” Adin grinned at him. “We’ll get you cleaned up. Let me show you around. We can talk more after.”

“Okay.” Gabriel took a deep breath and tried to calm down,  his chest still flushed with heat.

Gabriel followed Adin on a brief tour of the apartment. His brother pointed out where to find food and how the high-tech kitchen worked. A bracelet gave control of all of the electronics in the house through simple hand gestures, something Gabriel was eager to try on. They strolled down a short hallway between the kitchen and sunken den, pausing at the simple bathroom with a toilet and a pedestal sink.

“Buttons on the wall?” Gabriel looked around the room.

“Shower’s there.” Adin nodded and pointed to a set of six silver buttons in the corner of the room.

“Right.” He smiled and gave Adin a thumbs up. He was going to have to figure out the two extra buttons.

Adin then showed off his huge master bedroom, complete with floor to ceiling windows that overlooked a small park and several smaller apartment buildings. Finally, he opened the door to the last room and stepped aside.

Gabriel walked into the room. It was about the same size as his room back home on the ranch but windowless. It had many of the same elements; a small desk, a bookshelf, a closet, and a single bed pushed into one of the corners.

“It’s not much, but you’ll stay here. At least we won’t get any surprise visitors in the middle of the night.” Adin leaned against the door frame. “We’ll pack up and move somewhere else in a couple of days.”

Gabriel didn’t even have time to ask Adin how his last twenty four hours had been.  He stared at the bed with a longing to collapse into it and sleep. As his brother spoke, he did just that.

It was evening by the time Gabriel woke up. He wandered out of the room and found Adin sitting at the kitchen island.

“You’re awake.” Adin grinned at him. “Thought I lost you there for a second, when you crashed.”

“Being up all night and terrified for your life kinda takes it out of you.” Gabriel stared at all the memory storage devices spread out on the island. He hadn’t seen a Cube in awhile. “What’s all this?”

“Files that I smuggled out of work.” Adin stood up. “Hungry?”

“Starved.” Gabriel sat down in one of the chairs.

“I’ve got some take out from last night – you should like it.” He fumbled with a container in the fridge and dumped it into the small oven built into the cupboards.

“Take out?” Gabriel laughed. “That’s right! You can’t cook.”

Adin held up his finger. “Can’t and don’t are very different. I don’t cook.”

“Because, you can’t.” Gabriel crossed his arms.

“Anyhow,” Adin went back to the Cubes, “I’ve been reading from them most of the day. There’s not much on ore users – barely anything, really. Apparently, the idea of studying the ore’s effects on humans  was first brought up right after Dad found it, but it was voted down by the ethics committee.”

“That sounds like a fairytale.” Gabriel’s mouth watered as the timer on the oven rang. He walked over to get his food and noticed the gold pendant swinging across his brother’s chest. He’d forgotten about the locket. “You’re wearing Mom’s locket.”

“Yeah … wearing it is really all I can do to say goodbye.” Adin delicately followed the chain down with his fingers until he reached the locket and cupped it in the palm of his hand.

“Does it still have the note from Dad in it?”

“Yeah. I remember Mom would read it when she felt stressed.” Adin played with the locket between his fingers.

Gabriel could feel his emotions well up. He quickly changed the subject. “What is in the files?”

“Animal experimentation.” Adin shuffled through the Cubes. “Look at this.” He separated one of the Cubes on the island and pushed a small button to unlocked the device. It unfolded itself into a three by three  grid. The line separating each grid disappeared and the whole surface became fluid. A holographic radial menu appeared, floating above it, waiting for Adin’s input. He spun it to the left and selected some files. A projector flashed down onto the island with several grotesque pictures of dead animals across its surface. Double tapping them, Adin expanded each image to match the size of the island.

“All of these animals were injected with nanograms of ore over prolonged periods – several weeks of injections – so we could study the physical effects of direct contact with the ore. Now,” Adin scrolled to the next image with a wave of his hand, “When put in close proximity to humans, here’s what happens.”

The images made Gabriel sick to his stomach.

“Deadly.” Adin closed the images. “Our best guess is the energy emitted from the crystals is a new type of neutrino with completely unique properties.”

Gabriel stared at Adin blankly. “You’re losing me here … a neutrino?”

“It’s a kind of elementary particle that is created from nuclear reactions. Like those that take place on the Sun – trillions of solar neutrinos hit the earth every second but those neutrinos are non-ionizing so they pass right through without hurting anything.”

“So … the crystals’ neutrinos are different how?” He was feeling completely lost.

“Well to start with – they’re ionizing when it comes to humans.”

Gabriel’s head hurt. “And that means what exactly?”

Adin laughed at him. “Alright, too much science. Basically, the energy from the ore destroys our cellular structure – like acute radiation syndrome. But it passes through everything else without issue, even other living things – plants and animals.”

“But we can stop that right? Like the case Dad’s crystal was in?”

“Right. The polymer Dr. Cymru developed, it acts like an anti-neutrino, absorbing the energy into itself and neutralizing it. Without the polymer, the reaction makes people sick around the ore – they instantly feel the drain on them. And the black ore is the worst.  For some unknown reason, the effect is accelerated by a hundred-fold.”

Gabriel frowned. “What about the white, like I have?”

“The white ore doesn’t seem to react to any test; it didn’t emit anything. It’s considered to be void. I mean to say, there’s energy there, but we don’t know how to release it.” Adin shrugged.

“Try sticking it in your chest.”

“I don’t think anyone has gone that far with it. Anyhow, the other ores killed the test subjects as well, just slower than the black.” Adin opened another Cube and scanned through it. “There are notes here somewhere.”

“Is the damage treatable?” Gabriel took a bite of food in spite of the  dinner topic.

“The best way is to get away from it. Despite being neutrinos, they act like beta particles and don’t travel very far. Any amount in your body would eventually decay, but the cellular damage would already be done,” Adin replied.

“What about humans that can withstand the ore? Ore users. Any mention of them?” Gabriel could guess the answer.

“No.” Adin shook his head. “Nothing much on that. I’m going to go back in tomorrow, try to chat with some of the crowd from work. See if anyone has ever read a file on ore users. Anyhow, you still hungry?”

“Despite all your pictures – yes.” Gabriel had already eaten everything from the oven.

“Good.” Adin stood up. “Go get changed.  I put some more clothes in your room. We can get some food from downstairs.”

“That doesn’t sound safe.” He would rather stay put.

“Look, I know TERA owns the building, but it’s fine – I told them I would have a cousin staying with me for the funeral. They set up a visitor’s pass for you. We just need to pick it up. It’ll be safer than you wandering around without one. Trust me.”

Gabriel was still worried. “Alright.” He went back to the room to get changed.

As they took the elevator down to the lobby, Gabriel couldn’t help but feel like this was a mistake. Someone wanted him, and they had found him before. What if they did again? The elevator doors opened to a flood of lights and people milling around. It looked like a high-end hotel, complete with everything one might ever need.  Gabriel marveled, trying not to lose Adin in the busy crowd. There was a lounge, several restaurants, a small grocery, and even a telecom room, all surrounded by shops and boutiques. The wooden walls were decorated with strange, abstract art in thick carved frames, the wood glimmering from the bright lights shining down on them. The floors looked almost like mirrors, the sheen of the black marble reflecting a muted image of the room.

As they reached the front desk, the security guard glared at them. The man was huge and built like a stone wall, his face and hands rough and scarred. Gabriel imagined the giant on a medieval battlefield, fighting off hordes of enemy warriors. This man would have thrived back in those times, but he looked out of place here in the middle of luxury.

“Anthony, this is the cousin I told you about.” Adin slapped Gabriel’s back. “I just need to pick up the pass for him.”

Anthony said nothing, but turned to the computer screen and began typing.

“I already cleared it in the system, I assure you. I just need the pass.” Adin pointed at the keypad resting beside the desk.

Anthony ignored the command and continued working on the computer screen. A minute later he looked at Adin. “You’re cleared for a week-long visitor pass.”

Gabriel chuckled lightly. This guy wasn’t the brightest.

“Right.” Adin rolled his eyes and gestured for Gabriel to approach the desk. The keypad sat on top of the desk.

Anthony stared at Gabriel. “Put in a code, seven digits minimum.”

Gabriel nervously approached the desk and punched in something he could remember. Easy enough. The card popped up from behind the input pad. Gabriel picked it up. The large man seized him by the wrist. Caught off guard, Gabriel’s other hand instantly formed a fist, ready to strike him.  Rethinking the move, he let the giant have his way. He could easily rip off an arm.

“Wait till I test the card,” Anthony growled. One of his front teeth was chipped. He snatched the card from Gabriel’s hand and released him. A minute later, he handed it back to Gabriel. “One week. Any longer and we need to be notified.”

“Right.” Adin faked a smile. “Thank you, Anthony.” He turned and walked away with Gabriel.

“Where did you guys find him? On a battlefield in the 1200s?” Gabriel put the card into his pocket and examined his wrist, making sure it was still working.

Adin laughed. “Rumor is he used to work at a prison. Lost his job for hurting the inmates.”

Gabriel could believe it. “Really?”

Adin laughed again. “Who knows?” He pointed at one of the boutiques just off of the lobby. “I have a credit in the store – go grab some clothes and whatever you need. I’ll get the order in for food.”

 Thirty minutes later the brothers went back up to the apartment. Gabriel used his key card the entire way to make sure it worked. As they entered apartment 871, a woman’s voice filled the room.

 “Phone call from Dr. Cymru.” It had a soothing tone, although it was clearly artificial.

Adin glanced back at Gabriel. “Just keep quiet.” He plucked the silver disc off the phone on the wall and headed down the hall. “Dr. Cymru, hello.” He walked into his room. “Yes, thank you for the offer from before…”

Gabriel took a deep breath and put the food out onto the kitchen island. Did they already know he was there?

Chapter Sixteen

“What was that about?” Gabriel sat at the kitchen island, waiting for Adin to return.

Adin sighed. “At work yesterday, Dr. Cymru offered to cover Mom’s funeral costs. Pretty generous of him.”

Gabriel hadn’t thought about the funeral at all. “So, you agreed?”

“I guess – I did.” Adin frowned. “Apparently.”

“What’s that mean?”

Adin shrugged. “Some planners want to meet this week to discuss details.”

“And you’re just going to go with it?” Gabriel was annoyed. “I mean, WE haven’t even discussed it yet. Don’t you think that should happen first?”

“Of course.” Adin was defensive. “I didn’t initiate this – I’ve been working on trying to solve your little problem. Dr. Cymru took the lead.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Gabriel shook his head.

“Hey!” Adin snapped at him. “Look, I have done nothing, but try and figure this thing out. I didn’t ask him about the funeral – he offered. Sorry if he’s impulsive, but the man doesn’t like to waste time. He does what he thinks is best. And besides – you’re not supposed to exist right now.”

Adin made a good point. Gabriel couldn’t be thinking about things like a funeral when less than 24 hours ago someone was willing to cut the ore out of his chest. “You’re right.” He nodded. “My bad. It’s not you. It just always seemed that Dr. Cymru made your decisions growing up.”

“I was a lost kid, not sure I would have accomplished much if he didn’t. But that was a long time ago. I barely even see the man now, our weekly visits stopped shortly after I finished my schooling.” Adin sat down at the island. He popped the tops off some of the containers of food and slid one  towards Gabriel. “Eat.” He scooped out some food. “Besides, maybe it’s best to leave that to him. I don’t even want to think about it, to be honest.”

“Yeah.” Gabriel sighed. “With everything that’s happened, I think I’m with you. I don’t even how to process all of this.”

“Then let’s agree to just leave it up to the planners.” Adin stopped eating. “I – I don’t know how to start.”

Gabriel felt the same way. “That’s a good idea.” He didn’t really want to talk about it any longer. “So, what’s our plan?”

“I’ll head to work tomorrow.” Adin talked between mouthfuls. “You stay home – try to search for something we can rent for a month or so. Something with some space and out of the way. Just keep it close to the city.”

“I can do that.” Gabriel filled his mouth with the delicious noodles. Adin was right about how good the food was.

“Eventually, were going to need someone’s help. A private surgeon or something, someone willing to keep their mouth shut.”

“Surgeon?” Gabriel stared at Adin. “What for?”

Adin almost laughed. “To take that ore out of you.”

Gabriel frowned. “Why?”

“Because it’s too dangerous to leave it in.” Adin stared at him. “As long as it’s in you – you’re never going to be safe. You would never be able to live a normal life.”

“Says who?” Gabriel scowled.

“Everyone.” Adin frowned at him. “Trust me, it’s for the best.”

Gabriel didn’t say anything. He was torn. The ore kept him warm. Gave him energy. Made him stronger. It healed him. Did he really want to cut it out? As weird as it sounded, he and the ore needed each other somehow.

“What is it?” Adin eyed him suspiciously.

“I just thought I would find the Sphere thing first. See what it was all about. Maybe they could explain what I’m feeling.” Gabriel shrugged.

“Feeling?” Adin looked confused. “What are you talking about?”

“The ore listens to me,” he said.

Adin choked on his food, then coughed until he caught his breath. “What?”

“I didn’t think about it until just now.” Gabriel did his best to explain. “I was freezing all last night, hiding, too afraid to move. This morning, when I finally got the guts to come here, the ore…” He didn’t know how else to say it. “It listened to me.”

Adin didn’t say a word. He just stared at Gabriel.

“Look, I’m not crazy. I was cold – it heated up my body when I asked it to. It gave me energy to run all the way here without stopping – more than twenty blocks – I wasn’t even tired. And my foot!” He pointed down to his feet. “I cut my foot on a chunk of glass and it healed the wound like a minute later. It glowed, then faded.” Gabriel slowly shook his head. “This thing isn’t dangerous. It’s helping.”

Adin didn’t speak at first, he pushed his plate forward and put his elbows down on the island. He took a deep breath. “If you lose control again, you’ll kill everyone around you. Even me.”

“But what if I can learn to control it?” Gabriel lifted his hands. “What if they can teach me how? The other ore users? Look at what she could do with hers!”

“That’s a big if.” Adin sighed, staring down at the black marble top. “I dunno. If you want to try and find them…it’s your choice. I’ll stay with you either way.”

Gabriel nodded at him. “I need to find them.”

Adin drummed on the black marble. “Alright, let’s keep you hidden here until after the funeral. Then I’ll take some holidays – we can rent a home base for you and we can start looking.”

Gabriel smiled at his brother. “Thanks.”

“Just promise me something.” Adin looked into his eyes. “If we can’t find anything – or even if we do – if it’s too dangerous to stay that way then we will find a way to get it out of you. Make you normal.”

Gabriel nodded. “Of course.” He didn’t mean it. Something lay on the other side – a war was being fought in the shadows. He thought back to the  murderous priest, strung to the building by glowing vines. He needed to find the Sphere. What if they needed him?

Three hours later Gabriel sat in the overstuff leather chair watching the RPTV. The 3D images were mesmerizing. Adin had stayed at the kitchen island, reading through more of the Cubes from work. Adin huffed. Gabriel twisted around to meet his gaze.

“There’s just nothing.” Gabriel could tell Adin was annoyed. “Everything we know…” Adin went over to the cupboards. “And there’s nothing about ore users. Not even a mention in the research.” He grabbed another bottle of wine. “Not even a thought about the possibility.”

“Really?” Gabriel had already had two glasses, and a third seemed like a good idea. He held his glass out over the back of the tall chair. “You hungry?”

Adin paused as he popped the top of the wine, a frown on his face. “You ate everything. How are you still hungry?”

Gabriel shrugged. “It’s the ore.” Maybe it was.

Adin topped up Gabriel’s glass, taking the rest of the bottle back to the island with him. “I think I have some of the noodles you like in the cupboard.”

Gabriel felt his eyes pop. “Yes! I love those things.”

Adin took a big drink from his wine. “Do you understand what I mean about the files not having any mention about ore users?”

Gabriel searched the cupboards. “Sure, no one knows about them?”

“No.” Adin shook his head. “Third cupboard from the left.” He pointed at it for Gabriel. “No, you’re missing the point on the files. There’s no mention at all.”

Gabriel found a bowl and hit the button for the stove on the counter. It slowly rose up, the pot fixed in place. He selected the size he wanted and the pot filled with water from the bottom. He turned around and stared at Adin. “I don’t get it.”

“Gabriel, I’ve read hundreds of case files about all sorts of things – every single one of them has some crazy theory in them. Some random thought that the researcher decided to include as his own theory. These have nothing. Like whoever made them deliberately didn’t talk about ore users.”

Gabriel paused as he thought about Adin’s words. “So, you’re saying…they know.”

“Exactly!” Adin raised his glass in a toast.

“So, TERA knows about them – which is why they’re hunting for them – but no one talks about it.”

“Precisely.” Adin smiled.

Gabriel shook his head. “I think you’re drunk.”

“What!” Adin rolled his eyes. “No! Do you not see what they’re doing?”

“No.” Gabriel shrugged. “If they know about it, what’s the point in hiding it? We use the ore for everything – it’s the new energy source. They brag about it all the time, saying how it will save the world. Wouldn’t something like this just be another thing for them to brag about?”

“No.” Adin shook his head. “Gabriel, think about it – it’s an entirely new field of study for the ore. All new possibilities. It’s a new frontier. If they could harness it … Maybe they already have.”

It didn’t make much sense. Gabriel dumped the noodles into the steaming water, instantly producing a thick starchy mess. “What the hell?”

Adin rolled his eyes, laughing at him. “Why aren’t you using the hydrator? That’s what you cook the noodles in.”

“Damn it. Do you cook anything properly?” He felt stupid. The technology of the kitchen was more work than the simple bio-fuel stove they had at the ranch.

“Actually, I don’t even think restaurants do anymore.” Adin was still laughing at him.

“Where can I throw this out?” He poked at the starchy soup.

“Just close the stove. It will clean itself.”

“Okay. You want some?” He shook a fresh box of dried noodles and searched for the button for the hydrator.

“No, I’ll stick to the wine.”

 “So, you’re saying that TERA already knows about ore users. Probably more than anyone. So, there’s something about an ore user that they’re hiding. What?”

“That’s the million dollar question.” Adin poured another glass of wine.  

Ten minutes later Gabriel sat at the counter eating his noodles in silence. Adin had succumbed to the wine and was snoozing in one of the leather recliners. The question swirled in Gabriel’s head. If TERA knew about ore users and was hunting them, what did they do once they caught them? What were they using them for?

Chapter Seventeen

Adin tugged at his tie as he shut the door to the apartment behind him. His sigh told Gabriel that it had been a long day. Adin kicked off his shoes and commanded, “Image up.” The RPTV instantly generated a 3D image of the last channel it had shown. “News.”

Gabriel didn’t move from his perch at the kitchen island. Adin still hadn’t taken notice of him.

A man in a suit continued the news. “… the attack on a TERA facility in the Republic of China. That and other top stories from around globe in just a few minutes.”

“Hi!” Gabriel shouted as Adin ambled into the kitchen.

“Son of a–!” Adin nearly toppled over.

“Seriously?” Gabriel laughed. “I’ve been sitting here the whole time.”

Adin had his hand on his chest. “It’s been a long time since anyone else has been here.”

Gabriel frowned. “You telling me you haven’t had any evening visitors? Come on, you’re not that much of a geek.”

Adin rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

“Wow, it really has been a long time for you.” Gabriel was slightly shocked. “Whatever happened to the girl you were crazy for in college?”

“Annabelle?” Adin had a look of fondness as he talked about her. “Don’t know.” He paused. “I never really got an explanation.”

“So, you just let her go?”

 “I … ah … I didn’t. She left me.” Adin shrugged. “We we’re going to have a baby.” Adin looked sad.

“What?” Gabriel’s mouth hung open. He’d never heard about this. “Did you ever tell Mom?”

“God, no. She would have gone silly.” Adin laughed. “The baby was just a plan, something we hoped for when we were both done school. You know – get married and start a life.” He shook his head. “But one day, she just told me she didn’t love me anymore – she barely even looked at me and then poof she was gone forever. She just vanished.”

“That’s sad.” Gabriel didn’t know about any of this.

Adin opened the fridge and grabbed a water bottle. “That’s life. We know better than anyone it isn’t always fair.”

Gabriel nodded.  Growing up without a father had given him a keen sense of how unfair life could be.

“Anyhow,” Adin pointed at the RPTV, “I want to see this.” The news program resumed.   

A slender brunette woman appeared on the RPTV against the backdrop of a large map of China.

“Late last night a small group of advanced soldiers attacked two of TERA’s research facilities, as well as a government resource storage facility in the Ming district of China.” A tri-image appeared on the screen showing flames erupting from each of the facilities.

“TERA spokesperson Andy Clarkson assured the public that nothing of value was taken, nor were any personnel hurt during the attack. The Republic of China did not release a statement about the sudden attack. The attacks are rumored to be connected to ‘The Horsemen’s – an elite organized crime syndicate with activities all around the globe …”

“Sheep! They believe anything we say.” Adin slid on the bracelet controls and twisted an imaginary dial in front of him to the left until her voice trailed away.

“I saw that earlier today. What’s the deal?” Gabriel pointed at the 3D image.

“The deal is that TERA isn’t telling the whole story.” Adin laughed. “I think they’re embarrassed. You know the two research facilities in China that they showed pictures of?”

Gabriel eyed Adin’s water and decided he needed one. He strolled over to the fridge as Adin continued.

“We only have one research facility in China. The second one they are calling a mobile research convoy, but it isn’t.”

“What was it then?”

“It was a security task force TERA hired to transport ore to the facility. It was brought in secretly two days earlier, through the New Hong Kong ports. They were doing some testing with it up in the mountains.” Adin smiled at his brother as Gabriel’s eyes widened.

Gabriel climbed back onto his stool at the island, not taking his eyes off of Adin. “How do you know all this? Sounds top secret.”

“Top secret or not – the executives at work tend to babble. I swear TERA is one big rumor mill. Anyhow, losing the task force wasn’t the big deal. It was what they were carrying that has the company going crazy.” He paused and took a swallow of water.

“Ore?”

Adin nodded. “Not just any ore – black ore, and a pretty substantial amount.”

Gabriel frowned. “What were they testing with it?”

“The rumor is TERA’s been trying to weaponize the stuff for years, but it’s super unstable. The black ore stores vast amounts of energy, tightly packed inside tight molecular bonds, but they’re weak – any little bump and they release all their energy. As far as I know none of the R&D has been able to create any kind of device that can release the energy in a controlled environment. The last document I saw on it was for bullet-tipped rounds – not sure if they got anywhere with it. Still, if they could build such a device, it would have enough bang to put any nuclear weapon to shame.”

“Why would you even want to make something like that?” Gabriel rose from his seat.

“Why did they make the A-bomb way back when? It’s just science exploring all the possibilities. I wouldn’t worry about it. From what I’ve heard, the bullet-tipped rounds were exploding in the weapons. I doubt it’s feasible.” Adin searched for a snack, each cupboard rolling down the wall for him to inspect. When he didn’t find anything he waved his hand, as if to shoo them away. The cupboards silently rose back up into place. “No one steals from TERA, anyways. No doubt a TERA security force has been sent out to get it all back.”

Gabriel hadn’t heard about TERA’s elite security force. “They’re that good?”

Adin scoffed. “The best money can buy.”

“I guess money isn’t much of a problem for TERA.”

“It’s all about the ore – it’s the new standard of the super wealthy. TERA has killed for ore before, that’s no secret. The ore has been fought over, stolen, and traded on black markets for a long time. When Dad was working for TERA, they weren’t prepared for his discovery. No one even knew exactly what the ore was, just that it was something brand new we’d never found before. Mistakenly, TERA sold some to fund the excavation. It wasn’t until Dr. Cymru took control of the company that TERA became so strong.” Adin spotted some cookies on an upper shelf and snatched up the bag.

“Does TERA have all the ore now?” He eyed the cookies.

“Hardly.” Adin took two cookies out before Gabriel seized the package. “TERA held almost ninety percent of the world’s ore at one point. But some of it was traded for resources and power, some just disappeared. TERA has spent the last couple of years reclaiming ore stocks around the world through technology trading or simply by force.”

“So, who else has ore?” Gabriel stuffed his face with two cookies at once.

“Next to us, the Church of Humanity probably holds the most – around twenty five percent. They claim it’s their God-given right to govern the ore. Dr. Cymru finds the idea ridiculous and I agree. And about fifteen percent is just lost. Black market, private investors, who really knows? It’s no different from diamonds or any other valuable resource. And people with power will always want more.”

“Yeah, but diamonds don’t kill you. Well, not generally.” Gabriel tapped his chest.

“Speaking of that, I tried to find some information on the white ore today at work. It’s pretty much a dead end. Most reports say it’s inert.”

“Well, I can tell you that’s not true.” Gabriel headed towards his designated tall leather chair in the den.

“You figure out a place for us to hide out in?” Adin came into the sunken den and joined him in the other chair.

“I found a couple of places for you to look at”

“A couple?” Adin eyed him. “What have you been doing all day?”

“Trying to figure out the Sphere thing.” Gabriel shrugged.

“Any luck?”

“Sure, if you want to meet some wackos and fakes – I doubt any of them are real.” Gabriel rolled his eyes. “If you were an ore user – would you make a website about it?”

Adin laughed. “No, that would be suicide.”

“The only hint I have is the club, Persephone. It’s only open on the weekends and tomorrow’s Friday. You’re going to have to go.” Gabriel hoped Adin would agree.

Adin’s face dropped. “You want me to go to a club?”

“Well, I can’t go – I’m not 21 yet and I’m not putting this off till next year.” Gabriel shrugged. “So, you’re going to have to go.”

“Gabriel, I’m not the club type of person.” Adin crossed his arms.

“Adin,” Gabriel twisted in his chair to face him,. “You’re not going there to dance. Just talk to the bartender and then leave. That’s it.”

Adin sighed. “That’s all she said? Just talk to whoever is at the bar?”

“Pretty much. And tell him Celes sent you.”

“I’m not the ore user – you are. There’s got to be more to it than just asking.”

“What do you mean?” He didn’t see the problem.

“These people like to stay hidden. Hell, from what you said, they don’t have a problem killing people who look for them. I’m not about to just walk in and ask.” Adin shook his head.

“Well, then how are we going to find them?” He couldn’t believe Adin was refusing.

“You’re going to have to come with me.” Adin stared at him.

“Really?” Gabriel frowned at him. “You’re not much of a rule breaker.”

“This is research. It’s a club – a fat wallet will get us through the front door.” Adin crossed his arms. “And I’ve been breaking the rules all week. I’m a badass!”

Gabriel laughed.

“Seriously, if TERA knew I was smuggling out Cubes and looking up ore users, I’m pretty sure they would detain me.” Adin actually looked nervous.

“Alright! We’re going to a club.” Gabriel couldn’t help but smile. There weren’t any clubs near the ranch.

Adin laughed at him. “This isn’t play time – it’s … like a field trip. We’ll check it out and then leave.”

“What?” Gabriel didn’t want to just leave. “If I get in, we’ll check it out a bit. Hang out.”

Adin rolled his eyes and sighed. “We’ll see.”

“Going to the club!” Gabriel shouted and jumped out of his chair. “Show me your moves?” He did his own dance move in front of Adin.

A grin flashed across Adin’s face. “You’re such a child.” He rolled his eyes and got up from his chair.

“What?” Gabriel followed after Adin, still dancing. “Come on!”

“Stop before you embarrass yourself.” Adin laughed.

Gabriel poked at him. “You’re such an old man.” It was good to be there with Adin.

A chime rang out in the apartment. Adin immediately stopped laughing, and his expression was nervous. “Someone’s at the door.”

Gabriel froze. “I’ll hide in my room.”

Adin nodded. “Go quick.”

Gabriel twisted and jogged down the hall.

“Hey!” Adin snapped his fingers. “Keep your ear to the door.” He motioned.

Gabriel nodded and slipped behind the door in the small room.

Chapter Eighteen

Gabriel quietly shut the door to the small bedroom. His heart raced in his chest. Who was at the door? All he could hear was the murmur of muffled voices and the echo of feet on the slate entranceway. Gabriel didn’t move. He stayed pressed against the door, his ears trying to decipher every sound from the other side. The muffled voices just blended together – he couldn’t tell who was talking – Adin or another man?  Even his own breathing and heart blocked out any sound. He was pinned in the room until Adin came to get him.

A thump resounded from outside the door. A pair of footsteps clacked along the slate floors towards him. They stopped and the bathroom door swung open, knocking into the shared wall of his room. Gabriel swallowed hard and stepped back from the door. His chest vibrated with heat. Every hair on his body stood on end. The footsteps marched closer. Adin’s room door was opened. Someone rustled around inside. Gabriel backed up towards the wall. There was no window, nowhere to go. Even if there was a window, he was over two dozen stories up. He was trapped.

The handle twisted and the door swung open.

Gabriel stared at the old man in the doorway. It was Dr. Cymru. He didn’t know if should be afraid or relieved.

“Hello, Gabriel.” The old man half-smiled at him. “I wondered if we wouldn’t find you here.”

Gabriel didn’t say a thing. Dr. Cymru had aged well since he had last seen him as a child, over ten years ago. His face was still slender, with the pointed nose and his wire-rimmed glasses resting perfectly on his face that Gabriel remembered. His eyes were sharp, and they flashed brightly as he stared at Gabriel. His hair was thinner and whiter.

“Nothing to say?” Dr. Cymru raised his eyebrows.

“What do you want?” Gabriel didn’t move.

“I think we should have a discussion – you, Adin, and I.” He stepped back from the door and waved his arm for Gabriel to come out.

Gabriel swallowed hard and stepped forward. Every muscle in his body was tense. He entered the dark hallway and marched forward. His pace slowed as he entered the main room of the apartment. His heart started to pound in his chest. Adin was on his knees, his lip cut and bloodied. A man stood over him with a gun pressed into the back of his head.

Gabriel could barely breathe. “Let him go.” His body flashed with heat.

Dr. Cymru circled around him as if Gabriel was his prey. “Why?”

“Because I told Adin not to say anything.” Gabriel couldn’t take his eyes off of his brother. “This isn’t about him.”

“What is it about?” Dr. Cymru stepped in between Gabriel and Adin. He stared at Gabriel with a bloodlust in his eyes.  

“You came for me – don’t act like you didn’t.” Gabriel’s hands rolled into fists.

“That I did.” Dr. Cymru snapped his fingers. “That blast on the farm was recorded by the ambulance. We know exactly what you are.”

The armed man behind Adin holstered his weapon and waved. Two more guardsmen stepped into the apartment. They marched towards Gabriel.

Gabriel’s eyes jumped between them as they approached. He stepped back nervously.

“Stop!” Adin shouted as he climbed to his feet. “Dr. Cymru, please,” he pleaded.

The armed men stopped just in front of Gabriel. Dr. Cymru paced the ground in front of Adin, just behind them. “This would have played out differently, Adin, if you had just told me.” The old man stopped. “Instead, you hacked our systems, smuggled out case files, asked a lot of questions – all about ore users. You didn’t think we would notice?   Your actions told us exactly where Gabriel was.”

Adin spread his hands. “We would have come to you in time, we just –” 

“Shut up, Adin.” Dr. Cymru turned his back on him. “I’m disappointed in you. Gabriel’s coming with us.”

“He’s my brother!” Adin shouted at him.

“And you know exactly what he is!” Dr. Cymru glared at him. “He’s dangerous.”

“No, he’s not.” Adin shook his head.

“We beg to differ.” Dr. Cymru stood his ground. “Two are already dead. I don’t have a choice.”

“Yes, you do.” Adin stepped up to the old man. “You run the company – you don’t have to do this.”

Dr. Cymru didn’t say a word.

“You said you thought of us as family.” Adin was pleading again. “This isn’t how you treat family. If you feel that way – you can’t do this.”

“If I was family – if you truly felt that way – you would have brought him to me immediately. You would  have trusted me to help.” Dr. Cymru snapped back at Adin.

“Where will you take him?” Adin swallowed hard.

Dr. Cymru turned and stared at Gabriel between the armed men. “A research facility for his kind. A place to keep them controlled – keep them safe from the public.”

Adin shook his head. “No.”

“It’s not your choice.” Dr. Cymru kept his focus on Gabriel. “Take him.”

The center guard pulled out a long magnetic strap. “Put out your hands.” He glared at Gabriel.

Gabriel did as instructed. His wrists pressed together, his finger interlocked. The magnetic strap came to life and painfully cinched his wrists. The other two guards each took out other magnetic straps with leads attached to them. They slid them around Gabriel’s torso, cinching his arms to his sides. The guards jerked on the leads, pulling Gabriel forward.

“No!” Adin shoved the lead guard and rushed towards Gabriel.

The guard reacted immediately. He pulled out an electric baton and slammed it against Adin’s right arm. Adin screamed in pain and held his arm. The guard kneed Adin in the side, toppling him to the floor. He raised the baton into the air. The crackle of electricity jumped across its surface.

Gabriel exploded. His arms flashed with heat, and in an instant, he had snapped the magnetic chains around his wrists. Everyone around him moved as if in slow motion. The guards didn’t stand a chance. Gabriel slammed his head into the one on the right. His nose shattered with a splash of blood. Gabriel twisted around and drove his fist into the other guard’s chest. It erupted with a pulse of light as the guard was hurled backwards into the kitchen cabinets. Gabriel blinked to clear his vision from the white light that was trying to consume him. The nasty guard was still poised above Adin with his electric baton mid swing. He snatched the guard’s hand as it dropped down towards his brother. Time caught back up with him.

The guard jerked as he fought to keep control of his baton, but Gabriel crushed his hand with his own. The man screamed in pain and the baton tumbled out of his grip. Gabriel tossed him to the ground and stood over Adin. He pulled Adin to his feet and glared at Dr. Cymru. Furious, he marched towards the man.

“Ah.” Dr. Cymru held up his finger and pointed towards the doorway. Several other guards had their weapons drawn on him. “Look at you.” Dr. Cymru practically drooled. “The ore is already making new connections with your brain. You’re becoming one.”

Gabriel backed off and stood in front of Adin.

“It’s amazing.” Dr. Cymru smiled at him. “You’re faster, stronger. The ore’s energy is feeding every system in your body. Enhancing it – evolving it.”

“Enough!” Adin walked towards Dr. Cymru with his hands up. “No one needs to die. We can work  this out.” His right arm shook in pain. “Please, Dr. Cymru – help us take out the shard. I know this isn’t the kind of man you are.”

Gabriel could barely speak. “Don’t trust him. He won’t let us go.” He needed Adin to listen to him, not believe this viper of a man. His whole body vibrated with power as his emotions boiled.

“Your brother’s right.” An evil grin smeared across Dr. Cymru’s face. “You’re not going anywhere – Gabriel is something we haven’t seen before. I’m not letting him walk away.” He shoved Adin towards the guards. They kicked his feet from under him and held him hostage.

“Why are you doing this?” Gabriel’s teeth pressed together. His nostril’s flared – he was ready to fight if he had too.

“Because I need to know what you are.” Dr. Cymru glared at him. “Your kind is the key to the future and I will not have you waste it. Surrender, or I’ll be forced to have these men shoot your brother.” He walked towards Adin as more guards shuffled into the room. “If you want to save your brother, then you’ll do as I tell you.”

“Gabriel.” Adin struggled as a guard pressed a gun to his temple. “You can’t beat them.”

Gabriel stared at the glass wall in the den. The ore pulsed in his chest. It flooded him with a hot buzz as he thought about the jump. He could feel the ore’s energy flow down into his legs. His muscles tightened. Hardened. The same sensation flooded across his hands. He stared down at them. Thin threads of white light crawled across his skin. They pooled together like water, covering his skin in a protective glow.

“Ten seconds.” Dr. Cymru raised his wrist watch. “Nine, eight, seven …”

They wouldn’t kill Adin if he wasn’t there. There was no reason for Dr. Cymru to do it.

“Five, Four …”

Gabriel spun on the spot and charged at the glass wall.

“Stop him!” Dr. Cymru hollered from behind him.

Gabriel hit the glass in a blast of light. The sound of glass shattering filled his ears. The howl of wind blasted his face. His stomach shot into his chest. His arms and legs flailed in the air as he dropped towards the ground. He twisted through the air, unable to see anything but the glow of light all around him. Fifteen seconds later, he slammed into the concrete.

The chaos of screams, screeching tires and the crack of broken stone exploded in his ears as he impacted the ground. His entire body hurt. Every piece of him felt like it had been slapped by a calloused hand. His eyes popped open and he struggled to his feet. The white light had disappeared from around him. He fell back down on to his knees, his legs unable to support him. His hands clawed at the broken concrete around him and he crawled out of the curved dent he had made in the sidewalk. Pedestrians formed a circle around him, frozen in disbelief. Gabriel knew he had to get out of there. He reached out and grabbed onto a man in a suit. The stranger, eyes wide and mouth hung open, helped haul him up onto his feet.     

Gabriel forced his legs to keep moving.  He trudged forward through the crowd, ignoring their hysteria and shouts of concern. He didn’t have long before TERA would come after him. He pushed his way through them towards the nearest alleyway. He had to disappear. He had to find help. He had to save Adin.

Chapter Nineteen

Gabriel had run for the last hour. He didn’t know if he was going in circles, or what. Rain had begun to pound against the pavement and immediately soaked through his thin shirt. His heart was still pounding in his chest. Every vehicle and person on the street made him nervous. He was nearly out of the downtown core. Where to now? He needed a place to hide. A place to think. He scampered across the wet street and turned the corner without looking back. The rain bounced off the tables of a café patio across the street. He ran towards them, avoiding the largest puddles along his route and nearly slipped in the sloppy entrance as he opened the door. The shop smelled sweet, the air was warm and soothing. He took a deep breath and looked around for a table. There was an open booth in the corner, out of the way. As soon as he sat down a young waitress appeared and began reciting the daily specials. The thought of food made him feel sick to his stomach.

“A tea, please.” He didn’t look at her.

“What kind of tea would you like? We have chai, green, earl grey, blueberry –” Her high-pitched voice began to work through the memorized list.

“Just a normal tea – plain – or you can pick one.”

She shrugged and left with his order.

His mind replayed the fight at Adin’s. Was Adin going to be alright? What would Dr. Cymru do to him? They would let him go, right? A thousand questions about Adin’s well-being flooded his mind. He needed help. Real help – someone he could trust. He could only think of Nate, but he was gone – lost to the storm. What about the Sphere? If he could find them, maybe they could help. 

The steam from the hot cup of tea brought him out of his reverie. He forced himself to take a deep breath. Focus. He remembered the packages Brett had given him. He rubbed at his arm. The funds, the hotels, charge cards… they were all coded to him. Brett said he just needed to be scanned and it would all be taken care of. Gabriel sighed. If they scanned him, they could track him. He needed to think of another way. 

Gabriel noticed a large map on the wall of the cafe, pointing out tourist destinations across the downtown core. He walked over to it and searched the map. Embassy Suites. A large red house marked the location of the hotel. It was close. He zigzagged his finger across the smooth surface of the map back to the big ‘you are here’ arrow. The route seemed simple enough. It wasn’t very far if he took the subway.

Back at his table, he sipped at his tea. The buzz of conversations between patrons at the other tables soothed him. They seemed happy with one another. He admired the strangers, knowing nothing about them, except that they weren’t alone. They had each other and that was more than he had. He wished Adin was with him. Scenarios played out in his mind about  what he could have done differently. Could they both have escaped? All Gabriel could do was worry about Adin. He sat there thinking until the tea was lukewarm against his lips. He stood up and decided to abandon the café. His fingers traced the map one last time, and he stared at the doorway, the rain still coming down outside. A coat rack stood next to the doorway. He swallowed and twisted around to watch the other patrons in the room. Everyone was busy. The waitress. The couples. The small group of friends. He didn’t want to do it, but he also didn’t have a choice. He headed straight for the door without paying, snatched up a coat and rushed outside. He barely got his arms into the coat before plunging out into the rain. He rushed away from the café and down the street. He glanced up at the street signs to get his bearings. He looked back at the café. No one had run out after him. He felt bad, but what choice did he have. This was about survival.

Gabriel continued to jog towards the underground subway platform. His sneakers were soaked; his puddle dodging skills needed work. The sign on the next corner told him he was only one street away. He was almost there. As he turned the corner, he noticed a shadowed figure leaning against a brick wall across the street, watching him.  Gabriel couldn’t help but feel the stranger’s eyes bore into him. A chill ran down his spine. Even when Gabriel stared back, the stranger maintained his gaze. Who the hell was that? Gabriel set off down the street at a quickened pace. The stranger followed. As he checked the names on the street signs, he couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder at the green raincoat-clad stranger. They moved along the street in the same direction. He had one more corner to turn before he could duck into the subway system for the remainder of the trip to the hotel. Hoping to lose his unwanted companion, he increased his stride and took the stairway entrance three steps at a time into the tunnel.

He hopped the electronic gate, ignoring the subway fare, and entered the terminal. The train platform was hot and misty despite the moisture reclamation system. It was obviously a hideaway for the city’s undesirables during bad weather, and the platform was now filled with dozens of unfortunate souls asking for a hand-out. No train yet. He tucked himself around a large, tiled pillar and, leaning against it closely, eyed the stairs to see if the green-coated stranger had followed.

Several minutes later, the loud hiss of an arriving train signaled that it was almost time for his departure. A sleek white train rolled to a stop. He darted for the train doors, cutting off several other passengers. He chose a seat hidden from the view of the platform and hunched down in it. Who was that? His heart beat wildly as the train pulled away. He scanned the faces of the other passengers, recognizing no one.

After counting eight stops he exited the train and sprinted up the steps to street level. He could see the hotel across the street and headed towards it, careful to dodge the busy traffic. As he reached the revolving doors, he allowed himself one last look down the street. No stranger in a green coat. No one was following, at least not that he could tell.

Gabriel stepped into the lobby and stared around the large space for the front desk. It sat tucked off to the side. The entire lobby looked like the lobby in Adin’s apartment: full service shopping, beauty parlors, business centers and restaurants littered with tiny souvenir shops squished between them.

The front desk agent greeted Gabriel like an old friend.

“Hi.” Gabriel wasn’t really sure how to ask this. “I was issued a relief package. Lost our house and all.”

“Very sorry to hear about that.” She half-smiled at him.

“Right, thanks.” He nodded.  “They coded them to me.”

“The scanner.” She raised her eyebrows. “Just a second.” She fumbled behind the desk. “I just need to find the machine.”

“Actually, that’s part of my question.” Gabriel leaned forward on the counter and lowered his voice. “I’m kind of a privacy nut – can’t be too safe nowadays. I don’t really want to be scanned. Is there another way?”

The woman behind the counter frowned. “No, they coded them to you – so we have to scan you to get the information.”

“So, a name or something else won’t work?”

“No, sorry.” She shook her head.

Gabriel sighed. “Really?”

“Yes, sir.” She obviously thought he was a weirdo now.

He thumped his hands on the desk. “Is there a manager I can speak to about that?”

She crossed her arms. “We need the scan to get the codes. Once we have the code I can register you as an anonymous guest.” She waited for his answer.

“Who will see the scan?” Gabriel could see he was annoying her.

“It’s a government database – it’s completely secure – I won’t even see your name unless you give it to me.” She put the small machine on the counter. 

Gabriel reluctantly pressed his forearm under the glowing red circle on the device.

“Thank you.” She faked a smile. “Alright, I will register you as an anonymous guest. This waives your right to any room service charges, RPTV services, health club services, the pool–”

“Everything.” Gabriel could see the pattern.

“Pretty much, plus you will have daily room inspections.” She collected an electronic clipboard from behind the desk. “If you’re alright with all that, just sign here.” She put the electronic clipboard on the counter. “And I’ll get everything for you from the office.”

“Fine.” Gabriel didn’t like any of this. He wrote down a fake name with his finger.

A moment later she handed him a stack of plastic cards and an envelope. “Now sir, I assume you are aware that this certificate will only cover you for a maximum three week stay with us?”

That long? He was impressed. “Um … yeah. I’ll have something worked out by then.”

“Well then, enjoy your stay, and I’m sorry for your loss.” The clerk gave him a sympathetic smile.

“Right. Thanks.” He returned it awkwardly and took the key card from her along with an envelope of complimentary food cards for the hotel’s restaurants and three plastic strips loaded with a hundred dollars each. Stepping away from the desk, he promptly pulled out the vouchers. There were three choices: a coffee shop, a family-style restaurant and a bar. At least he didn’t have to worry about food. He looked up from the vouchers to see where the restaurant was. He would get some food after he found his room.

The elevator zipped him up to the sixth floor in just a moment. His room was a short distance from there. He walked right past it and continued all the way around the floor. Nate had taught him to know everything about any place he was staying. He made mental notes about the stairwells, walkways and even the laundry chute. It was risky staying here, but it was the best he could do. Tomorrow he would switch rooms, same with the next day. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be there for long. The following evening was Friday and he needed to find a way into the Persephone. 

After checking out his room, Gabriel stepped into the bathroom. He needed a shower. He stepped into the corner and hit the top button of the shower. The sliding glass wall smoothly encircled him, the instant hot water misting over its surface. He lowered his chin to his chest, and stared at the glimmering ore. The pulsing light radiating from the ore seemed calmer, not so erratic. He was more in control and less afraid of the ore since he’d first started trying to use it. Closing his eyes, he breathed the warm air deep into his lungs and focused on a single thought. Fire. Slowly he raised his right hand and waited. The sensation of a hot liquid bursting out of his chest happened immediately. It spread and grew across his shoulder, cascading down his right arm, around his bicep and down the elbow. It moved like liquid vines, twisting its own path around his forearm,  until finally reaching his fingertips.

Sizzling sounds filled his ears. Opening his eyes, he saw his hand and arm glowing like fresh snow on a bright sunny day. Droplets of water danced across his skin, evaporating into the mist of the shower. He grinned. Incredible. The ore really could sense his thoughts, hear his commands. He willed the ore’s energy to return. He watched it retreat towards his shoulder and pool back into the shard in his chest. He let the water rain across his face. What more was there? What else could he do? He needed to learn fast. It was the only way for him to get Adin back.

Chapter Twenty

The back of Adin’s head blazed with pain. He pushed himself up, trying to ignore the dizziness. Carefully, he eased his fingers through the sticky tufts of his hair. The sharp pain in his head spiked, as the tips of his fingers touched a gash crusted with clotted blood. Nausea hit him and he crumpled. The room spun so fast he threw up on the floor in front of him. His lungs heaved as he prayed for the feeling to pass, but it remained. Inch by inch, he slowly crawled towards the kitchen. The tight ball of his stomach seemed to bounce with each movement.

“You’re a mess.” Dr. Cymru sighed. He stood up and took Adin ‘s arm, helping him up to the kitchen island.

Adin shoved him back, gripping the sleek marble of the island. “Don’t touch me!”

“Adin.” Dr. Cymru took a deep breath. “At least take these.” He set a pill bottle in front of him.

Adin read the name of the drug on the side of pill bottle. “How do I know these are even real?”

“Adin, quit being so dramatic.” Cymru exhaled. “I’m trying to help.”

Adin popped the top of the pill bottle and poured them across the black marble counter top. He put two into his mouth, grinding them with his teeth. The horrible taste sent shivers through his body and he fought back the urge to throw up again. He crawled along the island and plopped down into one of the stools. Thirty seconds later, the medical marvels kicked in, and the pain and nausea disappeared. “Why are you even here?”

Dr. Cymru stared at the ground, refusing to look Adin in the eyes. “I’m sorry for what had to happen, but we have to take drastic measures to keep them under control.”

“Under control?” Adin was furious. “You could have talked to him – reasoned with him! You put a gun to my head!”

“Yes.” Dr. Cymru looked at him. “The definition of drastic.” He took the stool across from Adin. “Ore users are dangerous! Gabriel has already lost control once and killed two people! Fear is a safer emotion for them than anger.”

Adin stayed silent. Damn him.

“You want to see the footage of the two paramedic’s Gabriel incinerated?” Dr. Cymru slammed his palm down on the counter. “Ore users are deadly.”

“So, you capture them. For what?” Adin was tired of the lies. “Our safety?”

“Partially, yes.” Dr. Cymru took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. “But we also study them.”

“Study them?” Adin wasn’t surprised.

“Their abilities.” Dr. Cymru put his glasses back on and stood up from the table. “What they are, what they’re becoming. It’s the next step in our evolution. We need to unlock that secret. Find out why they are the way they are. Why the rest of us aren’t.  Your father was working on that same research just before he died.”

Adin didn’t know whether or not to believe him. Dr. Cymru had always been honest before – maybe it really had been a charade to keep Gabriel from losing control. Who knows?

“Adin, it’s imperative you find your brother and bring him to me. While your brother is still connected to a piece of ore, he is extremely dangerous. You need to help us find him.” Dr. Cymru crossed his arms. “Do that and everything goes back to normal.”

“And what about Gabriel?” Adin didn’t even want to consider it. “What will you do to him?”

“I have several reports on removal of the ore. It’s complex, but in time we will get Gabriel back to normal and put this all behind us. We’ve done it successfully with the green and blue ores.” Dr. Cymru walked into  the den and picked up a briefcase. He set it down on the island and opened it, holding up a blue Cube. “You can see the report for yourself if you want.”

“Gabriel’s is white.” Adin was still angry. “Ever worked with that?”

Dr. Cymru was dumbfounded. “The white ore?” His eyes narrowed.

“Yes.” Adin stared at the Cube. “How long have you known about this?”

“Since the beginning,” Dr. Cymru took a deep breath. “We made them. At least, most of them.”

“What?”

“Come on now. I expect more from you, Adin. Our research into the ore is more extensive than anyone else’s in the world. You didn’t really think we would miss something so critical? You must have heard the rumors about human experimentation; you must have known some of them to be true.” Dr Cymru shrugged. “While it is against company policy now, that wasn’t always the case.”

“You put the ore in people.” Adin’s mouth hung open. “Why would you even conceive of that?”

“Look at you – acting just like your father did! We sometimes must put aside what our feelings of right or wrong to discover truth. Your father failed to do so and wasted so much of his time looking for alternatives. Listen to me.” Dr. Cymru’s stare froze Adin in his place. “What’s done is done. Leave the past alone and consider the future. You want your brother back? Your life back? Then help us find Gabriel. Don’t make the same mistakes your father did, Adin. I want you with us.”

“My father.” Dr. Cymru’s words hit home. “What really happened to him?” He glared at his mentor. “Tell me the truth!” He slammed his fist down on the counter.

“Bring me your brother.” Dr. Cymru didn’t blink.

“No.”

Dr. Cymru was clearly angry. “Adin. He’s too dangerous. Most ore users are extremely volatile.  A simple emotion can trigger the ore. You need to trust me.”

After what had happened at the ranch, he could see how Gabriel could be dangerous, but it was still his brother. “No. I’ll find him and I’ll help him. You stay the hell away from him.”

“You disappoint me, Adin.” Dr. Cymru shook his head. “After everything I’ve done for you. I never asked for anything in return, not once.”

“I’m not helping you.” Adin held his ground.

“Fine.” Dr. Cymru fiddled with something in his briefcase. “But one way or another I’ll find him. In the meantime,” he pulled out a dart gun and fired it directly into Adin’s chest, “I’m sorry, but they want you. I wish this wasn’t the case. I never wanted you involved.”

Everything slowed. Adin’s vision blurred. He tumbled backwards off the stool, holding his chest where the dart had hit him. The room spun and this time, he couldn’t stop it. Everything went black.

Adin awoke in a long, ominous-looking hallway with doors spaced about ten feet apart along both sides of the walls. A small window was cut into each one. He hesitated, confused. He tried to move, but his arms and legs where strapped down to a steel table, tilted upright so he was almost standing. “Hello?” He spoke quietly at the sound of footsteps approaching him from behind. “Who’s there?” He twisted to try and see, fighting against the restraints.

“Not our standard lab, but I assure you that what goes on down here is of the greatest importance.” Dr. Cymru put a hand on his shoulder to hold him in place. “I want to warn you before we go any further. There are – practices – that will seem chaotic and unnecessary, but they yield impressive amounts of information that we need to further develop our knowledge of the ore. Like the old saying goes, ‘do not judge a book by its cover’. I don’t want it to be this way, Adin.” Dr. Cymru circled to the front of him. “I meant, what I said before. I think of you as a son. Please, reconsider your answer. Let me explain what is really happening in the world.”

He looked Dr. Cymru in the eyes. “Go to hell!”

Dr. Cymru sighed and ignored the comment. “Before your father’s untimely death, we were working on some projects  that, to this day, we cannot complete. The research we needed disappeared with your father. We don’t know if the systems were tampered with or what exactly happened. The point is, we are running out of time and need to find a breakthrough soon.” Dr. Cymru cleared his throat. “Adin, I believe that you can help us succeed. I believe a large key to the ore lies within you – in your DNA. There was more to your father and the ore than most people knew.”

My DNA? Like Gabriel. The pit of his stomach churned as the words came out of Dr. Cymru’s mouth, but at the same time he yearned to know more.

Dr. Cymru halted outside the first door in the hallway. “Your father struggled with what we did in these labs. He failed to understand the importance of what we were doing. Sometimes, sacrifice is the only way we can solve our mysteries. I want you to put away your emotions and understand the why before you judge.” He waved a guard to wheel Adin up to the small window.

Adin’s jaw fell open. Three men, two women and four children lay strapped to gurneys with tubes running from them to a large clear, communal container. Red liquid flowed through the tubes. Inside the container were dull, jagged chunks of what looked like faintly colored glass. The glass slowly pulsed.

 A firm hand pressed down on his shoulder, holding him in place.

Dr. Cymru’s voice whispered into his ear. “Such a precious thing, blood. It replenishes our bodies with oxygen and nutrients, removes toxins, balances pH, regulates body temperature, and protects us from damage and disease. It took us years to realize the connection with the ore and human blood. The more blood the ore has access to, the faster it recharges.”

“Those people –” He gritted his teeth.

“They feel no pain. There’s no need for pity. This is science at its purest form. The truth we need lies in this room.” Dr. Cymru’s passionate words were convincing, but Adin’s gut churned. “Our world is starving. Starving for energy to keep the lights on, keep us fed, keep our water clean, and keep us warm. The basic things we need to survive. Despite all of our advancements in solar, wind, and bio-energy, and other new efficient methods being found each year, we consume more and more energy. Those who control that limited energy will survive. The ore is renewable, but we need more from it. If we can’t expand the capability of the ore – get more energy from it and find better ways to recharge it – then we will simply use it up. Like everything else we have found.”

Adin  swallowed hard, pushing the lump in his throat down into his stomach. “I don’t understand. The ore was supposed to solve the problem. Provide free energy for everyone. It was supposed to be unlimited.”

“It does solve the problem, but this is how we recharge it. It’s barbaric, I know, but we don’t have a choice. Sacrificing the few for the many is the balancing act we do every day. The ore is our future. And this is why we must find out as much as we can about ore users. So we can stop this practice.” Dr. Cymru let go of Adin’s shoulder and leaned against the wall beside him. “They would be immune to this kind of death. A single ore user charges ten times this amount of ore in half of the time. We need to know why if we are going to survive and keep civilization going.”

“This isn’t right.” Adin’s eyes were locked on the face of one child.

“What do you suggest? We turn everything off? Impossible. They would never allow it.”

“They?”

“Those in control. I am not my own master, a decision I regret to this day. I wish it was different, but we needed people in power so that we could push TERA the way that we did.” Dr. Cymru frowned.

“But there must be other ways.” Adin couldn’t take his eyes off of them.

“Perhaps. But this is the quickest. In the end, when we save humanity, all will be forgiven. We will be heroes. Saviors!”

He was torn. Dr. Cymru made sense. Many discoveries in the past were made at the expense of human life. Science celebrated these moments, praising them as leaps forward for mankind. But it was wrong. Those people in there had had lives – they had families. Did those families know where their loved ones were? Did they know the truth?

“It’s time.” Dr. Cymru made a motion and Adin was twisted away from the window.

“Stop! What’s going on?” Adin panicked, struggling against the straps.

“There was nothing I could do.” Dr. Cymru stared at the ground. “Without Gabriel – you are the next closest match.”

“What are you talking about?” His heart beat wildly in his chest as he struggled against the restraints holding him. “Why is Gabriel so special?”

“Your brother is quite unique. I’ve never seen anyone merge with the ore and not suffer from some residual effects. Not only did he do it naturally, but he did it with the white ore – something we thought was worthless. Most of my experiments augmenting people with ore have failed – the mind simply fractures and they lose control. But Gabriel – he has no side effects – he’s a perfect specimen. I can only assume you possess that same unique quality. Your brother will be mine shortly – they’ve already left to collect him. Your father refused to give me what I needed, he refused any experiments, no matter how small. He was the key. He could have changed everything.” Dr. Cymru shook his head. “But now, with you and Gabriel, I can fix that. We can recover what your father took away from us.”

“You son of a bitch! I trusted you!” Adin spit at him.

Dr. Cymru stepped towards him, ignoring the spatter of saliva on his coat. “And still you should. I promise you will be fine.” He took Adin’s head in his hands. “Listen to me! This experiment, it won’t kill you. Think of what we will learn – what you will be capable of!”

“Why?” Adin slumped in the men’s grip. Defeated.

“Because this is the next step of our evolution. If we all could merge with the ore, we would be able to fix everything. Imagine everyone with the power of the ore at their fingertips. No more protection from it needed. We could harness it freely, bend it to our will. Recharge it with just a touch. We would be able to reshape our world.” Dr. Cymru stroked his face. “I know you don’t want to trust me, but you’re just going to have to. When we’re done, you will be like a god.”

A sharp pain bit the back of his neck and everything went black.

Chapter Twenty-One

Gabriel had survived the night without anyone crashing through the door and trying to kill him. He stared at the door. He should have pushed the dresser against it, not the chair. What did the movies know? It was good to be on his own, hidden away from TERA, but he was far from safe. Would life ever get back to normal? He pushed the depressing thought from his mind and focused on getting ready for the night. He still needed to find a way inside the club. Once that was done, the rest would be easy. He walked into the bathroom and leaned on the counter. The sink filled with hot water as he waved his hand in front of it. He dipped a wash cloth into it and raised the wet cloth to his face. Drops of water ran down and danced over the shard, clinging to the sharp edges before trickling down his chest. He studied it in the mirror. It was the key. He just needed to learn how to use it. Hopefully, the Sphere could help with that. The Persephone was open tonight. First he would find the Sphere, and then he would find Adin.

The line waiting to get into Persephone was long. Hundreds of people lined the block, under awnings and behind a velvet, corded rope. All ready to party. The line moved slowly – a step forward every couple of minutes – you had to wait. Gabriel watched as certain folks walked up to the bouncers at the head of the line. A handshake or greeting followed as they passed the bouncers a bribe. He stared down at the plastic strip in his hand. They were pre-loaded with a hundred credits. He’d spent close to 30 just getting here. That left 70 to barter his way in. Hopefully, it was enough.

Gabriel jogged across the street and headed straight for the front door. As he got close, one of the bouncer’s noticed him. The bouncer was big. The kind of big that could rip off your arms and beat you to death with them. His head was shaved down to a mohawk and a holographic lens appeared in front of his face. It flicked with a green hue as it scanned Gabriel for weapons and contraband. The holographic screen vanished, and the large oriental bouncer stood in front of Gabriel with his arms crossed.

“Need to get inside.” Gabriel held out his hand, the plastic strip tucked in with his thumb.

The bouncer nodded and shook his hand, removing the strip. “Haven’t seen you before.” He curled his left forearm up and tapped on the armband covering it. “Let’s see if you’re on the list.” He grinned, revealing, a golden front tooth.

Gabriel took a deep breath. This better work. He watched as the bouncer seductively swiped the plastic strip across the screen.

“Little light.” The bouncer eyed him.

“It’s all I have – I need to get in.” Gabriel’s hands fidgeted.

“ID?”

Gabriel shook his head.

The bouncer slipped the plastic strip into his pocket. “Why don’t you move along, then?” He turned around.

Gabriel wasn’t going to take no for answer. “Hey!”

The bouncer halted and twisted around, getting into Gabriel’s face. “You want in? Ahead of the line and without an ID? You better have another strip, and it better be heavier.” He glared at him. “Otherwise, get lost.”

Gabriel stepped up to him, refusing to back down. “Celes told me to come here, and I’m not leaving until I get inside  like she told me to.”

The bouncer’s face changed. He grinned. “So you’re one of them.”

“I was told to get inside.” Gabriel wasn’t going to admit anything.

“Yeah, I gotcha.” The bouncer nodded to one of the other heavy hitters at the door. He waved him over and the two had a fast discussion. The other bouncer disappeared inside. The oriental one strolled back up to Gabriel and lowered his voice. “Side door. Blue streak across it. Wait there.”

Gabriel nodded at him. “Good.”

The bouncer stepped back. “Get the hell out of here!” He raised his voice. “You wait in the line like everyone else, or piss off.”

Gabriel played along, raising his hands as if he didn’t want any trouble. “Whatever.” He backed up and crossed the street to the line-up. Everyone stared at him.

As he rounded the corner, the line continued around the bend with him. The crowd had given up staring at him. Or they were too far back to have noticed the altercation between him and the bouncer? Gabriel picked up his pace, scanning the brick wall of the old warehouse. Blue streak door. Where was it? The line of people ended. Gabriel hesitated for a moment, twisting back around to the way he’d come. Maybe he was on the wrong side of the building. He broke into a jog and looped around the next corner. Sure enough, a door blended into the shadows.  He went straight up to the door and thumped the base of his fist against it.

Nothing happened.

Gabriel waited. His nerves were getting the best of him as he paced. He was so close to getting in, so close to finding the Sphere. His heart thumped in his chest. “Come on,” he whispered to himself. Several minutes passed and he thumped impatiently on the door again. It popped open.

“Settle down.” It was the oriental bouncer from before.

 “Thanks.” He tried to slip past the large man filling the doorway.

“Whoa.” His large hand pressed against Gabriel’s chest. “Settle down. It’s all taken care of.”

“What is?” Gabriel stared at him.

“You’re looking for them,” the bouncer’s eye brows raised, “Right?”

“The Sphere?” Gabriel nodded. “Yeah.”

“They’re on their way.” The man crossed his arms. “Vans coming any minute – I’ll stay put with ya.”

Gabriel frowned. “Right.”

“Relax.” The bouncer checked the armband wrapped around his forearm. “We don’t see many like you anymore. Pretty rare.”

Every piece of Gabriel was jittery. He rubbed his hands together. “Yeah, you seen a lot of us before?”

“Sure, back in the day.” The bouncer glanced at his armband again.

“Everything alright?” Gabriel stared at him, glancing to the armband.

The guard put his arm down immediately. “Fine.”

Gabriel didn’t like this. If ore users had stop coming here, there was a reason. He stepped back slowly. “Right.”

The alley flickered with light. A van turned in and rolled towards them. The headlights blinded Gabriel as it got closer, and the bouncer focused it as it approached. A second vehicle turned in on the other end of the alley. It halted at the entrance, and waited.

This was all wrong. Gabriel’s hands curled into fists. “So, when’s the last time you saw Cerie?”

The bouncer focused on him, slipping something off of his belt behind his back. “Every weekend. She’s always here.”

“Yeah?” Gabriel didn’t believe him and more. Cerie? “She’s got some pretty crazy green hair, huh?”

The bouncer faked a smiled. “Yeah, she’s a wild one, alright.”

Gabriel’s fist cracked into the bouncer’s jaw in a blink of an eye. The bouncer stumbled back as Gabriel planted his food hard into the man’s chest. The van door’s popped open and a flood of men with dart guns poured out. Several darts pierced the side of his body. Not again. His chest rushed with heat, and it channeled across his body straight towards the pain. Gabriel pressed into the doorway, shoving the stunned bouncer to the side. The bouncer swung aimlessly at him, his fist covered with an electronic knuckleduster. It buzzed with energy as Gabriel swatted the bouncer’s arm into the wall beside him and pounded his fists into the man’s face. The bouncer’s eyes rolled back into his head as the last strike cracked into his jaw. Gabriel dropped him to the ground and clambered over his huge motionless frame. Gabriel was pierced by more darts as he rushed forward. He could feel their effects moving through his body. Every footstep was slower, his eyes blurred. It didn’t matter, he pushed on. If he could get to the crowds inside, he could lose them. Disappear. He clumsily sprinted down the hallway, his balance slightly off. Another bouncer stepped into his path from a side room, his eyes wide and surprised. Gabriel bolted right past him.

“Hey!” The second bouncer shouted.

Gabriel glanced over his shoulder as his pursuers charged down the hallway after him. They didn’t hesitate, colliding with the bouncer, the muffled pop’s of their dart guns sounding as they shot into the bouncer’s heavy chest. The man slumped over and fell back into the side room. Gabriel took a hard left. The walls all around him sparked as more darts were fired at him.

“Move!” He hollered at a group of serving girls and dancers chatting just ahead of him. A steel rack of liquor bottles stood beside them, bolted to the wall. Gabriel grabbed the side with one hand as he approached. He focused on the ore. “Do your thing!” He grunted as he yanked on the heavy rack. His arm burned with heat as a rush of energy streaked through his skin. His veins glowed. The tall steel rack tore out of the wall, the steel bolts taking chucks of it with them. Gabriel twisted the structure across the path behind him. The bottles shattered as he closed the gap off, a flurry of darts pounding into them. Amber colored liquor spilled all over the floor.

“Go, go!” Gabriel’s arms wrapped up the group of girls and shoved them forward. “Run!” He commanded as they screamed and wobbled forward on their high heels. All of them slipped out onto the stage inside the club. The flash of colored laser lights cut through the darkness of the club. The music blared in the air so loudly that nobody noticed the cries of panic coming from the girls as they scattered down into the crowd.

Gabriel stumbled off the stage, his body struggling against the drugs coursing through it. He spilled across the dance floor, knocking several people down with him. The patron’s were pissed. One of the men hauled him off the ground and slugged him in the gut. Gabriel lost his breath with the hit. He sucked in air and fought back, grasping the man by the wrist. Gabriel twisted underneath his arm and around behind the man. The patron’s arm straightened out and locked. Gabriel’s whole being vibrated as he leaned on the arm. The man screamed in pain and dropped to his knees. Gabriel hammered his ribs with a kick and released his arm. He didn’t have time for this. He twisted on the spot, still trying to recover his breath as another strike caught him in the face. His feet jerked forward and lifted from underneath him. He toppled back on to the ground with a crash, and his back smacked against the hard dance floor.

Everything blurred. Another hit smacked into his face, he could barely see his attacker as they stood over him. Gabriel wound up his arm and slammed his elbow into the attacker’s knee, toppling him to the ground beside him. Gabriel staggered up onto his knees. He needed to run.

All around him people dropped to the ground as another spray of darts covered the area. Another dart hit him high in the shoulder. The music abruptly stopped, and the crowd screamed and backed off as the group of attackers charged in from the stage. It was too late.

A man’s deep voice echoed through the fog. “Settle down!” He ordered the crowd. “Everyone get back!”

Gabriel felt his body sway as he tried to keep his balance. It was the oriental bouncer from the front door. The man came into his blurred vision, and drove the electronic knuckleduster into Gabriel’s side. His whole body jolted in pain. He dropped paralyzed to the floor, unable to move.

The attackers hauled Gabriel up off the ground by his arms. He hung there, unable to raise his head, his eyes barely open.

“Nice doing business with you.” One of the attackers said with a thick oriental accent.

The bouncer stepped close. “I’ll call you if any others show up.”

Chapter Twenty-Two

Gabriel jerked his face up. The stale smell of the musty old mattress filled his nose. His head was clouded and heavy. Where was he? Two men stood on either side of a door. His blurry vision slowly focused on them as the strangers chatted in a language he didn’t know. They were obviously guards of some kind, dressed in casual clothing but with automatic weapons at their sides. Each had the same strange Asian-looking characters tattooed across their hands and throat.

As quietly as possible, he pushed himself up and gently swung his feet down onto the dirty cement floor. He kept his eyes on the two chatting guards, trying not to make a sound. His concentration broke as a sudden loud clang of metal banged through the room. Gabriel’s head snapped towards the sound.

In the corner of the room, a chair sat behind a grey steel desk. From it, a stern looking man glared at him. He wore an open-collar dress shirt that revealed the same tattoos traveling down his neck to disappear  beneath his clothes. He shouted something at the two guards. They hung their heads in shame during the reprimand then resumed a vigilant post on either side of the door. The boss never took his gaze off of Gabriel as he rose up slowly from his chair.  He leaned two heavy fists on the desk and smiled like a lion baring his teeth.

“So, you’re awake.” The voice was deep and echoed through the concrete room, thick with an Asian accent. “Fun night at the club?” he mocked.

Gabriel swallowed hard, still feeling dazed. Who had taken him?

The large man stepped out from behind the desk. A strong, athletic-looking physique contradicted the  expensive watch covered in rare stones on his wrist. Each fist was lined with glitzy rings, though the hardened, scarred knuckles looked as if they belonged to a cage fighter.

“It is no problem if you do not speak. At this point it is best you listen. I would give you my name, but I do not think you would care. All you need to know is that you are now the property of the Horsemen.”

Gabriel’s mind flashed to an image he remembered seeing on the news. The newscaster had spoken of a criminal group of the same name. They were stealing ore and material on a global scale. They were the ones responsible for the attack on TERA’s Chinese transport.

“At least, you will belong to them, once I’m paid. I’m a collector of interesting things. Things like your kind.” The man stared smugly down at Gabriel. “I thought to cut the crystal out of your chest until the crazy scientist from the Horsemen showed up.”  He shrugged.  “After all, the white ore is rare but useless. I doubt it would fetch a high price on the black market.” He laughed. “But scientist thinks you’re important, so I guess you’re safe. If he’s happy with the tests – I get paid.”

Gabriel spit on the ground. “You’re just a human trafficker!”

“Human, ore, weapons. I don’t care – they ask and I find it.” The man snapped his fingers and spoke to the guards. They ran over, grabbed Gabriel, and forced him face down on the floor. The rough concrete scraped his face. They yanked his arms painfully behind him, handcuffing his wrists to his ankles. The sharp steel around his wrists cut into his skin.

“You see,” the boss continued, gently rolling up the sleeves on his expensive shirt, “the Horsemen are not a den of thieves like us. They’re a society of enlightened individuals and we live by their rules.” He kept talking, but Gabriel ignored him, trying to focus on breaking his bonds with the strength lying in his chest. Nothing happened. His head was still clouded and the crystal seemed asleep in his chest. He couldn’t manage to summon any of its strength. Wake up! His thoughts broke as the man’s loud voice increased with passion.

“… and so they will rebuild this world. A paradise where the strong will rule and the weak will die! And we will be princes in a new kingdom.”

“You think I care about them?” Gabriel twisted his neck off the floor to look up at him.

“You should!” The man nodded and the guards hauled him to his knees, his back arched as the handcuffs cut into his wrists. The man leaned down and slapped him across the face, leaving a searing pain in his hand’s wake. He walked away from Gabriel, removed several rings from his hands and dropped them onto the desk, one echoing thud after another.

“I want everyone who meets me to understand that we will not be opposed. I don’t care if they are men, women or children …” The man turned, clenching fists and teeth. “Oppose me and you will feel no more! No happiness, no joy, or comfort!” The man marched towards Gabriel and struck his face again, toppling him to the ground.

Gabriel’s left eye burned like fire and swelled shut. Blood dripped down his face. “Son of a bitch!” The pain was immense.

A kick to his side left Gabriel gasping for air, sucking in mouthfuls of dust from the filthy floor. He coughed and spit as he tried to regain control of his lungs. The guards hoisted him up by his collar and the next blow split his lips against his teeth. Blood filled his mouth, choking his breath. They set him back on his knees again. Gabriel teetered from side to side trying to keep his balance as he vomited out the blood. The crystal lay heavy and inactive in his chest. Why wasn’t it working? The boss walked away from him, wiping his hands on a silk cloth.

“This is what will happen if you fight! I will take everything from you, and lastly – just before you die – I will cut that ore out of your chest myself! Take him and put him with the others!” the boss barked at the guards.

The two guards rushed over and removed the steel handcuffs that had cut their way into his wrists, taking chunks of skin with them. They hauled Gabriel up by his arms and dragged him out of the room.

The hallway was dark and musty. Fluorescent bulbs flickered high overhead, casting shadows everywhere. Gabriel hung helplessly between the two guards. Pain throbbed across his face and side. They forced him to walk down a set of metal stairs. He lost his balance near the bottom and tumbled down the last several steps. The guards didn’t care.  They hauled him upright again, hard hands digging into his muscles as they dragged him into a dark room. A single red bulb glowed to life as they entered. Between the poor lighting and swollen eye, Gabriel didn’t see much in the room, except the steel cage he was tossed into. He lay face down, motionless on the cold, wet floor, his head still ringing. He heard the door clang shut, the light went out, and he surrendered to unconsciousness.

He was unsure how much time had passed. He rolled onto his back. If his pain was a good indicator, it couldn’t have been long. Even the shallowest breath sent excruciating pain through his ribs. Opening his eyes, he could only see darkness. He reached a hand up and felt the low, cold steel roof of his cage – it was barely tall enough to fit a large dog. He ran his hand along each of the bars that formed the walls that caged him. The space was no bigger than four feet by three feet, certainly not enough room to stretch out his cramped legs. He also found a small slimy dish of what felt like water and another with some kind of slop. A foul smelling rag hung on the edge of a bucket in the corner. The odor told him what the bucket was for. He rolled onto his knees, careful not to knock anything over and strained his eyes to see around the room.

A little light seeped in through a large round wall vent. It hummed and squealed continually as it cycled the stale, stinking air. He licked his lips, and the still-open cut stung. All he could taste was blood. He was in rough shape. The fuzziness had left him and he replayed the events that had happened to him. He cursed himself silently for trusting the bouncer – a complete stranger. How could he have been so stupid?

“Hello?” A soft, high-pitched voice came from several feet away.

Startled, he turned his head and peered past his own bars and through another set to a blurry movement in the next cage.

“Who’s there?” he whispered into the darkness.

“Lots of us.” The soft voice whispered back. “You aren’t alone in this horrible place.”

Grunts and other words of affirmation sounded as a multitude of people suddenly came to life in the dark room.

“What is going on? Why are they doing this!”

“Shhh!” She warned him. “Quiet! The guards will come back and be angry.”

“Sorry.” Gabriel lowered his voice to a whisper again. “Why are they keeping us all?”

“They’re just waiting to sell us off to the Horsemen. Their leader, Shiro, works for them – he and his thugs hunt down anything they ask for.” The soft whisper moved closer to his ear.

He leaned his head against the steel bars, trying hard not to miss any of her explanation.

“Everyone in this room is carrying ore, or is connected to it.”

Were any of them from the Sphere? His heart quickened, his mind going into overdrive. Was Celes here as well? Was the club a setup? “Are you with the Sphere?”

“No. Maybe some of these people are, but not me. Sorry,” she whispered back. “I’m Kyrie.”

“I’m Gabriel.”

“Nice to meet –” Her words were interrupted as the steel door of the room swung open.

The dirty light from the hallway shone into the room, momentarily blinding him. He squinted hard to focus as two guards walked into the room, casting towering shadows across the floor. For the first time he could make out most of the room; it was larger than he had expected, holding about two dozen cages filled with ragged people clutching the bars with frail fingers. The guards headed in his direction.

His heart quickened as they moved closer. The beam of their flashlight focused on Kyrie’s cage beside him. She scooted to the back of the cage. Her pale face was framed by long, tangled black hair. Her dark brown, oval-shaped eyes were filled with anger. Her nostrils flared as she bit her cracked, lower lip, her hands in fists. Her tiny frame was badly scarred and her clothes were ripped and ragged. The guards opened her cage and gestured for her to step out. When she refused they reached in, each catching hold of a wrist. She fought hard to stay in the cage, but one guard slapped her across the face several times before finally pulling her free.

As she got to her feet, her legs moved with lightning fast reflexes. She caught the guard in the crotch, and snapped her heel back along his knee. He dropped her arm and grabbed at his groin as he toppled over backwards to the ground. With her free hand, she swung at the other man. He deflected her hit, dropping her other arm as he grasped at a taser on his belt. It sparked with a blue flicker as he lunged at her with it. She side-stepped the attack and unleashed a flurry of strikes on him. It drove the guard back, but her hits were weak. Gabriel could see she was already spent – her chest rising and falling too fast. She was exhausted. The other guard on the ground grabbed at her legs, trying to drag her down with him. She fought against him, but it was too late. The distraction left her open. The taser in the second guard’s hand jabbed into her side, and she screamed in pain. 

“Leave her alone!” Gabriel roared. A rage came over him.

The guards paid no attention to him. Gabriel grabbed the bars in anger and the familiar web of light began to glow brightly under his skin. He yelled as he pushed on the cage door. The steel popped and creaked, bending under his strength. The guards dropped Kyrie to the ground and stepped back, shouting loudly in their language. Kyrie didn’t move. She stared at him with wide eyes. Gabriel glared at the guards and began to rattle the door on its hinges, breaking free.

A dark image filled the lit doorway. “Gabriel!”

His concentration broke as he strained to see who called his name. The white beams of light cooled under his skin. The steel door became difficult to move as he continued to try and push it free.

“Gabriel, Gabriel.” Shiro strolled into the room.

“Leave her alone!” He spit at the man.

“Hah! Like you have any say in what I do. Kyrie is one of my favorites. A spy with an affinity for green ore. A dangerous combination. But look at you – quite impressive. I think I might need to raise my price for you. The mad scientist will have fun with you, but right now he needs Kyrie … and you need to sleep.” He produced two pills from his pocket and handed them to the guard. The guard stepped to the cage with the two blue capsules, holding them out for Gabriel to take. “Take them!” Shiro commanded.

Gabriel glared at him. “Go to hell!”

“Boy! You are stupid, aren’t you?” Shiro’s voice rose to a full yell. “You don’t get it, do you? I decide who goes to hell here. I decide who lives or dies! Now, do as I say. Or perhaps my dear Kyrie will die today! She is not as valuable as you. ” He grabbed her by the hair, pulling her to her feet as she cried out in pain. “Or perhaps I will simply hurt her, and you can watch. Listen to her scream.”

Gabriel took the pills, feeling helpless as he swallowed them. He spit at the ground and continued to stare at Shiro, hating him.

“Good boy.” Shiro sneered. “Know this: If you try anything, I will not only kill you, but every single person in this room.”

The threat echoed in his head  as the medication began to take effect. He tried to fight the reaction, but collapsed on the floor of the small cage, unable to hold himself up any longer. His eyelids drooped as Shiro and the guards exited the room with Kyrie, leaving everyone in darkness once again.

Gabriel drifted in a sea of memories as the drugs took hold. He could hear his father’s voice, sharing the news about discovering the ore. “… the ore will change the world; this could save us all … enhance our ability to farm and provide clean water to the masses!”

The vision was interrupted by the image of his mother dropping to her knees and crying at the front door of the farm house. Nate stood there with her, apologizing as he knelt down to hold her. The image faded into a blur and changed to his mother’s hand flecked with blood and pinned under the wall of the house. Gabriel tried to scream, but nothing left his mouth. If only he could have saved her! If only he had left the crystal to the storm and stayed safe in the shelter with his mother.

Rage filled him, and he willed his body to move, but nothing happened. He was paralyzed, drifting in a remembrance of sorrows until a thundering crack fractured the images like glass. Gabriel opened his eyes to the steel roof of his cage. Movement beside him caught his attention and he tried to get up, but his body refused. He rolled his head to the side. In her own cage lay Kyrie, her dark eyes only half-open. She crawled towards him and stretched her thin arms through the bars. He could see the gloss of blood down her arm.

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine,” she whispered. “This won’t go on forever; they’ll find us soon.”

Chapter Twenty-Three

The screech of steel on steel startled Gabriel and he jolted up in the short cage, smacking his head on the low ceiling. Something was happening above him. He pressed his face awkwardly against the bars, hoping to catch a glimpse. At the top of the room, light was pouring in from a hole in the ceiling. A hum slowly began and four fan blades spun shadows around the room. Goose bumps rose across his skin as cool, fresh air floated down into the stale dungeon. The air smelled sweet, almost lush. He inhaled deeply, trying to rid his nose of the musty smell of his cage.

He turned to talk to Kyrie, but she was gone again. They must have taken her again while he lay unconscious. The steel door to the room opened abruptly and three guards stepped in muttering unfamiliar words to one another as they looked around the room.

One of the guards spotted him, walked over, and kicked the door of his cage. “You come with us!” The man unlocked the cage. “Remember what we said! Behave or we will punish everyone in this room!”

Just then an old man across the room screamed as one of the other guards stomped on the fragile hand he had left dangling outside his cage.

“Leave him alone!” Gabriel yelled. “I’m coming out!” He met the dark eyes of the guard in front of him.

“Good! You understand.”

The other guard laughed and lifted the heel of his boot off the old man’s hand.

Gabriel crawled out of the small cage and stood up. His muscles cramped up instantly. He stumbled towards the guards and they handcuffed his wrists behind his back and blindfolded him.

After leading him through a series of turns, and up a flight of short stairs, they removed his blindfold and handcuffs. Bright neon lights burned his eyes and he blinked rapidly to adjust. “What’s going on?” Gabriel stared around the room.

A shove from behind forced him forward and a guard told him to sit on the chair before him. Obeying, he sat down on the uncomfortable chair that was bolted to the dirty floor. There was another door beside him, and one of the guards opened it. The smell of bleach burned his nose and throat and he coughed. The side room held a tall steel table with clamps and leather straps hanging from it. A young man stepped out from the adjoining room. He wore thin wire-rimmed glasses and his hair was long and gelled back. A blood-stained apron covered his t-shirt and jeans. He met Gabriel’s eyes and grinned.

“So, you are the one with the white ore in his chest?” When he finally spoke, his voice was tiny and thin like the hiss of a snake. “Shiro told me about you …” He pulled a small electronic pipe out of his pocket and sucked at it deeply. “That’s better.”

Gabriel stared back at him and said nothing.

“Perhaps you would be so kind as to explain your abilities me?” He took another breath from his pipe, exhaling slowly.

The mad scientist. Gabriel stared at him. He wasn’t going to answer anything.

“No response? Come on.” The stranger almost giggled. “You know I have seen many people in your spot. Some talk. Some don’t. Some even share their own thoughts as to why they can do what they do with the ore. I enjoy the common villager and ill-educated the most. The morons believe they are gods and have powers to control the elements. They realize quickly that they are not gods, nor do they control anything. So, I pick them apart – like a good scientist – and find out how they work. I can tell that you are  smarter than the usual vagrants Shiro brings me. Make this easier for yourself and tell me what I want to know.” The man shrugged.

None of this made any sense to Gabriel. “Why are you doing this? You aren’t a psycho like Shiro.”

“Yeah, Shiro’s crazy. But he brings us what we need and you, my friend, are somewhat of an anomaly. My bosses are very, very interested in you. So, tell me what you know and you might even get out of this place.”

“The ore doesn’t do anything.” Gabriel wasn’t going to play his game. 

He puffed on the pipe again and laughed. “Nothing?”

“Not a damn thing.” Gabriel shrugged. “Just glows.”

“Too bad.” He pressed a small black knob.

Flames of pain seared through Gabriel’s body. His muscles locked up and his back arched as the current burned him from the inside out. It stopped just as suddenly as it started. He gasped for air and fell to the floor, his mouth full of blood from his bitten tongue. The doctor skipped over to him, beaming. His shiny leather shoes stopped inches from Gabriel’s eyes.

“Again!” The young man snapped his fingers and the guards responded, placing Gabriel back onto the chair, binding him there with leather straps.

“Observation number one – electricity will slowly cook your organs.” He laughed. “Now, what can you do with that crystal in your chest?” He waited again for an answer as he wiped his glasses off and replaced them on his face.

Gabriel gasped heavily, and the crystal in his chest was silent.

“What about it … What can you do with this?” He scooped up a small piece of red ore from inside a silver box.

“I dunno.” Gabriel was quick to answer this time.

The researcher looked surprised, almost amused. “You’ve never seen the other ore before?” He laughed.

“No.” He shook his head as he struggled to slow his breathing down to a steady pace and fought the urge to pass out.

“You’re an odd one, that’s for sure.” The scientist approached him. “See, most ore users react to any kind of ore – the connection is there, but when you find the right type for that person…” He gripped the glowing ore in his hand. “That’s when the magic happens.”

Gabriel needed to waste more time. “You can hold the ore without protection.”

A grin crept across the scientist’s face. “Smart.” He chuckled. “The spy picked up on that, as well, but I expected that from her. You – I’m impressed.” He stepped just in front of Gabriel. “Now, hold still.” He pressed the ore up against Gabriel’s face.

The room flooded with a red light. Gabriel’s entire body instantly boiled with heat, not with pain, but an overwhelming warmth.

“Woooo!” The scientist whipped his hand back. The ore tumbled  into Gabriel laps, the glow still strong, but not nearly as bright. “Wow, that was hot.”

Gabriel stared at the shard, confused. What had happened?

“Okay!” The scientist plucked the shard from his lap. “That was fun.”

Gabriel stared up at him. “What happened?” 

The scientist took a long puff on the pipe he carried in his pocket. “Oh, man, this stuff is good.” He glanced back at Gabriel as if he hadn’t heard the question.

“What happened with that piece of red ore?” Gabriel demanded.

“Well,” the scientist puffed on his pipe, “you have a connection to it. An insanely strong one, too. A lot stronger than most. You are going to be the highlight of my reports from here. Now, what can you do with that white ore in your chest?”

“I told you – nothing.”

“Yeah, you’re lying.” The scientist hit the black knob again, and pain ripped through Gabriel’s body. Seconds later the electricity stopped, but the pain still echoed through him. Tears rolled from his eyes as he gasped for air. “The guards told me you nearly ripped the steel door off of your cage. And I know Shiro’s methods, but yet you are undamaged.” He peered at Gabriel’s face and frowned.

Gabriel licked his lip, the large split in it was indeed gone.

“So the white ore accelerates healing, despite the sedatives. You seem to energize ore when you touch it, and obviously your strength is heightened. I would say you have some abilities.” He looked annoyed.

Gabriel blinked, his head still fuzzy from the shock. His ribs and face didn’t hurt him anymore. “I … I don’t know what I can do! Well, not everything … the strength is new, but I … I can’t control it! The red crystal – I don’t know what that was! And yes, the ore can heal me. But I don’t know anything about it. Honestly, you have to believe me!”

The researcher studied him.

“I was looking for the Sphere to try and figure it out.” Gabriel tried to explain.

“A Sphere?” The scientist tilted his head. “Interesting. And what about your brother?”

“What?” His voice trembled. “Adin?” How did they know about him?

“Yes … your brother works for TERA.” The scientist’s voice slowed as he paced the floor with his arms crossed. “How much does TERA know about you?”

He panicked, searching his mind for an answer. “I don’t understand!”

“How much does TERA know about you and your abilities? What tests did they do on you?”

“What? No tests! Adin didn’t tell anyone. It was just between the two of us.”

The doctor went silent again, staring at him. “Why should I believe you?”

Gabriel closed his eyes, praying for no more pain. The researcher said something sharply to the guards. They roughly removed his restraints before hoisting him up by the arms. Where were they taking him now? They dragged him into the side room with the tall steel table. The doctor walked ahead of them, tapping several wall mounted screens. The screens flickered to life and machines hummed loudly in the small space. A robotic arm lowered a large scanning device into position above the foot of the table. Gabriel’s heart began to race, beating loudly in his chest. What were they going to do to him? Each breath he took shook his body, and his fear grew as he looked around the room. Then he saw her.

“Kyrie?”

A glass, coffin-shaped box was set into the wall, radiating an eerie green glow. Inside the clear coffin lay Kyrie. She didn’t move. She lay there as if dead, an intravenous line in her arm. The thin tank top she wore was stained with so much blood that he couldn’t tell what color it was originally. She was covered with wounds that had been carelessly wrapped with gauze and adhesive. Everything in the room drifted away as Gabriel stared at the glass coffin. What had they done to her?

“An amazing subject! The green ore can sustain her life no matter how much harm we put her through: gunshots, beatings, surgeries, whatever Shiro pleases to do to her. She just heals right up. A wonderful specimen to have. So helpful with testing, but it does take some time. She often spends days in this chamber after difficult tests. I swear that without this little angel I would be years behind in my research.”

Gabriel remained frozen at the window, a silent anger building inside him. She was nothing more than an experiment. A lab rat. No longer a human being. He remained in a daze as the guards pulled him away from the glass and strapped him to the steel table. The scientist took scans and pictures of the crystal in his chest, babbling on about its composition and structure. The process took hours, and Gabriel remained numb to what was happening. His mind kept replaying the same thought – all of this was happening because his father had found something he should have left in the dirt.

A sharp stab to his arm jolted him out of his misery.

“This will keep him sedated for awhile, but double his pills. The ore is still active despite them. Triple it if you have to.” The scientist sent him away.

Blindfolded again, Gabriel was hauled back to his small cage. The door slammed shut behind him. He lay on the cold floor, staring at the empty cage beside him, his body paralyzed. How long had Kyrie been here, hoping for someone to save her? A chill crawled down his spine. Was his fate to be any different?

Hours passed as Gabriel lay on the floor, drifting in and out of consciousness, the cocktail of drugs in his body prevented any connection to the ore. Kyrie was eventually tossed back into the cage beside him. He tried to move, to make sure she was alright. She crawled over to him, leaned against the bars, and began to talk quietly.

“I remember my father taking me out for ice cream once a week because he used to work so much that I would be mad at him. He called it ‘our time’. A time for him to remind me how much he loved me …” She just talked. “My mother made sure he never forgot and we went out every week no matter how old I got. We kept doing that – even when I left for university – and he never missed a single week. One day, he told me he had quit his job at the government and was working on the ore with a small group of scientists. They were trying to find a use for it that didn’t create the negative effects … so it would be safe. When I finished my schooling, I joined them. He’s looking for me – we just have to be patient. We just have to survive.”

Chapter Twenty-Four

Several shadows gathered outside the dungeon door. Gabriel could see them pacing back and forth through the crack beneath it. He couldn’t make out the discussion, but it sounded serious.

He reached through the bars and tapped on Kyrie’s shoulder. “What’s happening?”

She lay on the floor of her cage, unresponsive, her body motionless. He still felt the physical effects of the drugs lingering in his body, but his mind was clear and sharp for the first time in days. They usually would have forced more pills into him by now.

Loud popping sounds came from somewhere in the facility. Gabriel sat up. Gunfire. Orders echoed in the hallway over a speaker. Shadows flickered across the crack at the bottom of the door. An alarm started to bleat. He had no idea how many guards there were, but it sounded like hundreds of footsteps running past their door. Something was happening. This was the perfect opportunity. He needed to escape. He couldn’t stay in this hell hole any longer.

“Kyrie, I am going to get help. If I can escape, I’ll get help and come back.” He grabbed her limp hand through the bars and squeezed it. “I’ll be back, I promise. Or they will catch me and I’ll be back right away … so basically … I’ll be back.”

“Go.” Her faint voice was barely audible over the noise outside of the room.

He firmly wrapped his fingers around the bars on his cage door. A deep breath. Then another. He pushed on the steel door. Nothing. Wake up! He smacked his chest. Leaning back on his elbows, he hammered at the door with both feet, shaking his cage with each hit. Pain burned through his feet, and his legs turned to rubber. Firmly grasping  the bars again, he closed his eyes. Do something! His arms shook as he pressed on the bars with all his force. I need you!

The crystal sparked to life and waves of heat flowed across his body as he summoned the crystal’s strength. Light burst from it, creating a visible glow under his shirt. The light twisted and spun down around his waist and swirled down his legs. It climbed up his chest, around his shoulders and down his arms. It finally reached his hands, bathing them in light.

“Gabriel…fight.” Kyrie forced herself up.

The crystal’s power ended every bit of pain in his body.  When he gripped the bars, their cold surface steamed at his touch, and then glowed red with heat. He repositioned his body once again, using his feet to push. The hinges made a snapping sound as the steaming door fell onto the wet concrete.

Gabriel leapt from his cage. He felt nothing but the energizing power of the ore pulsing through his entire body. He sprinted to the door on the far side of the room, ignoring the calls for help from the prisoners around him. The door was locked. Being subtle wouldn’t help. The webs of light still pulsed in his hands and forearms. He backed away from the door, psyched himself up, and sprinted at it. His shoulder hit with the heavy steel surface and the door ripped out of the wall, its hinges tearing apart. It crashed to the ground.

The ground underneath him shook and dust fell from the ceiling. A battle raged elsewhere in the building, the alarm was still blaring every few seconds. Sporadic gunfire and shouting echoed down the stone halls. The noise was deafening. He looked back at the room full of prisoners – they couldn’t all escape.

“Come with me!” He charged over to Kyrie’s cage, bending the corner of the steel door back as his skin flared with the power of the ore.

“Gabriel, stop … I can’t even walk.” Kyrie stared up at him and grabbed his arm. “Listen, to me.” Her eyes were intense. “You go. Find a way out – then for search for a company called Ingenis Pluris. It’s a research firm. You tell them about me.”

“Ingenis…What?” Gabriel didn’t understand. “Why?”

“Listen to me!” She ordered. “You get out of here and find a phone. Any phone. You break in somewhere if you have to. You call Ingenis Pluris. Tell them my name and where you are. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, but –”

She cut him off. “Yes or no!” She was intense. “Do you understand?”

“Yes!” Gabriel shouted back at her.

“Then go!” She pushed him back from her cage.

There was no time for him to think about her orders, he needed to just listen and do. Not sure where to go, he tried his best to remember the steps he had taken on his previous trip to the scientist. The drugs and the blindfold had confused him and he couldn’t remember. He decided to head towards the noise, maybe find an exit. At the end of the hall, he peered around the corner. A staircase. It appeared to be bright with daylight. His heartbeat quickened as he took several steps towards it. The clanging sound of boots coming down the metal rungs of the stairs caused him to halt. His shoes squeaked as he changed direction, ducking back around the corner and bolting through a door he had ignored a moment earlier. He shut the door carefully, trying to make as little noise as possible, then turned to face the room.

The only source of light was a  weak bulb flickering overhead. He spotted a make-shift counter attached to the concrete wall. A pipe with a tap stuck out of the wall, dripping into a bucket. Boxes of rations and unwashed pots rested on the small countertop. This must be where they prepared the slop he had been eating for the last three days. He moved towards the back wall, searching the shadows for a secret panel or passage that might lead somewhere else. No luck. The door was the only way in and out.

The door burst open. A guard stepped inside, shutting it with a bang as he leaned against it. He clawed at his waist for a fresh clip to put into his weapon, not realizing he wasn’t alone in the room. Gabriel lunged at him, grabbing at the sub-machine gun strapped around the guard’s chest. Caught off balance, the guard slammed against the door, but managed to shove Gabriel back several steps. He raised the weapon. Time slowed. Gabriel watched the muzzle of the gun flash brightly. His heart stopped. The gun pointed at his stomach. It burnt a hole in his shirt as the bullet pierced the cloth, but dropped to the floor with a ting.

The guard’s mouth hung open – his eyes fixed on the light bursting from the hole in Gabriel’s shirt. Without hesitation, Gabriel grabbed the guard and lifted him off the ground. His hands were webbed with white light, pulsing through the muscles under his skin. He sent the guard sailing across the room to slam against a small table. Scraps of wood and splinters exploded into the air. The guard lay still on top of the debris – not moving. Gabriel leaned against a wall, his head spinning and his body on fire with the energy of the ore.

Another man ducked in and closed the door to the room. Gabriel tackled him. The sheer force and speed of his attack sent the two crashing through the closed door, tearing it from its hinges as they spilled into the open hallway.

“You!” Shiro spit through his teeth as Gabriel fought to stay on top of him.

Anger flooded Gabriel. His fists glowed as he smashed them into Shiro’s cheek. It split open and bright red blood spurted out. Shiro punched Gabriel in the side, sending a jolt of pain rattling through his body. The power of the ore was fading. Gabriel didn’t care, he gave into his rage and slammed his fist into Shiro’s face, again and again. His arm blurred with speed. A familiar yell rang out behind him. He stopped his assault on Shiro and turned towards the armed soldier. What? That voice…

The man, dressed in full camouflage with an assault rifle, yelled at him again as he raised his gun. “Gabriel, get down!”

The footsteps of Shiro’s men echoed on the other side of Gabriel. Gunfire roared in the hallway and the muzzle flash lit up the doorway. There was nowhere for him to hide. He threw up both of his arms in automatic defense. His hands glowed brightly, and a bubble of light instantly filled the space between them. Bullets dropped out of the air, clanking to the ground. His vision blurred and dizziness swept over him. His vision tunneled as he slumped over Shiro’s limp body.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Gabriel was in the loft of the old barn at home. Nate was giving him another lecture about the world as he changed into some clean clothes. Nate’s body carried a history of the dangerous path he had once walked. Each scar had its own story, carved into his chest, back, and arms. He wore his hair buzzed down as if he was still in the military, and a trimmed beard filled out his face.

Gabriel glanced towards the window at the blue sky. Everything was right. Everything was warm and familiar. This wasn’t real. Nate’s voice continued as Gabriel stood up and walked over to the window, looking down towards the yard. There she was. She had on her flower print apron, her green work gloves and a large straw hat as she worked in her garden. Mom. He wanted desperately to run out to her, but chose to stay. He savored the memory of her alive, happy, at home. He pressed his hand against the cool glass. His heart ached. This was all in his head. He knew she was with his father now – happier in some unknown place.

Nate called to him from across the room. “Gabriel.”

The image blurred and drifted away like smoke into the air. Only the warmth of a hand on his shoulder and a voice calling his name remained. He blinked his heavy eyes. A friendly face met his gaze – Nate Reinhart.

“You done sleeping?” Nate smiled and helped him sit up.  He was on a bed.

“You’re alive?” Gabriel hugged him, making sure he was real.

“Yeah, as are you. Although – I’m not sure how?” Nate patted his back.

Still shocked, he let go of Nate and glanced around the room. “Where are we? That was you in the hallway back there, wasn’t it?”

“Smart.” Nate sat back in the chair beside his bedside. “I was following Dr. Cymru. Oddly enough, it lead me to you at Adin’s.”

“What? You were following him? Why didn’t you –”

Nate laughed. “Slow down. I couldn’t play my hand just yet, I wanted to, but there’s a lot more going on with TERA. I’m not sure how you got away from Dr. Cymru and his men, but I spotted you near the café. I lost you around the subway after that. But obviously someone caught up to you. I was shocked to see you at the Horsemen’s camp.”

He cut Nate off. “What about the storm? What happened at the ranch? We thought you were in the barn.”

“I got lucky. After I said goodnight to you, I got a call to head into town to meet some of my contacts and … It doesn’t matter.” Nate shook his head. “I couldn’t get back in time. The storm hit so fast.”

He stared at the sheets on the bed, running a loose thread through his fingers. “Mom didn’t make it.”

Nate looked away and leaned back in his chair. “I know.”

Would things have been different if Nate had been there? He couldn’t allow himself to wonder. He had learned over the last couple of weeks how futile regret was. “Where are we?”

Nate gathered himself and cleared his throat. “Somewhere safe. Don’t worry about the details.”

Gabriel nodded. Nate had always been cryptic about such things.

“You feel up for a walk?” Nate pointed at the door.

Gabriel stepped out of the room. The hallway was ugly. White walls with a dingy grey floor.

“This is our medical wing.” Nate strolled along beside him as they talked.

“Like a private hospital?”

“Pretty much.” Nate shrugged.

Gabriel eyed two men in uniforms walking by, assault rifles over their shoulders. “Hospitals don’t have soldiers … Where are we?”

“Look, this is a safe place. There’s nothing to worry about. The less you know – the safer you’ll be.” Nate pointed towards a window with a view of a mountain range. The facility obviously was built at the bottom of the valley. “Gorgeous country.”

“Nate, cut the cryptic BS. Where are we? You back in the military?” Gabriel wasn’t in a mood for fatherly protection.

Nate sighed and glared at him. “Your father made me promise to keep you safe. In a day or two you will never see this place again. And I will take you somewhere to start over. So drop it.”

“Why? What are you hiding?” Gabriel stopped and faced him. “You can’t just pretend like nothing has happened. That we can start all over, like a happy family. She’s dead, Nate!”

Nate grabbed him by his shirt and shoved him against the window frame. “You don’t think I know that! I have to live with that mistake every day I don’t see your mother!” Nate’s hands dropped to his sides.

Gabriel breathed out, his heart racing. “Everything’s screwed up … I don’t even know which way is up.” He let his head fall back to rest against the cool window.

“Don’t worry about it.” Nate stepped away. “We’re family … Let me just find somewhere you’ll be safe. I’ll finish what I need to do here and then, you and I will start over. New life. New names. New everything. I promise.”

Gabriel shook his head.  “I can’t do that. I need to find Adin. Find the Sphere.” He thought of everyone inside the camp. “Kyrie! What happened to the others?”

Nate sighed and patted him on the back. “Everyone was taken somewhere safe.”

“I need to see them, talk to them. Kyrie, at least.” He needed to find out about the Sphere.

“Kyrie’s in the medical wing, the others have been taken to another place. Don’t worry about them.” Nate smiled at him.

“Stop telling me not to worry!” Gabriel clenched his fists. “I need to see her.” He twisted on the spot and walked away.

Gabriel didn’t look at Nate. He didn’t want to hear him say ‘don’t worry about it’ again. He stomped down the hallway, pausing to look through the small glass windows on every door. Where could she be? A final door was left near his room. He crept over to it. A large, clear tent with white zippers filled the majority of the room. The patient lying on the hospital-style bed inside of it looked familiar. Very familiar. He burst into the room, clumsily pushing his way under the tent.

Kyrie opened her eyes and smiled at the sight of him, reaching for his hand. He scooped it  into his. “Hey, I didn’t find that phone, but …” She didn’t look any better. She had several intravenous lines running  to her body and tubes implanted in her chest. A machine behind her bed beeped and blinked.

She smiled. “They found us …” She had an ‘I-told-you-so’ kind of tone in her voice.

“Just like you said.” He couldn’t help but smile at her.

Just then the tent zipped open on one side. Nate stepped in , followed by another man in a long white lab coat with a stethoscope around his neck. A doctor.

Nate nodded. “Gabriel, this is Doctor Osho. Kyrie’s father.”

Gabriel let go of Kyrie’s hand, embarrassed, and offered it out to the doctor. “Um … Good to meet you.”

The doctor gripped his hand firmly. “You are a friend to my daughter. I appreciate you being there when I couldn’t.” He spoke with a British accent that contrasted with his Asian features.

“Dr. Osho is the head of the organization here. He’s a friend,” Nate said.

The thin man smiled half-heartedly at Gabriel, his weary eyes revealing a heavy burden.

“I am glad you’re up on your feet.” Osho politely gestured towards the zippered door. “But I must ask you to let my daughter rest now. She needs all she can get.”

Gabriel nodded, still flustered. “Of course. I’m sorry. I just wanted to see if she was okay.”

Osho shut the door behind them as they exited the room. “Why don’t we all talk in my office? I’m sure you have some questions.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

Gabriel sat down, waiting as Dr. Osho went around to the other side of his desk and collapsed into his chair. He collected himself and looked at Gabriel through his tears. “I fear my daughter will not make it. We are doing our best, but I am afraid –” His emotions broke through his professionalism. He paused momentarily. “At this point in time, we can simply make her as comfortable as possible and hope she will survive.”

Gabriel glared at the doctor. What was he saying?

The doctor sighed. “I believed my daughter was dead for the last three months. I had accepted her fate. It was part of the risk she took. I am just happy she didn’t have to spend her last days in that dungeon.”

“You can’t give up! What about the green ore?” Gabriel wanted to leap at the man and shake him. “They kept her alive with it before. Just do it again.”

“Kept her alive, yes.” Osho shook his head. “But they didn’t heal her wounds; they simply delayed death from taking her. They never kept her near the ore long enough to properly heal.”

“But … you can’t –” Gabriel shook his head, horrified.

“I have studied my daughter’s condition for years …” Osho straightened up in his chair. “She has an amazing reaction to the green ore which, yes, can heal her wounds on a small scale. However, she is not wounded on a small scale and I do not have a piece of green ore that is strong enough to regenerate her.” A hint of annoyance laced his voice. “Even with what we took from the Horsemen’s camp. The internal bleeding alone is nearly impossible to deal with. Her organs are beyond any surgeries we can perform. They did too much damage to her.”

Gabriel went silent, searching desperately for a solution. There had to be a way to save Kyrie.

Nate reached out and put his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder. “Gabriel, we all would like to save her. This is hard enough for Dr. Osho. Please let it be. Everything that can be done is being done.”

“No!” He slapped Nate’s hand away. “We didn’t get out of there just so she could die here!”

“I’m sorry, but –” Nate stood up and moved between him and Dr. Osho.

“You can’t let her die!” Gabriel stood and slammed his hand down on the arm of the chair.

Nate pointed at him, a stern look on his face. “Gabriel! This is not your place!”

There had to be a way. He paced the room, refusing to accept the facts as final. “You said the ore isn’t strong enough, right? What if it could be energized? Enhanced?” He pointed at Osho. “Well?

“In theory, it might work. But we don’t have anything that can amplify the effects.” Osho leaned forward in his chair, elbows resting on the desk.

 “The scientist – with Shiro?”

“Shot and killed by Shiro’s men,” Nate said.

“No, it’s what he said about me.” Gabriel remembered the red ore touching his forehead.

“What are you talking about?” Nate frowned.

“He touched a red shard against my skin … it glowed so bright.” Gabriel looked down at his hand, remembering the sudden heat.

“You’re saying your touch increased the shard’s energy output?” Osho sat up in his chair.

“It did something. Let me try.” Gabriel wasn’t asking. “Give me the largest piece of green ore you have.”

Osho glanced to Nate.

“Absolutely not. It’s too dangerous.” Nate’s expression was troubled. “If he can’t control it …” Nate’s voice dropped low.

Gabriel looked Osho in the eyes. “How much time does she have?”

Osho stared silently back at him. “Not enough… I want him to try.”

“What!” Nate shook his head. “We have no idea what will happen! The crystal could explode, for all we know.”

“If Gabriel is willing to take that risk, then so am I.” Osho looked at Nate.

“Please, both of you listen to me –”  Nate was quickly cut off by Osho.

“She’s dying Nathaniel!  She’s my only daughter. Even if it is just a chance – I have to try.” Osho’s eyes welled with tears.

“If something goes wrong?” Nate was torn.

“Then she’s dies either way.” Osho stood up behind his desk. “Gabriel, are you sure?”

Gabriel turned to leave the office. “Let’s do it.”

The three exited the office and headed directly to Kyrie’s room. She was asleep, struggling to breathe, the machines barely keeping her alive. Gabriel drew a deep breath.  He had to make this work. Dr. Osho unlocked a bedside cabinet and pulled out a small metal box, much like the silver box the Horseman scientist had kept the red ore in.

Osho looked at him, his face full of pain. “We have tried several sessions with it already, but nothing has helped. She keeps fading.”

“I can do it.” Gabriel rubbed his chest. I need you.

“Be careful. I have a team waiting outside the room, just in case.” Osho ushered Nate out of the tent area. “There is no lock on the box and this tent will keep us safe from the ore.” The doctor zipped up the door behind them. Their exit woke Kyrie. Gabriel took his place next to her.

“What’s going on?” Her voice was weak.

“I’m going to fix you up.” He smiled and opened the small steel box beside her, revealing the eerie green crystal. “Trust me.”

He reached into the metal case. His fingers brushed along the foam padding that supported the ore. The green shard was the size and shape of a softball. It gave off a small pulse of light, as if awaiting his touch. He picked the green orb up. The gentle glow intensified, washing the whole tent in a sea of green light. He moved it towards her. She breathed sharply as the ore touched her just below her neck. She looked at him, her eyes full of courage.

“Ready?” He touched her forehead with his other hand. “Just close your eyes.”

She shut her eyes and tears slid down the sides of her face. She took a few deep breaths, then her breathing slowed to a steady pace. He followed suit, shutting his eyes and focusing on the green ore in his hand. Mentally, he pushed everything he had into the crystal in his chest: his thoughts, his will, everything he could muster. You have to help. Make her better.

The crystal flared in his chest. His eyes snapped open. A rush of white light burst down his arm, cascading like a waterfall towards the green crystal until it reached its surface, engulfing it. The green ore pulsated in his hand. He gripped it tightly as its green aura overtook the white light completely, changing his hands into a silky green. The light continued to brighten until the tent was bathed in a brilliant green glow that banished every shadow. He watched as the bruises on Kyrie’s body faded and the cuts shrank and healed in moments. Her swollen abdomen began to look normal and color flushed her pale face.

Dr. Osho rustled outside of the tent. His fingers danced on the monitor beside her bed. “He’s – He’s healing her! Her organs … I don’t – I can’t believe this.”

Gabriel smiled at Osho. His arm began to shake as the brightness of the green ore faded. Alarms on all the machines behind Kyrie beeped wildly. She began to shiver and convulsed as she fell into shock. The green glow surrounding his hand faded, changing back to white and retreating up his arm.

“Gabriel!” Osho shouted at him. “Don’t stop! Her body can’t handle the shock of transition!”

“Focus, Gabriel!” Nate growled.

Gabriel’s mind fought with the ore, he forced the white light to stop its retreat. It snaked back down his forearms again, rushing to meet the green shard he clung to. The tent surged with the green aura again. Kyrie lay still and the beeping stopped. He pushed himself to the limit of his strength, holding on for several more minutes. A thundering crack split the air. Gabriel crumpled to the floor, falling hard into the bedside cabinet. The room filled with darkness as the green ore slipped from his limp grasp. He was so dizzy.

The edge of the tent rustled. “Nate! Wait! The ore is still exposed.” Gabriel heard Osho’s voice as if from a great distance. He stayed on the floor, waiting for the room to stop spinning.

Dr. Osho slipped into the tent, wearing a protective white suit. He helped Gabriel off the floor then nodded at Nate. “He’s okay.”

Osho carefully collected the ore, returned it to the metal box and shut the lid. He signaled for Nate to turn on the fans above them. They roared with power as they pulled any toxicity out of the small space. Gabriel smiled at Kyrie, and stepped out of the tent, still unsteady, and collapsed into Nate’s arms. Osho removed his helmet and sat on the edge of the bed as he pulled off his gloves. He touched his daughter’s face.

Her smile sent him into tears. She kissed his hand and reached towards his face. “I’m okay, Dad.”

Nate pulled Gabriel’s arm over his shoulder. “You alright?”

“I’m fine.” He leaned heavily into Nate. “Just need some time.”

“You sure?” Nate straightened him back up. “Nothing feels weird?”

He smiled at Nate. “No.” he touched the crystal in his chest, “It’s alright.”

“Thank you!” Osho rushed over to Gabriel and hugged him.

Gabriel steadied himself and patted the short man on the back. “I’m just glad it worked.”

Osho wiped his eyes and stepped back from him. “Your father would be very proud of you.”

My father?

Chapter Twenty-Seven

“What about my father?” Gabriel’s heart skipped a beat.

“Damn it, Osho.” Nate glared at the doctor.

“Nathaniel, I understand your desire to keep him safe, but he deserves to know.” Dr. Osho put his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder. “I’m sure Calvin regretted never being able to tell him himself. Let’s speak in my office.”

Gabriel still leaned on Nate.  He could barely walk as he stepped out into the hall.

“You alright?” Nate let him stand a bit on his own.

“What did Dad have to do with him?” Gabriel wanted to know.

Nate didn’t say a thing, he glanced back into the room and huffed, clearly annoyed at Osho.

“Nate.” Gabriel stared at him.

“This was a conversation I did not want to have.” Nate stared back at him.

“Why not?” Gabriel demanded.

“Because you’re like your father.” Nate half-smiled. “You’re not one to walk away from a fight.”

What did Nate mean by that?

Osho exited the room as several members of a medical team arrived. “I want someone in there at all times. Update me regularly.” He waved them inside to Kyrie. “You two follow me.”

A short walk later, they entered Dr. Osho’s office again. Gabriel couldn’t wait any longer. “How do you know my father?”

“Calvin and I started this whole place after he discovered the ore in what used to be Iran. This research facility is owned by the Ingenis Pluris.” Osho smiled at him and shut the door. “The IP has been continuing your father’s research since his death. I haven’t seen you since you were a little boy, sitting in your father’s lap.”

“I don’t understand.” Gabriel quickly took a seat in front of the desk. Nate sat beside him. “Why wasn’t I told?”

Nate sighed. “Your mother wanted to keep you and your brother safe, and she felt the only way was to never be a part of this again. She didn’t want anything to happen to you boys, and she knew you would be at risk if you were connected in any way to what your father did. I moved in to watch over the family. Your dad wanted to make sure everyone was safe.”

“Safe from whom?”

 “Dr. Cymru. From TERA.” Nate’s response was blunt.

Gabriel sighed. “Adin.”

“Yeah,” Nate reached out and gripped Gabriel’s knee, “we know.”

Gabriel rolled his eyes. “I left him there.”

“You didn’t have a choice.” Nate shrugged.

“Dr. Cymru knew about your father, which means he knew there was a possibility that you and Adin might have inherited his unique connection to the ore.” Dr. Osho cleared his throat and settled in behind his desk.

“Connection? What are you talking about? I’m the one with the crystal in my chest, not Adin. And Dad died from accidental ore radiation! What are you talking about?”

Nate stared at him. “Your father was like you. He was immune to the ore’s effects. It could not have killed him.”

He stared at Nate. “You’re saying Dr. Cymru killed him?”

“No … the man’s a coward. But he most definitely had a hand in it.” Nate’s nostrils flared.

Osho sighed. “Once the ore was found, it didn’t take long for Cymru’s good intentions of helping humanity to give way to a hunger for power and control. Calvin disagreed with the choice of direction. The experiments Cymru conducted on people were horrid. His desire to become like Calvin drove him to do unspeakable things. The kidnappings and illegal experiments became too much for your dad. He broke away from Cymru and started working on his own research. He started to pass vital information to me. He then began to send me shipments of ore – just a single crystal or two for study. We needed to increase our knowledge and test our theories. It got riskier as he redirected more and more shipments, off-loading some of the ore before the shipments got to their true destination. Soon afterwards, his ‘accident’ happened.” Osho sighed. “Gabriel, your father didn’t die due to exposure of the ore. Someone had him killed.”

Gabriel stared at the floor in silence, his mind whirling as he tried to process this new information. Too many ‘what ifs’ filled him. He didn’t understand. Why didn’t his father just leave, why risk everything? He felt numb.

“Look,” Nate put a hand on his shoulder, “I loved your dad. He was my best friend. I hated his decision as much as anyone, but I can see now that he needed to do this for all of us. He didn’t want his discovery to be what enslaved all of mankind to a corrupt few. He needed to put things right.” Nate turned and opened his arms to their surroundings. “Look around you! It made a difference. This whole organization fights for the same thing he did. We are searching every day for ways to utilize the ore safely. I know you don’t understand this now, but in time you’ll see how his decision shaped our future. Sooner or later you’re going to have to accept that what he did was right. Be proud of that!”

“Does Adin know the truth?” He continued to stare at the floor.

“Your brother chose his own path. Did he know everything? No. But your mother believed he knew enough to decide for himself. And I think that she thought he would be safer working with TERA then against them. Especially with Dr. Cymru so interested in him.” Nate rubbed the short beard on his face.

Osho shifted at his desk, stood up and came around to lean against the front of it. “I examined you when you first arrived. The crystal seemed to be inactive, but you were stable. I figured you had a connection to it, but I never would have guessed how much. Your father had a special reaction to the ore as well. When he first went to the discovery site, he said it was as if he could feel the ore beneath the ground, as if it called to him.”

Gabriel looked up at the doctor. “Could he control it?”

Osho shrugged. “I don’t know. The ore’s energy acted like a homing signal to him. When it ‘called’, he felt it. He was meant to find it – no one else. Soon after the first chunks of ore were unearthed, we found out about its negative effects. Many of the initial team were quite weakened by the ore and had to leave the site. Some even died. But your father could handle it without any protection. That’s why the ‘accident’ at TERA didn’t make any sense. Your father could not have died from ore exposure. Soon afterwards, messages started to arrive from Calvin – he had planned for his own death. I followed his instructions  and strengthened the IP. Calvin knew Cymru was consumed by his relationship to the ore. No matter how much time Cymru spent studying the ore, Calvin always knew it better. He demanded to study your father – to find the secret in his DNA, but your father refused and Cymru was enraged. After that, their research began to go down separate paths. Cymru demanded that Calvin turn over his findings. Of course, your father refused. Soon afterwards Calvin was discovered dead.”

“What was Dad researching that was so important to Dr. Cymru?”

“The white and black ore. The white ore was one of the rarer finds Calvin unearthed. If I remember correctly, there were only a couple of crystals found in total and all in the same small area. We assumed they were part of a larger piece that broke.” Osho moved back to his chair. “Calvin removed them from TERA  without much of a problem as they didn’t seem to have any power. I see now it had a different purpose. It needed something. A master. A symbiote.” Osho smiled at him. “You.”

Gabriel sat silent, pondering Dr. Osho’s words. Why me?

“The black ore is a mystery as well. Calvin had made a breakthrough, but his discovery died with him, unfortunately.” Nate shrugged.

“How much do you know about TERA’s activities?” Osho tilted his head at Gabriel.

“Well, just what Adin told me. He talked a lot about free energy and solving the energy crisis.” Gabriel frowned. “Why?”

Osho shifted in his chair. “Whether this comes as a shock or not, there are certain things you need to know about TERA’s operations. Everything they claim about the ore is a lie to hide their secrets. The ore is not sustainable forever. It does not possess an unlimited source of power. The ore’s energy can be used up, and once that happens there is only one way to recharge it.” Osho cleared his throat. “The only known way to recharge the ore is to trade it for human life – something they have been practicing for years to keep the ore replenished. When a human is exposed to the ore, it slowly recharges itself, ultimately killing the person. It doesn’t produce dangerous radiation, the way Uranium does. It steals life energy. But TERA has made people believe that ore radiation is dangerous in order to account for the deaths that they bring about purposefully.” Osho drew a deep, angry breath. “Experiments were done on other life forms – lab rats, plants, bacteria – with no success. It is believed the ore draws on what is commonly known as our soul. The site in Iran where we found the ore was believed to have been the site of Eden. Many believe the ore effects were the curse that God placed on the Garden of Eden after man was banished from it.

“Dr. Cymru has been conducting experiments on humans and the ore ever since they discovered it. He’s been surgically implanting ore into individuals, trying to force some kind of evolution. Individuals such as yourself, and my daughter, are anomalies. Your genetic code is no different than Nate’s or mine, but you have an inherent relationship to the ore. Cymru is searching for the reason why. This makes you a target for not only them but others as well.”

Gabriel could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and a chill went down his spine. “Others?”

“The Church of Humanity, for one.” Nate looked at him.

Gabriel remembered the priests that tried to kill them. “Oh, I’ve already met them.”

“What?” Nate stared at him.

“They tried to kill me a week ago – I was saved by another ore user.” Gabriel looked back and forth between them. “She said I needed to find a Sphere. Does that mean anything to either of you?”

They shook their heads.

“I’ll put Kyrie on it once she’s up and about. If a Sphere exists, she’ll find it.” Nate grunted. “The Church hopes to use the ore for the good of mankind, but individuals like yourself are considered abominations. ‘Ore users’ as they’re called. For years, they have either exiled or executed the users they find, depending on their strength. Weaker users are called exiles and left to live out their lives with the monks; any contact with the ore is forbidden.”

“This is ultimately why we exist – to balance the equation.” Osho nodded at Nate. “Your father believed in a world where the ore would save us, not enslave us. We seek to find other means of re-energizing the ore without trading it for human life, to find harmony with mankind and the ore. The more the world uses the ore, the more people will need to die in order to keep it recharged. We need to break that cycle.”

“Gabriel.” Nate spoke up. “Back at the ranch – up in the loft – there was a strongbox. I went back to look for it, but it’s missing. Do you remember seeing it?”

“Yeah, the chest is at Adin’s. I took it there after the storm. I didn’t think you were alive and it somehow seemed important.”

Nate breathed a sigh of relief, and sat back in his chair. “Smart. We need to get it before Cymru clues in that it’s there.” He looked meaningfully at Osho.

“Thank you for that information, Gabriel. We need to discuss some things in private. Could you excuse us?” Osho pointed to the door politely.

“Get some rest. We can talk more later.” Nate patted him on the shoulder.

Gabriel’s heart was heavy. The news of what had happened to his father just seemed surreal. He wished Nate would have told him before, but he understood Nate’s reasons. Everything was too connected. Gabriel wandered back to his room after a dinner alone in the small cafeteria. Evening had already passed and the facility was bathed in the light of a new moon. It cast an eerie glow along the white walls. Everything was quiet as he approached his room. He paused a moment at the door to Kyrie’s room then, looking behind him, he slid into the room. The clear tent was gone from over her bed and only a single machine remained.

“Kyrie?” He spoke softly. “You awake?”

“Yes.” She smiled widely at the sound of his voice. “Sneaking around, are we?”

“Ah … it’s late. I just wanted to know how you were doing.” He came over to the bed.

“Much better, thanks to you.” She breathed deeply.

He smiled, glad the room was dark.

“So … you’re Gabriel Roberts, Uncle Calvin’s son.”

“Uncle?” He blinked.

“Sort of …” She giggled. “Your dad was around a lot.”

What? He was shocked. He’d spent time enough with her to be called ‘uncle’ when he was never home?

“He came to see my father a lot when I was growing up. I would sit on the floor playing as they talked about the ore, TERA, and the IP.” She smiled. “He was the one who found out I had a relationship to the green ore.”

“Really?” He forgot about his jealousy and listened to her story.

“Yes, he had a small shard in his bag one day when he came over, and I found it. He came out and I was playing with it. I remember that he just watched as a scrape on my knee healed over in minutes. Your father felt responsible, you know, for finding the ore and giving it over to TERA. All the horrible things Dr. Cymru did were because of what he had discovered. That defined everything he did. He wanted to change the ore’s fate.”

Gabriel sighed loudly. “And he died for it. Not sure how that changed anything for the good.”

“But it did.” She rolled to her side to face him, carefully moving her IV out of the way. “His death had a purpose … just like your life has a purpose.”

“Purpose? Hah!” He looked away. “Things are a mess; I don’t even know which way is up lately. You know, a couple of weeks ago all I had to do was pick a college … that was the biggest decision in my life. Now … I don’t have any purpose …”

“You do have a purpose … and a purpose gives you direction. Just remember that and you will know which way to go.” She leaned back comfortably on her pillow and closed her eyes with a slight grin on her face.

He stood there in silence, thinking about everything that had happened in the last month. Was there truly a purpose in all of it? His heart was heavy and thoughts of Adin crept in. Had he abandoned his brother to TERA? Gabriel felt like a twig caught in a strong river – swept along from one danger to another with no hopes of finding a path.

“Kyrie?” He looked over at her.

“Hmmm.” She was drifting to sleep.

“Goodnight.” He left the room quietly.

Lying on his back in his own room, he rested his hand on the cool edge of the ore in his chest. Feeling too exhausted to find any more answers, he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Gabriel arose early the next morning and found a clean set of cargo pants and a plain black T-shirt laid out for him. He piled his old clothes on a chair in the corner of the small room. Staring at them he realized that this was all he owned. Everything was either covered in dirt and blood or lost to circumstance. Was this his future – wandering from place to place, leaving no traces behind?

“Morning,” Nate interrupted his thoughts as he stepped into the room. “You sleep okay? You must have a lot on your mind.”

“Yesterday was a heavy day.” Gabriel plopped down on his bed.

“I bet.” Nate sat down on a chair.

“Why’d you never tell me?” He wanted to know. “I could have handled it.”

“You could have.” Nate sighed. “Not sure I could have.”

“What do you mean?”

“Gabriel, you don’t give up. You’re stubborn and a natural fighter.” Nate smiled at him. “If I told you about all of this – you would have been the first in line to sign up, especially if you knew about your father’s connection.” Nate shook his head. “Your mother would have killed me.”

Gabriel chuckled. It was true. All of it. “All I have is a bunch of dirty clothes … What does that even mean?” He sat down on the bed and pointed at the pile of laundry.

Smirking, Nate motioned towards them. “It means there’s more to life than just stuff.”

Gabriel nodded and sighed. “So, what now?”

“That’s up to you. Everyone needs to find their own path.” Nate shrugged. “I would like you to stay with the IP and me until we get a better understanding of what’s happening.”

Gabriel nodded in agreement. “You mentioned the chest yesterday.”

“We need to get it. You still have access to Adin’s apartment?”

“No, but I know my way around the place.”

“Good enough for me.” Nate stood up. “I’m hoping things will be easy. I figure we can enter the apartment through a service entrance. I have already arranged covers for us to get in… then we can just head straight to his apartment. In and out fast … no problems.”

“Wait. I’m going with you?” His heart skipped a beat.

“You got a problem with that?” Nate grinned at him. “Everyone’s looking for you. So, I figure that the best way I can keep you alive is to keep you with me.”

“You think Adin’s still there?”  He held his breath.

“No.” Nate shook his head. “I expect they will try and trap us in the apartment and call for help once your thumb touches the lock.”

“Then why are we going?”

“The chest is important. It’s a key to something we need. If Cymru knew it was there …” Nate chuckled. “Anyhow, the best way to get out of a trap is to set one of your own.” He grinned slyly.

“I hope you have a plan?” He trusted Nate.

“I’ve called in a favor or two.” Nate winked and pushed him towards the door. “Let’s move.”

They travelled out of the facility in a plain white van, driving under a canopy of trees. The gravel road led to a gate with a small guard shack. Nate was quickly recognized by the guard and waved through. They passed two more checkpoints, increasing in size and defensive strength.

“Where are we?” Gabriel stared at the landscape of pine trees and thick brush.

“In the mountains, west of Denver.”

“So, this is what you do?” he asked after seeing the guards’ response to Nate at the security points.

“This is what I do.” Nate slowly nodded his head.

“I always thought you were a good rancher.” Gabriel opened his window, letting the smell of the woods fill the cab.

“I was. I am. It was my home.” Nate’s mouth tightened as they continued along the gravel road.

“Well, at least we’re together again.” He smiled and jabbed Nate’s arm.

Nate reached over and squeezed his shoulder. “Absolutely, let’s not change that anytime soon.”

“You never talked much about the army.” The bumpy gravel road ended and they pulled onto a paved road heading towards the freeway.

“Not much to say. You learn to leave your memories behind. Leave them with the dead. Otherwise, you go crazy.” Nate half-smiled at him.

“I guess I never thought about it that way.” As a kid, Gabriel had loved to hear Nate’s stories – the glorious victories – but those were just stories. He left it alone. “What about starting at TERA?”

“I was a Ranger in the Army. The only real option after you leave is working security. I started with some small jobs … escorts, protection … little things. It’s all I ever knew, and I never thought to get a real job like your dad. Anyhow, I ended up at TERA as a regular and that’s when I met your dad.”

“That must have been interesting.” Gabriel smiled at the thought of their first exchange considering they were such opposites.

Nate laughed. “He was always on the move, couldn’t sit still. Half the time he never had permission to be digging around in someone else’s backyard, but it didn’t stop him. The pay was good, so I started to book more and more missions with him. I started to get to know him. What he was all about.”

“Sounds like he was a real pain!” He smiled widely at the thought of his Dad ordering Nate around.

“He was. He kept taking us into rough areas, one after another. No island paradises for him. But then we found the ore and things started changing – real fast. One day he said to me ‘This is a mistake … I never should have dug this stuff up.’ He was so mad at himself. Everything shifted in his mind. He started misdirecting shipments – setting up hidden caches of ore all over the place. He started lying on reports … I had half a mind to turn him in, but I trusted him. Things caught up to us quickly though. I was put on another team by Cymru and, a couple of weeks later, his accident happened. I should have stayed with him.” Nate went silent.

“You miss him?” Gabriel stared straight ahead to the road.

“Of course. A couple of days after his death I got a letter from him telling me what he needed me to do. He knew it might happen. I left TERA and came to the ranch. He was certain Cymru would direct some kind of punishment at the family. I’d be damned if I was going to let anything happen to your mom or either of you boys. Years went by and nothing happened. Cymru didn’t make a move on anything at the ranch, but he watched it like a hawk for years. Once I felt you all were safe, I started looking into things. I remembered your dad mentioned his relationship with Dr. Osho … so I tracked him down and signed up for the IP.”

“Why did you do it? Why didn’t you just stay with us … I mean, I know you stayed, but you could have left it alone.”

“I could have, but I wanted to continue what your dad had started with the IP.” Nate kept his eyes focused on the road. “You live a life like I do long enough, you crave that feeling. Standing up for something bigger than yourself. That was what your Dad was doing. I guess I didn’t want to lose that.”

They travelled the rest of the way in silence. The lights of Denver winked on in the distance as the sun set. Gabriel thought of Adin as they moved through the busy city. The streets were full of hurried people finishing their day-to-day lives with no thought of the ore and the horrors it caused. He envied them. Would he ever get the chance to lead a normal life again?

They pulled into the Ion Pinnacle apartments and entered through the service entrance. A guard approached the driver’s side window.

“Ignore the guard.” Nate grabbed an ID badge from the dashboard and handed it to the guard. “How you doing?”

Gabriel looked out the window, trying not to make eye contact with the guard.

“Your ID matches the appointment. How long do you plan on being?” The guard handed him back the badge.

“An hour? You never really know working with these optic lines.” Nate shrugged at him.

“I’ll mark down an hour. If you go over, you need to come back and see me for more time. Who’s that with you? The book didn’t mention another person.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. He’s one of the apprentices.” Nate’s voice sank to a whisper. “Boss’s kid. Pretty useless. Didn’t have much of a choice.”

The guard nodded. “Alright, just be quick. Keep it under an hour. Otherwise, security will come looking for you. You can go ahead once we scan the truck. Second floor service elevator will be unlocked.”

“Second floor. No problem.” They pulled ahead onto the scanning platform as the guard walked away.

Nate removed a pistol from the bag beside him. He dismantled it in seconds, handing everything to Gabriel, but the clip. “Put them in the glove box.”

Gabriel followed the instructions, dumping the metal pieces into the small space. “Done.”

“Stay put.” Nate jumped out the door and hollered at the guard. Gabriel twisted around in his seat to see Nate waving at the guard.

“Hey!” The guard rushed out of the shack, yelling at him. “You need to stay in the truck during the scan!”

“Sorry!” Nate shrugged. “I just wanted to make it an hour and a half, to be safe. Saves me from coming back down here.”

“Fine, whatever. Get back in the truck.” The guard pointed to the vehicle and stomped back to the shack.

“What was that all about?” Gabriel asked as Nate got back in the cab.

“The scan would pick up the bullets in the clip, and the gun for that matter, but now it will just look like machinery parts.” Nate kept his eyes on the side mirror.

“What did you do with the clip?” Gabriel fidgeted, twisting to see the guard shack again.

“Stop moving and face forward.” Nate poked at him. “The clip’s on the ground outside.”

Gabriel stared straight ahead. “What?”

“Relax, I’m going to pick it right back up, once the scan is done.” Nate popped the door open and stepped out.

Gabriel couldn’t help but turn around and watch.

“Hey man, you know what? An hour is fine.” Nate hollered at the guard.

“Sir! Get back in the veh –” The guard looked down at the screen in front of him. “You’re fine, just go.”

Nate jogged back towards the van, popping down for a split second and jumping back into the cab. “Piece of cake.”

They drove up the concrete ramp and looped around the structure, pulling into a large parking area. The space was painted in yellow, with the number two all over the walls. Nate pulled the van into a stall close to the elevators and quickly reassembled his pistol. They exited the vehicle and walked briskly to the service elevators. Gabriel tried to stay calm, but his nerves were tense. Nate punched a key code into the panel on the wall, opening the two steel elevator doors. Inside, another panel rolled out near the elevator’s holographic buttons. Its small blue screen outlined a hand.

“Do I need to –” Gabriel hovered his hand over it.

“No. I don’t want them on to us yet.” Nate slipped on a black glove covered with small wires and metallic pads.

The palm of the glove touched the screen and emitted a series of clicking sounds. The screen turned green. Nate removed his hand, leaving an imprint of a palm and fingerprints on the screen.

The panel flashed the image and replied with an automated voice. “Welcome, Josh Harper.” The screen listed the name of a cable optic company and an employee number.

“Neat.” Gabriel whispered and pushed the button for the eighth floor.

Nate stepped out into the hallway first. Gabriel followed. The hall was completely empty. He looked up and down the halls, getting his bearings. “This way.”

He led Nate through a series of hallways until he found the door to number 871.

Nate pulled an electronic lock kit from his bag. “Alright, let’s see how well you remember things. Pop the lock.”

Gabriel smiled. Nate was always trying to keep him on his toes. He popped the panel on the lower edge of the door handle, attaching  each of the leads to the wires just inside. A touch on the screen, and the scan started. He waited as it broke through the system and unlocked the door.  As the lock on the apartment opened, Nate slowly opened the door with his foot. He slid inside and he moved through the apartment, weapon drawn. Gabriel shut the door behind them and stared around the room, a tight knot in his stomach. Adin wasn’t there.

“Where’s the box?” Nate tucked the pistol back into his bag.

“Ah … back bedroom on the right.” Gabriel pointed towards it.

Nate disappeared down the hall.

Gabriel studied the floor to ceiling glass wall just off the den. It had been fixed.  Perfectly. There was no evidence that he had broken through it. His mouth hung open. He slowly moved through the kitchen. The counters, the sink full of dishes. Everything was the same as it had been when he left. Nothing had moved. A bowl sat on the counter with hardened food in it. It was the last thing Gabriel had eaten, before TERA showed up. Spinning around, he looked for something new in the room – some kind of change to prove that Cymru had left Adin alone. His heart sank. Where was Adin?

“Let’s go.” Nate headed straight for the door, bag in one hand and the strongbox in the other.

“Wait!” He shook his head. “Everything is the same … This is the same bowl of food I left here.” He pointed at the dish. “They took him.”

“Forget about it …,” Nate said harshly. “We need to get ready!”

“No, they took him.” He moved towards the hallway, his voice increasing in volume. “I thought that if I left, they would leave him alone. If I was gone, then Cymru wouldn’t touch Adin.”

“Gabriel!” Nate’s voice rose. “We know they took him – we’ll get him back.” Nate pulled on the door. “They’ve locked down the apartment. They know we are inside.” Nate dropped the chest and dug through his black duffle bag. “Time for the trap.”

“What … I …” Gabriel rushed to the door and pressed his thumb into the lock. “What do we do?”

Nate smiled as he found what he was looking for. “My job. I need you to focus. Try to act normal … A guard is going to come through this door in three minutes.”

“What? How do you know that?”

“Like I said, a trap within a trap.” Nate pulled out two small black bars that were about a foot long each. He placed one over the door frame; the other he set on the floor just far enough away for the door to swing open easily. “Time to charge them.”

A high-pitched sound resonated in Gabriel’s ears, but quickly disappeared. “What are those?”

“Sonic disruptors.” Nate carefully flipped the switch on the unit stuck over the doorframe. “Once they charge – in about a minute – whoever walks through this door is going to get blasted by a powerful sonic wave. Basically blowing their ear drums and knocking them out.”

“What about us?” He stared at Nate, wondering whether or not to cover his ears.

“As long as we are on this side of the device, we’re fine. Just be ready.” Nate moved behind the kitchen counter and knelt down. Gabriel dropped down beside him, but Nate shook his head. “I’m hiding. You need to look normal so they come inside.”

Gabriel’s head felt scrambled. “Right.” He tried to stay focused but wanted to know more about Adin.

“How long have you known?” He stared at the door, waiting for it to swing open.

“Ten days.” Nate’s voice was quiet behind the counter.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He could feel the sting of tears on his eyes.

“Because I don’t know whose side he’s on. I couldn’t risk you trying to contact him. I’m sorry. It just had to be that way.”

He breathed deeply, his chest quivering as he fought to keep control of his emotions. “We need to find him.”

“We haven’t stopped looking.” Nate shifted as the door lock clicked from the outside. “Get ready,” he whispered.

The door swung open. Two guards rushed in beside each other, barely fitting through the doorway. A pop echoed in the room and Gabriel’s ears started to ring. The two men dropped to the ground instantly. Nate popped out from behind the counter, rushed over and disarmed them both. Gabriel joined him, unsure of what to do.

Nate slipped off a silver disk from the back of one guard’s head, sliding it behind his own ear. “Apartment breached, searching the premises.” Nate impersonating the guard. He gestured for Gabriel to help him collect all the electronics on the guards.

Silently, he frisked the men, looking for anything he recognized and handing them to Nate who dropped them into a reflective black bag he had pulled from his vest.

“Moving to back bedrooms.” Nate continued to impersonate the guard.

“What now?” Gabriel mouthed the words.

Nate pointed him to the door. “Target is barricaded in. Give us a couple of minutes to collect him. He’s alone.”

Gabriel poked his head into the hallway – it was empty. He called back over his shoulder, still trying to be quiet. “No one.”

Nate slipped off the silver disk and dropped it into the strange black reflective bag. “Alright. We got payment. Grab the chest and let’s move.”

Gabriel didn’t understand what Nate was talking about, but he knew the hall was full of cameras. “They’re going to see us.” He hoisted the strongbox in his arms.

Nate looked down at his watch. “Not in 26 seconds. The whole floor is about to be hit by a jammer. It should disrupt the video feed so we can slip past. Won’t last long though, maybe two minutes. We need to get to another floor where the elevators aren’t locked down.”

Gabriel waited as Nate counted down the last five seconds and signaled for them to leave. They sprinted down the hall, keeping close to together. Another two hallways, a right then a left and they were there.

“Damn it!” Nate shook the door handle. “The jammer may have locked us in.” He dug around in his black duffle bag.

“What now?” Gabriel put the chest down on its side.

“Give me a second.” Nate pulled out a strange looking roll of tape. He ripped three pieces of tape carefully off of it. He covered each of the large hinges on the door and placed a final piece beside the handle. He tossed the roll back into his bag and pulled out a strange flashlight. It glowed blue across the surface of each piece of tape – and each one began to bubble.

“Grab the chest!” Nate pointed at it and stood back from the door.

“What’s that smell?” Gabriel’s nose twitched. The air had become thick with a horrid odor.

“Our way out.” Nate pointed at the hinges.

The tape – some sort of acid – was eating its way through the wooden finish of the door and in no time had started to work on the steel hinges and lock. After waiting another couple of seconds, Nate began forcefully kicking the door – hammering it again and again until it buckled. A final blow and it came crashing down into the stairwell.

Nate walked over the broken door. “Stay close to me!”

He vaulted down the stairs, taking several at time. Gabriel struggled to keep up, the chest swinging awkwardly back and forth in his arms as he aimed for each step – trying not to trip. He made it down two floors and caught up to Nate who was peeking into the hallway behind the steel door.

“Looks like one guard on this floor.” Nate glanced at his watch. “He’ll pass back this way in about 30 seconds.”

“Then what?” Gabriel sat on the steps, to catch his breath, the chest resting on his knees.

Nate didn’t say anything and disappeared behind the steel grey door.

“Wait!” Gabriel hopped up and caught the door with his foot.

Nate sprinted down the short hall and met the unaware guard in the middle of the hallway. Without missing a step, Nate slipped around behind the guard – covering his mouth. He accurately drove his right heel down on the man’s knee, resulting in a sickening crunch. The guard dropped to the floor in pain, toppling over on the broken knee. Nate caught the man’s neck in a chokehold and held him until he passed out, then dropped the man to the floor and continued towards the elevator. “Keep up!”

Gabriel reached the elevator and set the chest down. Nate grabbed his hand, pressing it awkwardly against the blue screen on the elevator panel. The screen flashed red. Locked.

“Damn, they acted quicker than I thought.” Nate slammed the wall of the elevator. “We’re locked in.”

“What do we do now?”

“Let me think.” Nate tapped the button to close the door of the elevator.

Gabriel’s patience was disappearing. Voices filled the hallway. Nate put his finger over his mouth, signaling him to keep quiet. Both of Gabriel’s hands were clenched, his nails digging into his own skin as they waited, trying to be invisible to whoever was outside the elevator doors.

The elevator suddenly began to descend.

“Thank God.” Gabriel looked up at the numbers counting down. He grinned at Nate who pulled a pistol out of his bag and pulled back the slide.

“Someone else is moving the elevator.” Nate readied himself, pointing his gun at the doors.

“Not good.” Gabriel wasn’t sure what to expect. He took a deep breath and readied the ore. A wave of heat rolled across his body.

The doors opened with a ding to a concrete underground. Nate held his gun to the face of the guard standing in the doorway.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Gabriel froze, his eyes bouncing between Nate and the guard. Unsure if he should attack.

“Glad to see you recognize me.” The guard looked relieved. “You don’t have much time. Your vehicle is marked. Abandon it and get outside the perimeter.”

Nate lowered his gun. “You’re lucky I remembered that day at the restaurant.”

“Well, I’m not bleeding, so I guess it made it a little tougher for you.” The guard stepped into the elevator. “Get out.”

“What is Riley after?” Nate pushed Gabriel out of the elevator.

“Ask him yourself. There’s a spray in a bag by the back tire of the blue sedan outside. Use it. This is the only floor with street access. Everywhere else is locked down. Two full teams just arrived from TERA – they know you’re here. Good luck.”

The doors shut and Gabriel sighed. “Who was that?”

Nate swung his bag onto his back and clipped it into place. “One of Riley’s men.” He ran over to the blue sedan, searching the tires.

“Riley?” Gabriel chased after him, totally confused.

“Bishop Riley. For once I am happy that the Church is around.” Nate scooped up the bag and pulled out the spray can. “Close your eyes.”

“The Church!” Gabriel barely shut his mouth as the spray covered him. He tried not to breathe, but was running out of air. As Nate finished, Gabriel took two steps away from him, coughing  as he sucked in some of the horrid stuff. “You called the Church?”

“Yes, I did.” Nate started to spray down his legs and arms.

“What the hell for?” Gabriel couldn’t believe Nate. “You forget they tried to kill me?”

“Nope.” Nate tossed the spray can to Gabriel. “Get the rest of me.”

All he could do was trust Nate at this point. “What is this stuff?” He sprayed Nate down.

Nate talked through the spray. “It’s a thermal blocker. They use infra-red to keep track of people down here.” Nate closed his eyes as Gabriel sprayed his face.

“Can’t we wait them out?” Gabriel finished covering Nate’s head with the spray.

“Too risky. The street is our best chance to lose them.” Nate pointed at a ramp, leading upwards to the next level. “If we can get to street level without being seen, we stand a chance.”

Hunched down low, Gabriel followed as Nate darted between the vehicles along the concrete walls. They stuck to the darkness, avoiding any open, lighted areas. They weaved between the cars – even slipping past two armed TERA soldiers who were circling through the underground parking and checking everyone for ID badges.

Nate pointed. “There it is.”

Gabriel glanced over the hood of the car they were hiding behind. The gate was cluttered with TERA’s men.

“Too many.” Nate shook his head as the guards checked every vehicle that passed through the gate – scanning each of them before letting them in or out.

“Doesn’t look like we can hitch a ride out. They’re pretty backed up with that line of traffic. We need a distraction.”

Gabriel stared at the entrance, hope fading. There was no way they could sneak past the dozen guards.

“Stay put.” Nate shifted around behind the vehicle and disappeared from Gabriel’s view.

He kept watching the gate, waiting for Nate to come back with a plan.

“Turn around slowly!” Someone shouted from behind Gabriel. “East residential exit. On your knees – hands in front.” Gabriel twisted around to see a gun pointing at him.

His heart thumped in his chest as he dropped to his knees. The guard reached forward and draped a loose chain across his wrists. It came to life on its own and tightened around them. The guard suddenly jerked backwards, struggling. His weapon fell to the ground with a clang as Nate chopped his arm. Gabriel stood frozen. The guard glared at him, his eyes bulging as Nate’s arm tightened around his neck. Nate dropped the guard to the ground.

“Let’s get you out of –” Nate was tackled from behind – a massive body pinned him to the rough concrete. It was Anthony, the hulking guard who had coded Gabriel into the building.

Gabriel struggled against the chain binding his wrists. Nate got in a quick elbow to the side of Anthony’s head. “Go! Take the box and run!”

He didn’t want to listen to Nate, but more guards would arrive soon. Nate could take care of himself – he needed to get the strongbox to Osho. A blast of heat pulsed from his chest, as he snapped off his bindings. He grabbed the steel box and ran towards the concrete outer wall. Between the ceiling and the wall there was a small space. Not big enough for him, but it could fit the chest. He managed to get it far enough into the hole that it dropped outside the wall. He twisted to see Nate still fighting the giant.

Nate’s right fist drove into Anthony’s jaw, knocking the massive man to the ground. Anthony roared as he got back up and charged him. The beast picked Nate up off the ground – continuing his charge into the hood of a parked car. The fibro-steel cracked as Nate’s back slammed against it. Anthony held him there with one arm and hammered him with a closed fist – the barrage of strikes missing Nate as he scrambled to stay out of the way. A single blow finally connected, then another. Nate slumped against the hood, losing the fight. Anthony wrapped his huge hands tight around Nate’s throat. Gabriel sprinted towards the giant.

A blast of blood erupted out of Anthony’s massive back, ending the brawl. Nate crawled out from under the lifeless body and staggered to his feet, his face bloody. He leaned against the car, and coughed, spitting blood all over the ground. Gabriel barely caught Nate as he dropped to the ground. A spray of bullets pierced the car, exploding glass all over them. Two TERA gunmen rushed them, outfitted with automatic weapons and tactical armor. Nate returned fire. His shots slammed straight into the chest of one of the gunmen.  He staggered and dropped to one knee in pain. The other dove for cover behind a concrete column. Gabriel barreled towards a steel door set in the concrete wall.

The ground blurred beneath him as he sprinted. Gabriel dashed at the grayish steel rectangle – the only way he could see out. Before he knew it, he was only a dozen feet away. He braced for the impact, twisting his shoulder to hit the steel first. An explosion set his ears ringing as the steel frame ripped free from the thick concrete wall. It crashed to the ground outside, its warped shape bucking him free as it rocked back and forth. Pain drummed through him as he rolled on the ground, trying to get his feet back underneath him.

“What the hell was that?” Nate’s eyes were wide, as he lifted Gabriel off the pavement.

“We needed out!” Gabriel stood on his own in spite of the pain. “It looked like a door.”

“Where’s the strongbox?”

“Just up the path!” Gabriel pointed at the steel box resting on its side against the wall fifty feet away from them. Nate ran towards it, but dropped as a bullet hit him.

“Nate!” Gabriel screamed.

It was too late. They were quickly surrounded by armed guards from TERA.

Chapter Thirty

Six guards surrounded Gabriel as he sat outside the broken concrete wall of the parking area. His heart pounded in his chest, each beat drumming pain through his ribs. They dragged Nate over by his vest, and dropped him on the ground next to him. Nate clutched his shoulder and winced as he hit the rough payment.

“You alright?” Gabriel helped him sit.

“It passed through. I think it missed the bone.” Nate gritted his teeth.

“Shut up!” One of the guards stepped forward and nodded his chin at the other guards. “Secure them!”

One of the guards walked toward them, pulling two of the magnetic chains from his belt. His helmet jerked and the helmet’s material burst out the opposite side. His eyes froze as blood dripped down his face. A second later he collapsed – dead. The other guards stared at the body, stunned. Seconds later, more shots pierced the heads of the unprepared guards, killing them instantly. The two remaining guards fled for the cover of the concrete parking area. Only one of them made it, screaming “Sniper! Sniper!” into his wrist com.

A black van barreled down the alleyway, barely stopping long enough to let someone  scoop up the steel strongbox. It continued towards them – skidding to a stop as the van door popped open and a man with a mask over his face jumped out. “Get in!”

Gabriel helped him lift Nate into the van and dived in after him. The tires screeched as they pulled away, bouncing over the broken pieces of concrete scattered across the road.

The masked man pulled his hood off and pointed at Nate. “Get him fixed up!” He left Gabriel to try and figure out what to do as he climbed up into the passenger seat next to the driver. “Get to a safe house fast!”

Not sure what he should do, Gabriel stared at Nate. “What do you need?”

“Pills … side pouch … black vial and the small plastic box …” Nate pointed a shaky hand at his bag.

Gabriel fumbled around with the side pouch, finally unclipping it from Nate and dumping all of its contents onto the floor of the van. He grabbed the bottle of pills as the van cornered hard and the rest of the items slid out of reach. Nate popped the top off with one hand and drank from the pill bottle. He coughed and, in a few moments, the shaking stopped and his words became more coherent.

“Riley, I need some light!” Nate hollered and the cargo lamp flipped on. “Good … the black vial now … hand it to me.”

Gabriel handed it over while trying to keep all the items in a pile and stop them from sliding away. Nate removed one end, exposing a long thick needle. He jammed it into his wounded shoulder and cried out. His foot thumped against the ground, his eyes closed tight, as he fought the pain. Gabriel felt helpless.

“Help me out of my jacket.”

Gabriel carefully peeled the sticky fabric off of Nate’s shoulders.

“In the plastic box … there’s a tube of paste. It needs to go on the wound. Whatever you do, don’t touch it,” Nate instructed him.

“What is this stuff?” Gabriel opened the tube. His nose twitched as the strong smell filled the air. Squeezing it out onto the dark hole in Nate’s shoulder, he pulled his head back as it began to smoke. The air smelled like burnt meat.

“Ugh! What’s happening?” He watched as it bubbled and oozed in the wound.

“It’s a chemical that reacts with our blood by pulling the plasma to the surface to seal the wound. It stinks to high heaven, but it will seal the wound temporarily and stop the bleeding.” Nate waved the stench away with his hand.

“And the pills?” He pulled Nate forward in order to cover the back of the shoulder with more of the smelly paste.

“Adrenaline spikers. Stops me from passing out on you.”

“You’re going to be okay, then?” He focused on emptying the tube’s contents onto the wound.

“It will hold me together until I can get some proper treatment.” Nate leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. “My own little first aid kit … never leave home without it.”

The man from the passenger seat climbed back to join them. “Looks like you do good work, Gabriel. The name’s Riley.” He patted Gabriel on the back then turned to Nate. “You look like crap.”

“Aren’t you a bishop?” Nate grinned at him.

“Ah, just a title. You know that. Still, they saved me from myself so I owe God something.   I’m in the service, but still a sinner to the core. Now, your little favor wasn’t cheap – what do you have for me?” He tilted his head and grinned at Nate.

“You haven’t changed.” Nate laughed and pointed at his duffel bag. “Clipped just inside.”

“Let’s see.” Riley crawled around Gabriel to the duffel bag, pulling out the reflective black bag. “They still good?”

“Put them in right after we disabled the first two of TERA’s men. Should be perfect.” Nate hoisted himself up with his good arm.

“What are you talking about?” Gabriel looked from one to the other.

“The guards’ little toys here – radios, ear pieces, trackers – if you want to steal them, you gotta be ready. Some smart asshole designed a system to disable them remotely. Stops people like me from impersonating TERA’s men.”

“The bag blocks it.” Gabriel tapped the shiny surface.

“Exactly.” Riley smiled. “You see – information beats a bunch of soldiers any day, and you don’t get shot.” He pointed at Nate. “These will help us keep an eye on TERA.” Riley grinned. “Sit tight.” He returned to the seat up front.

“You two are friends?” Gabriel put all of the items back into Nate’s bag.

“Friends? No idea, but he’s there when I need him. My team rescued him after he was captured behind enemy  lines, back in the day. We found him half-insane and nearly beaten to death. That was almost fifteen years ago. The Church managed to put him back together, so he’s been with them ever since.” Nate tried to move his shoulder and grunted at the pain.

“Does he know about me?” Gabriel set the bag down on the chest, keeping his balance as the van shifted left. “Do they know what I am?”

“I don’t know,” Nate whispered. “The guard at the elevator is a ghost that works for Riley – I’ve bumped into him before. We’ll see what Riley knows.” The van stopped abruptly. “This must be our stop.”

Riley offered to stay with them until one of the Church’s doctors could patch Nate up, and then they would be on their own. The safe house was more of a room than any kind of house. Gabriel stared at the empty space and sighed. There was no furniture – it was simply a twelve by twelve room with no windows. A single bulb illuminated the room and a small fridge hummed in the corner. Despite the lack of basics, he was relieved to be somewhere safe for the moment.

“There’s a jug or two of clean water and rations. That’s about it. I need to check in with my teams. You’ll be safe here, just try to relax. I’ll be back.” Riley shut the door behind him. Nate put his shoulders against the wall and slid down to the floor.

Gabriel hoped it was true. He turned his attention over to the chest, dragging it across the floor towards Nate. He rubbed his hand across the top.  “So what is so important about this thing?”

“Reports by your father, locations of ore caches, things we will need soon,” Nate explained. “And something you might find familiar.”

Familiar? What could that be?

Nate reached into his shirt, pulling out his dog tags and a small key that dangled with them. He snapped the key free from the steel string and held it out to him. “Take a look. We are going to be here awhile, until things calm down.”

Gabriel slid the small key into the lock on the front of the chest. A mechanical buzz filled the room and a slight hiss came from the box, as an internal pressure seal was released. He opened the lid to reveal a set of files, some journals, and a strange looking alloyed rod. Puzzled, he looked to Nate. Nothing was familiar.

“Give me the rod.” Nate held his hand out for it. “Keep looking deeper … it isn’t going to jump out at you.”

Gabriel removed the files and journals, and stacked them on the dirty floor of the room. It couldn’t be. A small white crystal glowed weakly inside a polymer case. Without hesitation he picked it up and pulled it free. The small crystal came to life at his touch.

“Why did he have this?” He rotated the crystal in his hand.

“Not sure.” Nate gave a one-sided shrug. “There were only a few of them … maybe he knew how special they were. Anyhow, I figure the crystal’s yours now, seeing as you’re probably the only one who can use it.” He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes.

Gabriel traced his fingers along the smooth grooves and sharp angles of the crystal. Something about them seemed familiar. As he rolled it around in his hands, a pulling sensation came over him.

“Strange …” The small crystal vibrated with each beat of his heart.

“What’s that?”

“It isn’t reacting much.” He was disappointed. “But there’s something about it.”

“And?”

“It has a pull to it.” He was confused by the sensation coming from the ore. He held it closer to his body and the crystal shifted in his hand. “Look!” He was stunned by the movement.

Nate shook his head and closed his eyes again.

The piece of ore was acting like a magnet. Gabriel could feel it wanting to move. Determined to understand what had just happened, he held the crystal nearer to his chest. It teetered on its edge, as if something invisible was pulling it towards him. He continued drifting the new crystal towards himself. Inches away from him, it vibrated in the palm of his hand.

“Do you see this?” He held it out to Nate.

“Gabriel, my eyes are closed. I don’t care to see anything right now.”

He set the crystal down on his lap and lifted his shirt, tucking it under his chin. Rubbing his fingers across the smooth surface of his crystal, he noticed a small cove along the outside edge. He glanced at the crystal in his lap.  Was this a part of the one in his chest?

“I think they fit together.” He picked up the loose crystal, checking the shape once again.

“Gabriel, you’re imagining it.” Nate didn’t open his eyes. “If we went outside we could find two rocks from totally different places that would seem to fit together … it doesn’t mean anything.”

Annoyed by Nate’s comment, Gabriel kept tracing the piece in his hand. “But they were all found together, right?”

“I think so. It was a long time ago.”

Gabriel watched as the two pieces began pulsing in unison – without touching. The two must match. As he narrowed the distance between the two, he could feel the pull from the small crystal. Their pulsing lights grew brighter and they surged in unison.

He pushed the new crystal into the small cove on the shard in his chest, adjusting it slightly until it was just perfect. Immediately, the two shards glowed even more brightly. The light filled the small room. He let go of the crystal. The new crystal stuck to its larger counterpart. A pool of light burst from his chest, swirling tightly around the two pieces. He was electrified. His skin sizzled. The crystal sent waves and waves of energy crashing through his muscles, vibrating through his bones. He tried to cry out to Nate, but nothing left his mouth. The energy continued to swirl around his chest, burning his skin. A volcano erupted in his chest as the light grew brighter – like a mini sun burning a hole straight through him, searing his skin away.

“Gabriel!” Nate’s cry reached him through the intense light.

Gabriel clenched his teeth at the pain so hard, that he expected them to shatter at any moment. His rib cage split apart and his skin tore open. Paralyzed, he lay on the hard floor, unable to move.

“Gabriel!” Nate sounded frantic. Gabriel felt his grip as he tried to pull him free of the light.

Chapter Thirty-One

Nate was almost blinded by the glowing white light consuming Gabriel. He wasn’t sure what had happened, but he wasn’t going to just sit there. He groped along the floor as he crawled towards the source of the light. He forced his eyes open, and could just make out the outline of Gabriel’s limp arm on the floor.

“Gabriel!” He grabbed it, and yelled. Gabriel’s arm was like hot steel.

There was nothing he could do. He could only close his eyes and wait for it to stop. Something grabbed his leg and dragged him away from the burning light. The door outside was wide open.

“Come on! Get outside!” Riley pulled Nate onto his feet.

He stumbled down the steel steps away from the room. Riley slammed the door shut behind them and dragged Nate away from the entrance.

“Stop!” He pushed back against Riley, halting their retreat.

Riley’s eyes were wide and his face was nearly white. “No, we need to leave. He’s an ore user! He could blow this whole place up!”

“I can’t leave him! He’s my responsibility! I need to get back in there.” He stumbled towards the door, but Riley grabbed him by the shirt and twisted him around.

“He needs to burn out first – he could kill you if you stay there with him!”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve seen them lose control before. You can’t help him.” Riley let him go, ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “This is a problem, Nate! Damn it, I thought I recognized the kid.”

Nate pushed past Riley and sat on the metal steps. “You said he would burn out. How long?”

“A bit – I don’t time them.” Riley rubbed his hands together. “I hunt them.”

Nate glared at him. “You touch him and I kill you.”

“Don’t be an idiot.” Riley shook his head. “I’m not calling in a team, he’ll be safe.” Riley walked over and knelt down in front of him. “The Church is looking for him. Hard.”

“Why?”

“Because of what he is, and the fact that TERA wants him so badly. They’re putting a lot of resources into finding him – we aren’t going to allow TERA to have him.” Riley cleared his throat. “Our top priority is to get him first.”

“Why would the Church want Gabriel?” Nate shook his head.

“To kill him, to exile him. I don’t know. Maybe just to stop TERA from getting their hands on him.” Riley took a deep breath. “He’s an ore user. They’re dangerous, Nate.”

Nate shook his head. “Gabriel isn’t a danger to anyone.”

“Maybe not yet, but they get stronger the more they learn to control the ore. Listen to me – no one should have that kind of power. I’ve seen a fire user ignite the air in your lungs, a water user suck all the moisture out of a soldier’s eyes! It’s not human – they can’t be allowed to have that kind of power.”

“Still conducting witch hunts for those that are different from what you define as normal?” Nate shook his head. “Same old Church.”

“I don’t make the rules, I just try to follow them.”

“So where’s that leave us?” Nate stood up and pointed over his shoulder. “He’s like my own son. I’m not going to let you take him.”

Riley stayed silent, his foot tapping against the concrete.

“You brought me back from hell once – that kind of debt you can’t ever repay. I’ll take you to Sarge. He can patch you up.” Riley stood up. “I’ll find out why they want with him so bad. It’s the best I can do, but you need to keep him hidden.”

“I appreciate it. I’ll get him back to the IP.” Nate held out his hand to Riley.

Riley shook his hand. “Be careful, Nate. As long as you stay with him, you’ll be hunted. Even the IP isn’t safe anymore – if you want to keep him alive, you need to get him out of the country.”

Chapter Thirty-Two

Gabriel sat up and looked around. The room wasn’t familiar to him. How did he get here? The last thing he remembered was an immense pain – as if his chest was splitting open. He slid his hand under his shirt. Pulses of heat radiated across his palm as he touched the ore. It had worked! The two pieces of ore had forged into a single larger piece. He leapt from the old cot he was on, feeling especially alert.  His ears twitched at the muffled voices coming from behind the door. All of his senses were keener than normal.

His eyes picked up the details of everything in the room.  The cot was old and smelled – a touch of mould was growing in the fibers. It had patches of army emblems sewn over the torn cloth. They listed different platoons and companies from across the last fifty years. Nate wasn’t that old.

On the wall next to him was a tall dresser that looked like it had been discarded on the street in some rundown neighborhood. Half the varnish had been eaten away by time and the whole thing stood at a slight slant. The top of it was covered in dust and he guessed the drawers would be much the same – empty and forgotten. The room was more of a closet, no bigger than ten by ten. It was dimly lit by a glass light bulb. He was surprised it even worked. Turning to the only door in the room, he grabbed the handle and pushed it open.

Nate was bare-chested and hunched over the back of a small wooden chair. A large bald man wearing blue surgical gloves pulled a thin black thread as he sutured the back of Nate’s shoulder. His hands were steady as they worked the hooked needle and thread through the skin.

“Hurry up, Marlin. Just another scar to add to the collection.” Nate laughed, failing to notice Gabriel’s entrance to the room.

“Quit your belly aching … I’m almost done here.” The bald man took notice of Gabriel through his narrowed eyes. “You feeling alright, soldier?”

“Yeah, I’m good.” Gabriel nodded quickly, hoping to avoid an examination.

“Told you that bed would be fine!” Marlin slapped Nate’s wound, causing Nate to grunt as he gritted his teeth.

“Glad to see you’re up.” Nate twisted to face Gabriel.

“I told you he was fine, nothing wrong with him.” The old man finished his last stitch and slapped a large piece of strange colored tape over the wound, making Nate grunt in pain once again.

“And I promise this is the last time.”

“Sure, sure … keep those patches on for a few days and you should be all healed up.” Marlin took off his gloves and tossed them on the table with the rest of the medical supplies.

“Sarge, this is Gabri –” Nate’s words were cut off by the grumpy surgeon’s roar.

“I don’t want to know his name! Or what you two are up to! I am old and retired. I lead a quiet life now and don’t need none of your crazy crusades messing that up. Now get out of my house!” The man glared at Nate through squinted eyes.

Nate rolled his eyes, shaking his head. “You grumpy old bastard! Never going to change, are you?”

Gabriel couldn’t help but grin at the remark as Nate began gathering their things.

“Well, Reinhart, if you’re done being a pain in my ass, I’ll get back to my day.” The old sergeant huffed and left the room.

Nate looked Gabriel up and down as he finished stuffing some things into his black bag. “What happened with you, anyways? You glowed like a match head and burned me when I tried to touch you.”

“They merged.” He tapped his chest.

Nate stared at him with an odd expression. “What are you talking about?”

“The ore combined!” Gabriel smiled. “I knew it.”

“Combined!” Nate was shocked. “What does that mean?”

 “No idea!” He laughed.

Nate paused for a moment. “Ah, forget it. I’ll wait for Osho to explain it. Grab the strongbox and let’s go before that old dinosaur comes back in here and yells again.” Nate leaned over, looking down the hallway where the Sergeant had disappeared.

Gabriel picked up the steel box. “Please tell me we can get rid of this thing soon. I am really tired of carrying it.”

“One more stop. Got a new vehicle out back. Courtesy of Bishop Riley. He thought we would be safe here.” Nate nodded at him. “You seem to be a hot commodity.”

“So, he let us go?” Riley was from the Church, and the Church wanted him. It didn’t make any sense to him.

“Riley’s trying to find out what the deal is with you and the Church. We can trust him. In the meantime we’ll have to be a lot more careful.” Nate pulled a new T-shirt over his head. “Sarge!”

“What?” A nasty holler came from the front of the house.

“Love you!” Nate shouted as loud as he could.

“Shut up! And get off my property!” the old man roared back.

Gabriel followed Nate through the back door of the old house, laughing with him. A blue SUV waited for them in the alley. It was obvious that Nate had taken care of all the details. There wasn’t much for Gabriel to do but carry that chest, until he was told to stop. As the two walked down a flight of rickety stairs he asked, “What’s the deal with him?”

“Mr. Charming? He was the first sergeant major I served under in the Special Forces. Always there to help out when I’m in a tight spot. Not much for talking though, but a damn good field surgeon. And, despite his grumpiness, he’s a good guy. Outside of you – he’s the closest family I’ve got.” Nate stopped walking and turned. “Speaking of ‘what’s the deal’ … What were you thinking? Here I am shot and you go and do something crazy with the ore! You’re more like your dad then you know. Next time give me some warning.” Nate opened the hatch of the SUV and threw his bag on the back seat.

“Yeah, sorry about that.” Gabriel slid the strongbox into the back then climbed into the front of the vehicle. “So, what did Riley say? He mention the Sphere at all?”

“Don’t think so. He pulled me out of the safe house, afraid you were going to go off like a bomb.” Nate opened the driver door. “I don’t know all the details, but it sounds like they’ve run into some users just as strong as you.”

Gabriel stayed quiet. Just as strong as him? Or stronger? Was the ore imbedded in them as well?

“Anyhow, Riley will keep the Church at bay for now, but it’s best if we don’t draw any new attention to ourselves.” Nate checked the mirrors around the vehicle.

“So, back to the IP?” He was eager to talk to Dr. Osho about the ore combining.

“Actually, that’s something I need to talk to you about.” Nate paused before starting the engine. “I need to go back to the ranch – our ranch.”

“What! Why?” Gabriel didn’t know what to think.

“There are some things I need from there … Look, I know it isn’t the most comfortable idea going back there for you but,” Nate turned the key, “I think you should see what’s there.”

Gabriel’s gut twisted as he thought about the wreckage of the house and the body of his mother trapped under the fallen wall, her lifeless hand covered in blood.

Nate grabbed his shoulder. “Whether you want to go or not, one day you will need to deal with it. We will all need to deal with it. It’s our home.”

The word “home” bounced around inside Gabriel’s head as they drove. Adin and he had never discussed what was going to happen to it. All that was left was the storage container, full of the salvageable remnants of Gabriel’s former life. It would remain there until he chose to move it. No one else could.

Swallowing hard he nodded his head and looked at Nate. “You’re not really giving me a choice … are you?”

Nate put the car into gear. “It’s important, Gabriel. I promise it’ll make sense when we get there.”

They left Denver’s smoggy skyline in the distance as they headed west to the main highway. Neither of them spoke much during the drive. The trip was a somber reminder of where he had come from and where his life was now. He had been thrust into a whirlwind of life and death, trying to discover his father’s secrets and a world hidden behind a veil of lies.

Driving the highway for the first time with Adin had felt like entering a different world, leaving behind the one he loved and knew so well. Death and fear had ruled so many of his days over the last several weeks. It was a harsh reality that he wanted to run away from, but he knew he couldn’t. Too many secrets. Too many lies. He needed to know the truth. It held him on this path. A path his father had chosen to walk and now a path he would follow. As they neared the ranch, the familiar sights of broken homes and destroyed lives rolled past his window. His mounting anticipation became physically uncomfortable as he shifted in his seat. The long driveway of the ranch was just ahead of them. He breathed out loudly, pushing his emotions aside and trying to focus on the present. Nate surprised him by continuing past it, failing to slow down at all.

“You missed the turn.” The small dirt road zipped by the driver’s side window.

Nate smiled. “No, I didn’t. We will come in on the backside. Just in case, there are any surprises waiting for us.”

He remembered the old back road. The plan made sense. He still wasn’t used to the idea that people could be following him.

They turned onto the beaten up country lane, full of pot holes and washed out tire tracks. Rounding the hillside on the back of the farm, Nate brought the SUV to a gentle stop. He jumped out. “Wait here. I’m just going to take a quick peek.” He ran up the side of the hill, carrying a pair of electronic optics.

During the moments alone, Gabriel’s mind ran through different scenarios of what would happen to them if TERA was there. He imagined patches of grass coming to life with guns, helicopters roaring up over the hills towards them and him going back into a cage. He focused on calming himself. Just breathe. Who would realistically be here, anyhow?

Nate came jogging down the hill, jumped into the car and started it up again. “Place looks empty. Let’s go.”

They continued down the road at a slow pace. Gabriel kept his eyes open to their surroundings, mindful of any movement. It hurt to see what used to be his home was now just rubble left by a storm. The fields were still torn up, but small green shoots of wild grass had begun to fill in across the black soil. Most of the fencing lay half knocked over, the posts broken off at the ground. The old farm equipment was flipped over, littering the area with rusted steel. Parts of the house and barn were scattered all over the yard, broken and looking as if no one had been there in years.

They coasted towards the barn and came to a stop at the edge of the wreckage, leaving just enough room for the doors of the vehicle to open. Nate stepped out first, surveying the scene before waving to Gabriel to join him. This was Nate’s home as much as it was Gabriel’s and the pain was visible on Nate’s face.

Gabriel stepped out the other side of the SUV, tears stinging his eyes. Each piece of the wreckage was a memory about something special. Gabriel did a complete three-sixty. Everything was gone. The storm had spared nothing.

“Gabriel! Over here!” Nate called out to him.

The barn was a mess. He climbed over the broken walls, half-destroyed by the storm then eaten by the harsh chemicals of the rescue team. Nate had moved some of the wreckage off one of the old wooden support beams.

“We need to lift this off.” Nate kicked at it.

Gabriel shrugged and strolled over to the beam, placing his hands under the rough cut surface.

Nate laughed. “It will be a nice try, but we’re going to need a lot more to move that thing than your tiny arms.”

The sleeping giant under Gabriel’s shirt came to life at his command, sending tendrils of white strength down his arms and legs. His muscles twitched at the energy, eager to be used. He strained against the huge beam as it lurched upwards, creaking loudly as it broke free at one end. Pieces of debris slid off of the beam as he raised it in the air. He focused. The crystal flooded a new strength through his body. He thrust the beam away from him with a roar, sending it crashing to the ground like a great tree falling from a logger’s axe. As the dust cleared and the ground settled, Nate stared at him, dumfounded.

“Tiny arms, huh?” Gabriel laughed aloud.

“How?” Nate shook his head, joining his laugh.

He tapped on his chest as the rush of energy raced back into the crystal, leaving him feeling refreshed and slightly buzzed.

Nate moved over, prepared to catch him if he fell. “You okay?”

“Yeah … I don’t feel dizzy at all!” He grinned.

“Good. I don’t want to have to carry you again.” Nate chuckled. He moved some of the remaining rubble off the old wood floor. “Help me clear the rest of this off.”

“Clear the floor?” He didn’t understand. “Why?”

“Because I need to get into your dad’s lab.” Nate finished the job himself.

“Dad’s what?”

Nate stopped, hanging his head. “Gabriel, there are lots of things you didn’t know about. It’s why I wanted you to see it. Lots of things were hidden from you and your brother. It was for your own safety, but now… you should know about them.”

“Did Mom know?” He crossed his arms, annoyed.

“Probably. She was sleeping with the man,” Nate said bluntly and slid a small alloyed rod into the floor. A panel slid open and he punched in a code. “I hope this still works.”

Chapter Thirty-Three

Why did Dad hide so much? The floor below Gabriel’s feet rumbled as something came to life under the old wooden boards. A section dropped down several inches then slid to the side to reveal a steel hatch. It released, opening upwards to reveal a dimly lit stairwell leading below the barn floor.

“Good, the batteries are still holding.” Nate barreled down the stairs. The room illuminated with a soft glow as he hit the final step.

Gabriel crept down after him, looking curiously at the floor and the stairs, shocked that they even existed. The room was spacious, despite feeling like a dungeon, with tables along each of the walls and a single large desk in the centre with a small computer terminal on it. Each of the tables were covered in scraps of paper with Calvin’s scribbles and thoughts all over them. Nothing was organized. It was as if he had stepped into a stranger’s mind, rather than his father’s lab. His father was always organized, loved systems and structure. This was chaos. He looked around. This can’t be Dad’s. Random thoughts were everywhere in notes taped to the walls and the ceiling. There was no technology in the room except an old computer. Confusion filled his mind as he wandered around trying to understand what had taken place in this room. This wasn’t a laboratory – this was just a collection of thoughts.

Nate rummaged through pieces of paper and old journals, collecting a small pile of things he needed. It was obvious by the speed of Nate’s movements that he had been in this room before. Gabriel passed the centre desk and mindlessly ran his finger along the computer screen as he looked around the room. A small beep came from the machine, as the screen activated. Underneath some of the papers surrounding the terminal, was a glowing blue screen much like the ones in the elevators at Adin’s apartment. Gabriel slid the papers aside and placed his hand onto the rough blue screen. The rough surface became sharp as thousands of small hair-like needles stuck in his hand. The sensation caught him by surprise and he jerked his hand back.

“Ow! What the hell?” The terminal activated.

Nate stared back at him, confused by the new noise in the room. “What did you do?”

“I put my hand on the scanner and it … poked me or something.” He scratched the palm of his hand, trying to stop the lingering sensation.

“Poked you?” Nate mocked him.

“Yes, it poked me.”

“My guess is it’s encrypted. Only your dad would be a match …” Nate headed over to him. “Put your hand on the scanner again.”

Gabriel pressed his hand against the scanner. The strange sensation returned as the rough surface changed, filling every groove in his skin with something. The scanner changed to green and the terminal booted up.

“Well, I’ll be damned … your dad coded you into the system. If you can open this, I’ll bet Adin can too.”

“Why would he do that?” Gabriel stared at the machine.

“No idea.” Nate shook his head and shrugged.

The screen opened up to a series of files, all dated years before his dad’s death. Nate tapped on the first file, opening it to the worried face of Calvin Roberts. A video log.

“I transferred another shipment of ore into the hands of Dr. Osho. I only hope it gets there undiscovered. We have been conducting research to find new ideas of how to charge the ore back up to strength without the loss of human life. The experiments have been unsuccessful at locating a proper specimen. Osho still believes it has something to do with the soul, but I think it lies within the DNA structures of …” The digital voice of Calvin was cut off by Nate pressing another button.

“Hey!” Gabriel frowned.

“Sorry,” Nate explained, “I just need to check something else.”

He waited as Nate navigated the system to several other documents.

“I think this it … it looks like his code.” Nate hit the print button and a printer across the room started to spit out sheets of information.

“Code?”

“Your father developed his own code. There were only three of us who could read it and only your dad could write it. This place was where your dad put all of his secrets – outside of this computer, no electronics. This was his safe house.” Nate headed for the printer on the desk.

As Nate left to collect everything, Gabriel glanced at what he had just printed. There were no words, just a series of symbols, similar but all subtly different. He closed the document and tried to find his way back to the video diaries of his father.

“These are coordinates to some of the secret ore caches your father hid before he formed the IP. There are about seven of them all over the globe, but two are close – I recognize the coordinates,” Nate explained. “Also, some of these journals are written in code – some of his discoveries were never made known. He kept them hidden from Dr. Cymru. Osho needs some of his work to keep our research going.”

Nate put all the journals and papers into his bag. He headed back over to the boxes of files and rummaged through things, discarding what he didn’t want into a large pile of papers in the corner. Gabriel continued to navigate the computer system until he found a file saved two days before his father’s death. Activating the file, he sat there glued to the screen, waiting for his father’s face to appear.

“I fear my finding of the ore was a mistake.” A digital image of his father rubbed at his forehead. “I have been unsuccessful at finding any alternative means to recharging the ore. Dr. Cymru and the others are ignoring my pleas to continue searching for a solution. I am afraid the laws won’t stop their next action.”

The digital Calvin rubbed his eyes and face with both hands, breathing out loudly at the screen.

“Allan has changed drastically. His desire to use the ore to help mankind no longer exists. Our partnership is over. My own actions are now being monitored heavily; Nate has been assigned elsewhere, along with most of my trusted research team. I am uncertain about what may lie ahead. The truth of the ore has remained a secret to the general public and I believe Allan has plans to keep it that way for as long as possible. The IP is still immature in its development and could not confront TERA without dire consequences.

“I feel trapped and I fear for my family daily. I find myself in a position of wishing I was the destroyer of the ore rather than its discoverer. I have been conducting personal research into any means of destroying the black ore safely, rather than leaving it in the hands of those who would do evil with it, but nothing has worked. My only hope lies in the pure white ore that we discovered. While its properties currently evade me, I believe, and hope, my answer will lie with it. However, my research will have to remain on hold for now, as I am being watched so closely by TERA. I pray that my actions carry no fallout for my family and, God willing, my boys will not have to grow up in a world enslaved by this ore.”

The recording stopped, leaving Gabriel to ponder his father’s words. Even Nate had stopped his search and listened to his best friend’s voice from the corner of the small lab.

“Is there anything that can be done to stop Cymru?” Gabriel wondered aloud.

Nate sighed. “It’s why we are still fighting and will keep doing so … TERA hasn’t even begun to show what it’s capable of. I’m afraid that things will only get worse as they gain more control. Right now it’s just about energy and profits.” Nate walked over and patted him on the shoulder. “I miss him too.” He knocked the computer terminal to the ground with a crash.

Gabriel jumped up, shocked. “What are you doing?”

“Unfortunately, we can’t leave anything here.” Nate ripped apart the terminal with the blade of his boot knife, finally prying a small round steel disc out from it. “Here … that’s yours.” Nate tossed the disc to him. “I’m sure you will find some answers there, but right now we need to leave and burn this place.”

Nate finished putting some journals into his bag and tossed the rest of the filing boxes onto the large pile he had made in the corner.

“Why are you doing this? This is all of Dad’s stuff and –”

Nate cut him off. “Because I can’t leave anything for Cymru to find … he can read the code as well as I can … everything in this office has to be destroyed. It’s too dangerous to leave it hidden here. They would eventually find it. We got what we need and Dr. Osho has the rest of the research. It’s just what needs to happen.”

He nodded, understanding Nate’s point. If Cymru ever found this place and resurrected any of the data stored there the IP would be completely exposed as an enemy, but he still felt torn. This was a piece of his father; these were his thoughts, his deepest secrets. He longed to know more. He needed to find answers about why his father made these decisions.

Nate slammed a flare on the table, lighting up the room with a red glow. He threw the flare into the pile of papers. The fire built up quickly.

“It’s time to leave.” Nate pushed him towards the stairs. “The room will soon release a gas and ignite everything.”

As he left the office, he allowed himself one more glance at his father’s private world. The answers he searched for were now lost in black smoke. The questions remained. When they reached the SUV, just outside the barn, he looked around. “There’s nothing left here for me.”

“Another day, there will be.” Nate opened the door to the SUV. “This is still our – Gabriel, don’t move!”

A loud shot rang out and a blaze of light hit the ground beside them. Nate raced over to him, drawing a pistol, and scanning the direction from where the shot came.

“They missed!” Gabriel reached for the optics on the front dash of the SUV to see who was out there.

“No, they didn’t. They’re letting us know that they can kill us if they want to. It looks like they just arrived – the SUV should still be good.” Nate kept both his hands on his gun.

“Welcome home!” a loud, distorted voice called out from beyond the rubble of the house. A man in a black suit with a trilby hat pulled down low across his brow strolled towards them. He kicked through the rubble with no respect and stepped on anything that would break.

“Quite the mess!” His voice rasped, as if it had been stripped of its harmony.

The stranger leaned down and picked up a broken dish, examining it for a moment, then threw it to the side, shattering what remained. As the man in the suit neared them, Gabriel held up the optics and could see his disfigured appearance. Despite the trilby hat, the face of the stranger was still visible. Blackened, calloused skin covered the whole left side of his face, including his eye. The sharp features of his face were sharpened even further by the grotesque skin that clung tightly to the bones. It was as if it had been burnt over and over and had never had a chance to heal. Streaks of blackened veins under the pale skin covered the right side of his body, giving him a tiger-like appearance. Even his hands were different from each other – one was as black as his suit, the other looked normal, with an expensive watch hanging loosely around his wrist.

Setting down the optics, Gabriel watched in terror as a group of rough looking gunmen stepped out from the rubble around them. They looked like street thugs, sauntering left and right over the area until they took their final positions surrounding him and Nate. Their rifles were at the ready. Two men leaned against some rubble on the left wall of the house, three more moved around the back of the vehicle near an over-turned tractor, and the last stood lazily beside the man in the black suit.

“Gabriel … did you think I would forget about you?” The strange man cackled, his voice was as damaged as the rest of his body.

“Stay calm,” Nate whispered to him.

“Caught like rats in a trap, aren’t we? And in such a pitiful place.” The disfigured man waved a disparaging hand at the ruins. “Needs a bit of cleaning.”

“What do you want?” Gabriel yelled, locking eyes with the stranger.

“What everyone wants – the lab.” The man revealed a set of shiny black teeth behind his wicked smile.

“Keep him talking …” Nate whispered. He inched closer to the door of the vehicle.

“You seem to know an awful lot about something that was a secret.” Gabriel called out to the disfigured man, stepping in front of Nate. The crystal in his chest surged with energy, waiting to be released.

“No more secrets! No more lies!” The man pulled his hat down tightly, as if there was a fight inside his own head. “He hid it! I should have been told! It’s mine!”

“Who are you?” Gabriel wondered what horrors might have happened to him.

“You should know.” The disfigured man laughed with a high-pitched cackle. “I am your death!” He gave the signal for his troops to move in. “Take them alive!”

Two shots blazed out over Gabriel’s shoulder. Nate had aimed for the only intact power cell still left on a broken wall of the house. The high velocity round punctured the cell, spraying its blue acidic contents high into the air and over the two thugs positioned there. The acid instantly ate into their armor and weapons. Within seconds the men were screaming in pain, dropping their weapons and attempting to flee from the acid, their clothes billowing in white smoke.

“Open fire!” The disfigured man screamed. The thug nearest to him fired on Gabriel.

Gabriel raised his hands and a luminous bubble filled the space in front of the SUV, absorbing the impact of the shells. It held strong as his hands rose and spread apart, glowing in sleeves of pure energy that produced a fluid-like wall of light. He glanced over his shoulder to see Nate aiming for the thugs behind them. His accurate shots punched through the chest of one of them, a cloud of red blood bursting from his back. The other two scrambled for cover, retreating. Gabriel kept his focus – his shield was impenetrable. He watched as more men came in from the road.

The man in black ripped a half-broken wall free from the rubble and hurled it at Gabriel. The large piece of wood and old drywall shattered against the shield. Gabriel stumbled back, surprised by the show of strength. He kept up the shield and moved towards the SUV as Nate spun it around to make an escape. The passenger door hung open to him and Nate yelled for him to get in.

Before Gabriel could get in the SUV, a deafening crack rang out in Gabriel’s ears. The fluid-like surface of his shield hardened as cracks spread across its surface. He froze. The ore in his chest struggled as the disfigured man approached Gabriel and crashed his smoking fist through the shield. The sound of breaking glass filled the air, and the shattered shield broke into fragments of light.

Bolts of light filled the air as the thugs fired their weapons at the SUV, filling the back with holes from each shot. The disfigured man attacked Gabriel. He tried to block the incoming strikes, but each hit was like a baseball bat striking against his forearms.  Pain seared through him as he came in contact with the disfigured man’s black, smoking fists. Without thinking the ore surged through his body, sending streams of light rushing down around his hands and arms. The next strike was painless, bouncing off his forearm as he went on the offensive. The man in black was fast, dodging each attack as he moved backwards. He was too fast for Gabriel to hit.

His blackened teeth glinted as he grinned at Gabriel, circling him like an animal patiently waiting to kill its prey. Black smoke rose from every part of him, blurring his image as he moved back and forth. He closed the gap between them in a rush of dark mist. Gabriel’s jaw wrenched sideways as he was struck across the face. Another hit rattled against his ribs, as the disfigured man’s arm blurred with speed. He fell backwards to the ground and stared up at his attacker. The white ore in his chest raged like a fire, burning a hole through his shirt, flooding his limbs and chest with white light. The disfigured man halted his attack and, as if mesmerized by the crystal, he stepped back from Gabriel.

“You …” His eyes focused on the shard as if he struggled against an invisible force. He put both of his hands against his face, pressing tightly against his skull as if in immense pain. A ragged scream burst from him.

Just then a helicopter came in overhead, hovering low to the ground, sending dust and debris everywhere. Soldiers descended on ropes just beyond the debris of the house, and shots from heavy caliber weapons targeted the thugs. The man in black glared at Gabriel, then disappeared in a blur of smoke towards the helicopter. Screams rang out in the air and sprays of bullets erupted from both sides. Nate yelled at Gabriel to get in the SUV. He watched in terror as the man in black attacked the soldiers like a rabid animal – tearing one of them apart with his bare hands. Gabriel lunged for the passenger door, and Nate floored it. The SUV swerved all over the yard, trying to get back to the old road. Gabriel twisted to look behind them.   The scene played out like a war with men on each side dropping as bullets slammed into their bodies.

Chapter Thirty-Four

The bullet-riddled SUV screeched out onto the open road of the highway. Nate pushed the engine to its limit as they tried to increase the distance from the ranch and their attackers. Gabriel stared out the back of the SUV. No one was following them. He was shocked that they had slipped away.

“Who was that?” he yelled over the noise of the wind.

“The helicopter? TERA special ops team, for sure.” Nate snapped his seat belt.

“Not them, the other ones!” Gabriel kept watch. If TERA had come looking for him they wouldn’t be too happy to let him disappear into the night.

“No idea. They were sloppy! Hired thugs, I’d guess.” Nate changed lanes abruptly, sliding deftly between two cars.

“What about the guy in black – he was an ore user, wasn’t he? He broke through my shield.”

Nate’s eye met his eyes. “You sure? A bullet can’t get through, how did he?”

“His fist went right through it!” Gabriel twisted back and strapped himself in.

Nate continued to speed down the highway. “Maybe it just got weakened by all those shots.”

Gabriel didn’t believe it. The way the man ripped up that broken wall and threw it, the way he’d attacked those soldiers. He was like Gabriel. “He could have killed me.”

“I doubt that! It looked like your crystal was going into overdrive.” Nate pointed to the pulsing glow of the crystal visible through the hole in his shirt. “There’s a fresh shirt in the backpack.”

“I dunno.” Gabriel leaned over the seat and rummaged through the backpack, pulling a black T-shirt out. “He just stopped when he saw it. Like he recognized me all of the sudden.”

“He certainly didn’t seem to be all there … I hope nothing from the lab survives. I guess TERA finally decided to come get it.”

“Shouldn’t we be getting back to the IP?” Gabriel thought about Dr. Osho and Kyrie.

“We need to get clear of here first. Don’t want anyone following us home.” Nate dug into his pocket and pulled out a silver disc.

“Who you calling?” He watched as Nate slid the disc up behind his ear.

“Alex. My contact in Burlington.” Nate stopped talking for a moment as Gabriel changed into his new shirt, tossing the old one back into the backpack. “Damn it!” Nate hit the steering wheel.

Gabriel almost jumped. “What?” His eyes scanned the outside of the SUV, looking for danger.

“Something’s wrong.” Nate slid the disc off. “Alex left a coded message on the store’s machine— he’s left.”

“If we can’t go back to the IP, where do we go?” The IP was the only place Gabriel had felt safe. What was happening?

“Don’t worry.” Nate took an exit off a side ramp and changed their direction. “I know where they’ll be.”

The night was taking over the sky as they neared their destination. A strip of old warehouses, sat outside the north end of Denver. Gabriel noted the high fences and hazardous waste signs all around the property as Nate slowly pulled in. A small guard shack stood at the entrance of the parking lot, surrounded by six massive abandoned buildings. A casually dressed man stepped out of the shack and walked over to the beat up SUV. Gabriel could see an automatic weapon tucked beneath the stranger’s jacket.

“Glad to see you safe, Chief.” The friendly guard nodded at Gabriel as he spoke to Nate.

“What happened?” Nate put the SUV in park.

“TERA raid – Not to worry though sir, most of our people got out.” The guard looked grim. “But … they had full government support to deal with us as they saw fit – no interference or regard to the law.”

“Government support? I don’t understand…How did we find out about the raid?” Shock registered on Nate’s face.

“An associate of the Church tipped us off to the raid. Said he knew you.”

“Riley.” Nate took a deep breath.

“I believe so. We followed protocol as fast as we could, evacuating the essentials first and moving the majority of the ore we had to a safe location. The remaining non-essentials had to stay behind to make TERA believe the raid was a success.”

The story confused Gabriel. Essentials? Non-essentials?

“The others are already inside, and the essentials have all been accounted for.”

“Good work, Tony. Double the watch and get people moved out of the area. I don’t want anything else left for TERA to try and snatch up.” Nate patted the guard on the shoulder. “We’re only good here for maybe 48 hours.”

“Consider it done, sir.” Tony stepped aside and opened the reinforced gate.

“Essentials? What is going on?” Gabriel stared at Nate.

“Our supply of ore and researchers.” Nate pulled the nearly destroyed SUV alongside one of the warehouses. “Grab the stuff.” Nate turned off the vehicle.

Nate led Gabriel to a metal door at the side of the warehouse. He banged on the door and it popped open promptly. Gabriel warily followed Nate into the orderly chaos hidden behind the old steel walls. Nate leapt into action, leaving Gabriel trailing behind him, carrying the chest once again.

“Mr. Reinhart!” A man in army fatigues raised his hand and strode towards him.

“Get someone to ditch that vehicle immediately.” Nate barely looked at the man.

“Yes, sir.” He nodded to Gabriel briefly, and faced Nate. “The trucks are being loaded with the remaining essentials. They will be shipped out tonight to secure locations across Europe as well as our remote northern locations near the old Canadian border.” The man handed Nate an electronic clipboard. Nate nodded as the man continued to explain the shipments and routes listed on the clipboard. Gabriel’s eyes wandered around the warehouse as he jogged after Nate, dodging people and machinery as they off-loaded crates from a revolving series of trucks.

“We will have operations back up to eighty percent in five days max, full capacity by the end of the week.” The man stuck close to Nate as the two moved through the busy floor.

“How much did we lose?” Nate barked at him.

“We lost eight percent of the essentials, twenty-one percent of the non-essentials, and thirty-four percent of our combatants, sir.”

“Where’s Osho?” Nate handed the man back his electronic clipboard. “Pen.”

“Third office, sir.” He traded Nate a pen for the electronic clipboard then pointed to a set of steel stairs leading up to a few rooms overlooking the warehouse.

“Turn around.” The soldier obeyed and Nate used his shoulder as a writing surface. “I want these trucks gone in four hours and I need extraction teams to retrieve the ore at these coordinates ASAP.” Nate handed the man the piece of paper he had printed at the lab under the barn. He had translated the code into coordinates. “Empty these two caches in the next 24 hours or less, otherwise TERA will most likely find them. By the way, that piece of paper you’re holding is the only copy so don’t lose it!”

The man yelled orders at some of the loaders as he tucked the piece of paper into his chest pocket, making sure it was zipped shut.

Their feet clanged on the steel stairs as they climbed to the second floor. Gabriel paused at the top, looking over the railing at the workers moving around the warehouse. He spotted Kyrie among the crowd and attempted a wave, but she didn’t see him. She had joined a line of people passing boxes to a truck. It was good to see her up and moving. She would be headed back to the field to look for the Spheres under Nate’s orders. Gabriel could only hope she would find a lead for him to go on.

“Gabriel!” Nate hollered from the third office door. “Move your ass.”

They entered the small office space together. Gabriel spotted Osho seated at a crowded table, in the midst of a heated discussion. The room fell silent as everybody looked up. Some of the faces were angry.

Nate walked straight over to the table and slammed down his things. “What happened?”

“Nothing we didn’t foresee happening. TERA was just quicker than we assumed.” Osho’s usual calm, cool manner didn’t falter.

Nate clenched his hands into fists as he stared at Osho.

“We will bring you up to date shortly, I promise.” Osho nodded at Nate. “Let me first introduce Father Clarence and Cardinal Vincent from the Church of Humanity. These men saved us from what would have been a devastating assault on our operations.”

Nate nodded at the guests.

“This is Nathaniel Reinhart, our Chief Security Officer, and Gabriel Roberts.” Dr. Osho finished the introductions.

“Roberts?” The cardinal pursed his lips.“We know of him.”

“We know.” Nate pointed a finger at them. “Don’t try anything.”

“We are here under a flag of peace.” The cardinal put his hands together. “He is safe for now.”

“Gabriel is Calvin Robert’s son.” Osho bowed to Gabriel. “Any move towards him would jeopardize any future you hoped to have.”

Gabriel’s eyes met the cardinal’s and they exchanged a nod of acknowledgement. The cardinal stared at Gabriel, not saying a word. Gabriel set down the strongbox and used it as a seat, tired from carrying it for most of the day. The meeting resumed and he yawned trying to not draw any attention to himself.

“The last forty-eight hours have been busy for TERA on a global scale. Let me bring everyone up to speed.” Osho recapped the last two days like a news anchor.

“TERA openly attacked the so-called ‘Horsemen’ in China, completely destroying their suspected headquarters and seizing what remained of their ore. While no direct support came from the Chinese government, no issues were made about the attack and TERA was allowed free passage. The reason for the attack is still unknown as TERA has always tried to stay clear of the Horsemen. Something got their attention, or they wouldn’t have been so bold. After my daughter was rescued from the camp in Denver, she confirmed the Horsemen have been focusing on black ore. We don’t know about their goals, but, from the research she managed to steal before she was caught, it’s some kind of new armament.

“Across the globe, TERA has been setting up offices and facilities. Most countries are welcoming them, hoping for access to the ore as their own, alternative energy sources are dwindling. Many countries are on the verge of losing power completely.  Several new TERA locations have been confirmed across Europe, as well as on the eastern continents. Our friends at the Church have been keeping a close eye on this. We are also seeing heavy movement through the dark zones – TERA is transporting some major resources off the grid. Could be bases or research sites – we aren’t sure, but our spies will move into the dark zones once we are secured.

“A new global message has been issued by Dr. Cymru listing demands that all nations must comply with if they want access to the ore. The list requires the nations to replace all old technology with ore- powered equipment – this includes manufacturing, agriculture, logistics, and some retail components. That means ore will be used on a global scale – and the people needed to recharge it will increase dramatically. By the time the public realizes what is going on they simply won’t have a choice anymore. They are also proposing new laws to allow trial experiments on any humans that have a relationship with the ore, claiming it is needed for research. This would mean regulated testing for everyone, and most likely every person with a relationship to the ore would be put into camps. TERA also wants all companies involved with the ore and its research to come under their control – like us – peaceful or not. Our government is in full support of their recommendations. It won’t be safe for us here anymore.” Osho sat down at the table.

“No one is against this?” Nate sounded overwhelmed. “The public, the lobbying groups, anyone?”

“Most opposition has been wiped off the table in one way or another.” A man Gabriel didn’t recognize answered. “This is a massive shift in power and it’s the start of a dictatorship.”

“Our government is leaving them to do what they feel is necessary. I am sure the paperwork to commandeer our facility was filed at a very high level, which means we don’t have a lot of options.” Osho shrugged.

“How can people believe them? It sounds insane!” Gabriel finally spoke up.

“And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Second Corinthians eleven verse fourteen. The power of deception can be quite strong over the masses.” The cardinal stood up from the table.

“It’s true.” Osho nodded at the cardinal and turned to Gabriel. “TERA is promising a way to turn back the clock for the planet, assuring everyone that the earth can rejuvenate itself if the ore is used properly. In theory, it is possible, but their motives aren’t so pure.”

Nate sighed. “We don’t have as much research into the ore as TERA does. No one does. But knowing their intentions, these moves are intended for control. If everyone is forced to depend on them for energy, then we will see more people sacrificed to keep up with demand. Things will only get worse after that.”

“I have to agree with Mr. Reinhart.” The cardinal nodded. “I think we haven’t even begun to see true terror from them yet and that is why you must join us. You have to trust us.” He turned to Osho, his hands together as if in prayer.

“Trust you?” Nate’s voice rose. “What are you talking about – trust you with what?”

“We are compromised here.” Osho wouldn’t meet Nate’s eyes. “Which is why we have been discussing placing ourselves under the control of the Church.”

Nate bolted to his feet. “The Church? We know nothing about them!” He pointed at them. “Just because Riley warned us about today’s attack doesn’t mean they aren’t on the same side of the power struggle as TERA.”

Osho remained silent but Cardinal Vincent cleared his throat. “Mr. Reinhart, how many did you lose … how many souls were sent home today because of what happened?”

Nate glared at the cardinal. “I lost one third of my men!”

“And you were given a warning. Next time you may not have us to help you. How many more are you willing to lose before you see that you cannot stand against this devil alone?”

“I have looked at this option many times over the years.” Osho’s tone was calm, but a note of pleading lurked beneath his words. “Nate, you know we can’t survive on our own. We can trust them. We cannot stand up to another raid from TERA. Not with the government behind them. We don’t have much of a choice.”

Gabriel was with Nate. He didn’t trust the Church. “Why not join the ‘Spheres’?”

Osho shook his head. “Gabriel, we don’t even know if they are real. It’s just a rumor. We don’t have time to try and see if they’re true.”

Father Clarence finally spoke, his eyes on Nate. “The IP will simply fall under our protection … you will still be able to continue your ore research. If you are working with our current researchers, we might be able to find something to change the course of this world.”

“What about our people? Some of them might disagree with your practices.” Nate’s nostrils flared, his chest moving rapidly.

The cardinal met Nate’s stare, unafraid. “I offer a sanctuary, nothing more. Their futures will be decided by their actions, not ours.” He then glanced at Gabriel.

“Gentlemen, please.” Osho did his best to settle the room.

“Dr. Osho is right. Our beliefs might be different, but our enemy is the same.” Father Clarence put his hand on the cardinal’s shoulder. “We can set aside our differences.”

Nate looked at Dr. Osho, and Gabriel watched a silent conversation pass between them. He turned to Gabriel. “What do you think?”

“Me?” Gabriel was dumbfounded. He didn’t want to join the people that tried to kill him, but what choice did they have? TERA would surely try to finish them. Still, he wasn’t sure what the right answer was. “What would Dad have done?”

A small grin creased Nate’s face. “He would find a way to fight another day … and he wouldn’t do it alone.” A minute of silence passed in the office. “Transfer all the essentials over to them. Make sure our people are safe!” Nate glared at the cardinal. “All of them.”

Chapter Thirty-Five

Everyone in the room sprang into action. They organized the trucks to carry materials to new locations and IP personnel were moved into Church safe houses across North America. Gabriel moved into a side office, trying his best to stay out of the way. He sank gratefully into the only chair in the office. Not sitting on that hardened steel chest was so much better. Osho and Nate followed after him. Nate leaned against the desk and sighed.

Osho put his hand on Nate’s shoulder. “It’s for the best … we couldn’t have survived much longer. The Church has always been good to us. You knew this day would come.”

“I just didn’t know it would happen so soon.” Nate gave a half-hearted smile. “I didn’t think it would end this way.”

Osho turned to Gabriel. “I believe Calvin would have agreed with this choice.”

“You knew him better than I did.” Gabriel shrugged. The statement was exactly how Gabriel felt. The image of who his father was had always been weak. Now, it was  broken even further. Gabriel didn’t even know who the man was anymore.

“While it may seem that way, his thoughts were always of his family first. We came second. Don’t ever believe differently.” Dr. Osho’s comment felt like a hollow truth, something told to a child so they wouldn’t be hurt by reality. His father had led a double life, a life full of secrets. One that had led him to his death, leaving his family lost without him.

“Did you recover anything out of Calvin’s office?” Osho peeked through the blinds at the warehouse below.

“Yes, we have new coordinates to some of the ore caches. Teams will retrieve them in the next 24 hours. I found the coded journals you were asking for and the hard disk off of the computer, but we were ambushed at the ranch.” Nate ran his hand through his hair. “I’d be dead if Gabriel wasn’t with me. The ore in his chest certainly has some tricks up its sleeve.”

“Ambushed,” Osho frowned, “by who?”

“Not sure.” Nate glanced over at Gabriel. “TERA rolled in late and everything went to hell fast.”

“He was an ore user.” Gabriel nodded at Osho. “He was strong – a lot stronger than me.” It was the truth.

“An ore user?” Osho looked shocked. “Why would they attack us?”

“Whoever he was, he knew about the lab – found out somehow. TERA hit the ranch after we were pinned by the user. It saved our asses.” Nate rolled his eyes. “I guess with the new law in place, Cymru saw it as a good opportunity to go for the lab. Anyhow, the two groups turned on each other – we managed to slip out in the confusion.” Nate sighed.

“So, TERA has the lab?” Osho was visibly upset.

“No.” Gabriel shook his head. “Nate burned it.” He half-smiled. “But that man. He had me beat, but he turned and attacked them like he hated them. I can’t explain it. Do you think he was from a Sphere?”

“Who knows?” Osho looked at Nate. “It’s too risky to send Kyrie out into the field with someone like that out there. We’ll have to investigate the ‘Spheres’ once things settle down.”

“Well, TERA doesn’t have much to work with at the lab.” Nate shrugged. “They shouldn’t be able to salvage much. You know how Calvin kept everything on paper – no traces once it burns.”

“That’s a loss, but for the best I suppose.” Osho rubbed his unshaven chin. “So, the mysterious man knew about the lab. There are only a handful of people who ever knew it existed.”

“Yeah, doesn’t leave us anything to go on.” Nate took a deep breath and joined Osho by the window, slipping his fingers through the blinds for a peek. “We need to shrink our circles, keep track of who knows what.” Nate let the blinds snap shut. “The funny thing was that he was more interested in you.” He turned and stared at Gabriel.

Gabriel shivered. “Me?”

“Not surprising, considering what you can do.” Osho thought for a moment.

“If he wanted the lab – he certainly didn’t try to stop it from burning.” Nate looked at Osho. “Who really knows?” He rubbed at his eyes.

Osho sighed. “We need to get everything moved. I fear anything left in the hands of the IP will belong to TERA by an order from the government. I want you both to come with me to meet the council of the Church in the European Commons.”

“No! I need to stay here. Make sure our operations are safe.” Nate shook his head.

“I understand how you’re feeling after the raid, but others can do that. I need you to help me make sure we are ‘safe’ within the Church. Despite their words, Gabriel still poses a threat to them.” Osho said flatly.

Nate sighed. “You’re probably right.”

“Why would I threaten the Church?” Gabriel blinked.

“Not you, kid. What’s in your chest. Riley mentioned that they’ve been hunting more – tracking more users down.” Nate scratched at his beard. “From the cardinal’s reaction – they seem to already know about you.”

“They may know what he is, but not what he can do. Gabriel, you’ll need to be seen as fairly insignificant.” Osho patted him on the back. “If we keep up the charade, they should back off.”

Gabriel nodded. He had grown accustomed to keeping the crystal hidden. “So, Europe?”

“Yes, Saint Petersburg in the Northern European Commons.” Osho smiled at him. “We leave by jet in twenty minutes with Father Clarence and Cardinal Vincent. Don’t worry about clothing or personal effects of that nature. We will find everything we need once we arrive.”

“Don’t have anything to worry about.” Gabriel shrugged.

“You’re sure we’re doing the right thing?” Nate stood up.

“I don’t think we have much of a choice, Nathaniel. Now, if you will excuse me, I must see to my daughter and family.” Osho left the room.

“How do we know the Church isn’t going to try and kill me again?” Gabriel hunched his shoulders.

“Well, firstly, we aren’t going to tell them. And secondly, if they do, well, that’s why I’m coming.” Nate’s grim tone didn’t give Gabriel much reassurance. “Let’s get our stuff.”

They drove to a nearby airstrip, taking only what they could carry: Nate’s bags of tricks, the chest, and Dr. Osho’s steel briefcase. Boarding the small Lear jet, they found Cardinal Vincent already seated while Father Clarence was performing a pre-flight checklist. Once everyone was buckled in, Father Clarence piloted the small jet down the short runway. Gabriel leaned towards the window as the ground drifted away from him. They lifted high into the sky, passing through the thick layer of clouds and up into the night.

Cardinal Vincent spoke first as they settled in at their cruising altitude. “The IP will fall under Church rule without question; no demands will be made of you. However, we request a penance for the young man here.” The cardinal stared at Gabriel.

“God damn, Riley.” Nate rubbed his beard and shook his head.

“Mr. Reinhart, I would ask you to refrain from using those terms around me. And your friend, Bishop Riley, is the only reason I even allowed the young man on the plane.” The cardinal’s face was stern.

“What is it you desire?” Osho put out a hand to calm Nate.

“It is not a desire, but our mission.” The cardinal smiled at Osho. “Calvin Roberts was an expert in the study of the ore. No one on earth knew more about it than he. In his final days, we understand he was researching ways to dispose of the black ore – to destroy it. The black ore is evil – it is the embodiment of sin. Our research into the black ore has failed to reveal any way of abolishing it.”

“You want my father’s research?” Gabriel interrupted him.

“Yes.” The cardinal faced him. “We will give you exile within the Church, a safe place for you to live out your days. And, in return, you will give us everything Calvin knew about the black ore.”

“That’s not really much of a choice, seeing as we are already en route to St. Petersburg.” Osho leaned back in his chair. “If we refuse?”

Cardinal Vincent half-laughed. “Then he is an enemy of the Church and will be treated as such.”

“Settle down.” Dr. Osho cleared his throat. “There is no need to threaten Gabriel; we would have shared it regardless.”

“Then I must ask for your forgiveness.” The cardinal bowed. “The patriarchs would not have it any other way.”

“Why are you so afraid of ore users?” Gabriel had to ask.

Cardinal Vincent sighed. “It is not the individual we fear. It is what they are capable of. The ore is God’s gift back to us, a chance to redeem this world. That power must be governed by the righteous, the most pure of heart. They must protect it and use it for the good of everyone around them. Ore users disrupt that control – they govern the power the way they see fit. Sometimes they use it against what it was intended for – a perversion of the gift. Their lust for power can overwhelm them and they become lost, losing control of themselves. They mutilate themselves with the ore, seeking more power from it. We have no choice but to destroy the abominations they’ve become.”

The words gave no comfort to Gabriel. He didn’t have a choice about carrying the ore – fate had fused it to his chest.

“I’m sorry if my words upset you. It is a harsh reality, but it is part of our task as stewards of the ore.” The cardinal half-smiled at him. “Are we free to speak openly? There are other matters to be discussed.” He looked at Osho then at Gabriel.

“This young man is as much a part of this as his father was.” Osho patted Gabriel on the knee.

“He’s saved my life once or twice.” Nate smiled at him then stared at the cardinal. “I trust him more than I do you.”

“So be it.” The cardinal looked annoyed. “We have just received some new information from one of our operatives stationed at a border around old Kazakhstan. An old factory north of the border has been receiving a mass influx of supplies and personnel in the last few weeks. Satellite images confirm a huge spike in activity within the last few days. Our border operative says shipments of black ore have been heading there. She cannot tell where the shipments are coming from or whom the personnel at the old factory are working for.”

“I thought most of the ore in the European Commons was under your control.” Nate raised an eyebrow at the cardinal.

“Our stocks have all been accounted for. It’s coming from outside of Europe. The council believes the Horsemen are behind the operation.” The cardinal handed a folder to Nate. “Here’s everything we know.”

“A paper file?” Nate was surprised.

“It’s much easier to dispose of then a Cube. Fire works best.” The cardinal smiled.

“Sounds familiar.” Nate flipped through the pages.

“Why would the Horsemen be in Kazakhstan? After TERA’s move against them how would they have the resources to put this together?” Osho leaned towards Nate, eyeing the folder.

“We’re unsure. We have many operatives within the European government looking for the source, but they aren’t finding much information.” The cardinal pulled out his rosary and thumbed through the beads.

“So, what’s the big concern? You want the ore.” Nate leaned back in his seat, surrendering the folder to Osho. His eyes focused on the cardinal.

“Not exactly, Mr. Reinhart. From what we know of the history of the building, it was once a weapon factory. Now, judging by the equipment being reportedly moved into the area we guess that the facility is being retro-fitted to produce some kind of weaponry.” The cardinal shrugged. “Rumors are circulating that the weaponry utilizes ore.”

“Weapons with ore … How?” Nate leaned forward.

The thought sounded terrifying to Gabriel. He repeated what Adin had told him. “It’s too unstable, and the molecular bonds don’t hold up under any kind of pressure. It’s not possible.”

“I’m impressed.” The cardinal silently thumbed his rosary for a moment. “We don’t know. As I said, everything is just a guess, but I was hoping Dr. Osho might have some thoughts.”

Dr. Osho shook his head. “Gabriel’s right. Doesn’t seem likely.”

“Real or a fairy tale – it doesn’t matter. It could be a threat to us. Its position in Europe makes us the most realistic target.” The cardinal clasped his hands together and leaned forward. “I understand that trust is difficult. But it is something we cannot move forward without. Now, I trust you. And my superiors have trusted my judgment in making you a part of our flock. We need your help on this.”

“Of course.” Dr. Osho bowed his head in apology. “The Horsemen are a crime syndicate. They don’t openly wage war. They kill from the shadows. TERA’s attack on their Chinese headquarters might not have disrupted anything. The possibility that the Horsemen are behind the weapon facility still remains to be proved but weaponizing the ore – that kind of technology would be very advanced.”

 “I have to agree. Taking out the headquarters doesn’t mean much. Another would simply rise to power and continue their operations.” Nate’s tone was grimly matter of fact. “It’s the same way terrorist cells work.”

“We have a stronger position than they do in Europe, but we don’t know how strong they are. Some of our own people might even be assisting them – their corruption knows no bounds. With the majority of their operations in the shadows, we have no idea about their real numbers.” The cardinal thumbed the rosary again. “If they become equipped with the right technology, they could amass a powerful army. If a war breaks out between the Church and the Horsemen our government relations might not give us any support.” He paused. “Then there’s TERA” Osho handed the folder back to the cardinal. “They still control more than two-thirds of the world’s estimated ore supply and if everyone is forced into using it as a power source, they will want to expand. This might be motivating the Horsemen into action.”

“We will be meeting with the council when we arrive to discuss what will be done about this situation. All your assets will be transferred to our facilities, but you will still maintain control of them. I promise you that, Mr. Reinhart. However, while you are under our protection, I would like you to work with our combative lead – Father Clarence.” The cardinal pointed to the cockpit.

“A priest?” Nate couldn’t help but laugh.

Smiling, the cardinal pointed at him. “You have a lot more in common than you think. Clarence was a highly trained soldier before the Lord called him into service. His fatherhood is more of a title than a lifestyle.”

“To keep an eye on me?” Nate crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow.

“To help you. Dr. Osho, I request you suspend all of your current research and help us focus on a way to neutralize the black ore – we need to have a defense, just in case. I’m sure your studies are far ahead of our own. We’ll make every resource available to you.” The cardinal handed him a thick red folder with ‘Classified’ written on the side of it. “You will find everything you need in there. If you need anything more just ask.”

“Consider it done.” Osho nodded and flipped through the pages, leaning back into his seat.

“And me?” Gabriel couldn’t help but ask.

The cardinal frowned for a moment, then his expression lightened. “If you’re anything like your father, you will find your place, I’m sure.”

Nate nudged him. “You stick with me. You’re pretty handy in a fight.”

Chapter Thirty-Six

Gabriel sat on a wooden bench. Its old iron legs and worn wood matched the age of the tall rock wall it sat under. He stared out across the gardens and sprawling lawns surrounding the Church’s research facility in St. Petersburg. From the outside, the facility looked like a 300-year-old church with aged stone exterior walls and tall narrow turrets, hiding the technology within. Only a third of the facility stood above ground, the rest lay deep beneath the earth. On the lowest floor was one of the largest ore vaults in Europe. The other floors housed laboratories and living quarters for its security force – a small army. Still, the grounds had a feeling of peace to them. That was a feeling he had forgotten over the last several weeks. He stretched out his legs and spread his arms along the back of the bench, relaxed and waiting.

Since his arrival, Cardinal Vincent had taken it upon himself to educate Gabriel. The Church believed the ore was placed in the Garden of Eden when God created the world. It was the ore’s powers that had shaped the garden – blue ore produced pure water for man to drink, green allowed the garden to flourish with food and calm the animals, red kept man warm despite the seasons. The Church also believed that the white ore was reserved for Adam to use to govern the garden. When man fell, it shattered, rendering it useless. In the end, man was cast out for his disobedience. A ring of black ore was placed around the garden, killing anyone who tried to come near it.

The Church had spent years collecting any piece of ore they could find. The bulk of the collection was held within the Vatican City in Rome. Their desire was not that much different than the mission of the IP. They believed that the ore was to be governed by them alone and not by the governments or any independent groups. They claimed to be the ore’s overseers, ordained by God to use and govern.

Gabriel sat patiently on the bench wondering about the story. If the original crystal Adam used had shattered, why was he able to put two pieces back together? There was nothing holy about him, he wasn’t even sure he believed in God. Was this an evolution of man or a return to how humans were meant to be? He hadn’t forgotten what Shiro had told him – others were being hunted for their connection to the ore. He wasn’t the only one. The ones the Church didn’t execute were called exiles – they were protected and cared for but weren’t allowed any contact with the ore. They could live out their lives in special communities – a future Gabriel found depressing. The cardinal told him about one exile in particular, Claire Bennett. She had been given special permission to be a research assistant at the facility. It was her he sat waiting for. Despite her position within the Church, she was very vocal about how the Church treated ore users – she had petitioned the Patriarchs to change their practices. A risky endeavor for an exile, but that wasn’t what Gabriel was interested in. Rumors said she was still  part of a Sphere outside of the Church, and she still had contacts with them. Gabriel hadn’t given up on finding one, and she was his best lead.

She appeared suddenly, hustling across the green space, heading towards one of several entrances to the underground facility. He almost missed her and had to sprint after her. As he quickened his pace, he dodged around a gentlemen in a white lab coat, strolling towards the same entrance.

“It’s rude to chase after strangers!” Dr. Osho’s familiar voice sounded behind him. “There are easier ways.”

He gave up his pursuit and turned to see Osho grinning at him. “I wasn’t chasing. I was trying to catch up.”

“Gabriel, I watched you sitting on the bench.” Osho laughed. “Like a stalker.”

Gabriel recognized the humor in Osho’s voice. He rolled his eyes. “You mentioned an easier way?”

“I have a task just for you, and perhaps Ms. Bennett can assist us. How’s that sound?”

“I guess better than this.”

Osho held out a box of Cubes for Gabriel to carry, as he led the way. “Shall we then?”

He scooped up the electronic files, smiled at the doctor, and headed toward the entrance doors. They entered the building and stood in line, waiting for the busy elevator to take them down below the ground. He teetered on his toes, scanning the room, hoping to catch a glimpse of Claire. The ding of the elevator opening shifted the people around him. He shrank back down to keep his footing as they stepped up for their turn.

“You are certainly interested in this girl. Just relax and wait.” Osho continued to grin at him. “She will be more than happy to join us soon. Her intellect is impressive – she helps in the labs with ore experiments.”

“She’s allowed to handle the ore?” That was a new bit of information that Gabriel didn’t know. “What can she do with it?” He kept his voice down. “The Cardinal said she could react with all of them but the black.”

Osho glanced around, speaking at a whisper. “I am sure you are quite different from her. She is unique though. Lots of individuals have a relationship to the ore whether they know it or not, but it is usually to only a single kind. Having the ability to interact with all of them is certainly interesting and rare.”

“Do you believe the story of the garden? I mean, do you really think the ore came from God?”

“The ore defies many scientific theories. It could be possible. Its existence and properties are reflected in the natural world, but not in such great strength.” Osho pointed to the opening elevator door, guiding Gabriel through it.

“Cardinal Vincent said Adam controlled the garden with the white ore before it was shattered. What does that mean about me?” He lowered his voice to a whisper as they piled into the cramped space.

“I do not know.” Osho shook his head and smiled. “But I do know your father found it for a reason; it was his purpose. Your connection to the ore … it has its own reason, a purpose. Instead of asking why, ask how. How are you going to change things?”

Gabriel thought about Osho’s words as the elevator hummed down below the ground. How could he change anything?

He stepped out of the elevator and passed through the security check point, scanning the ID badge given to him when they had first arrived. The walk to Dr. Osho’s office was short.

“Come in, my boy.” Osho opened the door wide to let him through.

Gabriel stepped past him. Osho had obviously been working in his office nonstop for the last couple of days. His desk was a mess of cubes. The small couch in the corner of the room had been turned into a make-shift bed and stacks of plates stood on the small table. Osho cleared off one of the chairs and invited him to take a seat.

“I apologize for the mess. I actually slept in a bed last night for the first time in days.” Osho gathered up some more of his things.

“It’s alright.” Gabriel found a clear enough surface to put the cubes down. “So, what’s this task?”

“First, I wanted to ask you some questions. Where did I put that Cube?” Osho found an empty Cube to take notes on and sat down behind his desk.

“Sure,” Gabriel found a chair to clear off, “but I have one first.”

Osho raised his eyes brows and waited.

“Is there any new information on Adin? Has anyone back home found anything?”

Osho stopped what he was doing. “Of course … your brother.” He sighed. “Nathaniel has been quite busy with his new tasks. I’m afraid we still don’t know anything for sure, but in the confusion over the last week I must admit it has dropped down the priority list. I’ll speak with him about it.”

“Thanks.” He found it difficult to stay positive about Adin. “It’s been too long, hasn’t it?” His emotions crept in.

“There is no length of time that is too long. Kyrie was gone for four months … we didn’t stop looking. We will find Adin, one way or another. I promise.” Osho nodded then adjusted his glasses and changed the subject. “When you were last with Adin, did he mention any projects with the black ore? Did they study anything related to it?”

“No idea.” He shrugged. “We didn’t get much of a chance to discuss anything deeper than the basics.”

“That’s unfortunate.” Osho sighed.

“Adin never actually talked about the black ore. None of his research involved it. Why all the questions?”

Osho removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes as he leaned forward on his desk. “I have been going through all of Calvin’s research information searching for some kind of defense against the black ore and have come up with nothing. We know the black ore can affect other types of ore – polluting it – slowly changing it black over time. We know the black ore is lethal to anyone who comes in contact with it, even those who have connections to the other types of ore. In most cases, exposure happens so fast, it’s difficult to even move without proper protection from its radiation. Even the smallest crystal can contain a massive amount of kinetic energy. Everything else about it is a mystery. With no way to neutralize it, I have no idea how we can prepare any defense against it.”

“Is any of the black ore here?”

“Yes, we have a small supply on site but –”

He cut Osho off. “Let’s go see what I can do to it.”

“What?” Osho stared at him, shocked.

“Dad was studying the relationship between the white and black ore. It’s in his notes.” He drummed on the crystal in his chest. “We’ve got the white.”

“Gabriel, you can’t be serious.” Osho shook his head.

“I can interact with all of the ore … I’m guessing that includes the black.”

“Well, what do you … I mean, what are you planning on doing with it? You do realize how volatile it is? It could explode in your hands.” Osho looked quite alarmed.

“I don’t know the science, but I can push energy into ore … like I did to heal Kyrie… I don’t think it  matters what kind it is. So, something must also happen when I come in contact with the black ore.” He stood up and pointed at the door. “Let’s go find out.”

“But – I –” Dr. Osho rubbed his eyes. “The potential for things going wrong… Gabriel, it’s beyond dangerous.”

“I can stop a bullet.” Gabriel grinned. “How strong do you think a little shard is?”

Osho threw up his arms in defeat. “Alright. There really is no other way to find out except to let you get close to it. Let’s head down to the lower levels.”

Osho collected a small silver box from a locked drawer. “This was quite different than the experiment I had planned to do with Claire, but we can pick her up along the way.” They exited the office. At the elevators, they dropped deeper into the underground facility.

“So where are we headed? Security didn’t let me explore the lower levels.” Gabriel looked around his surroundings.

“The containment rooms in this section of the facility were designed for experimentation – able to withstand explosions, radiation, poisonous gases – anything that could go wrong.” Osho stood aside as the elevator doors opened to a security checkpoint.

A guard took their ID’s, scanned them, and waved them through. Gabriel noticed one of the specialized rooms was already occupied. He glanced through the reinforced glass viewing panel. There, dressed in a long white lab coat and oversized safety goggles, Claire Bennett handled several pieces of ore. She picked each of them up in her bare hands, placing drops of solution on them from an electronic needle.

Gabriel stared at her, studying all of her features. Her brown hair was tied back in a pony tail. Her eyes squinted behind the safety goggles as she focused on the ore in her hands. The ore pulsed at her touch. It was the same as it did for him, just weaker. There was more here that he was interested in than just what she knew about the ‘Spheres’. She was cute, smart, and something about her drew him.

Osho stepped beside him and rapped on the glass, shocking both Gabriel and Claire with the noise. Gabriel scrambled to look busy, but found nothing to do but tie his shoelaces. He ducked down below the window and fumbled with them. He sheepishly glanced back at the window to see Claire staring down at him. She looked annoyed as he gave an awkward wave of his hand.

Dr. Osho pressed a button for the speaker in the room. “Sorry to disturb you, Claire, but I could use your help.”

She smiled at the short doctor. “Of course, I would be happy to help you.” Her cute accent only added to Gabriel’s attraction to her.

“Great.” Osho smiled and walked towards the next room. “Gabriel, your shoe is tied well enough by now,” he called over his shoulder.

Gabriel felt the blood surge to his face as Claire walked by, completely ignoring him. The door shut behind her, sending a rush of cool air across his face. He stood and followed her into the small containment room. The silver box rested on a steel table that was firmly bolted to the wall. Osho was directing Claire into a side room. The door closed behind them, a mechanized lock activating on the door. Gabriel was sealed alone in the room, being watched by the other two through the reinforced viewing window. Now what? Not sure what he should be doing, he shrugged and stared at Osho for some insight. Osho flipped a switch on the outside wall.

“Go ahead, Gabriel. I left it on the table.” His voice rang out through a speaker mounted high in the corner of the room.

Right, the box. He strolled over to it, flipping the small box open. Inside was a dark sleek crystal, the size of his finger. A weak draining sensation came over him immediately. “I can feel the negative force from it already.” He reached his bare hand into the box, without much thought and picked the shard up. He dropped it on the table immediately. The ore banged against the flat steel, blasting sparks across the steel surface. “It burns to touch!” He turned to Osho, rubbing his hand as it throbbed in pain.

“What kind of experiment is this?” Claire grabbed Dr. Osho’s arm. “What’s in the box?” Her voice echoed through the speakers.

“Gabriel’s testing some theories about black ore,” Dr. Osho explained. “Relax, Claire – he can handle it. Just help me with some observations.”

“That ore will kill him if he stays in that room any longer!” Claire protested.

I doubt that. Gabriel grinned, watching them and listening to their conversation through the speaker.

“Don’t worry.” Osho looked at her and shook his head. “Gabriel isn’t exactly normal. He’s an ore user – similar to yourself.”

“What!” She stared at Gabriel then back to Osho. “Ore user or not, this is too dangerous.”

“He will be fine, I hope.” Osho looked at Gabriel, calling out over the speaker, “See what you can do.”

“I can’t believe you; this isn’t even close to a scientific methodology.” She crossed her arms and glared at him.

Gabriel turned and contemplated the black crystal on the table, unsure of how to touch it without hurting himself. He rubbed his hands together and breathed out as a strand of white light exited his shirt sleeve and pooled in his hand, forming a glove that covered his hand. “Alright,” he whispered. “Let’s see what you got.” The room grew brighter as he picked up the small crystal. Holding the shard without any pain, he turned back to the window to present it to Osho. Claire’s eyes widened. “It’s draining. Like my ore is struggling against it.” He tried to explain his feelings to Osho.

“I want you to focus your energy into the ore, like before, but do it carefully … no sudden pulses,” Dr. Osho directed.

Gabriel nodded and set the shard down on the table. He stretched his neck from side to side, readying himself for the unknown. Alright. He summoned protection around both of his hands. With his hands clasped around the black crystal, he focused. His body was weak and achy, as if he suddenly had the flu. He was short of breath. His white ore in his chest pulsed as he sent more energy towards the small shard. Wave after wave, more and more energy poured into his hands. The small black shard felt as if it had come to life, fighting to stop the process. An explosion erupted in the room. The blast sent him flying backwards against the glass panel, webbing it with thousands of cracks, but not shattering it. The walls cracked, sending chunks of concrete crashing to the floor. A cloud of thick grey dust enveloped him, blinding him.

Claire yelped.

“Gabriel!” Osho’s yell echoed into the small room as it filled with darkness and dust.

Gabriel got up off the ground. “Son of … That hurt!” He kept his hands clenched as he waited for the burning sensation to stop. The room’s emergency lighting flashed on and a loud fan pulled the dirty air upwards, clearing his vision of the room. “I’m alright,” he called out. He could see Dr. Osho and Claire pressed against the fractured window. “I’m good.”

“Thank God.” Osho rushed over to the door, punching in a code that released it from the override locks. Gabriel watched as an emergency crew moved Claire away from the broken window. She stood at the doorway, her mouth wide open. The team followed Osho into the room.

Carefully stepping over the debris, Gabriel met Osho with a huge smile. “Open your hands.” Osho’s hands pressed together below Gabriel’s raised fist. He opened his fist, and a dull green dust sifted between his fingers and into Osho’s hand. “Not much left.”

Osho stared down at his hands. “I need to put this in something.” He looked to a member of the decontamination team who was quick to hold out a polymer container. He emptied the dust into it.

“Sometimes the stupidest method works the best!” Gabriel patted Osho on the back and laughed.

“Outstanding.” Osho joined in his laugh.

“Sir, we’re going to need you to come with us.” One of the decontamination team put a hand on Gabriel’s arm, pulling him away from Osho.

“I’m his physician!” Osho pointed out to the team. “He’s not going anywhere without me.”

The team escorted Gabriel towards the door. Claire abruptly stepped out in front of them. “I’m Claire. Claire Bennett.” She just stood there.

“Gabriel Roberts.” He smiled at her as the team stepped around her, prodding him along.

Osho was right beside him. “You two can talk later. Come on.” He pushed Gabriel forward.

When they reached one of the medical bays, Dr. Osho ushered everyone out, demanding privacy during the examination. Gabriel was thankful and removed his shirt as he lay back on the bed.

“Let’s do a quick inspection, and then they will want you to shower down.” Osho gathered some equipment on a tray.

“What for?” Gabriel knew nothing inside that room could hurt him.

“In case of residual contamination. Best just to go along with it. We’ve already drawn enough attention to ourselves.” Osho pulled the tray over to the table and began to examine the shard. “Either I am getting too old or this shard is larger than when I last saw it.”

Gabriel laughed. “I totally forgot. I merged it with another shard from Nate’s box.”

“You what?” Osho’s mouth hung open.

“Um, merged … them. They became one. Two shards –” Gabriel was unsure how to explain it any better.

Dr. Osho rolled his eyes at him. “I understand what merged means … but how?”

“I just touched them together.” He shrugged. “They did the rest.”

“Really … That’s it?” Osho crossed his arms.

“Well, my chest felt like it had split open and my skin was on fire. Nate burnt his hand when he touched me. I guess I could have exploded, at least Riley thought so. It’s was kinda touch and go.” Gabriel nodded. “That was about it.”

Osho sighed and buried his face in his hands. “Please, next time you are so bold, just let me be involved. Seeing that you might be the only person in the world who can do that. However, let’s not be so rash next time.”

He smiled and chuckled. “It’s not like I knew it was going to happen.”

“Precisely why you shouldn’t have attempted it without me there.” Osho pulled a scanner over the top of the table. “Stay put while this runs.” He flipped the switch.

Gabriel stretched out on the table to get comfortable. A minute or two into the scan, shouts erupted from outside the room.

“Stay put. I’ll see what’s happening.” Osho walked towards the door. Before he could open it Cardinal Vincent burst into the room, slamming the door behind him.

“I thought we had an understanding!” Vincent yelled at Osho.

“I believe we did.” Osho seemed completely calm despite the angry Cardinal. “Gabriel, please don’t move until the scan is done.”

“Then what were you doing in the containment room giving ore to him!” The cardinal pointed at Gabriel. “He should never be allow –” Vincent’s jaw dropped as he stared at Gabriel’s chest.

“As you can see I don’t have to give him anything. He has his own.” Dr. Osho offered the cardinal a chair. “Sit. Please.”

Cardinal Vincent was silent. He stared for a full minute, caught in a daze of disbelief, then collapsed into the chair.

“What you see here is not an experiment, he isn’t artificially augmented like so many other ore users you hunt. Gabriel was impaled with the white crystal during an unfortunate storm that killed his mother. The ore has since taken on a symbiotic relationship with him. I believe they sustain one another. His mastery of it is quite impressive and only grows.” The scan finished and Osho continued to work while he talked. “In fact, he is the answer to the question you have been searching for.”

The cardinal stumbled over his words. “What – What question? What do you mean?”

“Gabriel just destroyed a fragment of black ore in the containment room downstairs. That’s what the blast came from. If you’ve seen the room, you understand the magnitude of what he is capable of.” Osho put everything back on the tray beside him. “You’re all done – perfect as usual – put your shirt back on and go shower in your room privately. I will take care of things here.”

Gabriel nodded at him, agreeing that it was best for Dr. Osho to deal with the bewildered cardinal. As he headed to leave, Vincent grabbed his arm.

“You destroyed it?”

“No, I just returned it to what it once was. Some dust from green ore.” He smiled at him. “Perhaps your mission of exiling and killing ore users is the whole reason you’ve failed to find a way to destroy the black ore.” He gently removed the cardinal’s hand. “You were killing the very ones who might have saved you.”

Chapter Thirty-Seven

“Hi.”

Gabriel was taken aback as he rounded the last bend in the hallway. Claire stood in front of him. “Hey.” He couldn’t help but smile at her.

“Sorry, for last time. With everything going on,”  she blushed, her accent was cute, “I must have come off like an oaf.”

“It’s fine.” Gabriel paused, then held out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“You, too.” She took his hand and shook it. “I’m getting some lunch if you’re interested?” She pointed down the hall.

“Sure.” Gabriel stepped forward. “Just breakfast for me.”

Claire frowned as he walked beside him. “Breakfast?”

“Yeah.” Gabriel realized he sounded like a lazy person. He had been taking advantage of sleeping in every day, probably a little too much. “Yeah, I’m still not used to the time change and all.”

“It’s been over a week.” She raised her eyebrows at him. “Not sure jet lag lasts that long.”

Gabriel couldn’t help but let out a nervous chuckle. “Yeah, I wasn’t getting much sleep back home. People trying to kill me and all.”

“Oh my word.” Claire covered her mouth. “I’m sorry, I did it again! I don’t mean to say such things.”

“It’s fine.” Gabriel laughed. “So, lunch?”

She nodded at him and led the way. Neither of them spoke as they entered the large cafeteria. Gabriel felt stupid – he didn’t know what to talk to her about. He handed her a tray and smiled. “Here”

“Thanks.” She smiled back. “So, back home – sounds like things were a bit rough?”

Gabriel shrugged as he surveyed the items available to eat. “Just not sure where the next day was going to take me.” He filled his tray with all sorts of random items.

“Because of the ore.” She picked things lightly. Her tray looked pathetic compared to his.

He stared down at her tray, his mind half-off the conversation. “The ore certainly makes life more difficult.” He didn’t know how else to say it. “I mean … uh …”

She had a coy grin on her face. “Mmhmm.” She giggled at him.

“I’m normally good at this. Sorry.” He was a mess. “I just noticed how much food is on my tray. I normally eat alone so I can’t really gauge it.” He stopped talking. “I think it’s the ore.”

“Well,” she nodded, “you’re in pretty decent shape.” He could see she was uncomfortable. “I usually get some cake and pudding at the end. It isn’t right for me to judge.” She frowned and pointed at the dessert case.

“Me too.” Gabriel grinned.

They both laughed. He served her up a plate of chocolate cake and vanilla pudding. Then added the same to his plate.

“Interesting combination.” She grinned at him.

Gabriel froze. “Ah, sorry. I didn’t even ask. They’re just really good when you –”

“Mix them.” She smiled at him.

“Yeah.” He nodded.

“Brilliant.” She laughed.

Gabriel nodded.  He couldn’t get rid of the grin smeared across his face. “We’re good then.”

She laughed and turned a bit red, walking away from the food line and towards a table near the side windows. Gabriel grabbed two bottles of water and followed after her. He sat down and stared at his plate, unsure of where to even begin. “Wow, this really is a lot of food.”

Claire burst out laughing, then stifled it back. “It’s a fair bit.”

Gabriel shrugged. “The ore is hungry I guess.”

“That must be it.” She took a bite of an apple. “So,” She covered her mouth. “I’ve never seen anyone do what you can do.”

Gabriel finished chewing his mouthful of eggs. “Yeah, one of the reasons why I had so many visitors at night.” He paused after he said it, realizing how that sounded. “Not visitors … people. Trying to kidnap or kill me.” He took a fast mouthful of food.

“I get what you meant.” She took another bite of apple. “It’s not easy being like this.” She shook her head. “The Church’s views about us are – horrid. I don’t understand why they can’t see past it.”

Gabriel shrugged. “People always seem to be afraid of those different than them.” He scoffed. “I don’t know – they seem to justify in their own way.”

“A function of control.” Claire rolled her eyes. “I’ve had that argument too many times with the Cardinals.”

“Still you’re here, and they haven’t killed me yet,” Gabriel joked. “Maybe things are changing.”

“That would be nice.” She stared down at the table. “But I’m not augmented and you’re … something they’ve never seen before.”

“Hmph.” Gabriel studied her. “A temporary cease fire.” He held up his bottle of water in a toast. “Maybe it’ll hold.”

She smiled at him and grabbed her own bottle. “I pray every night for that.” Her expression changed and she clinked his bottle.

Gabriel swallowed hard and changed topics. “You ever hear of a Sphere?”

Claire froze, staring at him. “Yes. Many times.”

“What’s it like?” Gabriel took a mouthful of food.

She looked uncomfortable. “How do you know what one is?”

Gabriel swallowed his food. “Ah, people were trying to kill me one night. I had no idea how to use this.” He wiped his mouth with a napkin and tapped on his chest. “Priests, actually.” He raised his eyebrows. “I was saved by another ore user. She told me to find one – that I would be safe there.”

Claire smiled. “You would have been.”

“Well, I never did find one, so I thought I would ask.” He shrugged.

Her eyes fluttered and tears welled inside them. She faked a smile. “They’re like a family.”

 Gabriel stopped eating; he wiped his lips and watched her. A tear slipped down her face.

“Sorry.” She wiped it away. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Sure, of course.” He stared at their plates as he eyed his cake and his pudding. “I kinda just like to dump it on the top.” He let the pudding fall onto the piece of chocolate cake.

“I like it a little bit at a time. Just enough pudding to thinly cover the cake.” She picked up her fork and demonstrated. “Just like that.”

“Yeah, I’m more of a stuff it in my mouth kind.” Gabriel shoveled a big piece of cake into his mouth, followed by a spoonful of pudding. “See?” he said through a mouthful of food.

She laughed. “Charming.”

He tried not to laugh as he finished the massive bite of cake and pudding and wiped his mouth. “So, what’s there to do here?”

“Besides saving the world and all?” She raised her eyebrows at him.

“That’s good – interesting.” He winched. “But not really fun.”

“Well,” she set up another bite of cake and pudding, “this might just be it.” She held it up on her fork.

“So, you’re saying we should eat cake and pudding together for every meal?” Gabriel nodded at her. “I can make that work.”  

Claire put the piece of cake into her mouth and rolled her eyes at him.

“What?” He smiled at her and shrugged. “It’s a reasonable proposition.”

She laughed. “I might need another test run before I fully commit.”

“Okay.” He nodded. “Dinner it is.”

“Alright,” she sighed. “I will be here around seven-ish.” She glanced down at her watch. “I should get back to the lab.”

“And I have more food to eat.” Gabriel nodded at her. “Then maybe a nap.”

She was taken aback by his comment. “You know, if you’re bored, the lab could always use some help – we can do things some of the other researchers can’t. They appreciate the help with the ore.”

“Well, I have a busy day of doing nothing, but I think I can pencil you in.” Gabriel pointed down at his plate. “After this, of course.”

She rolled eyes. “Good.” She let out a laugh and strolled away.

“Hey!” Gabriel raised his hands and called out to her. “Can you double check that they won’t shoot me if I touch the ore?”

Claire halted, and her face twisted as she thought. “Maybe you can help clean up or something.”

He pointed at her. “Smart.”

She shook her head and laughed. “I can see this afternoon with you will be interesting.”

He shrugged. “It’s all part of the test run.” Gabriel took a deep breath and watched her walk away. “Let’s not screw this up,” he whispered to himself.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

“Get up!” Nate was shaking Gabriel’s mattress.

“What is wrong with you?” He pulled the covers over his head in protest. “The council meeting isn’t until this evening … no need to get up!” He poked back out and checked the clock beside him. “Five thirty! Man, don’t you remember what’ sleeping in’ means? We don’t even get up this early at the ranch.”

“You did sleep in! I could have come here at four when I was awake.” Nate grabbed him by the head and shoved it into his pillow.

“Alright!” He flailed at Nate and missed. “Man, I was having a good dream, too!” He kept the sheets around his waist.

“About a brunette Brit, I don’t doubt.” Nate laughed, tossing Gabriel his jeans. “Get dressed!” Nate stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him.

He staggered out of the room, still half asleep. Nate held a tall glass of hot tea up to his nose for him to sniff. “Tastes awful, but it’ll help wake you up.”

Having no energy to argue, Gabriel choked down the hot liquid. It sent shivers through his body and his face scrunched up involuntarily as the aftertaste hit him.

“You’ll be wide awake once that kicks in!” Nate gave him a pat.

He burped up something awful. “If it stays down.”

They headed out of the sleeping quarters, towards the exit. Gabriel must have swiped his badge two dozen times, before they got outside. Normally, moving around the facility wasn’t difficult, but security had turned from cautious to a full-out hassle in preparation for the council meeting.

“I’ll be happy when this is over.” Nate pointed at a little red car. “Let’s get out of here.” He smiled, pushing Gabriel around to the left side of vehicle as they approached it. “Other side, sleeping beauty.”

They left the compound, passed through the last security checkpoint and turned onto a wide stretch of road. Gabriel nestled into the small front seat to catch some more sleep.

Nate laughed. “That won’t last.”

Gabriel ignored the comment, but soon the effects of the drink raced through his body. A minute later he sat up. “So, where have you been?” This was the first time he had any one-on-one time with Nate in the two weeks they had been in St.Petersburg.

“Busy sorting out the mess we left back in Denver.”

“How’s that going?”

“TERA’s expanding … eating up everything to do with the ore. Heard you blew up the lab or something.”

“That wasn’t my fault.” He put his hands up in defense. “Blame Osho.”

“He was pretty excited about the whole thing. Heard you’re no longer considered an exile.”

“The cardinal changed his mind, did he?” Gabriel laughed. “Apparently, now I’m useful.”

“Well, at least we don’t have to worry so much about you. I’m just happy you can deal with the black stuff.” Nate smiled at him.

“It was a small shard – knocked me across the room. Anything bigger would be a problem.” He wasn’t excited about the results. “You believe the rumors about what they are doing with the black ore?”

Nate shrugged. “Developing some kind of ore weapons? Probably nothing to worry about; if Osho can’t crack that technology then I doubt anyone else can. The black stuff is highly explosive and unstable as hell. Even if you could weaponize it, you’d blow yourself up just handling it.” Nate imitated the explosion with his hands. “Like when we first started to dig it out. We lost so much machinery.” He laughed.

“Should have left it in the ground. I would be back with my family. Who knows where you would be.” Gabriel shook his head.

They turned into a large abandoned stone quarry. The air became thick with dust as the little car came to a stop at the back of a hollowed out pit. A small table was already set up overlooking several targets: black  paper silhouettes in different positions at various distances from the table. Gabriel stepped out of the car and followed Nate to the trunk.

“I know it’s been awhile, but I figure it’s time you remembered how to use one of these.” Nate took out a pistol and placed it in Gabriel’s hand.

His heart quickened as the cold steel touched his skin. He hadn’t handled a gun in months. The two of them had a history of training days – practicing shooting and fighting on the ranch. Even Adin took part back in his younger days.

“Come on.” Nate led him over to the table. “You remember the rules: Don’t point it at me or yourself, always at the ground. Only put your finger on the trigger when you’re ready to shoot, otherwise keep the safety on and your finger off. We only go out to the targets together and the guns stay at the table, unloaded.”

“I remember.”Gabriel nodded at the familiar instructions and turned towards the targets. He couldn’t hide his smile as Nate explained the weapon.

“Got some new toys today. Little different from the rifles at home. That is a HVP Mark 6. Your standard military sidearm. The design on handguns hasn’t changed much since the cowboy days.” He pointed at the pistol. “Basic grip, firing hammer, and barrel. Now, what has changed is what is inside.”

Nate took the handgun from him and dismantled in seconds, laying the pieces on the table.

“The grip holds a hydrogen cell that feeds the magnetic rings in the barrel of the gun.” Nate picked up the barrel and handed it to him along with a small flashlight. “You see the rings inside? High powered magnets. These are what accelerate the bullet, making any drop in distance negligible.”

“So … point and shoot?” Gabriel was eager to move past the theory lesson.

“No. You need to get used to the rhythm of the recoil as you fire, but just focus on aiming … one shell at a time.” Nate slid the barrel and the grip together, showing Gabriel how to release the slide on the barrel. He then picked up the magazine and popped out one of the shells for him to look at. “Alright, your magazine works on a simple rotator. You can hold 25 rounds. To load it just keep pushing the shells down and to the right until you can’t anymore.”

“Easy enough to remember.”

“Now the bullet. Technology has made them smaller – thinner – but they still have the same hitting power as the old school copper heads. Gunpowder in the casing, with accelerants painted into all the grooves along the bullet.” He pointed closely to the thin black lines swirling down the head of the bullet. “These are like little rockets, causing the bullet to spin even faster. This, combined with the magnets, is how the bullets get to such a high velocity. Those are the basics. Let’s do some shooting.” Nate winked at him.

Gabriel stared down the thin sights of the pistol. He tried to remember to stay loose.

“Squeeze the trigger – don’t pull it.” Nate hovered beside him.

The pistol rocked back as the first round was fired. His arms weren’t ready, spoiling his aim as he shot.

“Move with its rhythm. Let your arms absorb the shot and put the pistol right back to where it came from.”

He focused on Nate’s instruction.

He kept his eyes on the target – letting his body move with the gun as it kicked backward towards him. The pistol came right back to where he had started.

“Beautiful.” Nate clapped. “Center of mass. Good shot.”

“Thanks.” He focused, sending another round at the black target.

“Good. Again. Faster.”

Two more shots. His arms held steady, absorbing the kicks and returning the pistol to his sights each time.

“Alright. Now, 25 yard target. Three quick shots. Take a second between each shot, make them count.”

One. The shot glowed as it left the barrel. Two. Gabriel breathed out. Three. Eyes on the target. The black target bucked backwards, as the final shot landed just inches from the other two.

“You’re picking this up fast. Let’s change it up.” Nate pulled the pistol from his hand, replacing it with an assault rifle. “Get into a kneeling stance.”

 “Like this?”

“Yeah, that’s good. Kneeling shots give you three points to be stable on.” Nate gave him a shake. “Good. Feel yourself get pulled down into the position. You and the ground are the same thing.”

Nate pressed the butt of the gun into Gabriel’s shoulder.

“Tuck it in, don’t let the recoil move you as much on this one. It’s not a pistol and it’ll kick a lot more. Keep rigid – strong. Send out the rounds in bursts. Stop to aim and evaluate each time.” Nate slid the clip into the bottom of the weapon. He flipped off the safety. “25 yards! Fire!”

The rifle rattled in Gabriel’s arms as he  squeezed the trigger. He tightened his grip. He focused, breathed out, and hit the black cut-out with a spray of bullets.

“50 yards!” Nate barked.

Gabriel twisted. He kept his toes and knee dug into the dirt, not lifting anything. The gun’s small lunges tested his grip as each bullet left the barrel.

“Again.”

He stayed focused. Breathe. Stance. Squeeze. The bolts of light found their target.

“Think of your home!” Nate knelt beside him. “Fire!”

Gabriel shook his head, refocusing on the black target. The rounds left the gun abruptly, shaking his grip, hitting the target low.

“Think of your brother!” Nate bumped him. “Fire!”

Two more shots hit the black target, but Gabriel could feel his aim was off. He tried to ignore Nate’s shouting.

“They took Adin! Shoot them!” Nate’s shout echoed in the empty quarry.

Thoughts flooded into his mind. He took aim, trying to remember his list. Breathe. Squeeze. The round of shots set him off balance. He shifted his position.

“Faster! Your brother is in trouble! Faster!”

He couldn’t ignore the thoughts of Adin filling his mind. Round after round kicked up the dirt around the target.

“Again, kill that target! Hold down that trigger!” Nate commanded.

Gabriel’s arms filled with tension as he held down the trigger.  The continuous fire threw off his aim. He failed to adjust. The gun jumped around as he tried to stare down the sights. Then it stopped. The final casing clinked to the ground beside him as it exited the chamber. He breathed out, his chest rising and falling. Nate carefully took the rifle from him. His hand was sore from the grip. He glared at Nate.

Nate cleared his throat. “Every bullet you send down the barrel carries a thought with it. If you can’t control that, you can’t control the shot. It’s a tough lesson.” He took the magazine out of the rifle and set both down on the table.

“Where is he?” Gabriel faced him.

Nate breathed out and shrugged. “We don’t know.”

“Have you even been looking?”

“Of course, we’ve been looking!” Nate glared back at him.

“Well, give me something! Give me a reason to not think he’s dead!”

“No one has filed a missing person’s report. His apartment is still in his name. TERA moved his vehicle into long term storage. They paid him last week! All his bills were paid on time this month!” Nate threw up his hands in frustration. “The systems all say he’s alive and active, but we can’t find him. No pictures, nothing. Not a glimpse of him anywhere.”

Gabriel shook his head. “So, I just have to wait? Wonder if he’s out there somewhere? What am I supposed to do in the mean time?”

Nate pointed his finger. “You do everything you have to, so we can go home.”

Gabriel stayed silent, grinding his teeth

“We push ourselves. We fight. We take down whatever stands in our way. We do what the Church needs us to do, then we go back home. They’ll make sure we are safe. And once we get there, we will find him. No matter what! So, don’t you give up!” Nate reached out and hugged him. “Don’t ever give up.”

Gabriel grabbed him, his lungs quivering as he drew in a deep breath. Nate was right. Everything here was temporary. This wasn’t his home. He needed to fight. To never stop until he found Adin. Until they were both home.

It was late afternoon by the time they returned to the facility. There was a buzz of activity as everyone prepared for the council’s arrival that evening. Gabriel spent most of his time with Nate and Osho, helping them gather notes and documents to present to the council. When it was time, the three were summoned from Osho’s office and preceded to the church’s main sanctuary. They descended a small set of iron rod stairs, deep below the huge cathedral.

By the time they reached the meeting room Gabriel was dizzy, lost by the maze of corridors and guard posts that they had past. Security was tight.. They were instructed to sit and took their spots around a large stone table that must have been built in the room. There was no way it could have fit through any of the doorways. The room was supported by perfectly shaped stone blocks that stretched into massive columns and peaked in a vaulted ceiling. A fire roared in the enormous fireplace on the side of the room, giving the cold stone a more comfortable temperature. Another door on the far side of the room was closed. The two sentries posted on either side eyed everyone who entered the room.

Father Clarence and Cardinal Vincent nodded as they took their places at the great table. More people arrived.  Some faces were familiar to Gabriel. Most were not. They took seats at the great slab of stone or lined the walls on small wooden benches.

Claire entered. She managed a discreet wave before taking her seat. “Where were you today?” she mouthed. 

Gabriel rolled his eyes and pointed at Nate. 

He turned back to the table to find Nate looking at him. “Pay attention.”

The room quieted as the door everyone had entered through was shut and locked from the outside. At the same moment, the guarded door on the other side of the room was unlocked and opened. The guards in the room stood at full attention. Five men strolled through the doorway. Each looked older than most of the people in the room. Silver hair peeked from under their  crimson caps. The Patriarchs all wore long crimson robes with gold rosaries hanging down from a small waist pocket. They took their spots around the table in an orderly fashion, each allowing the one to his right to sit before seating himself. Following behind the Patriarchs were a group of black-robed monks, shaven bald and carrying leather cases with ropes attached to them. They each stood behind a Patriarch and set the leather case on the stone table, opening it up for the Patriarch.

He remembered the quick lesson Dr. Osho had given him on the council. “There are always only five of the nine Patriarchs at the council meetings. The other four remain hidden, in case disaster strikes the meeting and the five are killed. The remaining four would elect a fifth member and the council would continue to function while they searched for new Patriarchs.”

The monks called out their superior’s name in sequence from left to right.

“Patriarch Romaniski.”

“Patriarch Laurent.”

“Patriarch Schmidt.”

“Patriarch Goodwin.”

“Patriarch Milani.”

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Patriarch Goodwin stayed standing as the other Patriarchs took to their seats on the stone floor. The round room remained silent as he addressed everyone. Gabriel took one last look at Claire, then prepared himself to listen.

“We all know why we are here.” The deep English accent of Patriarch Goodwin filled the room. “TERA is positioning itself in Europe and this is of concern to the council. They are in opposition to our views and threaten our sanctity. Also, a possible threat has emerged in old Kazakhstan.” He paused  until each of the other four crimson-robed men agreed with the statement.

Gabriel’s eyes wandered over each of the Patriarchs, studying their expressions as Patriarch Goodwin continued his speech. It was challenging not to despise them. Their beliefs would have put him to death just a short time ago and now here he was, trying to help them. He needed to be calm and leave his emotions out of this discussion. In the end, he reminded himself, all men make mistakes,  but not all men learn from them.

“Lastly, we find ourselves becoming united under a common goal with new friends, the Ingenis Pluris. They have chosen to stand with us, against the evil that is growing in this world. An evil that threatens the gift our Lord left to one day save us from our own actions, as he had saved us before. And until his return, we will uphold the righteous and do battle against evil. The decisions before us tonight must be taken into careful consideration. While it is not our way to be aggressive, we will defend ourselves and all the Lord has given us.” Goodwin was quite tall and thin and his robes hung from him like a tent. He sat down at the table.

“It’s what must be done.” Patriarch Laurent leaned forward to look at the other Patriarchs. His thin pointed moustache was trimmed perfectly and his thick hair was slicked back under his crimson cap.

Father Clarence stood up and clicked a small remote in his hands. A 3D image from above cascaded down over the table. He was firm as he spoke, his voice not faltering. “Here is what we know. Most of our churches in North America are currently safe. The area is now considered to be under the complete control of TERA We know they manipulate the government and will set the stage as they see fit so that they can rule.”

Gabriel was shocked as the slide revealed hundreds of locations across North America. There were more offices than he had ever thought TERA could have. Staring at all the dots he thought of Adin. Could one of those be him? The image faded and was replaced with a large map of Europe. Red dots spread out across it, one after another, revealing dozens of new offices and facilities.

“TERA has set up new facilities across Europe within the last 72 hours. While most of these pose no threat to us, their intentions here do. This is considered our number one priority and it cannot be ignored. They will begin to put more pressure on the European Commonwealth to agree to increases in ore usage by all sectors.” The slides started to scroll through 3D images of some of the new manufacturing equipment being released by TERA “If they succeed in their plans, they will have control of all manufacturing in Europe.” Father Clarence sat down and waited for a response.

The room remained silent. Gabriel focused on Father Clarence’s final statement, Adin forgotten.

Patriarch Goodwin stood up and addressed the room again. “Things are beginning to break down in the European government. We still have influence, but we risk not being listened to for much longer if TERA is allowed to expand. They will poison this land and we will not be able to stop it. We are all here to be stewards of the ore and protect what is ours.”

Patriarch Schmidt spoke up, his voice rising. “They must not be allowed any foothold in Europe.” The passion in his voice was unmistakable. He was clean shaven and wore small rounded glasses. He looked more like a man of science than a man of God.

Patriarch Milani’s brows rose. “Risk open warfare with them? Is that what you are willing to gamble?” He was oriental with a very round face and he looked like a toad when he frowned.

Father Clarence stood back up. “We have the resources. Strike them now before they continue to grow!” He slammed his hand against the table, despite Cardinal Vincent’s attempt to hold it back.

Patriarch Milani‘s lip curled. “Your priesthood doesn’t hide your years of war-mongering very well. If we strike, we put ourselves at the edge of the abyss. It could push us into war.”

Patriarch Laurent now stood. “And what kind of power does TERA hold? We have operatives who can confirm they research things in secret and have done so for years. How would we fight that?”

“If action is taken against TERA, and I do mean ‘if’,” Patriarch Goodwin looked around the room, “it must happen in secret. We cannot openly stand against them unless we have the European Commonwealth behind us.”

Patriarch Romaniski finally spoke in a thick Russian accent. His full beard hid most of his face. “A well placed strike – fast and direct – could slow them for now, but it will take a war to kill the beast.”

“Our way is not war.” Patriarch Milani objected.

“We also do not allow evil to flourish!” Patriarch Romaniski glared at him.

Patriarch Goodwin stood. “Silence!” He slammed the leather case against the great stone table, causing a deafening slap in the stone room. “We will not get anywhere unless we are united in our decision!”

“May I speak?” Dr. Osho raised his hand.

“Of course, Doctor.” The Patriarch bowed, giving Osho the floor, and sat back in his chair.

“The IP has always tried to find the good in the ore, looking past the evil. We believe there are ways to live in balance with the ore, use it to feed our civilization, without damaging what is left of this fragile planet. However, I have personally seen what TERA is capable of back in North America. I am sorry, but if you do not take a stand against them, you will certainly lose. No one will be allowed to live in harmony with TERA Their greed for power will not allow it.”

“We all agree with your heart-felt statement Doctor, but how does one take down an organization as large as TERA?” Patriarch Goodwin shook his head.

“To take down a giant, you need but one well-placed stone. I believe you all know the story?” Osho smiled gently.

Nate stood up beside Osho. “We’ve found a crack in their wall, if you will, in TERA’s operations.” He nodded to Father Clarence to activate a new image over the huge table. A large blue globe with red arrows indicated movements around the world.

“TERA is stretched thin. Too thin. They are over-extending themselves as they push for rapid expansion around the world.” Nate pointed to the many red dots moving across North America, as well as Europe. “They are transporting ore and equipment all over the country. The new manufacturing laws in North America require the use of ore technology. Several new facilities are opening in Europe. They are also integrating several smaller companies into their corporate tree as they assume control of the energy market in North America. This is leaving holes in their security systems.”

Nate motioned the projector off. “ If we hit them now,  during the  transition, we would be able to attack operations throughout North America, as well as Europe. These ops would target key materials, particularly the ore shipments. If we succeed in collecting enough ore, it would paralyze them for a short period of time forcing them to retreat back to North America and allow us time to fortify our position here.”

“You are asking us to organize a lot in very little time.” Patriarch Goodwin crossed his arms.

“Not necessarily. My teams are already set-up in North America using what is left of the IP’s network. If these positions could be strengthened with additional soldiers, we could attack dozens of areas in a single moment.” Nate faced him.

“And those targets – how would they be chosen?” Patriarch Laurent frowned at Nate.

“The new companies TERA is forcing under their control still have to integrate their computer systems into TERA’s global network. This presents some vulnerability in their networks. With so many new users being put into the system, it will be overloaded. We already have people in place to hack the network and discover their movements. We then simply need to disrupt the signals to all the shipments, sending them off course.” Nate smiled. “Then we wait for them to walk into our traps.”

“Impressive, Mr. Reinhart,” Patriarch Romaniski spoke up. “But what target would be the fulcrum of this attack? What do you plan to do to focus their attention? What would blind them enough to give you the time you needed to succeed? I’m sure reinforcements would arrive quickly.”

“The IP itself,” Dr. Osho volunteered the answer. “If we let them believe they have found what they missed in their raid on us, I guarantee they will put substantial resources into getting it. We have a series of caches hidden by one of our founders. If we combined several of the locations into one single ‘Jackpot’ TERA wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to get their hands on that quantity of ore.”

Patriarch Milani stared at Osho. “If you fail, all you have done is given them more ore.”

“We won’t fail.” Nate stood beside Osho.

Osho removed his glasses. “You will not see another opportunity like this again … and even if we succeed on 60 percent of the targets, we will come out ahead. We will have more ore than they find in the cache.”

Patriarch Goodwin grinned from ear to ear. “What must be done?”

Osho put his glasses back on and smiled at Nate. “Most of the plan has already been put in place, but we need some additional resources. Mainly we need soldiers.”

Nate crossed his arms, nodding. “Our requests are not negotiable. We need them to succeed.”

“Careful of your pride, Mr. Reinhart. We, who are present, may agree, but our missing brothers may not.” Patriarch Goodwin rose, collecting a sealed envelope from one of the monks. He drew a small dagger and slit the seal. He read it and passed it to the other Patriarchs.

“You may have your resources, but this operation will be done from the shadows. Only those involved may know about the attack.” Patriarch Goodwin frowned. “Secrecy is key. We will discuss this more later. Now, what shall be done about the threat in Kazakhstan?” He opened the question to the room.

“Thank you.” Osho bowed at him and sat down with Nate.

“The site is an old weapons factory outside Kazakhstan.” Father Clarence stood, activating the projector. A satellite shot of the compound glowed across the stone table. “Activity there has spiked. Ore shipments are coming in daily, and the facility is being retrofitted for some kind of weaponry assignment. Our latest reports say the time table has been accelerated and the project should be completed within days, not weeks, as we originally expected. Also, a large number of refugees have been moved into the facility. We are still working to find out why they are there. We are gathering more information daily, but if we allow this facility to become fully operational, we will eventually have to face what they are building there.”

“What of the rumors?” Patriarch Milani stood. “Are the weapons designed to use the ore?”

Father Clarence sighed and shook his head. “We don’t know. It has been difficult to find out about all the ore shipments but, yes, we do know they have all types of ore on site. Including black.”

“The Kazakhstan weapon facility could also be assaulted if the European Commonwealth acknowledged it as a national threat. They would allow the Church to handle the situation. If we are seen as preoccupied with it, the attack on TERA would draw less suspicion, hiding our tracks,” Nate pointed out.

Patriarch Romaniski laughed deep in his belly. “You are a soldier, aren’t you! Let’s say you succeed at getting through the security at Kazakhstan. What then? You can’t detonate the store of ore. You don’t even know whose base you’re attacking!”

“With government support, we would be sanctioned to assume control of the compound.” Patriarch Goodwin eyed his counterpart carefully.

“What of reinforcements? We have no idea what to expect if it’s the Horsemen facility. I mean, for all we know it could be a commonwealth facility.” Patriarch Milani joined Patriarch Romaniski’s side.

“No.” Goodwin shook his head. “We know for a fact it is not with the European Commonwealth. They see it as a threat as well and they leave the stewardship of the ore to us.”

“The owners of the facility are the threat, not the technology and ore within,” Patriarch Laurent said slyly.

“You know the laws, Laurent. Anything involving the black ore is sealed away and never disrupted again. That is the reality of our stewardship. We will not be using any weapons we find.” Patriarch Goodwin spoke firmly, forcing the other Patriarch to bow his head in acknowledgement of his mistake.

“The black ore could be destroyed at the –”

. “Destroy the ore!” Patriarch Romaniski  was quick to cut off Nate. “You must be joking. There is nothing that can destroy it! Even if you broke it into hundreds of pieces the poison still remains.”

“With all due respect, you are wrong.” Dr. Osho stood up. He poured the contents of an envelope onto the grand table – a simple sand with a light green sheen.

The Patriarchs eyed the substance and stared back at Osho, curious.

“See this? This is a simple crystal of ore void of any energy … any radiation at all.” He picked up the fine dust with his bare hands and sifted it onto the table. “This is all that remains when the black ore is properly destroyed.”

Pandemonium broke out in the room. Mockery, shouts, and questions filled the air as everyone demanded Dr. Osho explain himself. Patriarch Goodwin raised his hand, quieting the room as he spoke, “Why were we not informed of this before?”

“Because we only discovered that it could be done yesterday.” Osho bowed his head briefly. “The power to destroy the ore lies within this young man.” He rested his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder.

“They are lying!” Patriarch Romaniski barked. “He’s an ore user. Why would he destroy his own power?”

Gabriel glared at the man. “The ore has destroyed my life. I would gladly be rid of it.”

“The ore is our future, we only want to destroy what has been polluted.” Patriarch Milani shook his head.

“This young man wants a reckoning. Why should we trust him with anything?” Patriarch Schmidt’s eyes drilled into him.

“Because by the time we find another option, there won’t be any time left.” Dr. Osho pointed at the table. “The proof is right there. Question it all you like.”

“They are trying to deceive us!” Patriarch Romaniski remained hostile.

One voice rose above the room. Claire ran over to Gabriel and Osho. “It is true!” She faced Patriarch Goodwin. ”I saw it with my own eyes. They are telling the truth.”

Gabriel felt indebted to her. She was standing up for him to the Patriarchs, asking them to trust his strength.

Laurent looked down his nose at her. “Why would we believe an exile?”

“Watch your tongue, Laurent. Ms. Bennett will be counted as a witness.” Goodwin glared at the other Patriarch.

“Then you may also count me.” Cardinal Vincent stood up. “While I was not present for the act – I saw enough to believe their claim.”

The room remained silent for several moments as the Patriarchs whispered amongst themselves. The door the Patriarchs had entered through burst open, and a monk carrying another sealed envelope entered. The monk handed it to Patriarch Goodwin who broke the seal and read the message then passed it to the other Patriarchs for confirmation.

“Our missing brothers of the council are eager for a demonstration.” Patriarch Goodwin stared at Gabriel. “As am I.”

Dr. Osho nodded his head. “Of course, I can prepare a containment room and we can –”

He was cut off by Patriarch Goodwin.  “No preparation. We need to see it now. We must know he can do this by command, that it is not a lengthy process.” Nods of agreement came from around the room.

Dr. Osho looked to Gabriel. “You will have to control the blast – surround it completely.”

“I’ll try.” Gabriel nodded.

“No.” Nate looked him in the eyes. “Don’t just try. You do. You have to make this work. We do whatever we have to, remember?”

“Right.” He remembered his commitment. Anything to find a way home.

Nate moved several others, including Claire, away from Gabriel as Osho pulled out a silver steel container and placed it on the table.

“I thought they might want to see it, so I came prepared.” He smiled as he placed Gabriel’s hand on the case and stepped away from him.

The container was the same as before. It contained a smaller shard, about the size of his thumb. Relieved, Gabriel removed the clear protective casing from around the sleek black shard. The effect was immediate. He could see everyone in the room looking suddenly drained as the shard was exposed. Bright white gloves formed around both his hands. The room filled with muttering as he tried to stay focused. He picked up the shard, covering the whole thing in both his cupped hands. The Patriarchs whispered amongst one another.

Gabriel started to push energy from his chest into the small black stone, causing his hands to grow brighter and brighter, blinding those who were too close. The reaction was close to complete, the black shard vibrated in his hands. Another globe of white light pulsed into the air, encircling his hands as he added extra protection. He closed his eyes. A muffled bang erupted in the room and Gabriel’s arms absorbed an invisible shock. The thin shield disappeared first then the two gloves retreated from around his hands. He opened them.

A dull blue dust rested in his palms. He poured the grains of bluish sand on the table, covering the green dust left there. He swallowed hard as he tried to control his nerves.

Dr. Osho smiled and leaned over the table. He cupped some of the sand into his palm and then dropped it back onto the table. “Satisfied?”

Amazement marked each of their faces. Some of the Patriarchs lifted the sand into their palms. Others let it sift through their fingers. The room filled with chatter until Patriarch Goodwin raised his hand to silence everyone. He looked at the other Patriarchs who nodded in agreement.

“Contact the Commonwealth. We will need to speak to them.”

Chapter Forty

The next day was a whirlwind of activity. Secret communications were sent to the remaining IP members in North America, strengthening their numbers with operatives of the Church. Access into the TERA mainframe was acquired, as they broke through security weak points. Operatives waited to disable TERA’s central communication hub. The trap was set. Targets were selected all over Europe and North America. Gabriel stuck close to Nate and Father Clarence. They studied local maps and roadways for each target, choosing the optimal position to attack. Exposed stretches of isolated road, manufacturing facilities and warehouses were dissected, as they determined the strongest plan of attack for each target. Dr. Osho coordinated locations where the teams could retreat to after their assaults. Safe houses were set up within churches all across North America with hidden vaults inside for the ore.

A final meeting with the council was called to review the operation. The lights in the room dimmed as Gabriel found a piece of wall to lean against.  The screen at the front of the room glowed with red letters. A list broke apart and reformed under three columns.

Father Clarence started the meeting. “These are the targets for this operation; 31 in total. Our operatives have hacked into TERA’s mainframe through the exposed networks of the acquired companies in North America. From there they can attack the network and disrupt any communications. This will give us the time we need to strike. Twelve of the targets are ore transport trucks, heading to manufacturing plants around North America. Teams are positioned to hit them on open stretches of highway, well outside of any of the cities and far from any TERA support. Fifteen of the targets are new laboratories. Teams included in this leg of the operation will be straight assault, demolition, and ore retrieval. The IP will handle the majority of these with their people. The last four listed are testing sites for experimentation. These are human testing facilities – which until a few weeks ago was illegal, but now are growing exponentially every day, caging exiles. I know this might be a challenge for some of you, but the goal is to destroy these facilities. Minimal efforts will be made to save any prisoners. From what information we have, most of them are already lost. May the Lord forgive us.”

Mumbles and whispers filled the room, but no one objected. Gabriel could see everyone knew what had to be done and no one questioned it.

As Father Clarence took his seat, Dr. Osho cleared his throat and stood up. “Soon, we will expose the bait. Everything depends on this. The leak about a major cache of ore the IP had kept hidden will trigger the attack. Judging by the amount of resources put into the first attack on the IP, and knowing TERA, they will react immediately. We expect them to divert a large piece of their team to assault the cache we have set up. We’ve developed an elaborate series of defenses that should slow them down.”

Dr. Osho returned to his seat and Patriarch Goodwin took the floor. Gabriel was surprised to see him dressed, not in his red robes, but in black. Large brass buttons ran down the front and a red sash was tied around his waist.

The Patriarch took the time to look around the room at each person before speaking. “There are going to be casualties – for TERA and ourselves. Our Lord will forgive us, but this is an act of war. All teams are instructed to shoot to kill, making sure no witnesses are left. If a brother in arms falls beside you, you will bring him home. The operation needs to be as covert as possible, leaving no trace of our involvement. We cannot risk this becoming open war.” He ended by bowing his head and saying a prayer in Latin.

Gabriel thought about Goodwin’s words. What sacrifices would be required to get the ore into the hands of good, honest leaders? He just wanted to end the tyranny attached to the ore. He didn’t want to see the world his father feared for them.

When the prayer finished, the room emptied, leaving only a few remaining. An image of the weapons facility appeared on the wall. Gabriel walked down to sit in the front with the remaining twelve soldiers. Father Clarence handed each of them a small booklet. It mapped every wall in the weapons facility.

Nate cleared his throat. “Memorize that. The initial assault will begin from the European Commonwealth. Our team will secretly enter the base. Once inside we will split up – Gabriel will enter the vaults alone to deal with any black ore. The rest of us support him and find out who is behind the facility, then we will place charges within the facility and level it from inside. Those beside you are all that you have. The Commonwealth will not recognize our actions or protect us in anyway if we fail.”

Nate’s words scared Gabriel. His heart raced as he imagined what he might encounter on his way to destroy the main black ore supply. The amount of the black ore in the facility was still unknown. He was certain he could dispose of several large shards, but didn’t know how it would affect him. Osho predicted there would be dozens of samples. The largest would be as big as a bowling ball, which seemed like a challenge – but not impossible. He hoped.

Two hours later he left the meeting and retreated down to the vaults. They were the only vacant hallways in the whole structure where he could find some peace. Unfortunately, the guard didn’t quite understand.

“I’m not here to take any of the ore. How many times do I have to say that?” Gabriel repeated himself for the guard. “I was looking for a quiet place to relax. Have you been upstairs lately?”

The guard didn’t blink. “If you have no business here, please head back upstairs.”

Claire stepped up beside Gabriel and smiled at the guard.

“Ms. Bennett, do you need access into the vaults?” The guard returned her smile, ignoring Gabriel.

“Yes, I just need to get some samples for some testing.” She held out her badge. “I can take Mr. Roberts in with me.”

Gabriel was happy to see her – he had missed her. The last several days had kept them apart from their usual meals together.

The guard frowned and stared at Gabriel.

“I can get Patriarch Goodwin’s approval if there is a problem?” she suggested politely.

“No.” The guard shrugged. “You’ve been given open access to the vaults; I wouldn’t want to bother the Patriarch at this time.”

“Good.” She smiled again and took Gabriel by the arm.

“I’ve missed you.” He enjoyed the moment with her.

“Happy to hear that.” She flashed a grin and led him to a large steel door with a keypad on the side of it. A small lens pulsed with a blue light. Claire entered a sequence of numbers as the lens scanned her face. The door popped free from its lock and slid sideways. “This is my favorite place.”

Gabriel’s jaw dropped as he entered the room after her. Piles of ore glowed in the darkness. Their colors pulsed and shimmered. Never had he seen so much ore in one place. Some were as small as a shoe, others were large boulders that rose to his knee. Several wall-mounted lights flickered to life as they entered the room, revealing even more pieces of ore hiding in the corners. “It’s one of the largest collections of ore in all of Europe.” She strolled through the pieces. “We’ve found that the blue, red, and green ores can naturally charge one another over time.”

“They do?” He walked after her, twisting and turning as he found his own path through the ore.

“Well, not enough to counteract any large draw on them, so I guess it’s more of a trickle.” She touched a green boulder beside her. “These are all still rough cuts as we call them …” She bent down and picked up a smaller crystal. “See?” Pieces of stone were still attached to it.

“So many of them.” The ores pulsed brighter as he navigated through the room.

She giggled. “Look at them react to you.” She smiled and watched the ore brighten around him.

He shook his head. “Gift or curse?” He placed his hand on a large blue shard, causing it to glow brightly. Condensed water formed on his hand. He smiled at her, shaking it dry.

“Hardly a curse.” She headed back to the vault door. She closed it and clicked off the lights along the walls. “I love how they glow.”

“I’ve never been around this much ore before.” He dropped onto the floor, resting his back against the wall. “Can you feel them? The energy humming inside them?”

“Sort of. It’s more peaceful to me.” She made her way over to him, her dark hair gleaming in different hues as she approached. Her eyes reflected the colors around the room. “All their shapes and auras. I wonder if this was what it was like back in the Garden.”

“You never told me how you first found out about your connection?”

“I happened to find some stored in our house.” She smiled and sat down beside him.

“Sounds like a familiar story …” He thought of Kyrie playing with a small shard as a child.

“What do you mean?”

“Just a friend who found out the same way.” He smiled. “Played with it as a child.”

“So, your father discovered all of this.” She pointed to the sea of colors in front of him. “You don’t talk about him a whole lot.”

“I thought, after our first lunch, that we stayed away from the sad topics.” He bumped her with his shoulder. They had. Neither of them pushed for any information about their past. Gabriel had even given up on asking about the ‘Spheres’.

“No, not stay away from them.” She smiled at him. “We just need to find the right moment to talk.”

“Tough to argue with this one.” Gabriel looked around the room and sighed. “I wish my Dad hadn’t found all of this … I’m pretty sure he wished for that too.”

She frowned at him. “Why would you say that?”

“‘Cause I wouldn’t be here, life would have been normal … he would still be alive.” He faked a smile to hide his pain.

“But then I wouldn’t have met you.” She shrugged. “I think that’s a pretty big loss.” She smiled, then sobered.  “Sorry.  I guess life isn’t so simple, is it?”

He leaned into her. “It’s definitely the best silver lining I could of hoped for.” He illuminated a red shard in front of them. It cast a breath of heat towards them, like a small fire.

She stretched out her hand to feel its warmth. “How did you find out?”

“It was kinda forced on me.” He pulled down his shirt collar to reveal the tip of the white ore in his chest.

She froze. “How? TERA?” She looked sad.

“No.” Gabriel shook his head. “Luckily. I – ah – had a bad day. A tornado to be exact.” His lips twisted. “I woke up the day after, with this stuck in my chest. It was a gift my father had given me. Funny how that played out.”

“You’ve never shown me your ore before. I didn’t know it was white.” She pulled his collar down further, running her fingertips over it, clearly amazed.

He liked her boldness. “Kinda the trade secret.” Her blue eyes reflected the glowing ore. He waited, not saying anything, holding his breath as her fingers brushed against his skin.

“I’m sorry.” She laughed and pulled her hand back quickly.

“It’s alright.” He smiled and straightened out his collar. “I feel safe around you. And this thing,” he tapped his chest, “there’s no getting rid of it!”

“I feel the same way.” She leaned up against his shoulder.

He reached out again, touching a red shard for a breath of heat. He was at peace sitting here. He could feel the energy moving around him – flowing from shard to shard. He shut his eyes and rested his head against the wall, absorbing the moment.

After several minutes of silence, Claire spoke. “You alright? With tomorrow and all.”

“Numb, I guess.” He opened his eyes and looked at her.

“Numb?” She shook her head. “I would be so scared!”

“It has to be done. It’s my purpose … my father’s purpose. It’s something I have to do.”

“Your father’s?” She rested her head on her knees, which she had pulled up to her chest. She looked cold.

He reached for the red shard and this time, left his hand on it. The air around them heated up quickly. “You know one of the last things he said about the ore before he died? That it needed to be destroyed.”

“Destroyed? Maybe the black, but the others are so important!”

“Are they?” He stared at her.

“Yes!” She frowned. “We don’t have much energy left to keep things going in this world … we need the ore to survive.”

“Really? Do we?” Gabriel stared at her, his jaw tense. “No one will ever stop using it. No one will even try to find other solutions. Maybe if we had to change, if it was no longer an option, we might be better off.”

She stared at the ground, avoiding his eyes. “The Church is trying to utilize the ore only for good, just like the IP is. It’s a gift from God, left behind to us.”

“I’m sorry but in my life the ore is a curse … too many have died for it already.” He stood up. “The ore has taken my father, my mother, and possibly my brother from me … they are all dead. That isn’t much of a gift if you ask me!” He drew in a ragged breath. “A month ago I was in a cage, being treated like an experiment because of this thing in my chest … people were being killed and beaten to discover the ‘potential’ of the ore. I have no home … everything I own sits in a bag in my room.  Nothing but death and pain come with the ore.” His lips twisted. “Why are we keeping it?”

“I’m sorry …” She spoke softly.

He sighed, running his hands through his hair. “No … I’m sorry … that wasn’t fair of me.” He knelt back down beside her. “I was out of line. I am just so tired of how everyone treats the ore, and those who have a connection to it. I just want it all to stop.”

“So do I.” She leaned back into him. “I have to believe there’s a reason for what the Church is doing – what my father’s doing.”

“Your father?” Gabriel frowned at her. “I didn’t know your father was here.”

“Trade secret.” She smiled at him. “Goodwin.”

Gabriel was shocked. “Patriarch Goodwin?”

She nodded. “Yeah.”

“So, that’s why you aren’t treated like an exile.” He had wondered.

She nodded. “We don’t really know each other, but we try.” She stared at a piece of green ore, her fingers tracing its shape. “Patriarch Goodwin was only a Bishop when he fell in love with my mother. He repented and left her. I was still young when she got sick. She was dying, and he came rushing back. He tried to treat her with a shard of green ore, hoping it would heal her. It killed her so fast. He never forgave himself. I guess, as my father, he was obligated to care for me, but that caused problems once they discovered what I was. So, I was left alone with the nuns as an exile. His work with the ore and the Church consumed him. I barely talk to him anymore. Most days I don’t even know where he is.” Gabriel could feel the pain in her voice. It trembled as she kept talking. “If the ore is used properly we could save so many. The Church would see the world renewed. Isn’t that worth it?”

Gabriel really didn’t know.  That was a question he didn’t have answer to. “Where will you be tomorrow?”

She smiled. “Where it’s safe … my father wouldn’t have me involved, even if I wanted to be there.”

“Hmph.” Gabriel scoffed. “I find that hard to believe.” Claire was stubborn and fierce when she wanted to be. Every day she walked around this place with her head held high. Without even realizing it, she was courageous. Few people were like that.

“Well, don’t go too far.” He smiled at her. “It’s tough to find someone to share pudding and cake with.”

“Just be safe.” She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

His heart stirred and he slowly turned his head, pressing his lips gently against hers. She took a deep breath, finally, and pulled away ever so slightly. He kissed her again, and his body leaned into hers, feeling dizzy as his chest grew hot. The ore around him suddenly flared with light.

She rested her forehead against his. “Please, be careful.”

“Destroying a bunch of black ore? What could be safer?” He smiled.

She faked a smile and reached for his hand. “I’m worried that you won’t make it back.” She took a deep breath.

He wrapped his arm around her.  “Me too.”

Chapter Forty-One

Gabriel and Nate left Saint Petersburg in the dark morning hours. The small plane they boarded took them to a remote airstrip inside Kazakhstan. Upon arriving they off-loaded the plane’s cargo into a waiting van and drove three hours on dirt roads to their final stop. It was a small building in the middle of the woods, miles from anywhere.

A pair of priests hustled to set up a remote command centre for Nate as Gabriel stood out of the way, unsure of what to do. He watched an old clock on the wall tick away minute after minute. slowly getting closer to the strike time later that evening. Their attack would trigger dozens more around the world and slow TERA’s expansion. The Church, the IP, the European Commonwealth were all in agreement to cripple TERA. But for him, the only solution was to destroy the ore, to remove the reason behind TERA and their greed. This world would find another path – perhaps return to simpler times. Despite his fondness for the ore in his chest, he wished it had all stayed in the ground.

He wandered into a small room. It offered a quiet place he could work out his thoughts. He had the facilities layout that Father Clarence had given him – each page a different tint, separating them by floors. It highlighted the most direct routes to stairwells, access panels, and any other route to the next floor down – he did his best to memorize it. His destination was on the lowest floor and his job was simple. Destroy as much of the black ore as possible, while remaining strong enough to escape. It was a task he was more than willing to do, but inside, he was terrified. How big would the pieces be? How much could he truly withstand? If he couldn’t destroy it, then the future he wanted would be impossible. Maybe God had designed it that way as a final reminder to a technological world that we are not our own masters.

 “Still here?” Nate stepped into the room, carrying a small black duffle bag, like the one he always travelled with. He set it down on the table and leaned on the flat surface.

Gabriel sat up, pleased to see him. Being alone only left him with his fear to think about. “I’ve got nowhere to go. You ever think about things before you go on a mission? No worries about being killed around the next corner?”

Nate shrugged. “I guess, when I find the time. There’s nothing I can say to make what we are about to do okay … It’s scary. What happens in the next 24 hours is going to play out across the world. It’s our ticket home, a non-negotiable one. If we can stop TERA and keep things safer here, we get to go home. I’ve already spoken with Cardinal Vincent.”

Gabriel smiled. Nate’s words always seemed to set things on the right path. “So, you’re scared too?” The tension in his stomach was eating away at him.

“Me?” Nate made a face at him. “Nah, I just said that so you would feel better!”

He laughed. “I appreciate the lie.”

Nate pushed the bag out of the way as he sat down on the table. “I’ve seen you do some amazing things. And in the end – of all of the tight spots you were in – you came out, okay. Hell! Bullets bounce off your hands!” He gave Gabriel’s shoulder a small shake, then looked into his eyes. “I’m not going to be far from you. We will be in radio contact the whole time. You just focus on blowing up as much of that black ore as you can. I’ll worry about everything else. We’re going to do this and get home.”

“Good to know.” He squeezed Nate’s hand on his shoulder.

“It is good to know! This is what I do!” Nate laughed, changing the mood and grabbing the bag on the table. “Okay.” He unzipped the bag. “Here’s your gear.”

He began pulling things out and tossing them in front of Gabriel as he listed what they were. “Pants … shirt … vest … helmet … boots … hell, I even put some socks and change of underwear in here; all in black camo!” The pile of clothes made a pile of dark grays and black stripes, all blending together with one another.

“Alright … see this vest.” Nate showed him. “Radio all dialed in for you. Earpiece – works as a mic too.” He began opening the pockets. “Some flares, a small light, your electronic magic key for any locks, snap lights … there’s some rations here … first aid kit in this pouch, but I don’t think you will be using it much.” He winked.

Gabriel grabbed the vest and tried it on over his shirt. An empty holster rested under the arm. He looked back to Nate. “I think you forgot something.”

Nate barely smiled at the joke, looking quite serious. “Not this time. I don’t want you in this fight. You need to just stay behind cover. Keep hidden. Let me and my team do our job if we get into a fire fight. I don’t want the other side to even know you exist … if they don’t know you’re there, they won’t aim for you.”

He nodded. “Alright.”

“Good!” Nate grabbed him by the back of the neck and pulled him in for a hug. “You just stay safe.” Nate held on to him, his hand giving him a strong pat on the back. “Nothing crazy, alright?” He held Gabriel’s face. “You’re all the family I got. I’m not losing you.”

Gabriel’s eyes stung with tears. He grabbed onto Nate’s shoulders, trying to keep his emotions inside. Gabriel took a deep breath. “I’m afraid.” He swallowed hard.

Nate nodded in agreement. “I know, kid. We all are.” They hugged, thumping each other on the back. “You get changed and ready. I’ll be back for you in an hour. Then we move out.”

Nate left the room and Gabriel changed into his gear. Everything fit, right down to the boots. He sat down on the bed, drumming on the mattress under him. The clock still showed thirty minutes until Nate would be ready to leave. He lay back on the bed, leaving his feet still touching the ground. He stared at the discolored ceiling, eventually closing his eyes.

His thoughts drifted back to his family. He saw his parents in each others’ arms, laughing, no fear in their eyes. His dad’s long dark hair hung down over his face, while his mom rested her head against his chest. Her arms wrapped around him as he kissed the top of her head. The image settled his heart. Gabriel thought of Adin. Not the Adin in a pressed black suit, but a younger version – running through the fields in a raggedy T-Shirt with “I love rocks” on the back of it. His face was flecked with dirt, his cheeks covered with blonde peach fuzz. He called out to Gabriel, telling him to keep up, laughing as he ran through the endless sun and tall grass. Gabriel choked on a sob at the image of his brother leaving him behind as he ran happily into the bright horizon.

Adin was lost. He might never find him. Tears rolled down his face as he struggled to come to terms with that. Now was not the time. The loss of his father, his mother and his brother all had something in common. The pain was still fresh in his heart, but his mind was focused on one purpose. Destroying the ore.

Chapter Forty-Two

Nate barked out orders to the priests as he marched back and forth across the main room of the building in the woods. His face was smeared with black paint and he looked ready for war – a sub machine gun dangled across his overloaded vest of tricks. A pistol was strapped to his leg. He wore the same black and grey camo as Gabriel.

“Once you’re finished, you leave nothing behind. There must be no trace of us left in this building … take everything with you.” Nate pointed to all the electronic equipment in the room.

The priests nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Good.” Nate looked up at the clock, then at Gabriel. He roughly grabbed at Gabriel’s vest, checking out his gear.

Gabriel smiled and allowed the inspection. “Nice makeup.” He grinned.

“Funny!” Nate smacked Gabriel in the stomach then smeared four sticky lines of paint across his face. “No traces left!” He hollered as he pushed Gabriel towards the doorway.

Gabriel stepped aside, letting Nate take the lead. He followed Nate’s back in the dim light as they entered a small staircase that wound deep into the ground. Nate clicked on a light, illuminating the space in blue. The tunnel they entered smelled of rot and the splash of small puddles under Gabriel’s boots. After a couple hundred yards, they stepped out into the fresh night air. It was cool as they ran up into the woods, where an unmarked jeep waited for them. No one said anything as they got in. The ride was short, only a couple of miles under the thick cover of the woods.

The jeep stopped in a large clearing where a small helicopter waited for them. They jogged towards it as the jeep disappeared back into the wooded darkness.

Gabriel climbed into the small cabin which was barely big enough for the two of them. Nate hit the pilot on the shoulder, signaling him to take off. The pilot powered up the machine – the blades started spinning overhead. Gabriel pulled on a headset and made sure that he was buckled in as they began to lift. The small craft rose high into the air, leaving his stomach back on the ground. As they crested the tree line, the small open craft surged forward at an alarming speed. The pilot stayed low, skillfully cutting between some of the taller trees. Gabriel focused on keeping his stomach calm.

“Sir!” The pilot’s voice came through their headsets. “Teams Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie have engaged the base at the southwest corner of the structure.” He pointed at the flashes of small explosions and streaming bright lines of bullets several miles away.

“Good.” Nate leaned forward. “Resistance?”

“Light so far. The enemy has barricaded themselves inside the walls of the facility, returning fire like we expected. Standard ammunition, nothing heavy and no signs of ore being used.”

“What about Delta?” Nate held onto a bar over their heads as they began to bank towards the fight zone.

“They are on the north side, completely undetected, awaiting you and Mr. Roberts.”

“Get us there!” Nate commanded. He turned to Gabriel and attached a small carabineer and rope to the back of his vest.

“What’s that?” Gabriel hollered into the mic.

“It’s for when you jump out of this thing!” Nate smiled devilishly at him.

“What!” Gabriel swallowed. Hard.

The helicopter swung low into a small opening above the tree line, just outside of the fighting. It came to a smooth hover. The pilot gave them a signal. Nate motioned for Gabriel to take off the headset and handed him a helmet.  As he was putting it on, Nate unclipped their seatbelts, leaving him very unsteady in the hovering chopper.

“Out you go!” Nate pushed him out of the open cabin.

Gabriel’s heart jumped high into his throat as he began to free fall from the chopper. His chest tightened, caught by the rope. Steadily, he descended into the darkness below. Nate came zipping down to him and passed by with a huge grin on his face in the weak light. An uneasy minute passed until his feet finally met Nate’s hands as he neared the ground. Nate unhooked him with a quick jerk. He fell to the ground, waiting for his stomach to catch up. Nate patted him on the back. The chopper’s stutter faded away, replaced by the popping noises of distant gunfire. Gabriel stood up as Nate adjusted his radio. He heard Nate breathing in his ear.

“Little much.” Gabriel pointed to his ear. “It’s kinda loud.”

Nate put a finger over his lips and said to him in a whisper that boomed in his ear. “You’ll need to hear me over the gunfire. Now, keep up.”

Nate turned on a device attached to his arm and positioned a thin green lens over one of his eyes. He looked around at the darkness, then turned Gabriel and pushed him to march forward into the unknown. Gabriel stumbled towards a nearby bush, his eyes not fully adjusted to the lack of light. The bush he was heading towards twisted around and stared at him. He froze.

A new voice echoed in his ear. “Keep going, Gabriel.” He recognized Father Clarence’s voice. 

Nate moved from behind him, quickly pushing him towards the Father and whispering, “Everyone move … together.”

The three began to creep through the woods towards the flashes of light now only several hundred yards away. They made a distinct turn away from the fire fight, using the dark woods to mask their movements. Nate soon signaled to slow their pace as they turned back in their original direction. They continued to creep through the small bushes and raised roots of the old trees around them. Nate drew his sidearm and took point. Gabriel followed the dark silhouette of Nate’s back. As they continued to move ahead, a soldier flanked in behind Nate, coming from out of nowhere in the darkness. Another joined in line, then another, eventually filling the space all around Gabriel, not missing a step towards the northern end of the structure.

As they neared the tree line, Gabriel could make out a solid wall of blackened steel. They came to a sudden halt. Tall lights burned brightly on top of the wall, illuminating the ground below.

Nate knelt down as he surveyed the area. “No guards in the area … what’s our status?”

Father Clarence kept his voice at a whisper as well. “Alpha, Bravo and Charlie have them tied up, holding their approach at the gates of the facility.”

“How’s the other side of the pond?” Nate stayed still.

“All marks have begun their operations, no problems yet. We took them completely by surprise.” Father Clarence chuckled.

“ETA on any enemy reinforcements to our position?” Nate crawled forward.

Gabriel stared along the top of the armor plated walls of the facility, looking for any movement.

“Intercept teams are in place, but the owners of this facility aren’t showing their faces.”

“Look alive gentlemen, we hold this exit position … I want kills all around, we do not want to draw any extra attention to ourselves,” Nate commanded the soldiers around him. “Alright everyone, let’s do this!” He stepped out of the safety of the woods.

Chapter Forty-Three

The team sprinted in pairs. Gabriel stayed with Father Clarence, following his rush towards the towering wall of steel. Each pair spread out along the base of the massive wall, avoiding the shine of the lights. His hand ran across the series of bolts and heavy plates – thick welds running between each of the pieces to form an impressive barrier.

“Lowest density is here.” One of the soldiers scanned the wall with a set of goggles. The soldier signaled his partner to begin their job. He pulled a hand-held laser cutter from his pack. He pulled at the fuel line attached to it – giving himself room to work.

Gabriel jumped as the laz saw popped loudly against the steel. He hoped no one heard the noise. The sound dulled as it dug into the steel, heating the surface around it with a soft glow. He stared at the cutter as it worked its way through the armored steel – it was slow, the soldier making adjustments for speed and cutting depth every several inches. Nate grew restless, whispering into his radio for updates and checking his wrist watch. He crept over to the soldiers working on the armored wall.

He returned to Father Clarence and Gabriel. “The damn plating on the wall is too thick. They reinforced it from the inside with something. The laz saw is having problems cutting through it. I didn’t think it would take this long.”

“I don’t think they like uninvited guests.” The Father smiled.

“Time isn’t our friend. If the team at the main gate gets too aggressive and we are not inside – we could lose all the information about who’s behind this place.” Nate glanced at his watch again, throwing up his hands in frustration.

“Can we preheat the steel with flares or something to help the laz saw move faster?” The Father frowned at the wall.

“Heat?” Gabriel was confused.

Nate grunted as he wrapped on the wall with his knuckles. “This is armor plating. It’s damn thick too. The only weakness is heat, but using flares is going to draw a lot of attention. I don’t –”

Gabriel cut him off. “I can do it.”

“What?” Nate stared at him.

“I can melt steel. Heating up the wall will be easy.” He shrugged at Nate, not sure how to explain it any easier.

Nate grabbed him by his vest, pulling him as they went back up along the wall to where the team was trying to cut through it. He pointed at the wall then spoke over the radio, “Robins get ready to speed up.”

Robins looked back at Nate, plainly confused by the order. Gabriel reached out, placing his hand against the rough steel wall. A pulse of heat filled the air as the rusted steel surface turned red and glowed. Robins quickly adjusted the laz saw and pushed it towards Gabriel’s hand. His partner, Volmer, secured clamps into the thick cuts of steel, grasping the back of the plates. Gabriel remained focused, kneeling on the ground beside them. His left hand glowed against the steel plating as he kept it just in front of the saw.

Things were going well. With his help, the team was making up for lost time. Only a couple of feet remained as the laz cut through the plating without a problem. The rest of the team stayed silent, scanning the area for any signs of discovery. Father Clarence had moved up in front of Gabriel to keep him covered.

“Simply amazing.” Father Clarence commented over the radio.

Nate threw a rock at him hitting him square in the back. “Pay attention.”

The Father turned away from Gabriel and looked down the wall into the darkness. Gabriel followed his stare, struggling to make anything out past the lights. The tall trees even vanished in the darkness. A single pulse of light flashed from the tree line. Followed quickly by another, just seconds after the first. Father Clarence fell back against the wall, grabbing at his shoulder as he fell.

“Sniper!” Nate hollered over the radio.

The team hit the ground and fanned out looking for cover.

Father Clarence rolled into the base of the wall beside Gabriel. “I’m alright,” He grunted over the radio. “They’re close!”

Gabriel’s eyes flashed with heat, his vision warped the darkness into a silhouette of outlines. There was movement in the tree line, two figures repositioned behind a makeshift blind of branches, their rifles at the ready. He crawled over the injured Father, trying to keep his eyes focused on their attackers location.

“I can see them –”A pulse of light exploded from one of the barrels. Before Gabriel could react, it slammed into his chest, sending him toppling over backwards.

“Gabriel!” Nate’s voice erupted in his ear.

“I’m fine.” He whispered back, his heart pounding in his chest. “The ore stopped it.”

“Don’t move! Everyone stay low to the ground, they’ve got us completely pinned.” Nate ordered.

“They’re in the tree line. About 200 yards up, hiding in a blind, right side off the wall.” Gabriel stayed still, playing dead.

“Lawrence. You see them?” Nate whispered.

“The blind is in my sights.” The soldier replied.

“Chamber an incendiary round. Punch one through the blind.” Nate paused.

“Taking the shot.” Lawrence whispered.

A streak of fire blazed out across the darkness, as the round slammed into the blind. It exploded into flame. The air around Gabriel filled with muffled popping noises as the team targeted the blazing blind. A dozen shells pounded into it, sending embers and shattered wood flying. The shooting ended and Robins twisted the top of a small black container, throwing it out in front of them. It erupted with a thick grey smoke, covering them. The team rushed towards Gabriel, surrounding him, each scanning the area around them for more enemies.

Nate’s voice came over the radio after a minute of terrifying silence. “We’re clear.” Gabriel breathed out and climbed to his feet with Robins’ help.

Gabriel’s heart pounded in his chest, the ore burning inside him. He could see a faint black silhouette moving through the smoke towards them. Nate ran towards the priest, holstering his side arm and signaled the rest of the team to flank out and cover them.

Nate ripped open Father Clarence’s vest and shirt with a knife, inspecting his wounds. Gabriel joined him.

The Father faked a smile. “I must have forgotten to say enough prayers this morning!”

“That’ll teach ya.” Nate rolled him over, inspecting the exit wounds. “God still loves you though. The bullets passed straight through.”

Ing dropped to his knees beside the Father, taking his pack off to reveal a field kit of medical supplies. Nate rifled through it, setting the items he needed on the ground beside him.

“This is gonna hurt,” Nate warned Father Clarence as he put on some latex gloves.

The Father recited a prayer in Latin as Nate sprayed the wounds down with an aerosol can. The priest winced in pain, continuing his prayer, over and over. Nate smeared a blue paste over the wounds, front and back, his fingers digging deep inside the openings. Blood spit back at him, as his fingers came back out of the wound. They laid the Father down on his back, and put a loose stick in his mouth.

“Bite down.” Nate’s jaw line tensed.

The blue paste steamed, and a scorched meat smell filled the air around them as the paste cauterized the wound. Nate grabbed at the father’s flailing arms, fighting to keep him still. Gabriel helped to hold him down as the priest writhed in pain.

Nate eye’s met his gaze as they fought to hold on to the Father. “Another couple of seconds! I know it hurts like hell. You won’t feel a thing soon, I promise.”

A minute later, the Father passed out. Nate patted Gabriel on the back. “He’ll live, but I have to send a man back with him for pickup, which cuts into our team. You alright?” He pulled out a chunk of ration, tore it in half, and offered it to Gabriel. “That was too close.”

He nodded, taking the food with shaky hands. “I’ll be good.”

One of the soldiers picked up the Father, hoisting him over his shoulder and sprinted toward the cover of the woods.

Nate looked around at the remaining team. “They were watching the wall, they guessed we would come in this way. We don’t have a choice to turn back. We need to focus, who knows what else is going to be waiting for us. Whatever it is let’s hit it hard and fast. Gabriel, you’re going to have to go alone. Find the main vault and take out the black ore there. The rest of us will put charges in the laboratories and then we all get the hell out. Destroy as much of that ore as you can, the rest we’ll bury in rubble.”

“No problem,” Gabriel said with his mouth full.

“Alright.” Nate looked at his watch. “We’ve got nine minutes until our intercept teams hit their reinforcements. That buys us, maybe, five more minutes so we gotta move fast in there, but be careful.”

The hole in the wall was ready, the team already making their way inside. Nate pointed for Gabriel to join them. He stepped through the steel panel to the inside of the wall, which was lined with cinder blocks. He waited as the soldiers knocked out some of the cinder blocks, creating a space they could slide through. The small opening led to a bright white hallway with lights buzzing softly overhead. Two of the soldiers assumed flanking positions at the end of the hallway, and signaled it was clear. Two more soldiers stayed back behind the cinder block wall, securing the heavy steel panel back in place with clamps from the inside to hide their entrance.

Nate gathered everyone up. “Okay. Robins and Lawrence will hold our exit. Ing and Grutz will take the west labs.” He pulled out the layout of the building, marking it off for the soldiers to see. “Volmer and I will take the east labs.” He ran his fingers along the map to the opposite side of the building. “Gabriel, you know your path. Now that we are inside, the boys at the front gate are going to get loud. That should keep the halls clear in here, but my guess is they know we’re coming, so don’t take any chances and move silently.”

Nate synced his watch with everyone, including Gabriel, marking twelve minutes on a timer, then he thumbed the radio. “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie … we are home … I repeat we are home … knock on the front door.”

A simple “roger” came back over the radio.

“I want radios on all the time in here. We need to know what everyone else does. No mistakes – let’s be fast. In and out.” Nate gave Gabriel a final pat on the back as they travelled down the hallway, then split into different directions.

The back of the building was abandoned just as Nate had predicted. Gabriel found his entrance to the lower levels. The maintenance hatch in front of him popped open with ease. Two stories of steel rungs hung from the wall below him, each covered in rust and slime. He took a deep breath and set his foot down on the first rung.

The dark hole was eerie. He climbed down carefully, passing dripping pipes and electrical wires running along the walls. Keeping his focus on the slippery rungs, he made it to the bottom. Safely stepping off the last rung, he checked his watch – 8:51. He tried the door leading out, but the handle didn’t move. Locked. He kicked the door open, the lock blowing out part of the wall as it smashed open. He bolted down the hallway to a large steel door as his map had showed him.

Staring at the keypad to the left of it, he remembered what Father Clarence had explained to him in one of their meetings. “Melt the green and white wires together so they short, then pull out the 8 pin cable reader from the unit and plug it into this …”

Gabriel pulled the electronic device out of his vest and followed his instructions, prying the keypad open with a small steel tool. It sparked as the device activated, scanning for the right sequence. A small click on the chip sounded out and the steel door slid aside revealing a decontamination room, with white suits hanging on the walls. He quickly ran through the chamber and burst the door at the end of it open with another good kick.

“How’s it going?” Nate’s voice echoed in his ear.

“Just making my way to the vault. Not a soul here. Maybe the snipers were just lucky.” He sprinted through the area, turning down another hall.

“I hope so.” Nate didn’t sound convinced.

Gabriel rounded two more corners, ignoring the doors on either side of them. His boots screeched as he came to a sudden halt. He stared back down the hallway where he came from, pulling out his map. He retraced his steps. Damn. “Nate!” Gabriel twisted around, looking up and down the hall. “They don’t match!”

“What do you mean? What doesn’t match?”

“The floor plan is different.” He tried not to panic.

“Do your best to find it.”

Chapter Forty-Four

Nate pointed out two more places for Volmer to set up charges and looked at his watch. 5:28. He pulled out his map and opened it over a table, staring at it in the vacant dark lab. He flipped to the final floor, searching for something to help Gabriel.

A computerized voice announced over the speakers in the lab, “Decontamination complete”.

He dropped to a knee and slid behind a table, drawing his side arm. He cocked the hammer back with a click. A slow shuffling of boots echoed on the floor ahead of him. Thin red beams of laser sights rolled across the dark room.

He stayed hidden. Sharp bangs of gunfire rang out in his earpiece. Ing’s voice came over the radio. “Troops inside!”

Nate glanced at his watch again, keeping himself hidden from any of the unwelcome guests in the lab. 4:49. They know we’re here. His gut tightened.

A series of pops filled the air, followed by the loud collapse of bodies on the ground.

A low voice, in a thick Russian accent, came over the earpiece. “Room cleared, east lab cleared.”

He peaked out from behind his cover. Volmer was circling the room, checking the bodies for movement.

Nate sprinted to the lab’s computer and stuck a small optic stick into the port and powered the computer up. The light on the small stick flickered. The artificial intelligence took over and hacked the system.

“Optics setup in the east lab … how’s west?”

“We’re pinned!” Ing’s voice rang out over the background noise of gun fire.

He remained calm and motioned for Volmer to check the hallway. He switched his radio to an open frequency, not caring about who was listening. “Intercept, do you copy? I repeat do you copy?” Something in their plan had gone wrong, he could feel it.

A shaky voice answered the radio. “Hello? Sir, I copy”

“What’s going on out there?”

“They’ve broke our back, sir” The soldier’s voice fluctuated. Nate could hear the panic all around him. “We don’t know where they came from!”

Nate cursed under his breath and kept listening to the report.

“They have most of the front team surrounded. We are attempting to regroup but they are everyw –” The radio went dead.

3:37.

His heart pounded as he darted out of the lab at a run. “Heading to the west labs,” he informed the team.

At the end of the hall, he could see Volmer crouched low, signaling him to hold. He crept towards him, glancing around the corner – guards approached from down the hallway. Nate signaled to count down from five as they readied to engage them. Nodding, Volmer raised his hand opening it wide – with his fingers and thumb counting down. Five, four, three, two, one.

Nate erupted from his cover, skidding around the corner past Volmer, firing shots with his pistol at the team of defenders. His bullets found their targets, but failed to penetrate the armor. They were in full combat gear, their faces hidden behind the sheen of their  visors. Red beams of light traced after him as he sprinted for cover. He smashed through a thin glass wall of an office and scrambled behind the desk. Rounds of light blasted into the room.

He crawled towards the corner of the room. He kept his back against the wall, grasping the sub machine gun hanging across his chest. Sweat dripped off his brow. Wiping it away with his arm, he gripped the weapon tightly, readying himself for a fight. As he was about to return fire, a small black metallic ball bounced along the shiny floors of the hallway towards the attackers. He covered his head. A spray of marbles ejected from it, pelting the area and armored enemies with small explosions.

His ears rang from the blast in the hallway. He passed his arm through the broken glass wall that remained. He held the grip tight and squeezed the trigger. The gun vibrated in his hand, as he blindly shot it down the hall. It sent what looked like a constant beam of light towards the armored attackers. Volmer joined in the fight, spraying more bolts of light at the guards. Nate leaned out to take better aim. The shells slammed through the weakened armor, exploding into burst of blood as the guards fell to the ground. The final casings clinked off the floor and he took a deep breath, reloading his weapon.

Volmer slid into the room on his knees. “Hallway clear.”

Nate patted him on the back. “Good thinking there.” His watch beeped as they ran out of time. “We need to move!”

They sprinted towards Ing and Grutz on the west side of the building. He called over the radio to try and get a response from them. “Ing … Grutz … do you copy?”

Robins spoke, “Exit is still good.”

A garbled response followed over more gunfire. Nate couldn’t make it out.

He knew they would reach them sooner by foot and gave up on the radio. They passed through the original hallway – two bodies lay on the floor. Two sleek black barrels poked out of the wall. Robins and Lawrence keeping their escape through the wall safe. He sprinted down the hall with Volmer, ignoring the two men.

He slowed his pace as they neared the west laboratories, his weapon ready as they moved towards the bursts of light coming from the next hallway. He tapped his trigger finger, sending several bolts of light into the backs of several armored guards blocking the entrance to the labs.

“Clear!” Grutz yelled over the radio.

Nate burst into the lab, keeping his weapon ready. Grutz stood up waiting for them from behind a tall raised laboratory bench. The reinforced base was covered in bullet holes. Nate smiled at Grutz, lowering his weapon and moved around behind the bench. Ing was furiously working on a laptop, completely ignoring their arrival.

“What the hell are you doing!” Nate scolded him. “We’re compromised. Let’s go!”

Ing hit the keyboard with another fury of characters then looked up at Nate. “We’re in more trouble than that … Take a look.”

Nate stared at the screen, searching for the answer. Ing had a program open on the screen. It was a remote uplink into TERA’s mainframe and research department.

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Why would these labs be connected to the TERA mainframe?

“It might not be TERA directly, but they are all over the research.” Ing jumped up on to his feet.

Nate didn’t have time to debate the topic. He had to focus on getting everyone out of there alive. “Pack it up. The fight outside is lost.”

Chapter Forty-Five

Gabriel abandoned his set of plans and searched the lower levels. He forced open every door in the hallway. Nothing. He retraced his steps back to the dead end he found earlier, searching for something he might have missed.

Where was it?

His hands ran along the smooth cold surface of the wall. He knocked his knuckle against the surface and listened. An echo. He repeated the knocking. The other side sounded hollow. He could hear the emptiness behind it. He focused, and pressed into the cold steel wall with his glowing hands. The steel turned red instantly, getting brighter and brighter until it burned white hot. He dug his fingers into the hot surface, breaking through the few inches to the other side. He worked the hole wider and wider, until it large enough to step through.

On the other side he found a hallway not listed on the map. It was lined with steel doors on each side. All were bolted from the outside and had small panels of reinforced glass windows in them. He rushed to the first door and peered through the window.

His stomach twisted. There were people strung up along the walls, each of them barely clinging to life. His hand shook with anger as he unbolted the door and stepped inside. The people’s faces looked like ghosts; stripped of all their will to live but unable to die. Machines pumped their blood through tubes into big containers full of ore – a brutal manner of recharging. The ore pulsed deep within, as if it was drinking the red fluid. This is what he feared. What he couldn’t allow the world to become.

Gabriel’s stare was broken by Ing’s voice on the radio. “Troops inside.” He pulled back his sleeve on his wrist. 4:48. He couldn’t save them.

He turned down the flurry of activity over the radio and rushed to another door, breaking it open. The room held more victims. Tubes plumbed into their chests – feeding another machine in obedience to the ore’s need for blood. One man’s eyes had lost their color. They stared blindly at the ceiling. Room after room he found the same nightmare. The same disregard for life. Men, women, children – all ore users. No one deserved this – their future stolen from them to feed the rest of the world. He walked over to the machine and stared at the dull ore  bathing in blood. This was no way to live. Death was the only mercy left for these people. One by one, he unplugged the lines attached to them. His anger built with each tug; the ore surged in his chest for a release. His watch beeped. He was out of time. He needed to end this.

At the end of the hall was an open room that was larger than the others. It reeked of death, nearly causing him to throw up as the stench overcame him. He pressed the old copper switch on the wall, igniting a series of overhead lamps. Shadows moved around the room as the lamps swayed from the fight outside. The source of the stench came from a drain in the middle of the floor  The rest of the room was crude – reinforced concrete walls with small chips hammered out of it, as if someone had chopped at them with a blunt axe. One section of wall offered a strange, glassy reflection of himself.  Primitive guns were mounted on stands while a series of steel racks and leather straps stood across from them. A table was covered in ammunition along with several steel containers holding ore. The bullets glowed as he approached. The ore-tipped rounds were all different in design. He guessed they were still searching for the best results.

“Isn’t fate a funny thing? I spent countless resources searching for you, all in the hope of bringing you here.” A light flashed from beyond the glassy wall in the room. Gabriel twisted on the spot to face the voice. “And here you are, playing soldier with your friends from the Church.” Cymru grinned at him and laughed. “I knew the Church would target this facility, but once I heard their plan to bring you along – I couldn’t miss that opportunity.”

Gabriel couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, Gabriel. Everyone’s corruptible – even the highest priests dream of sin. Supply that to them and well, they become an addict, trading anything for more.” Cymru paced behind the glass wall.

“All this for me?” Gabriel’s nostrils flared.

“Of course. You should have listened to your brother.” He chuckled. “I wouldn’t have had to kill so many people.”

“You better pray that the wall is strong enough to stop me.” He summoned the ore down into his hands, ready to strike the surface.

“Impressive control, but I doubt you are that strong. The design of this polymer is quite unique. I doubt you would be able to break through this fast enough to reach me.” Cymru crossed his arms. “If you would like to try, I can give you a head start before I call my men in.” He shrugged smugly.

Gabriel abandoned his plans, letting the energy dissipate from his hands. “So, this dungeon is yours.”

“One of many. As governments realize they have no future without the ore, I will build even more. Filled with people like you. Your immunity to the ore makes you perfect for recharging it. We will have a lifetime after lifetime of reusable energy – and in that time the earth will renew itself. It will be a new beginning for us. A chance for generations to survive the apocalypse we created. Don’t you see? You’re destined to sacrifice yourselves for the greater good.” Cymru waved his hands.

He shook his head. “There is always another way. We can change, adapt – learn to survive.”

Cymru laughed. “Just like your father!  Your power over the ore blinds you to the truth. I studied your kind for years, trying to reproduce the mutation in your DNA. Hoping we could change everyone – making everyone immune to the ore. It was a foolish dream. I came to realize the solution was not to make everyone like you, but rather to use you for what you were made for. Think of it – your life traded for a million others. Some would call that heroic.”

“What’s happening in these rooms is murder.” Gabriel’s chest swelled with energy.

“No, it’s progress!” Cymru gritted his teeth. “We’ve done it for thousands of years and no one complained, except those sacrificed to move us forward in our evolution.”

He glared at Cymru, rage vibrating through his body. The ore burned with each pulse of his heart. “You’re a monster.”

“I beg to differ. Don’t waste your life opposing me. Stand with us like your brother did. The future is ours for the taking.” Cymru’s words pierced Gabriel. “How can you not see that?”

Gabriel stepped towards him, a white heat surging from his chest. “What did you do to my brother?”

“I gave him what he wanted. I unlocked the power that rested within him. It was beautiful. The way the ore manifests within your bodies – it’s truly incredible.” Cymru paced in the small space. “For years I have augmented individuals with ore. For some it just destroys the body – they don’t survive the operation. Others go crazy, the body surviving, but the mind fractured. But the truly gifted like you and your brother – the ore makes them gods among men.”

“You implanted ore in him?” Gabriel was shocked.

Cymru smirked. “You seem surprised?”

“Adin would never agree to that.”

“Well, he wasn’t given much of a choice. I knew what was best for him. And after, he thanked me.” Cymru smiled.

“You son of a bitch!” Gabriel rushed the clear wall and slammed a glowing fist against it. The surface barely cracked.

Cymru laughed aloud. “Gabriel, don’t bother. Just surrender. Even if you don’t, you’re mine.”

He slammed his fist into the impenetrable wall again. It didn’t do much. He searched the table for something to break through the wall. The ammunition would be useless; there wasn’t enough power in the shells to dent the surface. He popped open the steel containers. Each one was filled with lose shards of ore. He grabbed a red shard the size of his fist. The whole room was bathed in a fiery red glow as his own ore charged the new crystal.  He marched at the wall and slammed the shard against it. The shard melted into the polymer surface.

“What are you doing?” Cymru stepped back from the wall.

“Exactly what you did to everyone else here.” Gabriel gritted his teeth and pressed the ore deeper into the surface.

“Stop!” Cymru dashed to a ladder and began to climb it.

It was too late. The shard pierced the wall, Gabriel’s fist forcing it through the thick polymer. The super-charged ore flooded the room with a fierce energy. Cymru disappeared upward, out of Gabriel’s view. It was too late, he was feeding the ore more and more power. The ruby light from the wildly energized crystal filled the small space. He knew it wouldn’t take long. Cymru fell backwards onto the floor of the room, gasping for air. Gabriel dropped the stone on the ground beside him.

The old man’s hand shook as he pressed the silver disc behind his ear. “Help!” He coughed as his nose began to bleed. “Someone get down here!”

Gabriel wanted to watch the man writhe in agony, but he had a job to do. He didn’t say anything and turned to leave the room.

“Wait!” Cymru screamed at him. “Please! I – I can save your friends at the Church! The Horsemen are there.”

Gabriel wanted the man to die, to rot in that small room, but he needed to hear this. “What are you talking about?”

“Open the door! I’ll tell you everything. Get me out of here!” Cymru pointed at the pin pad at the end of the wall. “9 … 8 … 2 … 6.” He struggled to get the numbers out.

Gabriel punched it in and the door to the room released and slid it sideways. “Finish your story or I shut the door.”

“One of the Patriarchs is not what he seems. He deals with the Horsemen; they corrupted him. He told us your plan.” Cymru struggled to get to his knees and crawled towards the door. “They intend to tear the Church apart from the inside.”

“Where’s my brother?” Gabriel stared at him.

“I – I don’t know! They took him to another facility.” Cymru grunted as he continued towards the door.

“So he’s alive.” Gabriel breathed in deeply. There was still a chance.

“Yes.” Cymru collapsed just feet from the exit. “I swear it. Help me, please.”

“Help yourself.” Gabriel grabbed a steel container from the table and dumped it all over the floor. Shards of ore scattered everywhere.

“What are you doing?” Cymru recoiled, clutching himself. 

“You put people through hell. I’m going to give you a taste of that. You want out … you can crawl out.” He shook another of the steel containers out all over the floor. Shards sparked and chipped as they hit the floor. He threw the final container down and marched out of the room, leaving Cymru screaming behind him.

He needed to find the black ore.  Only two more rooms remained in the secret hallway.  The first room held more equipment for recharging the ore. The next was empty except for two large steel doors that beckoned to him from across the room.  The doors towered above him and were built for strength as if to intimidate anyone that approached them. A cold chill went down his spine. Something strong lay behind them.  A menacing unknown. Waiting for him. He searched the room for a key pass but found nothing. No handle, no screen and no keyhole. The doors were completely sealed.

“Nate! You gotta leave! They know we’re here,” he cried out into the radio, turning up the volume.

Nate was obviously running, his voice bouncing with each step. “We’re trying! Did you find the cache?”

“Yeah, I am at the doors, but there is no keypad, lock or anything to open this thing.”

“Stay put! We are heading to you – Volmer move!” Nate screamed. Gunfire echoed in the background of the radio.

There was no time. He couldn’t wait for Nate and it sounded like he had enough trouble upstairs. Gabriel yelled angrily and slammed his fist into the centre of the doors. It glowed as he hit the surface, and the steel bent from the impact. Again, he aimed at the same spot. Right where the two doors met. The steel gave way to his strikes, folding deeper into itself and exposing a large crack between the two doors. He tried to muscle the doors apart, using his body as leverage as he pulled on the thin crack. Nothing. He tried again, desperate to pull the doors apart. The door creaked, barely separating.

It was progress though. Enough to slide his hand between the steel doors. He took off his vest, freeing himself from all the equipment – including his ear piece. He stood in front of the doors and focused on strengthening his body – channeling his rage – unlocking everything the ore could give him. Beams of bright light rocketed through his muscles, his skin on fire. He plunged his fingers deep into the crater of the door, his hands glowing. They burned as they widened the crack between the two titanic panels. The door screeched as it began to give way. Sparks rained down on him as the locks broke, sending bits of steel and parts to the floor. Gabriel opened the door enough to start sliding his body into the gap, his back up against one side as he continued to fight his way through the doors.

He spilled out of the gap and into a dark room. The door sprung partially closed behind him, as more pieces of it fell to the floor. He paused, trying to catch his breath, but something sucked the air from his lungs. Something in the room. It was empty and void. It choked him as he coughed, still trying to breathe.  He spotted the faint outline of a  switch on wall beside him, and he punched down the large lever with the heel of his hand.

The room awoke to the glow of yellow lights, one after another in sequence around the room.

There it stood. The black ore.

Death in its purest form. It was not a cache of pieces like they had hoped. It was a single massive boulder. Larger than him. He stood there, stunned by its presence. How did he do this?

His thoughts broke as Nate yelled from the hallway. He turned to look through the gap of the door, as Nate rushed into the room.

Nate surveyed the double doors and shook his head. “I don’t even want to know … do your thing and let’s get out of here!”

“Nate …” Gabriel paused, not sure what to tell him.

“The team’s at the exit. I can wait in the hall. How many pieces can you take out? Can you contain each one? Let’s …” Nate stabilized himself, grabbing onto the doorway, fighting the ore’s effects. “Damn …”

“Nate, look.” He stepped aside, allowing Nate to peer into the large room.

He squinted at first, then his eyes widened with fear.

“Come on.” Nate stretched his arm through the gap of the two doors, trying to push them apart to reach Gabriel. “We are getting you out of there!”

Gabriel shook his head and stepped back. “No.” He straightened. “I have to stop things here and now.”

“No!” Nate yelled at him. “We will find another way! We can detonate it from a distance and blow this place apart. Burying it!”

“It won’t stop them!” Gabriel stamped his foot against the concrete floor. “It will never stop them. They will recover it. Make another facility. One that we won’t be able to touch! It has to be this way!”

“No!” Nate slammed his hand against the steel door and rested his head on the small gap. “Please … don’t. Let’s go.” He reached his hand through the gap towards Gabriel. “Don’t do this! It’ll kill you!”

“This is why I came here. I have to do this. No one else can.” He grabbed Nate’s hand and pushed it back through the gap. He rested his head against the door. He could see the tears on Nate’s face.

“I’ll make it. I promise.” He broke into a smile as tears dripped onto his own face.

Nate stared back at him. Nodding his head at Gabriel, he grabbed the small radio off the floor, and handed it through the gap. Gabriel took it. Nate tried to smile then turned and walked away.

Gabriel’s eyes burned with tears.  He put the earpiece on and listened to Nate’s shaking voice. “Fall back. Everyone, fall back.”

Gabriel stood there, staring at the massive black boulder that was patiently waiting. Several minutes passed until he heard Nate’s shaky voice.

“We’re clear. I’ll see you on the other side, kid. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Goodbye, Nate.” Gabriel took off the radio and let it drop to the ground. The clatter echoed in the room.

He remembered what Cymru had said and scrambled to scoop up the radio. “Nate! Can you hear me?” Nothing but static. Damn. They needed to know about the Horsemen and one of the Patriarchs. He had to survive.

Memories of his father, mother, and brother flowed into his mind, strengthening him. His father’s words repeated, “I find myself in a position of a destroyer of the ore … I must find a means to safely destroy the ore rather than leave it in the hands of those who would do evil with it.” I find myself in a position of wishing I was the destroyer of the ore rather than its discoverer. I have been conducting personal research into any means of destroying the black ore safely, rather than leaving it in the hands of those who would do evil with it,

Other voices spoke in his head, as he continued his slow stride towards the black boulder. “He felt responsible for all the ore and the way it was being used. It defined him, made him make decisions to try and change the ore’s fate: to change all of our fate.” Kyrie’s voice rang out. His palms burned, blazing against the blackness of the ore.

“I would like that.” Claire’s smiling face froze in his mind. He held onto the thoughts, his skin glowing, his hands brighter than he had ever seen. He pressed them down onto the cold, black surface. Images of pain and death swallowed him. Fear flooded his mind. He desperately wanted to pull away. To run back to Nate.

He closed his eyes forcing energy into the stone as the black ore fought him. His parents were smiling before him, walking in an open field of tall golden grass. Arm in arm, they strolled through it. They called for Gabriel to follow. He wanted to run towards them. To meet their arms waiting to wrap around him and tell him how much they loved him. It would have been easy to give up, but he couldn’t.  His eyes popped open as he felt the black ore yield. The room filled with a blinding light. He screamed out in pain as it consumed him.

Prologue

Nate and his team watched from the safety of a bluff overlooking the facility. The ground trembled all around them, as if a great earthquake had struck. His men dove for cover as trees and broken branches crashed down around them. Nate refused to look away. The facility exploded into a mass of pure, white light. It filled the night sky like the mid-day sun fallen to earth. Everything and everyone within a mile radius was consumed by the raw energy of the blast. The blazing ball of light carved a crater deep into the earth. The image burned into Nate’s eyes. Slowly the light began to retreat, shrinking into itself. A small object floated in the centre of the ball and the light seemed to be pouring into it. As the last of the light disappeared, it hung there for a moment – suspended in the air.  A deafening crack echoed across the woods.  With a final pulse of light, the object dropped into the crater.

Gabriel!

Daylight was fast approaching. The team of soldiers waited, positioned by the open crater. A whistle pierced the air. Two of the soldiers rushed towards a rope tied off to a huge root ball. They grunted as they heaved on the rope, pulling something up from within.

“It’s about time!” Volmer called down as he joined in hauling up the rope. The darkness had almost faded completely as the sun began to rise, exposing their position.

Nate didn’t care. He was almost to the surface. Robins lay down on the edge of the crater, his arm stretched out to him. Nate grasped it and struggled up over the steep ledge. “Call for extraction.”

Ing nodded and spoke into his radio as he jogged towards the tree line.

“Careful!” Nate ordered as he removed the tight straps from around his chest. His arms burned as he passed the body to Lawrence and Robins.

Gabriel’s clothes were half burnt away, his skin covered in black soot. The crystal in his chest was exposed.  Huge cracks ran through its surface and it was as dull as an empty piece of broken glass. Nate knelt down beside him, gently pressing his fingers against Gabriel’s throat.

Nothing. He refused to give up. He pressed harder, searching for a pulse beneath the cold skin.

“ETA is thirty minutes on a fast bird.” Ing returned. “We’re going to have to find cover until it arrives.”

Dub. A flicker under Nate’s fingers. Or was it his imagination? He closed his eyes and focused, his fingers frozen to Gabriel’s throat.

“Sir, we’re wide open here. Commander Reinhart!” Ing reached out and touched his shoulder.

“Wait!” He glared at Ing. “No one move!” He blocked out every sound, every sense – except his two calloused fingertips. “Come on, kid,” he whispered.

Dub. Again a small pulse gently pushed back against his fingers.

Nate twisted to Ing. “Make sure that bird doesn’t leave without Osho and a full medical team aboard for Gabriel. Let’s move out!”

Ing grinned at him and nodded. “Yes, sir!”

Note from the Author

Welcome to my world. I hope you enjoyed your time in it. This is only the beginning. One of the hardest pieces of being a storyteller is finding new strangers to tell your stories to. Without readers, my words would simply sit on the page and never come to life. It’s a shame when that happens to a book. So, I have a simple but selfish request. Please share this story with other readers you know. The ebook is free on Amazon and it will stay that way so everyone can experience it. If you are the reviewing type, I would appreciate it if you would share your thoughts. If you wish to contact me, please email me at [email protected]

About the Author

 

 

B.V. Bayly has had a myriad of jobs. Never one to conform to the traditional nine to five work model, he did whatever it took to provide for his family while still maintaining the simple life they desired. Imagine his pleasure when he discovered his passion was creating and telling stories. The life of a writer is far from the norm. He resides on Vancouver Island with his beautiful wife, two energetic sons, an angelic daughter and one lazy dog.


Eden's Ore - Secrets

After decades of squandering and abusing the earth’s natural resources, the future of mankind was bleak. Humanity searched the earth for any remaining energy, hoping to discover an answer before the lights went out. They resurrected the ancient grounds of Eden, hoping to find its power – an extraordinary ore offering an unlimited source of energy. Gabriel Roberts, the son of the ore's discoverer, awakens to a horrific storm that kills his mother and leaves him with a piece of the ore plunged into his chest. He survives and is found by rescue teams the next day; their helpful nature changes as they discover what's in his chest. Panicked Gabriel unleashes a massive explosion from the ore in his chest. His estranged brother, Adin, arrives after the blast and takes him to hide live with him in the metropolis of Denver. It isn't long before strangers come looking for Gabriel. Attacked in the night, Gabriel is saved by a young woman with supernatural abilities. She leaves him promptly with only a warning to stay hidden and not to trust anyone. Gabriel rushes back to reconnect with his brother, but trouble follows and rips the two apart once again. Gabriel makes a daring escape, hoping Adin will be spared as their attackers chase after him. His world begins to spin out of control as he discovered a hidden war, raging on behind the scenes. As Gabriel learns about the true nature of the ore in his chest, he forced to choose a side. A decision that will shape the course of humanity.

  • Author: B.V. Bayly
  • Published: 2015-11-17 22:40:29
  • Words: 95155
Eden's Ore - Secrets Eden's Ore - Secrets