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The Gravity Of Love

He was somehow carried outside and dumped inside a car.  He collapsed, barely able to move.  They were driving through some unknown terrain.  He did not know the driver, who was going swiftly through the fields of the inter-city road.  He was lying on the back seat of the car.  He pulled himself up and sat in the middle.  It felt awkward.  His atrophied muscles barely let him move, but he struggled upwards, against the pain.  He was a little kid in the backseat of a car, on a long road trip.  He was curiously observing their facial expressions, trying to understand why they were not willing to speak.  The cold air was saturated with silence.  He felt odd and alienated.  It took him two seconds of looking into Chloe’s eyes to tell that something had changed.  He was an intruder.  He wanted to leave them alone.
They drove.  He perceived the nearing of the city, the familiar wall formed by gigantic buildings and other structures.  They drove to his building.  He opened the door and leaned on Chloe’s shoulder as she helped him walk to the elevator and up into his apartment into his room.  They smiled at each other as he cuddled a pillow and drifted into a deep slumber.
He woke up in the middle of the night.  He’s had his eight-hour share of Adventures in Dreamland; he’d had, by his approximation, three more weeks of traveling done in his head.  He was tired.  He wanted to stick to reality for a while.
He turned on his computer.  It was 5 am.  He entered his password and logged in.
The icons were different.  He checked the system logs.  Someone had turned it on while he was gone.  He searched for files that were modified on that day.  A list came up.  The list consisted of most of his personal files, including his encrypted directory.  Also in the list was the program used to encrypt and decrypt this directory.  But they didn’t know his password.  They read his poems and his stories and his essays.  They read the source code to all of his programs, except the encryption software.  (The source code was encrypted as well.)
But what were they looking for?
He did not have any valuable information.  Of course, he had the disk he stole from the training mission, but they certainly weren’t after it.  Maybe they hoped to find his location?  Or whether he’d been working for Majestic after all?  He suddenly remembered the results of his own research.  In his spare time he tried to hack some Majestic servers, but the information he uncovered—production of resources in underdeveloped countries—has never made any sense.  So they didn’t find anything—he never told anyone—but he wondered if they left any clues.  He didn’t find any.
Except for one.  The logs indicated that the computer was turned on.  Once.  The person who turned it on knew the startup password.
It was Chloe.
He did not know what he was up against, but he knew that his body was in no shape to do anything.  He wanted exercise.  He put on his running shoes, grabbed his keys, and went outside.
Harsh freezing wind was chilling all of Sam’s insides.  He was wearing only a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, and he quickly realized that this outfit was inadequate for such cold weather.  He was disappointed to discover that he had lost his tolerance for cold weather, but he knew that he would quickly regain it by enjoying a filling breakfast.
He ran.  It was too cold to walk; he was too weak to sprint.  He ran, slowly at first, regaining confidence with every successful step.  He was passing the few pedestrians who were awake at this early hour; he spotted a familiar tunnel and headed inside, expecting to see a familiar face.  However, he saw no one, partly because it was a very narrow tunnel, too narrow for two people to pass each other comfortably.  He ran outside with a slight feeling of regret, stopped, and started stretching, remembering the familiar pain of sore muscles.  It didn’t take him long to realize that the effects of the muscle enhancer had completely disappeared: although he could still run, he was nowhere as strong or as fast as he was a month ago.  However, he was still happy that he could run at all.  He was happy to be alive.
His workout did not last very long.  After about forty minutes of jogging and stretching, he returned to his apartment to find his family waking up.  He took a shower and breakfasted with them.  He felt strange being welcomed back by them.  For them, he had been away and missing; however, in his mind, he did not even remember their existence.  He was glad to be back, to be cared about (a feeling he hadn’t felt for too long of a time), to be interrogated about his absence; but the feeling was a bit too overwhelming.  Furthermore, he knew it would pass.
As usual, it was Saturday, the beginning of the weekend.  He had two days to get back into shape before he could present himself to the outside world.  He did not care for his impressions, it was more of an individual battle.  So many battles to win, so little time...  He was tired of it all, too tired.  Why did he always have to deal with other things, and why was there never anyone at his side?
Well, she was there before.  He turned on his favourite music (which he had missed) and sat on his bed, thinking.  He thought about Chloe.  He did not know how, but he knew that something was different.  He could not feel her as well as before.  He thought about himself.  Something had changed.  Of course, a part of it was that the past three weeks he spent on a hospital bed in a remote location, hooked up to an IV and a brain scanner, but the sheer fact that he had overpowered all the images presented to him...
He knew perfectly well the plans of Majestic.  Through a religious conversion, using this unreal voice, they made everyone decide that in the perpetual battle between self and outside world, one cannot survive alone.  Looking back at it, he saw every trick that they tried to play on him, in his mind, trying to make him believe that it would be his own decision to succumb to the easy way out and to be Majestic’s servant.
But what about everything else?  He felt like he was woken up from a dream by a telephone ring: after he’s woken up, in the brief two seconds that his audio memory stored the sound, he could review it to conclude that he was awake before it rung, even though he wasn’t.  However, he had seen Chloe before she entered his room; and he knew that he wasn’t making it up because...  Maybe he was.  He wasn’t sure.  He had a list of things to do.  He sighed.  He felt incredibly alone.  He could turn to no one until he accepted himself.  He needed a plan.  He grabbed a piece of paper and started writing.  What bothered him most?  He had to talk to Chloe.  He had to catch up on his school work.  (They made sure to reverse the effects of the brain-enhancer, but fortunately, he managed to copy all the necessary information into his long-term memory.  He was already practicing remembering and noticing, for he knew it would be of a great importance later.)  He also had to redefine himself.  No, not redefine, but figure out what to do with what had happened in his mind.  There were a lot of things to sort out.  He was getting himself ready.
She wasn’t home.  But that didn’t surprise him either.  Nothing did, anymore.  What was he anyway, a veteran of the Hundred Years War?  He wanted to be a normal human being.  Well, there we go again, with who I want to be, or more importantly, what I want to do.  I already know that; the question is, where am I going to get enough energy to do it all and remain sane?  That he could not answer, but it was not important.  Majestic...  What does Majestic do?  Mr. Stanley didn’t know either...  Mr. Stanley, how come he isn’t listed in the all-encompassing directory?  All the recruits are.
Come on, think.  “No.  I don’t want to think.  I’m tired.”  He hopped on his bike and rode off to the library.
He walked around the library with two search objects in mind.  Of course Chloe, the first one, wasn’t there; but he was willing to bet on that beforehand.  He walked to the reference section and sat at the computer, examining the catalogues and scribbling down the numbers of different books he found.  There were more than the last time—but he knew that most of them would not give him the information that he needed.  He needed maps, charts, and tables.  He headed over to fetch his first book, out of list of 20.  Luckily, he brought a pen and enough disposable scratch paper—that was all that he needed.  That, and a lot of time.
He was accountant.  Sulfuric acid was used for everything—it was the most produced chemical on the planet.  However, according to his calculations, after spending hours writing out his own charts, and allowing for up to 50% error, more of it was produced than consumed.  It would make sense only if every person in every country agreed to store a pint of acid in their medicine cabinets, but he knew that it was not true.  (Or had he been gone for that long?)  Something was being done to it.
He knew, of course, that as a chemical weapon, not many things would top souring all of a country’s rivers, but he doubted that the consumers were interested in pouring their purchases in the sink.  Who were the purchasers, anyway?  He grabbed more chemical books.  He wrote down a list of most major production plants (and their locations), and tried to investigate who needed this 18-molar substance.  Fertilizers.  More than 60% claimed to go to fertilizers.  But by the amount of fertilizers produced, and the amount of acid required, there were leftovers.  They had mysteriously disappeared.  So who collected these leftovers, a million tons a year?  And why would Majestic need all of it?
He was standing outside of the library, having taken the same exit that he and Chloe used, when it all began.  Strong wind was blowing in his face.  It was cool, not cold, and dry, but friendly.  It penetrated through Sam’s shirt and made him shiver slightly, but as he closed his eyes and took a deep break, millions of thoughts ran in his head.  He was free, filled with even more freedom than in Tibet—where his imagination created most of his surroundings.  He was happy, truly happy, to be alive, to have survived, to have lived to see this beautiful orange sunset, to see the soft and fuzzy pink clouds cluster above the setting sun, to breathe fresh, untainted air.  He closed his eyes and stood, in place, slowly becoming aware of his real surroundings (knowing that everything was real has never felt any better), trying to restrain himself from laughing and screaming from the bottom of his lungs and running in circles and dancing like a maniac.  Luckily, no was around to see him anyway, so with a happy smile, he got on his bike towards the city.
“All right, everyone.  Let’s start.”  The noise quickly diminished.  “We have some very good news.  As most of you know, Sam is back.”  Loud murmur traveled across the room.  “Yes.  Shawn and Chloe recovered him yesterday, and now he’s back home, resting up.  For the past God knows how long, he’s been under the influence of an apparatus that has been controlling his mind.  Of course, only he can tell us what they have been doing to him, but that’s for after he recovers.  However, the fact that he was there tells us which list of locations is which.  Obviously, acid wasn’t produced there; so it must be produced everywhere else.  That doesn’t give us much, but at least we know what we would possibly have to monitor to identify what they do with it.  Anyone have any ideas?”
General conversations pursued.  The raucous overpowered the silent opening and closing of the back door.  Sam sat in the shade and listened to everyone’s conversation.  Many ideas and theories arose, as this was a place to discuss.  There were no rules, but everyone knew to cooperate and contributed equally.
“Since we don’t know the extent of their technology,” said the guy with black hair and glasses, “we don’t know if they are able to manufacture sulfur on their planet.  They probably need it to stabilize their climate, or make weapons, or something.”
“So you suggest that they transport it to where they live?” asked a girl with blond hair.
“They have to, because where would the acid go otherwise?”
“Maybe that’s their way of making water, to mix acid with base?”
“I don’t think speculations will help much,” said the man with the beard.  “So far, everyone would agree with me that it’s more plausible for them to export it and use it.  Now I don’t know what they use it for, nor do I care; but I must say that to export that much liquid would require a load of cargo ships and launch pads.  I think we should concentrate on finding them.”
“I think that’s a good idea, too,” said the guy with blond hair.
“I don’t think you’ll find much.”  Everyone turned around.  “Since they don’t actually export any of it.”  Confusion, surprise, and disbelief ran over everyone’s face.  Almost immediately, everyone stoop up, started screaming, and ran towards Sam, offering him a hug or a handshake.  Statements like “It’s you!  You’re back!” and questions like “Is that really you?” were reverberating across the room.  “Yes, it’s me, I’m real,” he smiled.  More noisy questions followed.  After ten minutes of interrogation, someone finally asked, “Why did you say that they don’t export it?”
“Their atmosphere is acidic.  They need the acid to make their home more hospitable.”
“Their home?”
“They live underground.  There are, as you know, two sorts of places.  The first produces acid, and the second is their home.”
“How…  How long have they been living there?”
“Not very long, only one or two centuries.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I just do.”
Having been silent before, Shawn suddenly said, “Out of curiosity, how would we be sure that you’re on our side?”
“You won’t be.  I could be free from their grasp, or I could still be controlled by them and just pretend to work with you against them.  It would be a clever strategy for them to implement, wouldn’t it?”  He grinned.  “For myself, I don’t like to take sides.”
“However, they have no interest in you, as long as you don’t pose any threat to them, which you seldom do.  As you already know, they control a large chunk of this society.  They have branches, one of them recruits new forces, another supplies them with a subterranean home.  They mostly seek control, because if they were a peaceful race, well, then they wouldn’t mess with Earth.  It’s hard to tell whether what they are doing is good or bad: they have stimulated the economy and increased the welfare of many counties, but they are using up Earth’s resources.  Good?  Bad?  Remember, I don’t take sides.”
More conversations followed.  As soon as he stopped being the center of attention, Sam turned around and silently walked towards the door.  Realizing that no one was watching him, he slipped out and proceeded towards his bike.  A minute later, Chloe ran out and approached him.
“You didn’t even say bye to me.”
“You were busy, and I’m tired.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m getting there.  I still have a lot to do, a lot to catch up on…  Are you okay?”
“Sam…  Things have been very hard, and while every day I believed that you would make it and did everything I that could to find you…  It’s hard for me to finally accept you.  I mean, you’re here, but…  You know what I mean.  You’re not any less important, but you have to give me time to get used to you again.”
“Thank you.  I appreciate what you did for me.”  She smiled.  He approached her and they hugged.
“Don’t you dare do anything like that to me ever again!”
“I won’t, I promise.  Now go, he’s waiting.  Never mind how I know.”
She smiled, “Thank you, Sam.”
“I’ll see you.”
“Bye.”  He hopped on his bike and swiftly rode home, covered by the shadows of the night.
“Of course, I haven’t been entirely honest with them.  But I’d never tell them that they’re here to take over.  They almost have enough resources for a covert war, and that’s what they need.”
“A war?”
“Yes.  Since they are controlling pretty much everything, humanity really doesn’t stand a chance against them.”
“How do you know all this, may I ask?”
“I need to tell you something.  You’re my best friend, and I can tell you everything.  After being in that place, I am somehow better at everything.  Remember the brain and muscle machines?”
“The effect of those wore off because I didn’t move for three weeks.  But now, there’s something new.  I can’t really explain it, but I can do things, and I know things…  Everything just makes sense to me.”
“Well, that’s great, no matter how it happened.”
 “I’ve been doubting it, but it’s true.  I’m weak, I tried running and it’s hard.”
“Understandably so.”
“But…  You know that I like to punch through newspapers, right?”
“Yes, you weirdo.”
“I can do it with the whole newspaper, all at once.”
“No way!”
“And I know that I can’t physically do it…  But yet, somehow, I do.  It’s the same with everything.  I can do the things that I seemingly can’t.  I guess that’s how I was able to survive that 3-week experiment.”
“I think it’s pretty cool.  You’ll need to show me these tricks, though.  We should hang out and do something.”
“Yes, we should.  When are you free?”
He rubbed his eyes and sighed.  He was tired.  He was working hard to catch up with all the work that he missed, and he was almost finished.  At the same time, he was trying to find out more about what Majestic was trying to do, leaving it up to himself to fill in the gaps between the facts.  It was working surprisingly well, the fact that he did not quite understand, but as long as it worked, he was happy.
Actually, that wasn’t true.  He understood it, but at the same time he didn’t.  When he tried to understand it, he would very quickly get overwhelmed; and it was only his drive to know that made him want to meditate and overwhelm himself even more.  He was scared.  He didn’t know what was happening; he didn’t know whom to trust.  He stuck to what he knew best: daily routines.  He was diligent in school and paid attention in class and did homework and his chores; but outside of class, he was but a lost soul.  Lost but powerful.
His efforts were paying off.  It was now much easier for him to meditate and to feel his own energy; he was even beginning to believe that he could somehow control it.  But when he was trying to, he failed; he quickly remembered that the trick to succeeding was to skip the trying step, and he did.  He would randomly predict what was about to happen and act accordingly.  The most, he liked his strength.  The first thing he noticed was that he could punch through a newspaper.  He started lifting weights and noticed that when he relaxed, he could lift 25, then 30, 35, 40, 50 pounds with each hand.  When he tried doing it without relaxing, he would nearly fall.  He was confused, and scared, and excited every time he discovered that he could do something new.
He quickly realized that he could only share with one person.  Having weights and unused newspapers in the privacy of his own home, no one else needed to know.  He was aware of all surveillance; he patched his computer to disallow any port scanning; he browsed the internet through a series or proxies, and overall, he made the access to his computer virtually impossible.  Only one person knew of these changes; and for now, things were not going to change.
It took him some time to make that decision.  He was debating whether to tell Chloe or not.  He wanted to let her know because she was important to him, but he was afraid that either she would misunderstand him, or not care enough.  From the moment he woke up, he realized that things have changed: they have become strangers, friends of the past but not of the present.  She was also dating Shawn, the guy he did not trust one bit.  There was something wrong with her; but was having a hard time telling her that.  Besides, “Hey Chloe, what’s changed?” was not the question he wanted to ask.  And still, before he could do anything, he needed to take care of himself.
He had a strange dream one night.  Chloe drove to another house, and he rode his bike to there.  All the time, he was under the impression that she was at her grandparents’; but it turned out that Shawn was there but her grandparents weren’t.  He was getting confused, but then Chloe told him that she would call him in the evening.  He rode his bike home and ended up in another city looking for a job.  He couldn’t speak the language, but he could understand what was said to him.  He got a job and headed home, but suddenly he remembered that Chloe was going to call him.  He waited by the phone, and then he woke up.  In the morning, he was amused by the dream, and he told Chloe about it, but she wasn’t as amused as confused.
But then he realized that she hadn’t been returning his phone calls.  He’d even forgotten that he called, because he no longer expected to talk to her; that number has turned into a pure message box.  That is why he didn’t expect her to pick up the phone when he called later in the evening.
“Hi, Chloe.”
“Oh, hi, Sam.”
“I’m surprised that you picked up, you’re out so much.”
“Yea, I know, I’ve been busy lately.”
“Are you busy now?”
“No, not really.  How are you?”
“Still recuperating.  Doing better now.  How about you?”
“I’m all right.  I went to my grandparents’ house today.”
Chills ran all over Sam’s body.  “Oh?  How was it?” he said, hiding his disbelief.
“It was…  Nice…”  Her voice trailed off.
“Would you like to hang out tonight?”
“I don’t know, I want to, because I haven’t spent much time with you recently and I feel like I should, but I also have some homework to do that I don’t really want to do.”
“Hey, did I tell you about my dream this morning?”
“No, what was it about?”
“How about I tell you on the way to the theater?  How about watching a movie?”
“Okay, I guess I’ll go, but I can’t stay out too late.”
“Great, I’ll see you soon.”
“Bye, Sam.”
Chills were still running all over his body.  His mouth had only begun to close, so difficult it was for him to believe what he just heard.  But he instantly knew what was going on, and what he needed to do.  He could only imagine what would happen next, but he wasn’t worried about the future too much.  He was prepared.
His readiness was derived from countless hours that he dedicated to research.  He was back for three weeks now.  It only took him a week to gather all the information about sulfuric acid and the spots on the map.  It only took him a week to also catch up with all of his classes.  The other two weeks were dedicated almost entirely to training and hacking.  It wasn’t even training for strength; it came naturally to him as long as he could control his mind.  He was training his concentration and his calmness and his relaxation.  It also helped him hack.  And it was hacking that let him know what was about to happen.
He came over to her apartment shortly before seven.  She took her time to get ready, and they left, pacing themselves in order to get to the theater on time.  They didn’t talk much the whole way, he tried to start a conversation but she was mostly inside her world.  He suddenly interrupted her thoughts,
“Isn’t it such a coincidence that this underground Majestic lab is right on the way to the theater?”
“Remember the first time we climbed down that sewer?”
“It’s funny how much things change, isn’t it?”
“Yea, it is.”
“Why are you not like yourself?”
“You’ve changed a lot, Chloe.  You’re a different person from two months ago.  People don’t change so quickly.”
“Maybe some do, I don’t know.  Why do you ask?”  Sam was standing on the right of her.
“I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, but don’t act so weird.”  He had his hands in the pockets of his jacked.  He knew she wouldn’t find it suspicious that he wore a jacket, even though he never wore jackets.
“I would still like to apologize.”
“For what?”  He took out his hand from his pocket and put a cloth drenched in chloroform to her mouth.  Surprised, she inhaled, and fell unconscious into his arms.  He had made sure that they were well-concealed by the shadows, so now he effortlessly picked her up and placed her on his shoulders.  He then proceeded to the back of the building next to them.  Picking the lock took no time, as he’d practiced it dozens of times by now.  He opened the rusty door (he’d memorized the access code long ago) and headed down the stairs.  He turned left and placed Chloe into a chair, strapping the helmet onto her head.  Next, he turned on the brain scanner and tweaked various settings.  Everything worked just as he expected it to.  It was too easy.  Something was about to happen.
“Wh… Where am I?” he turn around and saw Chloe wake up from her uneasy dream.
“Majestic lab.”
“How did I get here?”
“I had to render you unconscious and carry you here.”
“What?  How could you?  And I thought—”
“Do you remember what happened three weeks ago?” he interrupted.
“Yea, I…  Wait a minute…  Oh my God!”
Sam was still happily tapping away on the laptop that was attached to the scanner.  “Aha!” he finally exclaimed.
“Well, this laptop stores a history of the machine’s usage.  Does the number 84571722 ring a bell?”
At the sound of his words, Chloe winced and clenched her head.  “What is happening?”
“Put the helmet on.”  She looked at him with mistrust.  “Chloe, please.  I’m not the one who’s changed.”  Reluctantly, she complied.  He tapped a few keys and pressed a button on the panel.  After a minute of buzzing, all the noise ceased.  Sam turned the machine off.
“So here’s the deal,” he began.  “As you very well realize by now, you’ve been brainwashed.  Whenever you saw or heard the number 84571722, you would forget all that’s happened and only remember what they want you to remember.  I removed it.”
“But who did that?”
“Whoever was closest to you.  Shawn.”
“But Shawn is my friend; he wouldn’t’ve done something like that.”
“Chloe, I did what I had to do.  I’m not going to make you hate him.  If you’re happy with him, go ahead.  However, your decision must come from you, and not the electrodes sending electric shocks into your brain.”
“Why do you say that he did it?” she yelled.  “What do you have against him?”
“That’s a different matter.”
“No it’s not.  I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but you’re the one who’s changed.”
“You want to know what I have against him?”
“What do I have against you, Shawn?  Oh come on, I know you’ve been listening to us.”  Shawn stepped out from behind the door.
“Chloe, are you all right?” asked Shawn.
“Someone please explain what’s happening?” complained Chloe, standing up from the chair.
“I must say,” said Sam in a respectful tone, “that this was a brilliant plan.  I would tell her everything, and she would relay the information to you.”
“You think too highly of yourself, Samuel.  Don’t listen to him, Chloe.”
“I’m sorry, Shawn, I’d rather not get into the drama of this.”  He turned to Chloe.  “Shawn is a spy, he works for Majestic, he is level 4.”
“What?” said Chloe in disbelief.  “Are you really?” she asked as she turned to Shawn.
“No, he’s making it up!” replied Shawn.
“I don’t care if you listen to me or not,” said Sam coldly.  “While asleep, I realized that I wasn’t doing any of this for you.  And I’m not.  But as for you,” he turned to Shawn, “we’re not finished.”
“And what are you going to do, Mr. Freeman,” said Mr. Stanley as he slowly walked into the room.  “What can you do?  You can hack.  You’re too weak to fight, and Shawn over here has had a double doze of  the muscle trainer, just like you.”
“How impressive,” replied Sam in contempt.
“Well, even if you do manage to get out of here alive, which is already debatable, what are you going to do?”
“I have my plans.”
“You have nothing.  You could’ve had everything, but you let your pride stand in your way.  You made the same mistake now that you did before.  Don’t think it won’t cost you this time.”
“Only this time, I’m ready.”
“Ready for what?” taunted Shawn.  “To be beaten?”
“I’d love to see you try.”  Shawn took a swing with his right arm.  Sam grabbed his arm, twisted 360 degrees clockwise, kicked Shawn in the knees and pushed him down on the ground.  Surprised, Shawn quickly jumped up and somersaulted on top of Sam’s chest.  Sam fell backwards on the ground, kicked Shawn’s legs apart, pushed his feet upward and kicked Shawn in the back of his neck.  Shawn tipped over, and Sam quickly got up.  “You’re finished!” yelled Shawn and lunged himself at Sam.  Sam was anticipating this move.  He knew it, he knew he himself would use it in this situation.  He thought of the newspapers.  He relaxed.  Even before he got up, he was readying himself for the counterattack.  He relaxed and focused on his fist, on the tips of his knuckles.  At the same time, he held his left hand in front of him and pushed Shawn’s elbow inwards.  Everything took place in a split second.  Their fists collided perfectly.  Shawn’s elbow by now was locked in, and Sam’s punch pushed the energy though his arm into the shoulder.  His body twisted, he lost his balance, and fell on the floor, grasping his elbow.  Sam walked up to him and grabbed his wrist and his shoulder and pulled them forward.
“Impressive,” applauded Mr. Stanley.
“What did you do to him?” demanded Chloe.
“Dislocated his shoulder.  And relocated it.  Don’t worry, Shawny, it’ll only be sore for about a week.”
“Mr. Freeman.  It is obvious that you have somehow regained your strength.  But it will not save you now, not from me.”
Chloe looked at both of them, obviously confused.
“Let’s chat,” suggested Sam.
“Stalling for inspiration?  Very well.  What would you like to know?”
“Why her?”
“You don’t know yet?”
“You said you found nothing inside her head.”
“Of course I told you that.  But why would I tell you everything?”
“You knew about her abilities; why did you block them?”
“She could contact you.  In fact, that was part of the reason that you recovered so quickly, and a part of the reason why she was able to find you so quickly.  When we saw this connection, we immediately decided to cut it; and the only way to do so—”
“Was by brainwashing her.  Great.  Now I’m recovered; why do you still need her?”
“Ooh, but I can’t tell you.”
“What is it?  Computer knowledge?  Can’t be.  Fighting?  Nope.  So it’s her abilities, no?”
“You’re getting ahead of yourself.”
“So you’re training her, but you’re not letting anyone know about it.”
“Running out of patience?  It’s well-emulated.”
“What did you say?”
“O come one.  You don’t think I would not have found out, would you?”
“And this is exactly why you must be eliminated.  Permanently.”
“So how does it feel to know that you failed to transform me?”
“Shawn, leave.  Make your last minute requests, Mr. Freeman”
“No!” screamed Chloe.
“I have one,” said Sam calmly, glaring at Shawn who quickly limped out of the room.  “You discern every detail, and you remember everything.  But how do you put it together?  How do you deal with abstract ideas?”
“You must’ve overlooked that part of the code.”
“How abstract of an idea can you handle?”
“Much more complex than anything that can fit into your puny mind.”
“Well, then I suppose that since you can conceptualize your own self, you are much more aware of everything than I—and I am in a way fortunate to have realized it.   Therefore, my last request is for you to answer my question.”
“What is it?”
“Since you’re so self-aware, in how many different ways can your function terminate?”
“One.  No, none.  No, wait…”  Mr. Stanley froze.
“What’s happening,” inquired Chloe?
“Turing’s Halting Problem.”  Chloe said nothing.  “The question that I ask him would take a computer an infinite time to answer.  Mr. Stanley is not human; he’s been manufactured five years ago.  His program requires an incredibly amount of code.  However, the more code, the more bugs.  I found a bug.  You must be about to fall asleep,” he said as he walked towards her and offered her his hand.  She took it and got up, nearly falling from dizziness.
“I’m so confused, Sam, I don’t understand anything that’s happened.  I remember fragments…”
“Don’t worry about it.  You weren’t yourself; and you couldn’t do anything.”
“I shouldn’t’ve been so naïve about Shawn.”
“Stop blaming yourself.  You helped me get out of my prison; I helped you get out of yours. We’re even; now, let’s get out of here and forget about it.”
“So you don’t hate me?”
“I will if you don’t stop with the insecurities.”
She smiled.  “All right, let’s go.”  She leaned on him and they headed out of the building.  Fresh air helped her regain some consciousness: she was no longer tripping on her every other step.  As soon as they got to her room, she collapsed onto her bed.
“Turn to your side,” he commanded.  She complied, too tired to object.  He spent the next half hour massaging her neck and her shoulders.  Making sure that she was hopelessly asleep, he sat at her computer and continued to hack.
She woke up and looked at her clock.  It said “5:00.”  It was dim; Sam was sitting at her computer, reading something and occasionally typing or clicking.  “Hi Sam,” she said quietly.
“Hey, you’re awake.  Did you sleep well?”
“You’ll be okay after a couple of restful nights.”
“What are you still doing up?”
“All the same.  Hacking.”
“Aren’t you tired?’
“A little.  I plan to go to sleep soon.”
“What are you trying to find out?”
“I want to know why they wanted you.”
“Yes.  I have two theories.  The first is that they were being careless.  The second is that they didn’t care about us because we’re only here as a backup.”
“What do you mean?”
“You do know that you could contact me when I was in my dream, right?”
“Yeah…  I didn’t believe it at first, but it felt too real to be false.”
“And you do know that the reason that I could take the mind and muscle machines was that my mind was ready to accept them, right?”
“Well, it wasn’t because of my muscles.  And so Majestic is interested in our minds.  But not interested enough, because they didn’t make you dream.”
“So you mean that either they didn’t know about us, or they have someone better?”
“Yes, and the latter is what worries me.”
“Come here.”  He sat at her bed. “Thank you, and I’m sorry,” she said as she pulled him into a hug.  He smiled in return.  “What’s going to happen?” she whispered.
“I don’t know.”
“You’ve changed.”
“Yes.  I had to.”
“I miss the old you.”
“Excuse me?” he said inquisitively.
”I didn’t mean it like that…”
“Yes you did.”
“I’m sorry.”
“You’re not really sorry, but afraid.”
“You’re afraid that you’ve lost a friend because I no longer seem to be interested in your friendship.  That is not true; I am.”
“Then why does it seem like you aren’t?”
“Because you’re expecting something from me.”
“No I’m not.”
“You sure about that?  Anyway, you should sleep.”
“So should you.”
“I have a few more things to try.”
“What are you doing anyways?  What were you reading?”
“The manual.  A new bug was recently discovered about their OS.  I’m trying to exploit it.”
“The manual?  It’s huge…  Isn’t it?  Also, don’t they have their own operating system?  Isn’t that’s why it took us so long to hack to Level 2?”
“Yea, about a hundred megs of it.  I’ve been working on it for a while.  I scan.  And they didn’t make it, they borrowed the source code and modified it heavily.”
“How do you know?”
“Because of the common GUI bug of refreshing windows.”
“It has a GUI?”
“Yes. It’s mentioned in the manual.  Anyway, the bug might let me make their GUI run my commands, so that I can give myself administrative privileges.”
“You have an account?”
“Yea, I created it right before I was knocked unconscious two months ago.  That way they would forget to delete it.”
“And it worked, spectacularly.  It could not have happened any other way.”
“You…  Planned for all of it to happen?  You knew?”
“Why?  If you…”  Her face turned pale.  “Damn it, do you have any idea how much I suffered, how much I’ve cried, not knowing where you were?”
“Yes; I have seen everything you have seen, felt everything you have felt.”
“I know what you’ve been through; and I wish you didn’t have to go through so much pain.  But I need you to understand me.”
“Understand you?  Please do explain, why someone who had so much would risk his life in hope…  What were you hoping for, anyway?”
“Do you really want to know?”
He sat closer to her and took her hands.  “I’ve thought about that decision for almost a month.  And every day, I realized more and more why I had to do it.  It wasn’t right.  The more I used the abilities that they had given me, the more I was indebted to Majestic.  I considered everything.  I thought about the pain I would cause you.  I was hoping that you would understand me; but we are not always able to do that.  Do you remember the last e-mail that I sent you?”
“Every word of it.”
“Those were the chains binding me.  Chloe, look at me.  What do I have?  What did I have?”
“You had friends, you had love.”
“You were one of my two only friends.  And if it was true love that I had, then it would not disappear in two months.”
“But why didn’t you talk to me about it first?”
“The only thing you could’ve done is to try to prevent me from going.  You are important to me, and you always have been.  I would inquire your advice about everything else.  This, however, was different.  It was my fight.”
“Why fight?”
“My whole life I’ve been afraid.  The riskiest thing I’ve ever done was going down the sewer with you; I would not even consider doing anything worse.  But I was still surrounded by fear.  Even when I learned to fight, and when I kicked the guy trying to rob us, I was still afraid; this fear was quite deep inside, too deep for me to have perceived, but it was there.  Something didn’t feel right.  I wasn’t afraid of losing, but I was afraid of something else…  And then I realized that until I wasn’t on my own, until I couldn’t claim anything, I was worth nothing.”
“That’s not true.  You’re worth so much, no matter what you say.”
“Not to me.  I was a pawn in Majestic’s hands.  But I freed myself.”
“But look at what cost!”
He cuddled next to her.  “I missed you.  I am deeply sorry for having caused you grief.  I wish there could’ve been another way.  But there wasn’t.”
“So what now?  Am I supposed to forgive you and act like nothing had happened?”
“I have one thing to add.  The first thing that I learned about both Majestic and your group was that they were lying.  For that reason, I didn’t want to choose a side before I learned the true nature of both.  Now I have; and now I know what to do.  My fight isn’t over.  I can’t tell you what to do or whether to support me or not; but I can promise you that for once, I’ll stand up to what I believe is right and fight for it.”
“What do you believe?”
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