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vigilance. Her dark green eyes gazed at the fleeting mirrors that flashed across the surface. In thin lines of waving motion, the never ending cadence of life giving forces rippled gently. Driven by cold wintry airflow, the breeze shook limbs and leaves with each passing fancy. Formerly a retention area for contrived overdevelopment, Agent K watched two sandhill cranes feast in the mucky marshes. Never too far from watchfulness, one hand rested on the butt of her pistol, snuggly tucked away in her shoulder holster. Her heavy black trench coat and the floppy fedora gave some warmth amidst the early morning drizzle. Cold, wet and windy, the landscape of the once prized upscale development had long since witnessed glorious and grander times. In the former opulent splendor of massive unzoning and deregulated commercialization, urban sprawl spawned the genesis of its own demise. However, the pristine environmental sanctuary was now coming back to life, once the humans had vacated. Then again, except of course for the devolved modern day hominids, the area was not completely safe and secure. The insipid onset of the zombification process remained ignored by politicians and the corporate elite. Those more powerful and influential saved themselves and fled to safer confines. After all, they could afford their gated townships, exclusive communal enclaves, and the private forces that kept them in a sedated sense of security. In many locations, but not all, martial law prevailed in former over-crowded cities and towns. Dumbing down the populace through excessively burdensome bureaucratic processes hastened the spread of the viral contamination. For most people, the world had become a dismal place, as contrived by the best intentions of human incompetence. Not far from where she stood, she recalled the day the wanderers over-ran the polo grounds, after local government collapsed. Once seized, some of the club members were killed, as the horses were confiscated and eaten. Nothing was wasted in frenzied consumption, because dead socialites were cooked with the livestock, as part of the feast. The stables were sacked and used for fires in hastily dug barbeque pits. Hunger selfimposed by listlessness and mounting mindless deficiencies amatively stimulated the desire to consume even more. It didn’t matter what or whom, just as long as it was consumable and not a whole lot of thought had to be expended.
2 “What have we done?” She asked herself sadly, while ducks scooted in choreographed formation across the water. “Too much, too late, and then death, as our selfishness knows no boundaries. It’s not ours to lose, but was ours to protect.” Stoically, Agent K stood vigil. A loner, a sentry, and a silent sentinel, she only went by “K”, one simple letter. The organization put the “agent” in front of that. Or, in those files no one could ever see, Killian, just plain Killian, and sometimes, “kill’em” for short. She observed how nature fixes things humans have disrupted. Rains flushed the drainage and construction pumped the wastes of congestion, which expanded the shoreline for several years, beyond the original legally safe requirements. And, while the sun crept above the horizon, birds, alligators, fishes and turtles came alive for another day, in a continuous cycle regardless of humankind. Around the seemingly genteel environs, pompously protected by over-fed politicians, the animals’ kingdom rejuvenated itself. And yet, there was always a cost and something had to die. Over-consumption, fatted fixations and gluttonous obsessions, made her wonder what the animal did wrong to deserve the self-indulgent presence of humans. “Here are the waters, the watering place,” she murmured softly to herself. “Renewal is here, to drink and consume the essence, and find respite from the illusions.” For a bleak moment, there was only the sound of the wind, the birds and the splash of water. Not to last for very long, a noise raised the tiny brownish hairs on the back of her neck. An echo off the glassy surface sounded the guttural thuggish slobber of that which only consumes, and recognizes not the slightest semblance of creativity. She knew the primordial decadence of the dystopic post-modern society. “Another twit wants unwarranted attention,” she told the cranes, which ignored her uninvited presence. “They never stop, those needy, selfish and energy sucking bastards. Uh, huh, I hear ya. There it is, in the doorway of an abandoned school building. Yep, knew some were around here, another mindless remnant of human devolution. Or as we say nowadays, one more debased representation of the zombie apocalypse.” She jerked her pistol from her harness. “Yeah, nice, and what can you do?” “Agent K,” a disembodied voice said gruffly into her earpiece. “Check six.” The faceless tone was all too familiar to her. “Satellite scans are picking up geo-thermal anomalies. I have several targets detected. Watch out they’re low order walkers.”
3 “I’m on it, doc,” she answered and put on a smile upon hearing his voice. “Right now, down by the lake, I’m only accounting for one. What else you got?” “Multiple scans are picking up six images,” he answered confidently. “You got a six pack in terms of anomalous threats. Again, stay alert. You want backup?” “You know I work alone, no thanks, I got this,” she responded. “I have a chopper standing by to pick you up,” the doc advised her. “Retrieval point will be the same L-Z where you were dropped off. Sure you don’t want backup?” “No thanks wanna spend some time here,” she insisted with a hint of sadness in her voice. “I grew up around here long time ago in a time far away.” Agent K knew all too well the horrors of the zombie effect. The zombification devolution remained a confusing and much debated diminution of the human species. Regardless though the disastrous consequences speak for themselves. It’s a long term process whereby stupidity, disproportionately influenced by emotionalism and reinforced by absurd fallacies of illusion and obsession with superstitions, created self-imposed psychological constraints. Slow and deadly, the characteristics depend on the individual to a large extent. Given the psycho-physical health profile of the person, one is able to overcome the cerebral infectiousness by virtue of his or her willingness to do so. As the apocalyptic dystopia manifested, very little hope remained to this day for a cure to reverse the effects of widespread ignorance. The willingness to contaminate oneself through gross self-gratification reduced whole communities to herded babbling, whining and sniveling malcontents. Bent on hedonistic intemperance not seen before in history, large numbers looked to governments to satisfy every need. On top of that, the inclination to accept anything at face value as truth, simplicity in answers for everything and absent any attempt at logical deduction, germinated the infection. “Don’t worry, just be ready for my signal when I want to get out of here,” Agent K advised the doc and wheeled around on the heels of her black boots. At the same instant, she whipped out her high powered auto-pistol. “Head shots count,” she blurted at the approaching decomposing life form. “Sorry pal, lights out.” “Feed, need to feed,” it blubbered stupidly in a putrefying necrotic condition. Shoddily clothed the rummager moved in closer. “Take you, this good to eat.” “I wanna make each bullet count, so standby,” Agent K said ready to shoot.
4 “Agent K,” the command center advised further, “we’re reading very low levels of brainwave activity. So, it’s likely you have human scavengers at that location. Uh, let me see what the actual readings indicate if you’re interested about this.” “Sure, why not, what the hell, and who cares, but go ahead,” she murmured gruffly in her usual gravelly voice. At the same instant, she considered that sitting in a heavily fortified bunker all day had to be boring. “What’ve you got?” “Confirmed, the neurologic cycles are below the functional impulse range per second,” the com-center said calmly and without much emotion. “I mean this’s typically low order, probably limited rudimentary thinking. Primary activities related to survival foraging, hunting and gathering capabilities only. These life forms are barely registering any cerebral activity. Do you want to know the numbers?” “What the hell, control, I could’ve told you that,” she added sourly. “Geezus, that not much different between these things and what used to be their recent predecessors. What we called the average mass consumer. You know what I mean?” “Unfortunately, Agent K, yes, I know what you meant,” he responded. “Alright, for the recorder, this is Contractor Special Agent K, who now hereby confirms one latent hominid on view,” She spoke just above a whisper and took cover behind a rusted dumpster. “I agree and concur that control confirms five more, right within close proximity.” She studied her target and signaled the command center of the primary network. “Confirming also that each is to be terminated.” From protective cover, she speedily fired two shots, each in rapid succession, with split second timing. Each bullet from her ten millimeter pistol was muffled by the precision tooled cylinder on the barrel. The zone’s noise ordinance precluded too many decibels above a certain range. That included gunshots, horn blowing, musical devices and loud cell-phone ringer tones. Those in power did not want to disturb and the peace and tranquility of the animal life or the ambiance of gated communities. But, human wildlife could be put down for almost any reason, so long as it was done quietly and humanely. Unless you lived in a particular upscale safe zone, anything was possible in the outland areas. As to the sound reverberations, that meant all law enforcement personnel, military sector watchers, private security and special contractors had to ensure weaponry sound and echo effect remained well-controlled.
5 At any rate, with the sudden spit of muted gunshots, she was right on target as usual. Agent K was simply that good, she never missed. At fifteen hundred feet per second, the small frangible missile roared through the air. The dual projectiles punched through the thick boned forehead. Upon entry, each cracked holes in the skull and ripped through unused brain tissue. Inside the melon sized cranium, elongated by mutation, the flaccid white cerebral mass exploded. Minimal electric impulses abruptly stopped. Nearly at the same instant, from the rear of the cranial structure, bullet fragments left gaping exit holes. A sudden gush of cranial fluids blew out the backside. From which, flew spouts of contaminated brownish blood, yellowish tissue strings, green bile and skeletal fragments. The scavenger collapsed in much needed death and shook violently in the throes of his fatality. Over it, or what used to be a male, she cautiously stood for a moment with her gun pointed down. It ceased further movements. “Agent K, can we confirm actual termination at this time?” Control asked her. “I say again, can we confirm the termination, as sensors indicate final demise.” “Agent K is now affirming the sanction, over and out for now,” She radioed. “I’ll keep you posted. I wanna check some things out around here.” “Roger that, Agent K,” control answered. “It is so noted at this time.” A brief pause was filled for a moment by Wi-Fi static. “Agent K, a warning for the time being. You do realize this is not one of the more secure areas. Are you sure?” “I copy your update, go to go down here,” she murmured. As she approached the dilapidated once elegant building, she noted the run down conditions. Deplorable abandoned reflections of a time long ago, now covered by the dust of disregard and disrespect. Broken windows stood out in contrast to strewn trash, half eaten decaying rodents and the sun-bleached attempts to board up doorways. Dirty, dingy and discarded, no one dared to enter these premises. In her thoughts, she knew all too well the zombification process that had hastened the degeneration. Of post-modern society, the remains spoke of folly, foolishness and failed social theories. The stupidity virus, in slow and deadly fashion, out of selfish herded satiation devolved dangerously with long term disastrous implications. Across the wide spectrum of socio-economic-political power bases, ignorance recognized no particular boundary lines. Laced with prurient hypocrisy, human nature fooled itself.
6 The properties had been seized by the government, consigned to private consortiums for upkeep, and yet, remained a ghost town of sorts. As to its loss as a productive center of knowledge and learning and innovation, semblance held sway over substance. For Agent K, well she just figured people wanted to be fat, dumb and goofily happy. Why be creative, intellectually ascendant and visionary, when one can be selfish. “Life can be a simple evolutionary process of profound transformation,” she whispered aloud to herself and approached the entrance under the portico. Overhead cracked crumbling roofing tiles hung in the balance. “Mind is superior to matter, and all that ascends minds the matters,” she invoked a personal mantra. “Self-determination cannot be trumped by the ignorance of contrived determinism.” “Agent K, control here, are you okay?” The command center queried. “Roger that, control, thank you for checking, I’m good.” She peered cautiously around the archway of the foyer. As she recalled the once proud splendor and opulence of the décor, she muttered mournfully, “Back then, I deplored the loudness of the conjecture and pretense of the superficial magnificence. Materiality is a curse.” “Nothing ever changes where people are concerned, Agent K,” the control ops radioed back. As soon as you complete your task, I have an extraction unit ready.” “I need a few minutes, I’ll let you know.” She remained preoccupied. Gun ready, Agent K surveyed the decay. The environmental conditions were not that much different than seventy-five percent of the surrounding territory. She cussed the erosion of humanity that became much more insidious and threatening to those who managed to survive. People talked about the meek inheriting the earth. What actually happened was the weak remained in charge, and screwed things up. Collusions of tribal animosities, hatred, extreme religiosity, bigoted intolerance, and slothful over-fed greediness sped up the process of malignant willful stupefaction. And there was more too, like the excessive amounts of hazardous chemicals in the food products, environmental contaminations and so on, an endless listing. Her visual scan followed the faded curvature of the winding staircase to the upper levels. The previously gold painted elevator, with stained glass ornamentations, rested crumpled and cracked in the center of the lobby. None the less, she continued to think it was all too prevalent in the history of the human species to hurry the devolution.
7 And, like the Frankenstein monster, people who should’ve known better meddled with nature itself. Mother Nature doesn’t a sense humor about such things. Mutations seriously mutated, ignorance got worse and scientists threw up their hands. At the same time, politicians got scared. When that happens, legislative foolishness knows few boundaries. Power and wealth trumped morality. Dystopia had become the order of the day. The onset of manufactured absurdity by political incompetence, failed to alleviate the inevitable. At which point, it was too late to save the old republic. After all, why selfevolve to a higher state of being, when slothfulness could be rewarded. Similarly, consumptive laziness without productivity served its own purposes. Humans have a great penchant, Agent K frequently reminded herself, for self-deception. “The zombie effect,” she murmured softly to herself. “It too easily engulfed humanity, as though that had been preordained by the powers that be.” She continued her determined stealthy survey of the lobby’s interior. Inside her thoughts, she knew she had to find something. Old relics maybe, like a paperback book. “I’m going inside.” “Stay on mission, Agent K,” control reminded her with a tone that sounded worried. “Once upon a time,” she said to him somberly, “We considered with ninety-nine percent of the species on the planet already extinct, humanity was next. We did listen. We forgot that. That’s why, control, we’re on our way out.” “Easy there, be advised, Agent K, you’re on open transmission,” he warned in a friendly way. “I copy you’re in the building on recon.” “Roger that, recon it is,” she answered sourly. With lynx-eyed visual acuity of a warrior, she moved effortlessly toward the stairs. “I’m heading upstairs.” “Control copies, stay alert and be safe, Agent K,” he responded. “I don’t like the sound of that,” she told him upon hearing a blood curdling howl and kept her gun ready. Two handed, old style grip, she kept attentive. Each step followed skilled calculation, with intense premeditation. “Geezus, eerie, non-human and not a normal dog or wolf sound. What’s your sound analyzer say?” “Uh, well, like you said,” he hesitated with a hint of embarrassment for the lack of forensic specificity. “Analysis, uh, indicated, ‘non-human and not a normal dog or wolf sound’, it quoted you. But, did say your assessment was correct.” “Nice, billion dollar system quotes me,” she answered. “Go figure.”
8 “Come to think of it, did you see any wild dogs around there?” the control center wanted to know, in order to update her status. “You copy that? Agent K, are you there? Scans don’t detect canine life forms. Scavengers yes, we’ve always got those.” “Geezus, what a pest,” she mumbled to herself, and for a moment, switched off her earphone. “I’d just like a little peace and quiet for a few seconds.” “Uh, Agent K, you switched off your com-link. Come on, I need you online right now. Okay, I know you’re listening. Around there, we figured domestic type creatures would’ve been cannibalized. You recall that’s techno-policy.” He fidgeted with the master control joy stick that stood erect in front of him. “Agent K, come in?” “My god, or whoever’s god allowed all this,” she continued to murmur. “He can’t let go for one minute.” She craned a one-eighty to view interior. “We sure fucked up our world. Yep, I think we’re on out last gasp. Wonder what will replace us?” Meanwhile, within the distant fortified bunker, the controller, the man behind the proverbial magic curtain, increased his anxiety level. For a moment, he paused to quickly review one of his holographic screens. This one, out of many around his massive stainless steel console, conducted constant geo-thermal scans. Deep inside the cavernous complex, protected by military Special Forces, the controller carried out his orders. He knew, as she did likewise, all subsidiary personnel were expendable. Survival of the few, the elite, the influential, remained the prime directive, no matter what else happened. Above the earth, from data received, global electromagnetic probes looked for signs of evolving life. Satellites fed continuous streaming downloads based on anthropomorphic analysis of the earth’s surface. Of primary scientific concern, human form, or any attributes of that replication were of principal interest. Anything resembling humans called for an immediate inspection. Special contractors were employed as highly skilled mercenaries to execute appropriate inspectional analysis. Agent K was one of them. “Agent K, I say again, no canines detected, and no presence of felines.” He rubbed his face nervously, and ran his palm over his smoothly shaved head. “Do you copy?” “Yes, I copy transmission. My link must’ve glitched. Nope, didn’t see any canines or four-legged felines.” She held her surveillance at the top of the spiral staircase and lingered on the grey marbled landing. Leaves, branches and broken ceiling tiles were strewn across the flooring. “By the way, we don’t wolves this far south.”
9 “None that we know of, Agent K,” he advised her. “You got something?” “There it is again, a hound of hell.” She looked up and down the hallways on both sides. “I figured no dogs meant the scavengers ate’em. But this thing, well, sounds too big to be anything we’re used to. No mutations have been noted in this sector.” On a deep guttural level, low emanations of groans followed by growls, as if lurking for interaction of some kind. Curious, she pondered, like a domesticated longing. A pet, she thought, would’ve been picked up by the sat-probes. This is different and sounded as though more than one could be present in her immediate vicinity. “Affirmative, the area has been cleared,” control reported. “The powers have turned this into a bird sanctuary. It’s an open air free evolving aviary.” “Check your scanners again, this isn’t a pigeon,” she demanded. “A pterodactyl maybe, but this ain’t no frigging blue jay or turtle dove.” “No, I don’t detect any mutations. Ozzie has nothing on her radar deflections. Warning, Agent K, you’re losing daylight.” Control monitored the fading illumination of the darkening sky. Black bleakness loomed near. “We need you out a.s.a.p. You know what you have to do. We need to know if there’s any evidence of the artifact.” On the other hand, he remembered the basic commandments of the protocols. Thou shalt not fail to satiate the desires of those more important than others. The few outweigh the needs of the many. For those at the top of the food chain, human gratification was the primacy of primal obligation. Gather data first and then recover from the suspect location. Personnel can be sacrificed, as information is more important, if it serves the greater good for the upper echelons of the hierarchy. Yet, his human nature, on at least one side of his imagination, suggested a real fondness for Agent K. “Yeah, I get it, control. I’m very familiar with the prime directive,” Agent K answered with a sour slant. “I’m a hired gun, merely a hi-tech bounty hunter looking for ancient relics. As a gunslinger, I know how this game is played.” From the darkness, something moved into the hallway. Elongated, silvery, striped in black and whiteness, the form was cloaked by fading light. Shimmering vibrations mirrored its flickering presence, as it crept with cat-like movements. Halfway to her it slinked along the checkered floor. Talons, claws or sharpened toenails scraped the marble and etched the annoying reverberation of fingernails across a chalkboard.
10 “Turn on your mini-cam, Agent K,” controller requested with a whisper, as though he felt someone leered over his shoulder and watched his computer screen. “Repeat, activate your docu-recorder immediately, urgent, Agent K, over.” “Hey, get over this!” She said sourly and shot an obscene gesture in the air with one finger. “I’m busy right now, hold your mother board, and gird your circuits,” she answered again tersely, eased backwards, and had second thoughts about providing this data to Ozzie. The thing came closer into the light. “What the fuck, it’s a goddamn sphinx. Control, you monitor that? Looks like a sphinx, oh what the hell.” “What did you say?” Controller’s voice leaped through the communications link. “You said a sphinx? Put your camera on and describe it too me, now!” “I said, the animal is a goddamn sphinx,” she lowered her voice. “I can spell that, ‘go-d-d-a… Never mind, this thing is white and black, zebra stripes.” “I don’t get it, a sphinx, that’s not possible,” control murmured. “You mean, as in Greek mythology, a winged creature, human head, lion’s torso?” “That would be the one. Yep, and they mauled to death anyone who couldn’t answer the riddle. After which, the beast ate them because of their ignorance.” No sooner had she uttered that word, the sphinx, than Ozzie reacted. Agent K understood the probable consequences. In the background, behind the control console, subsystems were awakened from their passive slumber. Satellites instantly re-tasked themselves upon direct command signals from Ozzie. Covert networks interacted with special interest and resources were put on alert for immediate response. The Optimum Zombification Intelligence System, or Ozzie, ran parallel contingencies alongside the Master Omnibus Control center. Basically, the vast networks colluded interactively for the greater good of the lesser few. There was always oversight, as someone or some machine maintained surveillance. Ozzie watched everyone. “The animal has stopped and appears waiting from something. It’s looking straight at me and I’m not moving an inch. Gun ready, I will shoot it.” Agent K waited. “Hold on, someone’s coming up the stairs. Footsteps, I can tell, likely a scavenger.” “Oh my god,” control reacted. “Uh, yes, I do have humanoid life forms detected at your location. In fact, three of them are still present, headed your way.” “Too late for the human debris,” Agent K sighed softly.
11 “Damnit, Agent K, turn on your mini-cam,” the controller clamored. “Ozzies will be pissed,” he droned about the national security agents. “They want live feeds.” “Live feeds, interesting way of putting that. You know I don’t like cameras, they’re the blasphemy of what is left of humanity,” she echoed softly back to him, but not tersely or with any sense of animosity. She remained still. “The show is about to start. And, right now,” she said as her focus kept the she-beast in view. “A good place to start is that I don’t really care. Maybe I really don’t give a fuck about much.” “If what you’re seeing is real,” the controller advised, “then the sci-techs have seriously created something extraordinary from mythology. This could be a real-world test, you know, an experiment of the creativity in molecular transition.” He considered what he’d said. “On the other hand, if it’s not real, then someone’s using psychoprojective manipulation and we need know who’s doing that.” “Bull shit, haven’t we had enough tampering with human biology? Haven’t we already plundered this planet playing mad scientists?” Her gun came up at the ready position, two handed and sighted the she-beast. “It takes another step and I’m gonna put it down. With that, a third possibility, it means I’m fucking crazy.” She watched as the human debris, sometimes she called ‘hominid stupidicus’, stood on the landing. “The sphinx has a very keen interest in my newly arrived guests.” At that moment, the juncture where fear should normally engage courage merged into the abnormal span of tactical choices. Around her, it seemed everything went very quiet and motionless. Her senses were on full combat alert. Four entities presented an immediate danger to her. As the darkness got darker with a deep purple infusion, the zombified scavengers snorted and grunted at the sphinx. Blood thirsty, hungry for fresh raw meat, they saw an opportunity for a living breathing feast, a buffet of endless flesh. Like their consuming predecessors, feeding meant immediate satiation for emotional comfort. In the next second though, the sphinx turned her head toward Agent K and appeared to nod. Their eyes met and a respectful standoff ensued. Agent K relaxed her bodily preparedness. “What’s going on there Agent K?” The controller asked impatiently. “A feast of sacrifice,” she murmured with a touch of admiration. “I know for certain, I’d be a meal for the scavengers. Now, I’m not sure about my lion friend.”
12 “Lion friend, what the hell are you talking about?” Control quizzed. “Hold on control,” Agent K started to say. “This’ll be good.” With the babble of groans, grunts and primordial grumbles, the cadaveric forms encircled the lioness for the kill. Stiffly constrained to some degree by gradual effects of skeletal rigor, the three scavengers moved toward the she-beast. Like giant locusts, their only aim and purpose was to consume whatever they could. For them, red meat had always been on the daily menu. Horse, human or hog, they didn’t care. As they closed in, the sphinx crouched, slowly moved its great head, and its countenance blurred. Nearly invisible, the two opposing forces were at a point of no return. A matter of seconds was all it took to split, rip and splatter the three scavengers. Heads, arms, legs and decaying body parts exploded through the air. Torn to bite sized pieces, the lion queen commenced to voraciously consume them. “Report, Agent K,” the commander center urged her immediate attention. “I need you on task. What’s going there? Turn on that mini-cam immediately.” “Oops, zombie scavengers the main course of the day. That was fast and furiously done. Hmm, now we’re eyeball to eyeball, and respecting each other’s turf. If they did this,” Agent K said, “then T.H.E.Y. have created a potent weapon.” The sphinx regarded Agent K, held back and disappeared. “That’s amazing.” For her, T.H.E.Y. always meant those who ought to know better. They were the presumed experts, upper echelon of societal elitism. These were sci-guys and gals of technocracy, supposedly wizards who had all the answers. From every field of alleged scientific endeavor, they were those who never heeded warnings not mess with Mother Nature. They were the “Technocratic Hierarchy of Evil Yahoos”. “We need pictures, Agent K, right now!” The controller was now very edgy. “How arrogant is that? T.H.E.Y. thought the center of the universe revolved around them. And, to that end, this is what they came up with? Naturally, I’m only guessing here.” She maintained vigilance. “It’s just more myth, magic and metaphor. Oh, control, what the heck, sorry about that, don’t know what I was thinking,” she feigned. “The sphinx has flown the coop, or the den, whichever applies and vanished from my immediate presence. Wait, I hear things, something’s moving.” “I’m detecting more anomalies, hominid resonance,” Control answered.
13 “Either your equipment is faulty, or this is a setup,” Agent K said angrily. “You should’ve detected everything at this location. No reason to miss anything on a geothermal scan.” She paused for a thoughtful second or two. “Why would they create something like that if they did it in the first place?” “Sorry, Agent K, I only run the control center and follow orders,” he replied. “If you’re speaking in reference to the creature, I have no idea.” “That sounds familiar.” She wondered about the probability of complicity, and remained close on the side of suspiciousness. “Anyway, I’m hearing things.” “Scans are active; check your six, Agent K.” The command center advised and whirled around the machinery in his swivel chair. His voice had an edgy tone to it, which she picked up immediately. “I think you have foragers coming your way, garbage gatherers. You know? You got bone collectors.” “You think? For heaven’s sakes confirm it.” She considered the lion with the harpy face. “Geezus, a sphinx, now bone collectors, what’s next? Goddamn foragers, they steal everything not anchored to an explosive. And, they’re more dangerous.” “Why do you say that?” He asked absentmindedly. “You mean more so than scavengers? I don’t know Agent K; I’d think they’re all kind of sinister.” “Each has their own level of threat potential and lethality. That’s something you learn in the field, control,” she sought to explain to him. “Scavengers gave up thinking, just like about a fourth of the population years ago. Foragers, by contrast, think a couple impulses higher. Kinda of like the politicians we used to elect.” “Okay, that makes sense, or so it might seem,” he answered. “If that makes sense, then you’re smarter than I am.” She eased toward what used to be the old library. On the second floor of the former palatial edifice of academia, K continued the hunt for an artifact. Attached to her wrist, she switched on an infrared light. Over her eyes, she put on a special pair of sunglasses. “I’m activating night vision at this time.” She entered the darkness. “What the hell am I looking for?” “A book, Agent K, you’re looking for a book,” he told her flatly. “My instructions describe a leather bound securely encased manuscript. Leather, go figure that. Don’t believe I’ve seen one of those in a long time. Like those in an old library.” Somewhat more patiently with her, he asked, “See any books around there?”
14 “I’m in a flipping library, what do you think?” She snarled. “My god this all looks familiar, as if I’ve been here before.” She shivered with a tingle of déjà vu. “Control, my senses tell me this is a deception. I don’t know what to say, this is weird.” “I’ve never been in one of those relics of the old days,” he answered. “Books were banned, many were burned and lots were confiscated. So, with that in mind, absent the memories, I can’t advise. Your mind might be telling you something. Yet, fascinating though, wonder what it was like? After all, you’ve managed to find it.” “Yeah, right, whatever you say. A world class mercenary and my mission is a book?” She cursed and scoured the periphery, up and down, and side to side. “That’s utterly typical of the yahoos. Well, doesn’t matter, as nothing ever does. I get the usual credits in the end, and all of it transferred to an off-shore account.” “I wish you’d turn on that mini-cam, Agent K,” he muttered. “It seems to be malfunctioning,” she lied and smiled sardonically. “None the less, the pay is good.” Once inside the shadowy remnants of the library she scanned cautiously. “My god this is one big literary graveyard. Books are scattered everywhere. Shelves have collapsed and what a mess. Kinda feels like the inside of my head.” “Clarify, please,” he requested. “What do you mean by that?” “A little disorganized, I suppose, inside my neural frameworks. Memories, brain archives, I guess you might call them.” She considered her thoughts. “I used to love books before they became extinct. Alright, let’s get back on task. Where would a pearl of great price be hidden? Where would someone hide a piece of buried treasure?” She pondered aloud mainly to herself. “Would it be on a book shelf?” “Doubt it, Agent K, that’s too obvious,” the voice from the inner sanctum advised her. “Maybe the sphinx you imagined, wait, I mean saw, is connected.” “That thing did appear out of thin air, or at least at that precise moment, I thought it did.” Agent K shook her head from side to side. “It was real, maybe surreal.” To her inner personality, she whispered a few murmurs while thinking things over. What was the connection? The riddle of the sphinx is classic mythology and Agent K always enjoyed a good myth. She walked slowly down the crumbled rows. Wind blew in from the lake through broken windows. Torn pages lifted gracefully and fluttered in the breezy wisps of air. A chill ran up her long well-toned back.
15 “Warning, Agent K, on your six, incoming, you’re being flanked,” the control center frantically signaled her. “Multiple targets, you got foragers on the rampage.” “I got’em, standby, details to follow,” she answered and braced for attack. “Watch yourself, take evasive action,” he added cautiously. “Simmer down there, bucko, I got this,” she responded with a cocky flare. “There ain’t nothing on this planet gonna take me without a fight. Neither man nor beast is gonna rattle my cage. You might get me, but you’ll know you been in a battle.” With advanced tactical skill, she weaved, dodged and expertly maneuvered through the debris strewn maze. Inside the expansive archive, desks, shelving, chairs and all manner of fixture colluded to oppose her defensive positioning. As though all had been purposely contrived to stop her, she fought back without hesitation. Her gun blazed with precise targeting, as each fearsome assailant dropped one by one. Each muzzle burst exploded with a crimson flash that lit up the grey-darkened interior. Boom after boom preceded the demise of each mutation, in her blaze of death defying combat. When the last cretin fell, she stood by a dilapidated water fountain. A relic of the past, abandoned, bent and used, the vintage fixture had been a good protective shield. Her gun empty, slide locked back, magazine ejected, out of ammo, she took a long breath of cold air. Heaps of un-evolved hominids lay flung from doorway to window sill. “Agent K, can you hear me?” Control signaled her again. “Are you there?” Undaunted, an empty gun in one hand, dagger in the other, she continued her trek. Carefully, she skimmed the titles of the great works of literature, histories of the world, momentous discoveries and endless failures. While she guardedly patrolled stacks of bindings, her keen visual alacrity searched for the artifact. And, in contrast to each passing second, what was the purpose of the creature? The beast embodied a metaphor, right? Did that enigma pertain to a passage through the phases of life? Humankind begins in the morning, journeys through the day, and ends in the evening. Could it be self-revelation for each individual providing one desires to be liberated? Was this simply a personal quest of self-evolution? Could that possess the main value within the puzzle? And yet, all of such considerations are not that simple. No, not by a long shot, the human mind is very complicated. Transforming processes alter the very essence, structure and progression of human organic matter.
16 No matter how hard, she figured the Yahoos tried, they could not play god. All of T.H.E.Y. was never able to make a perfect human replicant. To the contrary, they made mutants instead. Because, she was very self-assured, strong willed, could think for herself, and was a free person, she made her own choices. As one passes through various stages of life, does that person get greater knowledge of oneself? Not in all cases. In fact, in the vast masses of the dead who walk, devolution has metastasized terminally. Poorly they have existed in a self-induce living coma of senseless selfishness. Their juvenile behaviors produced a world in which on a few might have the limited chance to survive. Great masses, oceans of drowning people, can’t even help themselves let alone others. They look for excuses to fake their own degeneration so that responsibility has no kinship with mature accountability. Like children captured in the stolen skins of decomposition, only the warrior prevails. But, on the other hand, if knowledge is gained, experience learned, and wisdom known, then knowing this invaluable jewel might all rise up? Again, the answer is no. Of exceptional psychic worth is the transformation, for which most will shun the exertion. Does one transform into something better should maturity take hold? Yes, she accepted, a person can change by excruciating pain and pleasure of personal diligence. By trials and tribulations, she believed, one transmutes to become the master of her own discovery. For an endless moment, she gazed out a nearby window. Through the cracked soiled pane, she caught sight of the sphinx walking across the surface of the lake. “Goodbye,” she whispered to it. The lioness turned, looked back at her, nodded and disappeared, faded into the darkness of sepia tinted shadows. “Thank you.” “Status report is due now, Agent K,” the command voice uttered within the confined echoes of her cerebral networks. Softly, soothingly the words came to her out of the bleak dark staircases within her thoughts. Reverberation triggered autonomic reflexes. “That’s an order, soldier, I need your update now. Come back, Agent K. Console monitors are registering intense neural activity. Have you found it? Did you locate the relic?” “Whoa,” she murmured with a stagger. She hugged the water fountain for a few seconds. The rickety old structure rocked and squeaked its aged persistence. “Feeling a little dizzy, got a headache coming on. Wow, feel groggy.” Agent K sucked in a long breath and steadied herself. “Hold your microchips; I think I’ve found it.”
17 Faint red shards of light, from scarlet mooned reflections off the lake, streaked tiny illuminated lines into the room. Straight rosy trails of the beams touched the floor under the water dispenser. Rudy moorings on the faded white tiles spoke a quiet invitation. Splashed with rust, as though blood leaked out, the form of the inanimate fabrication remained steadfastly present. With renewed interest, her hands held the top cover of the metallic fountain of former refreshment. Flushed with enthusiasm, Agent K, a kindred spirit with the lioness now departed, felt enflamed with insightful solitude. “What have you found, Agent K,” control insisted but remained a comforting echo from a distance. “Have you found the relic you’ve been looking for?” “Affirmative, I believe, I mean I think I have,” she murmured with hearty sense of red-faced determination. “A warrior knows what is already known, but remains unknown, for nothing more can be known. She must prevail regardless.” Dry, crusty against the fingertips, and cold to the touch, she slowly moved the structure back and forth. More squeaks and creaks, pushes and pulls, resistance faintly struggled. As she rocked loose the rusted anchoring, light hit upon a spot at the base. Sepia hues dimly smiled from underneath to point the way. Forcefully, she edged the heavy structure to one side and let it rest for another eternity. Agent K stepped back and glanced down at the small compartment below. Hands on hips, she appraised her discovery. Covered by a perfectly square door, the concealed recess contained something of her present interest. Not only to her, but also to those who paid attention and monitored her progress. A handful of specialist wanted to know what she knew. Not only that, these were concerned with what she’d become. Shadows moved with subtle waves of energy fluctuations, as alternate dimensions oscillated. For a moment, she held really still, so quiet not even her trained breathing could be heard, observed or discerned. A true hunter, she understood how to be a predator when necessary to the mission. Agent K was not even a whisper in the darkness. Her only weapons were her wits and a combat knife. While she considered her options for selfdefense, her mind sensed something else. As though eyes surrounded her and noted every muscular flex, she felt being watched. Some who stood near from somewhere loomed closer with a vested interest. For out there on the fringes of psychodynamic manifestations, several watched and waited, kept still to ponder her fate.
18 “Report Agent K,” the command center encouraged but did not order her. The tone suggested he was more interested in her reactions. “What is it?” “I thought I heard something. Must be the shadows playing tricks. Anyway, a tiny safe deposit box of sorts,” she said respectfully, and regarded how the voice of the controller had changed. Now, he sounded more supportive, observant and patient. “I’d say approximately one foot square on each side of the portal. Like an old drop safe from one of those old convenience stores. You know the one, right?” “No, I don’t recall those establishments.” He answered. “You do though.” “Yeah, long time ago, cops on the midnight shift. We used to check on the night clerks. They took money out of the cash registers and dropped them in the little safes. Well never mind.” Carefully, she surveyed the fixtures. “This thing is sealed in concrete, black and white knob to spin the combination.” She took in a long breath and let out a slow exhale. “On top, in the direct center, is a combination locking mechanism. Any ideas about what the code might be? What’s the mix of numbers?” “Don’t know at this point, Agent K,” he said. “You need to figure it out.” “It’s a manual type,” she advised. Thinking out loud, she whispered, “Turn to the right, waiver to the left, and come back to the right, for sight is light.” “Interesting, Agent K, go with that,” he boosted her efforts. “You figured out the riddle of you sphinx, this should be easier for you.” “Who puts a safe in floor under a fountain?” She asked speculatively. “Don’t answer that, I’m just thinking here.” Agent K knelt down and examined the box further. “Okay, what numbers go with the riddle? It’s about mankind. Does your ultimate computer have an answer for me? Come on controller come up with something.” “Not really, I compu-scanned the possibilities,” he advised her. “I’m getting a lot of stuff about mythology and history, so on and so forth. No numbers.” “Morning, noon and night, come to mind.” Her fingertips cautiously touched the dial of the safe. Gently, she brushed back the dust and rubbed off a small plaque with etchings on it. “There’s an inscription. The words say, ‘one chance you take, one life to make’, is what it says. I’m not sure, but I think that means I get one shot at this.” “Turn on your mini-cam let me scan it,” the controller advised. “You and that damn mini-cam, okay here goes.” She put the lens closer.
19 “Hmm, some kind of built in timer,” control replied hesitantly. “I can’t advise you further. You may have one shot at cracking the sequence.” “Life’s like that, control,” she added. “You get one chance to get it right. When you don’t and the lights go out in the end, you’re dead. At any rate, let’s consider the morning, noon and night angle. Four, two and three, and what do you see?” She continued to figure the prospects of her guesses. “That’s too easy.” “Why would that be? Many things can be so simple,” he encouraged. “You just said it. Life is what you make it, Agent K. You crawl, you stand up and your crawl again.” “A lot of other things aren’t so artless,” she countered. “Four-two-three is a trilogy or trinity if you will,” he added. “My computer says that the addition indicates nine. But, given the analysis here, the number does not compute in this configuration. You got that much at least for now.” “Could it be that simple?” She thought it over. “Four, two and three, that adds up to nine like you said. That means in one sense the highest order of things.” She had another thought. “Wait a second. How about this? Not threes but fours. One is on ‘all fours’, get it? It’s about one human, from birth to death, suggests four numbers.” Agent K suggested another possible grouping, “How about fourteen twenty-three?” “You can go with a variety of things on that, Agent K.” He ran multiple probabilities through the vast network. “Uh huh, one, four, two and three, go with it. As in the puzzle, there are many pieces that make up the whole of the eventuality.” “Nice, and exactly where does that leave us?” She quizzed. “Not us, but you, where does it leave you?” He admonished. “Agent K, this is all about your mission and whether or not you can retrieve the artifact.” He went silent for a moment. “Consider the ramifications. This is your gambit in the present.” “Okay, for starters, fourteen twenty-three results in the sum total of ten,” she began slowly to figure out the equation. “You keep reducing to the basic number. No matter how you add the numbers, you get ten. You can add fourteen to twenty-three and you get thirty-seven. That’s ten once again. And, when you break that down, you come up with one. One and zero equal one. And, one is the ultimate.” In her thoughts, she reconsidered the key points of what she said. “Okay, the number one indicates the individual who makes choices. Four is the root of all things, as three persons in one.”
20 “The compu-system’s picking up on what you’re saying, Agent K.” The command center responded. “I’m getting a tremendous reaction from cyberspace.” Nearby, he knew all too well the Ozzies were eavesdropping. These people had their own agenda which at times was not always in sync with the yahoos. “Keep going, Agent K.” “Then, we go with this reasoning,” she told him confidently. “To continue, two represents sensuality and sexual evolution of male and female aspects. Where one is the essence of all things, two is the material expression of existence.” “The two become one in unity of all that exists,” the controller agreed as he read the data scrolling across his computer screen. “We are the one, a reflection of the two. And, that which exists now is that which does not exist thereafter.” “Potentially, that’s correct,” she answered. “Three is the number of humankind. People are the manifestation of mind, body and spirit on a timeline.” She carefully put her thumb and index finger on the dial and paused. “A trinity casts illumination as a fire glows like a flame for eternal transformation.” “Fascinating, Agent K, and what else have you found?” The controller’s discreet murmur came to her as an echo from a shadowy realm. “Please continue.” “The mind is a dark place where light is what you make of it,” she whispered softly. A noise in the blackness nearby aroused her senses. She was immediately on her guard, with a firm grip on her knife. “Structural noises I suppose. My feelings for the tragedy of all this devastation is blunted by the necessity to evolve. It’s my journey.” She thought something else was in the room. Yet, things always are. “The stupidity we have created out of desire to be gods is foolish arrogance in the folly of humankind.” “And, what is your combination to your safe deposit?’ He asked. “My combination to my safe, you say?” She queried back to him. Then she added, as though noises in the inky surroundings provoked her. “Interesting you say that, control. At any rate, the scavengers, foragers and lurkers, they suck the life forces right out of the very consciousness of humanity. However, they’re not much different than higher up the food chain. They’re stupid and dangerous, like all who oppress others.” “Well, aside from that digression, how’s your focus, Agent K,” his voice sounded different. Maybe someone else replaced him. “Are you on task?”
21 “I’m always on task. But, I feel I’m in a haze right now. Something akin to an altered state seems to hang over me.” She blew out a long hiss of air and shook off the grogginess. “Okay, back on target. In ancient lore, three is a connection to a compass for the purpose of navigating life’s journey. Three points of direction. You go on your quest, you grow up and return or you don’t return at all.” Her eyes glanced at the dial. “Four movements, right, left, right and left. I’m gonna do it, enough of this.” “Are you certain of this move?” He pressed her further. “I have no doubts now. My safe and my combination, that’s beginning to make sense,” she asserted. “Hold on, I know this number. Where’s my head been all this time?” A cold chill tingled up her spine. “What the hell’s going on?” With a quick movement, she stood momentarily, glanced around the room, and jerked down the zipper on her trousers. She unsnapped the belt buckle, loosed her weapon harness and relaxed her shoulders. Defensively, she kept an eye out for intruders. Hands firmly on each side of her tapered hips, around the straps, she commenced to slide the clothing down. Agent K pulled down her pants below her buttocks. Coolness of airflows touched her curves in a comforting brush of relaxation. For a second or two, she grimaced. It was an expression that reflected internal scolding. Why had she not thought of this before? None the less, she bared herself for a moment. Naked underneath, she shined the wrist lamp on her smoothly shaved pelvis. Below her navel, closer to her pubic mound, she gazed at the red-blue and yellowish hues of her tattoo. Ornately etched on her smooth skin, in bold gothic script, there was a number. She looked at the skin deep impression which read: “1423”. “Report, Agent, what have you found?” The controller sounded different again. “It’s my badge number,” she murmured into her radio. “From the old days, it’s back when the republic had life, before the fall and the apocalypse.” “Then open the safe, Agent K, do it now,” the voice had urgency. “I’m on it.” She pulled her up pants, adjusted herself and stooped. “Okay, here we go, I got this and I know. Once to the right, once to the left, then to the right and back to the left, I’m spinning the dial. I’ve entered the sequence, one, four, two, and three.” She held her breath and heard the clicks of inner tumblers unlocking. “It opened.” “What’s inside? I want a situation update, Agent K,” he said.
22 “You sound different, like an echo effect,” she started and opened the small door. The old hinges screeched from the strain. “Yeah, been a while since this thing was last opened. There’s plenty of dust all over the place and little a dirty.” She sniffed the atmosphere around her. “I can smell the mold, hear the creaking groans of the darkness and touch the stained fabric of the decay. This place is dismal.” “Can you see anything so far?” He asked her. “What do you feel?’ “What do I feel? How is that relevant?” She wanted to know. No answer came back. “Hmm, well, let me see. I’m a trained professional and fully differentiated in a high order tactical capacity. If needed, I can be very dangerous. How the hell do you think I feel? It’s like an altered state of consciousness around here, a blurry reflection.” “It’s all part of the mission, Agent K.” He advised her. “What about the safe?” “Well, the inside’s dark, can’t see anything yet.” She shined her light into the depths and the pale illumination revealed three artifacts. “I think I have found something, or a couple of things.” One by one, she took each of them out of the safe and placed them on the floor in a line. “Interesting, I’ve found an ancient manuscript.” “What else do you have?” Another differently sounding voice asked. “Well, aside from an old book of some kind” she began to explain. “It’s very dusty, has some mold and seems pretty timeworn. Also, there’s a wooden box of matches and a copper colored, no wait, brass antique compass.” In the next few seconds, she rested on her knees and leaned back on her calves. “My god, this is symbolism.” “Her vitals are increasing,” someone said to the controller from a secret location. “Standby control, we are monitoring her ascent very carefully.” The three dimensional interface signaled the group’s concern. Gowned in stark white scrubs, with matching face masks, they watched her suspended nude body. “However, she is one of the strongest ones we’ve encountered to date. We like her and think she’ll be a good asset.” “Control, the book,” Agent K radioed. “The title is, ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, by Sigmund Freud. Can you figure that? I’ve searched for this for years. The matches and the compass are psycho-grams lighting the way into another reality.” “Secure her, we need this warrior,” the one in charge ordered. “Get her to the bunker and keep her safe. She might end up leading us in the rebellion.” “Oh my god, I’m dreaming!” Agent K proclaimed.
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