“You make my heart sing,” Joel rolled over to face Mark.
He propped his head up with his right arm and just looked at the boy lying there next to him. He sighed and smiled. Mark too had a huge smile and was almost laughing when he replied, “Wild thing!”
“But I wanna know for sure,” Joel was laughing now.
“Then come on and hold me tight,” Mark grabbed him, burying his head in Joel's chest and smothering the sound of his laughter.
After some while the laughter subsided, Mark lifted his head up from Joel's chest and was rewarded with a kiss. A delicate kiss that turned into a deep passionate wrestling of tongues.
“I love you,” Joel couldn't quite believe that he spoke those words. It was as if they escaped his mouth before he had time to think. His emotions held sway and he could no longer contain his thoughts. He was exposed like never before, and he had no idea why or how, it just happened.
Mark’s eyes glistened with the tears that were creeping from the corners of his eyes, that were about to burst into an uncontrollable flood. Joel's hand brushed through the boy's hair sending a shock through Mark's body.
The tears fell from his eyes, what he felt simply overpowered his senses.
Joel held him tight, worried that he had said or done the wrong thing. Maybe it’s too much, too soon? But that was how he felt. Never did he imagine falling in love with a boy, but he was sure. Sure as the rain that never ceased falling, sure as the dark gloom that never lifted, certain. For the first time. The very first time, he just knew. But he was concerned at Mark's reaction.
“What's wrong?” He ventured to ask ever so softly.
“Nothing,” Mark uttered in between sobs.
“Then I don't understand. Why are you crying?”
Mark lifted his head to look up at Joel.
Through tear stained eyes, with a smile hovering on his lips, he replied, “Because I love you too.”
□ □ □ □ □
Henry had arrived late last night and went immediately to find Kado. The two disappeared into some part of the building the boys hadn't visited. Actually, since they had arrived here, they were more or less confined to an area that consisted of some larger rooms, a sort of canteen and kitchen area, plus living quarters.
Mount Columbus, which was the name of the facility as well as the actual mountain that it was perched upon, was a maze of corridors and rooms on different levels. That much was evident from the escape plan on the wall which showed the exits. Kado had allocated their rooms, two bedrooms joined together by a third little room.
Joel and Mark were in one bedroom, Grif and Jack in the other. Mark's brother Steve was apparently occupied elsewhere, although Kado had given them no specific details about where or what he was doing, just that he would join them in the morning.
“Here is the final report from Mishimotta on the HNO4.” Henry handed over the papers.
“So I'm guessing it’s not good?” Kado looked at Henry, studying his face for clues, but the man was a master at concealing his game – he could have been a formidable poker player.
“No it’s not good. You need to read it.” Henry turned to leave.
“I'll see you later then,” Kado called after him.
Henry just waved an arm and was gone. Kado, report in hand went to his room so as not to be disturbed. He was not happy about the way things were going, but once started down this route it was practically impossible to get out. Henry held all the cards!
HNO4 was a modern version of genetic drug therapy that went back into ancient history. The first venture into the field was over a hundred years ago with a drug labelled SV40, a simian virus found in monkeys and humans. The effect it produced on infected green monkey cells was to develop an unusual number of vacuoles. Put simply the same principal was at the route of HNO4, the mechanism was to trap the virus in a sort of empty space, the vacuoles, that normally contained water. This would isolate the particles that were harmful, the pollution particles floating in the air that everyone was breathing and which were becoming increasingly important.
Kado was no scientist, his grasp of all this was limited, but he was not stupid, and the principal was easy enough to grasp. Capture and isolate the pollution that would eventually destroy everybody. That would be a huge breakthrough and the prize would be a huge amount of money.
He read the whole report, it took some time, then he pondered the conclusion, which played in his head: The unforeseen side effect of HNO4 is an adverse reaction on the memory function and a possible degeneration of the nervous system. The worse case scenario is death. All experimental trials should be ceased immediately.
If this was a dead end then the only way out of present circumstances was Project Weatherman, if it worked. Given that the quasi-vaccine that might have counteracted the increasing air pollution was not viable. Death as a side effect is definitely not viable, then the number one priority was Madison and his project to capture the rain in the clouds and control where it fell.
That solution to the problem would guarantee energy supplies and, hopefully, lock the air pollution into the water in the clouds, but would it? Kado doubted that Clement Madison knew anything about the danger present in the air pollution. Everyone knew the air was polluted, but continual rain gave a false impression that everything gets washed. Obviously not true or there would not be so many children suffering allergies and breathing problems.
Kado knew that for the next step, to find Professor Madison, he needed Joel. He might also need Joel's mother and his brother Charlie. The more leverage he had the better. Henry had not yet said anything about X-Corp, but no doubt he would. What he found difficult to get his thoughts straight on in all this, was what X-Corp wanted with the professor and the project, when they could just let him go ahead and it would – if it worked – solve everything.
Something more was going on here, that much was certain.
□ □ □ □ □
“I don't feel right,” Grif told Jack.
“What do you mean?” They had slept together, but that wasn't the first time he'd had sex with Grif.
“I don't understand.”
“I mean... I sort of don't feel well, not a hundred per cent. Something doesn't feel right...”
Those where the last words he spoke. Grif's head kind of twisted sideways and his body sort of stopped moving. Jack panicked.
He never got out of bed so quickly in his life, he jumped up, and rushed out of the bedroom, across the hall and barged in on Joel and Mark.
“You gotta come. NOW!”
Joel turned away from Mark and stared at Jack. It took a few seconds to register that something was wrong. Then he was out of bed and following Jack back to the other room. Mark was behind him.
He looked at Grif lying on the bed and a weird sensation passed through his body, a shiver ran along his spine. He bent over Grif, tried shaking him. His body felt heavy and unresponsive. He put his ear over Grif's mouth, he wanted to see if he was breathing.
If he was though, it was very faint.
“GO GET KADO!” He shouted, almost screamed. Suddenly overcome with a sense of urgency. Those thoughts about making sure someone can breathe, getting help quickly, rushed through his mind.
What should he do?
Jack went rushing out of the room to find Kado. Mark just stood looking at Joel and at Grif lying there motionless.
It seemed like ages before Jack was back with Kado.
Joel stood up, relieved to let Kado take over. He watched the big guy handle Grif, check his pulse.
Why didn't I think of that? He asked himself.
“Do you know where the medical room is?”
“Yeah, I do,” Mark spoke up.
“Okay, go there and get a trolley and grab the med kit. The red bag, white cross.”
Mark rushed off.
“Joel go to the intercom and call in a medical emergency... Room C3.”
Seconds later they all heard the message over the speaker system.
Again it seemed to Joel to take a long time, but Mark was back with the trolley and med kit, followed by three members of the Mount Columbus staff.
They were all around the bed; Joel, Mark and Jack, stood back to give them room. They watched as Grif was lifted onto the stretcher and wheeled away. Kado had given him an injection.
So he must be alive, Joel thought.
The same idea crossed Jack's mind, maybe it looked worse than it was.
Mark felt shocked. He jumped at Joel’s touch, physically moved half a pace.
“Woah! You okay,” Joel squeezed his arm.
“Uh... yeah... yeah. I guess so.”
“What happened?” Joel looked at Jack.
“I don't know. We were talking. He said he didn't feel right.” Jack was staring at the empty bed with the ruffled sheet hanging half over the side. “Yeah, he said he didn't feel well. Then he sort of collapsed on the bed. I mean he was lying there and then it was like, bang. Like you switch the light off. That's when I came and got you.”
□ □ □ □ □
“Get him on the table,” Kado told the guys that had answered the emergency call and accompanied Grif to the medi-room.
Pretty soon Kado had him wired up and started running the usual tests. He placed an oxygen mask over Grif's face and set up the monitor. It was just as he had finished all this, that Dr Thomas, Mount Columbus Head of Team and a qualified medical doctor, joined them.
“So what have we got?” Dr Thomas addressed Kado. At the same time he looked over at the monitor and noted the fast heartbeat and low blood oxygen level.
Hypoxia. Dr Thomas new immediately, but what brought it on?
“He collapsed this morning. Ten, fifteen minutes ago, time to get him here.”
“A side effect?” Dr Thomas knew about the trials of HNO4.
“Quite probably, but it’s never happened like this before.”
“Like this? You mean there have been other side effects?”
“Memory loss, but that was temporary. As far as we know.” Kado felt annoyed by this questioning. He sensed that the good doctor was not altogether a great fan of the drug trials.
“Well we can only monitor him and see what happens. Did the boy suffer memory loss?”
“No, I don't think so.”
“And there have been no other reported side effects. With this lad, or anyone else?”
Dr Thomas gave instructions to one of the medical staff. They would monitor Grif closely and see how things went. There really was not much else to do. Drug trials are always unknown territory.
Henry did not appear concerned about what had happened to Grif. Perhaps he thought it was unimportant in the scheme of things, which it probably was. HNO4 as a drug trial had failed, it had been closed down, and now they were just having to deal with some of the consequences. Actually Henry liked the boy, he had spent a lot of time watching him, he hoped things worked out for Grif, but he couldn't do anything to influence the outcome.
“It's just one thing on top of another,” he was telling Kado. “Everything's going to shit.”
“A nice turn of phrase Henry.”
“Yes, well it is. It's almost unmanageable now. The X-Corp project ICEX looks like it’s going ahead, and Madison and his Project Weatherman might also get off the ground. No pun intended there.”
Henry chuckled at his own little joke, but deep down he knew it wasn't funny. This was the end. He doubted Madison would achieve what he hoped and ICEX wouldn't work either. No, he was glad most of his life was memories, he’d lived, he'd leave those memories behind. No regrets. Just sad that all these young people who were here with him would only have very short lives. At least, he told himself, humanity would survive. Just not on this planet.
“Where does that leave us?”
“There's no real choices. Send Madison's nephew to try and locate him. If we know what he's planning, maybe we will have some leverage with X-Corp.”
“I'll get on to it.” Kado was not completely behind Henry, he had ideas of his own.
For a start it would be useful to find Joel's family, that could be a card to play with Madison. Then depending what was going to happen there, he could either go with the idea of Project Weatherman or with ICEX. He personally favoured Madison, but was philosophical about the possible outcomes. No, perhaps resigned to accept failure was more on the mark. Maybe it amounts to the same thing in the end, philosophical or resigned.
□ □ □ □ □
“What we gonna do?” Jack asked.
“I can't stand sitting around doing nothing,” Joel told them.
“We need to talk to Kado,” Mark wasn't only thinking about Jack's question, or even about Grif, although he felt very close to Grif. He probably liked Grif about equal with Joel – is that even possible – to like, fall in love with two guys at the same time? The main thing on his mind was where was his brother.
“Who needs to talk to me?” Kado marched into the room. His large presence dominating the space.
“What's happening?” Jack wanted to know.
“And where is Steve?” Mark chimed in.
“Can we see Grif?” Joel added.
“Woah, hold on a minute. Sit down. I guess we need to talk.”
The boys each found a seat. Jack was on the bed, Mark and Joel on one of the brightly coloured inflatable little bubble chairs.
“You can't see Grif, and anyway he's not conscious. Soon as he comes round, I'll let you all know. Steve has gone to Neón de Luces. I sent him to look for your family, Joel.”
“I could have done that. Fuck, it's my family,” he was annoyed.
“First off, I didn't know you remembered. Second, I need you to find your uncle.”
There was a silence in the bedroom. Mark stood up and moved across the room to look out through the only window. The small dark grey metallic frame made a cadre for the even darker blackness outside. Nothing was visible except the droplets of rain that splattered on the glass and glistened from the reflected light as they slid downwards. He had wanted to see Steve. Kado had said they would meet up when he got the boys back here. Now he wasn't here. Mark felt betrayed – What was so urgent?
“What's wrong with Grif?” Jack broke the silence.
“He has a nervous system disorder,” Kado wanted to avoid going into all the details, but he had to tell them something.
“A nervous system disorder?” Jack looked puzzled. He didn't know whether to believe Kado or not. It didn't sound right. “A nervous system disorder that sends you unconscious?”
Some types are temporary, but many worsen over time. When they affect your breathing or heart function these disorders can be life-threatening. Some autonomic nervous system disorders get better when an underlying disease is treated. Often, however, there is no cure.”
“So what you're saying. What you're saying is... he might never get better, and he could die?”
“What disease?” Joel wanted to know.
“Strictly speaking, it's not a disease, but the pollution. It effects us all, only Grif had been vaccinated with a new drug... and, well, it seems to have, in his case, side effects.”
It was always best Kado knew, to tell half truths rather than outright lies. They were more believable and made you sound convincing. Plus, you were less likely to trip yourself up.
“You need to go find your uncle,” Kado wanted to move on, there was nothing much else to say about Grif's state of health. He'd get better, or he wouldn't. “So in the morning you leave for Morro Bay.”
“And what do I do if I find him?”
“You tell me how far advanced he is with his project. I'm giving you a sat phone, you get back to me as soon as you know. And it's pretty damned urgent. You can take Mark and Jack with you. All boys together!” He smirked.
“I wanna wait here for Steve,” Mark told him.
“You do what I fucking tell you.” Now it was Kado's turn to get angry. He wasn't having some little kid telling him what to do.
“You said Steve would be here when I got back with the others,” Mark whined.
“That's not fair. You lied.”
“Mark, shut the fuck up! Unless you want some of what your daddy used to dish out.”
Mark didn't say anymore, but at that moment he hated Kado. He also remembered how he'd smacked his brother across the face, so he bit his lip and just glared daggers at Kado. That had no effect on the big man, he ignored Mark, turned and left the room. It was Joel who attempted to comfort the boy, but Mark wasn't having any of it. He shrugged off Joel's arm, turning his glare on his new found boyfriend.
Jack was watching all this. “Chill out man. It's Kado who's the arsehole, not Joel.”
Mark plonked himself back down in the cushion seat and buried his head in his arms. He knew Jack was right, but he just felt so angry. Angry and frustrated, because he knew he couldn't do anything, other than what Kado wanted.
□ □ □ □ □
Andre came rushing into the X-Corp office that they were using as their project room. They could have chosen more or less any of the empty offices, but this one was nice because it was large with huge glass panels that looked out over the city streets.
“I finally found out what they're planning. It's absolutely fucking crazy.”
“Hold on a minute Andre,” Eve needed to calm things down. Even if she suspected everything was not quite right, she still wasn't ready to throw it all away. “Just tell us slowly and clearly.”
Neither Mark nor Evan spoke, they just looked from Andre to Eve and waited feeling apprehensive about what he might be about to announce. They too did not feel entirely comfortable about the work life balance, or about the future. Ever since most of the building had emptied out of staff they had been wondering what was going on. When Jane Spenser, she was a senior management secretary – who had worked there for years – said that it was the beginning of the end, that was when the two of them started considering options.
“ICEX it's called. Some insane idea. They want to freeze the oceans!”
Eve had heard the project name, but had no idea what is was about. For Mark and Evan this was all new. Andre went on to explain that the idea now was to prevent Professor Madison’s imminent cloud seeding, to sabotage that project, so ICEX would become the only available choice.
“I also heard they sent Howard and Emret to Morro Bay,” Andre finished explaining.
“So where does that leave us?” Evan wanted to know.
“In an empty building waiting to see who launches first and what happens after.” Mark had a sad look on his face, a sort of resignation – What will be will be.
“Thing is,” Eve added. “Which side is the government on?”
“I've got access via this hacked account. What I mean is I have a password that will let us into level two security. I haven't used it, because... well, because every access is monitored. Once we use it, they will know who, where, and what was accessed. The who I don't care about, but the where. Well like you just said, we're practically the only people in this empty building.”
“We need to know what we are looking for and what we do after, if we find it. You did good Andre.” Eve knew they would have to act quickly.
□ □ □ □ □
Steve felt odd going to some address he'd been given to find Joel's family, who he didn't even have a name for. He only knew that a Professor Madison was his uncle and she would be with her son, Joel's little brother Charlie. He had a photo, but how old was that? He had no idea if she went by the name of Madison or if, as he thought was pretty normal, she used Joel's father's name which he didn't know. Why did he get into these shit situations?
The car parked itself outside a non-descript tall apartment block, one like hundreds of others in the city. Grey concrete facade, tiny square windows, grim and unwelcoming. Looking out from the open door he was trying to decide if he should get out or not. Steve kept wondering what he would say if he found them. The question also crossed his mind as to what he would do if he didn't, Kado had given no other instructions, nowhere else to look.
With no real alternatives, he forced himself out into the street and dashed across to the entrance. The large door inset into the front of the building barely offered any protection from the rain. The faint green glow of the keypad highlighted the number keys which would open the door or call an occupant. Steve shielded the keyboard to keep off the rain so he could see the little screen more easily. He punched in the apartment number and waited. Nothing happened. Shit, I never thought about them being out. Steve considered what his choices were. He was getting wet standing outside. Trying to get out of the rain in what little shelter the meagre porch offered, he pushed up against the door. It buzzed and clicked. It was open.
He pushed through into the dimly lit hall. 206, must be the second floor. He found the stairs, the state of the building gave him no confidence in using the elevator. Climbing the dimly illuminated stairwell, he again wondered what, if anything would happen when he knocked on the door.
It was at the end of the corridor, on the left. He hesitated a moment before rapping the door twice with his knuckles. It seemed ages before his knock was answered and the door opened. Just a tiny bit, held in place by a chain. A young boy starred at him through the crack.
“Charlie?” Steve ventured uncertainly.
The boy looked him up and down, before replying. “How do you know my name?”
“You can't always expect that things will work out as you hope or feel they aught to.” Professor Madison was addressing an unknown audience, or rather his holographic image was there, on stage, in front of a large green screen.
“You are seeing me now because... and I am genuinely sad about this, but because what we hoped for did not work.”
They had watched the entire story unfold, right up until now, until this moment. It had been entertaining, although that is the wrong word to describe something as catastrophic as the near end of the human race, the end of a planet.
Everybody referred to that planet – Earth – as their home, just like everybody referred to them as the survivors. But like the professor was explaining things don't always work out as expected. They were human, they had come from that planet called Earth, which was 4.89 light years away, but that was a thousand years ago. The planet got destroyed and the solar system it was in.
6985 looked over at his human friend alpha 8u. “Do you think it is sad that I am not human like you?”
Alpha 8u thought about the question before making his reply. “Do you think it is sad that all the humans are males born artificially, that there are no females?”
“I could respond to your question with emotion or logic, what would you prefer?” 6985 watched the human.
He had no understanding of emotion, he could exhibit and mimic, and he knew what the humans enjoyed, but he did not experience what they felt. It was alien that this human boy, alpha 8u, was attached emotionally to him. He could satisfy those human desires, to all intents he was a replica, bodily, but not mentally. It was always such a fine balance between running the planet and allowing the humans to live and breed. They, the humans, thought that the replicas were, well, some kind of human substitute, some sort of copy, but they were not.
“You know I love only emotions. Let's finish the history. I don't know why you always jump forward to the end.”
“That's easy, because I hate the sad bits and because I can't wait to get into bed with you!”
Alpha 8u could see that was true, the second part anyway. He saw the erection 6985 was displaying. Was it true he hated the sad bits? That he doubted, it was much more that 6985 was reacting emotionally. None of this really mattered, the numbers as they were called, were experts at the game, and fantastic sex partners. The numbers taught the human boys everything about sex and were more than able to fulfil any desire.
“Yes, I can see that, but I want to continue up to the end. I hate not seeing the end of stuff.”
□ □ □ □ □
“How does Kado have all this info?” Joel was wondering out loud.
The car had brought them to this mansion house overlooking the ocean. The doors were open, the sound of the sea crashing onto the beach was a constant background noise. The water had a sombre appearance, a sort of sad grey mixture of rolling waves and pouring rain. The big difference was the temperature, it was less cold than in the mountains, almost but not quite, warm.
“That is one impressive house!” Mark exclaimed.
Jack felt tired, he was worried about Grif, didn't trust Kado’s plan about finding the professor, whatever it was. No, he looked at the ocean uninspired and pervaded by a sense of gloom.
“Kado knows people who know people,” Jack replied.
The house was big, modern and occupying a fantastic position affording super ocean views for what that was worth nowadays when visibility was reduced mostly to peering into a wet misty fog. A light was on inside, in one of the rooms, like a beacon set against the gloom.
“Let's get moving,” Joel told them as he headed off towards the steps that curved up to a terrace on one side of the building.
Once at the door, it was Jack who asked, “What now?”
Mark pressed the round yellow ball on the wall before Joel could reply. Well, he told himself, they were here to see the professor and if he was here he's going to be inside, no point getting soaked. The door opened with a click of the lock and they stepped inside. So far so good, Jack thought. As they were admiring the sleek modern interior of the house, a woman approached from a hallway off to the right.
“Professor Madison is busy right now,” she addressed Joel. “He asked me to find a room for you and your friends and he will be along to see you later.”
“Uh, okay, but how did he know it was me.” Joel was a bit taken aback by things. More specifically by the fact that his uncle was acting like they were expected.
The women smiled and pointed to two video cameras, one on each side of the room. No one had noticed these before, they were discrete, not hidden, but you needed to look. They followed her up the staircase to the next level and along to a door which opened revealing a large bedroom with one of those super king size beds.
“Great!” Mark exclaimed jumping onto the bed as soon as they were left alone.
□ □ □ □ □
“I know your brother Joel,” Steve told the boy who was looking at him through the slight opening.
“Yeah. Listen, is your mom there?”
Charlie pondered whether or not to give that information to this stranger, but he seemed okay. “Nah, she went out.”
“Oh. You wouldn't let me come in and wait for her would you?”
“I’m not supposed to answer the door.”
“So why did you?”
“I dunno. It's kinda boring here alone. Guess I was curious.”
“I guess you was. So you gonna let me in?”
“I might get into trouble.”
“I reckon it won't be the first time you've gotten in trouble. Anyway, I'll explain to your mom when she gets back. I'll say it was all down to me.”
“Hm, okay then. Wait, I have to close the door first, to take off the chain.”
“I'm waiting then,” Steve smiled. He thought that Charlie was a bit like his big brother, mischievous.
Steve heard the door click shut, then almost immediately open again, this time without the chain. “Come in then,” Charlie stood aside.
“So where's Joel?”
“I don't rightly know exactly where he is now. I was asked to find you and your mom. I'll explain it all when your mom gets back.”
“We had to move here cos of my uncle. He didn't want us going with him. I know that, I heard him tell my mom. She didn't know I was there.”
“That's kinda sneaky.”
“Guess,” Charlie grinned sheepishly, then looked at the floor.
“Hey, I won't say a word. You can trust me,” and he put a finger to his lips.
Charlie's grin changed into a full on smile. “I like you.”
“I like you too.”
They spent the next couple of hours talking and playing games. It was some time before Steve heard the front door open and Charlie rushed out to greet his mom.
“You were long. Why'd you take so long? Where'd you go? You said you’d be back soon,” Charlie bombarded her with questions, but she looked right past him at Steve.
If she was surprised, or shocked, she didn't show it. Instead she asked casually, “Who have we got here then?”
“This is Steve,” Charlie told her with some pride. “He's a friend of Joel's.”
“Hello Steve,” she looked in his direction, then back down to Charlie. “I thought I told you not to answer the door?”
“Yeah, but...” Charlie's answer faded when he realised he didn't know what to say.
“I think we should all sit down and Steve here can explain.” She smiled at Charlie then returned her gaze to Steve. “How about I make us all a nice hot chocolate. Would you like one Steve?”
“Yes, thank you. And I'm sorry for pushing my way in. It really was me responsible, not Charlie.”
“I'm sure, but I also know my son.”
She put her things down and went to make the hot chocolate. After handing a mug to each of them and warning that it was hot, she listened as Steve explained about Kado and bringing them with him to Mount Columbus.
Had he worried over nothing? They were there and they would be coming back with him. There was really no problem, at least he couldn't see any.