Yay! I've finally arrived at the last chapter. This runs a bit long but I just wanted to get it posted so I "smushed" the last two chapters together! Thanks for hanging in there and reading!
Jess Parker's car sped down the M40 motorway toward London. She prayed that traffic wasn't at the usual standstill between the big city and Oxford. Her GPS wasn't showing heavy traffic yet, but she knew the possibility of an accident or road repairs always existed. Flipping her laptop open, she accessed her portable mapping program that she used as a backup for emergencies at the ARC. The system used up to date satellite information that would indicate problems ahead. A small smile appeared on her face when she realized the motorways were clear and she would be arriving at the facility within the hour. She stared at her mobile before reaching for it to dial Abby's number. There was only a strange busy signal that Jess had never heard before. Looking down at her speed, she pressed her foot closer to the floor and urged her rental car to greater speed.
Lester stared at the instrument panel on the wall before him. He could possibly stand in front of it pushing random buttons or go up to the hub and use the access in his office to find out how to get his security chief out of the dangerous situation he had left himself in.
He heard the soldier's voice answering him calmly through the sealed door.
"Yes…...in case you're wondering, I'm still here…." he answered sarcastically. "There aren't exactly any windows I could shimmy out and if there was I'm fairly certain I wouldn't fit."
James Lester rolled his eyes. "I was looking at a room schematic and I noticed a small duct for the environmental system on the south wall. Could you possible escape through there?
There was silence as Becker walked over to the small square opening covered by a grate and sighed. He walked back to the door.
"There's no way in hell I could fit through that, James. Forget about me. Right now we need to stop that asshole Willhauer before he creates an anomaly we can't stop and we're right back where we were with Phillip. Go! Now!"
"Becker, in what alternate universe would you EVER be giving me orders?"
Lester's fist pounded against the wall.
"First of all….the reason I'm in charge here is because I can multitask. I'll try to release you from my office access. You do what you can there."
Even though he couldn't see his boss, Becker nodded and turned to the machines in the office to try and find a solution to his possibly lethal conundrum.
Connor and Emily punched the lifts hub access button and waited impatiently for the door to close.
Emily began to pace in the small space as Connor punched the button a second time.
"Connor…..we are not moving. What is wrong with the lift?"
"I don't know but we may have to take the stairs. I thought this would be faster." He punched the button to open the lift doors as a loud buzzer sounded in the small space.
Emily stared at the panel.
"What?...I don't understand…..it says this lift is in lockdown and we are to maintain our present position! Are we locked in?"
Connor gazed at the panel. He cursed out loud that in their rush to get to the hub he had left his laptop sitting in the lab. They were stuck and the lockdown was preventing them from communicating anything through their earpieces. Another little gift from Ethan Willhauer's demonic "Monica"...
Jess pulled into the parking lot at a greater speed than she'd previously ever attempted. She pulled into her regular spot and slowed her rapidly beating heart as tried to compose herself. She wasn't going to gain access to the building if she looked like she'd just escaped from an asylum. She carefully smoothed her hair and grabbed her purse. After all, she needed to look as normal as possible in trying to enter the ARC. Her mind raced as she formulated a plan to get through the first checkpoint. She prayed that Dylan Williams was the security officer at the gate. They had often chatted and he was close to her age. He was engaged to another soldier at the ARC and she'd often teased him about his upcoming nuptials. He might trust her enough to let her in if she convinced him she'd left some equipment behind. As much as she hated using their friendship to gain access to the ARC, she knew the stakes were much higher than a small deception. She slowed her pace, schooled her face to display a bright, casual smile and walked determinedly toward the checkpoint.
Matt and Abby furiously pushed key after key on the new upgraded ADD/Monica unit to try and disable the anomaly creating feature to no avail. Abby swore as she ran her fingers through her short blonde hair.
"Matt! We've got to figure this out, but, how? Without Jess there's no chance and I have no idea where that rat Willhauer is."
Matt grabbed his cell. "Maybe Jess is somewhere she can answer her phone. If we can get her back here quickly, maybe we can fix this before it's too late!" His mobile quickly brought up the field coordinator's number which was followed by a strange buzzing dial tone that sounded similar to a busy signal.
"Damn it! I think this piece of shit computer is blocking our mobiles!"
Abby walked quickly toward the stairs. "Then let's get outside the ARC and call for the help we need!" She began to run before Matt's voice stopped her.
"Don't bother. We're officially on silent lockdown. We aren't going anywhere!" Matt's face portrayed the fear and helplessness they were all feeling.
Jess smiled more broadly as she carefully removed her purse from her shoulder.
"I am so sorry to ask, but I seem to have left several of my manuals here at the ARC when I left. I was wondering if you could let me through to run in and pick those up?"
Jess stood expectantly waiting for the young soldier to allow her to pass.
Dylan touched his earpiece, a serious expression adorning his young face.
"Can't Jess…...there's been some kind of security lockdown procedure. It's a "silent lockdown" which is a new protocol introduced by that "tech guy" who works in the hub." His disgusted expression gave Jess the distinct impression that Ethan Willhauer's new "protocol" was not well received with the military division in the ARC.
"Silent lockdown?" Jess' quick mind began working through scenarios that might instigate the need for the procedure. If Willhauer needed personnel out of the ARC and most of the personnel HAD evacuated to the outermost perimeter, then something was definitely wrong. She HAD to get inside. Her mind began formulating a plan.
She reached inside her bag and pulled out the silver band she'd been saving as a last resort.
"Dylan….Matt Anderson has requested that I return to the ARC. It's all part of the protocol. Check with Captain Becker. He'll confirm it for you."
Jess prayed that Becker would figure out why she was here, knew that something was happening and that the team needed her tech skills to solve it. If the automated dispatch system was failing, she needed to be in the hub. Now.
"Captain Becker is unavailable. We've been trying to reach him for twenty minutes! I don't understand this ridiculous protocol!"
He slapped his fingers against the tablet he was attempting to get information from. She could see he was considering going against orders to let her pass.
Too often Jess Parker had saved a soldier's life with her quick mind and not inconsiderable skills as a field coordinator and he'd be damned if he would be the one to say after the fact that he could have helped her now.
"Go, Jess. I never saw you. Marissa's still in there. Make sure she's safe. I don't have clearance to enter but if I know you, you do, so get the hell in there."
Jess knew his fiancee, Marissa, would be in the lab and he had expressed concern for her safety in their conversations before.
He returned his eyes to the front of his station as she slipped by him and squeezed his wrist silently in thanks.
Jess jogged to the key port in front of the door and tapped her security bracelet against the pad as she prayed the program she'd hastily created before she was removed from her post was still operational. She'd needed to disguise the program carefully under the guise of a food service file. She was still a hacker at heart and now those skills were quite useful. The familiar whoosh of the door opening was followed by a whispered "thank God" from the young woman as she headed toward the hub as fast as her trainers would carry her.
Matt studied the screen in front of him. There was no way he could figure out any way to make sense of the program Willhauer had in place and the one person who could help them wasn't at the ARC. He had to find a way to fix this. If he didn't, the future he thought he had prevented might only be minutes away from beginning.
The sound of feet running toward the hub caused him to search for a weapon until he saw who was entering the room.
The relief in Matt's voice was evident. "What's going on? What the hell has Willhauer done? Thank God you're here but how did you know to come?"
Jess gave him a worried smile. "It's a long story I'll tell you later. Where's Becker? Abby? Connor?"
Abby ran to her friend and hugged her and turned to the team leader.
"We've got another problem. Connor and Emily are trapped in the lift. They can't help us until we get them out. Connor has the information he downloaded in the lab. We need that download!"
Jess sat quickly down at the ADD and began typing. She quickly grabbed her purse and pulled out a flash drive that she inserted into the computer. Full screens of information began to flash across the screens. Jess continued to view and assess the information that flew across her screens as she spoke to Matt and Abby, her eyes never leaving the screen in front of her.
"Okay, guys, if you can get down to level three there is an emergency access point for the lift. You'll have to use the back tunnels…...and …...what? NO! Becker's in the lab? Did you know there's a program in the security system that will flood the lab with a high energy EMD burst? Oh my….. Becker!...He'll be killed!"
Her voice was panicked and every thought of the situation in front of her left her mind at the thought of the stoic soldier in danger.
The sound of footsteps quickly followed by the steady voice the leader of the ARC sounded in the room.
"Ms. Parker. Unfortunately, Becker made the decision to save me but wasn't able to also save himself." He stared at her directly. "I am guessing that now that you are here, you will find a way to save his life so that I can make his life miserable for not following my orders?"
Jess looked up at the head of the ARC and forced herself to focus. Solutions were what they needed.
Lester looked toward Abby and Matt.
"Well I AM the head of this facility so I'm going to start by delegating. You two figure out a way to get Connor and Emily out of the lift. We'll need that idiot Temple to help Jess figure out how to disable this infernal machine. Jess….any ideas how to begin that process?"
Jess refocused her attention on the information on the screens. Suddenly what she was looking for flashed in front of her eyes. She stared intently, her mind working steadily.
"I need to be in Willhauer's office but, I think I can use my program to disable the new program. It won't be able to control anything except unimportant utility programs. How can I get there?"
Both Lester and Jess searched around the room for another access point. Jess gazed up at toward the ceiling and noticed the environmental systems vent. She snapped her fingers.
"There!" She pointed excitedly. "Get me to the vent! I'm small enough to crawl through!"
James Lester's eyebrows drew together. "What the hell? How? No! I'll go. I will not have someone else on this team trapped in another dangerous place."
Jess Parker rolled her eyes. "...and how will you input the program? I believe last time we worked together I had to show you where the volume control was?"
The leader of the ARC sighed as he sent her a disgusted look. "I'll be discussing your insubordination later."
Within minutes the two had fashioned a ladder of sorts for the young woman to enter the duct. Jess grabbed her laptop and climbed to the top of the ladder and shoved her laptop into the small duct as her boss helped her as much as he could. Her voice echoed down from the narrow shaft.
I'll need you at the ADD. When I disable this Monica program I'll need you to immediately reboot the ADD."
James Lester stared at the computer panel across the room with a worried look.
"Hmmm….and which button would actually do that?"
He actually heard a disgusted sigh float down from the small air duct.
"The LARGE GREEN BUTTON …..on the right side of the third panel."
Lester found the appropriate key. " I will wait for your signal….again….we'll discuss your disregard your lack of respect for my position at a more appropriate time!"
He heard a soft giggle before the soft sounds of the small woman sliding through the narrow tube began.
Jess slid quickly through the small space as she pushed her computer ahead of her. As she moved through the pipe she thought she now knew how a mouse felt moving through small tunnels in the ground. She shivered as she felt thankful she was not claustrophobic. Once she moved into the space over the lab she again flipped open her laptop. She should be past the firewall created by the program to access it.
To her horror, she realized the EMD security system in the lab would begin to fire with seconds. Becker….she had to save him AND disable the malicious malware. She quickly realized she would not be able to disable the program before the system implemented the blast. Her mind worked quickly…...but she COULD turn the EMD to it's absolutely lowest setting in hopes Becker would be able to survive. She quickly accessed the program, making the changes as a tear slipped down her cheek and splashed onto the curved space in front of her. Sliding as rapidly as possible she pushed herself into the duct in the lab as she heard the EMD blast.
There was no answer as Jess quickly kicked out the grate and lowered herself into the lab. She ran blindly toward a figure lying motionless on the floor. Shaking, she placed her fingers against his throat and waited for the pulse she desperately needed to feel.
She closed her eyes in relief as she felt his blood pumping firmly through his body. Now to disable the program. She grabbed her laptop and tapped a key that instigated the program she'd created. She watched as lights began to flash on the panels in front of her and the door of the lab opened with a loud hiss. She quickly tapped her earpiece.
"Lester, NOW!" She watched as the lights began to flash again as she knew the ADD was back in control of the ARC.
She ran back to the head of security and checked the pulse in his wrist as his eyes fluttered open.
His voice was weak but a small smile graced his handsome face.
She smiled at him as a another tear fell down her cheek. Becker gently brought his hand to her face and wiped the tear away.
"What happened? Are you okay?"
He tried to get up but Jess gently pushed him back down.
"You stay down, Captain…..at least until you've been checked by medical. We're back in control of the ARC. That loathsome "Monica" has been vanquished."
She smiled down at him and laid her hand against his cheek.
The stoic soldier grasped her hand like a lifeline.
"Jess…..I….I didn't…..about what happened in the lift….that kiss….It wasn't goodbye. I just….didn't want you to be in danger here….I couldn't…"
Jess put a finger to Becker's lips.
"Shhhhh….you've just taken a hit from an EMD….you don't know what you're saying….."
He struggled to sit up next to her as she tried to keep him on his back.
"No…..Jess….I meant it. Go to dinner with me. Tonight…..well when I'm finished feeling like I've been run over by a truck….I've been trying to push you away because I felt I had to focus on work but when you were gone….I realized…...I can't do this without you….because of the way I feel about you….."
Jess stared at Becker.
"Do you have a concussion?"
Becker laughed weakly and leaned forward to kiss the brave woman in front of him. After her initial shock, Jess Parker's hands wrapped softly around Becker's neck as she leaned in to kiss him more earnestly.
After a few moments, the field coordinator leaned back and placed her hand against Becker's cheek.
"I promise you the feeling is mutual, Hilary Becker…..but for right now let's get you to medical, okay?"
Becker began to grumble and with Jess' help, stood up, as the two walked arm in arm toward the door. He turned to her with a cheeky grin.
"Maybe you could give me give me a ride to my flat after work. After all, I shouldn't be driving."
Jess narrowed her eyes but softened her face with a soft smile. "Oh definitely, Captain…..perhaps I'll stop and pick some Chinese and work on your recovery. I warn you….I'm probably a rather stern nurse…"
Becker huffed out a laugh and tightened his grip around her shoulders.
"I look forward to that."
Three days later the ARC was getting back to some semblance of normal. Ethan Willhauer had been arrested when Lester had made the ministry aware of the true nature of his "Monica" program. The technology would have eventually be auctioned off to the highest private bidder. Ethan was working furiously to give the ministry all the information he collected in an attempt to plea bargain a lesser sentence. Connor and Emily, once released from the lift were able to download the last piece of software to completely restore the ADD and delete the Monica program from the network.
Matt glanced over at Becker leaning over the field coordinator's chair as Jess' pointed out an error in the Security Chief's report. He quietly whispered something in her ear which caused her to turn a rather attractive shade of pink as she turned back to her work and Becker grinned, picked up his tablet and walked back to his station. So it seemed the soldier had finally found a solution to his problem. Matt wished he knew what to do about his.
He hadn't had an opportunity to spend more than a few minutes with Emily in the last few days. Getting the ARC back to normal had taken most of their time and Emily had mentioned again how perhaps finding a place of her own might give him the space she thought he needed. Even worse, in the chaos of the incident, he had misplaced the ring box. He guessed it could have fallen from his pocket in the lift shaft when they were rescuing Emily and Connor. The thought of her moving out cast a dark shadow on his afternoon.
His mobile buzzed with a text message and he wearily picked it up from the desk to look at it. His eyebrows drew together in a puzzled expression.
Security issue in Level Three, Room 267
Team leader to report immediately
Matt was confused. This was issued through the security system contained in the ADD. If he was correct, that room was an out of the way storage office. No one ever went in there. He put his mobile in his pocket and walked quickly toward the lift.
The room seemed dark with very little light when he arrived. He also noticed that when he left the lift, the system had locked the lift in place so no one could enter that area until he released it with his security code. As he got closer and slowed his stride, he realized it was candlelight. Entering the room he noticed a soft movement to his left and the light caught the soft shine of Emily Merchant's curls. She was crying and he walked forward to take her in his arms with concern.
He turned her to look in her eyes, worry etched on his usually placid features.
Her voice wavered as she spoke.
"You wish….you wish to marry me?"
He looked down and she was holding the open ring box in her hand as he glanced at a note in beautiful script that she was holding in her hand.
Pushing down his astonishment the team leader looked gently in her eyes and with more than a little trepidation he shook his head yes.
"Emily, I love you. I can't imagine spending the rest of my life without you. We both had to cross time to find each other. I…"
He got down on one knee. "I know I won't be the most conventional husband but I will be in love with you until the end of my time."
He looked up into her shining eyes.
"Matt Anderson….I can't imagine loving anyone as much as I love you and if I had to travel through a hundred anomalies to find you again, I'd do it in the beat of my heart. The answer is yes. I was afraid I was crowding you after you grew up living in such small spaces…...but it broke my heart to think of moving away from you.
Matt Anderson looked around the candlelit room with the beautiful flowers and knew that a certain field coordinator was going to get a rather large bouquet of flowers from him in thanks as he took his fiancee in his arms and kissed her lovingly.
Several hours later, the team stood around the happy couple and congratulated them. Connor came forward and shook Matt's hand.
"So you finally took my excellent advice? I knew it. Glad I could be of help," Connor stated confidently.
Matt laughed. Actually I had a little help from another source and I need to thank her right now.
Matt walked over to Jess as she hugged Emily one more time.
"Emily, if you really want a small wedding than I guess that's what you'll get….I'll reign in my wedding planning impulses….something simple for sure…"
She turned to Matt as he hugged her.
"I think, more than anyone here, I owe you the greatest thanks of all."
Jess looked at him smiling but puzzled.
"Matt? Why? What did I do?"
He winked at her confidently. "The flowers, the note, the ring box strategically placed on the table. It was all perfect and I know you're the only one who could pull that off."
Jess looked even more confused. "Matt….if I'd thought of all that I would be thrilled to take credit for it! But no….it wasn't me!"
Matt looked over at Lester who was shaking Emily's hand politely while overhearing their conversation.
"Anderson, trust me I have better things to do than play cupid….it's difficult enough to get you lot to do your own jobs," he retorted sarcastically.
He thought of the security camera in his office where he'd kept the ring and excused himself to check it himself.
When the culprit revealed himself removing the ring from his desk, Matt almost fell off his proverbial chair. Recovering from the shock, Matt took the lift down to the armory.
Hilary Becker was busy cleaning a rather large conventional rifle. He looked up as Matt entered the room.
"Congratulations, Anderson. Knew you'd finally figure how to ask Lady Emily," he said without looking up from his work.
"You, Becker? You did all this? The ring? The flowers? The note?"
Becker started slightly but continued working.
"Oh Matt….I'm sure you're mistaken. Certainly I've been involved in recent covert activity, but then, protocol forbids me from discussing it with civilians." He shot Matt a sideways grin.
"Becker, sometimes I think I don't know you at all but, thank you just the same."
A slight figure appeared in the entry. Jess Parker peered over Matt Anderson to peek at the man dressed in black. A small smile appeared on the soldier's face.
"Well if you're finished with your 'other girlfriend,'" Jess gestured toward the weapon," this one would love to take you out to dinner." The smirk on the petite woman's face was unmistakeable.
Becker grinned. "Jess...you know you'll always be my best girl! Can't turn down an offer like that." He directed his gaze back to Matt.
"I'll make sure and pass your thanks on to perpetrator….of course I'd tell you but then…"
Matt laughed. "Right….you'd have to kill me…..painfully I'm sure."
Leaving his two friends in the armory, he turned and exited the armory and returned to the hub. Looking over the people working in front of him he thought about the turns his life had taken. With Jess returned to the team and his future with Emily secured he felt a calm he hadn't felt in a long while return. His future had definitely received an excellent "upgrade."