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FIVE MINUTES EARLIER:

"Where is he?"


"Is he usually this late?"


"No. Well, he's never very early, but this is nonetheless a first, even for him."


"So, what do you want me to do, Ms. Rodríguez?" Amanda Gordan, the newly-hired JCC Events Consulting intern, asked her boss, Luciana Rodriguez, while they were talking in the Coordination Office overlooking Hall D2.


"Not much you can do at this point, Amanda. You're doing everything you can, and doing quite well at it if you don't mind me saying so," Luciana replied with one of her comforting grins.


"Thanks, but what are we going to do about all the people out there?" she asked while pointing with an outstretched arm through the window to Hall D2, which lay several stories below them.


"Well, I-" at that moment Luciana's watch buzzed, and displayed an "INCOMING MESSAGE" alert. With a two-finger swipe, she answered it, as the visage of Troy Andersson appeared above her wrist.


"Howdy, Lucy!" exclaimed he in his chipper, exuberant voice.


"What's up, Troy?"


"I just got to the door to the hall. Where's Mr. Torrey?"


"Thought you of all people would know," she said with a vague air of teasing in her voice.


"Well, it's not like I'm on a need-to-know basis on many things, least of all Craig's whereabouts. Besides, he's got his own security team, and I just got this building," he said with a faint smile, patting a wall near where he was walking so as to confirm his latter statement.


"He'd better get here soon. Otherwise, I'm afraid I'll have to cover for him," Luciana replied.


Just then Amanda piped up, "You're saying it like that'd be a bad thing; but I've heard you speak. You got this, Ms. Rodríguez!"


"You'd do just fine," echoed Troy, as Luciana's watch yet again buzzed, and Troy's face was moved to the side as another notification window appeared."


"VOICE MESSAGE FROM CRAIG TORREY (SLIDE TO VIEW)"


"Just a second, Troy. Looks as if Craig may have just updated me."


"Hello, Ms. Rodriguez. I just entered the building, and assuming we get through this crowd ahead of us easily I'll be at the hall in, uh, roughly three minutes," said the recorded Craig as he walked with Rob and Dave up the escalator from the JCC HyperTram terminal to the centre's Lobby B.


"...Thanks, Mr. Torrey. You couldn't just tell me you were going to be late, or better yet, maybe shared your location!" Luciana sardonically remarked after Craig's message ended and its holo-window faded as the one with Troy's face in it shifted over to the center of her wrist and enlarged slightly.


"Looks likes someone's definitely not bitter."


"Wha- Oh, sorry Troy. Forgot for a second that you were still on-call."


"Hey, That's fine," Troy said with a chuckle. "Alright, so looks like this show's about to begin. Well, I gotta zip. Martin'll be waiting on me and I figure I'd better check up on him. We still good for tonight?"


"Indeed, we are. I'll be over at 7. 'Bye, Troy." Luciana said while gently flicking the holo-window upwards as it faded.


"Ms. Rodríguez, I don't mean to be too personal, here, but... you've been seeing a lot of Mr. Andersson, lately, haven't you."


"Oh, Amanda; I know what you're thinking, but we're just... uh, well, good friends."


"Whatever you say, Ms. Rodriguez. But, he's the only person who ever calls you Lucy. You hate it when anyone else calls you that," Amanda stated probingly.


"Well, uh... Say, could you please ask Jared if the tables are set-up in Hall C for the luncheon this afternoon?" Luciana replied, clearly attempting to shift Amanda's focus.


"Yes, ma'am. On it." Amanda said as she began to walk out of the room, rolling her eyes once her back was facing Luciana.


"Thank you." Luciana called out as Amanda exited, rather surprised at the effectiveness of her impromptu diversion.


"TEXT MESSAGE FROM CRAIG TORREY (SLIDE TO VIEW)" appeared on her holowatch at the time.


IN THE HALL NOW. ABOUT TO BEGIN MY SPEECH: it said.


"Oh, now he tells me. Thanks, Craig." Luciana said out-loud; and upon the realization that no one was listening she slunk into her office chair, detached her blouse's top button, let her hair fall out of its arrangement, and sighed a deep sigh of relief.


Everything - all the long days and sleepless nights she had put into this Summit were paying off. This was going to be great, maybe even the pinnacle of her career. Now that Craig was here only a few minutes late, everything else would fall into place - nothing could possibly go wrong.


--------------------


Troy walked as quickly as he could through the huge crowd that had formed in the hallway outside Hall D2, trying to avoid the people he could and politely asking those he couldn't to move out of his way. Though he would never reveal something like this to Martin, he was nervous about leaving him in the hall alone. Sure, he had the Advanced Units with him, and most of the "important" people had their own personal security. Huh, "important" people. What a joke, he thought. They just happened to be the ones currently in power, but what about all the people that kept them there? In his heart, Troy despised VIPs, because most of them erroneously acted as if they were truly superior to everyone else. However, though he had only met him a few times personally, Troy knew there was something different about Craig Torrey. Something that set him apart from the other hot-shots. He couldn't put his finger on it, and, realizing he ought to put his focus on the matter at hand, figured he probably shouldn't try to just now.


He was nearing the elevator that would take him down to the lower levels. B3 was where he was heading currently, and it was the level where the boilers, major electrical panels, and security offices were. Part of Level B3 was also a warehouse converted into a shipping/receiving centre for the Centre, and the level was part of the old GSEC station that used to stand underneath where the JCC was built. They had only just begun to renovate it, though the facilities on the Level were several decades old, for budget cuts or something Troy thought. But he never really figured out why they built the Centre directly on top of the old station where he once worked. Maybe it was cost effective? Though, the construction project involved entirely resculpting the surrounding landscape, and he knew that wasn't cheap, so maybe there must have been another reason. But he didn't care. Troy had been on staff for well over 26 years, since he was little more than in Dwight's position, and worked at the station years before it became a big, shiny new conference centre and "entertainment venue;" so he knew the building inside and out. Every room, hallway, corridor, entrance, exit, and stairwell was engraved in his memory. He could navigate through the entire building with his eyes closed, and had actually done so once in order to win a bet. So, when something went wrong with the aging security systems in the old part of the building (which it inevitably did, and quite frequently now - budget cuts striking again no doubt), it only made sense to call in the expert.


Troy finally made it through the bustling crowd and entered the elevator after the door opened with a tap of his watch on the control. As he descended into what he affectionately referred to as the "bowels of the facility," he was worried that this little adventure would take him away from D2 for too long, and that Martin might be needing him. So, he pulled his comm off his belt and started to initiate a call to Dwight when it dawned on him that he didn't know his extension. Martin had just started working at the Centre the previous week, and Troy didn't know his number yet (and it wasn't in the database thanks to a delayed repair of the Centre's telecom system). He was thinking of an alternate solution when the elevator door opened with a chime and a synthesized voice said "Welcome to Level B3."


He exited the elevator, and walked ahead toward the door on the yet-unpainted wall marked SECURITY OFFICE after taking a sweeping look of the entire hallway outside the elevator, which was in an obvious state of construction. He opened the door to the auxiliary security office by tapping his watch on the rather sketchy-looking scanner beside the door that was still missing its frontplate, due to the renovation, no doubt. Upon entering the office, Troy was cordially greeted by Tracy Dunlop, upon whose employee ID said "Auxillary Systems Manager: JCC."


"Good morning, Troy. Glad you could come so quickly," she said.


"And a good morning to you, Mrs. Dunlop. I came as fast as I could; we both want this situation resolved ASAP, right?"


"Yes, well, about that situation... How comfortable are you with doing some diagnostic or repair work on a couple of the security systems down here?"


"As comfortable as someone who's spent over a quarter of a century around these things could be, I suppose."


"Ah, excellent. So, could you maybe check on this one part of the network that's giving us a fault code?" Tracy said, beckoning towards a rectangular dialog box on one of the several large monitors along the wall that was flashing red and displayed ERROR E9-CF2-X0.


"E9, eh? Well, that's an easy fix."


"Is it?" Tracy asked expectantly.


"It normally is. But it's the other bit of the code that worries me. Looks like I'll be needing to open that," Troy said while beckoning to the large security door on the left wall of the spacious, partially-renovated office, which had the words CONTAINMENT FACILITY - DANGER: DO NOT ENTER printed in large, faded letters.


"Really? You need me to open the door to the containment facility?" Tracy questioned, being rather taken aback.


"Yep. the CF2 part of the code means that there's a computer in there that's acting up. There's nothing going on in the room, but I do recall that there's a camera setup and some temperature sensors in there. You know, fire safety stuff. The ancient server that's connected to it must be in need of an update or a system refresh. The E9 part of the code says there's something wrong with the climate control, or at least that it's throwing an error. It's probably a no-brainer to fix, but I have to be in there to, uh, you know, assess the situation and figure out a way around it," Troy answered.


"I see. So, does the X0 part of the error code mean anything to you?"


"Nope. But, I'm almost certain the system'll be back online in a minute if I get in there and fix it."


"And, you have to go in there to do it?" piped up Carter, one of the three others in the room who had been silently working away at his desk until then.


Troy turned to him and answered his query by saying, "You want the big red box and the annoying intermittent beeping to go away, right?"


"I mean, that'd be nice."


"And you can't stop it from here, can ya?"


"Well, no, but-"


"Then it's settled. Can you please let me in there, Tracy?" he asked, turning to her.


Carter tried to finish speaking, "But we don't even know what's in there. I mean, have you ever been in that room? There's got to be a reason why it says KEEP OUT. And another thing, what is it meant to CONTAIN? Some kind of biohazard, nuclear waste, secret military equipment-"


At that, Troy interrupted him again, and turned back to Carter saying, "Carter, I don't mean to be rude, but I've working in this place for a long time, and I've been in there. It's not what you think; just some old dusty computers, a couple dozen filing cabinets, and another door that's sealed shut."


"And, what's behind that door?" Carter questioned.


"How am I supposed to know? Like I said, last time I was in there it was welded shut. Whatever's in there, it isn't going anywhere." Troy assured him.


"Alright, fine. Go in there if you have to. Just don't say I didn't warn you," Carter added ominously as he shifted his focus back to his work.


"Well, Tracy, you're the one in charge here. What do you say, can you give me access to the containment room?" Troy asked.


"If you're sure that you need to go in there to resolve the issue, let me just unlock it for you," said Tracy as she walked over and typed in her passcode on the keypad on the large door.


The keypad let out a high-pitched, slightly off-tune beep, and the door opened after creaking, clicking, and swinging in with a mechanical hum. The lights inside flickered before fully illuminating the hallway that stood inside the door between the security office and the inner containment room.


"Thanks. That's all I need. If I'm not back in five minutes, call in the commando," he said jokingly while rapping his fist on the shoulder of the Defense Unit robot that was standing nearby.


"Please refrain from touching this unit while it is operational." said the robot in an eerily-human voice.


"OK, Troy. Be careful," Tracy added as Troy walked down the hall and through the opened inner door as the lights in the inner room flickered to life with a click.


--------------------


"Oh, no! I'm going to miss it!" cried Chip Taylors as he stopped to check the schedule on his watch and realized he was thirteen minutes late for the opening keynote in Hall D2 and that there was an impassable overflow crowd surrounding the hall's entrance. Above the crowd, high up on the wall was a large television displaying the stage inside where Craig Torrey was currently giving the opening keynote. Chip had come to the Summit on behalf of his step-father, Arthur G. Taylors, and Chip was supposed to pick up an award in his name after the opening keynote. Realizing his purpose was worth it, he tried to push through the crowd as politely as he could. However, when he came within a few metres, one of two of the entrance doors opened. Chip could see that while someone was exiting the hall an usher was at the entrance beside a Unit trying to prevent anyone else from entering, as the inside was just as crowded as the exterior. Chip reluctantly decided to give up. He could pick up the award later, he surmised. Since he didn't have a reserved seat and the rest of the general seating had been used up there would be no place for him inside the hall, anyway. Obviously the turnout for this conference had been bigger than expected, as the JCC was advertised as "The New Standard of Large-Scale Conference Venue," and the irony was not lost on Chip, who now turned his head upwards to watch the screen above, and to scan the closed-captioning as the crowd was quite noisy and even the top-of-the-line Axon soundbar below the TV on the wall was having a hard time keeping up.


"...Today, what we need more than anything else, are heroes," Craig said. "People of character who aren't willing to see what we've been building for these past fifty years fall into a state of disrepair. And, and to the next generation, this, the Era of Peace, is our legacy. For the past fifty years, war has been illegal. Humanity is at peace, and the time, energy, and resources we used to put into fighting each other we've channeled into protecting the common good on a global basis. Eighty-six percent of the world's population now live above the poverty line, we've almost completely eliminated some of our deadliest diseases like malaria, we've found specific genetic treatments for 63 types of cancer, world literacy rates are at an all-time high, the global average heath-adjusted life expectancy is now 79.3 years, we're able to sustain the 11.5 billion people who call this planet home with adequate food, water, and living space, and we have thriving colonies on the moon and Mars and asteroid mining is finally becoming mainstream. The future's looking bright for humanity, that is certain. But, in all this success, we ought not to forget the lessons of our past. May we never forget the struggles and hardships that have brought us to this point, because as Edmund Burke was known for saying, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." Let that not be said of us today. Let us continue to move forward, not regress.


--------------------


For the past few minutes Troy had been trying to figure out what was wrong with the monitoring system inside the containment room, which, though he wouldn't say anything to Carter about, was actually starting to creep him out. The lights were intermittently flickering, there was a strange humming sound coming from what he could only assume was the HVAC system, and the room itself looked as if frozen in time, stuck in the 2100's, and a thick layer of dust covered everything in the room. Troy didn't like it, and he wanted to get the system fixed as soon as he could, both to get out of the room and to check up on Martin. He figured by now the keynote would have started. Dwight, he thought, got to watch the anticipated historic speech up close, and he was stuck in this musty old room fiddling around with 30-year-old computer hardware. But, Troy thought, it was almost over. His career, which had spanned over three dozen years, was soon coming to a close. All he had to do was train Martin enough to be his successor, and file his retirement papers. Then, he could be free to- well, he actually didn't know how he was going to spend his retirement. Certainly sitting around all day wasn't for him. He needed to do something with his life, and, at least for the time being, this was his something.


Finally, Troy found what he believed to be the problem. The computer he was working on, which was the only one that was online in the entire room, seemed to be in need of a replacement drive. At least, that was what his trusty HyperDiag 450 was telling him after plugging it in. Oh, well, Troy thought, the easiest way to solve the problem, at least for the time being, would be to unplug the computer and run an extension network cable into the containment room from one of the working computers in the office to circumvent the error. Then, he could get to finding another functional drive in the mass of old computers that was this room, and install it in the old server next week, after the summit was over and done with. He thought about calling in IT to deal with it, since this kind of work really wasn't in his job description, but he realized that they probably wouldn't know how to deal with such an antiquated machine and Troy wanted to save them the trouble of replacing it. He could probably even use one of the other units in the room as a drop-in replacement, since they didn't seem to be used for anything.


So, Troy knelt down, making a comment about not going to be missing this part of the job, and disconnected the computer's cord from the powerbar under the desk. As he got up, nearly bumping his head in the process, the lights started sporadically flickering and finally turned off entirely. Then he heard a loud banging sound. He used his watch's light to see in front of him, surprised at what had occurred. Surely the computer he unplugged wasn't running the lights, was it? No, he might have simply tripped a breaker. But, that didn't make much sense either: why would removing something from the circuit overload it? In any case, Troy thought he should check the electrical box which he remembered was in the corner of the room in a little alcove. He walked over to the box, and realized he needed the key. It then dawned on him that the humming of the HVAC was no longer audible. Surely that wasn't on the same circuit. Maybe all the power in that part of the building had just gone out, but the battery backup should've kicked in, right? He peered down the hallway to the main office but the lights seemed to be on it there.


"Tracy!" he said loudly, in order to get her attention, to no avail. "Tracy, is the power off for you?"


He began to walk towards the room's exit, using his watch's light as a guide, until he heard another loud bang. And another. He quickly pointed his light in the direction of the sound's origin, and a chill ran down his spinal column at the realization it was coming from the sealed door.


He heard the sound again, and this time the room shook a bit. A tile from the ceiling came crashing down, and the pens and office supplies on some of the several desks in the room shook, with some of them falling to the floor. By this point Troy was beginning to panic. He had no idea what was inside the door, but it was clear that it wanted to get out. In a moment of desperation, he reached for his taser, only to realize he had left it in its case upstairs this morning, thinking he didn't need it. But after yet another room-shaking clang came from the door, it began to dawn on him that maybe his taser wouldn't be enough. By now, the door had a crack beginning to form on the weld down its centre, and Troy knew he needed to get help. So, he ran down the hall to the security door to the office, only to find it shut. He desperately banged on the door with his fists, with cries of "Open the door!", "There's something in here!", "Get me out of here!" as the loudest noise yet shook the room once more, and it was apparent that the heavy, all-metal sealed door inside the room had been broken in twain, and the two pieces had fallen to the ground. In a last-ditch effort, Troy grabbed his comm unit, activated it, and yelled "If anyone can hear me, I'm in the containment room on level B3, and I'm not alone. S- Send help immediately" before he dropped the comm in fear as his watch's light shone on a ghostly figure that was standing in front of him.


Troy stood for several seconds, frozen with fear, as the entity moved closer, and he could perceive it drawing out what appeared to be a hand toward him. Instinctively, without giving a second thought, Troy ran towards it, attempting to tackle it. Before Troy could touch it, though, the being grabbed him with what felt like a robotic hand, and threw him several metres, where he hit the back of his head off the side of a desk. At this point, Troy was seeing stars, and knew he was falling out of consciousness, but for some reason asked the entity, "W- Who are you?"


Shockingly, the figure replied, in a voice which sounded to Troy like a mix of a machine and a demon, "X-0"

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Matthew Piercey
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