Friday, November 30, 2007

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

This is really my last post. As of right now I'm outside of the territorial United States, on my way to a new life. I can't tell you where I am, whether it's on a plane, a boat, or some other mode of transportation. They're letting my make one more blog post so I can finish the story.

By now you've seen the news reports where investigators have linked all the explosions together...the first on at Stanford, the one at Infinitae, and now the one in Santa Clara. Suspicion has been cast right on me, linking me with Chinese Intelligence. It's all been one shocking revelation after another. My family has been outed as well, as their loyalty to the US Government has been called into question. It's one giant clusterfuck of unbelievable proportions. They also can't find Carrie, and they believe that I'm responsible for her disappearance.

The Chinese didn't exactly welcome me with open arms when I returned to the safe house, especially driving a stolen car. Even Ellie kind of sighed wearily when she saw me, but I didn't know where else to turn. Carrie escaped, and I thought we had lost all out evidence incriminating her.

The whole operation to get Ellie and I out of the country was a bit of a nightmare, sitting in the back of a van for hours, sneaking through customs in boxes, and a bunch of crazy stuff. Now we're settled in our cabins, trying to relax. I haven't really seen Ellie since I returned yesterday, and it's not like they gave me a choice in all this.

I finally get a chance to see her after everyone is settled in. We're in a private room, and she's lying prostrate with her broken leg up on pillows. She waves me in and has me close the door. She beckons me and indicates a chair near her. I sit down and sigh.

"Hey Alex," she says, "we need to talk. Can you help me sit up a little?"

I arrange some pillows for her and return to my seat. I fiddle around with some duct tape that's patching my seat together.

"I need to tell you some things, Alex. You're not going to like most of it. I'm going to be as honest as I can, and please let me know if you have questions. OK? Good.

"My real name is Kai Ying Slavinsky. Elena Galistina is a name I made up, and I probably won't use it again. I'm a deep-cover field marshall for a secret wing of Chinese Intelligence. You've heard of handlers? That's my role. I was controlling a number of agents in the Bay area, primarily focused on corporate technological espionage. We've infiltrated many of the local companies, including Infinitae.

"When I first met you, Alex, at that bar, I was meeting a potential client. By client, of course, I mean a corporate executive I could potentially use as an information source in exchange for...well whatever I needed to use. He never showed up. My assignment hadn't been going too well, and I guess I was in a mood, and when I saw you drowning yourself at the bar, I became a little curious. You didn't look like the normal bar rat. So I struck up a conversation, and soon realized you were a pretty good guy who'd ran into a little bad luck. You talked so passionately about your defunct company, that I could see you had some kind of spark. And then you talked about your dad's cabin, skiing, and all the kinds of things I've been dying to do. I couldn't help myself, I just had to see more of you, even though you didn't have any intelligence value to me.

"But of course, everyone that I contact socially needs to go through a thorough vetting process. We never know who's a setup. Your story checked out, but then we ran across a red flag from your past. You had indirectly injured a girl and then been sent to a camp for a year. We then of course looked into Shelly White and your other friends. When we discovered that the primary driver had died in a suspicious accident, we kept investigating. It turned out that Shelly White had disappeared. Imagine our surprise when she turned up as Carrie Park, a programmer analyst at a brokerage house.

"We dug into her finances, and were amazed by her abilities. We could tell that some of her gains were ill-gotten, perhaps by hacking financial systems. One of our agents got in close to her. We revealed some of her lesser infractions which led to her termination. Someone of her ability and low moral threshold doesn't come along every day. She became our number one person of interest. If we could turn her, we could use her abilities to gather far more information that we could with out own resources. So we formed a plan to get you two to work together. Our agents inside Infinitae gave both of you offers you couldn't refuse: you got a job, and she got a position with almost unlimited computing and staff resources and complete freedom to work on whatever project she wanted to."

I glare at Ellie. "You're telling me that you knew she was Shelly the whole time? You got us to work together? What was the plan?"

Ellie sighs and struggles for words. "We knew she still had a thing for you. An agent got her to talk about her past, and she expressed how crushed she was when you rejected her. We wondering if she still held a flame, or if she wanted you dead. Unfortunately, she immediately went to work setting up her plan to discredit you. We didn't take it too seriously until people started dying. At some point, she became aware of our intervention, and we needed to back off. We were able to reveal some of her documents to you. That's how you got access to all those files. But we had underestimated her again. We didn't realize she had these datacenters scattered around, and also she had created a team of mercenaries and assassins to do her dirty work.

"I hate to say it, but that's mostly my fault. Instead of working the case, I spent a lot of time with you. She knew more about us than we knew about her by that point."

"So your big plan went to shit."

"Well, we kind of forced her hand when we revealed her plans to you. She then took you under her wing. We figured that if I cut you loose, you might go to her. It kind of worked. Too well. You don't know how much that killed me, Alex. It's about the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I cried for hours after that. I didn't think you'd ever forgive me. But Carrie...she was out of control, and we thought you might be able to get in there and somehow tame her."

I don't know whether to hit Ellie or hug her. "So you wanted me to get with Carrie?"

"No! God, Alex. The thought of you with her..." She shivers.

"It was terrible," I confess. "Even Carrie thought so. I didn't even want just happened. Ellie...this whole thing is just killing me. You lead the most fucked of life of anyone I've ever met if this is how you treat people."

Ellie nods. "Yeah. The more I do it, the more obvious it gets. A few years ago, I would just make my mark fall in love with me, take him for everything, and then leave him without a thought. I'd be running three, four plans at once, sometimes a night. And remember, these were just the guys I didn't wind up killing. The ones I had to eliminate I'd treat even worse."

"You're not the person that I knew. The Ellie I knew didn't do anyone of that stuff. Someday you need to figure out who you are."

Ellie fingers the bandage on her head. "I'm trying. With you I became more of the person I want to be. I think with this project blowing up so bad, they may put me on the back burner for a while. You don't know how badly I've failed. This is a huge setback for me. They'll analyze everything, and I'll be facing possible court martial."

"So why are you going back? You've got money, you've got abilities."

Ellie laughs. "Someone like me doesn't walk away. I'll be on a new hit list, this time with killers who know how to do the job. I'm good, but I can't be vigilant forever. I need to go face them."

"What about Carrie? I'm sure she's long gone."

"Well there's still that. Thank god you have those recordings."

"Ellie, she had a jammer, and smashed the cell phone. We don't have anything on her."

She smiles coyly at me. "Alex, you underestimate us. The phone didn't transmit on a cellular frequency, it transmitted at a much higher, technically illegal frequency that no known jammer can block. We have it all. If she ever shows up again, we'll be able to blackmail her into helping us. I swear to god if I ever get past the inquisition, I'm going after her. I refuse to let that bitch be a blemish on my record."

"You'll never find her. She'll change her identity again, probably her appearance too, and lay low."

"Well, we'll see. We could really use your help, Alex. I know we've treated you pretty poorly. I've been terrible to you, and I know that I don't really deserve any of your loyalty right now. We can always use someone like you in our intelligence division."

"Um, Ellie, I can't work against the United States. Please don't ask me to. I won't stop you from doing your work, and I won't testify against you, but I can't doing anything against my country, any more than you can."

Ellie frowns a little. "Good. You're going to be under a lot of pressure. I can only protect you so much. The only way you'll might be able to be safe is to work for me. I won't ask you to do anything against your country, but I'm sure there will be plenty of questionable activities that you won't like or oppose. But Alex, if you want any kind of life, it's your only option right now. Hopefully the authorities will clear your name, and you can return. But we can't take the risk of letting them have you."

I think back to the torture. "Yeah, you found out that I'm a blabber. Now I'm your fucking burden."

"Are you talking about the interrogation? I'm so sorry about that. We thought you had been compromised. We had to know for sure. You passed with flying colors."

"But I talked! How could you do that to someone!"

"Alex, it's what we do. We find out the truth at all costs."

I jump up. "You don't know shit about the truth. You pretend that you're trying to protect your country but it's all a fucking game to you. You mess with people's lives like players on a chess board. You don't care who you hurt, or even what you even accomplish. It's all about the game, and who can play it the best."

"Yes. You're absolutely right. We play a game where the losers are dead and the winners have no souls. And you know what the price is. Do you think China wants to be relegated to third-world status like India? Don't you think we're getting tired of the rest of the world enjoying the benefits of modern technology? Don't you think we're sick of your ridiculous trade restrictions and product recalls and militarism? Yeah, it's a game, but I have the potential to improve the lives of billions of people. I have the potential to prevent terrorists from destroying an entire population. I play this game every day, and with every ounce of my ability. I know this isn't your world Alex, and maybe I needed a break from it to give me some perspective. But when that idiot Park starting playing us against your government, I got my shit together and started working again."

I sit down again. "You've turned into the 'other' Ellie again. I've always seen two sides of you. One nice, sweet, interesting, and the other intense, scary, and murderous."

"Well, I'm not Ellie anymore. I don't think you'll see much of the 'nice' me anymore. I've let myself slip and get soft. I don't blame you. I just knew this might happen one day."

"Ellie," I say, sitting down next to her. "I know you feel like you have to save the world. I know you feel like you have to be tough. But I've seen your other side Ellie, and I have to say I like it a lot. You're a special person, if you would ever allow yourself to be yourself. You not a killer. Someone made you kill, but I don't believe you're a killer. I've seen you fight, and at the cabin you spared some lives when you didn't have to. I'm willing to accept both sides of you, are you?"

Ellie looks down for a moment. "I don't know."

I take her hand. "Well if there's anyone in the world who can take control of her life, it's you."

She squeezes my hand.

I don't know where I'm heading or what the future has in store. It may be a long time before I can post again. It may be longer before I finally get my life back, if ever. Wish me luck.

-Alex Ross

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Getting Back

Getting Back

I've been watching the news reports all day, just like the rest of you. I've seen the hazy videos of me running out of the building, and seen Ellie in the car. Fortunately it's pretty grainy. They're still calling it an "accident" but they are launching a full investigation. The Fire Chief has called it "suspicious." The entire campus has been closed off, and parts of San Francisco have been evacuated. Listen, anyone reading this, you need to believe me when I say that I wasn't involved. I mean, I tried to stop it. I'm sorry about all of it.

I'm sure Marcia's people are out looking for me. The Chinese got rid of Ellie's car, and hopefully some evidence. They took all my clothes and forced me to wash up. I really want to get out of here, but I have no where to go. Ellie's been sleeping most of the day due to the sedatives they gave her. Around dinner time she's a little more conscious.

"Hey," she says as I come in. The attendants leave us alone.

"Hey. How are you feeling?"

She looks terrible. Her face is swollen, but she should make a complete recovery. A surgeon came in earlier to fix her head laceration a little cleaner, so there should be very little scarring.

"OK, I guess. I've been through worse. I could really use a cigarette."

I smile. "Me too."

"I'm leaving tomorrow," she announces. "I can't stay in this country any longer. Our entire operation will be jeopardized. I need to find a new role in my organization. I really screwed this one up. Alex, I'm really sorry about everything. You're a great guy, and I would have loved to try to make things work out, but you can't be mixed up with someone like me, and I can't be the kind of person you need."

I felt like protesting, arguing, doing anything to keep her around. "I hope you find what you're looking for, Ellie. I think deep inside you're a pretty good person. You've stood by me through everything, and saved my butt a ton of times, and in a lot of different ways. I hope we meet again some day. I'm going miss our times, just hanging out."

"Yeah. You're pretty special too."

I feel like crying but I hold it together. I heave a big breath. "I guess this is it, then. I'm going out there to get Carrie, and you've got a plane to catch."

"We'll always have Casablanca."

"Huh? Oh yeah." Duh. "What does he say? 'Here's looking a you, kid.'"

I squeeze her hand and kiss her cheek. She waves at me as I leave. As I leave the house, General Tam gives me keys to a car that I'm going to use, a gun, and a phone to contact him. I try to avoid him as much as possible.

Now to find Carrie.

I drive around SF for a while, just breathing and thinking. Carrie's smart. She's probably somewhere monitoring everything. She'll want to know the second that suspicious is cast in her direction. She won't be in any of her usual spots. She'll want to have access to Infinitae's data gathering prowess, which should still function even without Building Four. Somewhere with a hot internet connection.

She wanted us to drive South yesterday, but we never made it. Where was she headed? There's Stanford. She might have access to some servers there. I doubt that she'd be there.

What about the data center in Santa Clara? What ever happened to it? I know that Infinitae blocked it, but I figured that wouldn't pose much of a challenge to Carrie who wrote the blocking code. I start heading down there, no clear plan in mind. I drive for a while thinking about Ellie. I don't know how much of our time together was real, and how much she just faked. It's not like we didn't spend quality time together, and didn't make time for each other. But letting me go through that torture, it's not something I can forgive.

I stop near the warehouse. The streets seems quiet and dark. I have no idea how to get in. I'm not a spy or an infiltrator. I begin to think about how Ellie would do it. She'd probably just bust the door down. I recall that back door we exited. I scurry around back and look at it. There's no handle on this side, only a lock. I put my ear against the door. I can faintly here the roar of the servers which are apparently still running. I wonder why.

I bring the car around and line it up with the door. Slamming the gas, I back the car right into the door, and it impacts with a crunch. Hopefully the din inside will block the noise of the impact. I pull the car away which thankfully still runs. The door's frame is loose, and with some wiggling I'm able to pull it completely off, frame and all. I see some wires poking through the frame. Hopefully they're still intact and I didn't trigger an alarm. No matter.

I draw my gun and remove the safety. I have no intention of killing Carrie, unless she fires first. I head back towards the front, trying to find that office I noticed the first time. I finally spot it, but it's empty. About a dozen large monitors in the office are displaying newscasts, surveillance footage, and various readouts. I notice one that is displaying my damaged car, but it's too late

I feel the cold business end of a gun against my neck.

"Drop it or I'll drop you."

I toss my gun away.

"Put your hands on your head." She starts patting me down, and swipes my emergency cell phone, pocketing it. She begins laughing, slowly.

"Wow, Alex, you never give up. Where's you friend Elena? Too hurt to make the trip? What a shame. Move it."

She pushes me into the small office at gunpoint, and sits opposite me. "What are you doing here, Alex? Come to kill me?"

"If I have to. You've done some bad things."

Carrie shakes her head. "I didn't make anyone suffer for years. Every person I killed died with very little pain."

"So what now, Carrie? Are you going to kill me?"

She picks up my phone and studies it. "Maybe I should call the news stations. I could be a hero. I've already tied you and Ellie to this datacenter. It wouldn't be a stretch to get them to believe this is your hideout. Hero today, goat tomorrow. And I come out smelling great."

"Then what? What's your big plan? You can't go back to Infinitae. You can't expect to escape suspicion forever."

Carrie points around with her gun. "See all this? Do you know how many emails and IM's and chats and voice communications I've collected here? I've got trillions of conversations waiting to be mined. Even as we speak I'm transcribing all kinds of voice conversations. The CIA would kill for a system like this."

"Why? What's it all for?"

"God, Alex, do I really need to spell it all out for you? Think of all the corporate insider information I'd have. I'd know about every earnings miss. I'd know how senators are about to vote. I'd know what the Fed is planning. Within a few years, I'd be the richest person on the planet. I could run for office, buy a few campaigns, and who knows? I could be President. Imagine that, President Park."

"You mean White, don't you?"

She glared at me, and aim her gun in my general direction. "Shelly White is dead. That loser no longer exists. You made sure of that. Maybe I should thank you. You know, we're really not that different, you and me. Maybe that's why I liked you so much back then. I was a loser, and you were a loser, too. But guess what? I've grown up, and you're still a loser."

"We're nothing alike. You're a murderous, psychopathic bitch with delusions of grandeur. You'll never get away with any of it. They'll trace everything back to you."

"Forget it Alex, I've covered my tracks too well. They've got nothing on me. Look at this screen. I'm monitoring the entire world for any mention of my name. The moment it pops up, I can be prepared to defend myself."

"Do you even care about the people you've killed? Wasn't Benson you're professor?"

Carrie smirks at me. "Yeah, well, he wanted to go back to his wife. Poor bastard, she was terrible."

"You killed him because he wouldn't sleep with you? I don't blame him."

"Hey!" she waves the gun at me. "He had it coming. He made his choice, just like you did. Can I help it if I take these things personally?"

I shrug and look around the place. My leg starts shaking. Carrie starts studying my face. "Alex. Are you expecting someone? Oh my gosh." She looks at my phone, then begins to disassemble it. "Alex, I'm surprised at you! This phone has been transmitting this entire conversation, hasn't it. It looks like it's off, but my guess it that you've had the screen disabled. No, that's not it. Let me see. Ahh, here it is, the battery is it's own transmitter. I can take it out and it's still recording. Genius!" She smashes the whole thing with the butt of her gun, then points it at me.

I can't help but smile at her. "They'll be here in a minute. It's over, Shelly. You've confessed to everything. It's all been transmitted and...oh yeah you'll like this...posted on the internet!"

Her face grows dark. "Get up. Get up or I'll drill you."

Alarms begin sounding all around the building. On the monitors I see black cars pulling up from all directions. Then entire building is surrounded.

"Come on, move it." She pushes me ahead of her. I look back to notice that she's grabbed a device off her desk and pulls out an antenna.

"What is that, a detonator?"

"Move your ass Ross or I'll set it off now."

She pushes me through the center to the very middle. There's a metal railing leading up to the ceiling panel. "Remove the panel, and don't try anything funny. After I remove it, I see that the railing leads up to the ceiling about thirty feet up. "Climb!"

I climb up the thing, and find a hatch which I push open. In moments I'm up on the roof. I look around. Hidden from the street, I see a small gyrocopter. "Stand back," cries Carrie. I see flashing lights in every direction. She jumps into the single passenger vehicle. She pushes some buttons, and the blades begin spinning. A gyrocopter needs to be moving forward to work, unlike a helicopter, but a small motor can assist the startup. I notice that the roof of the building has been cleared out like a runway.

"Hey Alex," she shouts at me through the growing din of the gyro's motor, "too bad I scrambled your signal. The moment you stepped in, I detected your transmission. You think I can't dampen a cell signal? You've lost, Alex, and I'll make sure you get blamed for this explosion too. Goodbye."

She revs up the motor and starts taxiing right down the roof of the building. I run after her and just catch one piece of the rear wing. I hold on for dear life as I'm dragged down the roof. I can't hold on, and I roll right to the edge of the roof. I have about two seconds to jump off before the whole building explodes in a huge burst of flame behind me. I hit the ground and roll under a car as a deluge of servers and wires and cinder blocks rain down all around me. Once the debris stops falling, I start running. I spot a car where some people had stopped to look at the fire, leaving their car running. I hop into it and speed away.

Well, I'm back at Ellie's hideout now. There are videos on the web connecting me to the scene. None of my secret transmissions got through. I can't beat Carrie. She's just too smart. Her gyrocopter disappeared to who knows where, and I have no way to clear my name. Wherever you are Carrie, know that you can't escape, and I'll be chasing you.

I don't know if I'll post again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

WTF Part Three

WTF Part Three

Fuck! Fuck!! FUUUUUUUCKKK!!!!

I start slamming the steering wheel. "FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! AAAAAAGH!"

I am so angry I can't see straight. All this time. "How?! How the fuck did she do it?! How did she get everyone to believe as this crap?! How did she kill all those people? Fuck me ten times sideways!"

Ellie puts a weak hand on my arm as she tries not to scream in pain as I drive like a madman towards the address Ellie gave me. "She's loaded. She took that insurance settlement and made a fortune day trading. She's worth more than I am. She must have used that wealth to hire a bunch of hitmen and mercenaries. They never knew who they worked for."

"But she lives in a dump! She doesn't even fucking bathe! She drives a goddamn death trap!"

"She paid for that whole datacenter. Did you know her previous job was at a brokerage? She knew financial systems inside and out. She knew how to change my account somehow, because when I checked with the bank, they don't have any records of any transactions, and restored my balance. It was all faked."

"Aagh! What the fuck! We have to get her, Ellie. We have to make her pay for all this. I want her dead. I want to go back and kill her."

"No. We're screwed, like she said. She's a genius. I believe her when she says she's planted evidence. We've got to get out of here, once I'm patched up. She may be the only person in the world who can clear us. The only way out of this is to get her to confess, and even that may not be enough."

"Fuck!" I'm silent for a moment. Could there be a way to turn this around? "Do you have a phone?"

Ellie points at her purse on the floor. I fumble around and retrieve it. I dial up a number.

"Elena?" says the voice on the other end.

"No it's me. Do not believe any of it. I had nothing to do with it. I tried to stop her."

"Alex," says Marcia on the other line. "You have to come in. You can't fight this one. We'll protect you."

"Ellie's been badly hurt," I tell her. Besides, I know that even Marcia can't hold off the people who would want my head. "I'm going to get her treatment. Listen. It's Carrie Park. She's the mastermind behind all of this. She hired the men at the cabin, and she blew up Infinitae. You have to believe me."

"Sure, Alex. I believe you. Just let me know where you are and we'll make sure Ellie is taken care of."

"Carrie Park," I say one more time, and then hang up. I flip the phone out the window. I know Marcia won't believe me, but I have a plan, and she's a key piece of it. It's a long shot, because Carrie's not stupid. But I am. And maybe I can use that to my advantage.

I don't have much time to think about that. We arrive at a gated residence. I push the button on the intercom.

"Who's there," demands a heavily accented voice.

"It's Alex Ross and Elena Galistina. She's been badly hurt. Please, she needs help."

The let me in and I pull up to the door. I'm instantly surrounded by men with guns, all shouting at me. I put my hands out the window. They literally drag me out the window and press me down on the ground, their knees in my back. I see under the car that they've brought a stretcher out for Ellie. I think she's passed out because she's not moving or making a sound, but they check her pulse and eyes and don't seem too concerned.

After they carry her inside, they drag me to a small room and throw me in there with only a bottle of water and some cold rice. I collapse in the corner.

After a while the door opens, and General Tam walks in.

"I'll tell you everything," I shout. "Just don't bring that thing in again."

"Ssh, shh, it's okay, Mr. Ross. I apologize profusely over my indiscreet use of that terrible device. I promise you I will never use it's kind again. I'm not here to question you. I simply need to find out what happened."

I fill him in on the details. He makes notes in Chinese in a small black book. "How's Ellie," I ask him.

"She lost a lot of blood, but the fracture in her leg is clean and won't require surgery. She's resting comfortably. She wants you to get some rest."

"What's going on? What are people saying about the explosion?"

"They're saying it's a natural gas leak. An employee ran in to warn people and barely made it out alive. Fortunately no one died."

I breathe a sigh of relief. They're sure to find the detonator and explosives at some point. Maybe Carrie lined a gas line with explosives to make it look like an accident. Or maybe Tam is lying through his teeth. He leaves me after a cot is brought in. I try to sleep, but I toss and turn, replaying the last month's events over and over in my head.

Carrie just knows me so well. She knows exactly what buttons to push, and how to string me along. I had thought god was playing a trick on me, but the answer was much more mundane. She must have prepared this for months. She must have discovered Ellie's secret.

Early in the morning, Ellie calls for me. She lies in bed with an IV, a large bandage wrapped around her head, and her leg in a cast. This cast I know is real. I hold her hand and she squeezes it.

"I must be a mess," she says.

"You're not so bad. I'd still choose you over half the women in this house." I wink.

She smiles wanly. "Things will work out. We'll find a way to clear your name."

"Tam says the TV is calling me a hero, but I don't believe that. It's only a matter of time before they find the stuff Carrie planted."

"We think we may know where she's hiding out. She's good, but everyone leaves a trail of some sort."

"I want to deal with her. I may need your team's help, but I want to get her to clear my name."

"You want to trap her?"

"Not exactly." I explain my plan to her. Ellie nods.

"We'll set it up for Thursday night."

I'm still going to have to leave the country. Things will get ugly. But not as ugly at they're going to get for Carrie.

WTF Part Two

WTF Part Two

I'm in a building wired to blow up. I've got a minute to get out before it all blows up. I run down the stairs like a madman and out the emergency door. I'm about twenty yards from the building when I'm thrown off my feet in a terrific blast. I feel sharp pains as debris slams into my back. I'm tossed probably another thirty yards away. After rolling on the ground, I look back. Smoke is pouring from the bottom of Building Four. I see one edge of the building sag, and then the whole thing collapses in a huge cloud of dust and noise. I put my shirt over my mouth so I can breathe, and start running away as fast as I can. I don't look back.

All around me I see ambulances and police and firetrucks lumbering to the scene. A large black SUV stops in front of me. The passenger door opens.

"Get in!" cries Ellie behind the wheel. I flop in and she takes off before I can get the door closed. I try to catch my breath.

"You okay," she asks, glancing at me. "Try to hold it together."

I'm still coughing and choking from the dust and exertion. We get about two or three blocks when another car slams into the driver's side of the SUV. We're tossed around the cabin like rag dolls. "Ellie!" I tweak out.

Ellie is very still, her head lying on my lap. I can't even tell if she's alive. A figure emerges from the other car and comes to my side. My door is wrenched open and I'm looking down the barrel of a gun. It's Carrie. She doesn't have a crutch or a leg boot. She's not limping. What??

"Give me her fucking gun. Now! Really easy. I just blew up a building, and you'll be next if you don't cooperate."

Ellie moans a little. Thank god she's alive! She has a nasty cut on her head, and her leg doesn't look right. I find her holster and pick out her gun. I toss it out to Carrie.

"Good. Now tie her hands behind her back." She throws me some quick ties.

"Carrie, come on, she's unconscious."

She comes closer. "Do it, Ross. Or I will take you both out right now. Move!"

I try to move Ellie off me and she howls in pain. I reach behind her and push her hands together and bind them with the ties. I hope Ellie knows how to get out of this.

"Tighter! Good. Now get her into your seat, you get in hers."

There are no words to really describe getting Ellie over. Her lower left leg hangs limply, her head is gushing, and she is barely conscious of anything but her extreme pain. She screams as I try to move her, but there's not much I can do. I jump back into the driver's seat.

Carrie jumps in the back. These SUV's are great, you can beat them up and they just drive away. "Drive."


"Just move it! Head South."

Ellie begins moaning as the car starts jerking around. "Alex," she says weakly.

"Shut her up," screams Carrie.

Ellie struggles against her bonds. "It's Carrie," I tell her. "She has a gun."

Ellie just moans in pain.

We drive South for a bit. I'm starting to piece everything together. There's no plot. There's no fingerprinting. There's no Building Four, and there never was. But why?

"I don't get it Carrie," I say finally. "What the hell was all that about? Do you just like blowing up buildings?"

"Shut up, fuck head. You should know. You are so stupid. You and everyone around you. You think you own the fucking world. Well I've had it. I've been waiting a long time for this."

Ellie cries out loudly as we hit a bump.

"Will you shut her up?" Carrie reaches out to knock her gun against Ellie's head and I just snap. I jump out of my seat and go for the gun. I don't give a flying fuck what happens anymore. You can only push a man so far, and this is it. We struggle for the gun and it goes off. The sound is deafening, right next to my head in a closed space. But the recoil startles Carrie and I wrestle the gun away.

"Shoot her," says Ellie quietly, somewhat cognizant of the circumstances. Instead I toss the gun out of my broken window. I turn around quickly, as the car is headed right off the road. I correct it quickly and slam on the brakes. Meanwhile Carrie still has Ellie's gun which I had forgotten about. Fortunately it's a imported model and she can't figure out the lock quick enough and I snatch it away from her. I don't throw it away.

Carrie bolts for the door. I jump out my broken window and chase her. She may be light and speedy but she's been in a fake cast for almost a month. Her leg has atrophied and I catch her and push her to the ground. She struggles but I slam that bitch right in the face.

"Fuck you Carrie! I'm going to fucking mess you the fuck up!"

"Alex! Stop," cries Ellie. Those words stop me from doing something unthinkable.

She's leaning out of the car. I drag Carrie pretty much by the hair as she bleeds from the mouth. She struggles but I hold on firmly.

"I've got a knife in my back. Cut me loose," she asks. "Then we can deal with her."

I throw Carrie on the ground. I gentle reach around Ellie, under her shirt. Taped to her back I can feel the hard edge of the knife. I quickly release her, and she immediately feels her head and her leg. "I'm going to need help soon, Alex, but first we need to deal with her. Alex, there's something you need to know. Something about Carrie. Do you want to tell him?"

Carrie looks up at me with pure hate in her eyes. "No."

"Ok then. Ow. God this hurts. You see, I did some digging on her. Turns out Carrie Park died almost ten years ago."

"I heard that. It's a weird coincidence." Shit. Of course it's not.

"There is no other Carrie Park. At least not one anywhere near her age."

"So she's not Carrie Park. Then..."

"She's Shelly White."

Wham! "Oh my!" I look at Carrie. She can't be! She doesn't look like Shelly...but...

"Fuck you, Alex," says Carrie. "You didn't remember me, did you, you don't even remember what you did to me! Do you remember now! You stupid fuck! Look at me! Look what you've done to me!"

Shelly White. We used to call her "Smelly Shelly." I know it was cruel and juvenile. But she never bathed, and always had an odor about her. We teased her mercilessly. But she was big, like 250 pounds big. Could this be Shelly? It seems impossible.

The memories all come rushing back to me. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. Shelly and I had been thrust together on an assignment. It wasn't so bad, she was definitely smart and I knew I'd get a good grade. But then she started giving me little gifts, sending me poems. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but she seemed pretty fragile. That day someone discovered she had been sending me these poems, and it was on. They posted it around school, they put it on the net, it was humiliating. I protested but not that strongly, I mean I wanted her to back off. I caught sight of her later that day crying. I didn't feel so good.

You'd think that was bad enough. After school, a buddy and I are waiting at a light, we're looking at racing for a block or so. The light turns green, and out of nowhere this car cuts us off. We almost collide. My buddy talks to me through the window. "Isn't that Shelly White? Do you want to teach her a lesson? Let's get her!"

We start after her. He starts blaring his horn at her. It must have frightened her, because she takes off. We're going down the street, 70, 80, 90, then I back off. But my buddy keeps chasing her. She tries to take a corner, the car flips, and she's thrown from the car.

There are witnesses, and soon we're all arrested. Shelly's on life support basically. My dad gets them to give me a year at a work camp instead of basic juvenile detention. Shelly collects millions in the settlement. The other guy goes to jail, since they consider him the instigator. My life is ruined, though. With that work camp on my record, I can't go to college. Instead I go to a technical school. I never heard from Shelly again...until now.

"Carrie, Shelly, I--"

I began thinking about everything that's happened. The Hit List. The attacks on Ellie and the cabin. The secret datacenter. Building Four. The explosion.

Ellie speaks up weakly. "Tell him, Carrie. Tell him what you've done."

Carrie crawls to her feet with a smirk on her face. I just can see her as Shelly. The thought makes my skin crawl. But when I look at her, I see Shelly's eyes.

"God, Alex, you must be the stupidest person in whole fucking world. Look at you two. Chasing leads around like dogs. You believed every fucking thing I told you."

"Why? Why did you do it? Did you want me? Did you want me dead?"

"No, Alex. Well, I mean after that horrible excuse for fucking, I certainly didn't want you. Jesus, Ellie, how did you ever put up with that? I figure a slut like you could get any man in town. What the hell are you doing with this loser?"

"So you want me dead? Is that what this is about?"

"Hell no, Alex. I want you alive. The bastard that chased me, well...he's dead."

Shit! I remember now that Larry died in some kind of accident. Well I guess it wasn't an accident now. I hear some sirens in the distance.

"We gotta go," says Ellie. "Someone must have called us in."

"Wait. Carrie, so what do you want from me? What the fuck are you doing this for?"

Carrie scowls at me. "You don't understand what I went through. My entire face had to be reconstructed. I lost my spleen, half my intestines, and now I can never have children. Why do you think I'm so thin now? I laid in that hospital for years, with nothing to do but study and figure out how I'd ruin your life as much as you've ruined mine."

"Well congratulations. But when they find out you were behind everything, you'll be put to death."

Carrie laughs at that. I see a worrisome triumph in her eyes. "No, Alex. What made you think to go into Building Four? Was it the sketches I had deliberately leaked out? Where some monster experiment was about to start? Well it worked out great, because right now on every major video site there's a video of you running out right before the explosion. And then it shows you getting in the car with Ellie. Don't worry, Alex, there's plenty of evidence on you at your apartment, on your old work computer, and of course, on your precious blog where you mention blowing up Building Four. And Ellie, I hope you like what I did with your old laptop and your account. You sure saved me a lot of money. You two are so screwed."

The sirens grow louder.

"Alex, we have to go!"

"What about her," I ask Ellie. "Should I just fucking shoot her?"

"No, we'll get to her eventually. She can't hide from us. Trust me, you don't want her blood on your hands."

I can now see the flashing lights half a mile away. Carrie's waving at me. "This isn't over," I shout at her as I scramble back into the driver's seat. I floor it an we take off, leaving Carrie in the dust.

WTF Part One

WTF... Part One

Oh god, where to begin. I'm sure you've heard all about it by now. Maybe some of you readers are looking for me. Well, good luck. I've got to leave the country, that's how bad things have gotten. Don't bother looking for me at airports or piers. I'm going to disappear and there's nothing you can do to find me.

Well like most things in this blog, it starts with a phone call. From Carrie. I don't know why I answer it. I want to change numbers, change locks, whatever it takes to get away from her. I listen to my cell phone chiming and look at her image on the screen. I want to beat on it. Every contact I have with her turns to shit. I pick it up, thinking that I'm finally going to tell her off.

"What," I say brusquely.

"It's on, Alex, the machine, it's on. They're beginning to test it out. Tomorrow it goes live. I, I, I'm going to stop it. I just thought someone should know. I know things have been a little strange between us, but I want you to know what I'm doing."

I so want to hang up right now. I should have. I could have salvaged my pathetic life if I had just thrown away the phone right at that moment. I dangle my thumb over the disconnect button. But once again, I put the phone back to my ear.

"What the hell are you talking about, Carrie? You're going to stop it?"

"Yeah, it's all set. I can't talk on the phone right now. Meet me at the corner of Balboa and La Playa, and I'll tell you everything. Hurry, we don't have much time." I hear the phone disconnect.

I slam my fist on my thigh. Dammit. What the hell is Carrie up to? She's really unstable. Then I remember something she said. She wants to blow up Building Four. I didn't take her seriously. Could she be capable of something like that? God I hope not.

I reluctantly get in my car and drive the couple miles over to Infinitae, and park near where Carrie mentioned. I consider calling Ellie and letting her know that something's up, but I can't bring myself to do that. I just need to deal with Carrie once and for all. If I can't do it on the phone, then I'll do it in person.

I spot her standing on the corner with her laptop backpack and a single crutch. It looks like her cast has been replaced with a boot. She somehow looks better than I've seen her in a while, cleaned up, and a bit of a glow about her. She smiles at me when I approach. I'm not quite buying it, but she looks a little saner right now.

"Hey, Alex," she greets me almost jovially. A couple blocks behind her looms Building Four. She reaches out and takes my hand. I try to pull it back but she's insistent. She leads me into a nearby apartment building and into a vacant room, save for a chair and a desk. The window looks out on B4. She unpacks her laptop and plugs it into a large monitor sitting on the desk.

"I'm glad you're here, Alex. I wouldn't want you to miss the festivities." She smirks at me. I get a chill down my spine.

"Carrie, what's going on? I want to know what the hell you're doing."

"Tsk. Geez Alex, you'll spoil the surprise."

I watch as she brings up some screens on the monitor.

"Here we go," she says. "All I have to do is press this key and it's done."

"Carrie, what the fuck are you doing?"

"Say goodbye to Building Four." She presses the button.

I look outside but the building is still standing. Carrie laughs deliriously. "Oh my god. You really thought I was blowing up the building! What do you think I am?"

"Then what was that?"

Carrie grins at me triumphantly. "It's a timer, silly. Building Four goes down in...14 minutes 48 seconds. Don't even think about messing with this laptop, the timer can only be stopped from inside the building."

She shows me a live image of the timer, ticking away somewhere under the building.

"Carrie! What the hell have you done! You fucking crazy idiot!"

"Hey, fuck you, Ross! You didn't the fucking balls to do shit about this, did you? You could even get your Chinese whore to investigate. Your such a fucking loser, and you're gonna finally get what's coming to you."

I try to leave but she blocks the door. "Get out of my way."

"Or what? Pussy! What the fuck are you going to do?"

I pick her up and throw her into the desk, sending the computer equipment flying and crashing on the floor. Does she even know the hell I've been through lately? She lands heavily and screams. Not in pain, but in anger. It looks like she's going to rush me, but then she begins laughing.

"Oh Alex, you poor little piece of shit. Now you want to go save the world? Go on, run over there. You'll never disarm it. You don't have the fucking brainpower. Asshole."

I run out the door, grabbing my phone. Thank God I have Ellie's new number on me. I dial it as I run towards Building Four. I have no idea what I'm going to do. It rings and rings, not even going to voice mail. I'm already halfway to the building when she picks up.


"Ellie! Carrie's gone nuts! She wired Building Four with explosives, and it's going to blow in about 13 minutes. We've got to stop it. I'm heading there now."

"Alex! Don't! I'll be there in a minute! I have something to tell you about Carrie, something I just discovered. She's not who--"

I trip on a curb, and my phone goes flying right out into the street where a semi crushes it, all 18 wheels it seems. "Shiiit!!!" I scream. It's now in tiny little pieces, way beyond repair.

I race down the street oblivious to the pain in my skinned knee and elbows. As usual, Building Four is locked up as tight as a drum. I jump over to Building Three next door where there's a reception area. I run up to her.

"There's a bomb in Building Four. You need to evacuate immediately."

I must be a great sight, panting and sweating, blood dripping from my torn shirt and pants. She sort of just stares at me blankly.

I start screaming. "There's a fucking bombing about to go off! Now!" I spot a fire alarm on the wall and I go and pull it. She jumps on the phone and calls someone. I run back outside. In a few moments, I see some red lights start flashing on Building Four, and a siren begins to wail. In moments, I spot a door opening. I sprint over to it and push my way past people emerging from the building. God, why didn't I think of this before?

I'm finally in Building Four. I know I have only ten minutes or so, but I have to see it. I have to see the machine behind all this drama. I run up the stairs to the fourth floor and get in when someone opens the door to evacuate. I see plenty of servers humming away. I walk all around, up and down halls, ignoring the calls to evacuate. There's nothing but servers. I try the third floor. Exactly the same. There's nothing in Building Four. All this time, and it's exactly what everyone says it was. No secret labs, no secret projects, no secret teams of developers. No fingerprinting machine. Just regular servers, providing people with useful online communities. Nothing more.

I remember the bomb. I think it's in the garage. This place is about to blow. I've got to get out of here. Shit shit shit shit shit

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Over"? Did you say, "Over"?

"Over"? Did you say, "Over"?

Well I thought I was done with Carrie. I thought I was done with Ellie. I thought I was done with Infinitae, the plot, the lies and deceits. I came back to Frisco today, trying to reclaim my life, and perhaps start to move on.

But then came the nagging questions. Where did this whole plot come from? Who's telling the truth, and is there any truth to be found? What the fuck has been happening?

So I drove back this morning, dropped my shit off at the apartment, and then decided to go out to lunch because I don't have shit in my place. Hell, Ellie did most of the shopping, and cooking, and cleaning, and lying with me and to me. Fuck. Can you see I'm in a mood?

I'm in the mall, eating a slice of non-turkey infested pizza, when guess who sits in the chair next to me? Well you had a 50% chance of getting it's Ellie! Woo hoo!

"What are you doing here," I say, not surprised, not happy, just feeling pissed. I'll admit she looked great, her hair all wavy and wearing makeup instead of a coating of human blood.

"Please Alex, I just need a minute. I promise I won't bother you anymore." She seems fairly sincere, but she always did.

"I thought you were leaving the country," I replied, looking around the mall for prying eyes.

"It's been delayed a few days. Something's come up. Something I could use your help with."

"Right. Don't you work for the bad guys? Why the hell should I listen to you? Why should I believe a single word you say?"

She grips my arm with a firm grasp, and looks directly at me. "Alex. I understand that you're feeling a little betrayed right now. I would feel the same way. But this is a matter of life and death, not for just you, but for millions of people."

I grimace a bit. "Come on, Ellie. I told you I don't want to be involved anymore. You said you would be doing the investigating from now on. I'm out." I snatch my arm away.

She reaches into her handbag for a moment. Part of me half expects her to pull out a gun but she just retrieves some papers.

"Just look at these, Alex. Not here, somewhere private. If you think there's nothing to it, then just burn the paper and you're out. However if you think there's something to it, then there's a number on the back where I can be reached. Don't call from your home or cell, those could be bugged. Go buy a prepaid cell and throw it out after the call. There's a couple twenties in there to pay for it."

She pushes the papers into my hands and turns to leave. I watch her walk off, admiring her lithe figure in her tight-fitting pants. I catch myself, realizing that I really need to use my head. Whatever we had was a myth, a false relationship. Fuck, she could have faked everything. That would really suck.

I drive for a little and find a quiet place in Golden Gate Park, not too far from the Infinitae offices. I extract the money and throw it into my wallet. Hell, I paid the goddamn rent and utilities, I deserve some payback. I should bill the goddamn Chinese Government for all of it. Whatever. I unfold the pages. The first one looks like a blueprint. At the top it reads, "Infinitae Building Four Redesign".

Yeah right. I study the page for a moment. It looks like half the interior of the building has been removed. Now some kind of large spherical device four floors high sits in there, surrounded by all kinds power and computing equipment. Could this be the fingerprinting device that can scan the unique fingerprint of every object in the world? Can it also transmit fingerprints and cause people to see or do things?

I look at another page which seems to be a deployment schedule:

"GMCEX Project: Operational test 2007-12-28T18:00:00"

What does that mean? Something's going to happen this Wednesday? Then I see more:

Target: Beijing
Influence Object: Money
Objective: Create a mass rush on banks from people seeking cash

Now I see why Ellie came to me. If every person in Beijing suddenly decided to cash in their life savings, the resulting economic disaster could be so severe that China could lose next summer's Olympics.

I look through the other pages that contain some more detailed schematics of Building Four and a list of other possible targets. North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, looks like an American plot at this point. I have to admit that I get really curious about all this. These pages are the most evidence I've seen so far about the plot. I think about running to the store for a phone but then I hesitate. I've been set up so many times already. What if this is all crap again? It's really detailed, but so is a Hollywood movie set. I resist the urge to call Carrie as well. This stuff will really make her go off the deep end.

I drive by Building Four, trying to penetrate its brick facade with my eyes. It's hard to imagine that it contains something so strange and powerful. I keep driving, and end up at my apartment.

I try to put it out of my mind. I end up watching game shows and sports recaps. I hear a knock on my door and cringe. I should have just stayed at the cabin until I get an interview. It's Marcia of all people.

"Hey Alex, I was able to get away for a minute, and I thought we'd 'catch up'."

Great. "How's Brad?"

"Oh, fine. He can get around on his own a little bit. We'll be heading back to DC in a few days once he's fit to fly."

"So? What's up?"

She sits on my couch and indicates that I should join her. "Well, Alex, your friend has caused me no end of trouble. All those people who attacked us have just...disappeared. As if nothing ever happened. We have no clue who they are or what they wanted. Alex, I can't help you if I have nothing to go on."

"I have no idea myself. Ellie's her own person, and she doesn't tell me anything. I was just glad to be alive, and she left when it all was over. I haven't heard from her since. I told you she's leaving the country." I don't know why I still lie for her. I don't know why I have any loyalty to her at all.

"Well Alex, if you have any way of contacting her, you might want to do it. We're facing a situation here, and let me tell you this is classified so it doesn't leave this room." She pulls out some papers from her purse. Why do I suddenly have a sense of deja vu?

I look at the papers. They're exactly the same ones Ellie gave to me. Well almost. I look at them carefully. On the schedule I notice one important difference. Instead of Beijing, it says Boston. It also mentions other US and European cities as potential targets.

"What do you think it means," I ask her carefully.

Marcia shrugs. "That's why I'm here. You've had the most exposure to the work here."

I look at her for a moment then I remember something. "I thought you were in Building Four once? I saw you leave Building Four."

"Yeah, No. I got a tip about meeting an informant under Building Four. Corporate Security let me in. I wait half an hour but no one showed up. Then I got a call that the informant was at Stanford. Once again, nothing, then the whole lab blows up. You were there, remember?"

I nod. "An informant? Did you ever figure out who it was?"

She shakes her head. "We think it came from inside Infinitae but we can't be sure. At first I thought someone might be after me, or even after you, but now we have no idea what it was all about. We've questioned people about that building, and they all tell us that it's just servers. I've been meaning to go verify that, but you and your crazy antics are getting me sidetracked, and now with Brad the way he is...I just can't get away."

Marcia puts a hand on my arm and I almost jump out of my skin. I've got deja vu up my wazoo today. "Alex. If China is planning some kind of attack, we need to use whatever channels we have to try to deter them. Any attack on US soil will be considered an act of war. We will be forced to raid Building Four, and any damage to our infrastructure or civilians will be answered in kind. We've already raised our secret threat level. Now I think I got to know Elena a little bit this weekend. I don't think she wants this any more that I do. I think she might be reasonable."

I'm speechless for a moment. I'm thinking that the Chinese must be up in arms as well. A few sheets of paper could be the start of World War III. "Listen, Marcia, I would be really hesitant to act on any of this. I don't know how much this information can be trusted. Times, dates, capabilities, without proof you just need to be careful."

"That's where you come in. We need you to find out what you can. Whatever contacts you have, whoever you can trust, just give me some information. And you'll need to contact Galistina and make her understand that we're taking this threat seriously."

I lie on the couch after Marcia leaves in disbelief. It's all a setup, I can feel it. But for what? And why?

Like I said, this thing's not over. And if I read these dates correctly, things are about to explode. I'm just going to sleep on it at this point.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Good News/Bad News

Good News/Bad News

Well about the only good thing about this weekend is that the Niners actually won a game. It was pretty exciting actually. The season's still a goner but it's nice to win occasionally. Hey, given all the crap I've been through, and kind of good news is welcome.

Brad is feeling better. He's able to limp around a little bit. Marcia's been bugging me about Ellie's whereabouts, but I told her honestly that I don't know. I didn't mention that she had taken some prisoners to an undisclosed location for some undisclosed types of interrogation. I've basically told her that Ellie is leaving the country in a matter of days. I don't know if I'll ever see her again. I don't know if I want to see her again. I'm so pissed at her jerking me around that I don't think we can seriously be together again.

Tomorrow I start looking for a new position, hopefully in a city far away from here. I love this place, but I feel like I need a change. For the first time in my life I had actually considered "settling down" until Ellie started acting wacky. Now all I feel is betrayal and disappointment. I don't know if I'll ever find someone I like as much as her again, but I can't be involved with the local head of Chinese Intelligence. I want to go someplace with decent skiing. Maybe I should go up to Vancouver.

I've been thinking a lot about the plot Carrie's been tracking. I've taken the time to read through some of the stuff she's printed out, and I've tried to find the relevant research but I've found nothing. Even the fingerprinting technology seems to be without any scientific basis. This confuses me a lot, since I actually used it. Or did I? The only thing it ever led to was that data center we found. Everything else we found through conventional means. Now a lot of research, especially for the government, is kept secret, but there's always some basis for it.

Which all makes me want to get a peek at Building Four. I have no way of getting in there. But if I could get in, I could prove once and for all whether the plot existed or not. I want to know who's been jerking Carrie and I around on some wild goose chase. She's completely lost it, and I'm barely holding on. I want to move on and leave all this all behind me. It's just that I feel really screwed by everything that's happened. I've lost my girlfriend, my job, and my mind. I want to know what the hell is going on. I want some answers. I can't really move on until I get explanation for everything that's happened. And I intend to find out.

Seattle Half Marathon PR Race Report

I ran the Seattle Marathon on November 25.

I was originally going to name this post "Seattle Half Rainathon...NOT"
It was completely gorgeous if not a little chilly,. I would have liked it about 5 degrees warmer but that's about it. Completely clear, and no breeze to speak of.
Fashion report:
Blue Nike sphere-dry T under a North Face WindWall jacket, blue nike shorts, nike visor, NB 857, Garmin 305
Black hat and gloves for warmup miles
BTW the finisher medal is prophetic...the sun rising behind the Space Needle. That's what I saw walking from my car.

This morning I was up around 4:30, unable to sleep. Last year I barely made the start of the race, so this time I was determined to get there on time. This year, there's no traffic at all, and I park down near the Key. There was a permanent potty down there, but when a couple runners starting using it, this homeless guy starts telling everyone to get lost, because it's a homeless potty. Whatever
I'm there a whole hour early this time. I go find the main potties, then come back to the car to relax.
Of course I have to go again right before the start. I go with less than 60 seconds before the gun. "Crap in 60 seconds".

Well the gun goes off. I see the 2:20 pacer. I'm thinking that 2:20 is more realistic for me that the 2:18 I posted here, so I try to keep them in sight. Unfortunately I can't get through the start until they're long gone.

First mile 10:23. I'm feeling pretty good and loose. Then comes trouble.
Mile 2 8:43...close if not my best mile split ever. But I feel a pain in my back which decides to spasm on the downhill. It feels like a spear from my back through my chest. I'm thinking that if I'm having an issue, I'm going to have to pull over
Mile 3 10:42 I actually catch the 2:20 pacer! I jump the barrier because there's a big pileup behind her. My back is feeling better.
Mile 4 10:30 I start losing her again.
Mile 5 10:28 I have no idea what happened to the pacer, and I never see them again. It's possible that I passed her. I don't know.
The tunnel feels warm, but the sun has now risen above the fog on the Eastside.. I don't know how accurate 4/5 are, it might be an average. I feel like each mile should be about 10+ secs longer.
Mile 6 10:49 This is like the doldrums of the race, although the view over the lake of the rising sun is spectacular. I also get a bit of a side stitch which lasts for a little while but fortunately clears up.
Mile 7: 10:56 You can tell I'm starting to flag a little. I eat a pack of Sport Beans and some Gatorade. I pass the 1/2 marker and the clock says 1:16....right where I was last year at that point.
Mile 8: 11:25 The infamous Galer. I run it, but my HR is shooting up
Mile 9: 10:27 An up-and-down section. My pace is starting to return
Mile 10: 10:53 I take a potty break when I come across a set of 5 which are all unbelievably empty. I'm in and out in a blink. Afterwards I feel a burst of energy and I really push it up the rest of the hill
Mile 11: 10:46 Still feeling good, hoping to ride it while it lasts.
Mile 12: 10:41 My left hip starts hurting. I think its from the extreme camber of some of these streets. I'm just hitting that hip a lot harder. I really start the fatigue setting in so I down some shot blocks.
Mile 13: 10:29 I frankly don't know how I managed this time. Probably from stumbling down the downhill sections. The uphills here are brutal, even though they're not big. I do feel a small burst of energy before the last little hill, but that hill completely drains it.
.1 My Garmin thinks I ran 13.43. I think it got messed up in the tunnel.

So here are the happy totals:
Previous Course time: 2:39:01
Current PR: 2:26:15
New PR: 2:21:45

I beat my previous PR by 4:30 and 21 secs/mile...and my course record by 17+ minutes.
I got really close to the 2:18 that was posted too.
I just checked the site...apparently my chip didn't register at the I can't get accurate 1/2 way splits. My second split was 1:10:18 so I'm assuming the first was 1:11:27...a negative?? Kewl.

Aside from the weird pains I had, my concern is that I ran this at an avg HR of 170 vs Seafair at 165. I know part of it is from pushing harder at the end, but I'd like to see it come down a little for this kind of race.

More notes:

Name Overall Place Division Place Age Chip Time Official Time Split 1 Split 2
Andrew Rosenberg 2235/2659 315/405 40 02:21:45.3 02:26:11.7 01:11:26.6 01:10:18.7

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Shotgun Thanksgiving Part Four

Shotgun Thanksgiving Part Four

Wow, I tried to write as much as I could yesterday, but as you can tell, I just couldn't finish it up. I also spent a good part of the day visiting Brad, and typed in the waiting room or in the corner of his room. He's going to be fine, fortunately. We explained it as a hunting accident, although how he got two bullets was a little hard to describe.

We're back at the cabin now, and Brad is resting comfortably upstairs. His wounds were clean without any complications or difficult surgery. Ellie's tablets may have saved his life.

So there's a little bit more to tell you about what happened Thursday. Ellie is surveying her prisoners, all gathered in front of the cabin. A small army of trucks and Chinese men is winding its way up to our house. The first few tackle the small fires here and there, and rounding up the corpses. I know now that there were twenty three dead, three wounded, and six captured. Ellie has her men gather up her gory kills and throws them in front of the prisoners.

"I want you to tell me everything," she pronounces, her visage still caked with blood. "Do you see these men? Take a good look. A similar fate awaits you if you don't cooperate. I'll have you know that we are not American citizens, and we're not subject to the rules of this country. You dared to attack a foreign agent and her friends, and now you will pay the price for your insolence. We can make you disappear, so that your friends and families will never see or hear from you again. I want to know who's behind this and I want to know now."

I could see that the men didn't look very happy. One of them started talking. "Listen, we didn't want any of this. This was supposed to be clean, get in, get out, you know?" It's the man who punched me in the kitchen.

Ellie smiled at him. "So you're one of the leaders, I take it? Good. What are you, a Guardsman or something? Do you have any real experience?"

"I was recon over in Iraq."

"You people are pathetic," she yells at them. "If you are the product of the American military, then I don't think my country has much to fear from you." She strips some wires and a headset off the man. "Is this how you contact your commander? What's your call sign?"

The man hesitates. A couple of Ellie's men push their guns up against his neck but she waves them off. "Please," she says to him.

He mumbles, "Foxtrot Delta. My contact is Charlie Papa."

Ellie dons the headset. "Come in, Charlie. I know you're listening. This is Elena Galistina here. I really appreciate sending your friends to the Ross's Thanksgiving dinner. We've welcomed them with open arms. I'm so sorry that many of them chose to be unruly and act inappropriately. I'm afraid that I've had to excuse them from the table. Are you still listening, Charlie?"

She smiles at the men.

"Well, Charlie, I'm sorry you won't respond. Well, no matter. A couple of your friends have decided to stay. They're telling me all about you. Foxtrot Delta has been extremely helpful. I think you need to know that you've just made yourself a really terrible enemy. I'm not the kind of person to acknowledge niceties, or the rules of war, or even rules of common decency. I think a demonstration is in order."

She puts the headphone back on Foxtrot's head.

"Tell them everything. Now choose one. Choose one of your men."

"No." Her men start in on him, but she waves them off. "Foxtrot. It's either you or one of them. You remember what I did in the house, don't you? Do you really want to go that way, choking on your own blood?"

He points to one of the men who starts struggling.

"Good. Bring him over there." Her men drag the struggling man behind a hummer. She walks over. I watch in horror and fascination.

"Don't," I tell her, but she winks at me.

Foxtrot is talking into the headset. "She's taking him behind the truck. He's screaming. I see blood gushing everywhere. Oh my god, she's a monster. Please, send us some help! She's coming back, covered with blood. I think I'm going to be sick. God help us all."

I slide back over and look behind the truck. I see that the man is unconscious, but unharmed. There's blood everywhere, but I also see a can and a turkey baster. The same baster we were going to use for the turkey.

I walk back over, holding my stomach. "God, Ellie, not again. Please, no more. I can't stand it."

Ellie grabs the headset back. "Now Charlie, I'd hate to do that to the rest of your men, but once I start, it's hard to stop. I'll give you a piece of advice. Get the hell out of town. I will track you down, and I will kill you in the most brutal fashion that our culture has ever produced. I will create a river of blood so thick that you'll drown in it. If I even feel a breath of yours, I will stifle it so quickly that you'll be watching you body fall away while I hold your severed head. Now I need to go and finish off these men. Have a nice day."

She pulled off the rest of the unit and stomped on it, smashing it to bits.

"Let's go for a walk," she says nicely to Foxtrot. "Nice and slow. If you tell me what I want, we'll turn back. If you don't we'll eventually wind up behind the truck. You don't want to go behind the truck. I kill with my bare hands. I can make it slow or fast."

They start walking towards the truck. Ellie doesn't say anything. About half way there, Foxtrot becomes agitated. "What? What do you want to know? Say something. Say something!" She keeps walking, but her blood-soaked face is watching his. "Stop staring at me! What the hell is wrong with you!" They finally reach the truck, and she cocks her head and puts on hand on the truck, waiting for him to talk.

"Okay! Stop! We got our instructions online. The entire transaction, plans, names, maps, everything. Except for today, no one even ever talked to them. And their voice was scrambled, sounding like a frog or something."

Ellie just stood there, staring at him.

"What? I've told you everything. Say something!"

Ellie points around to the back of the truck.

"No! What do you want? Will you fucking say something?? Shit! Listen, please, we just get paid. We're nobodies. I can show you anything. Our website, our IP logs, our servers, the logs for the headsets, everything you need to track them down. Just don't make me go back there, please."

Ellie glances at me, then waves at some of her men. "Get everything you can from him. Take the rest into holding. I don't want them touched until I get there."

As they load up the prisoners, a convoy of construction trucks pulls up. The yard becomes flooded with men, unloading drywall and siding and lumber and glass. I watch with fascination as the ant-like contingent streams into the house and begins tearing down the bullet-riddled walls. Ellie walks over to me.

"Now you're going to see what the most industrious people in the world can do. We can do in an hour what it takes Extreme Home Makeover to do in a week."

Before my eyes, the cabin is first stripped down to the studs, and then rebuilt with fresh materials. A crew sweeps the yard for casings and also cuts down trees damaged by the fury of the Gatling gun. The bodies are carted away and the damaged vehicles towed on flatbeds.

"How much is this going to cost," I ask Ellie.

"Don't worry about it. We do this kind of thing all the time. You hungry? I hear there's a turkey around here somewhere. Let's wash up and watch them work while we eat."

We wind our way through the disaster zone, up to my room. Ellie heads to the bathroom to try to wash away the blood that's caked all over her face and hands. The shower is damaged so she has to use the sink.

"The blood! The blood! I can't get it out! Help!"

I rush in, but she's laughing, and pointing at me.

"Very funny," I say.

"Seriously, help me with my hair." She sits in a chair with her back to the sink, and I gently wash all the thick ruddy liquid out. It's amazing how much blood is absorbed by hair. I must use half a bottle of shampoo on it. It's finally done, and I wash my own face and hands. Finally we both look somewhat human again. Ellie throws off her black coveralls and is just wearing a flak jacket, panties, and a couple of knives strapped to her thighs. I spot numerous black bruises on her arms and legs. She takes off the jacket, and is only wearing a spots bra underneath. She puts on a a clean black coverall, and pulls her wet hair back into a ponytail. "Ready for dinner?"

The turkey actually fared well. No bullets penetrated the oven, and the power never failed. We clean the dust and dirt off the counter, and pull out the turkey. It's perfect! We carve it and begin serving it to the workers along with the stuffing, potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and whatever else survived the barrage. My dad caught a ride down to the hospital, so only Ellie and I remained at the cabin.

By the time the turkey ran out, they workers had replaced all the walls and were now working on the floors, removing the blood stains and refinishing the wood. Fortunately the cabin had all wood floors and throw rugs. Ellie's people replaced them with absolutely gorgeous Oriental rugs, some of them bordering on the priceless.

"They're from my personal collection," she says. "Yes, Alex. I have a warehouse filled with this kind of stuff. I'll show you someday."

We go around and thank each worker personally. They finish up quickly, after transforming my father's cabin into an Oriental paradise. I hope he doesn't freak out too badly.

We go out front to thank the guards who are watching the workers and for signs of interference. Suddenly I recognize one of them. "Hey, Ellie, isn't that guy General Tan?"

Ellie nods. "Oh yeah. He's my best man."

"Wait, he works for you? I thought it was the other way around."

"No, everyone here works for me."

I look around the yard. All this, controlled by Ellie. "I thought you were just an agent. You're in charge? You're responsible for the whole thing?"

Ellie sighs. "Yes. I run the entire Northern California operation of Chinese Intelligence. Nothing happens in this part of the state without me knowing it."

"Wait. Wait. That means knew about my interrogation. It ordered my interrogation. Ellie! You said you were some agent on leave, that you were trying to escape your life. You aren't trying to escape it at all! You relish it! You've been lying to me the whole time, and you're still lying to me! I don't get it. Why me? You don't need a cover. Why me?"

Ellie looks askance, not denying anything. "Alex, I--"

I'm feeling pretty livid. "I can't believe this! Why did you have me interrogated? Did you think I was involved? You could have just asked me. I would have told you everything. How can I trust you anymore? How do I know that all this fighting today wasn't just some kind of show? Jesus Fucking Christ. How can I be so stupid?"

"Alex, listen--"

"No! I'm tired of listening. I can't believe anything you say anymore. I don't want to hear any of your explanations anymore. You've twisted my mind enough. I've had it with all of you. Get all of your men and get the hell out of here."

Ellie looks at me with tears in her eyes. She motions for her men to start packing up. "I'm sorry. Alex, I never meant to hurt you. You need to understand that. My life...I just can't afford to trust anyone."

"Just go, Ellie. I can't take this anymore. I don't care anymore. You've said you want to change, but you don't. You just want to do it on a bigger scale. I saw how you looked today. You love this stuff. Well I don't. I've seen more blood and death today to last the rest of my life. Just go. Thank your men for helping out, but I never want to see them or you again."

I turn and head back to the cabin. Ellie collects her gear and her men, and they head out. I'm finally all alone in the refurbished cabin.

I'm seriously thinking about leaving California. I need a fresh start. All of these people and plots are ruining my life again. I know the Seattle tech market is hot.

BTW my family loves the new decor. Ellie really has style. I think we're going to return most of it though. I don't want anything that might have been gained through bloodshed.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Shotgun Thanksgiving Part Three

Shotgun Thanksgiving Part Three

I'm really thankful for a lot of things this Thanksgiving weekend. I love this part of the country, I have the world's most kick-ass girlfriend, and I'm still alive after enduring thirty minutes of pure hell.

"How are you doing," she asks me.

"Okay," I sigh. "How many did you get out there?"

"Just three. That leaves close to thirty enemy."

"What do you think they'll do?"

"Well, they're not having much luck shooting us out. My guess is that they were hoping for the element of surprise. They don't have much time left. My guess is that the authorities will stop by soon. They'll have to flush us out or destroy the house. My guess is that they're waiting for backup, or they would have attacked already."

"How did they know you were here?"

Ellie shrugs. "My 'source' of information must have been a setup. They probably knew that if I knew you were in danger, then I would show up."

"I'm sorry, Ellie. I know how much you hate all this, and I've put you right back into it."

"Hey, Alex, it's my life. I had a feeling it would find me again. But I don't mind if it's a good cause. I'll fight to the death over you."

"Thanks. And I'll do the same for you." To emphasize the point I squeeze off a few rounds. They answer back. "But that thing you do to people...I don't think I could do that. Why do you do that?"

Ellie grimaces a little. "It's kind of my thing. I do it to intimidate potential revenge seekers. The crazier I seem, the less likely people will come after me. I've been trained from an early age to use whatever weapons are on hand, and I generally don't bring any to a fight. I just use either whatever the target brings, or just my bare hands."

She crawls away to check on Marcia and Brad and to take a few shots out the back to keep them honest. I look down and only can find two clips of ammo remaining for the automatic weapons. We still have the shotgun and a few shells for that, and a number of handguns. Ellie also has a few rounds for her specialized sniper rifle. At the rate of a dozen rounds a minute, we're going to run out really quick. I hear the sound of some engines approaching and then it stops. Ellie quickly rejoins me.

"Looks like reinforcements are here. And not they kind I'd hope for." She begins her litany of Russian cussing again.

We can spot more people spreading out. We shoot at some, but we're trying to conserve ammunition.

"I swear if we get out of this, I'm going to get to the bottom of it," says Ellie. "You don't attack an agent of the Chinese government like this. I don't know what you've uncovered, Alex, but they are sure going to great lengths to get you out of the picture. I'm so sorry I didn't listen to you earlier. I had gotten so wrapped up in my own problems."

"Hey Ellie, it's Ok. I understand what you've been up against. I want to get to the bottom of this too. I think Carrie knows more about this than what she's telling me. Every time I listen to her, something bad happens."

"You should stay away from her," replies Ellie. "Something's wrong with her. I'm going to dig around her past and see what I can find." She squeezes off a round, and I hear a scream. "Forty-one," she breaths, "assuming he doesn't make it."

"I'm sorry I got you involved with this crap," I say. "You've been a great friend to me, and I didn't even realize or appreciate it."

"Something's happening," she says. I peer out. Someone is waving a white flag above a rock. "What?" she yells out to the flag bearer.

A man appears from behind the rock. "This is your last chance. We'll take down the whole house if we have to."

"Give us a minute!" yells Ellie. She turns to me. "What do you want to do?"

During the lull, my father rambles down the stairs. He looks disheveled and he's bleeding from a couple of places, just minor wounds. "I'm out of ammo," he says, and I raise my empty hands at him.

"Go check on Brad, he's next to the stove with Marcia."

My dad waves at us and heads over there. Ellie is waiting for my response. I think about everything we've gone through in the last few weeks. I think about my brother clinging to life on the cold kitchen floor.

"Fuck 'em. Let's fight this thing out. I'm sick of getting pushed around. Take no fucking prisoners. Do whatever you have to, Ellie, and let me know how I can help."

She's about to respond when we hear a whistling. A trail of smoke heads our way, then explodes in the ground twenty feet away from us, throwing mounds of rocks and dirt into the house.

"RPG," shouts Ellie. She shoots off a few rounds and I keep firing until all I hear is the empty click of my weapon. I throw it to the ground in disgust.

We're completely out. "This is it, Alex," she says. She slides over to me and we huddle up together. I wrap an arm around her. We both stink, a mixture of sweat and blood and dirt, but there's no one in the world that I'd rather have near me right now. Ellie pulls out a gun and hands it to me. "If it looks like the end, I need you to shoot me. I can't be captured alive."


"Ssh." She puts a finger to my lips. "Alex, for someone like me there are fates worse than death. I have enough information in my head to start wars on every continent, but I've been working to prevent those wars. I cannot be taken alive. Do you understand me?"

I nod and take the gun, and pull her close. We see the men start sidling towards the house, wary of any traps we may have set. I see a couple with shoulder-fired rockets, ready to tear down the house. Every man seems to holding an assault rifle of some type.

"Fucking amateurs," whispers Ellie. "I'm going to be killed by goddamn amateurs."

Without any more cover, they approach the house by twos and threes, trying to avoid our line of fire.

"Okay, that's better," Ellie says. "Those guys over there are getting set up to shoot us. Looks like they're going to fire in some tear gas, and then mow us down as we jump out. It doesn't look like they want prisoners."

I gulp, my throat feeling tight. I swear I'm not as concerned about dying as I am about losing Ellie. I hold her close.

I hear a quiet whumping sound. It grows in intensity, until a large helicopter zooms overhead. I now can see it as it circles in the distance.

"Come on!" shouts Ellie. We run into the kitchen where my family is huddled. The helicopter returns right at treetop level. I can see it through a hole in the wall where a window used to be. On one side a long gun barrel points out. As the helicopter approaches, the barrel begins blazing a long streak of fire.

"It's a Gatling gun," I exclaim.

"Probably two thousand rounds a minute from the sound of it," replies Ellie. She says some kind of Chinese prayer from the sound of it.

I watch as the gun levels the men and trees surrounding the house. The bullets disintegrate everything in their path. A couple of vehicles explode. Six black-clad men descend on ropes onto the ground, and start chasing the men in every direction. One of the attackers fires his RPG at the helicopter but fortunately it misses and detonates harmlessly in the woods. Ellie leads me out towards the helicopter which lowers a basket of firearms to us.

"Stay here," Ellie shouts over the din as the helicopter rises away to pursue the attackers. "Make sure no one circles back to the house, and get Brad ready for evac. I'm going to show these people what the Chinese government is all about." She hands me a new weapon, a SAW automatic rifle. I retreat back to the house as Ellie dons a headset and begins chattering with the other defenders.

From a distance I hear the chopper, the buzz of its gun, and firing of weapons. It doesn't take long until I see a column of men with their hands on their heads walking back to the house. The six defenders and Ellie surround them. She runs back towards me. I breath a quiet sigh of relief when I see she's not covered in blood again.

"Okay, let's get Brad." The chopper lowers down a stretcher, and we carry Brad out. He's barely conscious, but he responds when pinched. The men also lower the Gatling gun and a few other things, since they can't just fly over to the hospital loaded with weapons. They raise Brad up and also lower a harness to pick up Marcia. She leans over to me and Ellie before she gets on.

"I want to thank you for what you did," she shouts over the din. "You saved our lives back there. I won't forget it." The helicopter raises her up and then takes off towards the nearest hospital.

I can't believe it's over. But my dad's house is ruined, there's a contingent of Chinese agents and their captives on the lawn, there are burning cars down the road, and a couple of craters here and there. Not to mention the piles of shell casings everywhere. We're really going to have to come up with a good explanation for this when the authorities show up.

Oh yeah, we still have a turkey in the oven which should almost be ready by now.

Shotgun Thanksgiving Part Two

Shotgun Thanksgiving Part Two

I peer out the window. The vehicles stopped somewhere beyond a ridge where we can't see them. Ellie begins her Russian cussing again.

"I thought you said a couple Mercs," my dad exclaims. "There's a whole army out there. Do you expect the five of us to defend ourselves against that?"

Ellie is surveying the land through some binoculars. "Looks like they mean business this time. I really underestimated their resources."

"Do you have any idea who they are?" asks Marcia. "What the hell are you involved in?"

"We're going to need backup," says my dad. "Can you disconnect the cell jammer?"

Ellie peers through the glasses. "They've already overrun the device. We're on our own here. Wait, they're sending someone up."

I watch as a black-clad man approaches, carrying a megaphone. He shoulders a rifle on his back.

"We only want Galistina," he says through the megaphone. "Send her out unarmed, and we'll spare the rest of you."

"What?" cries Marcia. "They're after you?? You thought you could hide out here? You've put us all in danger, you stupid bitch!"

"Knock it off," shouts my dad. "I don't know what the hell is going on with you kids, I frankly I don't give a flying fuck. She's good, she's bad, well, I don't care. Nobody comes to my house and threatens my guests. If we have to fight these bastards, that's what we'll do. Ellie, you mentioned you brought some weapons. Let's bring them out and give them an answer."

"Alex," she says, "go into the crawlspace. There's a chest down there, and the combo is 0325." The day we first met. "Bring everything you can carry, and don't forget the ammo."

"Brad, you go get my stash," orders my dad. Stash? "Yes, Alex, I've got a few things hidden away myself. I thought a day like this might come, although I thought it would be for me."

The man outside is still threatening, giving us five minutes to comply. Ellie is surveying the men running around outside. I run in, carrying a stack of rifles and ammo. "Stay down," says my dad.

Marcia grabs a rifle and a clip, loads the gun and releases the safety.

"Get out!" she fairly screams, pointing it at Ellie. "Get the fuck out of here before I blow you away!"

Ellie looks at her and returns to watching the men outside. I walk in between them. "Marcia. Please. If you give her up, she'll be dead and we may never know who's behind this. And do you really think they'll stop with her? They know she's the most capable fighter in here, of course they're going to call her out."

"How did they know she's here? Maybe she'll go out there and leave us here to die."

"Fucking hell," breathes Ellie. "There are at least thirty men out there. Does everyone have a gun yet? Let's show them we mean business." She starts pointing out various positions the men outside have taken.

I finger my weapon, an illegal automatic AK-47. I've fired them before as a kid, when my dad used to take us to shooting ranges. I find a spot behind a thick structural log.

Marcia is still standing behind Ellie, pointing her rifle at her.

"Come on, Marcia," shouts my dad. "Get your target in sight. We'll deal with your issues with Ellie later. We need everyone in on this."

Marcia screams and finds some cover. Ellie's been assembling some kind of Chinese sniper rifle, I couldn't tell you which one, but definitely a highly specialized piece.

"Three-shot rounds, fire and cover, on me. Someone needs to go up top."

"I'll go, volunteers my dad. "I know the perfect spot."

"Thirty seconds," calls the man outside.

Ellie holds up her hand. "See you on the other side," she says.

"Ten seconds," calls the man.

Ellie drops her hand and we start shooting, right through the windows. The entire room explodes in a shower of glass and dust as the men outside open fire with everything they have. The windows disintegrate, the walls splinter, the drapes fall, and the air fills with the whistling and snapping of bullets.

For almost a minute we withstand the torrent of gunfire. I see the decorations and paintings on the walls crumble, the TV is riddled with holes and then falls over, every fixture is smashed. To my surprise, I see that Brad has dropped his weapon, and is huddling on the floor, his head on his hands.

"Brad," I scream over the din. "Brad! Are you hurt?"

Ellie flashes some signs to Marcia who crawls over to check him out. Perhaps I've had no greater shock in my life when I realize that he's not hurt, he's just scared. The man who made my childhood hell, who constantly berated me and put me down, who beat me up on occasion, who was a complete jerk to me all my life, who had a military career with commendations, was a quivering mess on the floor.

Maybe it's because all I've been through in the last few weeks, or maybe it's being around Ellie with her inner toughness and determination, or maybe I've found something inside of myself, but I want to fight those attackers. Sure I'm scared, and I'd like to do nothing more than run away as fast as possible. But I'm not leaving Ellie or my family here.

"Brad!" I call out. "Brad! Pull it together! We need you!"

Marcia waves me off, and kneels down next to him. Ellie is rummaging through her sack and pulling out some round metal objects. She clips a few to her belt.

"We need help," she announces, and squeezes off a few rounds at the attackers. "I'm going out there. These are smoke bombs. I need you to get them out there as far as you can, and I don't have any launchers."

"What," cries Marcia. "Don't let her go, Alex. She's escaping us."

I shoot at a tree for a second. "If she says she's going for help, I believe her. Brad. Brad! Come on dude, we need you. You've got the best arm here."

Ellie points out where she needs the bombs. I crawl over to Brad who's shaking.

"Dude," I say, getting in his face. "What's going on? I thought you were all military?"

"I've never been in combat," he admits, his voice pitiful. "Don't tell dad. Please don't tell dad." He can't make eye contact with me.

"Brad, please. We need you right now. You can do it. I know your life hasn't going to plan. It's no secret that you've been unhappy. But Marcia's your wife, and I'm your brother. You've got to pull it together and be a man. You can do it."

He picks up his head and nods. "Yeah, my life is shit. You've taken everything I could dish out, Alex, and never blinked. I've been such a shit all my life, and you've gone out and done exactly what you've wanted to. Do you want to know why I always was so hard on you? Because all this time I've been jealous of you. You were always dad's favorite, and he sided with you on everything. I always got his wrath, and you always got his love. You were the smart and independent one. I had to do whatever dad says, no questions asked."

"You know, Brad, I'd love to discuss all of this with you, but right now there are people shooting at us, and we need to lay some smoke down. Can you do it?"

"Dammit." We duck as a particularly heavy round rains in. I press the bombs into his hands and point out where Ellie wants them.

"Are we ready," yells Ellie.

"You better fucking come back," replies Marcia.

"If I don't it's because I'm dead," she retorts. "You better cover me, and be careful because they're starting to close in."

"OK, Brad, throw them on my mark. Everyone else, go fully automatic, and don't stop until you're out. Ready."

She squeezes off a few round at various targets in quick succession. "OK, go." Ellie runs out of the room, heading for a side window.

The room erupts in noise, smoke, and fire as we blaze away into the forest. Brad lights the bombs and flings then as far as he can. A barrage on incoming fire implodes on us, and I see small red spurts as a couple of bullets find Brad's shoulder and leg. He cries out and collapses on the ground.

"Brad!" screams Marcia, jumping to his side.

"Brad's hit," I call out to my dad, hoping he can hear through the din. Brad is writhing on the floor, holding his arm.

Outside I can't see much as the smoke billows out from the bombs, covering the landscape. As the firing has subsided for a moment, I crawl through the debris covering the floor over to Brad, who's grimacing and moaning.

"I think they're just flesh wounds," she says. "But we've got to get him somewhere safe. Dammit Alex, if anything happens to him--"

"Ellie will come through," I cry. "She would never leave us behind."

"I hope you're right. Let's get him into the kitchen and put him near the ovens. The metal should protect him."

I put my arms around his chest, and Marcia lifts his legs, and we half drag him into the kitchen.

"Grab me some of that cheesecloth," Marcia asks. "I'm going to try to bind these wounds a little."

I hear a piercing shriek from outside. It's not the sound a man makes when shot, it's a much more direct scream. It's followed by the sounds of gunfire, this time not directed towards the house. Marcia nods.

"OK, it sounds like your girl is actually doing something out there."

A disturbing amount of blood is pooling on the floor. "Marcia, is he going to make it?"

"I think the bullets passed through cleanly. But without any medical supplies, it's hard to say how long he can hold out. We need to get him to a hospital."

"Come on Brad, hang in there." Already Brad's face is looking a little pale as the shock starts setting in.

I look at Marcia and see some tears welling in her eyes. She shakes Brad's face a little bit. He's still conscious, but he's out of it. "Please, Brad, please don't die on me. Please Brad, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry about everything. You deserve someone better than me. Please, Brad, stay with me. Brad! Brad!"

He mumbles something. I hear another scream from outside, but then a subtle clinking of glass.

"I think someone's in here," I say, grabbing my rifle. Before I can move, rough arms grab me from behind, and someone jumps on Marcia. I struggle violently but I'm throw up against a wall and fist buries itself in my gut, blowing all the air out of my lungs. I collapse on the floor, gasping for air.

What I'm about to describe happens in mere moments, but its taking me a long time to write it all down. As I'm almost puking on the floor, I see Marcia in a similar predicament, flung up against the wall with a knife to her throat. I hear a high keening sound, and like a blur of red and black, Ellie jumps into the room onto the back of the man holding Marcia. He recovers in a moment and flings her off. She lands like a cat. I grab the leg of the man who's about to kick me.

I notice that Ellie is covered with blood. I pray it's not hers. Her whole face is like a massive red river, only her white eyes breaking through. The man collects himself and starts slashing at Ellie. She's as fast as lightning, dodging and skipping every blow, while looking for an opening. The man lunges too far, and she jumps at him, digging her fingers into his eyes. I hear the scream that has been echoing in the woods. She rips one of the eyes out before he can dislodge her. Now it's like a cat playing with a mouse. He slashes at her weakly, but she knocks away the knife. At this point I know what's coming and I turn my head. In a moment the man is lying on the ground, pulling his last breaths through his ripped throat.

The man I'm holding onto stops struggling and looks at Ellie who is dripping with fresh gore. She spits a red chunk of something on to the floor and wipes her mouth. She's muttering something in Chinese this time and tiptoeing towards the man in some kind of kung fu move. She raises a bloody hand and screams at him between clenched teeth.

"Get the fuck out!"

The man struggles and I let him go. He runs out of the room, and hopefully out of the house.

"Holy shit," breathes Marcia.

"I've called in backup," says Ellie nonchalantly while wiping the blood off her mouth and hands. "How's Brad?"

She bends down to look at him, examining his eyes and listening to his chest. "He's lost a lot of blood."

She pulls out something from her jumpsuit. "Here Marcia, give him some of these. It will help keep his blood pressure up." She hands her some tablets. "OK, Alex, you're on me. We need to hold these guys off for a while. Here, grab this guy."

Once again I'm carrying a person. Blood keeps spurting out of his neck, and he starts choking on it as it fills his throat. Ellie nods towards the window and we heave the man out. Ellie shouts out the window so everyone out there can hear.

"Anyone who tries to enter this house will get more of the same! I will kill anyone who enters! If you want to die like this man is dying, then bring it on!"

A round of bullets answers hers. I hear some firing from upstairs, so I know my dad is still going strong.

We fire a few shots ourselves, then sink down behind the wooden pillars. I don't know how long we can hold out, and Brad's fading fast. We're close enough that we can reach out, and Ellie squeezes my hand briefly. Somehow, when I look at her, I know things will work out. They have to.