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Andersonville 23 A twinkle in her fathers eye
by Kelly Davidson
Flashback 11 months earlier (authors notes the intro takes place right after Andersonville 6)
There were fifteen men and women crowded into the small conference area. As Colonel Myers surveyed the room, he noticed most of them, the programmers anyway, were about half his age. Barry shook his head; he was getting old.
His goal was to make general before he retired, and the Andersonville project had seemed like the best way to increase his chances. The problem was, he had failed on his last mission, and now had to explain his failure to the rest of the group. What bothered the colonel the most was that it had come about as a result of others making mistakes, and not faults in his decision making. Still, he was the one in charge, and someone had to be blamed for what happened.
"Hi Barry," a lovely, middle-age female greeted him. It was Colonel Gorden, the leader in charge of E group. Barry didnt see her very often. Her group worked the bunker on the weekends.
Hi Elizabeth," he replied. "How have you been?"
"Not bad," she smiled. "I heard you had some trouble a few weeks ago."
"Yeah, you could say that," Barry frowned. "Ill be discussing the matter this morning with the group. Hopefully others will learn from my mistake."
"Dont be too hard on yourself," Elizabeth replied. "From what I read, you did all the right things. It was just a series of bad luck and miscommunication."
"Maybe, but Dennis sure took a chunk of flesh out of my ass over it."
Their conversation was cut short by the voice of Dennis Butz telling everyone to take a seat. The meeting began with the director giving his usual pep talk, and discussing some of the goals that they were trying to achieve in Andersonville. No one really knew for certain if they where the real goals or just some smoke screen meant to hide the towns true intent. Barry had heard about many strange things that took place in Andersonville, things that werent natural. Judge Herns, while pleasant to talk to, wasnt your typical judge. Colonel Myers was equally sure she wasnt even human.
After an hour Dennis stopped talking and turned the podium over to Barry Myers. The colonel stepped up and explained the circumstances that led to Jerry Kohl and Rodney Allen (read Andersonville 6 Friendship lines) ending up in their town. Then he hit at the heart of the matter.
"Despite our best efforts, Mr. Allen was able to discovered the secret of Andersonville. Fortunately he wanted to stay, and we were able to send his friend off without any memory of his visit. However, this couldve had a very tragic ending, as Mr. Kohl had a family back in Indiana."
Colonel Myers stopped talking for a moment to take a drink of water. Here was where things got tricky. He had to step on the toes of a few people while still being diplomatic about it. The last thing he wanted to do was make it sound like he was trying to blame someone else for what had happened. Still, there was some truth to what he had to say, and it needed to be pointed out.
"Our biggest problem was with the temps. We couldnt let them operate in the open for fear the two men would spot their eyes. If theres a flaw in our operation, its with our temps. We need to get the problem corrected soon as in now."
Almost immediately Charlie Mann, the supervisor in charge of the place-holders/temps, stood up to defend his people. "What youre asking for cant be done. There is a serious problem with the placeholders programming design. While on the surface it may sound easy to fix, the reality is its not. The solution is beyond our current capabilities."
"Then bring someone in who can fix the problem," another colonel suggested. "Surely theres someone out there qualified to remedy the situation."
"Maybe in the private sector," Mr. Mann threw out, "but do we really want to bring someone in from the outside? Look, Im confident our people can fix the problem in a year or so."
"We need to get the problem fixed now," Colonel Myers reiterated. "I almost had to make a decision about a mans life that I didnt want to make. Besides, it affects how the regular residents act around them. For lack of a better term, the temps spook the living daylights out of most of our new arrivals."
"We cant fix the problem by putting in a few lines of code, Colonel Myers," the programmer explained. "Weve tried, and it doesnt work. This is a bigger problem than we first thought."
"Excuse me, Mr. Mann," Dennis Butz interrupted. "Do you know of someone who could fix the problem?"
The programmer tugged on his white lab coat as he thought about it. "There are a couple of people I know of. One of them works out of his house. His name is Chris Barnes, and in my opinion he would be perfect for this job. I worked with him a few times on some other problems. However, I must warn you Mr. Butz, hes not someone I would trust on this project.
Dennis sat there for moment rubbing his chin. He would have to check with Judge Herns first, but there were ways around this breech in security.
"Let me work on that problem," he told everyone. "If bringing him in will fix this problem, I think its worth the risk. Colonel Myers, thank you for your time." The colonel nodded and sat down.
"Colonel Lunnfelt, I believe youre next," Dennis said, picking up the next report. And so the meeting continued.
Voice of Judge Jasper: We are the Roman gods, who fell to the world long ago when your people were still learning how to crawl. We have guided you through the years, rewarded you for good deeds, and punished you when needed. With our leadership, we helped you defeat the Titans in a terrible but glorious war. Once your path was set, we went to sleep, waiting for the day you would reach for the stars and take us home. But the Titans interfered, and turned you away from your destiny. When we awoke, we found much work to do; so we established a base and called it Peace River.
The Titans, with our help, established their own base later on. It's a town where we can work together, a last ditch effort to avoid another war that may destroy the human race forever. Some would like to see the town and your people destroyed, others would like to see it work - to have peace at last. There is much hatred between our people, and the road ahead won't be easy but the rewards if we do are great. The name of this last chance for peace is Andersonville.
Andersonville 23 A twinkle in her fathers eye
Story idea by Mark Sinden
Written by Kelly Davidson
Edited by Geoff, Nelson T.
Special thanks to Aardkal for his advice with the MCI
This story dedicated to my lovely and understanding wife, who puts up with my unusual hobby. For I am truly blessed to have someone like her beside me to lean on.
Fade in Present day
Chris Barnes leaned back in his seat and took a sip of his coke. His desk was cluttered with papers he had printed off that were meant to entertain him. The chair creaked loudly as he shifted his 320-pound frame forward to grab something from the printer.
"All right," he said out loud. The article he had just printed off said a body could become slimmer by just thinking of exercising. Of course what the obese man really needed was to watch his diet and buy a treadmill, neither of which he was willing to do. The programmer leaned over and pulled another coke from his nearby refrigerator. He adjusted his thick glasses, and did some more searching on easy ways to lose weight.
It wasnt as if the young man didnt have the time to exercise. Chris worked from home, maintaining a system for a rather large Internet provider. Except for the rare days when everything went to hell, there was very little for him to do. He was required to go into the office every two weeks to make a report; not that anyone really cared what he had to say. As long as the system operated smoothly his boss was happy. The rest of the people wanted very little do with him, especially Tammy, the pretty, young secretary. She wouldnt give him the time of day.
"Stuck up, bitch!" Chris whispered as he thought of her. Okay, he wasnt Tom Cruise, but he was financially successful and owned his own house; what more did she want? Chris knew what she wanted. Tammy wanted someone who was a hunk they all did. In Chris opinion, all women were stuck up bitches.
Bored of out his mind, the computer geek pushed himself away from the PC and reached for his laptop.
"Might as well clear out some old files," he told himself. It had been almost a year since he had done any housecleaning to his laptop, and it most likely needed it. It was an older unit, and memory on it was severally limited, especially with the programs he ran. Chris sighed. It wasnt a fun job, but at least it would be a distraction from what he was doing which was screwing around. There was only so much cruising on the Internet he could take in one day.
Chris stared searching the hard drive when he spotted a folder called, "top-secret", which immediately caught his attention. The young man ran the folder through the virus checker to make sure it was safe. When everything came back okay, Chris opened it up. There were about sixteen different files in the folder, including one that said, Read me first. The computer programmer clicked on the file, and found a letter addressed to him.
Youre not going to believe this, but this is you writing to yourself. From what they told me, you wont remember anything about this time, but I swear it all happened. The man in charge, his name is Dennis Butz, said I would be made to forget my time here in Andersonville. This town is both fascinating and frightening. Okay, Im getting ahead of myself so let me start at the beginning.
About a week ago I was approached by Mr. Butz to work on a secret project being run by the government. In exchange for my services, I/you were to be paid $10,000. Not bad for five days worth of work! I asked what I would be doing, and he told me there was a bug in their system that their programmers couldnt fix. Naturally I jumped at the chance to do the job. The money was nice, but I was more interested in finding out what this project was all about.
He gave me a day to get my affairs in order, then flew me out to a town in Montana called Andersonville. Dont bother looking at the map, buddy, its not there; but it does exist. There are almost 35,000 people living there. Well, thats not right either, as I soon found out. Thats why I was brought there.
A middle-age man in a suit, who turned out to be a colonel in the US army, met me at the airport. He drove me to the courthouse where we got inside an elevator that took us down into a bunker. I swear it mustve been at least four stories deep. I wish you could remember what the bunker looked like. In one word amazing. They had the latest computer equipment down there, some not even on the market yet. One of those items was an imaging array.
Okay, I need to explain that. These people have found a way to create computer-imaged people, something like the hologram people on Star Trek. These computer-generated people are incredible! They carry on intelligent conversations with each other, eat meals like a real person, and even go to the bathroom. I wished I had one of those devices I/we would never be lonely again.
Anyway, there was a problem, which is why I/you were called in. Their eyes flashed every time they performed a task, such as talking to each other or making dinner. The military leaders were hoping I could fix the problem, but unfortunately it was a bigger bug than I could handle. I found that out the first day, but I didnt let on. I wanted to find out everything I could about those place-holders (thats what they call them).
I got to be friends with one of the men in the bunker. His first name was Mac, he never told me his last. I guess you could say he was my chaperone, because he was right by my side the entire time. At night they put me up in a room at a nearby military base, and that was the only time I was left alone. I asked Mac why I couldnt stay in Andersonville, seeing that they had motels there. He simply told me it wasnt allowed.
Getting back to the story, I wasnt allowed to take my laptop with me to the base. So at night I wrote down everything I could on paper, and during the day I typed it into the laptop when they werent watching me. In my notes I included a way to break into their system. It wont be easy, but I know you can do it. I was able to install a back door into their system without them knowing it youll find the information you need in a file marked BackD. Just be sure when you do visit, you bounce the link around the globe. In the other files youll find information that should be useful. Ive also included a map on where Andersonville is based on my GPS navigator. Just dont go there unless you absolutely have to. You see I/we left quite an impression on them.
Oh, one thing I havent mentioned. You may be wondering why they created this town? Well, to be honest, I dont know, and I dont think Mac knew either. I did notice that most of the people living in Andersonville seemed to be those computer generated images, but some werent. There was this one dark haired secretary who was very real, but sadly she wouldnt give me the time of day. Maybe when you search their system, youll find the answer. Im sure itll be interesting.
Well, I better go now. I have to leave soon, and I know theyll be searching my laptop files. I made sure this folder wouldnt appear on the laptop for at least a month. The guy who checks my computer each day is a moron, so Im confident you/me will be reading this message sometime soon. Good luck, buddy.
Chris sat there for a moment trying to make sense of the note. He checked the date on the file; it was the same week he had been working on a sonar program for the Navy. He even remembered visiting the sub to see the setup. The image was so clear in his mind that Chris didnt see how this letter could be anything but a fake. Still, there was some doubt in the back of his head that he couldnt shake.
"Well, theres no harm in trying," he said to himself. Chris started reading the instructions on how to get through the back door. If this letter were a joke, he would find out soon enough.
The computer geek started linking into different systems around the world, knowing that if he was discovered it would be almost impossible to track him down. The process took almost an hour. When the last link was made, Chris typed in the address he had been given. A prompt came up asking for a username and password. Chris typed them in, and suddenly things started to happen. A series of encrypted folders appeared on his screen.
"Damn!" he muttered. Most of the folders were just numbered, but one folder caught his eye. It said Place-holders/6-9. Chris opened it and found thousands of numeric codes listed in two different columns of 11 numbers each. The programmer picked one series of code and got to work.
It had taken all afternoon for Chris to figure out what needed to be done, and that was only by sheer luck. The young man had stumbled across a screen asking for the coded numbers on the left to be joined with a coded numbers on the right. It was a slow and painful process of trying to find the right combination. Finally, after hundreds of tries, Chris got a match, and a new screen appeared with options.
The young man looked at each option carefully. One of them said surveillance and Chris clicked on it with his mouse. Suddenly an image of a woman appeared on his monitor screen. She was in her late twenties and was wearing a short, black skirt with a white blouse. The woman appeared to be talking to his computer, but there was no sound. She turned and disappeared from view. The image then turned to a TV showing a cartoon.
"Wait, turn back," Chris yelled. He noticed a series of arrows, and a prompt to enter in a command. The young man clicked on one of the arrows, and the image turned back to the woman who was hanging up her coat. He clicked on another arrow, and the image moved farther to the side. Chris found if he held the arrow down with his mouse, the picture turned, and when he released the arrow it stopped. The woman again was saying something that he couldnt hear, and headed down the hallway.
What have I tapped into? Chris wondered. He typed in follow female and clicked enter. It came back with invalid command.
"Crap," Chris yelled. He thought about it for a moment and typed in help. A box with all the commands appeared off to the side.
"Walk, of course," he muttered to himself. He typed walk, clicked enter, and it came back with a question asking him where to go.
"How do you tell it where to walk to?" he asked out loud. Chris pointed the mouse at the doorway in the hallway and clicked. Suddenly the picture on his monitor started moving toward it.
"Cool," Chris shouted out in excitement. This was like the ultimate computer game.
Carefully he maneuvered the image toward the room where the young woman had entered. He was rewarded by the sight of her walking around the bed in a white half-slip and bra. She smiled, and said something that Chris couldnt hear, then proceeded to undress even more by taking off her slip and pantyhose.
The young man immediately got a hard on as he watched the attractive woman walking around the room in just her white bra and pink, lacy panties. She pulled some clothes out of a drawer and got dressed in a T-shirt and sweat pants. Then the woman said something else to him and left the room.
Chris turned to follow her out when he caught sight of something in the mirror. He quickly turned back and stared at the image. It was a young girl, maybe 8 years old, and she was wearing a flower top with black pants. Her hair was honey blonde, and Chris noticed it was long and tied up in a ponytail. He looked closer and saw that her fingernails were painted light pink, and she was wearing a Mickey Mouse watch.
"WAY COOL!" Chris yelled out cheerfully as he experimented some more. On the left side of the screen was a row of boxes with different body parts. When Chris clicked on the left hand, he found he could control its moments with the arrows. Another box marked INF brought up information on the placeholder. Chris read the information and found out this persons name was Susie Carver. When he clicked on the "NORM" button, the young girl returned back to the living room to continue watching cartoons.
The young man rubbed his hands together in glee at all the fun he could have. All he had to do was break the codes, and he could see anything he wanted to see. Chris got out of the surveillance mode and started working on some more codes.
A week later the young man sat in front of the computer munching on a candy bar and staring intensely at his oversize screen. He was watching Susies older sister get dressed. She was talking, but Chris hadnt figured out how to get the voice module to work. Unfortunately, that wasnt the only problem he had.
The programmer had been lucky the first time, for he found it was much harder to match the codes on his next try. He knew there had to be a program out there that would link the two up for him, but he was locked out of most of the folders. He did have some success, picking up two more placeholders. Both turned out to be young males, and he found them rather uninteresting to watch. One was into playing video games, and the other liked reading books most of the time. Chris assumed that the file marked Placeholders/6-9, meant it contained the codes to the computer generated images in the 6 to 9 year old range.
The teenage girl pushed her sister out and closed the door. No longer able to get his thrills, Chris placed Susie back into normal mode. Next he switched over to one of the boys, a 9 year old. He was eating cereal. Nothing interesting there. A check of the other boy, a seven-year-old, showed he was watching TV. Chris got disgusted and signed out of the temp. If only he could find a 17-year-old girl, then he could have some fun. He started searching the files again.
"There it is, again see it?" Mac pointed to the screen. "Look at those numbers change. Its that same blip Ive been seeing all week. If I didnt know better, I would say someone was in the system playing with the temps."
"Could they?" Jeff Summers asked.
"Not likely," Mac shook his head. "Ive checked all the accounts and theyre clean. It must be a glitch, but I cant figure out where its coming from."
"Maybe you should tell Barry," Edward suggested.
"Tell him what?" Mac stated. "That I think theres something wrong with the computer, but I dont know what. Hell tell me to do the same thing Ive been trying to do all week, find it."
"What about the other shifts, have they noticed it?" Jeff asked.
"Yea, usually in the early evenings. I tell you guys, I cant figure it out."
"Well you better or else Barry is going to have your hide," Edward told him. Mac grunted in agreement.
"Good morning, Judge," Barry said cordially. He even managed a slight smile.
"Good morning, Colonel Myers," she replied in an equally pleasant tone. "Im running a little bit late today. Here are the people I need you to have lined up."
The colonel took the list and looked it over. There were two males and three females, one of them an 8-year-old girl named Susie Carver.
"I know Ive asked you this before, but how does this work?"
Judge Herns smiled gently. "I told you Colonel Myers, this is on a need to know only basis. Your job is to run the temps, mine is to make sure they become real citizens."
"Yes, I know from the people we bring in here," the colonel replied a little uncomfortably. Barry was a loyal soldier, but that didnt mean he followed his orders blindly. He still had a responsibility to the constitution and the people.
"From volunteers," June corrected him. "Everyone who comes here signs a contract saying that they agree to this experiment."
"I dont question that," he replied. "I would just like to know whats going on here. For example, why is Jeff Summers the only one who gets to live in Andersonville? I know others would if they were given the chance."
"Oh?" Judge Herns replied a little surprised. "I didnt know that."
"Its true, and hes as tight-lipped about what goes on in Andersonville as you are."
"Im sorry, Colonel Myers," the judge said honestly. "Like you, I have my orders to follow. Perhaps you should take your concerns up with Mr. Butz."
"Theyre not concerns," Barry shook his head. If Dennis Butz thought they were, he would be transferred out of here so fast it would make his head spin. The last person to question what was going on was escorted out the door less then a half-hour later. Barry heard he had been transferred to a remote post in Alaska.
"Im just curious as to what Andersonville is all about, thats all," he mentioned.
"As are we all," Judge Herns smiled. "Ill need these temps ready by 10am today. Thank you, Colonel Myers."
"Have a nice day, Your Honor."
Barry watched the woman get into the elevator and the doors closed. There was something very odd about her that the colonel couldnt put his finger on. How he would love to question Jeff Summers about Andersonville, but the colonel wasnt willing to throw his career out the window. He turned and went back into the main part of the bunker.
"Hows it going, Edward," Colonel Myers asked his young sergeant.
"Its going good, Barry," Edward answered. "The temps you requested are locked and in position."
"Good," the colonel replied with a nod. "Say, would you like to get a drink afterwards?"
"Ready, Linda?" Judge Herns smiled at me.
"Yes, Your Honor," I replied, and gathered up my things. Once my purse was locked inside my desk, I followed her out the door into the courtroom. Officer Candy announced us immediately, and I took a seat in front of my computer while Judge Herns sat down at her bench. Quickly I went to work organizing the files in the way our new residents would be brought in. Even though they had agreed to what happened next, I still felt uneasy about it. After all, they really wouldnt find out what they had agreed to until Judge Herns was done.
One by one we went through each case. When Judge Herns was done, the new transformed person would be taken out and the next person would be brought in. I watched as the last case walked in. His name was Curt Warner, a 30ish year old man with reddish hair and tattoos on both arms. I didnt have to look at my handout; I could tell he had been in and out of jail most of his life. He snarled at the judge, but underneath his brave front you could see he was a little uncertain about what was going to happen next. I checked to make sure the camera was pointed at him while Officer Candy made things official. With that out of the way, Judge Herns tore into him, and she wasnt very pleasant concerning his past actions. I sometimes wondered if she did this to gauge their reaction to authority. Perhaps that was how she decided who remembered their past life and who didnt. If she suspected someone would cause them trouble, she made them forget their past.
I watched with some interest to see who he would become. A small girl, maybe 8-years old, stepped out of the back. She had long, blonde hair with ribbons tied up in it. It made me wonder why all the females in Andersonville, at least the temps, had long hair. Well, not all of them did, but the vast majority seemed to have many girlish features and traits. They even tended to dress feminine most of the time, wearing short skirts, high heels, and lots of makeup. Was it planned this way to help the men who were transformed into women adjust to their situation easier? I couldnt say for sure.
I noticed the judge stopped talking, and was now giving the man a stern stare. The criminal lowered his head in shame. The words Judge Herns had spoken had had a profound effect on him. She sighed, and got ready for the next phase.
Chris logged into Susies account to see what was going on. He was surprise to see her standing in the back of what looked to be a courtroom. There was a female judge who seemed to be giving some guy in an orange jumpsuit royal hell. Even odder, the options fields on the side were locked out. All he could do was observe. Then he saw the judge raise her hands in the air, and they began to glow.
Judge Herns was going through her routine, whispering something under her breath that I couldnt make out. I watched as a blue ball of energy rose out of her palms and hovered there for a moment. Then it moved forward and struck the man in the chest. Part of the energy went through him and hit the temp, then everything went wrong. The temp flickered brightly, almost blinding me. That was followed by a loud pop, as it exploded into a flash of colors.
In the bunker warning alarms started going off. Because there were now two paths open, one being Mr. Warner and the other being the illegal port configured by Chris, Judge Herns magic chose the path with the least resistance. In this case that was the latter. As the energy burst through the computer where Susies information was stored, it had a devastating effect. Circuits and memory chips, the heart of any computer, were fried from the sudden electrical surge. This massive outburst caused sparks and fires to shoot out of the main frame, setting off the fire alarms. As the computer hard drive crashed, its backup normally wouldve come on line instantly. However, the sudden electrical surge popped the breaker between the two computers, and the backup failed to do its job. Above them disaster struck.
In an instant almost 17,000 people ceased to exist. Cars being driven by temps were suddenly driver-less, and plowed out of control into other cars, buildings, and unfortunately, people. Children who were being held by their mothers dropped to the floor and were injured. One temp was lighting a candle when the computer died, and the match fell on some newspapers starting a fire. All across Andersonville everything was thrown into pandemonium, as almost half of the towns population vanished into thin air.
The transformation ball left the bunker and followed the line of connections back to Chris home. Along the way it passed through several intermediate computers and telephone relay stations, blowing their circuits to hell like it had done with those in the bunker. Immediately, almost a third of the Internet went down across the United States and Canada. Despite that fact, the energy stream continued toward its final destination.
Chris was sitting there mesmerized by the rapidly changing blue pattern on his monitor unaware of the danger he was in. Suddenly the transformation ball blasted out of the screen and struck him in the chest. The computer geek fainted in shock and terror.
Back in the bunker Colonel Myers and his men were facing a different problem. Main computer number 3 was smoking badly, and part of the plastic cover was burning.
"Fire control," Colonel Myers yelled out in reaction. One of the temps flipped a switch, and 10 firefighters suddenly appeared. They grabbed the fire equipment close by and dove into action.
"What happened?" he asked Edward, who was busy looking at his screen for answers.
"Im not sure, sir some kind of energy spike," he replied in a shaken voice.
"Will it happen again?"
"I dont know sir, Im trying to locate the source now. It appears to have been generated inside our computer, and headed for an outside source."
"What do you mean an outside source?" Colonel Myers demanded to know.
"I mean just that, sir," Edwards explained. "Somebody was logged in at the time, whatever that thing was, tore through our system. I would hate to be on the receiving end when it gets there."
"Find out where its gone," the colonel ordered. "Im going to call upstairs to "
"SIR!" Mac shouted. "Look at screen number one."
Barry did and gasped. Screen number one was a video feed of the town from a nearby hill. The colonel could see over a dozen plumes of smoke rising all around Andersonville.
"What the fuck just happened?" he whispered.
"COLONEL MYERS," Jeff yelled. "All the temps in group A are off-line."
"Off-line!" he repeated in horror. "What about the backup computer?"
"It failed, sir. That electrical burst must have stopped it from going online."
"Oh my God," Colonel Myers whispered as he turned back to the screen again. He knew his career was over, Dennis Butz would see to that. Someone had to be blamed for all this. Colonel Myers shook the thought out of his head. If he were going down, at least he would go down fighting to save his town.
"Whats the status on the backup computer, Jeff?" he demanded to know.
"It appears to be alright, sir. I recommend we do a complete systems check before bringing it on-line."
"Negative," Barry snapped. "I want you to bring it on-line now."
"Sir, if it fails like the other, it could take weeks to have everything up and operational again!"
"I said now," he ordered. "Every second we wait our town dies a little more. Bring the temps back on-line in the courthouse lobby, and have them go back to where they were before this thing hit us. When was the last position backup done?"
"Ten minutes prior," Jeff answered.
"Good," Colonel Myers nodded at the first good news he had heard. It meant most of the temps would go back to the where they were before this disaster had struck. "Start with the emergency personal, and have them report to their station theyll be needed. Then do the temps who have real children. I dont want any children left alone for very long. "
Jeff confirmed the order, and Colonel Myers picked up the phone to dial out. He found it was dead. He rushed over to the red phone and tried that, but couldnt get anyone to answer in the Andersonville Police station. He put that phone down and picked up the blue one that went to the farmhouse. This time someone did pick up.
"Bird dog, this is big this is Colonel Myers. We had some kind of disaster of unknown origin strike our town. I want you to lock down the road. No one, I repeat, no one gets past you unless its from the base. This is an Alpha 1A priority lockdown! I am declaring an MCI (Mass Casualty Incident) at this time. I want you to call the officer on duty and have him send all available EMS and firefighters to Andersonville. It looks like we have a lot of people injured up there. Firefighters should report to the fire station, and EMTs to the hospital for further orders. I will be the incident commander. Were also going to need patrol units to help restore order here and have the special tracker units put on alert. I suspect some of our residents may try to leave in all the confusion. Do you copy?"
The colonel heard the other person repeat the order and hung up the phone. He observed the fire crew looking over the smoldering remains of their million-dollar computer, now a worthless piece of burnt circuits and melted plastic. There was still smoke coming out of it, and the smell of burnt plastic was heavy in the air.
"Mac," he said.
"Yes sir," the sergeant replied.
"I know youre busy, but I need you to go topside and make sure Judge Herns is okay. If she is, tell her I have the military coming in to render aid. And make sure you tell her to keep everyone out of the main entranceway while we restore the temps. If the elevator doesnt work, use the steps."
"Yes, Colonel Myers."
It was strange. The temp popped like a light bulb burning out and disappeared, leaving the man who was suppose to become the young girl total unaffected. I looked over at the judge for guidance, but she seemed just as mystified as I was. All of the sudden the world outside seemed to explode. I could hear cars crashing, and people screaming. In the distance there was a loud thud from something exploding.
"Whats going on?" Dr. Green asked in a frightened tone.
I rushed over to the window, and saw cars crashed all over the place. Below me was a little boy crying out for his mother, and in the distance I spotted thick, black smoke rising into the sky. Judge Herns stood next to me, and was astonished by the sight.
"Oh my god," I whispered.
Officer Candy joined us, forgetting about the prisoner who was still standing there freely in front of the judges bench. He suddenly realized that no one was watching him, and quickly started backing toward the side door.
"I need to get out there," Officer Candy told the judge. "Will you be okay?
Judge Herns nodded and looked back at the catastrophe that had befallen the town.
"Officer Candy, what happened to the prisoner?" I asked. The cop turned and noticed he was gone.
"Shit!" he cursed loudly and ran out the side door.
"How could this have happened," Dr. Green questioned. Before anyone could answer, Mac came running into the room.
"Judge Herns," he panted, and doubled over to catch his breath. "Im sorry, but I had to take the steps. The elevator was controlled by the computer that crashed."
"You mean there are steps to the bunker?" I asked. Mac ignored my question and spoke directly to the judge.
"Colonel Myers wanted you to know that he has put out an alert. The military will be arriving shortly to help with the fires and restore order."
"Very good," Judge Herns replied. "You mentioned something about a computer, young man."
"Yes judge. There was some kind of electrical surge in our computer that caused it to crash, and the backup didnt come up. Were restoring the temps now."
Suddenly there was a loud, painful scream in the hallway. All of us ran to the lobby door and looked out at a sickening sight. There was Office Candy lying on the floor, blood oozing freely out of the left side of his body. Around him temps were appearing out of thin air, and it didnt take a genus to figure out what had happened. He had been standing in the place where a temp had materialized, and it had effectively ripped him open from head to toe.
"Dead," I asked, strangely saddened to see the cop who I had hated the most lying there.
"Yes," Judge Herns replied staunchly, as she placed her arm around me. "Im afraid hes not the only one either."
The military had arrived 20 minutes after the call was placed, and immediately started helping with the fires. A car had driven into a gas pump and exploded, sending a fireball almost 100 feet into the air. Several of the houses close by caught fire, and at least one person, a small child, had been burned alive. There were more reports coming in about other injuries, most of them minor, but some life threatening. Judge Herns had gone to the hospital to help out, leaving me alone with nothing to do except listen to the battle going on outside on the police radio. To add to our troubles, our fugitive was still missing. Normally this wouldve caused all the towns resources to be focused on him, but he had taken a back seat to everything else. I wasnt even sure if anyone was really looking for him. My thoughts were interrupted when Judge Herns walked into my office with Judge Jasper by her side.
"Judge Jasper," I said standing.
"Miss Anderson," he replied, but without any harshness in his tone.
"He was helping me at the hospital," Judge Herns explained.
"How bad?" I asked. My question was filled with dread.
"Not as bad as we thought," Jupiter answered for her. "Five people dead, including your Officer Candy. Over a 100 injured with broken bones or burns, some badly. Fortunately, Judge Herns and I were able to stabilize them so theyll live."
"When I got to the hospital and saw how bad it was, I called Judge Jasper," June explained, although somehow I knew she didnt mean she had used the phone. "He came with some help."
"You mean, others are here too?"
"Mars, Mercury, Deimos, Diane, Venus, and Apollo," Jupiter rattled off using their real names. "Theyre out doing various chores. Things have pretty much settled down."
"June, what about Mr. Warner. Has anyone found him yet?"
"No, and if we dont find him soon hell die," she frowned.
"Die, but why?"
"Because his cells are breaking down as we speak," she answered in an irritated tone.
"My dear," Jupiter interrupted. "Let me answer that question. You see Linda, the energy you saw strike Mr. Warner in the chest was meant to break down the cell structure throughout his body. This allows the new DNA structure from the temp to rebuild them. However, that never happened and as such, Mr. Warners body was left in limbo. If we dont find him in the next hour, his cells will have broken down to the point where hell die."
"Why not track him?" I asked.
"We cant," June explained. "Mr. Warner is not on the computer because he was never transformed."
"Cant you do anything?"
"Fortunately, yes," Judge Jasper smiled slightly. "Im having Diane searching for him. Im confident well find him soon."
"If we dont " Judge Herns trailed off.
"Its okay, my dear." Jupiter put his hands on her shoulders to comfort her. "I have faith in my daughter. Come, lets go into your office and discuss this some more." They closed the door after they went in, leaving me alone once more.
Colonel Myers stood there staring at the video-feeds from above. The fires were under control thank god. From what he had been told, the damage wasnt as bad as it couldve been. Still, he couldnt get the image of Officer Candy out of his head. The police officer had run into the lobby just as the first batch of temps started materializing. One of them had actually materialized inside part of him, killing the cop almost instantly almost. It was cruel way to die, and Barry knew he was responsible. He hadnt waited for Mac to give him the word that the area was secured. Instead, he had decided enough time had passed, and had started the process. His impatience had cost a man his life.
Since Officer Candys death, Colonel Myers had done everything right. While the Andersonville police, fire, and rescue services had real vehicles, computer generated ones were made up for the soldiers coming in. Colonel Myers simply ordered a set of fire trucks to be placed near the fires and it was done. Over 300 soldiers were in town now, putting out fires, clearing up all the accidents, and restoring order. Colonel Myers and his men were coordinating everything from the bunker. It was a mess, and the colonel still had no idea what had gone wrong. That made the guilt inside him even harder to deal with, not knowing what he had done wrong or right.
Colonel Jacobs and his men had arrived shortly after the disaster to help out, but Barry was still in charge for now that is. He knew that would change as soon as Dennis Butz showed up. He turned to Jeff Summers and asked, "Whats the status, Jeff?
"Weve checked almost 6,000 temps sir. Some of them were offline, killed in the event, but we shouldnt have any trouble bringing them back on-line in a day or so. All of those with real children have been accounted for. Anyone that was injured was taken to the hospital. It couldve been worse, sir. You were right not to wait on re-activating them."
"Thanks, Jeff," the colonel replied with no satisfaction. His sergeant had failed to mention that a man had been killed because of his decision. He walked over to his other sergeant, Edward, who was busy plotting something on a map.
"Whatever that thing was, it ended up in California, sir," he answered calmly. "I should have a address for you in five minutes."
"How did you find the final location?" Barry asked.
"I just followed the burnt trail," he replied. "Whoever he or she is, they had a back door into our system without us knowing it. I found the account and closed it for good."
Barry nodded slowly. "Let me know when you have that address." He patted his sergeant on the shoulder and left him to finish.
"How are you holding up, Barry?" Colonel Jacobs asked, as he handed his counter-part a cup of coffee.
"How should I be?" Barry responded, taking the cup from his friend. "Im responsible for the deaths of five people."
"Bad luck," Colonel Jacobs reasoned. "This couldve happened to anyone youre not to blame."
"Tell that to Dennis Butz," Colonel Myers replied. "Speak of the devil."
Dennis walked into the main room and stared at the destroyed computer. Then he looked at the two men and motioned for them to join him in their office. Both colonels went inside and Dennis closed the door. The director went around the desk and sat down before speaking.
"What happened?" he asked in a business-like tone.
"I dont know, Mr. Butz," Colonel Myers started off. "There was some kind of energy surged to the system, but we dont know where it originated from."
"I have an idea," he told them, but didnt elaborate. It was obvious he wasnt about to share the information with them. "Why didnt the backup computer come up. I thought they were tied in together in case the main computer failed."
"The energy burst was too much it popped the circuit breaker. I ordered my men to turn it on as soon as we found out it was off-line."
"How long was that?" Dennis asked in a flat tone.
"Less then two minutes," Colonel Myers replied. There was a knock on the door. It turned out to be Edward.
"Heres the address, sir." The sergeant handed him a piece of paper and left.
"Whats that?" Dennis inquired? Colonel Myers sighed his boss didnt know yet.
"There was someone in the system when this happened," he confessed. "We didnt know it at the time. Whatever it was that crashed our system, it followed the trail all the way to this persons location."
Suddenly Dennis leaned forward in anger. "You mean to tell me someone was hacking into our system and you didnt know about it?"
"Yes sir," Colonel Myers replied. "He telneted in and used a secret account."
"I dont give a FUCK if he had an advance satellite link up, this system is SUPPOSED to be secure at all times!" Dennis yelled. "Are you telling me that with all the security we have set up, someone was STILL able to break in without you knowing about it?"
"Yes sir," Barry replied.
"Sir," Colonel Jacobs pointed out. "To be fair to Colonel Myers, it looks like this activity was happening during my shift as well."
"So I have TWO incompetent fools working for me, is that what youre saying Colonel?" Dennis waited for a reply, but didnt get one. "Who is this person who hacked into our system?"
Colonel Myers opened the piece of paper and read the name. His eyes went wide when he saw who it was.
"Chris Barnes," Barry said then muttered, "that fat son of a bitch." The colonel had been the one who had picked the annoying programmer up at the Andersonville airport. He had never liked or trusted the newcomer, and had ordered his laptop to be searched thoroughly before he left. Somehow, something had been missed.
Dennis pulled out his phone and took the piece of paper from the colonels hand. He dialed a number and waited for the other person to answer.
"Mike, I need you to drop whatever youre doing and fly to Oakland." He passed on the address, with some other instructions, and hung up.
Barry waited; he knew what was going to happen next. Dennis stared at him with almost no emotion; just cold, dark eyes that were prepared for a job that had to be done.
"Colonel Myers, youre relieved of your command. Colonel Jacobs, youre in charge now. I want you to continue rescue operations and work on getting every temp back on-line."
"Yes sir," Barry replied.
"Yes sir," Colonel Jacobs answered.
"Colonel Jacobs, I wish to discuss something else with you. Colonel Myers, I suggest you take this time to say goodbye to your men."
Barry didnt bother responding to the director. What more could Dennis do to him? His boss could be a real prick when he wanted to be. Colonel Myers walked out onto the main floor and was greeted by his three sergeants. The looks on their faces told him that they already knew.
"Colonel," Mac said. "I think I speak for Jeff, Edward, and the temps, when I say its been a pleasure serving under you. If we can do anything to help your case, well sir, I just want you to know that were behind you 100%"
"Thanks men," Barry smiled, and shook each soldiers hand. "I guess I better go say my good-byes to the temps now."
Chris stirred and woke with a hangover. He was confused at first, then realized he was lying on the floor. The entire room smelled of burnt plastic and charred wood. Was there a fire?
"Oh shit." He put his hand to his forehead to try and stop the throbbing. "What the hell happened?"
He tried standing, but found himself too weak to do so at the moment. Everything was blurred, and Chris tried to focus on the one thing that seemed familiar, his computer.
"HOLY SHIT!" he yelled, still too groggy to realize that his voice sounded different. He could see a large, smoking hole in the middle of what had once been a top-of-the-line monitor. Lying next to it was the remains of his computer and server, melted into a puddle of plastic gob.
"My Computer!" he cried. Without thinking, Chris stood and faced what remained of his top of the line system. Still disoriented, it didnt hit him that he was looking at the computer eye level, instead of standing over it like he shouldve been. The computer geek tried to stand up, and then discovered he already was.
"HOLY SHIT!" he screamed in shock and horror. His pants and shirt were gone, replaced with a short, blue dress with puppy dogs on it. In fact, his entire body had changed. It was now smaller, slimmer, and feminine.
Chris ran over to a mirror and gasped at the reflection. He was now the splitting image of the girl from his computer. Scared out of his wits, Chris lifted the skirt and saw he was wearing a pair of white, cotton panties with pink hearts imprinted on them. He gathered up his nerve, then pulled them down and looked at the mirror. The young man, now a little girl, almost fainted. His legs turned to rubber, and he had to grab hold of chair to stop from falling.
"No, this cant be REAL!" he shouted in an unbalanced state. Suddenly the computer techie found himself losing control. He started picking up objects and throwing them across the room.
"NO NO NO!" he screamed, before falling down on the floor crying hysterically. "No NO, this cant be HAPPENING to me. "Im a MAN A MAAAAAAANNNNN!"
It took almost a half-hour before Chris got his senses back. He wiped the tears from his eyes and thought about what was going on.
"Shit, theyll be coming for me," he said out-loud. "I have to do something. I have to get out of here!"
Then Chris realized there was no place to run. He was a little girl now, and little girls didnt go very far without their parents close by. If he tried going anywhere, he would stick out like a sore thumb. Besides, how could he go anywhere? He was too small to reach the pedals on his car, and even if he could, someone would spot him right away and call the cops. Leaving here wasnt the answer. What he needed was to figure out a way to get changed back into who he once was.
Maybe if he told someone? Chris quickly scratched that idea off the list. The town of Andersonville was a secret from the rest of the world. He could try going to a reporter or the police, but in his current state they would never believe him. They would think he was a little girl telling a fib.
Then an even worse thought crossed Chriss mind. What happened when the authorities couldnt find his parents? They would accuse him, Chris Barnes, of abducting this little girl from her family. With his male self now gone, the police would be even more convinced that this was the case. Even if he did get himself turned back into his old body later on, he would be a hunted man.
Of course that was only the half of it. If he tried telling people he was really Chris Barnes, they would think he had been brainwashed, and attempt to help him. He would be stuck in a world of doctors and foster parents, all trying to make him accept that he really was a little girl. And if he did go along with their game, that meant playing with dolls and doing other girl things. The thought sent a shiver up his spine.
Chris thought about it some more, then came up with an idea. He would blackmail them into turning him back. Quickly he ran to his bedroom where his old computer and server were.
"We found him," Officer Deimos said as he poke his head into Judge Herns chambers. Judge Jasper and I followed him into the courtroom where the man was standing, with the help of Officer Merrick. His face was a deathly white, and you could tell he didnt have much time left.
"Lock the door," Judge Herns ordered Deimos. "I dont want anyone else coming in while this is going on. Sit him down, Officer Merrick."
Both officers did as they were told, while Judge Jasper stood near the chamber door watching the activity. When everything was secure, Judge Herns spoke again.
"Im sorry youre hurting Mr. Warner, but you shouldnt have run off like that. How do you feel?"
"I feel horrible, Your Your Honor."
She nodded. "Ill fix that. Keep still please."
She picked up her phone and called Colonel Jacobs to tell him she was ready. The military officer wasnt happy to be doing another transformation, considering that he didnt know what had caused the main computer to explode in the first place, but Dennis Butz had ordered him to. A few seconds after she got done talking, a temp appeared in the corner.
"Stand still," she told the dying man. She raised her hands and started whispering something under her breath. A blue ball of energy rose out of her hands, and raced toward the man. This time everything went according to plan. A minute later 8-year-old Susie Carver was asking for her mother, who arrived at about the same time. I could almost hear a sigh of relieve from Judge Herns as they left.
"Thatll be the last one we do for while," she said out loud. "At least until we figure out what happened today."
Jupiter stood there silently, as if he was thinking hard about something. The stern expression on his face frighten me a little, for I knew whatever he had in mine I wasnt going to like it. To my relief, Dennis Butz walked into the courtroom.
"I think I know what happened," he told them.
Mike Stoner walked up to the front door of the one-story house located in a crowded neighborhood. He had two men with him, special agents who worked for Dennis Butz. One of them nodded to Mike, and he knocked on the door. There was no answer at first, so he knocked again. This time a little girl answered the door.
"Umm, hello," Mike said. He wasnt aware that Mr. Barnes had a daughter. "Is you daddy home?"
"This way," she told them.
Mike and the two men followed her inside, and immediately spotted the destroyed PC sitting on the desk. The little girl plopped herself down on the couch and picked up a cigarette she had been smoking. Mike looked at the other two men in confusion.
"Wheres Mr. Barnes," he asked.
"Im Chris Barnes," she replied in a calm tone. "Mr. Butz and I have much to talk about. I want you to take me to him now."
"This would never have happened in Peace River," Judge Jasper explained. "I think its time we realized Andersonville is a failure and close it down for good."
"Dont hand me that bullshit," Dennis growled. "We both know Peace River has its own set of problems. Do I have to remind you that one to two people per month die trying to leave your town? Besides, 55% of the temps that went down are back on-line again. Well get the rest up in the next 24 hours.
"How do you expect to recover from this?" Jupiter stated sternly. "Everyone has been touched by this event. Theres no way you can get back into a normal routine again, not as long as the people remain here."
"What are you suggesting?" Judge Herns asked.
"Its simply, my dear. Turn the people of Andersonville over to me, and Ill incorporate them into my town. That way you can start out all over again fresh."
"That wasnt part of the agreement these people signed with me," Dennis stated. "I wont turn any citizen of Andersonville over to you unless they agree to it. Even if I did, you cant use everyone here. What happens to those who dont meet your needs."
Jupiter looked at the Titan God with some disdain. "That will be my problem. If you like, you can keep those people."
"No deal," Dennis said. "Ill never turn them over to you. Ive worked too hard on this project to give it up now. We both know whats at stake here"
Jupiter glared at Dennis. "We dont need you to secure a peace, Rhea. For too long your race has interfered with our progress, and the humans. Youve worked hard to keep them back."
"You mean protect them from you," Dennis held his ground, a little surprised by Jupiters choice of words. It had been centuries since the king of the Roman Gods had called him by his Titan name. "We both know what you had planned for them before we got involved. Human history may show us a hindrance to their culture, but we both know the truth, Jupiter. If it wasnt for us, their world would be very different today!"
"Thats enough you two," Judge Herns snapped. "This bickering isnt going to get us anywhere. Jupiter, well consider your offer, but dont expect a phone call from us. Im in agreement with Mr. Butz here. The people of Andersonville can and will survive this tragedy. Thank you for coming, dear."
"As you wish," Jupiter said with a tight smile. "My offer is still on the table if you want to take me up on it. Ill gather my people and go."
He kissed his ex-wife on the cheek, and shot one more look of distaste at Dennis before leaving. The Titan God swore under his breath, wishing he had a legion of soldiers to teach this pompous ass a lesson. Judge Herns took a seat behind her desk and looked at the director carefully.
"Hes right you know. Trying to return everything to normal isnt going to be easy. People will be frightened now, and distrustful of the temps."
"Well work it out," Dennis said.
"How?" she asked.
"I DONT KNOW, ALRIGHT?" Dennis shouted. "I dont have all the FUCKING ANSWERS HERE, JUNO!"
He turned away and bit his lip until it bled. Judge Herns didnt say a word, she knew this would pass. Finally Dennis got back his composer and said, "Im sorry, Juno. I didnt mean to blow up on you like that. You of all people have been very supportive of me, and I appreciate that."
"I saw it coming," she replied. "Thats why I got rid of the old goat so fast. You cant change what has happened, Dennis. You can only make sure it doesnt happen again. Five people are dead, but since Andersonville has been in existence, over thirty people have died trying to escape from Peace River. That cant go on. It seems that the smarter the human race becomes, the less happy they are with the setup of our town. Despite what we offer them, so many of our new citizens reject the idea that they can never leave Peace River."
"Freedom," Dennis stated. "Or what they perceive as freedom." His phone rang, and the director answered it.
"This is Dennis Butz." Judge Herns watched the director carefully, as he listened to what the man on the other end had to say. "Youre kidding!" he replied in surprise. "Yes, bring him here, Ill arrange everything. Thanks Mike." Dennis turned off his phone and put it away.
"What is it?" Judge Herns asked.
"Its Chris Barnes. Hes a little girl now."
I stood there looking through the glass at the body covered in a sheet. Somehow I couldnt get up the nerve to go inside and look at him again. It wasnt as if we had been friends or anything.
"Hello Linda," Sergeant Williams greeted me in a solemn tone. His mustache drooped as he stared at his fellow officer lying there.
"Dave Im sorry."
"Its okay," he replied sadly. "Would you like to go inside? The nurse told me they they cleaned him up. Ill go with you."
I nodded, and he gently pushed me in. We stood next to the body, and Sergeant Williams pulled back the sheet. Officer Candy was lying there wearing a frown on his face like he wore most of the time I had seen him. I covered my mouth so I wouldnt cry. Why did I feel this way? I hated the man! So why did I feel sad about his death?
"I know you and Officer Candy had your problems, Linda so did I. But he was a good cop deep down. At least he died in the line of duty, if thats any comfort to his family." Dave took one more look then put the sheet back down. "Come on, lets get out of here."
"Good goodbye, Officer Candy," I said, fighting back the tears.
Dave put his arm around my back and escorted me out. Suddenly I felt the waterworks coming and didnt know why. Perhaps it was because of all the stress of seeing things destroyed, and knowing innocent people had been hurt and killed. I turned my head into Daves side and started crying like a baby. The cop hugged me lovingly, as if he understood.
Mike Stoner brought the young girl directly into Judge Herns chambers and left. She seemed to have no regrets about what had happened, but then I thought how could she? She hadnt lived through the destruction that had followed.
"Youre in big trouble, my friend," Judge Herns started off. "Five of my people are dead thanks to you. What do you have to say for yourself."
The little girl seemed visibly shaken by her words. "I dont know what you mean?"
"She means, Mr. Barnes," Dennis answered for Judge Herns, "that by breaking into our system, you caused the death of five of our citizens, including a cop. You had no right to do this."
The girl rolled her eyes at the suggestion. "If you had better security this wouldnt have happened. Now change me back?"
"Change you BACK?" Judge Herns stated in surprise. "Youll be lucky if I let you stay here as you are. My ex-husband is looking for people like you in his town. It would give me great pleasure to ship you off to him. No, Im not going to change anything, Mr. Barnes. You wanted see life through Susies Carvers eyes, and now Im going to let you forever!"
"I figured this would happen," Chris replied, unshaken by the judges threat. "Thats why I created some insurance."
"What insurance?" Dennis asked defensively.
"If you dont change me back into who I was by 9 oclock tomorrow night, the world is going to find out about your little town," she answered smugly.
"What did you do," Dennis snarled.
"I created a mail bomb," Chris told him. "If I dont enter in the code to stop it, itll send an email message to over a thousand different sites telling everyone about this place. In an hour your secret little town wont be so secret anymore, Mr. Butz. Ive even included a map on how to get here."
"That should be easy to stop," he countered.
"Yes, if I hadnt made sure my program was protected. It only allows you so many times to log in, and if you fail, it automatically sends out the message."
"I warn you, Mr. Barnes, I can make your life here most uncomfortable," Dennis threatened.
"No, I dont think so," she replied calmly. "Even if you dont give into my demands, people will read about what you did to me, and demand that I be returned back to my old self. So you see, Mr. Butz, one way or the other you will change me back."
"Thats all you want?" Judge Herns asked in a testy voice. "We change you back into who you once were, and youll turn off this bomb of yours and go away."
"No, not quite," the little girl smiled. "First of all, Im not a fool, Judge. I know that the moment I turn off my bomb, you could change me back into this form again. So I designed the bomb so it can't be turned off ever. As added insurance, it changes the password each time I log in. Im the only one who can figure out what the new password is, and this is the only way to prevent the bomb from going off. Of course, such hard work on my part will require a large salary a very large salary."
Judge Herns face turned beet red. She slammed her fist on the desk in raw anger and stood so Chris Barnes would have to look up at her. "Now let me tell you something little girl. Im not about to reward someone for hacking into our system and causing the death of FIVE INNOCENT PEOPLE! Forget about Mr. Butz, its me you have to be concerned with!"
"Judge," Dennis held up his hand. "We should discuss this matter in private. Right now I think we need to find Miss Barnes here a place to stay."
Suddenly Judge Herns picked up on what the director was saying, and smiled evilly. "Yes, youre quite right, Dennis. Little Chris must be tired from her trip."
"My weekly salary just went up by 15% for that crack," she shot back.
"So did my revenge factor," Judge Herns spatted out. Without notice a white ball shot out of her hands and stuck Chris in the chest. The little girl took a few steps back in surprise."
"What the hell?" she shouted. Suddenly she began to shrink. "Whats going on? Whats happening to me? Im get getting small " Suddenly the room was filled with the wail of a crying baby. Judge Herns walked around to where the baby was lying, and picked her up.
"There, there, little one," she cooed. "The judge is going to make sure youre well taken care of during your stay here." There was a knock on the door. "See, theres your new mommy now, Chris. Oh, shes going to take real good care of you. Shell feed you, and change your diaper, and dress you up in the prettiest outfits. Wont that be wonderful?"
The baby seemed to cry even louder at the suggestion. Judge Herns grinned as she opened the door, and let a young, attractive redhead in.
"Oh my," the temp said to the judge. "I hope she didnt cry like this the entire time, Your Honor."
"She just misses her mommy," Judge Herns explained with a smile. "Why dont you take her home, Darlene, and give her some extra love. Im sure shell just love it."
"Okay, Your Honor. Its okay, Chris honey. Mommys going to give you a bath when we get home." The woman continued to talk to the baby as Dennis closed the door.
"Wasnt that a bit much?" I asked.
"I was going to turn the brat into a cocker-spaniel," June replied in a serious tone. "It looks like we may have to take Judge Jasper up on his offer after all."
"Wait, arent you even going to try to stop the bomb?" I asked.
"Miss Anderson," Dennis explained patiently. "Chris Barnes is a very talented man. Its unlikely we have anyone here who could crack his code by tomorrow night. Of course well try, but the odds arent very good."
"Then get someone like Chris Barnes to come in and stop it."
"I dont know of anyone like that who we can trust," Dennis replied curtly.
"Then change Chris back and give into his demands," I responded. Dennis and Judge Herns looked uncomfortable at my suggestion. "What?"
"I cant turn him back, Linda," June Herns said. "When I transform someone, its a two step process and part of the original DNA remains in the body. Mr. Barnes only got one step of it, the transformation side. Hes lucky to be alive."
"Thats why Mr. Barnes didnt get sick like Mr. Warner. His cell structure never broke down."
"Thats correct, Linda," June told me. "Because Mr. Barnes body wasnt prepared first, my process did a shock treatment to his body. In this case, all his DNA was destroyed."
"Then use Dr. Jensens serum to change him back," I suggested. "Surely you can find his DNA scattered throughout his place. Hair samples or fingernail clippings, things of that nature
"Using the serum would kill him," Dennis answered truthfully. "In this case, the effects from Judge Herns transformation arent, for lack of a better term, normal. He couldnt handle the effects of what the serum would do to his body."
"What about reading his mind then? Find out what the code is and stop the bomb from going off."
Judge Herns answered me this time. "Reading minds isnt an exact science, Linda. Not only that; from what Mr. Barnes told us the bomb cant be defused, it can only be delayed from going off. I sensed that he was being truthful when he told us that part. He even hinted that he doesnt know what the code will be each time. Somehow hes rigged it so only he can figure it out. I could read his mind each time, but it would have long lasting effects that would harm him. Besides, he may figure out a way to lie to me and set the bomb off anyway. So you see, thats not an option either."
I could see the fix they were in. They couldnt change Mr. Barnes back without killing him, and they couldnt get the information that they needed to stop the bomb. In a nutshell, there was no way to deal with Chris Barnes even if Judge Herns and Dennis were wanted too. It was a no-win situation for everyone. Then an idea flashed into my head.
"Dennis, supposing I know of someone who could help."
"Whats his name?" he asked in a suspicious tone.
"Rob," I replied, deliberately leaving off the last name. "Hes helped me out before with some other cases."
"Was one of these cases Al Parker?" Dennis demanded to know.
"Does it matter?" I asked.
"Yes, it matters a great deal, Miss Anderson," he said in a pointed manner.
"Linda," Judge Herns interrupted. "Even if he were that good, it takes time to set things up."
"Not if we do it my way, June. Look, I can go to his place and ask for his help. I know Rob; hes trustworthy. Ill need about $5,000, thats all."
"Give me the address and Ill send someone out there," Dennis said.
"No, he wouldnt trust you, Dennis. Rob is kind of skittish around new faces. He only works with people he knows."
"And how does this Rob fellow know Linda Anderson?" Judge Herns asked directly.
"He doesnt," I told her. "But he knows Tom McClain."
Judge Herns saw where I was going, and responded firmly, "No way, Linda. Theres no way Im changing you back into him so dont even start with me."
"Judge, you dont have a choice," I explained. "The only one who can get his co-operation is Tom. I know we can defuse this mail bomb if you give me the chance. I promise, I wont tell him anything about Andersonville or myself. After the job is done, Ill come right back. Itll be just a few hours, whats the problem?"
"Because itll be a few hours," Judge Herns answered in a way that didnt leave room for arguing. "Youre Linda Anderson now, not Tom McClain. This little vacation from your current, and permanent life, could ruin everything youve worked so hard to achieve."
"You mean everything youve worked to achieve," I replied in a testy tone. "I never wanted to become her in the first place."
"Im not going to argue with you about this, Linda. I wont let you keep going back and forth between the two."
"Im sorry, June, but these are my conditions take it or leave it. But keep this in mind; Im the last hope you have at solving this problem. Beside, Your Honor, Ill still think of myself as Linda even if Im not her at the moment."
"Let me get this straight, Miss Anderson," Dennis interrupted. "Youll help us out as long as its Tom who meets with this Rob fellow. We allow that, and you promise to do what you can to fix this problem."
"Thats correct, Mr. Butz. You let me go and Ill do my best to convince Rob to defuse the bomb."
"You give me your word on this?" he asked sternly.
"My word," I replied honestly. "Ill be a good boy while Im away, I promise."
"Go home," he said. "Get some sleep and be here at seven in the morning sharp. Also, I want you to wear the most feminine dress you have."
"Or skirt if you prefer," Dennis expounded. "Just make sure the outfit leaves no doubt that youre a girl inside and out.
"Why?" I demanded to know.
"Because those are my conditions," he answered in a frosty tone.
"Fine," I snapped. "If it gets me away from you for a few hours Ill do it, Mr. Butz. Id run around naked in the middle of downtown Chicago if I had to." I grabbed my purse in a fit of anger and rushed out the door. Why did Dennis have to be such a bastard at times?
After I was gone, Judge Herns turned to Dennis with a glare. "How dare you make a deal with her without consulting with me first. I have no intentions of turn her back into Tom McClain."
"Did I say mention anything about Linda becoming Tom again?" he smirked.
I had outdone myself this time. I was dressed in a short, dark blue skirt that rested a full two inches above my knees. I also added an off-white, silky blouse, and tailored jacket that matched the skirt. Black hose adorned my legs, and I wore 3-inch heels that hurt my feet since I wasnt used to them. I took an hour on my makeup, making sure my mascara and eye shadow were perfect. I painted my lips with two shades of pink lipstick, and went heavy with my jewelry. I felt like I was dressed a few steps above a hooker, but I didnt want to take any chances on Dennis backing out on his deal because of the way I looked. Staring at myself in the mirror, I was a girl through and through.
As I drove to work I couldnt help but feel a little excited. I was going to be a man again. Maybe Judge Herns was right, maybe being Tom would make me less acceptable of my new life. Well I didnt care. I felt like I needed a reprieve from my current situation. It was a pity that it would only last as long as the problem existed.
When I arrived at my office Dennis was already there, dressed in his three-piece suit and looking as smug as ever.
"Good morning, Miss Anderson," he said. "You look very lovely today. Hot lunch date?"
"Cute Dennis," I snapped sarcastically. "I met your conditions, now I want you to honor yours."
"Not so fast, Miss Anderson," he interrupted. "I want to make sure were clear here. You promise to help us out, not tell anyone about Andersonville, or run away, as long as its Tom who meets with your friend, Rob."
"Yes, thats correct," I told him. "My word and all."
"You realize I cant let Tom go there alone. Someone is going to have to accompany him."
"I dont care who it is, just as long as its not YOU," I hissed.
He nodded with satisfaction. "Dont worry, it wont be. Follow me."
We went into Judge Herns office, where the judge was already sitting there having a cup of coffee with another man. When she saw me walk in, a smile appeared on her face. Immediately I knew something was up.
"Linda," Dennis said in professional tone. "Ill like you to meet Tom McClain."
The man turned grinning, and almost laughed. "Hello Linda, Ive heard so much about you." He held out his hand to me, which I immediately rejected.
"What the HELL is this?" I snapped at Dennis.
"Im satisfying your condition," he replied. "Tom here is going to meet with your friend, Rob, just as we agreed upon."
"Thats not what we agreed on," I shot back. "You were suppose to turned me back into myself so I could do this job."
"Yourself," Judge Herns said with raised eyebrows. "I thought you said you believed you were Linda Anderson."
I ignored her comment and looked at Dennis with fire in my eyes. "Youre not going to trick me this time, Mr. Butz. You know damn well what I wanted from you."
"Perhaps, but this is what you agreed to," he answered. "Now calm down, Linda. Youre going on this trip too as Toms girlfriend."
"All right," Tom smiled with bedroom eyes.
"Forget it," I snapped at him. "Im not that type of girlfriend. Nor am Im going under these conditions, Mr. Butz."
"You agreed to these conditions," he pointed out.
"You tricked me AGAIN!" I argued. "You werent up-front or honest with me. Theres nothing you can say that will change my mind."
"What about your parents?" Judge Herns interrupted. "How about your brother Steve, or your sister Jennifer?"
"What about them?"
"Its simple, Linda," the judge explained. "If we cant stop this bomb, and the information does get out, well have to shut Andersonville down. Something has to be done with the people here; we just cant turn them loose. How happy do you think your family will be living in Peace River?"
"A threat, June?" I responded with bitterness.
"Im simply laying the cards out on the table for you, Linda," she replied crisply. "If you fail, Ill have no choice but to turn everyone over to my ex-husband."
"You know he cant use people like Steves girlfriend, Sally Rider. What happens to her, and people like her, if they get sent there?"
"Im sorry, Linda," she spoke softly and not answering my question. "Their fates are in your hands. Should I call Judge Jasper now so we can start making moving arrangements, or wait to see if you can stop this from happening?"
"All right, Ill go," I agreed reluctantly. "But it would be a hell of a lot easier if I went as Tom McClain.
"Im sorry, Linda, but I cant allow that to happen," Judge Herns said. "In time youll thank me for this."
"Fat chance," I muttered under my breath.
"Here are your rental papers." Dennis handed Tom an envelope. "Therell be a car waiting for you in Denver. Report in as soon as you get the bomb deactivated. If you fail, meet me a point Zulu."
"Ill do my best, Dennis," Tom replied.
"Good luck," he told us.
"What are you staring at?" I asked as I drove to our destination. My partner had wanted to drive, but I had refused to let him play chauffeur for me. Besides, I was the only one who knew where we were going.
"Im sorry," he smiled. "Youre just so beautiful."
"Yea, well, Im dating someone so dont get any ideas."
"Is it serious?" he inquired. I didnt answer, but that didnt stop him from trying. "Look Linda, once this matter has been taken care of, why dont you and I go out and have some fun. I know of some great clubs in Denver."
"Dont you think our boss will get mad if we did?" I replied. "Im supposed to report back to Andersonville once this is all over."
"Aww, Dennis wouldnt mind if we did. Hes a nice guy. Come on, itd be fun. A nice dinner and a little dancing."
"Why stop there," I suggest. "We can get a motel room afterwards, and have a night of passionate sex."
"Really?" he asked hopefully.
I rolled my eyes. "Youre an idiot, you know that? If I were going to have sex with someone, it sure as hell wouldnt be with myself. I wondered what Sigmund Freud would say about that."
"Have a good time?" he joked.
"Funny," I replied sarcastically. It was eerie, but he was a lot like the old me.
"So, youve never had sex as a woman before?" he inquired.
"Im not sure a proper young lady talks about such things," I told him.
"Come on, Linda. Arent you the least bit curious about what its like? Im sure you had sex as a man."
"Well, yea, but its different now. Okay, maybe its a double standard, but I dont want to sleep with anyone just so I can find out what its like. If Im going to be stuck in this body for the rest of my life, I want my first time to be special."
"You should try it, Linda. I certainly have fond memories. Sex as a woman is absolutely wonderful."
"How in the hell would you know that?" I asked. Tom suddenly became very quiet and withdrawn over my question.
"Well, thats what Ive been told," he tried to recover.
"But thats not what you just said," I pressed. "You said you have fond memories of having sex as a women, or something to that effect. So who were you before you became me?"
"Thats not important," he said defensively. "Who I am now is Tom McClain, private eye."
"Yeah, why me?" I asked. "Why take over my life? You couldve been turned into a young stud, and had women drooling over you. So why did you become me?"
"Your life isnt so bad," he avoided the question. "You should see how many women get turned on when they find out Im a PI."
"You must be hiding," I deduced. "Thats the only reason why you would give up your old life to become me. From what you just said, you must have been a woman prior to this."
"Look, is it really that important?" he tried to change the subject.
I ignored him. "Dennis had you changed into me to hide you from someone. Someone who wouldnt wouldnt stop looking for you."
Suddenly it hit me who that someone was. I shot a glance over at Tom, who saw that I had just figured it out. He sighed and nodded.
"Youre that fool Jeff Summers was telling me about," I said.
Tom chuckled. "I see Jeff hasnt changed a bit since I last saw him. Yes, Im that fool. I spent enough time in Peace River that I wasnt willing to trade my new freedom in for the safety of living in Andersonville."
"Your Candy Lane?"
A thin smile appeared on his lips, my old lips. "I havent heard that name in years. Do you know, Linda, that I actually miss being her at times? I even considered being changed into a different woman, but I knew who I was deep inside."
"How long were you there?"
"Eleven long years," Tom said bitterly. "It wasnt totally bad, Ill admit that. Judge Jasper turned me into a ten-year-old girl. About six years later I met Lori Dillion, and she changed my life. We had some great times together. I was the maid of honor at her wedding bet you didnt know that. I wish you couldve known the Lori I knew, Linda. She was such a great leader and a good friend."
"How could you do this?" I asked. "How could you forget about her like that?"
"Forget about her?" Tom replied in an angry tone. "Im fighting for her freedom. Dennis promised that if I worked for him, he would help me free her and all the others who want to leave."
"And you believe him?"
"Why shouldnt I," he replied. "Dennis Butz has never lied to me before. Hes a great guy. One day I know shell be freed."
"Youre delusional," I told him. "Dennis Butz has no intention of freeing anyone in Peace River except his own people. Ive worked with him closely. Hes a secretive, son of a "
"SHUT UP!" Tom yelled. "You may not like or respect the man, but I do. What the hell do you know anyway? He protected me all these years; kept me safe from Judge Jasper and his people. Just because you dont like him doesnt mean hes a liar."
"I happen to know hes doing this for his own people, and not for ours," I shot back. "Hes even less concerned about your friends than Judge Jasper is. At least the Olympians cared about your feelings."
"If you had lived in Peace River as long as I did," he hissed, "you wouldnt say such a thing!"
I grew silent, knowing he had a point. I had been there for about 4 months; Candy had been there for eleven years. I had also been a guest in Peace River, and Jupiter had done his best to show me his good side. I had no idea how he treated his regular citizens.
"Im sorry, Tom. Youre right, I dont know what it was like for you. Will you forgive me for saying such a stupid thing?"
He smiled slightly. "A kiss from you would smooth things over."
"How about a kick in the ass instead?" I replied.
"Remember, Linda, let me do the talking. Rob is my friend, not yours. Youre just my girlfriend."
"Just your girlfriend?" I repeated mockingly. "Its amazing you get any dates at all."
"Come on, we dont have time for lovers spat right now," he smiled. Tom grabbed the bag containing the laptop, and walked me up to the front door. Rob lived in a rather modest, two-story house, despite the fact he made good money. I rang the doorbell, and a moment later we heard someone opening the door. Tom quickly put his arm around my waist.
"For appearances," he grinned, to which I gave him a deep frown. The front door opened, and I turned smiling.
"Hi Tom," Rob greeted us. "How have you been?"
"Fine, Rob. Been keeping myself busy. Got some work for you."
"Come in," Rob laughed. I could see him eyeing my legs as I walked past.
The first thing we saw was the living room, at least I think thats what room it was. There was a couch and a few chairs, along with books and piles of papers stacked everywhere. The place was a disaster area.
"Excuse the mess," he apologized when he saw me looking around. "Its the maids day off. By the way, who is this lovely woman?"
"This is my girlfriend, Linda," Tom announced boldly. "Linda, this is Rob Pioneer."
"Nice to meet you, Linda," he smiled.
"Tom has told me so much about you, Rob. I feel like Ive known you for a long time."
"Isnt she funny," Tom laughed. The next thing I knew, he was bending down to kiss me on the lips. Not wanting to blow our cover, I followed suit, the entire time cursing under my breath.
"I have a spare room in the back," Rob joked.
"Sorry," I smiled sheepishly, trying to play the part of a love-struck girlfriend. "Sometimes Tom cant control himself."
"Sometimes Linda cant control herself either, if you know what I mean," Tom winked at Rob. This caused Rob to grin even more. It took all my self-control not to belt my new, unwanted boyfriend in the chops.
"Well, business first," Tom announced. "Heres the problem, Rob. My client is in a real jam. An ex-employee of theirs has stolen some sensitive information and placed it on the Internet. Hes threatening to send the information around the world unless they give into his demands before nine oclock tonight."
"How is it controlled?" Rob asked.
"We dont know," Tom answered.
"He said something about a bomb with a code," I threw out. "The only way to defuse it is to enter in the code, but I think hes looking for a long term relationship here. He claims the code changes each week and the bomb cant be shut down. He also said if anyone tries to break the code and fails, itll automatically send the file out."
"Sounds like he has a database with questions that only he knows the answers to," Rob replied. "Any idea where this site is at?"
"We were hoping you would know, Rob," answered Tom.
"Well, lets have a look at the computer. We can work on the kitchen table its about the only clear space I have around here."
"Great," Tom said. "Linda can make us some sandwiches while we work, wont you sugar-buns?"
His suggestion caught me by surprise. I smiled and said, "Of course, honey." Rob chuckled and headed for the kitchen. I grabbed hold of Toms arm and whispered, "What the hell do you think youre doing ordering me around like that?"
"Just trying to keep up the appearances," he grinned.
"Dont bury yourself in the part," I hissed softly. "You may not like some of the things I come up with."
"Im willing to take my chances," he replied humorously. "Do any of them involve whips or chains?"
I ignored his male sexist sense of humor, and joined Rob in the kitchen. As I was making sandwiches, they set the computer up. Rob plugged in the power cord and an Internet cable. Once the computer was operational, Rob started searching the files too see what was out there.
"Most of the stuff on here is about six months old," he informed us.
"So that should help, shouldnt it?" I asked. "All you have to do is look for files done in the past day."
"Linda, please," Tom interrupted. "My friend is a master with computers, he doesnt need your help. Now why dont you be a good girl and fix us those sandwiches."
I shot Tom a glare, which he responded to by puckering up his lips and blowing me a kiss.
"Found something," Rob announced. "A couple of addresses. I think this is what youre looking for. Lets check them out."
He logged into the Internet, and carefully checked the file so he wouldnt trip anything. After a few minutes of looking, he frowned.
"This is going to take a while."
Rob had been working on the problem for five hours straight without a break. He had managed to disable one of the bobby-traps, which enabled him to download part of the bomb. The computer wizard had wanted to use one of his own computers to do that, but Tom informed him that his client had insisted only the computers that he had brought along be used. For that I was glad. If Rob had used one of his own computers, there would be doubts on Dennis part about how much Rob had found out. This way there could be no doubts, not with Tom watching his every move.
Reluctantly Rob agreed. However, disabling the first trap had been the easy part. He still hadnt figured out a way to stop the bomb from going off. Finally the computer expert stepped away from the computer.
"Whats up, buddy?" Tom asked.
"Im sorry," Rob shook his head. "I can do it, but Ill need at least a day or more. This employee of theirs was one smart cookie."
"You cant give up?" Tom said.
"Look Tom, even I have my limits," he explained. "I understand how the bomb works, its disabling the traps thats the problem. Trying to tap into the password database is going to take at least a full day based on how much Ive accomplished so far. There are two files, one with the questions and the others with the answers. Both are encrypted and protected with traps. The same thing goes for internal clock and program. Itll be a bitch to break into it."
"Then thats it," I said sadly. It was goodbye Andersonville, and hello Peace River. Tom, seeing my despair, walked over and gave me a hug.
"Ill protect you," he whispered into my ear. "I wont let them take you there."
"What about my family?" I asked. "Can you hide them as well? Its over, Tom. We better call Dennis and let him know."
"Um, guys," Rob interrupted. "Is there something I dont know about here?"
"Sorry Rob, I shouldve told you sooner," Tom said. "Lindas family will be hurt when this information gets out."
"Oh, Im sorry," Rob said sadly. "I wish there was something I could do." Then a small smile appeared on his face. "Guys, maybe weve been going about this the wrong way."
It was five minutes till nine when Judge Herns turned Chris from a baby back into her 8-year-old self. She smiled pleasantly and said, "So Mr. Barnes, did you enjoy having women take care of you all day. I guess I forgot to tell you about Mrs. Cooks three daughters. Theyre all at that age of wanting to take care of a little baby like yourself."
"Ill get you for this, cunt," Chris told the judge angrily.
"I dont think so," June answered with a snarl of her own. "Now that youve seen the power I have, perhaps you would like to reconsider your position." Judge Herns turned the laptop computer toward her.
"Tell me, Mr. Butz," Chris said without taking her eyes off Judge Herns. "Do you always let women fight your battles?"
"Always," he replied. "Especially when theyre right. Now my advice to you, Mr. Barnes, is to type in the code before its too late. Judge Herns is not someone you want to get on the bad side of."
Chris smiled with self-confidence. "You cant stop it. If you could you wouldnt need me to type in the code."
"Make it easier on yourself, Chris," Dennis suggested strongly. "What you do right now will have a strong influence on what we do next."
"Go to hell," the computer geek told him. "As I said before, either way I win. If I type in that code I buy you time time which you may be able to use to fix your problem." He looked at the clock. "You have two minutes left to turn me back NOW DO IT!"
"I think well wait," Dennis said taking a seat. Judge Herns leaned back in her chair to watch the seconds tick by.
"Youre fools," she told them. "We can still make a deal! You can trust me!" Neither the Judge nor Dennis said a word back to her.
Chris shrugged his shoulders and watched the minute hand slowly reached the 12.
"Its over!" she told them. "The email messages are going out like a virus. In a few hours everyone will know about this place, and my fate."
The little girl noticed there was a smirk on Dennis face, as if he knew something Chris didnt. The female judge was also acting funny, calmly waiting for whatever was to happen to happen. The computer beeped several times, indicating her account had just received several messages. Chris opened up her email and saw there were eight messages with the subject, "Warning Top Secret base the Government doesnt want you to know about."
"Its out there," she grinned from ear to ear. "You two idiots shouldve made a deal with me."
"Are you sure its there, Chris?" Judge Herns asked calmly.
"Theres eight, no, make that eleven emails waiting in my account from various lists that Im a member of. Im free! Its just a matter of time before Im released from here, and you know what the best part is? Im going to hire the best lawyer money can buy and sue your asses for everything you got."
"Perhaps, just to humor us," Dennis said, "you should read what was sent out."
"What?" Suddenly Chris felt ill. She clicked on one of the email messages and read the opening line. When she saw what it said, she screamed, "NOOOOOOOO!"
It was a Spam message, advertising for the best Child Pornography in the world. Already angry emails were being sent in reply to the message.
"You protected your bomb well," Dennis remarked. "However, you forgot about the contents. We were able to extract what you wrote, and replace it with something else."
"YOU RUINED ME!" she yelled like a little girl having a temper tantrum.
"You dont know the half of it," Dennis replied. "When the police raid your house later on, theyll find all the evidence they need to lock you up for the rest of your life.
"How could you do this to me?" she asked tearfully.
"Five people are dead because of you," Judge Herns told the little girl sternly. "You have yet to show any kind of remorse for what you did. In fact you tried to blackmail us. We gave you every opportunity to change your mind; what happened is as much your fault as it was ours. Since you have no contrition for your actions, I have none for mine. Now that our business is complete, theres nothing left but for me to return you back to your normal self." Judge Herns slowly pretended to raise her hands as if she were going to change Chris back.
"WAIT!" Chris cried. "Cant you fix this somehow? There must be another way."
Judge Herns lowered her hands, and a tight smile appeared on her lips. "There is another option open to you. You can stay here, protected from the law, in your current body."
"As a little girl?" she whimpered. "At least change me into a little boy."
"You havent done anything to deserve it, young lady," she replied sternly. "This is my final offer. Going once twice "
"Alright," Chris said in a broken tone. "Living here has to be better than prison."
Judge Herns raised her eyebrows at the little girl. "Lets get one thing straight here, Mr. Barnes. If you stay in my town, youll behave as a little girl should. I dont want you running around telling people youre Chris Barnes, do you understand me?" The judge frowned. "We need to do something about your name. We already have a Susie Carver living here. I think well call you Donna. Yes, thats a sweet name. Youll be known around town as the twins, Susie and Donna Carver."
"Cant I keep my real name?" the little girl begged. "Its a generic name."
Judge Herns shook her head. "No, that wont do. If youre going to accept who you are now, you need a name that wont remind you of who you once were." June stopped talking and laid a contract on her desk. "Sign here on the dotted line Mr. Barnes, if you accept my offer. I promise that if you do, youll be well taken care of."
Chris looked at Dennis who was standing there with a stony expression. She looked back at the female judge, who was also showing no signs of warmth toward her. To the both of them it was a simple business deal. Chris picked up a pen, and signed her real name one last time.
"Very good, Miss Carver," the judge said crisply. "Ill take care of the rest."
"What what happens now?" Chris asked. There was a knock on the door, and a tall man wearing a suit walked into the judges chambers. His eyes twinkled when he saw the little girl.
"Good evening, judge," he said sternly. "Donna, where have you BEEN? Your mother and I have been worried sick about you."
"She got lost in the park," Judge Herns explained. "One of the officers brought her here. Shes okay, but I suggest you keep a better eye on her next time, Stan."
"Thank you, Judge, Ill do that," the temp replied. He grabbed hold of Donnas hand. "I want you to tell the judge youre sorry for all the trouble youve caused."
Chris looked at Judge Herns, who was staring back at her with almost no emotion. "Im Im sorry for all the trouble Ive caused, Judge Herns." She turned to Dennis and said, "You too, Mr. Butz. Im very sorry."
"Come on, Donna," her father said as he dragged her out the door with his eyes flashing. "Your mother and I are going to have a serious conversation about this." Chris looked back at the judge with uncertainty, as she was lead away. Dennis closed the door and chuckled lightly.
"Whats so funny?" Judge Herns wanted to know.
"I was just thinking," he grinned slightly. "I guess you could say Donna is the twinkle in her fathers eyes."
Judge Herns smiled for a moment, then got very serious again. "Were not out of the woods yet. A lot of people suffered yesterday, and some may be scarred for life because of it. Its going to take a while for things to get back to normal again if we ever do."
"Maybe, and maybe not," Dennis replied. "The one thing Ive always admired about the human race is their ability to overcome tragedy. The people here will get past this in time, and become even stronger. Of course, Im going to make sure this never happens again. Therell be some major changes in how we do our transformations from now on. Im just glad the temps in the bunker are on their own system. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had gone down too."
"Yes, and I dont want to think about it," June answered. "I suppose one of us should call Linda and tell her the good news. Would you like the honors?"
Dennis frowned. "I have things to attend to. Ill let you inform her."
"You know Dennis, the two of you are going to have to sit down and work out your differences. Why not do it now?"
Immediately Dennis became defensive and glared at her. "Juno, Ive never interfered in your affairs before, please dont interfere in mine."
June Herns watched the director leave in a huff and let out a sigh of frustration. The judge cared about the Titan God almost as much as she cared about Linda. Somehow, someway, she needed to find a way to get them to make peace and work together again. Dennis didnt seem open to the idea; perhaps she would have better luck with Linda. The judge picked up her phone and dialed her secretarys number.
"You did a great job," Judge Herns told me over the phone. "The danger has passed, you can come home now."
Tom looked at me, and made a motion to ask.
"June, I was wondering about something. Do I have to come back right now?"
"Oh, do you have plans?"
"Well, sort of," I explained. "Tom wanted to take me out to celebrate." There was a moment of silence, and although I couldnt see it, I knew June was smiling on the other end.
"By all means, go out and have some fun, Linda. Just be back on the plane by one no, make that 3am."
I giggled. "Thanks, Your Honor. Have a good night."
"You too," she replied cheerfully. "I want to see you tomorrow morning at 11am to discuss these events. Im going to need your input on a few things. Goodnight."
I turned off the phone and looked at Tom.
"Well, what did she say?" he wanted to know.
"I dont have to be back at the plane until three."
"Great," he smiled. "I know of some great places we can go to." He stopped for a moment, and looked intensely into my eyes. "You know Linda, you really are beautiful."
"If you saw me when I first get up, you wouldnt say that." I laughed.
"Is that an offer?" he grinned.
I punched him in the arm and replied, "Stop being such a jerk all the time."
He laughed, then look at me in a serious manner. "This guy youre seeing, is it serious?"
"I dont know," I told him honestly. "I suppose I should tell you, its Officer Deimos."
"One of them," he stated with surprise. "Linda I know you can date who ever you want, but you shouldnt get involved with them that way."
"Im dating him, thats all," I explained. "Besides, whats it to you?"
"Well because because I think I love you."
"What?" I asked, not believing what I had just heard."
"I love you," he repeated. "I know its crazy, seeing that we just met and all, but Ive never felt this way before."
"Like what way?"
"Every part of me is shaking," he explained. "Youre all Ive been able to think about today. I really want to see you again."
"Look, this is getting a little freaky," I explained. "I mean, youre me, or what I used to be. I dont know if I can get use to dating myself."
"Look, can we kiss? If it doesnt work, at least well know, and Ill never bother you again."
"One kiss?" I asked. He nodded. "Okay."
Slowly he put his arms around me, and we embraced underneath the moonlight. I felt warm impulses throughout my body as he held me tightly. The rest of the world seemed to fade away, and we were one with each other. Finally we came up for air.
"That was wonderful," he said, keeping his arms wrapped around me. I didnt say a word it had been wonderful for me too, and that was a scary thought. If I gave into these feelings, I would be giving up any hope of becoming a man again. In a sense I already had, but there was still a part of me inside that didnt want to let go.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Im Im not sure."
"I just got a crazy idea, Linda. Marry me!"
"What?" I replied.
"You heard me, marry me. We can fly out to Las Vegas right now. In an hour we can be man and wife."
Suddenly the idea of being someones wife revolted me. "No I cant," I told him. I turned away from in frustration and confusion. "Crap, I dont even know who I am, Tom and I sure as hell dont know how I feel about you. Youre a total stranger to me!"
"Am I?" he asked gently. "I think we both know Im a lot like you in many ways, Linda. Considering my past, Im the only one who can really understand what youre going through."
I shook my head. "Youre not me. You may look like me, talk like me, and even dress like me but youre not me. Besides, if I went off and eloped my mother would never forgive me. She already has a big, fancy wedding planned out for me."
"Im going to marry you, Linda," he said confidently. "Ill wait if I have to, but Im going to marry you. Youll be seeing a lot more of me around Andersonville in the future if you let me that is. Im going to win you over."
"Well see," I smiled. However, there was something in the back of my mind that told me he was right. "Come on, Im hungry. You promised me a nice dinner."
"This way my lady," he laughed. Tom put his hand in mine, and led me to the car. For a moment, everything was right with the world.
Next episode Dr. Jensen I presume
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