"This is not good. I mean, on a scale of one to ten, where I'm reckoning ten is a free holiday in Miami, and one is finding out your blind date is Senator Bob Dole, this is somewhere about a minus fifty." Duncan stood up, paced a few times, and then sat down again. "This is definitely not good."

"No one's disagreeing with you, Dunc." Sydney tried to lean back in her chair, but it was hard and unrelenting, and she could get no comfort from it at all. "Where are we, anyway?" Three pairs of eyes turned to look at Oliver, who hovered uncertainly by the door. He looked back, feeling their gaze.


"Where are we?" Sydney frowned. "Look, you are supposed to be the expert in all this. Will you stop jigging about? You're making me feel nervous."

"Sorry." He did not look at all repentant. "We're in one of the main holding centres. I thought it had been abandoned, but obviously I was wrong."

"Main holding centres?" Samantha shivered. "That sounds long term. I'm not spending another seventeen years as a guest of the Committee."

"Relax, Sam." Sydney tried to smile reassuringly at her sister. "They won't keep us here all that long, will they Oliver?"

"I don't know. I really don't." He leant against the door, folding his arms, and stared back at them all. "They're sure to want to find out what we know, and if they haven't located your father yet, they'll want to know where he is too. After that…"

"You think they'll kill us." Samantha stood up, her voice accusing. "Don't you? They'll shoot us all, and then welcome you back into the fold. Good old Oliver Sampson, who handed the renegades over to save his own life."

"Sam!" Sydney sounded shocked, surprised that Oliver was not attempting to defend himself. "That's not how it happened, and you know it."

"Do I? How did they know where to find us? Somebody must have blown the whistle." Her twin took a step towards Oliver, eyes bright with anger and suspicion. "I say there's only one of us here who fits the bill. I told you we couldn't trust him."

"Well I trust him." Despite the months of frustration, and sometimes even hatred, that she had felt towards the odd, taciturn Briton, Sydney was now positive that he was one of the good guys, even if it was with a certain amount of reluctance on his part. She got the impression at times that he would much rather be on the other side, and not have to worry about looking after the Blooms.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" Looking distinctly hostile, Samantha stood in front of Oliver. "Aren't you going to tell us that it'll all be okay?"

"No." He shrugged, his expression unreadable. "They're Committee. They've been after us for weeks, and now they've got us. They'll get what they want, and then… who knows?"

"Like I said, this is not good." Duncan scowled, and kicked at the bare stone floor. "I hope you realise that I missed Scooby-Doo in order to be here."

Sydney smiled, glad that he was here with her, even if that was a little selfish. Everything had been going so well recently, that it seemed ridiculous to have been caught now. She had been reunited with her long lost sister, had discovered that the terrible memories of her childhood had been false, had learnt that her father was still alive, and had finally managed to bring her mother back from the coma-like state which had held her for so long. It had been like a fairy tale. With Oliver to lead them, they had gone on the run, desperate to keep one step ahead of the dangerous break-away faction of the Committee that wanted them dead. They had really felt as though they had been getting somewhere; and then, out of the blue, all this had happened. She and Oliver had gone out for a few moments, just to get some food from a nearby store, and had returned to the motel to find Duncan and Samantha being held at gun point by dark-suited Committee men. Sydney had thanked Heaven that her mother had not been with them. They had left her in a safe place, when she had decided that she was not up to life on the road just yet.

It had been a sombre gathering in that little motel room, as some disdainful Committee authority figure had taken Oliver's gun, and made them all line up against a wall. Duncan had tried speaking to them, but nobody had bothered answering. They had been interested only in taunting Oliver. Finally, angry and frustrated, he had tried to make a break, only to be hopelessly outnumbered. Dragged to the ground, he had been injected with something, then they were all loaded up into cars. Nobody had said a word throughout the long journey that followed. Sydney had tried speaking, but the wall of reticence which had greeted her had eventually broken her resolve, and she had lapsed into silence. She had been hauled unceremoniously from the car when it finally stopped, and together with her friends had been taken to this room and abandoned. They had seen nobody since, and the passage of the hours had become interminable. It was frustrating, just sitting here, waiting; but getting angry with each other was not going to help. Sydney was cross with Samantha for suspecting Oliver, but she could understand her sister's need to hit out at somebody. Sydney only wished that it was not the British agent. She had become oddly protective of him since the incident with Alex, and she was sure that he was concerned for her too.

"I-spy anyone?" Duncan was evidently feeling restless. The forced inactivity had been getting to them all.

"Shut up, Duncan." Samantha sat down heavily on a chair, glowering furiously at everything within range. Sydney could sympathise with the way that her sister felt, but she was more inclined to be optimistic. After all, they really didn't know yet just why they had been captured.

"What's the time?" Trying to prevent another argument, Sydney looked up at Oliver, still hovering by the door. He shrugged.

"No idea. They took my watch."


"Usual procedure. Helps isolate the prisoner."

She sighed. "I didn't realise you were such an expert."

"Long years of experience." He stared off into space. "Try to relax, Sydney; maybe get some sleep. They're only trying to psych you out. I know it's rough the first time, but--"

"Listen to the expert." Samantha sounded bitter, and looked guilty when her sister glared at her. "I'm sorry. I… I just don't like being here like this."

"I can appreciate that." Oliver turned his searching green eyes towards her. "I can also appreciate your distrust of me; a feeling which I can assure you is entirely mutual. I would suggest, however, that you attempt to be a little more polite to your friends."

Samantha smiled, glancing across at Sydney. "You know, maybe I could get to like him. He talks kind of like Daddy." They shared a smile, and Sydney reached out a hand for her sister to take. At least they were together, no matter what was going to happen to them.

The sound of a key in the door made everybody become suddenly alert, and Oliver backed away slightly, his body tense. Sydney watched him nervously, afraid that he might try something stupid. He hadn't been quite himself since that injection back at the motel. The door opened slowly, and several large guards entered at once. Obviously their hosts were taking no chances.

"Back off, Oliver." The voice was pleasant and friendly, and its owner appeared in the doorway shortly after the guards. He was a man of average height, aged about fifty, and dressed in the familiar dark suit favoured by Committee men. The ring of authority glittered on his finger.

"Adams. I thought you were just a desk man." Oliver had an edge of disdain in his voice, which the new arrival chose to ignore. Instead he laughed.

"Times change. I wanted to see a little more of the world. Turned out I was good at all this, so they invited me to stay." He glanced back at another man, standing just behind him. "What would you say, Stephen?"

"Three coded, one not." The other man stepped forward into the light, revealing himself to be an odd, nerdy looking man in large spectacles and a rumpled suit. The computer geek everybody had made fun of back in the eighties, who was now taking his revenge on the world for all its insults, Sydney thought, seeing dozens of other men in this one, small example. The little man pointed at her, and also at Samantha and Duncan. "Those three have all been coded for VR, presumably by Professor Bloom. Your Mr Sampson has not been coded." He smiled. "There's your subject."

"I rather thought as much. He's already had the preliminary injection." Adams favoured Oliver with a particularly large smile. "Come along, Sampson. Interrogation time."

"Whatever it is you want to know, I don't know it." Oliver had acquired a look of staunch determination. Adams laughed.

"Whatever it is you know, we'll soon know it. We have a fascinating new system to try out; I've been longing for a decent subject. Don't keep me waiting." He nodded at the guards, who stepped forwards to grab their intended victim. Oliver did not try to avoid them, but he glowered in their grip, and put up a token display of resistance as they dragged him from the room. Just before the door closed, Sydney felt herself inspired to act, and she jumped to her feet.

"Oliver!" she cried. The door clanged shut, and she caught a momentary glimpse of his face before he was pulled away. He flashed her a grin, and then was gone.

"Damn!" Angry with herself for not saying anything earlier, and also angry with Oliver for not fighting harder, Sydney leant against the door much as he had done before, and folded her arms around herself. "What do you suppose they'll do to him?"

"They probably want to know about Daddy." Samantha joined her sister, and put an arm around her, guiding her back to the chairs. "He'll be alright, Syd. He's one of them; they aren't going to hurt him."

"He's not one of them; not any more." She shivered. "Damn. I hate the Committee. I wish I'd never even heard of it."

"Thanks." Samantha smiled with dry amusement. "Does that include not getting me back?" Sydney laughed.

"Not entirely, no." She glanced up at Duncan. "What do you think, Dunc?"

"I think that I want to know what they're doing here." He scowled at the floor. "Maybe if I told them I'm a pacifist they'd let me go?"

"You could try." She smiled at him, glad of his humour. If only they all lived through this experience, she was sure they would be alright; she just wished that she knew what was going to happen next.


In the main corridor of the Committee Complex, a solitary figure wandered along, peering through doors and internal window with obvious interest. He was dressed in a rumpled sweater and trousers, and wore a long white lab coat. A vaguely overgrown black beard obscured most of his features, along with a pair of small, round lasses, which gave him the appearance of a true absent-minded scientist. He whistled nervously as he walked, and glanced about, as though expecting to be intercepted at any moment. Nobody questioned his presence, or asked for a closer look at the ID card clipped to his breast pocket, and soon he acquired a far more confident stance, and his strides grew longer and more assured. In no time at all he was on the second level.

There was one particular computer lab which the man was heading for, and he reached it unchallenged, breathing a sigh of relief as he entered. Several people stood at various consoles, but none looked at him as he walked in. He wandered up to a large sheet of glass which separated the control area from a large room beyond. There was a chair in the middle of the room, with a man strapped to it. He wore a VR visor. Several men in white coats milled around him, and one glanced up towards the window. He nodded sharply. Somebody pressed a button.

The intruder glanced up as a computer beside him kicked into life, beginning to work on some program. He caught the eye of one of the technicians, who blew out a breath in mock relief. The intruder returned his smile, and glanced down at the readings on the closest monitor. What he saw there made him gasp in shock.

"VR.10…" He whispered under his breath. A man beside him laughed shortly, mistaking the shock for disbelief.

"Takes some getting used to, doesn't it? I remember when we were trying to get the kinks worked out of level three." He shrugged. "Not that we've got the kinks worked out of ten, but we will."

"Eventually." The intruder forced a smile. "Would you excuse me? I have to be elsewhere."

"Of course." Stepping aside, the technician watched him go, then turned back to look at the monitor. There was evident approval on his face. This should be good.


Time seemed to be passing even slower, now that Oliver was gone. Sydney gazed at the door, hoping that they would bring him back at any moment; anxious to see that he was alright. She wasn't sure just when she had come to care so much about the infuriating Englishman, and in a way it worried her.

The sound of the door opening startled them all so much that they glanced up in sudden shock. Sydney rose to her feet, preparing for the worst. Anything was better than not knowing. This time, however, there were no guards, and no sinisterly friendly Adams. There was just a small, rumpled looking man with an untidy black beard. He glanced around at them all, and smiled.

"You're all here."

"Where else would we be?" There was open defiance in Sydney's tone. "What have you done with Oliver?"

"Oliver?" The man looked bewildered, then concerned. "Oh dear. Was he a friend of yours?"

"Was?" There was fear in her face now, and it seemed to disturb him.

"I don't mean…" He walked further into the room, tugging off the beard and glasses. "Sydney..."

"Daddy!" Samantha, too delighted to worry about the need for caution, ran towards him with her arms outstretched. "Daddy, I thought - I mean… I thought you were dead."

"Yes, I was beginning to think that way myself for a while." He grinned at her, then eased out of her grip, and approached Sydney. "Don't I get a hello too?"

"I" She stared at him for a moment, confused, then hugged him hard. "Daddy, you shouldn't be here. They're trying to catch you."

"I know. But I saw them get you, and I had to come. I couldn't very well leave you here, could I?" he shook Duncan's hand in greeting, then glanced round at them all, looking concerned. "Now what's all this about a man named Oliver?"

"Oliver Sampson." The fear had come back into Sydney's voice. "He was my Committee contact, but he went sort of AWOL, and joined up with us instead. They took him away for questioning."

"In that case, I rather think I know where he is." Professor Bloom looked thoughtful, and she brightened immediately.

"Does that mean we can go and rescue him?"

"Not exactly, no." He glanced from one to the other of his daughters, amazed at the difference between the worldly-wise, cynical Samantha, and her innocent-looking twin sister. It was hard to imagine just how different their lives had been over the last seventeen years. "Sydney, have you ever heard of VR.10?"

"VR.10? There's no such thing, surely?"

"Oh yes there is." His eyes met Samantha's, and he saw that she understood him. "I was working on higher levels before I decided to go my own way recently. VR.10 was an experiment that I had to abandon. It was dangerous. I erased all of my records of it; VR.9 too, as extra insurance. Somebody must have been keeping a closer eye on me than I thought."

"And?" Duncan, with his usual ability to cut through the preliminaries, was looking thoughtful. "This VR.10 is bad news, right? And I'm guessing it's what they're using on Oliver."

"If he's who I just saw, yes. Youngish fellow, brown hair. Dressed in a leather jacket and jeans." He frowned. "Didn't look much like a Committee man, as I remember. They tend to veer towards dark suits and boring ties."

"That's Oliver." Sydney had gone pale. "Spit it out, Dad. I want to know about VR.10."

"It's simple, really. It works in a very different way to what you're used to. It merges with the brain's regular thought patterns, and convinces the user that what he is experiencing is real life. When you're in VR.10 you don't know that you're in it, and it's very hard to come out. When I first began work on it, an assistant of mine experimented on himself, against my advice. It burnt out his brain completely. He could no longer comprehend reality."

"Oliver…" Sydney headed for the door. "We have to help him."

"Are you sure he's worth it?" He flinched under the intensity of her outraged glare. "I'm sorry, Sydney, but it has to be asked. He is one of them."

"One of you." She stood by the door, staring at him accusingly. "You're a member too, aren't you Dad? Don't think I don't know that."

"Alright. I suppose I deserved that." He nodded slowly, then turned to Duncan. "What do you think?"

"Me?" he frowned. "I think Oliver is one seriously annoying guy, who is asking to be taken apart by somebody." He shrugged. "But he's basically a good guy, and he's risked a lot for us. I think we should help him."

"Fine." Bloom looked down at his disguise, as though wondering whether to put it back on, then shrugged and threw it aside. "Come on. It's this way." He took the lead as they walked, hurrying down seemingly identical corridors. "I set up the original computer network here years ago, so I know the place pretty well. Here we are." He led them into the computer lab. It was empty. The technicians were all gone, and so were the observers who had been clustered around the chair earlier. The computers still whirred away to themselves, and the man in the chair was still strapped into place, the visor still fixed to his head.

"Oliver…" Sydney started forward, but her father caught her arm.

"No Sydney. If you bring him out too quickly you could kill him; or worse. We have to find a way to bring him out of the program."

"But I thought you said if we left him in for too long we might never get him back." She sounded tired, and very young. He nodded, wishing that there was some way he could make this easier for her.

"I know. I'm afraid that there's a right and a wrong way to do this, that's all. I just hope we can find the right way before it's too late. We don't have lot of time left."


Oliver leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling. They had told him about VR.10, and its infallibility, and warned him that he wouldn't remember the experience. That was nothing new; VR.5 was remembered only by those who were encoded for it, and that didn't include him. It was one of the reasons why he hated using it so much.

"It's all really very simple, Oliver." Adams had been as patronising as ever. "We give you an injection which helps to slow down your thought processes, and ensures that you're properly receptive to the VR world, and then we send you in. You had the injection back at the motel, am I right?"

"Stop skirting the issue, Adams." Oliver had been furious, hating the feeling of vulnerability from being forced to sit here, tied to the chair. "Just get on with it."

"Certainly, although I rather think you'll come to regret your haste." Adams had grinned at him, the latent sadism glistening in his eyes. Then he had turned smartly on his heel and departed, leaving Oliver to be immersed into VR. There had been a bright, blinding flash, and a moment of confusion; as though all of his senses had somehow become scrambled. Then there had been silence.

He sat on his own now, confused and vaguely bored. Contrary to what they had told him, he did remember the VR experience, at least in part. He remembered the swirling, dizzying ride through some kind of surreal world, and the confusing flash of the lights which had surrounded him. There had been voices, calling at him, shouting questions, and then there had been a long period of nothingness; just empty, featureless black, with no sense of up or down, and nothing at all to allay the feeling of isolation. Then the voices had begun shouting at him again, bombarding him with questions. Most of them were unanswerable, and the rest had been easy just to ignore. Now everything was silent. Somebody had come in and taken his visor away, and he was just sitting there, waiting for something else to happen. If that had been VR.10, he saw nothing about it that was special.

"Is he ready yet?" The voice sounded oddly familiar, although Oliver could not quite decide who it belonged to. A second voice answered the first.

"No idea. The VR program didn't seem to have much of an effect on him, so he's yours. See what you can come up with."

"I'll come up with something." There was arrogant confidence in the first voice; a kind of self-assurance that was quite off-putting. Oliver tried to catch a glimpse of the man, but he was standing just out of sight. His voice was so annoyingly familiar, and yet for some reason Oliver could not work out who it was. The voice didn't belong here. It wasn't right.

"They tell me you haven't been talking yet." There was a soft quality to the voice now, and its owner wandered around from behind the chair to stand next to Oliver. The imprisoned agent raised his head to look at the new arrival, and felt a trace of cold fear grow within him. Icy eyes stared at him, utterly devoid of emotion, and a cruel smile played across the lips of the man looking down at him. He was pulling on a pair of gloves, with cool, steady precision.

"You…" There was confusion in Oliver's voice, and the man laughed at him.

"Me," he agreed, with no apparent sense of remorse. "I was watching you all the time, Sampson. I'm sorry If I've disappointed you."

"But… you're a pacifist."

"I hated playing that part." Duncan smiled. "But it obviously fooled you. All too easily, I might say."

"You're Committee?" He was trying to play for time, and Duncan seemed happy to play along.

"Sure. They came to me when I was in college, and told me about the organisation. I was a bright kid. Top in everything. Not everybody gets brought in because of their families, you know. Some people actually join because they truly want to." He held up one hand, pulling off the glove far enough for Oliver to see the ring glittering on his finger. "First generation recruits have certain privileges."

"But Sydney… Samantha. They trust you." Oliver could not believe that this man had been hiding behind such an effective cover for so long.

"Yes, they do, don't they." He smiled. "Now quit stalling, Sampson. Are you ready to begin? Because I know I am."

"What can I tell you? You know everything that I do." Oliver was bewildered, but that did not stop him from being as stubborn as always. Duncan laughed.

"True. But I thought I really should make sure. I like to be thorough." He laid a hand on Oliver's shoulder. "So. Let's take it from the top, shall we?"


In the computer lab, Joseph Bloom ran his eyes down a set of figures, hoping that something here would give him a clue as to what program was running. The only truly effective way of bringing someone out of a deep VR trip was to go in a lead them out, and he was not going to allow anybody to do that. Duncan hung around by his shoulder, anxious to help but not knowing how. Samantha was sitting in a corner, looking detached and confused. She had tried to help at first, but the apparent uselessness of it all had got to her quickly, and she had given up. He didn't really blame her. From what he could see, the situation was hopeless.

"Look!" Sydney sounded worried, and he turned to look through the glass. Oliver had suddenly stiffened, straining against his restraints. They could see his muscles tense up, and saw the anger on his face. Bloom swung back to the consoles, deeply concerned. This looked serious.

"Isn't there something I can do to help?" Duncan sounded as worried as Sydney, and Bloom glanced up at him, his soft eyes showing his lack of faith.

"Not a lot, no." He sighed. "Look, I realise this man is a friend of yours, but if we stay here any longer, somebody is going to find us. Would he thank you for that?"

"No." Duncan frowned, looking past the professor to Sydney. "But we can't just leave him." Bloom saw something else in the young man's eyes, which could almost have been jealousy, and he smiled to himself. It was good to know that his daughter had had such a good friend over these past years, and it worried him that she might have chosen a Committee man in his place.

"Hang on, Oliver." Sydney had finally found the control which allowed her to open the glass panel and gain access to the room beyond. She walked cautiously over to the chair, trying to see past the VR visor to the man beyond. A momentary vision came to her, of when she had been lost in VR herself, sealed in the labyrinth after rescuing her mother from a similar fate. Duncan had gone in after her, taking Oliver with him. Without Sampson's long familiarity with the Committee symbol, they would never have made it out of that seemingly endless, tortuous maze. She had nearly got them all lost more than once, seeing things down other pathways, leading them off down dead ends. Oliver had always led them back onto the right path again. It had seemed like weeks before they had finally escaped.

"We'll get you out," she told him, hoping that it wasn't a lie. With sudden, surprising speed, his head swung around to face her, and she flinched under his scrutiny, even though she knew that he couldn't see her. She could see his lips move, although no sound came out. He was evidently speaking to someone in VR. She wondered who it was, and if he knew that it wasn't real. If he didn't, it might already be too late.


Oliver relaxed back into his chair, glad of the solitude. His head was still reeling from the betrayal. Duncan, of all people. Who would have thought that the soft-spoken pacifist was a Committee agent - and a ruthless one at that. The prisoner tried to relax, wishing that his hands were free, so that he could wipe the blood from his face. It tickled the skin around his eyes, irritating him, preventing him from seeking oblivion. He felt an eyelid begin to close, swelling up as a result of one particularly hard blow. His mouth was filled with the unpleasant taste of blood. At least he hadn't told Duncan anything. The interrogator had left, gone goodness knew where. Oliver didn't give a damn. There was no way he was going to let that man break him, not after all that he had done. He thought of Sydney, and how he was going to break it to her. How could he tell her that her oldest and most trusted friend was a Committee agent? It would break her heart.

"Ready to talk yet, Sampson?" It was a female voice this time, and again it was familiar. Oliver didn't need to try to catch a glimpse of the face to know who was speaking. He knew the voice's harsh edge and accusing tone only too well.

"Samantha?" His confusion was growing. Was he really this bad a judge of character? There had been a time when he had prided himself on his ability to tell who was to be trusted, although admittedly that had been before he had discovered Abernathy's betrayal.

"Surprised?" She laughed harshly, and wandered out into full view. He felt a surprising burst of pain, but had no idea if it was from his sense of personal loss, or just his loyalty to Sydney.

"I'd like to say no." He shook his head. "Why, Samantha? Why would you do this?"

"Because the Committee needs my father." She shrugged. "What does it matter to you? You'll be dead soon anyway." She smiled. "I was just a child when they decided to bring me closer in. I found that I agreed with them. My father is nothing, not when you compare it to the greater good of the Committee. They're my family, and they always have been." She stood in front of him, and he saw what she was holding in her hands, recognising it only too well. He had been on the wrong end of it only once before, and that had been enough. He had never seen it in the hands of his own people. It delivered an electric shock, powerful enough to kill on some settings. She smiled.


"Not of you, no. I don't know where your father is."

"I don't care. It's gone beyond that now." She laughed. "But I think you want to talk to me, Sampson. Or if not to me, then to somebody else." She gestured past the chair, and he glanced back. Another figure had come forward, stepping into the light. Sydney Bloom.

"What the-?" He gulped, and his eyes widened. "Sydney… But…"

"Not Sydney, no. Not as such." She laughed, leaning close. "I think it's time I came clean, Oliver. You see, the Committee didn't like how close you were getting, so they decided to get rid of Sydney. She's been dead for some time now."

"Then" She silenced him with a warning look, then pulled back and put a hand up to her face. In one smooth movement the mask came away, and he looked up at another face that he knew even better than Sydney's.

"Alex…." His voice sounded dead even to him, and his shoulders slumped. The weight of the world weighed down upon him. "Then you--"

"Never did give a damn." She smiled. "I actually rather enjoyed killing Sydney. She was so pathetic. Like a child."

"How…?" He shook his head, no longer wanting to hear the answers. It was all too much. Alex laughed at him.

"You're as bad as she was, Oliver. Weak. Caring. I thought you were above all that. You certainly used to like to pretend to be."

"It looks like we were all pretending." He frowned, confused beyond all measure. What the hell had been the point of it all, if they had all been operatives, and only he had been in the dark? Committee webs were woven more intricately than he had ever thought; woven just like a labyrinth in fact.

"So now what?" he asked. Alex shrugged, taking the torture device from Samantha.

"I show you what I'm best at," she told him, her voice dispassionate. He felt the resistance drain away from him; he no longer cared what they did. It all hurt too damned much. It was with a feeling of odd detachment that he prepared himself for what was to follow.


"He's getting worse." Sydney glanced back at her father, who was beginning to dismantle the computers in his haste. He had been counting off the minutes and the seconds under his breath, well aware when the cut-off point was. Three hours and fifteen minutes was the safe level. In VR.10, the program ran in real time, and an hour in there was an hour in the real world too. A minute longer than three hours and fifteen minutes, and Oliver Sampson would be a vegetable.

"Someone's coming." Glancing up from her new post by the door, Samantha looked concerned. "I can hear at least five of them."

"Oh great." Joseph Bloom glanced from the equipment back to Sydney. He could see that there was no way to move her in time, and if she was going to get caught, the least he could do was to be with her. He lowered his head. Liberty had felt good for those few, all too short, weeks.

"What do we do?" Duncan asked, poised and ready to run to get Sydney if necessary. Bloom shrugged his shoulders.

"What do you think? We'd never get out of here without them seeing us. We don't have a chance."

"I'm sorry." The young man looked repentant, although there was no real regret on his face. Bloom was intrigued how any member of the Committee could inspire so much loyalty among the very people who should have hated him the most.

"Does it matter?" Samantha reached for a gun, hanging in a holster on a hook by the door. Bloom smiled sadly, and took the weapon from her, much as he might have taken a dangerous object from her years ago, when she was just a small child, before any of this had happened. She didn't resist. They heard the footsteps grow louder, and then heard the door opening. Despite his sadness, Joseph was glad that they were together, but in his mind he was still counting. Oliver Sampson had been in VR.10 for three hours and twelve minutes. It looked as though it was all over for one of their party at least.


Oliver sunk back into the chair, ignoring the burning pain in his hands and arms. It had all been over much more quickly than he had thought, and they had left him alone. What for, he had no idea. Alex had laughed almost the whole time, hardly even bothering to ask him any questions. He shivered at the memory of her ice cold eyes. He had loved her so much. He remembered how it had hurt, when he had seen her die at the railway station. How had they faked that? The same way Abernathy had faked his own death, presumably. It didn't really matter now.

It was almost with relief that he saw Adams come back into the room, with the VR headset. Time to go back inside. At least there was only unreality there, and no trusted friends ready to reveal their true colours. He couldn't lose the thought of Sydney, murdered by Alex while her most trusted friend and neighbour ignored her cries for help. Maybe Duncan had even helped Alex to do it.

"Ready to go back in?" Adams put the visor on him without waiting for an answer. Oliver leant back, perfectly prepared to hide his pain in virtual reality. The confusion of lights and shouting voices surrounded him again, taking away all sense of time, all sense of consciousness. He lost himself in the surreal whirl of colour, and was almost sorry when the lights stopped, and he felt the program come to an end. Somebody took the visor off, and he found himself looking up into the face of the Keeper.


"Oliver? Are you okay?" There was real concern on the other man's face. Oliver blinked at him for a few moments, wondering if this man was about to reveal himself to be one of the bad guys too. "Oliver?"

"I'm fine." He was surprised how hard it was getting his voice to work. Perhaps things had effected him rather more than he might like to think. The Keeper nodded. He was a man of few words; all practicality and business, just as he had been the night that he had killed Abernathy, and saved Sydney's life. Alex's life, Oliver reminded himself. Sydney must have already been dead by then. The memory hurt him deeply.

"I'm sorry. I lost you after I had to report in a few days ago." The Keeper was undoing the restraints, helping Oliver to sit up properly in the chair. "One of our contacts said that you'd all been taken by the splinter group, and I came as quickly as I could. Are you sure you're okay? They had you in VR.10. Apparently it's very dangerous."

"I'm okay." Oliver stood up, glancing around. He saw Duncan and the other two being held at gun point a few feet away, and also Joseph Bloom. "That's--"

"Professor Bloom." The Keeper smiled. "He came here to try to rescue his daughters. He doesn't know yet."

"Poor man." Oliver straightened his jacket, momentarily surprised that the burns on his hands had gone. The Keeper put a hand on his shoulder.

"Take it easy, Oliver. You were pretty bashed up, so we gave you a drug to counteract some of the more unpleasant side effects. It does tend to cause drowsiness though."

"It's good stuff." Oliver rubbed his eyes. He did feel sleepy, but the bruises on his face seemed to have gone as well, which had to be a good thing. The memory of the pain still clung to him though, and so did the pain of his other, less tangible injuries. He walked up to Duncan and the others. Alex even looked relieved to see him. She had put the face mask back on, he noticed; presumably in an attempt to make Joseph Bloom believe that she was his daughter.

"Oliver?" She sounded worried, and he smiled sardonically at her, his eyes showing none of the pain that her mere presence caused him.

"Don't try it on, Alex," he told her, his voice harsh. She looked surprised.

"Oliver? Alex is… she's dead. I'm Sydney."

"Yes, that's what I thought too. Don't try to play your games with me now." He turned to Bloom, shutting out the faces of the other three altogether. "My name is Oliver Sampson, Professor. I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you this, but these people are not what they appear to be."

"They're not?" He had the voice of one who could no longer be surprised by anything. Oliver wondered if he would sound like that himself one day, or if he already did.

"No, sir. I'll have to ask you to step away from them, please." He gestured to one side. Bloom hesitated, and glanced across at his companions, then moved over to join Oliver.

"Thankyou sir." Oliver paused, then headed towards the door. "If you'll follow me this way, I'll see that you're taken care of."

"Of course." Bloom was perfectly willing to co-operate, and Oliver led him towards the Keeper, waiting patiently just inside the room. Alex called out to them as they left, and Oliver was amazed at the standard of her performance. She sounded as though she had convinced herself that she was the one being betrayed.

"What's going on?" Bloom asked cautiously. "Or am I not allowed to know?"

"You're allowed." The Keeper flashed another one of his amiable smiles. "I'm sorry, Professor. It looks as though the splinter faction of the Committee got to your friends before we could. They've gone over, all three of them."

And that isn't the half of it… Oliver thought, wondering when they were planning to tell the professor about his daughter. Bloom sighed.

"Oh dear. This is worse than I thought."

"I'm sorry sir. You have my deepest sympathies." The Keeper indicated Oliver. "This is Oliver Sampson, one of our field operatives. He was working on the Bloom case. The splinter faction have made his death quite a high priority, so I'm assigning your protection to him." He indicated a door. "Everything that you both need is in here. I have to ask you not to leave until we can get your security details sorted out." He smiled again. "I'll see you later. I have other business to attend to." He left.

Oliver opened the indicated door, and stood aside to allow Bloom to enter first. The older man wandered through the door, looking tired and uncertain. Oliver could sympathise with him entirely. It was all such a bloody mess.

"Looks very comfortable." Bloom gestured at the room.

"Yeah." Oliver wandered over to a chair and sat down, feeling the sorrow grow within him. This was going to be a very long day.


"You okay Syd?" Sitting down beside her, Duncan laid a hand on his old friend's shoulder. She smiled weakly.

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"Like hell you are. I told you we couldn't trust that Committee bastard." Samantha was pacing, her movements radiating anger and frustration. "What the hell was he talking about?"

"Alex… He thought I was Alex." Sydney was shaking her head. "That's crazy, Duncan, you know it is. Alex is dead."

"Who exactly is Alex?" Finally calling a halt to her relentless pacing, Samantha sat down on an adjacent chair. "Some friend of his?"

"Alex… Alexis Miller. You're supposed to know her. She said she knew you. It was our first real link to the fact that you might still be alive." Sydney was frowning. "She was murdered by… by the Committee I suppose. Because of her involvement with Oliver, or… or something."

"Alexis Miller?" Samantha looked thoughtful. "The name does kind of ring a bell. It's a bit vague though." She whistled. "Boy, VR really did scramble his brain if he thinks you're his dead girlfriend."

"Nice going Sam." Duncan rolled his eyes. "Look, Syd, Oliver's a pretty clever guy. He knows what he's doing, and he knows the Committee."

"But he doesn't know VR. He was helpless in VR.5, let alone level ten. Daddy didn't seem to think even he could have handled that." She sighed. "Look, I… I'm sorry. I think this is all getting to me."

"I know how that one feels." Samantha stared about at the bare, bleak walls. They had been returned to their previous cell, and the sensation was one of having taken one step forward only to have fallen back six or seven. It was not terribly inspiring. "I hope Daddy knows what he's doing."

"He seemed to." Duncan shrugged. "Maybe he guessed something was up with Oliver, and decided to try to figure out what's going on."

"Maybe. If anybody can help Oliver, it's Daddy." Sydney seemed to take some comfort from the thought, but her sister looked less confident.

"Who's going to help Daddy?" she asked. They all exchanged looks. Duncan tried on a coaxing smile.

"Relax. He'll be fine. We have to worry about ourselves right now." He glanced towards the door, afraid that any moment, somebody would be coming to take another one of them away to try out VR.10. The experience seemed to have changed Oliver completely, and if that was the case, Duncan was not looking forward to the prospect that one of them could be next.


"What do you remember about VR.10, Oliver?" Sitting down on one of the easy chairs centred around a long, low coffee table, Joseph Bloom tried to catch his companion's eye. Sampson shrugged.

"Bits and pieces. It didn't last long."

"Have you ever been into any other VR level?"

The younger man glanced up. "Of course. Lower level stuff is used in training. And I've been into VR.5 and VR.7."

"And?" This time he got a smile in reply.

"Well... I don't really remember a lot, but let's just say that those experiences weren't exactly pleasant."

Bloom tried to smile back.

"Okay… Let's start with the basics then. Can you tell when you're in VR?"

"Of course. It feels odd. Not right. It feels sort of virtual, I suppose."

"And how did VR.10 feel? The same?"

"More or less." He frowned. "Professor… What's all this about?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing. Just scientific curiosity." He smiled again. "About the others."

"What about them?"

"Are you sure they're on the other side?"

Oliver paused before answering, watching the other man carefully.

"I'm sure," he said finally. "They were there, in the interrogation room."

"They interrogated you?" Bloom leaned back. "That would seem to indicate what side they're on." His face became more gentle. "Did they give you a rough time?"

"You could say that." Anger suddenly flared through him, and he jerked to his feet, pacing restlessly. "I trusted them! We've been together now for months, and then to suddenly find out that--" He stopped, both in word and in movement, and stared at Bloom. "I'm sorry. I've been assigned to protect you, not tell you my problems."

"It's okay." Bloom regarded him thoughtfully for a few moments before he spoke again. "You called my daughter Alex."

"Yes. I'm sorry about that."

"So speak on." There was another pause. Oliver sighed.

"I'm sorry, professor. She… showed me. She isn't Sydney. Sydney's dead. She's Alex."


"Alexis Miller." He sounded dulled, as though all of the vitality had suddenly drained from inside him. "She's one of them too."

"I see." He nodded slowly. "That's a lot of betrayals to take in in one day. Are you going to be okay?"

"Of course I will." Oliver sounded angry, at the world and at everything in it. "I was always okay in the past. I was a fool to think I could trust them. I never trusted anyone before, and I don't see why I shouldn't go back to being the same way again."

"A proper Committee man." There was a trace of irony to the professor's voice. Oliver glared at him.

"What's wrong with that? They're all that I have now."

"I know." Bloom rested his chin on a hand, staring at the coffee table. "Don't you think it's all just a little bit neat?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean all this. All of your friends betraying you. Leaving you with nobody but the Committee to turn to; all just as you were planning to leave it."

"You can't leave the Committee." Oliver gave a wan smile, and headed for the bunks in one corner of the room. He lay down, gazing at the ceiling. "You're born at the gateway to the labyrinth, and every second of your life takes you further in. Pretty soon you've left the exit far behind you, and the only way to go is deeper." He sounded bleak.

"You found a way out," Joseph told him. Oliver glanced across at him, and smiled sadly.

"I thought I had," he said softly. "I found a group of people that I cared about, and I tried to help them. That all blew up in my face, professor. It's not going to happen again."

"And if I refuse to believe that my daughters are enemy agents?"

"That's you're prerogative, isn't it." He rolled over, turning his back to Bloom, staring mutely at the wall. Bloom watched him for a while, then sighed and closed his eyes to think. Part of him was telling him to be sympathetic to Oliver, and the way that VR.10 had hurt him, but part of him was screaming warnings that just had to be heard. It was all so neat; so well-constructed. VR.10 was far more random than that. Suppose… just suppose that what Oliver was saying was the truth. Was there a chance that the others were traitors? He frowned. That was just the problem. When you were dealing with the Committee, anything was possible, and there was nobody at all that could be trusted.


"I keep thinking… What if it wasn't Oliver who was put into VR. What if it was one of us?" Duncan smiled in awkward embarrassment. "Sorry. Not very helpful, huh? It's just… Well what if that is what happened? Would we know?"

"You mean, if this is all just VR.10?" Samantha blew out a long breath. "No, we wouldn't. VR.10 is indistinguishable from real life. This could easily be just a program."

"Meaning that we have no way of telling what's real?" Sydney shivered. "I mean, I feel real, so if any of us is in VR, it's me. I know I'm not a program."

"Just what a VR creation would be expected to say." Samantha rubbed her eyes, looking tired. "Like I said, VR.10 is as real as it gets. The people inside it are constructed from within the subject's own mind. They're fully dimensional. Daddy was working on a theory that they might even believe themselves to be real; that they might be capable of independent thought and actions. If one of us in is VR.10 right now, the others wouldn't be aware of it either. We could just be computerised creations."

"Now that is spooky." Duncan bit his lip. "So what do we believe?"

"Nothing." Samantha flashed him a small, almost apologetic smile. "Sorry, but you suggested it."

"Yeah, I know." He ran a hand through his hair, looking almost freaked out by the new possibilities that he had just opened up. "If this is VR.10, what's it supposed to achieve?"

"It's a form of brainwashing technique. That's all that Daddy could see it being used for. It's why he shut down his work on it." Samantha shrugged. "Maybe they want to turn us all into proper Committee members."

"Hardly. They've been trying to kill us for weeks. Why suddenly change their minds?" Sydney shook her head. Duncan smiled hesitantly, another idea coming to him.

"Have they?" he asked, his voice oddly strained. "I mean… how do we know that all that was real? Maybe that was just a VR program too?"

"What was? The whole of the last few months? Or the whole of our lives since 1978? You're getting paranoid, Duncan." Sydney was arguing with him, but he could see the doubt in her eyes. This new line of thought was sucking her in too.

"I don't know, Syd…" He stood up, and wandered over to the door, gazing out through the small window. "I'm just saying, if this VR.10 is so real, and if you're not supposed to be able to tell the difference, we can't believe any memories we have; of anything connected to the Committee. We can't trust anybody; even each other. Any of us could be just part of the program. We may not even be who we think we are."

"Thanks Duncan." Samantha was turning his words over in her mind, and he could see that she was coming to the same conclusion he had just reached himself. It was like being stuck in a labyrinth, and not knowing which route was the right one to take. They were all confused now, stuck with this new fear. It mixed everything up. He tried not to think about it, but the damage was done. He had started the ball rolling, and now he was going to have to live with the consequences. He thought that he had known these two women for the whole of his life, and yet now he couldn't help worrying that he didn't know them at all. He might not even truly exist. He shivered, and tried to shut out the thoughts; but whatever he did, they just kept coming back.


The door opened, and the Keeper walked in, carrying two passes and a gun. He handed the latter to Oliver, who checked the clip, and smiled grimly. He hadn't felt dressed without a weapon, but now he had one again. It was like being handed a badge of office. The Keeper smiled at him.

"Welcome back, Oliver."

"Yeah, thanks." He smiled. "I'm sorry. I've been a fool."

"Not really. You were being manipulated by the split faction. They've done the same thing to a lot of older and wiser people." He smiled. "Just think twice before you make the same mistake again."

"I will." Oliver stuck the gun into his belt, looking with interest at the passes. "What are these?"

"Your security clearances." He handed them one each. "These will get you about the complex without any trouble." He smiled. "Although it would seem that Professor Bloom is rather adept at accomplishing that without any official clearance."

"I built most of the security computers." Bloom smiled. "They know me."

"I'll remember that." The Keeper turned back to Oliver. "There are some higher level operatives upstairs. They'd like a word with you. Third floor, room seven. Can you find your own way?"

"Yes, of course." Oliver left immediately, striding away like a man with a true purpose. Bloom watched him go, then turned back to the Keeper, wondering whether this man could be trusted, or whether he was just all a part of whatever conspiracy was going on here.

"What about me?" he asked. The Keeper shrugged.

"You can do what you like," he said, speaking as though he didn't much care. "Don't leave the building without a guard, and don't go anywhere near the detention section. There's a computer lab on the second floor. Room seventeen. If you want it, it's yours."

"Thankyou." Bloom watched him go, making no attempt to leave the room himself. He felt safe in here. He was probably being watched, but at least here he was on his own, and there was nobody trying to pretend to be what they weren't. He stared out of the door, at the corridors beyond, thinking of all the people marching about, doing whatever it was they were scheduled to do; all of them Committee members. All of them following the Committee agenda. He didn't trust any of them; not one single person. That was the problem when you lived in the labyrinth.


"Oliver Sampson." Oliver stood to a vague appearance of attention, and glanced around at the men sitting at the table. There were five of them, all dressed in identical black suits, with ties in varying shades of grey. They stared back at him, typical authority figures, appraising and serious.

"Welcome back." Offering a sudden and unexpected smile, one of the men stood up and gestured to a chair. Oliver shook his head, preferring to stand. The man shrugged. "Your choice. How do you feel?"

"Confused." He glanced around at the other men. "What's going on here?"

"Just a debriefing. You're being brought back in, Oliver. Back to where you're safe." He smiled again. "Things have been a little… disorganised recently. I'm sorry about that."

"Disorganised?" He frowned. "You people have your own language, don't you."

"I can understand your anger, Oliver." The man shrugged. "But you're directing it at the wrong people. We've all been betrayed, you know. For a time, we thought it was you who had betrayed us, but now we know that you were just a victim too. The split has reached higher up than we had imagined."

"Precisely. Which leads me to wonder exactly why they were so interested in me. I'm barely past the outer circle."

"True." A second man spoke up, nodding slowly. "But there are one or two things that you don't understand, Oliver. You are linked to all of this, much more closely than you think. Your father was Professor Bloom's Keeper, for a while. That's why you were put in charge of the Bloom affair. Then there was Abernathy. For all his faults and failings, he really did care about you. He wanted to make you a part of the split, so that he wouldn't be forced to kill you. We suspected that it was you who could bring him out into the open. We were right."

"You mean this was all a set up?" Angry, Oliver took a step forward, turning the full force of his glare onto the man who had been speaking. "You sent me out there just so that you could force their hand?"

"That's about the size of it." There was no apology in the man's voice, no regret. "We had to do something. We suspected that you could get to the bottom of things faster than somebody who knew what they were doing. Of course, we weren't expecting Sydney Bloom's murder."

"Expecting it, maybe," the first man corrected. "But we were hoping that we could prevent it." He sighed. "We knew that Alexis Miller was working for the other side, and so we had her killed; or we thought we had. The last thing we were expecting was for her to come back, and to take Miss Bloom's place so convincingly."

Oliver sighed. He had almost succeeding in shutting out that thought, but now those words brought it all back again; the image of Sydney dying, and the cruel subterfuge which had followed. If only he had known earlier…

"Are you ready to come back in, Oliver?" another of the men was asking. Oliver stared at him for several moments, before he could stir himself to answer.

"Yes," he said finally, surprised how regretful he sounded. During the last few weeks, he had been free for the first time in his life. He found that he had actually rather enjoyed it, even though it was now turning out that he hadn't been free at all. At least in the Committee nobody pretended to be his friend. At least here they preached that you should never trust anybody; never believe in anybody. With the Committee there could be no betrayal. So why did he still feel so bad?

"Good." A fourth man stood up. "In that case, you have new orders."

"Such as?"

"Those people downstairs. They're a loose end. We want it dealt with."

"You want them killed?" The question disturbed him, in a way that he could not quite understand.

"Yes. Would that be difficult for you? Should we assign somebody else to the job?"

There was a silence. Finally Oliver shook his head.

"No. I've killed enemy agents before. I never liked it, but that doesn't mean I can't do it."

"Good." The man nodded. "You can choose your own method of execution, but don't take too long. Make it clean, Oliver."

"Is that all?" He realised that he was sounding tired, and thought back to his VR experience. Adams had told him that it would take a lot out of him, but he hadn't thought about it at the time. He turned and left the room, heading back to the lower levels, looking for a place where he could be on his own. This was all so strange. At one time he had felt so at home with all of this; had fitted in so well. He could operate without conscience or remorse; get the job done without thinking. It was Sydney who had changed all that. She was the one who had brought him back to life. He drew his gun again, checking the clip automatically. He should get some real pleasure from killing Sydney's murderer, and yet he could not face the idea of just executing those people. For some reason another image floated into his mind; one of another execution, by poison gas. That had been so coldly, painfully real. This was just dull and vague. Like VR. He frowned. Was he in VR now? Was this all some other game? Was he still sitting in that chair, wearing that visor, being dragged through some computer generated madness? But he remembered them taking the visor off, didn't he? He shuddered. Perhaps that VR.10 program had taken more out of him that he had ever thought possible. He felt terrible. Quite suddenly the whole world seemed false, and unnatural. The only reality that he was sure of was that Sydney was dead. The only part of the last twenty four hours that he remembered with any clarity; believed in with any conviction; was that torture room, and all that had happened to him within it. Maybe he was going mad. Maybe it didn't matter. He closed his eyes, and tried to see Sydney's face; but all he could see was Alex, and she seemed to be laughing at him. He shook his head, feeling reality dissipate into… into what? Nothing was real, and the labyrinth was closing in around him.


The corridors were twisting and endless, but they all seemed to lead in one direction. Joseph Bloom headed for the detention section, his mind set on one objective. Doubt clouded at the edges of his thoughts, confusion crawling its way through his consciousness. Oliver Sampson's words came back to him, again and again. 'Sydney's dead. She's Alex.' Was that possible? The over-riding belief in Bloom's mind was that anything was possible. In here, where the Committee was in control, the truth could be anything they wanted it to be. He reached the outer door of the section, flashing his pass at the guard who stood there. There had been no guard earlier, just as if they had wished for Bloom to rescue his daughters - daughter - he told himself, just in case. Just as if the Committee had wanted him to lead them all down those labyrinthine corridors, to find Oliver Sampson, and open up this whole damn nest of vipers. Maybe Sydney was still alive; maybe Oliver was a plant, to make Bloom doubt his own family. But that was just too easy. That was what he wanted to believe, and that meant that he couldn't believe it.

The cell door appeared in the corridor in front of him, almost as though it had grown there. He blinked at it a few times, and then unlocked it, using the key card the guard had given him. Doubts still clouded his mind. There was a little voice shouting what ifs? at him, making him question himself right down to the last second. After so many years away, knowing only Samantha, did he still know Sydney well enough to make that guess? Did he know Alex well enough to make the distinction? But then, nobody knew Alex, that was just the point. In all the time that he had been acquainted with her, he had always got the impression that she didn't really even know herself.

"Daddy!" The delight on Samantha's face was real enough, but even that was so easy to fake. He looked round at the three of them, thinking, wondering. It had all seemed so simple at first. He wanted to get inside Oliver's mind, and see what sort of poison the Committee had fed him in VR.10. Instead he had fallen into Oliver's nightmare, and all of this treachery and deceit was eating him up too. He looked into Duncan gentle eyes, and wondered if he was really capable of torturing a man. He looked into Sydney's childlike eyes, so full of confusion at this world she felt she didn't belong in. Was she really Alex? How would he know?

"I've come to bring you closer in." He didn't know why he chose that particular phrase, but it was the one that he was most familiar with, and the one which most seemed to fit. The three pairs of eyes stared blankly back at him, and he found himself smiling. If they could fool him, he could fool them, too. That was the one thing everybody around here was good at; deceit.

"Is Oliver okay?" Sydney looked small and worried. Duncan put an arm around her.

"He's alive." There was nothing more to be said than that. It was doubtful whether she would ever see him again. Come the morning he would probably be off somewhere, out into the world again, ready to retake his place within the Committee's sacred halls. Bloom felt sorry for him; he had come so close to breaking out of it all. He must have come within a gnat's whisker of the exit. Now he was lost in the labyrinth again.

"He thinks I'm Alex." She sighed. "I have to talk to him."

"I don't think that's a very good idea." She looked up at him, and she saw the coldness in his eyes; saw his distrust.

"Alex is dead, Daddy. I saw her die."

"Did you?" He stared into her eyes, searching for something that was familiar; anything that could convince him that she was who she claimed to be. The truth of it was, of course, that the Sydney he knew was no more than ten years old. Just a child. What was he supposed to recognise in this fully grown woman who confronted him now? Her childish similarities to her twin sister had all faded with time, and what remained reminded him in no way of either Samantha or Nora.

"Professor Bloom… " It was Oliver's voice, sounding hesitant. Bloom glanced back towards him, and saw the gun; saw the resolute look in the younger man's eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said, rather lamely. "I had to come down here and see for myself."

"And?" Frowning at the group, Oliver did not look at Bloom. Joseph smiled.

"I don't know," he said softly. "How am I supposed to tell?"

"I don't know." Oliver stepped past him, levelling the gun at Sydney and the others. He had evidently been thinking, as had they all, and Duncan saw the same look in the Committee man's eyes as he knew was in his own. He had been thinking about VR.10, and how much of what he now perceived was real. It was a question that no one could answer.

"Oliver…" Sydney took a step forward, but Duncan pulled her back, seeing the spark in Sampson's eyes, and the movement of the gun. With the man that they knew gone, all that remained were the razor sharp instincts, and the years of training. They couldn't take any chances.

"Don't talk to me, Alex." He pointed the gun at her, his knuckles white from gripping too tightly. "They sent me here to kill you, you know."

"Why?" Her voice quavered slightly, but she did not look afraid. Oliver shrugged, the movement not disturbing his aim in the slightest.

"You're a loose end. We all are. The professor can be sent away like before, put on a research program somewhere. They'll put me on a shorter leash. But you… they can't send you back to your people, can they?"

"You are our people, Oliver." Duncan frowned. "I think. At least, if we believe what we think we remember, you probably are one of us. Maybe." He shook his head. "The point is, whatever they told you in VR wasn't real. Except that this might be VR too, in which case we aren't real. Well, one of us is, but we don't know which one." He paused. "Did that actually make sense to anybody?"

"As much as anything else does." Oliver shrugged. "What if this isn't real? I don't care." He stared deep into Duncan's eyes, recalling how cold they had been; how devoid of emotion. He remembered every blow; every explosion of pain. It was hard to imagine, looking at him now, that this was the same man who had been so brutal earlier. He had resumed his other character. Odd that they all continued to keep up their pretences, even now. As if they were all just playing with each other; or as if somebody else was playing with all of them.

"I always said that I would never trust you." Samantha still sounded bitter. Oliver smiled sardonically.

"You put on a good performance," he told her, his own voice just as bitter as hers. "Was it fun, for all of you? Playing your games, leading me along all this time? Did any of what you said actually mean anything? Ever?"

"What are you talking about?" There was an edge of panic in Sydney's voice now. He stared back at her, seeing the face of the woman he had come to care so much about. He could still see Alex's face in his mind's eye; could still hear her voice, and the way it had mocked him earlier. He remembered that infernal gadget she had been using in the interrogation room, the smiles, and the look of enjoyment in her eyes. He shook his head.

"You came so close, didn't you," he told her, his eyes blazing. "You nearly had me. The three of you… Abernathy… You came so close."

"You're crazy, Oliver." Duncan sounded sad. Oliver smiled at him.

"You know what the really crazy thing is, Duncan? It's that you're probably right. I'm no fool. I know how the Committee manipulates people. I probably am mad; this is probably all somebody's sick game. Truth is, there isn't any truth. I told Sydney that once. You head upwards, because you think that's where the surface is, but there isn't any surface, just like there's no exit from the labyrinth. My ancestors sold me to the Committee before I was even born, so you're damned right that I'm probably crazy. I really don't care. I have my orders."

"You mean you're going to kill us?" Sydney's voice was very small. Oliver smiled.

"Kill you? Surely I can only do that if you're alive?" he waved the gun around. "Duncan here is telling me that we're probably all figments of some computer's imagination, and the only thing I'm sure of is that you're already dead, Sydney. Somebody already killed you." he took a step towards her. "So what does it matter if I kill you now? Who does it hurt?"

"Oliver…" It was Joseph Bloom, stepping forward from out of the shadows. There was a gun in his hand, and he pointed it unswervingly at the younger man's chest. "I can't let you do this."

"Why not? Are you one of them too?" He laughed. "They've got you all at it, haven't they. Betraying everybody, playing at double agents."

"I've always been a double agent. I hated it when I was a young man, and I hate it now." Joseph shrugged. "But what can I do? Look at us, man. We're all accusing each other of betrayal, we don't even know which of us are real."

"They're real." Oliver pointed at the other three. "It wouldn't hurt so much if they weren't."

"Yes it would, Oliver. It would in VR.10." Joseph let the gun rest against Oliver's chest. "Question is, are you willing to take the chance that you're wrong? Are you willing to risk Sydney's life on that?"

"Question is…" Oliver stared down at the gun that Bloom was pointing at him. "Does anybody really care anymore?" He pointed his gun at Sydney, and Joseph Bloom pulled the trigger. There was a muffled roar, and Oliver sank to the ground, face white.

"Question is…" he gasped as he lay on the floor, blood pouring from out of his chest. "Is this the start of the program, or the beginning?"


"Oliver!" Tearing off the VR visor, Sydney tried to sit up, only to find that she was held to the chair with straps across her chest and legs. She tore them off, ignoring her friends, still visored, and strapped into their own chairs. "Oliver, answer me." He groaned, sounding groggy, and she pulled his visor off, trying to get him to focus on her face. "Oliver? Are you okay?"

"I, er…" His eyes snapped open, and he tried to pull away, prevented from moving by the straps around his chest. "Get away from me!"

"Oliver, I'm not Alex! That was in VR!" She held up the visor. "Deep breaths, okay? Just take it easy. I know it's a little disorientating…"

"A little?" He tried to stand, and she tugged off the straps holding him down. "Is everybody okay?"

"It looks like it." She glanced around at Duncan and Samantha, who were pulling off their own visors, and looking around. "Oliver, you were shot, remember?"

"I don't remember a thing, except…" He stared at her, confused. "You, and Samantha, and Duncan. You were… not good."

"I know, I was there. I saw it all." She shivered. "That was too, too weird."

"That was VR.10?" He whistled. "I know it felt pretty real."

"It was real, at least as far as our brains were concerned." Samantha sounded excited. "I've never been in before, but I've heard from the test subjects that it's pretty incredible. What an experience."

"You remember it too?" Oliver sounded vaguely left out. Duncan smiled, and slapped him on the shoulder.

"Take it from me; you don't want to remember. It was pretty crazy in there." He remembered the confusion; the uncertainty over whether or not he actually existed. He also remembered torturing Oliver, and enjoying doing it. For a while there, he had actually been an interrogator; cold hearted, and prepared to do whatever was necessary to get his questions answered.

"So what the hell happened?" Oliver stood up, testing his balance. He still felt detached and confused.

"They must have taken us all in. Taking you away was all part of the program we were experiencing." Sydney shrugged. "I think." She smiled sadly. "I was actually rather enjoying having Daddy back with us again."

"But what was it all for?" Duncan was confused. "They tell us we're not real, they tell Oliver that we're the enemy. I don't know about you, but for a while there I think I was Joseph Bloom. I felt confused, because I wasn't sure if Syd was my daughter or not." He smiled. "Weird, huh?"

"I got that one too." Samantha shivered. "It was all so real. Crazy but… it felt real. I never questioned a minute of it."

"So where are we?" Oliver wandered about the room. It was white, and empty. He could see neither windows nor doors, and although he could feel the air moving, he could see nothing that looked like air conditioning. "Was Adams all a part of VR, or is he really here?" He frowned. "No, wait; I remember him, so he must have been real."

"Check. I think." Duncan shrugged. "Kind of off-putting, isn't it?"

"What about the Keeper? Was that real?" Samantha looked uncertain. Oliver frowned.

"You saw the Keeper? he asked her. She nodded.

"He was trying to get you to go back into the Committee." She shrugged. "That must have been part of VR."

"Very good, Miss Bloom." The voice came from above them and from around them, booming out of what must have been a thousand tiny speakers, hidden within the walls. "You catch on very quickly."

"Adams." Oliver stepped forward, staring about in the hope of catching a glimpse of the camera that he knew had to be there somewhere. "Come in here."

"No thankyou, Oliver." There was a smile in the voice. "I'm very comfortable where I am."

"Where's that?"

"Everywhere." There was a laugh. "I'm impressed, I must say, at how fast you all found your way out of the VR program. When I had a gate built in, I never really expected you to find it." Another laugh. "That is, if you have found it."

"What do you mean?" Angry, Oliver imagined getting a chance to catch hold of Adams. Right now he rather liked the idea of strangling him, very slowly.

"I mean, have you escaped from VR.10, or haven't you? Are you free, or aren't you?" He was laughing again, a mocking laugh which was without real humour. "Who can tell, Ollie? This is VR.10, after all. The reality isn't virtual, it's actual. It's more real than reality. Which is this?"

"You're crazy." Fists clenched in a very unDuncan-like gesture, Duncan stared around at the room, trying to spy the camera that he knew had to be there. "We just left VR. I saw the tunnels. It's over."

"Is it?" There was another laugh, eerie and mocking. "Prove it."

"I--" Duncan turned back to the others. "He's right. How do we know?"

"We don't." Samantha sat down, and picked up her visor. "There's no way we can be sure. Not with VR.10."

"There has to be a way." Face fixed in an expression of determined stubbornness, Oliver picked up his own visor, and slipped it back on. "Program's still running," he told them, gazing back into the place they had just left. "I think I'm dead there."

"Guess again, Ollie." Adams was evidently still listening in. "I have a question for you. Are you looking into VR.10, or are you looking out of it? Or are you just looking at a different level of the game?"

"Something tells me you're going to show us." Oliver lowered the visor, talking to thin air as though it were something he always did. The disembodied laugh came again.

"You always were quick." There was a second's silence, and then the world went black.


There were thousands of little lights filling the sky, and fireworks of every imaginable colour dancing about against the blackness. Sydney smiled at the sight, enjoying the feel of the breeze on her face, hearing the shouts of countless merrymakers in the streets about her. Not knowing where the hell she was didn't seem to matter, and the faces of all of those strangers were infecting her with their happiness.

"Sydney!" It was Oliver's voice, and he pushed his way through the crowd towards her. "Are you okay?"

"Fine." She gestured about. "Where are we? Have you seen the others?"

"No." He glanced back at the fireworks. "As for where we are… we're in Eastern Europe. East Berlin, anyway. I was here the first time. I remember this night."

"Then we're still in VR." She lowered her head, staring at the ground. For a moment she had hoped that it was over, although she didn't see how it could have been. "How long, before we forget again, and start believing that this is all real?"

"I've no idea." He smiled up at the sky. "It was a wonderful night, you know. I never believed all that Evil Empire stuff, but all the same… I used to think these people were so lucky. I wanted to go right home and try the same thing there. Sweep the government away over night." He flashed her one of his rare smiles. "Tut tut; that's revolutionary talk. Not good Committee behaviour."

"I think this would make anybody turn into a revolutionary. The atmosphere…" She gestured around, unable to think up a suitable adjective. "We have to find the way out, Oliver."

"I know." He was still staring at the sky. Sydney could understand his feelings, since they no doubt closely mirrored her own. The events which were to enmesh them both had already been set in motion by the time that the Berlin Wall came down, but neither of them had really been aware of them. Sydney had still been sad for the loss of her father and sister, worried, as always, about her mother's condition. No doubt Oliver's Committee connections had been closing around his neck like a noose; but neither of them had known what was to come. Neither of them had realised that they were already beginning to lose themselves in the labyrinth. Here and now, they were free again, even if it was just a computer program that was responsible.

"Oliver…" She put a hand on his shoulder, and he turned, then smiled at her worried face.

"It's okay, Sydney. I know it's not real. But it feels as though it is."

"I know. That's why it's so dangerous." She began to walk away, pushing through the crowd, searching for a glimpse of her sister, and of Duncan. She saw neither.

"Do you think they're in a different program?" she asked. Oliver shrugged, and as they broke free of the crowd, he turned back to scan the sea of people with his trained eyes.

"Could be. But if even they aren't here, surely they'll still be here. Computerised versions of them, I mean."

"Don't start all that 'which one of us is real' paranoia again." Sydney shook her head. "They'll be here. They have to be."

"Keep thinking that." He began to stride away, and she hurried after him, wondering where he was going. Not to the railway station, please. She had never even been to Berlin, and yet she felt that she had already spent more than enough time in that infernal station, all thanks to VR.5, and her bizarre little insights into the confused world of Alexis Miller.

"Where are we going?" She had to struggle to keep up with him, wondering just how he knew his way about this place so well. What was it he had done before joining the Committee?

"To see a friend of mine. An old contact, from before my Committee days."

"What makes you think he'll be here? This isn't really Berlin."

"It might as well be." Oliver paused for a second, and glanced back at her. "This stuff comes directly out of our minds. It has to, or it wouldn't be so accurate. That means he'll be there."

"It's not real, Oliver." He was hurrying on again, and she was finding it difficult to talk and jog. He glanced across at her, a strange look in his eyes.

"Oliver. Let me hear you say it. Please." He didn't answer her at first, although the pleading look in her eyes must have registered somewhere. Finally he shrugged.

"It's not real," he told her, and she breathed out a sigh of relief. It was short lived, however. She had seen the look in his eyes, and she recognised the tone of his voice. He was beginning to lose himself in the program, and if she didn't find the others soon, he might just become a part of it all.


"Oliver!" The little old man, with his dark grey suit and his horn rimmed glasses could not have looked less like a spy if he had tried, but Sydney knew that that was what he must be. She glanced around the shop as Oliver led her inside, marvelling at the collection of oddities that lined the windows and the shelves. Ships frozen in bottles, glass animals, kites with ridiculously ornamental ribbons. The occasional stuffed animal added to the strangeness of it all.

"Herr Brücher." Oliver strode towards the man without even looking at the shop's contents, shaking his associate's hand with business like speed. "Why aren't you out there, enjoying the fun?"

"What's to enjoy?" Sydney thought that she detected a slight sadness in the man's tone. "I'm not happy to see us go back to being Capitalists, Oliver. I help you because I think you are on the right side, not because I agree with your politics."

Oliver smiled. "You never change," he said, the gratitude obvious in his voice. The little man shrugged.

"We all change," he said sadly. "Now what can I do for you?"

"I have to get out of here." He wandered over to the window, staring out into the darkness. It was more complete here, the fireworks only slightly lighting the distant sky.

"Then walk out. It's legal now, you know."

"She could." He nodded at Sydney, "but you know they'd shoot me on sight, whether the wall is down or not. That or mobilise whatever is left of the army to come after us, and I have no wish to spark an international incident now." He smiled. Herr Brücher smiled. Sydney wondered if they had suddenly begun to communicate by telepathy.

"Oliver…" she whispered, concerned. "What about Duncan and Samatha?"

"Who?" He frowned at her, a look of puzzlement on his face. "No riddles, Sydney. I have to get you out of here."

"But the others…" Shock flooded through her. In the blink of an eye, he seemed to have lost his grip on reality, and the thought terrified her. What if she did the same? It was almost an inviting thought. They were safe in here. There was no Committee snapping at their heels. No sinister men in black suits trying to kill them. Maybe she should stay. She thought about VR.5, and her encoding for the system. Maybe that was why she hadn't forgotten. Maybe she never could forget. Maybe she no longer cared.

"There are no others, Sydney. Worry about yourself for a change." He caught her arm, and pulled her through a door hidden behind a cabinet. She followed his lead without argument, her confusion already threatening to overcome her. What had happened to that plain, white room, with its chairs and its VR visors, and Adams' disembodied voice floating towards them through the walls? What had happened to that cell in the detention section, with Joseph Bloom standing over Oliver's still form, the blood beginning to cover the floor? More importantly, what had happened to Duncan and Samantha?

"Sydney, is that you?" The voice was confused, small and faint. Sydney turned towards it, unsure if she had really heard it, or if she was just imagining things. In the darkness of the room beyond the hidden door, two figures were just visible, dark shapes against the greater darkness. There was no light to pick out their features. Brucher wander about in the shadows, eventually succeeding in lighting a lamp.

"Samantha!" As the uncertain light of the small gas lamp filled the room, Sydney finally saw the face of the person who had called her name. Samantha moved forwards with uncertainty, her eyes showing her confusion.

"Syd… Where are we?" Hugging her sister with hesitant arms, Samantha pulled back suddenly. "I keep losing it."

"We're in East Berlin, they're out there now, singing, and pulling the wall down. It's incredible."

"But it's not real. Is it?" Samantha looked so pale and drawn, that Sydney was shocked.

"Of course it's not real. How could it be? You have to remember, Samantha. Where were you really, when the Wall came down?"

"I don't know… East Berlin, maybe… It all… I just don't know." She leaned forwards to whisper. "Duncan doesn't remember anything. We arrived here, and I felt like I belonged at first, and then I started to remember bits and pieces; but Duncan… it's like he has amnesia."

"Probably part of the program." She looked closely at his face, seeing the confusion. He smiled back at her, much as one would smile at a total stranger. "Oliver's gone, too. Back to whatever he was doing then. Now. Whatever."

"It's not now. Now is… now is… when is now?" The look of confusion was growing again. "Nineteen ninety something. Isn't it?"

"It's sometime." She turned back to where Oliver and Brucher were talking together, whispering in earnest voices. "We have to stick together now. If we split up again, I think I'll start losing it too, and then where will we be?"

"Maybe it's for the best." Samantha's voice sounded shaky. "I mean… They can't get us in here. We're safe, aren't we?"

"We're not safe anywhere." Sydney caught her sister's collar, suddenly filled with an uncharacteristic anger. "They put us in here, remember? This is all some creation of theirs. I think they took it out of Oliver's mind. They wanted to interrogate us, to find out about Daddy. We can't relax here, not for a minute."

"I want to relax." Samantha sighed. "I've been running for so long. It's driving me crazy, Syd. Can't we just stay here?"

"Why? What's the point? You think we'll be safe, hiding in some unreal world thought up by a bunch of crazy Committee scientists?"

"How do we know that that's what this is? How do we know that the Committee wasn't all just a part of the program? How do we know that everything we remember isn't all just a part of VR?" Her voice had risen above it's previous low volume, and Oliver and Brucher both turned to look at her. Oliver frowned, but Brucher's face remained blank.

"Are you ready to leave, Sydney?" Hurrying to her side, he gave Samantha a strange look.

"I'm not leaving without them." Sydney indicated Duncan and Samantha. "They're coming with us."

"Are you sure we can trust them?" He glanced from one to the other of them, studying first Samantha, then Duncan. Sydney thought she saw something like recognition spark in the dark green eyes of the Committee man as he looked into Duncan's face, but the light was gone in the briefest of seconds.

"I'm sure," she told him, with feeling. "Where are we going?"

"Home." He smiled, a sudden, reflexive gesture which took her by surprise. "Back to Headquarters, anyway."

"H-headquarters?" He didn't think she was Alex again, or something equally peculiar, surely?

"Where else? Come on, before somebody gets wind that we've been here. You've no idea how fast rumours travel around here."

"But where are we supposed to be going? Where have we been?" She pulled back when he tried to lead her towards the door, and he glanced back at her, frustrated.

"Sydney, they're after us. We have to move quickly, can't you see that? They could catch up with us at any moment." He looked over at Samantha and Duncan. "Can't you make her see? Can't you get her to understand? If they catch us we're all in trouble."

"Oliver's right, Syd." Spurred on by his urgency, even though she didn't have a clue what he was talking about, Samantha hurried towards the door. "We have to do what he says."

"I'm with you. This guy is totally earnest." Duncan pushed past Sydney, without so much as a glimmer of recognition showing in his expressive features. She felt a burst of pain as she followed him up the stairs. It was incredible just how much they were all being effected by the VR program. So much so, that it was almost hard to believe that it really was all just a program… She saw how easy it would be to be absorbed by it all; felt the attraction there would be in just letting it pull her in. No more struggling to understand, no more fighting to stay in control…

"Sydney?" Oliver's sharp voice made her snap back to the present, and she blinked up at him. It was dark out in the streets, and the grey, drab uniformity of the buildings closed in around her. It felt like a prison, even though the street was open. "Stay with me, Syd. We have to get out of here."

"I'm with you." She would follow him through this program, even if she was the only person certain that it was all false. How else could she help her friends? "Where next?"

"There's a place just out of town where the trains slow down. We'll jump one there, and ride it through to the border." He frowned, as if thinking hard. "If you really trust these three, maybe you should make a try for the Wall together. Nobody knows you, so you have a chance…"

"No. We stick together." She let a strong note of authority colour her voice. She felt completely out of her depth, unaware whatever danger it was that Oliver thought they were running from, but certain that the only way they were all going to make it out of VR.10 was to stay as a unit. Something this real had to be dangerous. She wondered how long they had all been inside it now; whether any of the memories she had of the holding centre were real. Was somebody looking after their bodies back in the real world, or were they just going to waste away, if they never made it back?

"Okay. Keep close together, but try to look casual." Oliver began to walk off down the road, and Samantha fell into step behind him. For the first time, Sydney imagined how her sister and their father must have known many a night like this one, when they were escaping from the Committee, or whoever it was that had held them for all those long years. It was hard to picture them both, especially Joseph Bloom, jumping trains or dodging bullets; but then, Joseph Bloom was a member of the Committee. He must have undergone some basic training at least. How crazy to think that he had kept it all from them for so long. He had probably hoped that they would never need to know. How naïve he must have been. She wondered where he was now, and if she would ever see him again.

They walked for what seemed like hours. Oliver kept up a fast pace which left the rest of them trailing behind in his wake, stumbling, grumbling, and betraying their civilian roots in many ways. Sydney wandered along beside Duncan, anxious to try to trigger his memory. He glanced across at her as they walked, a frown creasing the skin of his forehead.

"Do I know you?" he asked. "'Cause you've been giving me some really weird looks."

"I know you." She watched him closely for any sign of a reaction, but he merely shrugged.

"Yeah, I thought so." He nodded towards Oliver. "He's been staring at me too. Do I know him?"

"Yes." She sighed, feeling horribly helpless. "Duncan…"

"That my name?" He made a face. "I'd have preferred something with a bit more style. Like Dan, or Steve. Or James." His accent turned to a creditable imitation of an Englishman's. "James Bond, license to…" He frowned. "I should know the next bit, shouldn't I."

"I'd say so, yes." She saw the worry in his eyes, knowing how much it must disturb him to be missing chunks of his memory. How had the Committee programmed that little joy into the VR sequence? Probably some sick addition courtesy of Oliver's friend Adams.

"What's VR?" They had been walking on again in silence for several more minutes before Duncan glanced acoss at Sydney and asked her the question. She blinked at him.

"You remember VR?" she asked. He nodded.

"I remember it being important to me." He nodded towards Samantha. "And to her. That means it involves you too, right?"


"Then what is it?"

"It's…" She paused, wondering the best way to answer it. In many ways she envied him his ignorance right now. If she could only share it, she could stay here forever, and never emerge out into whatever awaited them at the hands of the Committee. "It's a computer generated world, which takes you in and shows you things. What you experience depends on which VR level you use. They vary from basic to…" She gestured around. "To being too real to disbelieve."

"Why'd anybody want to create something like that?"

She smiled, appreciating his innocence.

"I guess to fool people into revealing things they wouldn't have talked about otherwise. Or to brainwash someone."

"Like us." He had stopped, and was frowning hard, watching Oliver and Samantha walking further and further away into the distance. She stopped too, although her instincts were telling her to run after the others.

"Yes. Like us." She saw a flicker pass across his eyes, saw everything that she had ever seen in them come flooding back, then he grinned at her.

"Then we'd better get back, hadn't we."


Sydney awoke as if from a long sleep, and gazed at an empty white wall. After a second, a face came into view, unfocused and vague. She frowned at it, and it became more clear, if somewhat fuzzy at the edges.

"Duncan…" she smiled up at him, and he helped her to her feet. "Where are we?"

"Out." He flashed her another of his broad, cheering grins. "At least, so far as I can tell."

"And the others?" He paused before answering, then shook his head.

"No. I guess they didn't make it out."

"They were walking on ahead…" She frowned, trying to remember. "It's all a blur."

"Yeah, for me too." He shrugged. "They'll be okay, Syd. Oliver's a pretty resourceful guy."

"And Samantha? What about her?" Sydney stood and glanced around at the room. It was uninspiring and plain, empty of all that might have given her hope. She felt helpless and alone, even with Duncan's company. Somewhere, lost in a world that didn't even exist, her sister might need her help. Oliver might need her help. They were facing goodness only knew what, and there was nothing that she could do to help them.


They had been walking for what seemed like hours, trudging through endless fields, and fighting through countless forests. Samantha's shoulders were slumped, only her anger and her hatred of Oliver keeping her feet from stopping altogether. It was hard to keep on walking, going who knew where, running from who knew what. Every time they reached a new horizon, and she began to think that she could see their destination, she was proven wrong and they walked on again.

"Where are we going?" Samantha had no idea how long they had been walking before she finally asked that question. Oliver glanced back at her.

"I don't know." There was a surprising note of truthfulness in his voice. "I was just… walking."

"But where?"

"A town, a city? I don't know. Somewhere where we can try to find out where we are."

"And how we got here."


"Where do you suppose the others are?" He frowned at that question and slowed to a halt, turning back to face her.

"I haven't got a clue."

"But why would they have let us go, and not them?"

He sighed. "I don't know, Samantha. Maybe we escaped."

"I don't remember."

"Neither do I." He began to walk on again. After a while she hurried to catch him up.

"Do you have a gun?"

"A gun?" His hand went automatically to the weapon he always kept with him, but there was nothing there. "No, it would seem not." He frowned. "Odd. I could have sworn that they gave me one."

"Why would they give you a gun, unless they trust you?" There was anger and suspicion in her face again, and he rolled his eyes.

"Just give it a rest for a while, alright? I've had enough." He quickened his pace, and she fell into step beside him, determined not to let him out of her sight. It seemed crazy, not being able to remember how she had got here. Something was niggling away in the back of her mind; as if she should know what was going on. It was as if something in the back of her consciousness was trying to tell her what was wrong, but she couldn't quite latch onto it.

"I wonder what the others are doing?" she asked aloud. Oliver shrugged.

"Probably receiving their next orders," he muttered darkly. Outrage, followed by fear, showed in Samantha's eyes.

"You don't think…"

"What else is there to think?" He shook his head. "I don't like it either, but they aren't here."

"Maybe we're the traitors. Maybe that's why they let us go."

He smiled. "I don't know about you, but I rather think that I'd remember something like that. Betraying one's friends ought to be a memorable experience, wouldn't you say?"

"I suppose." She scanned the skies. They were clear and blue, but she couldn't shake the feeling that it was about to rain. She could almost sense the water in the atmosphere; the muggy sensation that came before a storm. "Oliver, do you believe that somebody, or something, guides us through life?"

He frowned, obviously confused by the question. "Is this a philosophy moment? Or religion? Because I'm not terribly good with either."

She shook her head. "I just can't help feeling as though somebody is watching us… like somebody is telling us where to go."

"Somebody probably is. The Committee has been guiding me through my life since the day my grandfather was born. I don't see why it should stop just because it can't see what I'm doing."

"The Committee…" She nodded, suddenly convinced of something. "Oliver, all of this… Doesn't it seem a little weird… Something isn't right… Isn't where it should be…"

"Just keep walking, Samantha." He turned his back, heading away from her, and she shook her head.

"Oliver, no! Don't walk away. This is important." She felt as if she were on the point of a major breakthrough, as if the blockage in her mind were about to fall away. "Oliver!"

"What?" He turned back to face her, irritation showing in his face. She took a step towards him, to try to convince him that something wasn't right, when all of a sudden he was grabbing her, and pulling her to the ground.

"What the-?" Concerned and annoyed, she tried to break free, but he held her down.

"Keep still. Committee." He whispered the words with clear urgency, and she frowned. How odd that somebody should arrive just as she was finally coming to some sort of a conclusion. It was as if they were aware of her every thought… As though somebody were monitoring her mind, placing all of these things in it, in a bid to control her… She shook her head.

Weird thinking, Sam. You're going to get yourself committed. She struggled to hold onto the thought nonetheless. No matter how weird it was, it was all that she had. Beside her Oliver was stirring, trying to get a look at their pursuers.

"Ten of them," he told her, his forehead wrinkled in a frown.

The number was like a beacon. All of a sudden, the thoughts were flooding unchecked through her mind, and although she could not make head nor tail of them, she clung to them nonetheless. She saw herself in an interrogation room, talking to… Oliver? Or was it Duncan? She saw a dark street, heard people around her shouting in German. There were fireworks, and bright lights, and men in black suits standing over her, talking to each other. There was a swirl of lights that she couldn't see through or interpret, and more men in black suits, whispering, talking, conspiring.

"Come on, Samantha. We have to make a run for it." Oliver had caught her arm, and she jumped at the suddenness of his touch. "We have to hurry."

"No…" She fought back, aware that it wasn't Oliver she was fighting, but whoever it was that was trying to place new thoughts in her mind. She was hallucinating, something was telling her. She had to trust in Oliver to help her. To get her to safety. Trust Oliver? Another part of her mind balked at that, and she pulled against his grip, fighting to remain where she was.

"Samantha!" There was exasperation in his tone. "We have to go now."

"No." She shook her head, aware that she sounded like a petulant child.

"Fine. Stay." He turned away. His words echoed in her mind, mixing with another phrase which was so similar, and meant so much.

Fine. Go. I hate you. She heard the words before she understood them, and then her mind caught onto the only reality that she understood.

"Oliver!" She stood up, and he whirled around, shouting at her to get down. Bullets hit the ground around her, but she wasn't afraid of them. They couldn't hurt her because they weren't real.

"Come with me Oliver!" She held out a hand, but he stepped back, confusion and concern in his face. "Oliver…"

"Get down, Samantha!" He looked towards the approaching Committee men that now only he could see, and she realised that it was all too real for him. He was staying.

"Don't think. Don't think of Sydney. Don't think of Daddy." She was shouting the words at him, but she had no idea if he could hear her, for even as she was shouting the words, he was fading away before her.


"And then there were three." Duncan helped Samantha to sit up, and she glanced around at the white room, and at the cold bareness of it all.

"Where are we?" she asked.

"In a cell," he told her unhelpfully. "In the real world, I hope."

"How can we tell?"

"We can't." Sitting on the floor beside her sister, Sydney stared glumly from one to the other of her companions. "There's never going to be any way to tell, is there?"

"Nope." Duncan crossed his legs into a typically uncomfortable looking yoga arrangement, and frowned. "Any sign of Oliver, Sam?"

"He was in there with me." She shrugged. Her memories of that last trip were already fading, as if her mind no longer accepted them, now that it knew they weren't real. "I don't think he made it out."

"Then we'll have to wait for him." Sydney shivered. Their cell wasn't exactly cold, but it was far from being warm and comforting. "I wonder where he is now."


Oliver shifted position awkwardly, trying not to look about at the bare stone walls. There was no window in the little cell; nothing to break the grey stone monotony except for the grey metal door; solid steel and built to last. There was a window in that, but the hatch was closed, and he was lost in semi-darkness. Cold, miserable, and extremely bored.

He knew this cell. He knew the walls, and the floor and the ceiling, and knew every link of the chains which prevented him from moving towards the door. He remembered being locked up in here, but it seemed like a long time ago. He knew that the silence and the boredom, to say nothing of his own sense of misery and failure, had finally conspired to send him to sleep. Had he been dreaming then? The thought frightened him, in an odd sort of way. Had he really dreamt everything that had happened to him? Had the escape been a dream? His return to HQ? Had the whole damn Committee been just a dream? It was hard to say which he would have preferred; that the last six years had been a dream, which probably meant that he was starting to lose his marbles, or that it had all been real, in which case how the hell had he got back into this cell? That probably meant that he was losing his marbles too. What a choice; going insane in 1990, or in the present, whenever the present was, and if it was actually the present.

He closed his eyes, leaning his head against the wall, trying to run everything that he remembered through his mind. There had been the train station. He had lost Alex, and had tried in vain to find her. He had been taking stupid risks, and he clearly remembered calling out for her in English in the middle of the train station. Men had appeared, dressed in the internationally recognised black suits, and there had been a chase. Even though the Wall had been breached the previous November, security still mattered to those who had always protected it. They had brought him to this cell. He remembered escaping, returning to Headquarters, getting an earful for being so stupid. They had honestly expected him to just forget about it all, and abandon Alex to whatever it was she had got herself into. He had quit his job, his whole way of life, and stormed out, spending the next few days dodging more men in black suits assigned to watch him. Then he had gone to see Abernathy. It had all been downhill from there, really, but he would still rather that that was what had happened. At least if the last six years had been true, he wouldn't have to go through it all again; wouldn't have to wait for the years to dull the pain of losing Alex. Except that he had lost her again, in his dream of the future, if it had been a dream.

He stretched, trying to ignore the pain in his head. He wasn't sure if the pain was real, or just a part of his confusion. He felt so mixed up, and he knew he was quite probably going mad. What other explanation was there for not being able to tell whether or not a dream was real, or even whether he had actually been dreaming at all? What other explanation was there for not knowing what year it was?

He shifted his position again, trying to find a way to sit so that the chains didn't dig in any more than they had to. He stretched his legs, staring down at the muddied jeans. He recognised the shirt that he was wearing too; knew every tear in the fabric, every spattering of blood. That had all been caused when they had dragged him from the wreckage of the car he had tried to escape in, before they had brought him here. Surely that proved that he had never left the cell? Surely that proved that the whole damn lot; every thought, every memory, every certainty, had all been a dream? Then why did he still cling to it so desperately? Why did he still believe in it all? Only one reason, surely. He really was going mad. He could almost feel his sanity drifting away, layer by layer. Maybe Alex had seen this coming. Maybe that was why she had left him at the station. Maybe that had never happened either. Thoughts whirled through his head, confusing him, dragging him down deeper into spiralling despair.

Pull yourself together, he told himself, speaking to whatever part of his sanity was still functioning. His mind rebelled, apparently enjoying its wallow in self-pity and desolation. He forced himself to concentrate. What was going on? Had they drugged him? Given him something to cause all this confusion? He hadn't drunk anything, or eaten anything that he could remember; not that his memories were the most reliable of things right now. Had they injected him with something? He remembered an injection, in the motel room, with Sydney and Samantha and Duncan, except that that probably hadn't happened, if this was still 1990, and they didn't really exist outside his dreams. So where the hell was he? When the hell was he, and what could his captors hope to gain from confusing him like this? Nothing, surely, unless they were in his head with him, trying to confuse him enough that he would tell them what they wanted to know… whatever that was. He rubbed his head, something catching in his mind, something that meant something. He frowned, trying to focus, but new confusions were pulling his thoughts away, just as if somebody else were in his head, trying to make sure that he couldn't think straight. The harder he tried to think, the more confused he became. There had to be a way through. He had to force himself to see through the confusion, to find the truth.

There is no truth. So clear was the thought that he was certain he must have spoken it aloud. There is no truth. So stop looking. Although confused, although doubt-ridden, his mind obeyed. He grinned. He knew now. He knew what he had to do. He could feel something trying to stop him, could feel the images around him begin to change, as they tried something else; some other reality to throw him into, so that they could prevent him from escaping. It wouldn't work. He wouldn't let it. He focused beyond the confusion, beyond the cell door, to the empty white room he knew was out there somewhere, with its white coated scientists, and its computers and its certainties.

"This isn't real," he told the world at large, even as the cell walls faded away into nothingness. "It doesn't exist."


"Oliver!" Sydney flew at him as though he were her long lost brother, hugging him tightly. He returned the embrace, even though it had taken him by surprise. It was oddly comforting to be able to hold onto something that he knew was real. Or was fairly certain was real anyway.

"Hey Ol." Duncan slapped him on the back. "We thought we'd lost you there."

"You thought it!" Oliver leant against the wall, feeling exhausted. He had no doubt that he looked it too. The guards had had to support him as they brought him here from the computer lab, and he almost missed their assistance. "Have you been here long?"

Sydney laughed. "Since the Berlin Wall came down." She smiled at his lack of understanding. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." He whistled. "That was all quite something, although to be honest it's fading pretty fast. I don't remember a whole lot."

"I remember it all." Sydney made a face, showing that she would rather she didn't. "I don't think I told them anything, but I can't really be sure. They were monitoring our thoughts in there. Any one of us might have been thinking about something, at any time."

"Don't worry about it." Deciding that it was time he took charge again, Oliver straightened up and tested his legs, wondering how well they were going to work. They seemed quite confident, which was always a good thing. "First things first. Is this real?"

"I refuse to get dragged into that conversation again, on the grounds that it does my head in." Duncan folded his arms. "I see it, therefore it is real."

Oliver smiled, appreciating the sentiment. There had to come a time when you believed what your eyes and mind told you. Otherwise they would be suspecting everything, for ever after. That way lay insanity, and he had already nearly hit that once today. He had decided he didn't like it very much.

"Fine. In that case…" He held up what looked like a key. "I lifted this off one of the guards when they brought me in here. There isn't a lot of point using it if this is just another VR program, but if we're all certain…?"

"As certain as we'll ever be." Sydney felt excited, even if she had no faith at all in their chances if success. "Let's go."

"Fine." Moving with a stealth and silence that could only have come from long practice, he unlocked the door and moved out into the corridor. A lone guard stood before him, and the Committee man dispatched him with speed and true skill. Sydney winced, glad that she was not on the other side. They followed him down the corridor, slow, careful, eyes peeled for the slightest sign of pursuit.

"Surely there are security cameras," Duncan said finally, just when they were nearly out of the detention section.

"Sure to be," Oliver agreed. They walked on further, the lack of guards confusing them all. Finally they were out into the main corridors, which they all remembered now from their earlier VR trip. Oliver led them onwards.

"They must have seen us." Samantha was staring around at the walls, certain that there were cameras galore, all pointing at them, hiding thousands of pairs of eyes, all looking at her now.

"Must have done." Oliver was still walking onwards.

"Then why--" Sydney caught his shoulder, and he glanced back at her.

"Never look a gift horse in the mouth." He quickened his pace. "Come on."

"But--" It was Duncan's turned to try to protest, but Oliver merely glared at him, heading on down the corridors. Nobody bothered to speak further.

The door lay ahead, large, bright and clear. Nobody was in their way, nobody appeared to prevent them from travelling through. Sydney, Samantha and Duncan hung back, expecting a trap, but Oliver walked on, hurrying towards the door. Finally, seeing no other choice, they others followed him. They walked through the door. They saw bright sunlight.


Sydney opened her eyes, seeing only blackness, as though something were covering her eyes. She put up a hand to pull it off, and saw a VR visor. Odd. Why should she be wearing a visor? And even more oddly, why did she not remember the trip? She glanced about. She was in the motel room where she had been staying for the last couple of days, with Samantha, Duncan and Oliver. She saw them all, all beginning to wake up, all removing their visors, their gloves.

"What just happened?" Duncan sat up, rubbing his eyes. "'Cause I really think I ought to know."

"I don't--" Samantha broke off, pointing at something. "Look."

They all turned. Lying a few feet away were the bodies of six men. They were slumped together, and had clearly been shot. Oliver crouched beside the bodies.

"I know these men," he said, his voice displaying some confusion. "They're Committee. This man," he indicated one of the dead men, "is called John Adams. He's a computer scientist. Nasty piece of work."

"They put us into VR, didn't they." Samantha was rubbing her head, and looking at Sydney. Her sister nodded.

"I think so. So why don't we remember it?"

"Don't look at me." Oliver stood up, after first picking up Adams' gun and happily sticking it into his belt. "I never remember VR."

"Well we do." Sydney gestured at the bodies. "And what happened to them?"

"Somebody killed them while we were inside." Oliver sounded as though it didn't matter. "I'd say we'd better get out of here, wouldn't you?"

"Just like that? We don't try to find out what's going on?" Sydney picked up her visor again. "I don't recognise the design of this."

"I do." Samantha turned her own visor over in her hands. "VR.10. It's--"

"Later, Samantha." Oliver crossed to the door, looking out into the street outside. "The car's still there, but we're not taking it. We just leave, look casual, and start walking."

"But--" Sydney tried. He cut her short.

"No buts Sydney. We're going to pick up your mother. From now on we all stick together."

"But we don't know what went on here!" Samantha sounded almost anguished, hating the confusion, the not knowing.

"And we're not likely to." He gestured at the bodies. "They came in here. They grabbed you while Sydney and I were out, you must remember that. Afterwards… they must have put us in VR. An interrogation technique; Sydney's used it that way before. While we were in there, somebody else came in and killed them. Maybe he, or they, wanted to interrogate us instead, or maybe they just didn't want Adams and his friends to do it. Who can tell?"

"You think it was the Keeper?" Staring down at the bodies with a look of horrible fascination, Duncan frowned for a second. Oliver shrugged.

"I really don't care. Does it matter? We can't trust him anyway. Can't trust anybody."

"Including ourselves." As they crossed to the door, Duncan frowned back at the visors. "Did anybody ever see Brazil?"

"Thankyou Duncan." His mind filled with an image of the man who escaped torture and reached happiness, only to finally discover his freedom had all been an hallucination, Oliver led them out into the street. "That was a big help."


"So where now?" Looking around, wondering if they were being watched, Sydney glanced over at Oliver. "Where do we go from here?"

"I don't know." He smiled at her. "Just so long as we don't trust anybody, we should be okay."

"Wonderful." She fell into step beside him, with the other two following on behind. "I suppose it'll be good to see Mum again."

"Hold onto that thought." The Committee man smiled at her. "We'll be alright, Sydney."

"Yeah, I know." She smiled back. "Maybe one day I'll even get to see Daddy again."


Back at the motel, hidden amongst the parked cars, a man stood alone. There was a gun in his hand, the muzzle still warm from the six shots he had fired. He smiled to himself. They had found their way through VR.10, and out the other side. He had only helped them a little, and they had done the rest themselves. It looked as though he could be proud of his daughters. And it had been good to see them together.

With a sigh, Joseph Bloom put the gun away, and wandered out into the street. He watched the four figures fade away into the distance. One day he would catch them up, and say hello. One day. But not yet. First he had to be sure that it was safe, and the only way to do that was to guide them all out of the labyrinth. The exit was out there somewhere, and one day they would find it. He smiled. People had been looking for the way out of the labyrinth ever since the Committee was set up, more than a hundred years ago. Nobody had found the exit yet. But he would. He would escape, and so would his family. He didn't care if it took forever. And with that thought in mind, Joseph Bloom started off down the road, onwards, as ever, in search of the end.