"Anything?" Opening her eyes as her companion came back to the car, Sydney glanced up at him hopefully. It was a hope which had become somewhat dimmed by recent failures, and the look in Oliver's eyes was all the answer that she needed to sink her spirits even deeper into despair. "Great."

"Don't give up too soon," he told her, his voice filled with the suggestion of encouragement. He had done wonders to keep her spirits up at first, but now she no longer listened to his reassurances.

"Too soon? It's been two months, Oliver." She slumped back into the car seat, listening to him start up the engine once again. For the last eight weeks the vehicle had more or less been home, and it seemed to be contracting around her, threatening to seal her in with her own despair. "There hasn't been a word."

"Precisely. Our contacts would have told us if the bodies had been found, so we can only assume that they're still alive. And so long as they are, there's a chance we'll find them." He sighed. "Look Sydney, I'm sorry, okay? I shouldn't have got your hopes up this time. It's just that I was sure David would know something."

"He's the guy you just went to see?" She stole a look back over her shoulder at the suburban house they had just left. "Mister Average? You're kidding. I'll bet he's got two point four kids and a dog back there."

"Three kids actually. Seven, four and six months." Oliver grinned. "Perfect cover. Family men attract less attention from those who… might want to find out more."

"So what did James Bond have to say?"

"He knew that the Committee was after you all, and he was aware of the assassination order I was given; to kill you and to go back in. Other than that he says things are a little confused right now. Nobody is claiming responsibility for taking your family. Everybody wants them, but nobody seems to have them."

"But you said that enemy agents did."

"Yes. But there are a lot of people in this world, Sydney. A lot of secret organisations, and I'm afraid I don't know about half of them. Neither does David it seems." He shrugged. "I was thinking about a trip abroad."

"Russia? Eastern Germany?" She smiled despite her growing sense of helplessness. "That's all finished with. I thought we were supposed to all be friends now."

"Maybe we are. The Committee isn't about politics, and it never was. Secret organisations like that are about power and science. They don't care who leads a country, or what NATO and the UN are up to. They forge their own alliances." He looked towards the phone lying between them. "We should probably call in."

"Yeah…" She did not reach for the phone. "Oliver, I know that we talked about the possibility of having to go abroad, but - well - the world's a big place. How do we know where to look?"

"We don't." He pulled the car into a deserted by-road and turned off the engine. "Now are you going to make that call or aren't you?"

She smiled. "This is a turn up. You being anxious to report in. Aren't you scared that we'll get taken on another little trip through Wonder World?"

"Maybe this time our mysterious puppet master will make the slip we need to unmask him." Oliver sighed. "I hate this, Sydney, you know I do. How is it that he can take us into VR.5 when we're the ones making the call? How does he manage to exert such control? It's…"

"Screwy," she finished for him, seeing him at a loss for a word. "Yeah, I know. I thought that I was the VR.5 hotshot, but I guess I'm not."

"You're only human." He smiled as he lifted up the receiver, beginning to dial the number that he had learned by heart. "I'm starting to think that our friend isn't."

"You think?" They listened together to the sound of the telephone ringing at the other end of the line. After a second there was a click. "Maybe this time he'll tell us himself."

"And maybe it'll snow in the Sahara tonight." The click became a buzz and the call connected.


They were standing at an airport, with a dark black sky above them. Bursts of light like electrical impulses shot across the sky, chasing each other with rhythmical precision. Somewhere close by an aeroplane took off, its engines silent as it roared past them. They felt the blast of hot air on their faces as it rose up.

"I wonder where we are." Striking off across the tarmac, Sydney found a sign pinned to the obligatory wire mesh fence. "JSB Airport. Never heard of it."

"JSB? Aren't those your father's initials?" Oliver joined her beside the sign, fascinated by the fluid nature of its surface. As they looked at it the name changed. SKB Airport was the legend on it now.

"And those are my initials." Sydney smiled, a developing tactic to hide her nervousness. "Okay, well that's weird enough for me. Shall we take bets on what's next?"

"No." He turned in a circle, gazing around. More aeroplanes were taking off, their engines leaving shimmering images floating above the tarmac. Still there was silence, as though there was something present that could stop even that loud noise from being heard. Something efficient, that could stifle anything. "Look."

"Where?" She followed his gaze, and saw three black suited men emerging from the airport building, heading their way with fast steps. "What do you think. Security?"

"Maybe." He spun back to face the fence, movements suddenly smooth and swift. "Come on. We're going over."

"Over the fence? Now?" She glanced back over her shoulder, seeing the three approaching men go for their guns. "Right."

"Once you hit the ground, start running. Head for cover." He linked his hands, forming a foothold for her, and all but threw her over the fence. She caught hold of it to slow herself, managing to struggle over the top and down the other side.

"Hurry up Oliver!"

"I'm hurrying. Get out of here." He whirled, drawing his own ever-present gun, and fired a few shots towards the three men. Immediately they dived for cover and he spun back to the fence, throwing himself up and over it. The ground on the other side felt hard, and the landing sent shocks up his legs. He scowled, cursing himself for not performing better. A jump like that one should have been child's play.

"Stay where you are!" Even as he looked up, to see where Sydney had gone, the fence behind him changed to the cold solidity of a stone wall. It was dark all around him, but a bright beam of light was shining on his face. He half closed his eyes, trying to stare past the blinding glow to see who was shouting at him.

"What's going on?"

"Shut up." He was spun about, thrown against the wall before he could protest. Hands searched him, seizing his gun, his wallet and the notebook that he kept in the inside pocket of his jacket.


"You were told to shut up." An iron hard fist slammed into his kidneys, then his arms were pulled behind him, pinioned by hands that were too hard to resist. He was spun back around.

"What the hell is going on here?"

"Oliver Sampson? You are charged with attempted terrorism." The man facing him sounded familiar, but Oliver could not begin to put a name to it. He could not see the face due to the shadow which surrounded it, and the bright light which was still shining in his eyes.

"Terrorism? Are you crazy?" He struggled, wondering where Sydney was, and what had happened to the airport.

"Do you deny that you are part of an international agency known as the Committee? Do you deny that you have been involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy to cover up all suggestions of its existence?"

"I--" He fell silent, catching his breath before he answered. "What's going on here? Which branch are you with?"

"Answer the question, Mr Sampson." The interrogator's voice was sinister now, low pitched and soft. "Are you a part of the Committee?"

"No." Oliver glared back towards the man, to wherever he must be in the midst of all the darkness and shadow.

"Then your usefulness is at an end." He felt the familiar sensation of a gun barrel pressing into his chest, and heard the deafening sound of a hammer cocking. From somewhere on the other side of the wall, he thought he heard Sydney scream.


"Oliver?!" She turned to him, her face shockingly pale, and he dropped the receiver in surprise.

"What? What's wrong?"

"I thought - I thought--" She took a deep, shaky breath. "They were going to kill you."

"Thanks." A wry smile played about on his face. "So what did our combined subconscious reveal to us this time?"

"You really don't remember any of it, do you." She smiled back at him. "You don't know how lucky you are."

"Really." He did not sound entirely convinced. "We were in there… all of one point zero three seconds. A record I believe."

"Don't joke. We were in an airport. Its name kept changing. These three men chased us and then we escaped, but then I was in a yard. There were these high walls all round and I couldn't find a way out. I could see you, though, on the other side of the wall. I couldn't hear what was going on, but they were going to kill you."

"They'll have to get in line." He frowned. "Okay, so what? We're supposed to stay clear of aeroplanes? Or just airports? Maybe we're being told that it would be best to stay in this country for the time being."

"Maybe. Or maybe we're just being tested again." She slumped back into her seat. "Well they'll know about David by now, anyway. Our last hope gone."

"Not necessarily. Just because he didn't know anything doesn't mean to say that we've spent out last dime. There are other alternatives."

"Such as?" She opened the glove compartment. "We've only got a thousand dollars left. At the rate we're spending this money, that's not going to last us much longer."

"There's more where that came from." Replacing the telephone receiver in its cradle, he started up the engine again. "Don't worry. It won't cost us much to try out this next shot."

"You're going to run out of contacts one day, Oliver Sampson. Then where do we turn?"

"I don't know, Sydney Bloom." He grinned at her. "Relax. We'll stop off at a motel a little later on. You can have a proper meal and some sleep."

"I just want a shower." She yawned, looking towards the rising sky. "And a change of clothes."

"Well we'll have to see what we can do, then, won't we." They pulled back out onto the main road, gathering speed as they went along. "We'll be in South Virginia in few hours."

"Oh glory be." She gazed out of her window. "I can't say that'll exactly fulfil a life long ambition."

"It's better than sitting at home wondering, Syd."

"Yeah, I know." She closed her eyes, taking refuge once again in the quiet places of her mind where she could still see her family. "Wake me at the motel, Oliver."

"Sure." He smiled at her relaxing form and set his sights once more on the road ahead. The distance gauge on the dashboard clicked over another thousand miles, and a frown passed by on his forehead. Distance was Time, and one day both were going to run out.


The Messenger sat down behind his desk, checking the reports laid before him with his usual speed. He had three agents in the field, all of them with Committee connections, and all of them assigned to watch over the Bloom family. He still didn't know why. They worked together, pooling their resources in VR, sharing their leads and their setbacks in the ongoing search for Nora and Samantha, and also for the Blooms' friend Duncan. He had no idea where they were, or who had taken them. All that he knew was why.

Joseph Bloom had been a valuable asset to the Committee when he had originally joined. He had led the quest for greater knowledge concerning computers; striving to continually push back the barriers of possibility. He had developed new programs, new theories, new computers - each one a little better than the last. Finally he had led the way into Virtual Reality. His theories and discoveries had been essential to the continuing development of the Committee, helping it to stay ahead of its nearest rivals in the continuing struggle for power and knowledge. Then, overnight, he had become a liability.

Somehow, nobody knew quite how, Joseph Bloom's identity had become known to others. From a nameless, faceless operative, he had become familiar and instantly recognisable to a number of agencies in direct competition with the Committee. His young family was a target; a weakness. He was a danger to his former comrades.

The Messenger did not know quite how Joseph Bloom and one of his twin daughters had been spirited away; or where they had been kept for so long. He knew nothing about their work or their escape, or about their strange link with Alexis Miller. All that he knew was that they had survived and they had returned; and that they were now all in danger.

"Sir?" The voice of his secretary startled him back from his thoughts and he looked up at her, accepting the first cup of coffee of the day. There would be many, many more of them before he finally turned out the light in his office and thought about sleep.

"Thankyou." He smiled at her, clearly distracted. "Sorry Mai. I've been a little busy today."

"You shouldn't spend so much time in VR.5. It's probably bad for your eyes." She glanced over the files with a practised eye. "Still no word then?"

"Nothing. Garrovick reported in this morning. He's run out of contacts Stateside, and he's headed for South America. Thinks he might be able to pick something up down there. Connolly is at her wits end. Thinks she's going to try Australia. Maybe the Philippines on the way out."

"And so the unit splits." Mai glanced towards the third file. "How about Sampson?"

"Still sticking to the US. He's got this idea in his head that they're still in North America, and he's not giving up. To be honest I think it affects his thinking to have Sydney Bloom with him all the time, but there was no way he was going to leave her behind. Our benefactor instructed me to ensure that he didn't."

"Our benefactor cares a very great deal about Miss Bloom." Beginning to automatically tidy the paper strewn desk, Mai straightened the telephone, her boss's link to their mysterious commander-in-chief. "You still don't know who he is, do you."

"I have no idea. I suppose I assume that it's Joseph Bloom. Who else would know so much about the family, and care so much about them? But I just don't know." He drank down half of the coffee, scalding his mouth but not seeming to notice. "You know, a year ago I was just a normal Committee secretary, hoping to making it into the big league. Now I'm in the middle of the biggest operation this century. Every secret organisation in the world wants a piece of the Blooms. Every spy ring and international espionage agency wants to know what Joseph Bloom knows, what his family might know. And here I am, in the middle of it all, trying to keep track of who's who, and what's where."

"Not to mention working for a man you don't know, but who knows everything about you." Mai smiled at him, taking the empty cup as he drained the last of the coffee from it. "Would you like a refill?"

"Please." He leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on his newly-cleared desk, then closed his eyes momentarily. His answer was out there somewhere. Somebody had the Blooms. He just had to work out those last few connections to complete the circuit.


"I like motels." Curling up into the soft embrace of a worn eiderdown, Sydney cupped a mug of hot chocolate in her hands and breathed in the smooth aroma of the world's most sensuous beverage. At least, that was what it had said on the packet. She still couldn't get past the fact that it had been her favourite drink as a child, when she had been taken on camping holidays by her father so many years before. Not sensuous so much as filled with thoughts of self-caught trout and walks through woods smelling of pine needles. That and huddling together around a campus stove whilst the wind attempted to uproot their tent with them in it, and carry them halfway into the next state.

"I'm glad." Stretching his legs out onto the table in the centre of the room, Oliver closed his eyes momentarily. It was a relief to get out of the car for a while, for some reason other than to interrogate old associates and former contacts. His chair was comfortable and relaxing, and it felt good to have a warm meal inside him. It seemed to have been a very long time since he had last felt anything other than cold, stiff and hungry.

"We don't have to go anywhere until tomorrow, do we?" Sipping from her mug, Sydney peered over the rim at Oliver, who was barely visible due to the high back of his chair. He was silent for a few moments.

"It's your call, Sydney. We don't have to go anywhere until you want to." He gazed at the television, which was turned off. "Five minutes or five days, it's up to you."

"I couldn't stay five days. I couldn't do that to my family." She nestled deeper into the bed. "I could manage a day though. Maybe two." A yawn escaped her and she smiled sleepily. "Actually I think I could spend at least that long in the shower, so long as the hot water lasts."

"I know the feeling." He stood up, crossing to the television. "Do you mind if I turn this on? I want to catch the news."

"Think they'll be talking about us?"

"I wouldn't be surprised." He shrugged. "Committee tactic. Use the local law enforcement agencies if there's something that you can't do yourself. Every time I see a newspaper I expect to see our faces on the front page."

"You think they'd get us arrested?" Sitting up straight, Sydney nearly spilt her hot chocolate, and rescued the mug just in time. "That means we won't be safe anywhere."

"Maybe." He shrugged. "You'd be surprised how easy it can be to fool your average beat cop, especially when they've been working a long shift and they're feeling rough. Comb your hair differently and they won't recognise you. All the same, I like to be forewarned."

"Of course." She settled back to watch the screen as he turned on the set, flicking through the channels until he came to a news programme. The news reader was talking about Ireland, and some new talks going on there to try and solve its centuries-old problems. Oliver threw himself back into his chair.

"International news," he said, in the voice of cynicism and indifference. "All water under the bridge."


"Oh I mean it, Syd. All these politicians, making their plans. If the Committee, or one of its near rivals - or the CIA either for that matter - wanted the fighting to continue in Ireland, it would. None of it means anything. People are commodities. What goes on in the world is all just part of the chess game."

"Did anybody ever tell you that you are dangerously paranoid?" Swirling the cooling hot chocolate around in its mug, Sydney stared at the back of Oliver's head. "Somebody ought to show you that there are nice things in this world too."

"Nice things?" He smiled at her, glancing back over his shoulder so that his green eyes stared into her wide, blue ones. "Of course there are nice things. Then one day you grow up and something else comes along."

"Such as?"

"Guns, bombs on aeroplanes…" For the briefest of seconds he looked away from her, and she frowned at the mixed emotions in his eyes. "Kidnappings, murders, assassinations, executions."

"All just on a Monday morning." She regretted the joke almost immediately, but could not take it back. "When we find my family, and we go somewhere; somewhere safe; you'll change your mind."

"Nowhere is safe, Sydney. You can stay one step ahead, but you still have to keep looking over your shoulder. Forever."

"Thanks for that happy note." She flicked her gaze away, looking back at the television. Iraq, the Sudan; to her they were all people, suffering in a very real way, and she could not turn her feelings off like Oliver did. She found herself wondering, lost on the verge of the growing attraction of sleep, whether somewhere Samantha was watching the television too; maybe even this same programme. Maybe she too was wondering about Sydney, and whether she was watching… The thoughts swirled and fused, and she watched the faces in her head swirling, almost as though she were immersed in the rolling fibres which formed her link to VR.5. The image on the TV screen shifted, blurring slightly as a bright light pulsed over the newscaster's features.

"Damn set's on the blink." Standing up Oliver walked back to the television, clearly relishing the idea of being able to work out some of his anger on the small box. Hitting it would be rather gratifying. Instead he froze, staring at the screen. "Sydney?"

"What?" She frowned at the screen. There was a whirling spiral there now, where before had been live pictures from somewhere across the globe. She knew the spiral. It was the connection; the tunnel which led her into VR. "Turn off the set."

"Pardon?" He frowned at her, confused, and she leaped to her feet, pushing past him in her urgency. "We have to turn it off! The aerial! He's using the aerial…" She jerked the plug out of the wall socket and backed away from the television, staring at it with growing fascination. Switching the set off had had no effect. Whatever had been trying to gain control of it was already inside the box. Even as she stared at the swirling lights on the screen, she felt her world fade away.


"We're in a hospital." The walls and floors were stark, blinding white, and the strip lights on the ceiling were harsh and unpleasant, but Sydney still knew where they were. As they watched, a doctor walked past, accompanying a trolley bearing a patient. Tubes emerged from all over his body, and monitors bleeped and buzzed. There was no colour even in that scene, for the patient's face was the same hot white as the surroundings.

"Duncan…" Sydney moved forwards, but Oliver held her back, pulling her put of the way of a pair of nurses. Both were young, and they looked scared and grave.

"It doesn't look good," the darker one whispered to her companion.

"I've never had a dead one before." The blonde clenched her fists against her chest. "I do hope he makes it."

"He doesn't want to make it." Her companion stared after the trolley, her face and body seeming to grow older and more mature with each passing second. "The paramedics said it was suicide. They found a note beside him."

"What did it say?" Enthralled the smaller nurse gazed at her companion. The darker woman shrugged.

"Usual. Couldn't take it anymore. He said that he was sorry for screwing it all up. We get them in here every week. Usually at the weekend."

"I wonder who he is." The blonde's eyes travelled back to the trolley, fast disappearing around a corner at the end of the corridor.

"Who he was you mean. We only get the no-hopers in this department." The older nurse shrugged, reaching for a file on the desk which had appeared close by. "These ones just aren't mean to make it, honey." She smiled and pointed towards a door. "Fancy a coffee? We can run through your revision for the exams tomorrow."

"Thanks." The pair vanished through the door, and Sydney stepped forward to follow them. Again she felt Oliver's hand on her arm, telling her to remain where she was.

"Oliver, those people might know something! And that was Duncan! I have to go to him."

"You'd only get in the way." He stared about. "We have to look around. There might be some clues here."

"Clues? To what? You mean so that you can find out who it is that's been controlling us for the past two months? Well I don't care." She turned away, her voice shaking with anger. "Maybe it hurts your pride, Oliver, but I couldn't give a damn who it is. I just want to see Duncan. I have to help him."

"He's not real." She had already run off, and Oliver stared after her, anger and frustration flashing in his eyes. "Damn."

"Go after her, Ollie." He knew the voice, and did not turn around to look at Abernathy.


"Because this is Virtual Reality. Anything can happen in here."

"It's not real." He half turned, then stopped himself, deciding that he did not want to see the face of the man who had betrayed him. "None of it is. That's not Duncan. This isn't a hospital."

"That's your weakness, Ollie, and it always was. VR just isn't real to you. That's why you can't use it. That's why you can't be a part of it. You have to believe that it's real."

"It isn't real. It's not true."

"What is true? You said yourself that there is no truth. So if nothing is true, nothing can be real. Nothing anywhere."

"Leave me alone." He began to walk away, following Sydney down the corridor. It had suddenly become straight, leading them onwards into some distant whiteness; but no matter how fast he moved he did not seem able to catch his companion, or to make the white light grow any nearer.

"Reality is truth." Voices were whispering to him, muttering in his ears, echoing inside his mind. "Reality is truth. Truth is reality."

"There is no truth." It sounded like Alex. Up ahead Sydney stopped running and looked back at him, her eyes wide.

"Oliver!" She was shouting, and he could hear the fear in her voice. Heart-wrenching, all-encompassing fear which chilled him to the bone. He began to run, moving faster and faster, but only seeming to see her going further and further away. She reached out her hands towards him, and he saw her pale, frightened face getting smaller and smaller until it was gone completely. He stumbled to a halt, staring around, his breathing ragged. He could see faces coming and going in the midst of the nothingness which now surrounded him, but he could not see Sydney. The never-ending hospital corridor had vanished, and with it Duncan and the two nurses. He was entirely alone. Empty blackness stretched far out on every side of him. He felt isolated; more so than he had ever been before.

"Sydney?" He wandered along in the first direction that came to him, trying to see beyond the nothingness. "Hello? Where are you, damn it?"

"Nowhere." It was Nora Bloom, wandering towards him out of the emptiness. "We are all of us nowhere. Nowhere and everywhere. Nothing and everything surround us."

"Emptiness." Samantha had appeared as well, and stood beside her mother. "All is empty, and yet all is full. Nothing exists and yet everything is real. All is true, and yet nothing is the truth."

"Lose the philosophy. That's Duncan's thing, not mine." He took a step towards them, but they faded away. "Where are you?"

"Find the truth." He thought that it was Joseph Bloom's voice, but he was not entirely sure. He had only heard it on a few crackling old recordings. "Find the truth, and you'll find the answer."

"But there is no truth." The voice came from right behind him, but when he whirled around there was nobody there.

"Oliver?" This time it was Sydney's voice, and it cut through the others, coming from somewhere far above him. Direction no longer meant anything, and the laws of physics did not seem to apply in this strange sense of reality. He gazed up towards the sound of the voice and struck out for it. This time, the faster that he moved, the closer it became.


"Sydney!" He jerked up, eyes snapping wide open as he gazed around. He was on a bed, in some strange room that he did not recognise. Sydney was sitting on an identical bed across the room, staring at him with her bright, wide blue eyes. She watched dispassionately as he regained his composure, gasping for breath.

"You okay?" she asked him eventually. He nodded, managing a smile.

"Yes, fine. Although somewhat spooked if I'm honest. Do you have any idea where we are?"

"No. I was just about to ask you." She glanced at her watch. "If we can believe this, we were in VR for approximately one and a half seconds. So what gives with the total scenery change?"

"I don't know." He stood up, looking about at the room. It was large and airy, tastefully decorated, and there was a hot teapot on the dresser, with a pair of mugs standing next to it. "I've still got my gun. This doesn't feel like a snatch."


"Meaning that I don't think we're prisoners, Syd." He went to the door and gave the handle an experimental twist. It turned easily, and the door opened. "It looks okay to me."

"But--" She fell silent, then went to the teapot and filled the mugs. "Here."

"Thankyou." He took the mug, glancing at something which had been leaning against the teapot; a brown envelope, with his name scrawled across the front. The writing was untidy, and somehow familiar. "Letter bombs with the morning cuppa?"

"Don't joke." She watched him with cold eyes as he opened the envelope, but there was nothing sinister about its contents. Five thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills fanned out in Oliver's fingers. He smiled at her.

"Our mysterious benefactor's way of making contact." A frown crossed his face. "Hang on, there's something else in here."

"A safety deposit box key? The combination of a left luggage locker?" She rolled her eyes, showing her disapproval at the cloak and dagger approach. He smiled.

"Not exactly, no. A letter." His green eyes scanned the words, timing her frustration as it built.

"And what does it say?"

"That he's sorry." He shrugged. "We were being watched. He had to get us out of the motel room quickly, and put us somewhere else…" His words trailed off. "Get us out quickly?"

"VR." Sydney's voice was hushed, lying somewhere between fear and delight. "Oliver, he transported us through VR!"

"Yes, Sydney, of course he did. And I do my week's shopping by transporter beam."

"I'm serious, Oliver." Her eyes warned him not to mock. "Think about it. Whoever this guy is, he already has unparalleled access to the Virtual World. He can control others to a limitless extent, and he can even get inside mains wires, instead of being restricted to the phone lines like I am. He's a genius. If he can use our minds in VR, why not our bodies too? I know it sounds a little crazy, but it's only one step up from what I do. My father might already have perfected the process. We don't know what he's been up to recently."

"You think that our benefactor is your father?" Oliver frowned. "Sydney, I'm really not sure…"

"No, neither am I. Not really." She whirled around, sipping her tea at the same time, miraculously without spilling a drop. "But think about it, Oliver. This guy is incredible. Don't you see what it means?"

"Yeah. That there's somebody somewhere in this world who can get at us wherever we are, get inside our heads no matter what precautions we take, and transport us to wherever he chooses no matter what our opinions are on the matter! This is not some great scientific breakthrough Sydney. This is the end of what little personal freedom we have so far managed to gain!" He spun on his heel, heading towards the door. "Now I suggest that we get moving before your new hero decides to pay us a visit through the microwave, or the heating system."

"I don't think that we need to be scared of him, Oliver." She took a step towards him, but stepped sharply back as he whirled to face her.

"Scared? Scared? What the hell do you know about being scared, Sydney? We are talking here about unknown forces gaining control of our minds. Who gives a damn if this guy is trustworthy? All knowledge exists to be exploited. Every discovery find its way into the hands of the enemy one day. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, everybody gets access to it eventually. What happens when the Committee get their hands on this latest little breakthrough? What then? They won't need you or your family anymore. They won't need anybody anymore." He grabbed her arms, his bright, hot eyes barely a foot away from her own. "Do you know, Sydney, how hard I have fought to gain the freedom that I have now? Do you know how long it has taken for me to stop dreaming about the labyrinth? And now, all of it… all of it is for nothing. Now we can never get away. We can never be free, because somebody somewhere can always be there. Inside our heads."

"You're hurting me Oliver." She tried to pull free, but he held on, staring into her eyes with cold fury.

"Am I?" For a second his voice was light and teasing, as though he were playing with her. "Life will hurt you a lot more than that." He released her and turned away, throwing the envelope of money at her. "Here you are, Sydney. You go back out there, and you lead this guy straight to your family. You find them for him. Then when the Committee comes knocking on your door and takes them away from you again, spare a thought for Oliver Sampson."

"Oliver?" Panic-stricken she took a step forward, but the look that he gave her was filled with daggers. She stopped, the breath freezing in her lungs as she saw the look on his face.

"Forget it, Sydney. Forget that you ever saw me. Do us all a favour."

"But I - I mean - All I said was--"

"I said forget it." He stormed out of the door and it slammed shut behind him, making the frame tremble slightly. She stayed where she was for a second, shocked, then ran after him.

"Oliver!" She fumbled with the door handle, her shaking hands unable to grasp it properly, and stumbled out into the daylight beyond the door. She saw Oliver, a hot and angry figure storming across the car park, the light shining off his black leather jacket and his single gold earring. Nearby a long black car shot from around the building, jerking to a halt alongside him. A cry began on Sydney's lips, but she swallowed it, pressing herself against the doorframe in an attempt to hide. She saw two men emerge from the back of the car; saw Oliver go for his gun; and saw the two men seize him before he could do anything. She recognised a gas canister in the hand of one of the men; saw a burst of spray erupt from it; and saw Oliver go limp. He was thrown into the car and the two men climbed in after him. The car zoomed away.

"Oliver…" A heavy, lonely sob emerged from somewhere deep within her, and she felt her body sag against the doorframe. Her heavy legs seemed barely able to support her, but somehow she found her way back inside the motel room, and closed the door after her. She heard it lock, and felt her fingers slip the chain on.

"Oliver…" At a loss for what to do, or where to go, she wandered over to the nearest bed and collapsed onto it. She felt lost, and terribly alone. Everything seemed to hurt, and nothing made any immediate sense. Her shoulders began to heave, and soon the sobs were out of control. The only thing that seemed real was the desolation.


"Oliver…?" The voice came from somewhere indeterminate in the cloudy recesses of his consciousness. It was gentle and soft, and it was calling for his attention. He tried to answer it, but the fog in his head seemed to have become entangled in his tongue, and he could not be sure that his answer had made any sense. He concentrated on his eyes instead, forcing them to open.

"Oliver!" This time there was relief in the voice, and the face above him blurred and settled into that of Nora Bloom. She looked surprisingly tender. "Are you alright?"

"Barely." He struggled to sit up, slightly unnerved by her gentle hand on his arm, helping him to steady himself. Samantha was sitting on the floor a few feet away, glaring at him as though warning him about making any sudden moves. Duncan was crouching next to Nora. His long hair looked tidy and clean, and his clothes did not suggest that there had been any rough treatment. "How - How are you all?"

"Fine. If a little bored." Nora smiled at him. "We have a whole house to ourselves; use of the garden. The only thing that we can't do is leave."

"Or use a phone or a computer." Duncan shrugged. "But you should see the library, Oliver."

"I'm glad it meets with your approval." Standing up, Oliver looked around. He was in a large, spacious room, carpeted with a thick covering of soft red weave. Several comfortable looking chairs stood about the room, and thick curtains hung at the windows. Potted plants stood about the place, filling the room with the muted scent of flowers that he couldn't identify. There were many of them, and it reminded him of Abernathy's shop in a way that he would rather have avoided. Nothing there looked to him like any prison that he had ever known, but he disliked it all the same. "Who brought you here?"

"The people who captured us at the motel room." Duncan, still sitting on the floor, hugged his knees and rested his chin on them, frowning deeply. "If they wanted you to join the party, why didn't they just take you then?"

"Because they needed me to help them find somebody." Convinced of that, Oliver went to the window, looking out onto a large, flora-filled garden surrounded by high walls that he could not see over. "Somebody who cares about you, and who has unprecedented access to VR. They wanted to smoke him out."

"Somebody who's on our side?" Nora sounded upset. "I hope we haven't put anybody at risk."

"Only Sydney." He sat down on the windowsill, facing back into the room. "I don't know how they knew where we were, but the net must be closing in, or they would never have made their move."

"But who-?"

"I don't know." Cutting Samantha off before she could get the rest of the question out, Oliver strode towards the door and opened it. He could tell immediately that the rest of the house was empty. Not a sound came from anywhere in the building. It was almost unreal in its silence. "All I know is that somebody somewhere cares for you all a very great deal. He's placed unending resources in the hands of a few operatives; no expense spared to find you. The Committee must have won over the others who work for him. I wouldn't be surprised. Word is they were all Committee as well."

"But who is this man? Why should he care so much about us?" Nora sat down on one of the chairs, gazing up at him expectantly. He smiled slightly.

"I don't have the slightest idea, Mrs Bloom. Sydney thinks that it might be your husband, but I'm not too sure. It doesn't look like his work."

"But if you don't know who he is, how does the Committee expect to find him?" Standing up, her arms folded, Samantha glared at him. Oliver glared back, their eyes meeting and fusing in their mutual dislike and distrust.

"Is it possible for them to monitor VR.5 in some way? To know what's going on in there?"

She was silent for several seconds.

"Yes, I think so. It would require some quite impressive work, but I know that Doctor Morgan was working on a theory that would allow him to do that. It's quite likely that he finished it before he was killed; or that somebody else has completed his work."

"That's it then. The one place where we all thought we were safe was in VR.5. But if the Committee has been watching us in there, they know as much as we know now; at least I think we have to assume that they do." He began to pace. "Whoever this guy is, he always knows where Sydney and I are. It's uncanny. I can only assume that the Committee is hoping that he'll reveal himself now that he knows Sydney is alone." He shook his head, angry with himself. "I should never have left her. He'll know that she's alone, and that will worry him. He might make a mistake."

"Why did you leave her?" There was a direct challenge in Samantha's voice. He met her gaze again, holding it until her eyes flickered away.

"Because of something that I saw I VR.5. I don't think that she saw it, and I didn't want her to know about it until I was sure."

"You remembered what you saw in VR?" Duncan sounded interested, but Oliver was not in the mood for a discussion of the scientific implications of this event. He merely nodded.

"I can't explain it. It's not a complete memory; more like a… a thought or a feeling. In the past I've had to rely on her memories of it all; but this time I can almost remember it."

"And?" Duncan's voice showed excitement, as though he were enjoying this tale of intrigue.

"You. All of you. You were telling me things that didn't make any sense at first, until I thought about it a little harder. About nothingness, and - everythingness." He did not sound entirely happy with this last word, but was clearly using it whilst at a loss for something better. "You said that you were nowhere and everywhere."

"Sounds Eastern and mystical." Duncan was clearly in his element. "Where did it look like we were?"

"In a hospital." Oliver shrugged. "I - I decided that our contact didn't want Sydney to know what I had learned, at least not yet, so I told her to manage on her own and I walked out. Of course, what I didn't allow for was the Committee being camped on our doorstep."

"Nobody is perfect, Oliver." Nora still spoke with the soft voice of reassurance.

"Not even me." Duncan grinned, earning the faintest of smiles from Oliver. "So are you going to tell us?"

"Tell you what?"

"Where we are? Or haven't you figured that out yet?"

"Yes…" He wandered over to the window again. "I already told you; we're nowhere."

"Looks like somewhere to me," Samantha told him. He nodded slowly.

"It would do." Outside, snow was beginning to fall, and the room seemed to be growing colder, to Oliver at least. The more that he thought about it, the colder he became, but the others showed no signs of discomfort. He kept his eyes glued to the scene outside the window, where the snow was falling faster and faster. The clearer his thoughts became, the more he was sure that he could see a film of ice growing on the window before him.


Sydney awoke feeling stiff and cold. She had fallen asleep in an awkward position on the bed, her hands twisted around the pillow. She unfolded herself carefully, wary of cramp, and peered about at the room. There was no Oliver in the chair, telling her that she had imagined his abduction. Instead there was just an empty room, cooled and quiet.

"Welcome to the game, Sydney Bloom." She whispered the words to the silence, unsure quite why she had chosen them, but aware that they seemed to fit the moment. Here she was, alone and helpless, with Oliver in need of rescue as well now. She went to the window, staring out into the car park. She had five thousand dollars that she didn't know what to do with, and four people to find. She didn't have a clue where to start looking. She wanted to go to the telephone and dial the familiar number, but she didn't dare. Somebody would be listening in, somewhere. The people who had taken Oliver might be watching her. Despite her confusion she knew enough to realise that they might be after her contact.

"Okay, so no telephones." She crossed to the television and plugged it back in, sitting down cross-legged before it. She tuned it to some inane game show, filled with brain dead members of the public giggling at each other, and stared at the centre of the screen. Something had to happen. He had to get in touch.

"Sydney?" The voice startled her, and she spun around. Her father stood in the centre of the room, strangely monochrome in colour. Only his eyes and his tie bore any shade other than grey. He smiled at her.

"Daddy!" She began to get up, then froze, looking about. The walls had disappeared. She was in the garden of her family home, the beloved house where she and Samantha had grown up together, before Joseph had been abducted and all their lives had begun to disintegrate.

"I'm sorry Sydney." He was smiling at her, his eyes sad. "It all went wrong here."

"No. Not wrong. Just… screwy." She wanted to run to him, but she knew that he was not real. "I - Where are you Daddy?"

"Waiting for you." He grinned at her, stepping forward, his hand outstretched. "I've been waiting for a long time. I have a message for you. From someone who cares."

"My contact?" She jumped to her feet. "What's the message?"

"The message is…" He spread his fingers, reaching for her hand. "The message is look inside." Their hands touched and the lights within her flashed.


"James!" The Messenger stood in the centre of the football field, although Sydney could not see any justifiable reason why he would have chosen such a place to meet her. A small boy stood at one end of the field, trying to toss his football over the posts. Sydney could not see his face, or any feature at all save his dark hair.

"Sydney!" His relief obvious, the Messenger met her at the halfway line. He seemed about to hug her to him, but stopped himself in time and shook her hand instead. "Thank goodness you're alright."

"I'm fine." She frowned at him uncertainly. "I just saw my father… I think. It was VR, I know, but it didn't feel like it."

"VR doesn't have to be virtual." He smiled at her. "That's a lesson I've learnt since I started working for you-know-who. Sometimes Virtual Reality is more real than the truth. Some truths are best found in the places beyond reality."

"I'll take your word for it." She looked around. "What's going on, James. Why this place?"

"What place?" He looked confused, as though he always conducted his meetings in the middle of football fields. "I don't know. It's your subconscious that this all comes from. All I know is that somebody told me the game is about to start. That little kid is the mascot for the home team."

"The game is about to start?" She looked about, but could not see the players. That didn't surprise her; she and James were the players, she recognised that. Welcome to the game… "The spectators…" The stands seemed filled with men in black suits, all wearing sunglasses despite the cloudy weather. That meant something to her. "We're being watched. We're not safe here."

"I got that impression too. Our benefactor has detected traces within; people spying on VR.5. That was how they knew where you and Oliver would be. They saw where you were sent and they had their nearest agents report to the scene." He shook his head. "I'm sorry we couldn't pick up on it sooner; but it wasn't without its bonuses."

"What do you mean?" She tried to ignore the jeers of the crowd, and their repeated hissing and yelling at the small boy trying to throw his ball.

"I mean that Oliver was taken to your family. And now our benefactor knows where they are."

"Where?!" She leant towards him, eager to hear, but he shook his head.

"Not here. It's not safe. I don't know how many people are listening in, or which side they're all on. We have to go somewhere safer."


"Further in." He took her hand. "Are you scared, Sydney Bloom?"

"Of what?"

"Inside." His smile faded as he tightened his grip. "You have to look inside." She nodded, watching the football field fade away. The small boy ceased his playing and stared after them. His face looked familiar, but he was gone before she could spare it a second's thought.


"Oliver?!" Duncan ran to the window, brushing the hair from his eyes. "Hey, hey you saw that right?" He spun around to face the others. "Right?"

"Yes…" Samantha stepped forward. "He - he just disappeared. He was there, and then…" She shook her head. "That's crazy. He can't have just disappeared."

"But he did." Nora walked over to the window, staring out. The garden looked as idyllic as ever, and the sun was shining just as it had done every day since she had been taken to the house. Everywhere was quiet and peaceful. "He's gone."

"I hope he's okay." Samantha smiled at their raised eyebrows. "Hey, I didn't say I liked him - or even that I trust him. But he is the best hope we've got."

"Amen to that." Nora sat down on the windowsill. "I wonder where he's gone."


Oliver opened his eyes, jerking awake with a suddenness that caused him to bang his head sharply on the sheet of glass in front of him. He blinked, momentarily stunned, then reached out with his fingers. He felt cold, and his fingertips were numb, but the feeling was returning to them with a pain that felt intense. He felt the sheet of glass move, and finally slide aside. He stepped forward.

He was standing in a room, large and quiet. The only sound was the gentle hum of refrigeration units, and the air was filled with wisps of steam from the contact between cold glass and warm air. He looked back at the small metal pod which had contained him. A number was stamped on the front, above the glass door. 5J. His eyes travelled over the similar pods lined up alongside his own. Through the condensation and the ice, he could just recognise Duncan's face behind the glass of pod 5I. Nora was in 5H and Samantha in 5G. He didn't need to wander further along to know who was in 5D. The place made his blood run cold, and he shivered. He could try to revive the others, but he had no idea how, and he did not want to do anything that might endanger them. Instead he picked his way carefully through the rows, until he came to a desk. A man was seated at it, his back turned to his former internee, and Oliver moved silently forward.

"Excuse me?" He watched the man turn, enjoying the look of surprise on his face as he stood up. Glenn Walters was at least four inches taller than Oliver, but he had never had any cunning or real speed. Oliver had beaten him before, in the training rooms of his early career.

"Sampson." Walters spoke in a gruff voice, stepping forward. "I'm not going to ask how you got out. I'm just going to enjoy tearing you apart."

"And hello to you too, Glenn." Oliver pushed the desk aside, his instincts telling him what his next move should be. Walters was left handed. That meant that the left hand drawer was his likely target.

"You're a dead man Sampson." His broad chest rising and falling in rage, Walters moved forwards. Oliver stepped neatly aside, catching the other man's wrist and increasing his swing. A heavy arm knocked against his chest, but it carried half of its intended force, and Oliver rode it round, letting his opponent push him closer to the drawers underneath the desk. His hand closed around the handle of the closest one and he pulled it open, his fingers reaching inside even as Walters came back for a second assault. Oliver pulled his hand out of the desk, the sleek black shape of his enemy's own gun nestled sweetly into his fist. He grinned. Walters froze. Oliver fired.

"I--" The word half formed itself on the Committee agent's face, then his legs gave way. "You'll never make it out of here alive."

"Nor will you." Oliver smiled down at him, not moving until he was certain that his opponent was dead; then he crossed to the computer beside the door. It was designed to monitor the temperature of the pods, but he was sure that it had other uses. It had to. If he was right, he wouldn't even need a modem or a phone line. He typed in his old access codes, relieved to find them still working, then laid his fingers lightly on the keys and closed his eyes. Somebody would come to him, if he waited for long enough.


The world was upside down, and all of the colours seemed to have been transposed. Looking down at her hands, Sydney found them to be a peculiar shade of blue. The wisps of her hair that she caught sight of were red; not ordinary hair colour red, but bright, flaming red, the colour from a child's set of primary paints. She frowned, intrigued by this new scene, and the Messenger smiled.

"This is your mind, Sydney. If it's weird, so are you."

"Thanks." She stared about, fascinated by the curious mixture of scenery. Pieces of her bedroom as a child mingled with pieces of her sitting room back at the apartment she had not been to for so long. Trees grew out of the middle of the floor, and the photographs which lined the shelves showed her adult self at parties she had been to as a child; and also herself as a child standing at her graduation ceremony, and wearing her Tel-Cal overalls.

"I'm inside my own mind…" The thought was exciting, and yet also worrying. Here there were no secrets, from herself or from anyone else. The photographs dotted about the room seemed suddenly to feature Oliver Sampson in a big way, and she tried not to look at them. She saw him smiling at her from a gilded frame in the centre of the room, and tried to concentrate on the Messenger instead.

"What did you want to tell me?"

"Your friends. Your family. They're safe. They're somewhere where our benefactor can keep an eye on them."

"He's close to them?"

"Sort of. I think." He looked around. "The key is here, Sydney. Look inside."

"I am looking!" She turned in a circle. "But I don't know what I'm looking for."

"The way. You have to find the link. Your mind has its darkest recesses, where the implants designed by your father rest within your innermost thoughts. That links you to your family. You have to look inside."

"My family… They're in here somewhere?" She stared about in wonder. He shrugged.

"I don't know. I just know that the time to look for them outside has gone. The net is drawing closer. The labyrinth is growing more complex." His body began to lose substance. "I have to go now, Sydney."

"But--" She tried to step towards him, but found herself unable to move to his side.

"I'm sorry. I can't go with you, where you're going now. And you can't come with me, either."

"But how do I know-?"

"You'll know." He smiled at her. "It's been… fun, Sydney. It's been very… true." He faded away completely.

"James…" She stood very still, looking about the room. It was quiet and dark, and now there was only one light burning there. A small angle-poise lamp, bent over a computer keyboard. She went to it, sitting down on a chair that she seemed to remember revising for a test on, some ten years previously. Maybe even longer. Past and present were becoming as blurred in her mind as they were in the room she now found herself in.

"Let's see where you are," she whispered to the room at large, and pulled on her VR gloves. The visor fitted neatly over her head, and she dialled the number that she didn't need to see to tap out correctly. The number of her old family house. The familiar sound fired through her ears, and she watched the lights of uplink, even though the phone had not rung, and nobody had answered. Her pulse began to beat faster, and she heard her breath in the silence. It felt as if her father was close by.


Oliver Sampson shook his head hard, and looked about. He was no longer in the cryogenics room, but the sense of confusion which had come with his translocation the last time did not worry him so much when he had been expecting it. He was in a room, an ordinary office to all appearances, with blinds on the windows and an expensive state-of-the-art computer on a wall shelf. The screen was blank. He turned, seeing a desk now, and the shape of a man sitting at it. His posture was bad, for he appeared slumped and uncomfortable. His hand was gripping a mug, but no steam came from it. Oliver's hackles rose, and he went immediately to the figure. He could see that it was James before he was very much closer, and a cursory examination told him that death had occurred at least two hours previously; very likely as a result of the gunshot wound neatly inscribed into his forehead. A clean shot, straight between the eyes. Fired by a professional, obviously, since there were no signs of the powder burns which would have been in evidence had the shot been made at close quarters.

"Ah, Mr Sampson. You're here." He turned, seeing a tall, pretty young woman with black hair emerge from an outer office. She was carrying a gun that his practised eyes identified as the same calibre which had killed the Messenger.

"Mai Vaughn." Surprised, he raised his eyebrows. "I thought you were dead."

"So did a lot of people." She shrugged. "But I'm not."

"So I see." He sat down on the desk, holding his hands where she could see them. "How have you been? Since last time."

"You mean since you left me handcuffed to an Eastern German policeman, on my way to a high security prison?" She shrugged. "So so. I killed him, and left his body on the rail line. There wasn't much left by the time it was found."

"You never did have any finesse."

"Finesse?" She moved closer. "Who needs finesse? I have you, and I have that." She gestured at the computer on the wall shelf. "That has everything. That is what dear, sweet James over there was using to perform all those delightful little tricks in VR.5. My boss will pay me a very great deal of money for that. And a little extra, for you."

"You think James was behind all that fancy stuff? You're way out, Mai. He didn't know who was pulling the strings."

"So he said. But I watched him. He knew things."

"He only knew what he was told." Oliver glanced back at the Messenger. He looked forlorn in death, and Sampson could only hope that he had finally found a few answers. There were altogether too many questions which clearly could not be answered in life; not that he felt much like joining James to solve them. He saw a frown pass across Mai's face. "If you take your boss what you've got now, he'll laugh at you."

"Do you have something else to suggest instead?"

"Yes." He picked up the phone on the desk. "Somebody sent me here for a reason. I can only go along with that, and try to go a little further in. If you want to find out what's going on here, come with me. We might just find the way together."

"I have the gun Sampson."

"Of course. There would be no threat to you; but there just might be one or two answers."

"If you say so." She smiled, waving her handgun at him. "Go ahead. I have enough experience of VR to stay ahead of the situation; so don't try anything."

"As if I would." He dialled the number, and held the receiver out for her to share. Just before the lights of VR enveloped them, Mai thought that she heard an unknown voice, whispering in her ear. Welcome to the game, Mai Vaughn.


Sydney wandered down a long corridor. There were paintings on the walls, and thick carpets on the floor. Old photographs stared at her; strict looking Edwardian gentlemen, and Victorian women that she knew from the ancient photo album kept in her father's study. They were English ancestors of her family; long dead people who had lived and died in blissful ignorance of the net already tightening around their descendants. She wondered what their pictures were doing in this strange house, and who might have put them there. Her father perhaps, or her benefactor. He certainly seemed to know a lot about her family.

"Hello?" She called the word again and again, certain that there had to be somebody there who would hear her. The building could not be entirely deserted, for the grandfather clock in the hall had still been ticking, and there was no dust anywhere. Everything was scrupulously clean; just as her mother had kept their family home, in the days before her imprisonment in the labyrinth of VR.7.

"E is for enter the closet ourselves." She did not at first realise that she had been thinking aloud and she whirled around, expecting to see somebody standing behind her. There was no one, and she laughed at herself for not recognising her own voice. Of course; the place that she was looking for was bound to be hidden. Some secret door; and since it was her own mind that was hiding it, it stood to reason that it would be hidden in the place where she was most likely to look. She went straight for the cupboard under the stairs. It seemed the most natural place to start.

"N is for never tell anyone else." She smiled, and ran her hands over the wooden wall at the back of the cupboard. "T is for tap with our knuckles times three…" She did so, and felt something give under her hands. Her smile became a grin. "E is for effort when turning the key…" Her hands groped in the darkness, and struck a loose nail, which twisted at the touch of her fingers. "R is for run back the latch and find me!" The back of the cupboard swung open, and she stepped out into a large, richly furnished room.

"Sydney!" Running forward in clear delight, Samantha threw herself at her sister, her fingers locking behind her twin's neck. "Sydney, is it really you?"

"As far as I know." She looked around. "Mother… Duncan." They hugged briefly. "It's really you, isn't it. For real this time."

"You found us. I knew you would." Nora held her daughter's hand tightly. "I just knew that you would come."

"Where's Oliver?" Sydney looked around, seeing the thick curtains and the deep chairs, the embroidered cushions and the rich paintings on the walls. "He was brought here; wasn't he?"

"He was here, yes." Nora looked away momentarily, her eyes straying to the window where the Committee agent had disappeared. "One minute he was standing there, and the next… he was gone."

"Gone?" She frowned, then shook her head, a faint smile playing about on her face. "Of all of us, I never imagined him to be the one to work it out first."

"Work what out?" Duncan was frowning at her, pushing back his hair in his usual, automatic way. "He spouted some stuff about reality and unreality, and then the next thing we know he's… pouf! Like a puff of smoke. Neat trick."

"It wasn't a trick." She went to the window, looking out. "He must have realised that none of this is real. It's all just an extension of VR." Her head shook from side to side at the enormity of the realisation. "The quiet place inside. That's where we are, don't you see? This isn't a real house, or a real prison. It's just VR." Her smile faded. "And now they know that I'm in here with you. We have to find the way out. I have to find out where you really are."

"But we're here, dear. We have been since we were kidnapped." Nora came towards her, clearly worried about the state of her daughter's mind. "Sydney…"

"No mother. This isn't where you were brought. This is just the place that your minds found themselves in. The Committee must have done something to your bodies… drugged you maybe… so that your minds were alert but you weren't. That way they could probe your subconscious - try and find out what you knew, and how you operate; so that they can discover what it is that links us to each other… and to Daddy."

"We're in VR?" Duncan looked around. "Where are the weird colours? And all the topsy-turvy scenery?"

"It's a projection of VR; a different form to what we're used to, that's all." Her forehead was lined with concern. "Listen, you must think. What did Oliver say before he disappeared? What did he do? There must be something."

"He looked out of the window, that's all." Samantha wandered over to the window and stared out at the garden that she knew so well. She had wandered through it so many times; smelt all of the flowers and felt the grass underfoot. Could it really all be some false imagining? "He said that we were nowhere, then he shivered, and - and disappeared."


"Yeah, really shivered." Duncan nodded. "Like he was really cold or something."

"It has to mean something…" Sydney stood beside her sister, staring out at a garden which could not possibly be real, and yet felt as though it had to be. What could Oliver have seen or realised that would have allowed him to break out of the scenario? What could have made him feel so cold? The answer had to be around here somewhere. She closed her eyes and tried to think.


"Where the hell are we?" Staring about with eyes as big as saucers, Mai swung around to face Oliver. "What is this place?"

"As if I'd know." He shrugged. "VR is a bigger mystery to me than the rules of American football. I don't understand any of it."

"We're in a forest." She folded her arms. "It's dark, and it's thick and I don't like it. What are we supposed to be learning?"

"We're supposed to see what we're being shown." He walked away from her, heading deeper into the forest. "There's a track here. We should probably follow it."

"Lead on." She joined him, following him along the pathway until it split, quite suddenly, into two separate ways. One path was thinner, and was lined with flowers and plants that reminded Oliver of a little shop he had used to frequent. The other way was wider, and much more travelled.

"The parting of the ways." He smiled, reading a meaning into this scene. "I think our tour guide is trying to tell us something."

"You think?" She shrugged. "I think I should have stayed behind in the real world, and taken that computer to my boss."

"Fine, you do that. I'm sure he'll let you out if you ask politely." Oliver started off down the road less travelled, but Mai's shout brought him up short.

"I have the gun, Oliver."

"Do you?" He smiled sweetly at her. "Take a look." He did not need to turn around to know the shout of dismay when she realised that she was unarmed. "Sorry honey, but in here it works the way he wants it to."

"Well who the hell is he?" She caught him up, looking thunderous. "Look, why are we taking this road, Oliver? The other way is much easier going."

"But I want to see where this one leads." He started off again, leaving her behind. "If my theory is right, we'll be finding the going a little easier soon enough."

"We'd better." She fell into step beside him, surprised when, a few twists and turns later, the main path came back towards them, eventually merging with their little splinter once again. Oliver smiled and nodded in satisfaction.

"Thought so."

"Thought what?"

"A splinter may have broken away from the main body, but it's still made of the same stuff." His smile grew cold. "I can't trust any of them. Not a one."

"How does this help me?"

He turned to look at her, ice burning in his eyes for several seconds, before it finally gave way to a smile.

"You get to take your boss some interesting information."


"Meaning that you work for Heinz Barron, right? I know he's always been interested in VR. His work was pre-empted by Joseph Bloom's. Barron was king of the computers before then, and he was reputed to have whole governments willing to do his bidding."

"What of it?"

"Access codes. I can give you the access codes to all of the Committee files on Joseph Bloom. All that you have to promise is that you'll leave him and his family alone. I'll see that your organisation gets to be up-to-date on his research."

She smiled at him.

"James was right; you really do care about these people. You've sold out to them."

"I'm not the one who sold out." He gestured to the pathways converging where they stood. "The Committee promises a lot, but it only delivers to those at the centre of the labyrinth. Everybody else gets used, all of the time. We don't mean anything to them. I think it's only fair that some other organisation get the same knowledge, the same capabilities. Knowledge is far less dangerous when it's shared."

"You're prepared to put us on an equal footing with your own people?" She whistled. "They'll be as mad as hell."

"I know." He smiled gently. "Come on."

"Where are we going?"

"We have to follow this road to wherever it leads us."

"We can't just go back?" She looked dismayed, but he shook his head.

"No. We have to find our way out of here; go wherever it leads us. This is VR.5, not your kind of VR. Here we're not in the driving seat."

"I don't like it." She seemed to be moving closer to him, and he found himself not objecting.

"Neither do I. But you get used to it, in a grudging sort of way." He took her hand. "Keep your eyes peeled."


"There are others in here too. VR.5 is far from being virgin territory you know. The Committee is finding its feet here. They'll be watching us."

"Then they could be here at any moment; and your friend threw us in here without a gun." She shook her head. "What am I worrying about? This is VR; it isn't real."

"There's a greater truth in here than there is out there." He smiled at her, beginning to lead the way down the winding road. "I feel somewhat like Dorothy."

"I'll be Dorothy. You can be the Tin Man." Her eyes lit up again. "Although something tells me that somebody has reintroduced you to your heart."

"I don't think so." He smiled, but for a moment he could not turn his thoughts away from Sydney. He had no idea where she was, or even whether she was alright. That bothered him more than he would ever have imagined. He frowned and quickened his step. Maybe she was out here, somewhere. Maybe she was a part of his truth. If everything went according to plan, he might be about to find out.


They walked for what seemed like hours. Oliver was more tired than he was willing to admit, and soon found himself beginning to drop back. He had been on the go for months, and his period in the pod back at the Committee warehouse had not exactly been relaxing. He felt as though only a Turkish bath could restore his energy to a useful level; and in his current state of exhaustion he couldn't even remember where Turkey was.

"Oliver, hurry up." Mai glared back at him. "This was your idea."

"I know." He stifled a yawn. "Sorry. Go on ahead if you want to."

"I'd rather not let you out of my sight." She stopped to wait for him. "You've been working with this mystery guy for a couple of months, haven't you?"

"You know a lot." He shrugged, not seeing how it could hurt to tell her. "Yes, I have. What does it matter?"

"I just wondered why he only reveals little bits to you at a time. All of this - it's just a road. He couldn't have shown it to you the first time he got in touch?"

"I know. I think, on reflection, that he can only show us little things. It's as if, despite his abilities in VR, he isn't very strong. He can create these scenarios to show us things, or find things out; but there are limits. And I don't think he knows that only Sydney remembers it all when we come back out." He frowned. "Why do you ask?"

"Just wondering." She smiled. "All information to take home to the chief."

"If you're looking for ways to escape from here, don't bother. He may not be infallible, but he does have control of the doors." He threw himself down into the shade of a tree. "Mai…?"

"What?" She went to the middle of the road, gazing in both directions.

"How can somebody be taken by one group and yet be kept prisoner in another group's station?"

"This isn't hypothetical, is it?"

"Not exactly, no."

"The Blooms are being held on Committee ground?"

"Yes…" He frowned up at her. "It doesn't make any sense. They weren't taken by the Committee; they couldn't have been. And yet a Committee man was in charge of the snatch, and was guarding them at the warehouse."

"That's international intrigue for you, Oliver." She sat down beside him. "The Committee probably did a deal with one of their rivals. They wanted to lay a false trail, so that their own splinter factions wouldn't know where the Blooms were. From what I hear, the split goes pretty high up; nobody knows who to trust."

"A merger." Oliver nodded slowly. "One of the other organisations which has been going for nearly as long as the Committee itself. Most likely the Enclave. That way they could increase their resources and their power a hundred fold." He folded his arms on his knees and rested his head on them. "Damn."

"Getting scared, Ollie?" She smiled fondly at the back of his head. "I know the feeling. Imagine a Committee with nearly twice the power that it has now. It makes us all seem very small, doesn't it."

"And Joseph Bloom is the key to it all. I'm willing to bet that his knowledge was part of the deal. The Committee probably agreed to share what he's going to tell them; what they hope he's going to tell them; once they can bring him back in." He raised his head. "Where the hell am I going to hide them now?"

"Do you have to?" She took his hand. "Why not just go back in, Oliver? Take the Blooms with you. There's no reason to suspect that they won't be treated well."

"Yes there is. The splinter group ordered their assassination, and the main body is no different to them. They use different methods to achieve the same goals. I can't go back to them now; and I won't turn Sydney over to them."

"Noble sentiments, Oliver." She stood up, pulling him to his feet. "I only hope that you get the chance to fulfil them. I should hate to be one of the anonymous mourners at your unmarked grave."

"Thanks." They stepped back onto the road, starting back off on their trek down it. A distant murmur came to their ears, borne by the growing wind. "What's that?"

"Search me." They looked both ways, senses alert, eyes focussed intently on the possibility of distant movement. It was Mai who spotted the clouds of dust, far back along the road. She pointed.

"Damn." Oliver grabbed her hand, breaking into a run. "Come on!"

"Where are we going?"

"I don't know!" His speed increased with his urgency. "Damn. I thought we might be alright."

"The Committee? In here? But how the hell-?"

He slowed. "They can tap phones, can't they? Well who's to say that they can't tap into other signals as well. All you need is the right equipment."

"But that means that they can see what we can see!"


"So we can't run."

"In theory, no." They stopped running, by unspoken agreement. "You are aware that death in VR.5 means death in real life too?"

"I had heard that, yes." They smiled at each other. "Any ideas?"

"None whatsoever. But I feel inclined to think that a surprise attack is out of the question."

"Definitely." They both glanced towards the approaching cars. They were almost on top of the pair now, and although no guns were firing, the blood red headlamps of the cars dazzled them, despite the daylight which shone brightly around.

"Surrender!" The lead car screeched to a halt, and the driver's door opened. A black-suited man stepped out, his eyes invisible behind sunglasses. "Give it up, Sampson, there's nowhere to go."

"Isn't there?" The scenario was already changing around them, and now the road was gone. The forest hemmed them in on all sides, thick and virtually impenetrable. Oliver grinned. "Try and catch us now."

"We don't need to try." The man snapped his fingers, and the scenery lurched wildly. "Maybe we don't control this scenario; but we have influence over it. Disrupters." The trees whirled about until the forest was upside-down, and the sky swirled below them. Oliver felt his head swim at the suddenness of this new confusion.

"Oliver!" Mai's squeal sounded somewhere above him, and he looked up, seeing her floating helplessly, spinning out of control. He seized her wrist, struggling to maintain his own sense of reality.

"Give it up, Sampson." Another man, this time emerging from the second car, and looking perfectly at home in the madness, drew a gun. "If I shoot you in here, you die in the real world too."

"Go to hell." He stared around, hoping that at any moment things would revert to normal; but they did not. Evidently his unknown associate had no control over these disrupters. He tried to focus his mind beyond what he saw, and closed his eyes momentarily to strengthen his thoughts.

"This is your last chance, Oliver." The gun was pointing directly at him, but he did not see it. He smiled and his eyes snapped open. His feet found solid purchase in the midst of the sky. All he had to do was keep his mind on the truth which lay behind the reality.

"Come and get me." He threw himself aside, rolling across the ground/sky, hearing a gunshot yell out behind him. The tree tops met his body, offering him places to hide, and he dragged himself into their embrace. Here he could crawl about, invisible to those who sought him. He looked back, watching them with a grim smile as they separated; eight men looking for him, and none heading in the right direction. His eyes lingered on Mai. She still spun, helpless and out of control in the floating, endless sky, a trail of blood seeping out of her chest. Dead eyes stared back at him.

"Damn." He closed his eyes momentarily. She had been an enemy, but she had been a good deal more friendly than those who were supposed to be his allies. She could have been useful; without her he had no way to get to Heinz Barron, and therefore no possible ally in his struggle against his Committee pursuers. He turned his back on the body, and began to hurry away through the upturned trees. The only danger was that, when he finally made it back to the real world - if he did - he would have no knowledge of any of this; no memory of these latest threats. It was the essential flaw in the plans of whoever had brought him here. He tried not to dwell on the thought, and battled onwards through the sky.


"Sit down, Sydney. I'm sure that you'd think better if you relaxed a little; maybe had something to eat." Nora, having missed out on so much of her twin daughters' lives, was doing her best to take control now. "I don't like to see you so anxious and uptight."

"I'm not uptight, mother. At least, no more than I should be." She clenched her fists. "What can Oliver have realised that would allow him to escape from here? I can't sit down until I figure it out."

"Why?" Nora smiled at her, looking so like the mother that Sydney had missed for so long. She wanted to go to her, and to do as she asked, but she knew that there was no time.

"This scenario is one that the Committee cooked up. They created it, and sealed your minds into it, so that they could monitor your thoughts. They know that I'm here, and for all I know there could be agents already on their way in here." She began to pace. "He sent me in here, so he must have thought that I would be able to find my way out. He must have figured that there was something that would mean something to me."

"He?" Samantha was looking confused. Sydney stared at her.

"He. Even if I knew anymore I couldn't let myself so much as think it. They are listening in." She stared up at the ceiling. "Damn you, Oliver Sampson. What is it that you know? What could have made you feel cold?"

"Maybe wherever we really are is somewhere cold." Duncan, who seemed ready to believe every crazy theory expounded by his oldest friend, put his head on one side, frowning at Sydney. "I mean, if that clicked it for him, that could be why he disappeared, right? The illusion didn't work anymore."

"That's it!" She swung round, grinning at him as though he were a genius. "You're brilliant, Duncan. Of course!"

"But where-?" Nora was beginning to ask more questions, but Sydney cut her short with a look.

"Mother, I know that you don't believe me, but please; you have to try. This isn't real. You aren't really here. The reason you can't see over the wall in the garden is because there is nothing on the other side. That's as far as the illusion goes. Think about it. Believe it."

"Then where are we?" Nora sounded haughty. Sydney grinned.

"You're frozen. You're at the Committee storehouse, where they put Doctor Morgan; and where they tried to put me. It's a form of suspended animation. Cryogenics." Even as she spoke the words, she saw the faces of her family fade away. "Duncan, you have to make them believe. Please!"

"I believe you Syd." He was frowning at her. "You're going all blurry."

"I've found the truth. You have to believe it too." She reached out for his hand, but her fingers passed through it. "Find the truth. Believe it. Look inside." The pictures of them vanished, and she was alone in the darkness of a forest. Everywhere was silent, and she closed her eyes, gripping her hands into tight fists as she prayed silently that her family would make it out of their prison.

"Keep looking, Sam," she whispered to the sky, then turned towards the path which snaked past her feet and began to run along it, looking for whatever came next.


Oliver struggled and slid through the maze of treetops, his addled mind coming to accept the upside-down world. To him it represented the confusion that filled his life now, and it seemed a fitting struggle for him to try and find some sense in it all. His head hurt. He wondered who the men chasing him were; did they come from the main body of the Committee, the splinter faction, or this new organisation that it had allied itself to? He didn't even know its name - although he had some definite theories - and yet it was already exerting an influence on his life. It was all part of the puzzle, part of the labyrinth. Part of the reason why he was looking at a lifetime of unending pursuit.

"Oliver!" He ducked at the sound of the voice, startled by it, and desperate to avoid capture. The last thing that he wanted was to be incarcerated in a Committee cryo-pod again, frozen and lifeless, his brain monitored by spies to his every thought and dream. The thought of it made his pulse race, and his head swum in response.

"Oliver!" The voice had gained urgency, and he looked towards it, seeing Sydney coming towards him. He frowned. Was it really her, or could it be a part of some Committee trick? She seemed unaffected by the confusion around her, but that was likely to be the case whoever she was. A Committee creation would not see the disrupted world, and neither would a woman whose mind was forever a part of the Virtual World.

"Sydney?" Taking the chance, he stood up, almost collapsing as his mind swirled again and he got a view of the earth far above him. She caught hold of him, helping to support some of his weight.

"Oliver, what's wrong?"

"Disrupters…" It was the only word that he could remember at first, and he struggled to bring her back into focus. "The Committee - everything's upside-down."

"The Committee have disrupted VR.5?" She looked around, unable to see anything wrong. "Well it doesn't affect me. Come on, we have to find a way out of here."

"The Messenger. He's dead."

"James?" She closed her eyes briefly, remembering how his image had faded. "Who killed him?"

"Mai Vaughn… Agent for Heinz Barron; Committee enemy. She's dead too now." He looked up. "Sydney, I have to tell you--"

"It can wait, Oliver. Our nameless friend must have sent me here to get you out. Obviously he doesn't have any control over these disrupting tools the Committee has got hold of."

"No!" He pulled back, tearing free from her grip. "I have to tell you now. I won't remember when we get back." He frowned at her face, trying to keep it from swirling away. She was on the ground, and the ground was a hundred feet above him, knotted up in the dark green trees above his head. He was up in the sky, ready to float away at any moment… Everything wobbled again, and he killed the thought abruptly. "Sydney… The Committee - the split - it doesn't make any difference. They're all still in it together. They've merged, with some other organisation. Got to be something big. Probably the Enclave. They've been around nearly as long… can't see who else the Committee would agree to work with… They want your father. They'll do anything to get hold of him. They'll use you to get to him. It's the - the Enclave who took your family. Or - or whoever it is. Maybe the Enclave." He frowned. "Your family. We have to get them out. They're--"

"I know where they are. I found them. I had to leave them to find their own way out." She frowned, hoping that they had done so. He nodded.

"Come on then." Already he was trying to take charge again. "They'll be okay, Syd. Hold onto that."

"And you hold onto me." She smiled grimly. "I never thought I'd be glad to be a part of VR.5."

"Do you have any idea where the exit is?"

"Where does this road lead?"

"Road?" He remembered the road, snaking through the trees far above him, and his thoughts lurched again. "Er…"

"Never mind." She smiled at him, almost amused by his confusion. "Let's find out together, shall we?"

"I'm right behind you. Maybe he'll take pity on us."

"Maybe he's got more important things on his mind." She looked about. "Are there any agents around here that I should know of?"

"Only eight. Automatic weaponry, two black cars."

"Let me guess; black suits and sunglasses."

"Yes." He smiled. "Are we really so predictable?"

"Not all of you." She looked towards the horizon, which rapidly seemed to be turning into the New York skyline. "Out in the real world, I never know what to expect."

He smiled, his green eyes unreadable and his voice unemotional. "I don't think that I believe in the real world anymore. The truth is easier to find in here."

"Even if you do forget it as soon as you leave." She laughed at him. "Anyway, you hate VR, remember?"

"That's true. I guess I just can't take the truth."

"No." She quickened her step, suddenly anxious to be back in the real world again. It seemed a long time since she had seen it. "Neither can I."


"Oliver?" Rubbing her eyes, Sydney looked around. She was standing in what looked like a storage cupboard, where the light was bad. Her companion stood next to her. He was opening a locker, making very short work of the lock, and he glanced back at her.

"Hello Sydney. Two point eight seconds, that last time. I think that really is a record."

"You think?" She watched him take an automatic pistol from the locker. "Where the hell are we? Last I remember I was in the motel room watching TV."

"Ah well. TV rots your brain, you know. You shouldn't watch it so much." He opened the door. "We're in a Committee warehouse; look." She followed his pointing finger, and saw the labyrinth symbol on the breast of a jacket hanging on the door.

"Any particular warehouse?"

"This is the main one. Where they keep all the frozen stuff, like your friend Doctor Morgan." He frowned. "I was here earlier. It's a little confused…"

"Don't worry about it. We're here to rescue my family. They're here somewhere."

"Fine." He rubbed his eyes, clearly still a little disorientated from the VR experience. "Security is a little tight around here, but everything seems quiet enough."

"Security?" She looked doubtful. "You mean those big guys who have guns and don't like us?"

"No, not around here. The cryogenics lab is low priority; the internees can hardly get up and wander off."

"You did," she told him pointedly. He smiled one of his vague smiles.

"True. Most of the security around here is electronic, and I have all of the access codes. We shouldn't have any problems." As if to demonstrate he tapped a number into the keypad beside a door, and stood back to watch it slide open. "You see?"

"Show off." She preceded him into the room, looking about at the rows of pods with their frozen contents. "Just as well they haven't rescinded your membership."

"The Committee doesn't rescind membership." He sounded serious, and typically grave. "Once you're in, you're in for life."

"And great health insurance too." She hurried to the first pod - 1A. "I don't know this guy."

"Who?" He rubbed some of the condensation away from the glass front and shrugged. "Can't tell you. Probably a Committee bigwig. There are loads of them in here."

"Like Doctor Morgan."

"No, not exactly. This room is full of important leaders; the men who were at the centre of the labyrinth. That's why they're mostly so old; they died of natural causes. One or two were assassinated, but probably not before their time." He wandered on down the line. "Doctor Morgan is in the Fifth Section, and your family probably is too; that's for the people who didn't want to be put in here. The ones who are needed, but only grudgingly so."

"There are hundreds of them in here." She found it almost eerie to look down the long lines of pods, with all of their frozen, dead cargo; just waiting for the day when somebody could bring them back to life. She went to the next pod and wiped the glass clear. A stern looking face topped with white hair stared back at her, green eyes holding much of the force they must have had in life. It was hard to believe that he could not see her, and that he was dead to the world. "Creepy looking guy."

Oliver joined her in front of the pod, staring back at the figure with eyes filled with the same harsh certainties as the dead pair looking back at him. "Thanks," he told her, turning his back on the figure. "My grandfather, George Sampson."

"Oh." She looked embarrassed. "I didn't mean--"

"Yes you did. But it doesn't matter. He was a 'creepy guy', as you so eloquently put it."

"Oh." She shook herself mentally. "Come on, Oliver. This place really bothers me. I want to get back out into the daylight."

"Of course." He led the way down the long line between the pods, heading for a door at the far end. Another electronic lock barred their way for mere seconds, and they were soon in the Second Section. The Third followed soon after, and then the Fourth. Oliver was moving with a greater speed now, and Sydney was having trouble keeping up with him.

"Oliver, I never trained for the hundred metres sprint. Slow down!" She caught up with him at the door to the Fifth Section, and he glanced back at her looking distracted.

"I'm sorry. I just can't shake the feeling that we're about to have company."

"Me too. They know we're here don't they."

"Almost certainly. Just like they knew we would be at that motel."

"And just like they seem to know what we're doing in VR.5." She hurried through the door after him. "It's scary."

"It's the Committee." His pace quickened still further as they hurried on down the line of cryo-pods. "Keep your eyes open. If they are awake, and they've got any sense, they'll be hiding somewhere here."

"There!" She let out a shout before he could stop her, and broke into a run, almost throwing herself forward. "Sam! Duncan!"

"Sydney!" The delighted cry came from behind the equipment controlling the temperature of the pods. Sydney disappeared momentarily from Oliver's view, and he cursed under his breath.

"Sydney, get back here!"

"Oliver I've found them!" There was clear delight in her voice. "Mother! You look wonderful!" There was the muffled sound of sudden tears, and Oliver rolled his eyes. Just what he needed; three emotional women to deal with - although on reflection he considered it more likely that the tears were Duncan's.

"Sydney please save the reunion!" He hurried forward, catching sight of them behind the pods. "We have to get out of here."

"We'll be right with you." She started to turn, and in the same instant he saw fear registering on her face. He whirled, and saw three armed men emerging from the door at the end of the room.

"Get down!" He threw himself forward, using every ounce of strength in his body in an attempt to reach Sydney before the three men opened fire. Even as he was moving, he saw another three men appearing at the other end of the room, their guns drawn. High velocity bullets, fired from automatic rifles… his cold brain calculated the odds even as he was acting to compensate for them.

"Sydney!" A gun shouted, and Samantha stumbled, collapsing on the ground as though her legs had been kicked out from under her. She gasped, struggling to stand.

"Sam!" Sydney turned towards her, despite Oliver's shouts of warning, and he saw her as her own legs buckled. Her face went white.

"Sydney stay down!" He reached her at last, his arms encircling her in a last desperate attempt to protect her from the bullets now flying around them. Duncan threw himself down over Nora, holding her close.

"What do we do now?!" he shouted above the din, trying to look at Oliver whilst at the same time protect his face from ricochets. The Committee men were moving closer.

"I don't think there's anything we can do." He drew his gun, firing off a few shots in response, but his firepower was severely limited, and his accuracy was dulled by the need to try and keep out of sight.

"Oliver?" Sydney's voice sounded confused and dulled. He held her tightly.

"Ssh. Keep still."


"It's okay, Sydney." He tried to see towards the gunmen, reckoning on another minute at the most before they rounded the little group's last cover, and took their final shots. Oliver wondered if they would kill all of the Blooms, or if they would keep one for interrogation, and to use as leverage against Joseph. He found himself torn between hoping that they let Sydney live, and not wanting her to be the one that they kept alive. He hated to think of her being used, without him there to protect her.

"Oliver?" She stirred restlessly. "Oliver… the mains cable."

"The what?" He frowned at her, worried by her fascination with something so unimportant.

"The mains cable. For this equipment. Are we anywhere near it?"

"Yes." He was still confused.

"Get everybody next to the nearest operating pod. Get them close. He won't let us down, Oliver. I know he won't."

"You think--" He broke off. He had no other suggestions, and a bleak hope was better than none at all. He pulled her closer to the nearest pod - number 5D - and gestured for the others to follow. They moved slowly, Samantha needing his assistance. Sydney smiled.

"Hold on."

"To what?" her mother asked her.

"To nothing." Lights flashed and the cryo-chamber faded away. The six men, finally rounding the last section of equipment, stared at the empty space in surprise. Five people should have been there, ready and waiting for execution. Instead there was nothing but the frozen face of Doctor Frank Morgan, staring out at the world in glacial rest.



"Sydney, are you alright? Sam?" Nora Bloom hung over the pair like a mother hen, whilst Oliver Sampson finished bandaging them up. They had lost a lot of blood between them, but he was sure that with rest they would be fine. It had been a frantic rush to steal a car and put a lot of distance between themselves and the place that they had found themselves in after the translocation, but he was satisfied that there was plenty of space between them and the Committee now. For a while at least.

"I thought we were really at the end then." Gazing at the milk carton he had been drinking out of, Duncan shook his head. "And I don't think that I ever want to see ice cubes again."

"I second that." Sounding weak, Samantha raised her head. Nora pushed her down again.

"You get some sleep. And you-" this was directed at Oliver- "are going to tell me what happened back there. How were we there, and then… not there?"

"It's a little complicated, Mrs Bloom…" He frowned, looking across at Sydney. "As I understand it, we were… zapped… in a way… transmitted through VR via the power transmission cable. I shudder to think about how."

"Never mind the how. I'm more interested in the who." She smiled. "But we're not going to find out, are we."

"Of course not." Sydney, her eyes closed, smiled up at the ceiling. "We don't need to know. The only thing that's important is that we have an ally out there somewhere. Maybe someday he'll introduce himself."

"Maybe. In the meantime I aim to concern myself solely with keeping you lot on the move." Oliver checked the load in his pistol. "Call me paranoid, but I can't shake the feeling that somebody out there is after us."

"I shan't argue." Sydney sighed. "Do me a favour, Oliver. Wake me up in a fortnight."

"This time in a fortnight we'll be in Kowloon." He sat down beside her, and rested his feet on the nearby table. "Looks like we're stuck with each other, Sydney Bloom."

"For better or for worse." She laughed without opening her eyes. "I can't think of anybody I'd rather be on the run with."

"Good." He laid his gun on his lap and closed his eyes. "Then everybody get some sleep. We head out at first light."


"What do you mean they disappeared?" The tall man in a plain grey suit slammed his fist on the wall in a rage. "Then it's true. They really have gone one step up with VR. We have to have them, Adams."

"Yes sir." The forlorn looking man standing in front of him nodded slowly. "I'll get them for you sir - all of them. I promise."

"See that you do." The tall man turned away, gazing at the sea of cryo-pods. "Damn them and their tricks. And damn whoever it who's been helping them as well. I want him too, Adams."

"But nobody knows who he is sir." Adams looked even more forlorn. His superior glared at him, eyes shimmering behind his squared glasses. He raised his hand, showing the labyrinth ring on his finger.

"Do you want a shot at owning one of these, Adams?"

"Yes sir."

"Then find him. Bring him to me."

"Yes sir." Adams turned away, walking quickly from the room, and after a few moments the tall man followed him. Soon the room was empty again, but for its quietly humming pods. Those in use glowed with an unearthly light of their own, and one seemed to be lit more brightly than the others. Pod 5D hummed loudly, and the wires criss-crossing their way in and out of it seemed charged with a greater power. The figure inside the pod was as frozen as all of the others, but as Adams and his boss walked away, Doctor Frank Morgan seemed to smile to himself, and his pod hummed louder than ever.