Chapter XX

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Cenerea, 3rd planet from the star Letria. Regalius, The Confederation, Central Region,

The Capitol City, 348 Sayari Street Apartment 6,

Forty-One and One Third Cenerean Years Ago

Two Days After Harold's Meeting With Connor at the Arcturan Mansion

Harold downloaded the first modified virus onto a data stick. It was identical to the original in every way, minus a tiny added bonus. He labeled it, 'For Joshua'.

Next, he downloaded a second version to another storage device and labeled it 'For Connor'.

He stretched and strolled sleepily into the kitchen from his bedroom, where he had spent the entire night working on his latest creations. Harold poured himself a cup of hot tea and travelled back down the hall to his bathroom. He turned the shower handle, adjusting the water's temperature, and then looked skyward toward the ceiling in the approximate location of where he saw the Lavidian spy camera's placement at Wendy's apartment. The former hacktivist lifted a fist and then gave any viewers that might be observing him a middle finger salute. "Yeah, fuck you, whoever is watching."

He closed the door and busily continued his morning ritual.

Stepping out onto the sidewalk and into the cool morning air, Harold realized he felt alive. Nevertheless, he knew it was only a feeling. The real trick would be for him to actually be alive tomorrow morning when this was all over. He lifted a hand and hailed a Homeland rental transport. "Take me to the Chancellor's Capitol Building."

"Right away, sir!" the driver said.

Harold could hear the barely audible squawk of an information sound system in the cab. "...today on the Homeland Information wires. The wedding of General Tan Pha' Li and the beautiful Jinah Arcturis is..."

"Turn that up, please," Harold asked the driver as he sat forward from the rear seat of the transport.

"...the wedding will be televised across the Homeland due to popular public interest and importance to the stability of the new Homeland..."

Harold smiled as he sat back in the seat and watched the trees and suburban streets pass by, however, as the transport entered the edge of the heavily populated Capitol city something caught his eye. "Driver, what is going on?"

"Oh, those are the lines for the new Homeland identification implants. It's mandatory for everyone who lives in the city now. See, here's mine." The driver lifted his wrist to show off the digital device glowing beneath his skin and the accompanying bruise and suture from its install.

Harold remembered that the sergeant major said he had heard rumors of this taking place and could now see people lined up around the city blocks in every direction. Urban camouflaged GERTI equipped UX-64B mech units thumped down the streets swinging their heavily armored appendages back and forth as they strolled through the city's citizens. White Sassy-Suit clad soldiers could be seen entering and exiting buildings with weapons. Sometimes following and shoving people who appeared to be resisting their presence, other times they milled about or stood over individuals seated on their knees in the street.

Several large chrome and white armored vehicles were parked in various locations around the streets. Harold thought some of them resembled recreational vehicles one might take on a family camping trip. They had a strange marking emblazoned on their sides, a large orange banner with a red fist and something in its center that from a distance slightly resembled Geneticus. "And those?"

"Those are the implant unit trailers. They're automated with some sort of surgical A.I. unit."

Harold lowered his head. He wanted to throw up.

"Are you okay, sir?"

"Yes, I'm alright," he replied, thinking about how he was going to look into who made those awful machines when he got back to the lab. Harold returned his attention to the activity outside of the transport window as they continued to travel further into the heart of the city, passing more soldiers and more UX-64B's, noting that all of them had the odd, brightly colored symbols on them. The soldiers wore them on their right arm, the mechs on their front housing.

"Sir?"

"It looks as if we are being stopped."

An armored soldier tapped on the transport driver's glass. "Show me your implant!" he commanded.

"Here, officer!"

Harold, busily watching the activity playing out in front of him, failed to see the other soldier appear at his own window.

Tap, tap.

Harold pressed the button to lower the glass.

"Implant. Let me see it!"

"I don't have one," Harold said.

"Out of the vehicle sir!"

Harold sighed. "Soldier, you should just let me go. I am on my way to meet with the Chancellor and you are going to make me late."

"Right, sir. Out of the transport! I will not tell you again!"

Harold fished his Homeland Top Level identification badge from his jacket pocket and managed to produce it just in time for the soldier to snatch the door to the transport open and grab his arm. He jammed the metallic badge into the soldier's face and stood from the vehicle aggressively.

The soldier stepped back with his hands in the air, eyes wide with fear. "Oh, sir, I'm sorry sir! Please, I was just doing what I was told..."

Harold glared angrily at the officer and began to seat himself back into his rental when he stopped and noticed the faces of the citizens lining the street around him. He could see the fear they contained. The eyes watching him with disgust and hatred as he, some ordinary man, a human being no more special than they, with only a simple card was able to skirt the law. However, these unfortunate people had no power to resist what was being forced upon them. And yet, here he was standing before the masses pushing around their armored oppressors with a badge. In that moment, Harold realized that in the eyes of these people, he was everything he himself had hated and was everything wrong in their world.

"You bastard!" a man yelled from the forced assembly. "You and the Chancellor did this to us!"

"Why is this happening to my family?" another voice rang out. "We didn't want this!"

The soldier turned leveling his rifle at the crowd.

"No, don't!" Harold shouted at the soldier, placing his hand on the weapon to lower it. He then stepped away from the transport and toward his accuser in the sea of frightened people. "You are right, sir," Harold said loudly. "I did help do all of this and for that I am truly sorry," he turned in the street with his arms out, attempting to make eye contact with each and every face: man, woman and child. "...and I know that no manner of penance on my part will ever be enough to earn your forgiveness, and that is something that I will have to live with the rest of my life." Harold returned his attention to the HDF officer. "Soldier?"

"Sir?"

"Where is the nearest implant unit?"

"Over there, across the street. Sir, you know you can leave..."

"No, I have to do this."

The people watched the man cross the street and present his security clearance badge, the same card used only moments before like a weapon, now used to convince the guards at the door of the large vehicle to let him journey to the front of the line. He walked up the steps passing several other people nervously waiting and disappeared inside. Within several moments the Homeland official appeared from a door on the opposite end of the white rectangular implant unit holding his hand to his wrist and strode back to the waiting vehicle.

"Sir!" All of the soldiers around the transport snapped to attention and saluted him as he passed. One of them opened the rental's door for Harold to seat himself into the transport and lightly closed the door.

"Drive."

"Yes sir."

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