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TOM GUNN EXAMINED the world map laid out on the glass table. He rubbed his chin with the back of his hand, drew a dot on New York City, and sat down in the chair. Stacks of paper and books and newspaper articles covered what table surface the map did not. The tabloid magazine to his right featured a man on the cover holding a withered rose.

What the hell is this? He stared at the headline.

ASCENSION CEO PROMISES TO BRING NEW LIFE TO DYING NATIONS.

Tom chuckled at the headline, but an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach pleaded for him to take notice—that and the map with hundreds of circles that he'd scribed, all correlating to relay towers within Ascension's universal communication plan.

He rose from his seat, pen in hand, and set the red Sharpie on the circle covering New York City. With a steady hand, he swept a curving line down the eastern seaboard, trailing off into the Gulf of Mexico. His line connected on the Yucatan Peninsula and ran through Guatemala, shaving the western edge of El Salvador before skirting into the Pacific Ocean.

From there, Tom continued his sweeping line across Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil before arching over the Atlantic and intersecting with Africa. His stroke sliced into Namibia and up through the Congo and Sudan. Tom's red line passed next to Saudi Arabia as it cut over Egypt.

Greece, Austria and the United Kingdom followed as Tom connected more of the circles. His line bore across the Atlantic once again, snipped the southern tip of Greenland before chopping though Canada and coming full circle back to New York City, the world headquarters for Ascension, he noted. Tom's enormous ring covered most of the Earth. He puzzled at what it might mean.

Something is going on here, more than just good will towards men.

He stared at the cover and at Damion Blax, the CEO of Ascension Communications. Blax's dark pupils seemed to focus on Tom. The CEO stood with arms crossed over his chest and a smug expression on his face. Tom sized him up like an opponent before a boxing match. Six two, two hundred-twenty pounds, strong build. Forty years young. Quick. Smart. Probably fights dirty. The snow-blonde tips of Blax's tight haircut punctuated the angelic reputation the magazine pumped.

BLAX'S VISION TO BRING FREE INTERNET AND COMMUNICATIONS TO THE WORLD NEARS REALIZATION.

"Nothing's free," he said at the cover.

The phone rang, startling Tom from his curious line of thought.

"Hello, Gunther Thomas."

"Good day, Mister Thomas. This is Miss Solomon on behalf of Damion Blax."

Tom grabbed the tabloid. "Good day, Miss Solomon."

"Mister Blax has received your generous gift to his communication network and would very much like to thank you in person. If you are available tomorrow at ten-thirty, Mister Blax has invited you to Ascension's headquarters here in New York City."

He jotted down the time on the back of the magazine and the address Miss Solomon recited.

"Wow!" Tom's response came off like a star struck teenager. "I didn't expect to meet Mister Blax in person. Please tell him that I am thrilled at the invitation and accept. Tell me, I've heard Mister Black is a fan of ancient artifacts. Is that true?"

"Why, yes. He is."

"My good fortune then. I've been working on a puzzle involving such an object and wonder if I might pick his brain on its origin."

"I'm sure he'll be glad to review what you have, Mister Thomas. It's not every day that he receives a donation for fifty million dollars, and he is quite the collector of antiquities."

"Fantastic.I look forward to tomorrow then. Please, give Mister Blax my regards." 


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