The jagged sound of the old steel hinges creaking as the cell door opened echoed down the narrow hallway. He stood up to walk through the threshold out of the cell for the first time in days. He was glad to see that his good friend Carlos was there leaning against the wall at the end of the corridor. "So my friend and sometime lawyer it appears I have at least a momentary reprieve?"

"Oh, about that, no, those charges are still in place. You have not been bailed out awaiting trial. The local authority, The State of New Mexico, has had a change of heart about how it's going to proceed. We've come to an understanding related to the charges against you." A wide smile came across his face as he began the next sentence. "We agree; after what we've seen, the state will no longer be recognizing the federal government's position on this matter as lawful. Therefore their authority, in this case, is voided."

Jaden tensed and bowed his head as if in contemplation. He paused a moment to gather his thoughts before responding. When he raised his head again he looked at Carlos with an intense stare that unsettled him. "You must be joking; I hired you because you were going to try this case in a court of law. It is the only civilized notion you have on this planet. And I believe in it, as I believe in you."

Carlos surprised by Jaden's response did his best to explain the situation from his perspective. "Thank you, Jaden for your vote of confidence. I too believe in these things. But I must tell you, things are going on that you do not yet understand. Subtle things, like earlier when you did not quite grasp the nuance of Sergeant Kelly's expression. When you spoke of discovering evidence, did you happen to ask what was discovered? If you had, you may have come to realize that perhaps this situation, this case, wasn't ever about you Jaden. Imagine if you will that your involvement was part of an ornately calculated distraction, designed to play off of our most deep-seated fears."

"I would have asked you Carlos about what you found out there, but I've known for some time. I did not know the details, of course, but I can tell now by the expressions on your faces that I was not far off the mark. This is the reason I placed myself in jeopardy before your system of justice. My hope was that in so doing, something of this hidden enemy would be exposed in a public forum. I imagine it's too late for that now?"

"How much do you know about our history Jaden? The rule of law is an Ideal that we as a people aspire to. However, justice has never truly been equitable. It has always better served the powerful and never more so in situations such as this."

"That may be true, but your alternative is anarchy, and that's where you are headed." Jaden, distracted by a noise turned his head to see Sergeant Kelly, with tools in hand climbing up onto a stepping stool. She was positioned directly beneath the surveillance camera that had been monitoring his every move since he had been there. It was only then that he realized that the system had been deactivated. He had not noticed that its indicator lights had gone out. Jaden returned his attention to Carlos and asked him "How and when did you discover the issues with the surveillance system?"

"Today, during our work at the crime scene, we were visited by some rather sophisticated drones. We determined that it was unlikely that they followed us there. What's more likely is that whoever sent them was already familiar with this place. So whoever they are, are now aware of who we are, and that their secret has been exposed. After what we found there, I can't put too sharp a point on the Idea of just how dangerous these people are."

"Carlos I understand how raw your emotions must be right now, but I'd like you to ask yourself this question. How was it that such resources were brought to bear on such a multi-faceted plan in complete secrecy? Is this not as we have spoken the essence of a conspiracy? The difference here, as you will learn to discover, is that for all of its appearances this conspiracy lacks the essential ingredient of its conspirators."

"In time Jaden, they will be exposed and rooted out."

"No, I'm afraid that's not going to happen. At best, with the public forum afforded by a trial, we could have exposed this crime's true nature. Unfortunately, these truths may not have satisfied your sense of vengeance as I conceptualize it. For as I have said, there is no one behind the curtain."

Carlos's eyes wandered to Emma, who by now had finished disconnecting the camera from its housing and was stepping down off the ladder. She recognized the peculiar far off look in his eyes, but could not imagine what had triggered such an expression or why it should be pointed in her direction. Speaking as if all the pieces of a puzzle had somehow fallen together, he finally found the words. "It's the cameras, the drones; all of it; that's the secret Senator Smith went to his grave telling you about wasn't it?"

"I will tell you now for the damage is already done and there is no longer any reason to hide it. Yes, the official version for his visit was but a subterfuge. He made the true nature of his business here plain as we sat alone in the smoking car of the train. At first, I thought he wished to speak on the Alberta separatist movement and its regional effects in the United States. Though we did speak briefly on this subject; this, however, was not his primary purpose for being here. He went on to disclose to me that a growing number of the people in power in Washington had grown aware and had since become alarmed by what had become of the surveillance monitor system at the core of our country's national security program. Though this system has been in place for many decades the growing alarm was stemming from a nascent autonomy, evolved from within its artificially intelligent systems. He came seeking my advice on this matter due to my unique perspective."

"What exactly do you mean by your unique perspective?"

"Carlos, I've been around a long time. Let's just say it's not the first time I've had to deal with, how shall I say, an overzealous artificial intelligence. My hope was that you and your lot would be able to handle this one on your own; you know, being that you created it. Despite this, I was still willing to help; for the sake of the cause, I had offered myself up as a sacrificial lamb to your justice system. Now its all for nothing. You know it's a shame they had to kill that Senator Smith. He seemed like a decent fellow."

"Jaden, perhaps it is exactly because we created this monster in our image that we have a better understanding of what's likely to happen next. Do you remember when I asked you earlier what we found out there in the forest? I recall you seemed unfazed by it. It's probably to your benefit that you could not immediately grasp the enormity of it. Moreover, what if this outcome had perhaps been preprogrammed or designed specifically into this scenario from the beginning? So from my perspective, it is possible that you and this secret of yours were never meant to survive this."

"But I did survive, at least until now; it could have killed me along with all the others. If I or this secret were not meant to survive, then why was I allowed to do so?" He cupped his chin in his hand as he puzzled through this question.

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