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MADDIE BRUSHED THE hair from Peter's forehead and caressed his face, then searched for the ends of the rope to untie him. The silence of the server room brought an uneasy twist in her gut. What type of person would do this?

A click sounded from the entrance to the room—the only way in or out. Someone's coming! The door banged against the wall and then slammed shut.


"I'm back, Mr. Stone. Did you miss me?" Darryl's voice echoed through the server room. "I have that report you've been waiting for." A bone-chilling cackle filled the space. "And something else I want to give you. I hope my report won your approval. My pet project, Align3.0, is your classic reboot of humanity. Of course, you'd call it a textbook example of an employee-gone-mad." Darryl's eyes wandered up at the ceiling, his mouth falling open in a twisted mix of pleasure and pain. "And. You'd. Be. Wrong. Small-minded, fearful..."


Footsteps echoed throughout the room.

Peter shook his head and whispered for Maddie to go, eyes pleading in desperation.

Maddie shushed Peter, pressing a finger to her lips. She worked the rope back into his mouth, grimacing as he moaned at the fiber pulling apart the wound on his lips. His warm blood dribbled on her fingers.

"Tell me, Mr. Stone. Now that we're on an equal level of employment, do you think that I might make employee of the month, hmm?" The footsteps drew closer. "Or do you think that perhaps I deserve a promotion?"

Peter moaned as Maddie slipped off her heels and pressed against the opposite wall she entered. She gave him a final look, and mouthed, "I'll be back." He closed his eyes and managed a jittery shake of his head to dissuade her from returning.

Darryl mimicked his moan, taunting.

"Mm-mmm-mm. Oh, yeah. I do hope your pretty little daughter is just as vocal when I pay her a visit after you and I are done here." The footsteps fell closer. "Tell me, do you think she'll comply when I tell her dad's life hangs in the balance? Do you think she'll give herself to me willingly?"

Maddie stole a peek back to Peter, watched him fighting against his bonds.


"I hope not." The footsteps slowed, though closer than ever. "I'm hoping she'll refuse and I'd have to force myself into her. Uhwwah, makes for a sweeter victory—sexually. There's no fun in it when a whore gives you what you want. It's the breaking of a person that's the real get-off. And if she's anything like you—" Darryl rounded the corner of the server stacks, walked up to Peter, and slapped him. "She'll be more satisfying than a software upgrade to a security hole in a line of code."

Peter garbled curses through his bonds, shifting and tugging in his seat.

"Delightful." A sneer spread across Darryl face. "That's just the kind of passion I hope she'll supply. Ah, don't worry. My being married was all just a lie to throw you and that little slut Duewel off my trail. I've been saving myself for your daughter. She's in good hands."


Maddie retreated down the aisle. She thought about fleeing the room, going for help to save Peter and alert the authorities. My phone! She fumbled at her pockets, clutching for her mobile, silently cursing when she realized she'd left it charging back at her desk.

No! It'll be too late. I've got to do something.

She peeked around the corner of the center aisle, Darryl leaning over Peter. Maddie reached for the door handle, turned it, but the knob didn't budge. Locked! Her eyes traced up the door to a deadbolt which she'd never noticed before.

Hand trembling, she inserted her key—click-by-click, past each tumbler, and then turned. Shit! Darryl must have put a special lock on the door in case Peter managed to get free. We're trapped!

Maddie searched around the room, hoping for anything that might help the dire situation when a bright red sign in the corner grabbed her attention identifying the fire pull.

Next to it, a fire extinguisher—and an axe mounted to the wall. She swallowed and took a deep breath, unsnapped the axe.


"I'm talking to you, motherfucker." Darryl's eyes filled with rage. He yanked off the rope gag and dug his fingers into Peter's lips, splitting them further apart as he laughed. And then he stopped, inspired contemplation plastering across his face. Darryl raised his hands, fingers glistening, slicked in blood. He clamped onto Peter's throat and squeezed. "Answer me!"

Peter averted his gaze, mouth open but unable to draw in a breath. His vision began to darken. And then the pressure released. He gasped. Blood gurgled in his throat and a searing pain flared across his neck.

"It's no matter. I still have some fun left here before I move onto that hot-ass daughter of yours." He sighed. "Too bad your wife is dead." He wiggled his tongue in a perverted tongue-lashing. "That would have been extra-kinky-fun." He slipped on a pair of gloves wired to a VR headset and pulled the display over his eyes. "You'll forgive me for just a moment. The reboot of the world is coming. Then, you'll die."

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