Finnbogi stood up. “We have to get off Krim right this minute,” he said. He and Wynefrede had been sitting behind a rock outcrop, hidden from view, looking at the stars and moon above them and the ocean in front of them. Now his head was visible to anyone who might be looking for them. Wynefrede tried pulling him back down but he pulled away. “Cassia, we have to go. Right now.”
“We’ll find a way off the island,” said Wynefrede. “And my name is Wynefrede here. There are people coming to save us, I’m sure of it.”
“No, you don’t understand,” he said. “You told me that Base 78 is ready to go. You said that they’re about to open a gate to it. An illegal one-way gate. If they did what I suspect they did, we have to warn people.”
“What do you suspect they did?”
“I think they built a hosting center out in interstellar space, beyond any oversight or control. They’re using it to run their own virtual world. And to store people. It could be where the terrorists are hiding. If they take us there, we might never be able to get out again. They can’t afford to have us loose. We’re the only ones who know all the details of how they built their base.”
“So what do you want to do?”
He pointed behind him, into the ocean. “We start walking,” he said. “And we keep walking until we drown.”
She tried pulling him back down. “I don’t want to drown. Maybe there’s another option.”
“We can’t wait,” he said. “They’re going to search the whole island until they find the two of us.” He pulled her to her feet.
Wynefrede looked around. Behind them, the forest rose up. Hidden under the trees was their shelter, where George, Margarett and Benedicta were now snuggled up nice and warm, probably asleep by now. High jagged rocks were to their right and left, then dropping, like uneven steps, to the cold water ahead.
She shivered, then climbed over the rock in front of her.
“We should tell the others,” she said.
“There’s no time,” said Finnbogi.
“They’ll think we’ve been captured and will go looking for us,” said Wynefrede.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Finnbogi. “Hurry up.”
“How could you say that? They’re my friends.” She turned back and was about to call out to them when saw movement out of the corner of her eye. She froze for a second then turned slowly to face in that direction when Finnbogi yelled, “Run!”
He turned away from her and started clambering over a rock when two men, dressed in military fatigues, appeared in front of him. Both were holding plastic yellow guns.
“Finnbogi Sturluson and Cassia Stylianoum,” one of them said. Wynefrede didn’t recognize him, but he certainly wasn’t dressed like one of the cult’s angels. The night vision goggles hanging around his neck were another sign that he wasn’t from around here. “You shouldn’t have wasted so much time chatting.”
A shot of energy jolted Wynefrede into action. She threw herself towards the water, hoping to get around the fighters when more appeared all around her.
“Remember not to kill them,” someone yelled from a distance. “We need them both alive.”
Finnbogi tried to dodge around to get to the water but was tackled just as someone grabbed Wynefrede from behind and lifted her off her feet.
She kicked out then tried to elbow her attacker but she was held tight. She finally stopped struggling and looked around.
“We got them both,” someone yelled in the distance. In the light of the moon, she watched as half a dozen fighters appeared around them.
“Where are the others?” someone asked.
“It doesn’t matter. These are the two we need,” said the first man. “I heard them talking. The others are useless. Let’s go.”
For a moment, Wynefrede hoped that George, Margarett and Benedicta would come out of their shelter and save them. But what could they do against a dozen fighters in modern military gear?
“How did you find us?” she asked.
“You left a trail straight here,” he said. “It’s almost as if none of you had any training in wilderness evasion techniques.”
He pulled out a map and walked a few steps away to confer with a couple of other soldiers. It looked like they were deciding whether to go straight back up the mountain, through the forest, or go around along the shore to the main road.
They must have decided on the shore route, and dragged Wynefrede and Finnbogi away from the rocks down to the waterline.
Finnbogi tried to escape and, for a second, was able to get away when one of the fighters raised his toy gun and shot Finnobogi in the back. Wynefrede gasped but instead of a bullet she heard an electric buzz and Finnbogi fell to the ground, convulsing.
This was a weapon that had no business being on Krim. After a few minutes, they pulled Finnbogi to his feet and he stumbled forward, but as soon as he was steady he tried to escape again. This time, they trussed him up and started carrying him.
Wynefrede didn’t want the same to happen to her. As long as she was still able to move on her own, there was a chance that she could escape. Or, at least, find a way to die.
Then, as she walked, something Finnbogi said started bothering her. He said that Base 78 was a hosting center, one that was outside any oversight or controls.
That meant that any world running on computers located on Base 78 didn’t have to follow any rules. Like the rule that every world must have a clear and easily accessible exit. If they were taken to that world, the exit gates could be coded so that only people were allowed to come and go. Or the world could have its own custom interface system that only allowed certain people to teleport out.
But he also mentioned that the base could be hosting people. Chips with actual human beings alive inside.
Wynefrede herself was hosted in a data center far underground in a nice, safe, seismically stable region of Mars. When she bought her own life insurance, long before she went to space, she researched the subject thoroughly. The facility she picked had a solid track record of preserving human consciousness, and of going far beyond minimum regulatory requirements. One of those regulatory requirements was identity authentication. Her spirit, or soul as some people called it, was a particular pattern of a standing quantum wave, generated by the computer chip in which it was housed. The hosting company had sensors in place to detect that wave, and confirm that the waveprint matched the one on record for her. It was her official identification and impossible to forge.
Unless you were hosted somewhere where the laws didn’t apply. A hosting center located beyond the heliosphere could fake waveprints, create false identities for its digital residents. A criminal could permanently escape persecution because they could change their ID anytime they wanted to.
A criminal like Vladimir Krupin. The mastermind behind the Civinos massacre. The one who was thought to have died in the attack, never to be resurrected. He’d been resurrected after all. On Base 78.
No wonder they didn’t want to let Finnbogi go. If word got out, authorities would do something. They’d find a way to identify identifications backed by illegitimate hosting companies. They might even physically locate the base and shut it down.