Chapter 3



Aaron looked around the building nervously. It had been half an hour since he had disconnected the girl, and there was still no sign of her. The midday heat was beginning to filter through the forest, the sun's rays making the heat seem even worse. The guards took their posts along the wall of the facility, and Aaron began to worry.

"What if it didn't disconnect properly?" he thought. He grabbed the walkie talkie and turned it on. "Chris, do you copy?"

"I hear you loud and clear Aaron!" Chris' voice crackled through the speaker.

"I want you to inform Grandpa Joe that he might need to call a complete shutdown. I think we might have trouble.

"K, I'm on my way." Chris replied. He paused for a moment then said softly, "Be careful."

The connection went fuzzy and Aaron sighed. "Lord, please give me the strength to get through." he prayed silently.

*****

Celesta slowly opened her eyes, blackness still surrounding her. "Am I dead?" she thought.

"Not dead. Your life has just begun."

Celesta blinked. It was the voice from the forest. She tried moving her arms and was surprised to find that she could move them freely. She brought her hands towards her head, finding that it was covered by a helmet-like object. She pulled slightly and the helmet popped off. Her eyes stung as the bright light of the room hit her eyes. She closed her eyes tightly and sat up.

Opening her eyes again slowly, they slowly adjusted to the light. She gasped in surprise as the room and her surroundings slowly came into focus. There were nine other people in the room, all lying on operation tables, giant helmets on their heads, and straps holding down their legs. Multiple wires traveled from the helmets to a monitor which hung five feet above each bed. The hospital clothes they wore were unwrinkled and looked as though they had never been worn before now.

Celesta looked down at her own clothes, then to the straps holding her legs down. As she reached down to unclasp the straps she noticed her usually tan skin looked as white as someone who had never been under the sun. Quickly unclasping the straps, she got off the table, her feet quickly going numb from the cold tile floor. She glanced up at her own monitor, which was flashing the words 'Subject 213 Disconnected'.

'What the heck is going on?' she thought, looking around for the answers. Her gaze fell on the door, just as an alarm went off.

"Security breach in room 400! Security breach in 400!"

Celesta looked around in panic. Realizing it would be stupid to exit through the door, she tried to think of another way out. Her gaze fell on the air vent, and without a second thought she rushed over to the vent and pulled it off. Pulling herself into the air shaft she pulled back up the vent and reattached it.

Only moments after Celesta began crawling through the shaft, the door to room 400 opened, and a man entered looking quite flustered. The man fit the stereotype of your typical scientist; short, scraggly black hair, dark brown eyes hidden by his oversized glasses, and a white lab coat covering his work suit.

"Shit!" he exclaimed as he approached the empty table. The monitor above her bed was still flashing the same words. The man punched the wall in frustration and stormed out of the room and slammed the door.

"What the hell is going on?!" growled a deep voice from behind him.

Jefferson jumped in surprise and spun around to face the owner of the voice. "Jesus Daniels, you scared the hell outta me!"

"You'll be a whole lot worse than scared if you don't do some explaining and fast!" Daniels growled.

Jefferson swallowed hard and looked at Daniels. "I don't know what happened. It won't happen again. I-"

Before he could finish a gunshot rang through the halls and Jefferson's body crumpled to the ground.

"You're right," snickered Daniels evilly. "It won't happen again. There's no room for mistakes in Sector 43."

*****

Aaron smiled slightly as the alarm system went off. "Well, at least that means she's moving," he thought as he mounted his horse and waited.

The guards also began bracing themselves for action, wondering what exactly was going on.

****

Celesta crawled through the air shaft hoping that she was going the right way. As she passed by one of the vents, she looked into the room it led to. The room was identical to the one she had just fled from, the only difference being that rather than teens or adults attached to the tables, it was children probably between the ages of 7-13. "What kind of place is this?" she thought as she continued crawling.

Finally she reached the end of the shaft and kicked out the vent. She was pleased to see it led outside, but it was a short-lived victory as a sudden shower of bullets began hitting around the entrance of the shaft. She crawled back inside, just enough that the bullets couldn't hit her, as she silently hoped that someone would be there to save her.

*****

Aaron looked up quickly as the sound of gunfire echoed around him. "Well, I guess that's somewhat of a good sign.." he muttered as he nudged his horse forward to the corner of the building. Quickly he pulled back out the walkie-talkie from the saddle-pack.

"Chris, get everyone underground, and have Grandpa Joe prepare for a shutdown.... I'm bringing the girl in the secret entrance.. We may have trouble."

"Gotchya bro. Over and out." came Chris' reply.

Aaron smiled slightly and reached back into the leather saddle-pack, returning the walkie-talkie to it's place and pulled out a hand-grenade. It was times like these he was completely grateful for the small armory in their base. Some of the weapons were extremely out of date, but were still quite useful in their purposes.

Dismounting the horse, Aaron crawled into some nearby bushes which were just thick enough to cover him from the sight of the guards. Still hiding in the bushes, he crawled as close as he could to the main guard post, pulled the pin, and threw the grenade.

There was a loud clunk as the grenade hit the wall, and one of the guards hurried to the noise, reaching it just as the grenade exploded. The guard went flying into the back wall and the bricks around him crumbled. As the other guards rushed to see what had just happened, Aaron took the opportunity to run to head back towards Celesta's air shaft.

"Celesta, hurry out!!" Aaron yelled.

Hearing her name, Celesta crawled out quickly. There was no time to wonder how anyone in this area knew her name, and so she hoped that whoever it was would be someone on her side. She jumped down and found herself staring face-to-face with a boy who looked to be the same age as herself. She was about to ask him who he was when he grabbed her by the arm and began dragging her toward the edge of the forest.

"There they are!" shouted one of the guards as he opened fire on them.

Aaron quickly pushed Celesta into the bushes he had used earlier for cover, then dove in after her. "Listen, there's a horse in the forest, just around the corner of the building. I'll distract the guards so you can get to her."

"What about you?" Celesta asked.

"I'll be fine. But if I'm not there in two minutes, mount the horse and go. She knows where to take you."

Celesta nodded, then looked down at her bare feet and grimaced. "This is gonna kill.." she thought as she turned her attention to the pebbles and thorns on the ground.

Aaron took his hand-gun out of it's holster and pulled another grenade out of his pocket. "When I say go, follow the wall and stay behind the bushes," he instructed the girl as he mentally tried to figure out how far he'd be able to throw the grenade. He was close enough to hit the post where the guard had opened fire on them, so he pulled the pin and threw the grenade. It exploded just as the shower of bullets neared their hiding place.

"GO!" Aaron yelled.

Celesta jumped and ran as fast as she could. One of the guards spotted her and began firing. She picked up her speed, hoping that somehow she would manage to outrun the bullets.

Aaron spotted a guard running towards Celesta and firing, so he took aim. After a few shots he hit the guard in the leg. The guard stumbled but continued. Aaron fired again and this time managed to hit him in the ribs. The other guards opened fire on the bushes, and Aaron dashed out as fast as he could. He began running as the fire of the machine guns got closer and closer. With one last burst of energy, Aaron managed to run around the corner to where Celesta had just found the horse. He quickly mounted and helped Celesta climb up behind him.

"Hold on tight... we're going to have to outrun the guards."

Celesta wrapped her arms around Aaron's waist and closed her eyes. She had no desire to see what was going to happen.

"You ok?" Aaron asked.

"Do I look like I'm ok?" Celesta replied.

"Good point..... just remember to keep holding on.. I'll explain everything when we're safe." Aaron said as he nudged the horse into a gallop. They took off, deep into the forest, but it wasn't long before they heard the roar of the guards ATV's coming up behind them.

*****

Daniels thundered down the hall towards the only office occupied. He banged on the door, then pushed it open, not waiting for a response.

The man inside looked up from his desk and paled slightly. "Mr. Daniels Sir..... how can I help you?"

"Karl, you've been reassigned. You're now in charge of security! You have five minutes to get down to the control room and figure out how all this happened!"

"But.. What happened to Jefferson?" Karl asked, afraid he already knew the answer.

"He's been disposed of for his error's.. As will you be if you don't get things figured out fast!"

Karl was out of his desk and running down the hall towards the control room before Daniels finished speaking.

Daniels smiled with satisfaction and picked up the phone from the desk. He dialed a number than waited for a moment. "Miss Love? ... Inform Arthur that Richard Daniels will be arriving in two hours for a meeting." There was a pause as Daniels smirked, "Tell him another part of the problem has been disposed of."

*****

The guards tracked the two teens closely, but as they got deeper into the forest, the thickness of the trees made it difficult for them to keep up on their ATV's.

"Sir!" called out one of the guards in the lead, "I don't think we can keep up with them much longer!"

"Keep on their trail.. We're getting close, I can feel it... they'll lead us straight to the Believer's base!" the leader called up, grinning. This was going to be it, the day he received his promotion. He could feel it, they were close to the base, and it would be his name recorded for who discovered the base and disposed of those pesky Believers.

*****

Aaron glanced back for a moment, thankful for the thickness of the trees. He couldn't see the guards, but eh knew they were gaining on them. Nudging the horse to a faster pace, he kept his eyes on the branches of the trees. He sighed with relief as he spotted his target.

Not far ahead was a thick green vine hanging down through the branches of one of the trees. On the left side, just past the vine, was the base of a mountain, covered in thick green plants.

As they rode by the vine, Aaron reached out and pulled it, and there was a loud clunk, like the sound a gear makes when it shifts and springs to life. The wall of the mountain slid open and they rode into a dark cave. Pulling a small lever just inside the cave door, Aaron turned the horse around to face the opening and watched as the door slid shut.

He dismounted and helped the girl down. "Sit down over by the other wall."

"I can't see anything! It's pitch black!" Celesta retorted.

Aaron rolled his eyes and bent down, feeling along the side of the wall. "Just give me a sec.." He stopped as his hands ran across three matches. Striking one of the matches against the wall, he used the light from the tiny flame to find the torch located just above the lever for the door. He lit it and turned back towards the girl. "There. Now you can see to sit down." AS the girl sat down, he took the reigns of his horse and led her towards a small trough filled with water. The horse began to drink.

Celesta looked around the cave and wrapped her arms around her knees protectively. It was fairly cold in the cave, and her hospital outfit didn't keep her very warm. She looked over at Aaron cautiously. "Who are you?" she asked, as she began to shiver.

"Are you cold?" he asked her, ignoring her question.

Celesta nodded and Aaron pulled a blanket out of one of the boxes located just a bit further back from the trough. He walked over and handed it to her.

"My name is Aaron. And you don't have to be scared.. I'm one of the good guys."

"How do I know I can trust you?"

He put his finger to his lips to signal her to be quiet, and the sound of engines neared the cave.

Celesta listened as the engines stopped and footsteps could be heard crunching over the twigs near the door.

"Where the hell'd they go?" boomed the lead guard's voice.

"I-I'm not sure Sir.." stuttered another guard.

"Well then find them! I'm not having my ass on the line because of the incompetence of my men!" the first man yelled.

"Yes sir!" the guards replied in unison. They hurried off quickly, but Aaron was positive at least one remained.

Motioning for Celesta to remain silent, he listened closely. There were no sounds, but he still had to make sure. Climbing onto an old milk-crate, he hoisted himself up so that he could see out of a small hole located about a foot above the door.

Celesta hadn't noticed the hole before, and watched in silence as Aaron peered through.

Aaron sighed then climbed down. "Looks like we're stuck here for a while.." he said quietly, sitting down a few feet away from Celesta. "They've set up a patrol outside."

Celesta looked towards the back of the cave, which became pitch black about ten feet down the path. "They can't get in through another way, can they?"

Aaron shook his head. "The tunnel ends about 20 feet back. We've got some food rations stored near the back wall in case anyone were ever to be trapped in here."

Looking down at the ground, Celesta pulled the blanket tighter around herself. "Can you answer my question now? How do I know I can trust you?"

"You don't... but you're just going to have to. Those guys out there will insert you back into the virtual world, erase your memories of any of this happening, and then they'll kill me after they've tortured any useful information out of me."

"Virtual world?"

"It's.. Difficult to explain.. But, this is the real world, you've grown up in a virtual world. There's a group which took over the world close to twenty years ago, called Satan Inc. . They forced the people to submit themselves to be placed into this virtual world, where everything was supposed to be perfect. Inside this world, there's no such thing as religion, as God, or anything which Satan Inc. didn't want to reach the ear's of the world's population."

"That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!" Celesta replied, "You're telling me I grew up inside some video game? How retarded do you think I am?!"

"Look, I don't think you're retarded... and like I said, you're just going to have to trust me. Grandpa Joe can explain this a lot better than I can.. So maybe it would be better to wait until we get to the base."

"Who's Grandpa Joe?"

"He's the leader of our section. We call him Grandpa cause he reminds us of the stereotypical grandfather.. He's very wise.. And, he knew mine and my brother's parents before they were killed. He opted to take us in just after it happened."

Celesta looked over at the boy, who had gone quite silent after the comment about his parents. "How did they die?"

"They were spies inside Satan Inc. . They were found out and shot to death in front of us. They wanted to insert us, but Grandpa Joe helped us to escape and brought us to the base here with him."

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that." Celesta paused, then spoke again. "My name's Celesta."

"I know.. I'm Aaron."

"How.. How do you know my name already?" Celesta asked surprised.

"I'll explain that when Grandpa Joe explains everything to you... it's a little more confusing to explain if you don't understand." Aaron told her.

Suddenly there was a loud crunch from near the door followed by someone shouting "Sir, I think I've found something!"

Aaron jumped up in alarm and blew out the torch as the sound of footsteps approached the door.