CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Peter sat at the door to the small building. The door was open a small crack and he watched as guards in the distance scurried furiously about looking for him.

His drop from the roof had allowed him to escape. But he was still trapped on the grounds. Surprisingly, when he had dropped four stories to the ground below, he hadn't been injured. Not so surprisingly, he decided. His genetically engineered body could probably withstand more mistreatment than most people.

Lights circled the compound. Huge spotlights had been engaged just minutes after he had dropped from the roof. Now the entire compound looked like some prison camp that he had seen in war movies on television. And the guards were leaving no place unchecked.

The building he was in was a small maintenance shack. It wouldn't take them long to reach it and then he'd be caught. The fence was only a few dozen feet away. From this distance, he knew that a running start would allow him to clear the fence easily.

But he would probably be seen and then they'd know that he had left the grounds. The longer they thought that he was still on the grounds, the farther away he'd be before they'd come looking for him.

A movement outside the building caught his attention. He saw the silhouette of a guard moving toward the building. He quietly closed the door and moved to the back of the building.

The doorknob suddenly rattled and then began to turn. The door opened slowly as a beam of light flashed into the small room. It searched around the room for a moment, and then the guard stepped into the building.

Cautiously, the guard looked around the room. Landscaping equipment filled the room and there were any number of places a man could be hiding. The guard carefully checked behind each piece of equipment before moving on to the next. He crept closer and closer to Peter's position.

Suddenly Peter lunged at the man. His movement took the man by surprise and the guard turned, bringing his rifle up. But he was much too slow. Peter hit the man squarely in the face with the palm of his open hand. Then, utilizing the martial arts ability he had gained from watching television in Billy's tree house that first night, he pummeled the man into unconsciousness.

He waiting several moments to make sure the guard was alone. When no one else came to the shack, he decided that the guard was alone. Still, other guards would eventually come to check out the building. He had to get moving if he didn't want to get caught.

He quickly began to strip the uniform off the unconscious guard. Within minutes he had the uniform on and was judging its' fit. It was a little snug, but at a distance he might be able to pass for one of the guards.

He found some plastic wire for a weed eater and quickly bound the guard with it. Then he fashioned a gag from some rags in the building and gagged the guard. That should keep the guard out of action for a while.

Reports continued to flash across the radio. The guards were reporting on the failure of their search for Peter. The guards identified themselves and reported a location they had just searched.

Peter looked at the name tag that was on the uniform he was now wearing. The guards name was Crawford. Then he began to mentally scan the blueprints of the grounds and to cross reference the locations that had already been reported.

He quickly found what he was looking for. He keyed the mike on the radio and spoke into it.

"This is Crawford," he said. "I think I've got him cornered. He's on the west side near power station three. All units converge immediately."

He waited patiently as other guards reported they were on their way. Peter decided that within a few minutes all the security forces of the complex would be converging on the west side of the compound. The opposite side to where he was.

It took several minutes for the guards to clear the area where he was. Each began to move west. Soon, the grounds near where he stood were empty of guards. He opened the door and stepped out.

Glancing around he found himself alone. It would take the guards several minutes to converge on the power station and then several more minutes to discover that not only was Crawford not there, but that their prey was also not there. By that time he'd be over the fence and a long way off. Slowly he began to creep toward the fence.

Suddenly the muzzle to a gun was shoved in the back of his head. He heard the hammer of the gun being cocked.

"Very ingenious," he heard Ambecrombe's voice say. "But then, none of the guards would have recognized your voice over the radio. I figured you'd be luring them to the wrong side of the compound."

Peter froze. All Ambecrombe had to do was squeeze the trigger. At that range no one could miss. And Peter wasn't sure he was fast enough to stop him.

"Okay, Ambecrombe," said Peter. "What now? Do you just kill me?"

"I don't think so," said Ambecrombe. "There would be too many questions. You have to disappear. I think a dose of Sallinine will do nicely. Everyone will think you've escaped and there won't be any evidence to prove otherwise. The wind will take care of that for me."

"There are people who know I'm here," said Peter. "People who have orders to contact the authorities if I don't return."

"So?" said Ambecrombe. "And just what do you think will happen? You won't be found and all that will be reported is that someone broke into this place but apparently was scared off before they could take anything. And since they can't prove you even exist, what do you think the authorities can do about it?"

Peter heard something fall to the ground. He glanced down and saw a syringe case lying open on the grass at his feet. He knew that Ambecrombe had the syringe with the Sallinine and would use it at any moment.

"All your efforts have been in vain, you know," said Ambecrombe. "Do you really think that these two complexes are the only ones we have? We have several. Located at various places throughout the country. Even if you had managed to somehow sabotage this complex, we could simply move our work elsewhere. It would be an inconvenience, to be sure. But we would recover. Now. It's time for you to say good-bye."

Suddenly the entire complex was plunged into darkness. Every light on the compound went out simultaneously. Peter didn't hesitate. He dropped to his knees and brought his elbow up fast and hard behind him. He caught Ambecrombe in the groin and Ambecrombe dropped the syringe and fell to his knees as well.

As he did, the pistol he was holding discharged. Two of the shots ran wild, but the third struck a transformer on the telephone pole almost directly overhead. It severed one of the electrical cables and the cable began to sputter wildly back and forth as huge bolts of electricity spewed forth.

Peter dropped to the ground and rolled away furiously. He easily rolled out of range of the snake-like cable, but Ambecrombe was not so lucky. The cable struck him in the chest and he was electrocuted almost instantly.

Peter listened to the radio as a guard reported that someone had shut down the power to the entire complex from the main power station. Others were ordered to get to the station and restore the power immediately.

The transformer overhead sputtered and shot sparks wildly in all direction. Suddenly, the entire transformer exploded in a blinding flash, sending fire and sparks spewing in all directions.

Peter stood up and ran. He didn't hesitate a second as he neared the fence. He leapt with everything in him and easily cleared the fence, landing safely on the other side.

He looked back through the fence just in time to see the transformer fall from the pole and go crashing through one of the office windows on the third floor. It exploded in a horrendous fireball that engulfed the entire office. And the fire began to quickly spread to the adjoining offices.

With no other recourse, Peter began to run through the woods. The guards would be too busy with the fire to worry about him. He ran for several minutes, until he emerged from the woods on a small hill just east of the complex. He turned and looked back at Anders Institute.

The entire complex was ablaze. The fire was spreading quickly through the old buildings. Firefighting equipment could be seen trying to fight the fire, but Peter could tell it would not be enough. By morning the entire complex would be nothing but a smoldering heap.

He turned and walked towards the road and home.

* * *

"I'm sorry you couldn't get the information out," said Bill as Dr. Palmer bandaged the gunshot wound to Peter's arm. "It would have helped to close that place down for good.

"This isn't too bad," he commented about the gunshot. "In fact, it's almost healed now. Your recuperative powers are amazing. Just keep a clean bandage on it for a couple of days and you'll be as good as new."

"Well at least the complex is gone," said Peter. "Everything was destroyed. They won't be able to salvage much from that fire."

"I heard on the news that they've attributed the fire to a chemical leak in one of the labs," said Sharon. "I suppose they can't report the true cause of the fire."

"Well," said Peter, "at least Marissa didn't die in vain. Maybe we can't shut down GenCo for good, but that fire must have cost them a great deal. From what I could tell by the files I found, most of their research information was contained in that facility. They'll have lost a great deal of knowledge. Hopefully it will set them back a long ways."

"And with the names you found at Masters Institute," said Bill, "my friends at the Service can keep an eye on those who were involved. Eventually they'll make a mistake and then we can nail them."

"Sharon," said Peter, "I'm sorry about Marissa. She died protecting me. I only wish I could have done something to help her."

"I know," said Sharon. She had been strangely subdued when Peter had told them about Marissa's death. Peter decided that she would eventually grieve in her own time and in her own way. "But I think she would have been glad about how things turned out. Like you said, that fire set GenCo back several years."

"I can't stay here," said Peter. "GenCo knows about me now. I don't think they'll wait very long before they come after me. I have to get away from here or you'll all be in danger."

"Peter," said Sharon, "you don't have to leave. We can help you. Besides, where will you go? What will you do?"

"I don't know," said Peter. "But it's too dangerous for me to stay here. Once GenCo discovers that I'm not here, they'll leave you alone. I have to leave. It's the only way you'll be safe."

"I think he's right," said a voice from the door to the living room.

Everyone turned and saw a man standing in the door. He was just over six feet in height and wore a dark blue three-piece suit. He held some papers in his hand.

"Peter," said Bill, "this is a friend of mine. His name is Reggie MacIntyre, though his friends call him Mac."

"Your friend from the Secret Service," said Peter.

"That's right," said Mac.

He walked over and sat down at the table.

"GenCo is a very powerful corporation," continued Mac. "They have allies in the highest levels of the government. Officially, we can't become involved. It's technically out of our jurisdiction. But I have contacted some people in the Justice Department. People I know we can trust.

"We're going to keep an eye on GenCo. With any luck, maybe we can get some proof on what's been going on there. As it stands right now, all we can do is wait and watch."

He turned to Peter.

"Bill told me everything about you," said Mac. "While I can't become involved officially, unofficially I can help. I have some contacts in what might be called less than reputable enterprises. People who owe me favors. I've called in some of those favors to repay Bill. I owe him a great deal. Here. These are for you."

He laid the papers he was holding on the table in front of Peter. Peter looked through them. There was a driver's license, social security card, identification card, and several other forms of identification, including several credit cards. There were also several sheets of paper folded up underneath the identification papers.

"Your name is now Christopher Steven Matthews. You were born in Springfield, Illinois, on March 12, 1970. All the information is there, including a biography of your life, the schools you went to, and so on."

"How is this possible?" asked Peter.

"The Secret Service is one of the most powerful organizations in the world," said Mac. "We've done things like this before. Usually relocating witnesses who testify against organized crime figures. All the I.D.s are valid and if anyone checks on them, they'll get the same information you have."

"That's what I was doing on the phone the other day when you came in," Bill said to Sharon. "Peter . . . I mean, Christopher, now has an identity. He has a history. With these, he can go anywhere he wants. He can start over again."

"I don't know how to thank you," said Peter.

"No thanks necessary," said Mac. "You gave us the names of some people in the Service who may be leading double lives. We can keep an eye on them now. At least we can prevent them from helping GenCo anymore."

"When will you be leaving?" asked Sharon.

"I guess right away," said Peter. "The longer I stay here, the greater the chances that GenCo will find me."

"Are you ever coming back?" asked Billy, who had sat quietly through the entire conversation.

"I hope so," said Peter. "Maybe one day I can come back here and settle down for good. But as long as GenCo is looking for me, I can't take that chance. I'm afraid I won't be able to keep in touch. I don't want to give GenCo any possibility of tracking me or putting you in danger."

"I understand," said Bill. "But maybe someday you can come back. If you do, we'll be waiting for you."

"He's right," said Sharon. "After Paul and I are married, we'll keep a room ready for you all the time."

Peter stared at Sharon.

"All of this has made me realize," explained Sharon, "that we can't live in the past. Life's too short and too precious to waste on trying to recapture what we've lost. I'm going to put Michael's death behind me. And I've finally agreed to marry Paul."

"Good," said Peter. "He's a good man. And I know he'll take care of you. I only wish I could be here for the wedding."

"You will be in spirit," said Paul. "Just remember. If you ever need anything, you can count on us."

"I appreciate that," said Peter. "Now, I'd better get going. I don't think GenCo will wait too long before they start searching for me. The sooner I leave the harder it will be for them go find me."

The party walked Peter to the door.

"Here," said Bill, handing Peter an envelope. "There's a bus to Chicago in half an hour. After that, I'm afraid you're on your own."

"Thank you," said Peter, taking the envelope. "Well, I guess this is it. Take care of yourselves. I do plan to be back one day."

He shook hands with each of the men and gave Billy and Sharon a hug. Mac gave him a ride to the bus station and as they pulled away from the house, Peter realized that he was leaving behind the only family he would ever know.

* * *

"Is he gone?" inquired a voice from the study.

"Yes," said Sharon, walking over and opening the study door. Marissa stepped out of the study, a tear in her eye.

"You could have gone with him, you know," said Sharon.

"No," said Marissa. "This is something he has to do for himself. I'd only be in the way. Besides, if GenCo does come here, you'll need me. I don't think they know about me yet, but if I went with him, they'd find out."

"How are your injuries doing?" asked Craig.

"Still some pain," said Marissa. "But that will pass. Eventually Peter, I mean Christopher, will learn that his genetic engineering will allow him to survive damage that would kill any other person. But by that time he'll be long gone. Hopefully, he'll have forgotten all about me."

"I don't think he's ever likely to do that," said Bill. "Now. I believe we have some wedding plans to make. After all, your wedding isn't that far off."

The small group of people returned to the kitchen to plan the wedding that was to take place the next month.

The End