Paradigm Shift Ch. 02-03


"We've been trying to break into the main network for a couple of years now; countless hours of hacking and spying. And all it took was a secretary who lost a file..." Barrow laughed some more, then saw how scared Sara still looked, and tried to look non-threatening.

"It's ok, Sara, I'm not going to hurt you. I'll even leave the room while you dress." Barrow moved into the living room, and closed her door. He sat on the couch, and picked up the copy of 'Stranger;' it had been over a decade since he had read it.

Back in the bedroom, Sara slumped against the wall at the head of her bed. She took several deep breaths, feeling extremely thankful that she was not dead. After about fifteen minutes of reflection and deep breathing (to calm herself), she started to get dressed. It was the weekend, so she started going through her casual pile. She sighed, and knew she wouldn't be going to the club tonight, so, for now, she just threw her robe back on. She found Barrow lying down on the couch, reading Stranger. He looked to her, and closed the book, getting to his feet. "You ok?" he asked, looking concerned. She realized she had taken her time, and nodded some, then said

"Yeah. I'm sorry." Barrow quirked an eyebrow, and stepped to her, slipping his arms around her waist.

"There's nothing to be sorry for," he reassured her, and kissed her gently, a kiss she returned. She was truly starting to enjoy kissing Barrow. It made her feel warm inside, and it set her mind at ease.

Several hours later, Barrow sat in his room, naked from the waist up, in the secret underground rebel complex called Focswolfe. He had turned off the lights, and sat in total darkness. A haunting melody filled the room. The music box he had acquired on his last assignment was sitting on his bedside table, still at least half wound. Barrow had stopped paying attention to his external senses. Right now, there was nothing but the music, and the music box. Memories flashed in his mind, tinted in red: a needle inscribing the serial number on his neck, the excruciating process of being fitted with a data socket, experiencing severe physical and psychological trauma, all just to test the implants' capabilities.

Barrow forced his eyes open, and his senses returned to him. His cheeks were wet; he'd cried again. There was a knock on the door. Barrow wiped at his eyes, and got off his bed. He opened the door some, and saw Dr. Valentine, one of the complex's counselors. He looked concerned. "Are you alright, Barrow?" he asked.

"Yeah... yeah I'm fine," answered Barrow. He was squinting some, his eyes bothered by the light; he guessed that he'd been in the dark for three hours.

"Are you sure? You were screaming, yelling... were you having more nightmares?" pressed the shrink. Barrow sighed. He'd been screaming again, too, it seemed. He stuck his head out the door for a moment, and saw several people with concerned faces looking his direction.

"Look, doc... I'll talk to you about it tomorrow, alright?" Barrow offered. Dr. Valentine smiled some, and nodded before walking away. Barrow closed the door, and leaned against it. "Shit... lights." The room lit up. Barrow knew that Dr. Valentine was truly concerned for him. He admitted to himself that he loved that shrink, and smiled some.

Dr. Valentine had been his psychoanalyst during the Ironman experiment. In fact, it had been Dr. Valentine that had helped him escape, bringing him to this place. Barrow sat on the edge of his bed, resting his head in his hands. These episodes were annoying.


Barrow awoke the next morning to more music from his database. Closer, by a band called Nine Inch Nails. Barrow loved the oldies. The song made him think of Sara, and he found it so very appropriate. After getting showered and dressed, he left his quarters, and began the walk to the medical sector.

Focswolfe was more or less a small underground city, one of three on the European continent. Each city housed a different faction of the 'Rebellion' as they were called by the Regulators. In truth, they thought of themselves as resistance, believing in a world free of the Regulators and World Government, and where all people are equal blah, blah, blah... Barrow didn't really care about this 'resistance.' He occasionally entertained the idea of assisting them in their cause, but, for now, he had his own agenda. After that was finished, then maybe he would help.

Barrow was going over last night's freak-out session when he reached Dr. Valentine's door. He kicked it a couple of times, his customary knock, and waited. Valentine liked to take his time, and it would likely be a few minutes before he answered. Barrow was just about to knock again as Dr. Valentine opened the door. He greeted Barrow with a smile, and motioned for him to enter, which he did. They found their usual seats in the doctor's study. Barrow liked the Doc's house; it was designed just like a prewar home, all low-tech stuff.

Dr. Valentine activated a small data recorder on the end-table beside him, and said Barrow's name and the date. Formalities, Barrow said to himself. The Doc liked to keep records of all his sessions, and had a thing for organization. "Well, Barrow, it's been a while. I trust you've been well?" the Doc asked.

"Yeah, I've been alright. A little tired; I'm still getting over the rejuvenation session," replied Barrow. He was telling half the truth, as they did have a habit of wearing him out. But there was another reason, and he mentally smiled to himself.

"Good, good. Now, before we discuss the incident last night, I would like to know where you were the night before." There was a pause, and Barrow looked thoughtful, but didn't seem too keen on answering the question. "Well?" the shrink pressed. Barrow sighed.

"I spent the night on the surface," he said.

"Why?" the Doc asked almost immediately. He always knew when Barrow was beating around the bush.

"I'm not sure that's any of your business, Doc," Barrow futilely tried.

"I will play the sponsorship card if I need to," Dr. Valentine countered. Shit, Barrow said to himself. Dr. Valentine was Barrow's sponsor here, and he had a right to know his whereabouts.

"I was having sex in a north-side apartment, if you must know," he replied bluntly. He didn't really want to play the 'dick around with Doc' game today. Valentine quirked an eyebrow, seeming mildly interested, and wrote something down on a pad of paper resting in his lap.

"Did you catch their name?" he asked nonchalantly.

"Sara Winchell," replied Barrow.

"This was your first meeting with this woman?" the Doc proceeded, as if he were administering a fucking survey.

Barrow sighed some, and answered, "No. It was my second. And before you ask, the first was on the morning of my last treatment." Valentine smirked some, and continued to write. Several moments passed in silence. Barrow slumped in his chair, and stared at the ceiling. The Doc eventually spoke up.

"Was it enjoyable?" he inquired.

"Jesus, Doc. Yes, it was quite possibly the best sex of my life. Shall I draw you a picture? I could also write a detailed report. Hell, I could just bring her here, and we could demonstrate for you," Barrow replied in exasperation. This brought a chuckle from Valentine, and he wrote a quick note.

Barrow thought for a moment. "There's something else you should know about her, Doc."

Valentine looked up from his pad, and raised his eyebrows, "Yes?"

Barrow took a deep breath, and sat up straight. "She knows about Ironman. She knows what I am." Barrow regretted saying this as soon as Dr. Valentine frowned.

"You told her about a top secret government project? Christ, Barrow, you can't just go around spouting off about things like that. It'll give you away." Barrow scratched his head, and slumped again.

"She knew about the project before she met me. She noticed my serial number and my data socket, and questioned me about it."

Valentine took a few more notes. "Doc," Barrow interrupted, "Don't bother her, please. She's not gonna say anything. I think she's too afraid to talk about it, and I doubt she would give me away. Valentine sighed, and rubbed his eyes a bit.

"You trust her?" he questioned.

"I don't know. I think she's starting to like me. The feeling's mutual, I guess," Barrow replied. Valentine just sat there, staring at Barrow and rubbing his forehead, for what seemed to be about 30 minutes.

"Alright, Barrow," he finally stated. "I won't report this. Just remember: it's your ass on the line, not mine." Barrow smiled some, relieved.

"Thanks for your concern, Doc." Valentine nodded, and wrote some more.

"Now, let's discuss last night's incident. What happened?" Barrow once again sat up, and leaned forward a bit.

"I'm not sure. I was numb to the conscious world. I saw flashes, red flashes. I saw glimpses of the experiment. The needles, the knives... I guess I broke down." Valentine wrote more notes, and seemed thoughtful for a moment. This wasn't the first time this had happened.

"What set it off? Do you know?" queried Valentine. Barrow thought of the music box.

"I was listening to a music box. It... it was one I had Leipzig, during Ironman." Valentine seemed ready to ask another question, but wrote some notes instead. He flipped to a third page, and looked to Barrow.

"When we fled the Leipzig lab, we took nothing with us. Where did you find the music box?"

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