Chapter Six

Edison kept his eyes on the directions while he led his friends to Reg's friend's house. On the way they noticed even more squalor. Pieces of paper whipped around in the wind and rubbish was everywhere. They passed under an old bridge that had obviously seen better days. Looking up they could see large holes in the concrete and graffiti covered almost every square inch of it. There were more homeless people crouched underneath it, partially hidden in the shadows. Jack noticed them and his hand drifted to the butt of his gun while he gave them a wary look but no one moved towards them. The other men were also on guard and fanned out slightly covering the women on all sides but other than a few mutters and snorts and comments about how clean they looked, no one harassed them. They moved past the bridge and headed left. They walked through an area overgrown with weeds and littered with more trash and broken items. While they walked, something caught Rain's eye and she glanced down at a piece of doll's face that was missing the rest of the body. It was dirty and one of its eyes was closed, the other open as if it were winking at her. The further they went the more the smell became unbearable until they finally had to resort to their respiratory bypass systems just to keep from vomiting. Unfortunately, Jack didn't have that luxury so he resorted to pinching his nose shut and breathing through his mouth while Edison didn't seem to notice it at all. It wasn't just the pollution that stank, they could smell feces as well.

After a half hour they came upon a series of shelters. Some were made out of tents; some were dug into the ground with planks of wood over them with smoke curling up from fires lit below an open area in the makeshift roof. Then they saw ramshackle houses constructed of any material the owners could find. It reminded the Doctor of houses in third world countries. While they passed, people stepped outside and watched them. Again, the men were on alert but they did the same as the people under the bridge, glare at them and mutter about how they probably came down from the city to stare at them and make fun of them. The Doctor heard a couple of them mutter Edison's name while they wondered what he was doing among them and commenting on the nice camera he had and how many credits it might fetch. Edison ignored them all while he continued searching for the blank's house.

They finally located it and the Doctor noticed that it was a better looking house than the ones around it, which meant it was built of wood rather than sheet metal or scraps. It was tiny, looked like it only had a few rooms and it had once been painted white, although most of the paint had since peeled off the wood. The roof was made of sheet metal and there was an aerial that someone had tried to affix to one of the edges but was now currently sagging a bit to the right. The Doctor glanced around at everything.

"Um, Edison, if it's a crime to be a blank, how come so many are living out in the open like this?" the Doctor finally asked. "I know you said not everyone here is one but still, if they're that concerned about people not having proper identification wouldn't they be down here arresting everyone."

Edison chuckled.

"You'd think so but Metro Cops are notoriously lazy," he said. "Not to mention they don't enjoy being down here. They prefer the city where it's a lot cleaner. As a rule, they won't arrest blanks as long as they stay here and don't do anything illegal like hack into government files. Or if they get in their way like you did. It's kinda a win win relationship. The blanks get to live in peace and the cops get to pretend they don't exist and get spared filling out paperwork they don't wanna do. Which is one of the reasons why I was able to get all of you released from prison. But that's why they're so bold about living out in the open like this."

Edison knocked on the wooden door.

"Who's there?" they heard someone yell.

"My name is Edison Carter. I'm a friend of Blank Reg. I have some friends here and we wanted to talk to you for a moment?"

There was a long pause and they thought he wasn't going to open the door. But then the door opened a crack and they could see a green eye and part of a bearded face peek out.

"What'd ya want, newsman?" he growled at Edison. "You lookin' for a story, look elsewhere, I ain't done nothin' illegal!"

"I wanted to talk to you about your friend. The one who escaped from the cyber cult," Edison said.

The door opened a bit more and they noticed he was haggard and grizzled, thin, in his late 60's with graying hair.

"What 'bout 'im?" he said, eyeing Edison warily.

His wary gaze swept over everyone else.

"Who're all these people?" he said, pointing to them.

"These are my friends. I assure you we're not going to hurt you and we're not here for a story. I just need to talk to you about your friend. We want to visit him and talk to him personally because I wasn't able to find the location of the cult's hideout and I want to see if he knows more about it."

The man sighed deeply.

"Alright, but mind you don't touch anything," he said.

"We'll keep our hands to ourselves," Edison said.

The man opened the door all the way and stepped back. They walked inside and looked around. The interior was dimly lit with lamps with heavy shades on them. There were wires snaking along the top of the walls, held in place with staplers. On the walls were a couple of pictures, one was of Einstein, one was Stephen Hawking and another was an elderly man they couldn't identify. There was a television set in the corner of the room that was turned to a wrestling match and several computers were scattered around the room, all of them old and outdated. Across from the TV was an old battered leather sofa that had two tomcats lounging on it. Next to it was an old la-z-boy recliner that had stuffing poking out from various holes. A table next to it had magazines piled on it. Underneath they could see a couple of game systems including what looked like an old Xbox. The man shooed the cats off the sofa and gestured to it.

"Some of you can have a seat," he said to them. "Can I get ya somethin' to drink? Beer, Carbocola?"

They shook their heads. The man sat in the la-z-boy while Edison perched on the end of the sofa. The Doctor and Alan let their wives sit while they stood beside them. The others stood nearby glancing around the room.

"Sorry to be so rude, but you never know these days," the man said to Edison. "Name's Sam."

Everyone introduced themselves and he nodded his head before turning his attention back to Edison.

"So, my friend didn't come through for ya, eh?" he said.

"No, he either got it wrong or they were tipped off before we got there. All we found is one teenage girl who had been drained of all her memories," Edison said.

"Ah, shame, too young to have that happen to her," Sam said, shaking his head. "I doubt she's a blank then. We've been keeping an eye on each other and I ain't heard tell of a teen goin' missin'."

"How many blanks have gone missing?" the Doctor asked.

"Not many that I know of. We're a lot smarter than that. We keep to ourselves. Besides most blanks spend their time in their houses. Most of them got snatched off the streets, so I heard tell."

"And that's where your friend got taken?" Jack asked.

He nodded.

"Yeah, he had to go downtown to get a couple of parts, computer went on the fritz. Told me he was walking along minding his own business and someone came along, knocked him out and dragged him into an alley. When he woke up he was lying in bed in a white room with no windows and wearing a white gown. One of the other members tried to feed him and then practically shoved it down his throat when he wouldn't do it. The food must have had a sedative in it because he was drowsy when they finally took him to see the leader."

Everyone perked up at that.

"Did he see his face?" Edison said.

"No, he was hidden behind a heavy white screen, one of those folding screens like they have in Japan. The lights were dimmed way down low and he wasn't able to see anything. The man spoke to him in this low gruff voice, he said. Told him he was now a disciple of the church and he had to obey him or else. He tried to get away but they knocked him out and he woke up back in the room again. But he said he managed to overpower the guard watching over him and run out the door before they could nab him. Ran all the way back here and now he's in hiding with a friend of his."

"Did he know where he was being held?" Edison asked.

"If he does, he didn't tell me. He wasn't too keen on talkin' 'bout it. I tried to get him to say more but that's all he would say before he clammed up. I think he's afraid he's being watched and he might be killed if he tells too much. Can't say I blame em."

"Will he talk to us?" Edison said.

"Hard to say. Why do you wanna talk to em though? Are you wanting to interview him for ya news show?"

"No, we wanna shut this Cyber Messiah down for good and rescue the people he's enslaved," the Doctor said.

"Just you guys?" Sam said, gesturing around at them. "You're gonna do what the Metro Cops and everyone else have been unable to do and stop this cyber cult?"

"Yup," the Doctor said.

Sam chuckled.

"Well, good luck to ya, just watch you don't end up captured along with the others. Listen; let me talk to my friend, alright? Let him know you wanna talk to him and then he can decide."

They nodded and he got up and walked over to a computer at the back of the room. Sam activated the vid phone while they watched him. He tried to block the monitor from their view but the Doctor caught a glimpse of a young twenty something man who had short hair that was dyed purple. They were muttering to each other, trying not to be heard but the Doctor and his family could hear them with their sensitive hearing.

"Thomas, Edison Carter from Network 23 and some others are here, they wanna talk to you," Sam was muttering to him. "Carter says it's not an interview for his news show, they just wanna talk to you about the cult. They wanna know if they can come and see ya. Should I send them your way?"

"Who are these others?" Thomas muttered back.

"Dunno, never seen em before. Four men and six women, all of them clean with new clothes, they're not homeless and I don't think they're blanks. They claim they're gonna try to bring down the cult and they need your help to do it."

"What can they do?"

"Dunno, I'm not gonna ask too many questions just in case they do get caught. It's your call though."

The Doctor heard a long silence from him and for a moment he thought he was gonna refuse, but then he heard Thomas let out a heavy sigh.

"Yes but tell em to keep it brief. I don't want Edison Carter here attracting unwanted attention."

The Doctor glanced at his family and saw they heard it too. Sam nodded, said goodbye and ended the call. He swiveled around in his chair and looked at them.

"My friend will talk to you but keep it brief," he said.

Edison smiled and nodded and the others kept a poker face while they did the same thing.

"His name's Thomas," he said, turning back around and reaching for a pad and pen. "I'll write down directions to the place he's stayin' at, but see you keep it to yourselves."

"We will," Edison said. "And thanks."

He snorted.

"Don't thank me, thank him. He's the one who's agreein' to this, I'm just the messenger boy," he said.

He finished writing out the directions and handed it to Edison.

"Brief, ya hear? Don't attract attention to yourselves," Sam said to him.

"You got it. We'll be in and out and nary a soul will know," Edison replied.

Sam narrowed his eyes and for a moment the others thought Sam was gonna deck him but he finally let out a sigh and pointed to the door.

"Get out of here, I got things to do," he said to them.

Edison nodded and gestured for the others to go. The Doctor and Alan took their wives hands and they went outside with the others. While they stood there, they heard someone calling to them and saw Max on a TV several feet away grinning at them.

"Taking a pleasant s-s-stroll through B-B-Blankville?" he said to them.

Looking at him, Donna suddenly had a thought. She gestured for the others to follow her and she walked up to him.

"Hey! You can go to any computer screen, yeah?" she said.

"Any monitor actually, but y-y-yes."

"Can you do us a favor? Can you go and find this cult? See what building it's in?"

The others beamed at her.

Good thinking, Donna, the Doctor thought to her.

Yeah, well, I keep telling ya I have my moments, she thought back.

"You want me to g-g-go into the most dangerous c-c-cult in the world and report back to you?" Max said.

"Yeah," Awinita said, "like a spy."

By this time Edison had joined them and the Doctor filled him in on what Donna had said to Max.

"Good idea, but I would hold off until we talk to Thomas otherwise he's gonna be jumping monitors at random and it might take him forever to get through all the ones in the city," Edison said.

"Donna, you hear that?" the Doctor said.

She nodded.

"On second thought, just wait, Max, till we get done talking to Thomas."

"I s-s-shall wait with baited b-breath!" he said.

Edison beckoned to them and they walked off while Max began to jump screens and follow them.


Unlike Sam's little shack, the building Thomas was staying in was a large office building. The windows were boarded up and it looked abandoned. Even Edison was confused since he kept looking down at the directions and looking around at the landmarks around it.

"Are you sure you got the right place?" Jack asked.

"According to this, I do."

"What if he did this to keep us from seeing his friend?" Dex said. "They just pretended to let us come see him but led us here instead."

"Wait a minute, I'll have Theora check this building out before we go inside," Edison said.

He sat his camera down, reached into the pocket of his trench coat and pulled out a flesh colored comm device. He slipped it deep into his right ear and turned it on.

"Theora, we're at an abandoned building out by the old Zytex factory. Probably about…a half mile from it to the east. Reg's friend claims the source is in here but it looks deserted, can you check the layout for us before we go in?"

"On it now, Edison."

"Thanks, control."

"Is it a three story square building?" Theora asked.


"Well, according to this, it used to be the location of Greer's Biolabs before they moved. It's been abandoned for about four years now."

"Yeah, well, that doesn't mean blanks and homeless people aren't occupying it."

The Doctor and the others watched while he turned and walked up to them. He lowered his voice.

"I'm gonna turn the camera on and hopefully, Thomas, our contact, won't notice. I want you to keep an eye on us in there and listen through the comm, just in case."


Edison picked up his camera, turned it on and sighed when he saw the red light on top wink on.

"I hope Thomas won't know what the red light means," he muttered to them.

They walked towards the building.

"Okay, control, we're goin' in," he said.

"Okay, as soon as you're inside, you'll be in a lobby. There's a lift down the corridor and a door off to the right that leads to the stairs. Your choice."

"Well, considering we don't know where the guy is living in here, we better take the stairs first," Edison muttered to her.

Keeping his camera aimed at the door, they walked up to it. It wasn't boarded up but most of the glass had been broken and there was shattered glass on the floor just inside. They stepped gingerly on it and went through the inner doors into the lobby. It was dark and silent inside. Narrow shafts of light fell through the cracks in the boarded up windows giving the room an eerie feel to it. Rose glanced at a nearby window, saw dust floating in the sunbeam and smiled when she briefly thought of the Vashta Nerada. She squeezed her husband's hand and he squeezed back while he looked around. The only furniture in the lobby was a few dirty and dusty leather couches that had been ripped and had urine and blood stains on it. The Doctor noticed the blood stains and became more vigilant while they moved further inside. Edison held up his hand and they stopped.

"Hello?" he called out.

The Doctor glanced around.

I don't like this, he thought to his family. Stay close together and keep your eyes open.

You think this is a trap, Brother? Alan thought.

I don't know. Sure seems like one. 1200 years of living, I've learned not to rule out anything, he thought back.

All of them jumped when the metal door leading to the stairs swung open and a man glared at them. Edison quickly swung his camera back around behind him to hide the red light.

"Carter?" the man said.


The man's gaze swept over the others. He was tall and thin with long black hair with blue highlights that hung down his back in a ponytail. He had on a pair of granny glasses and a nose stud in his right nostril. His eyes were slightly glazed and the Doctor guessed he'd been drinking or doing some kind of drug which made him even more wary.

"I'm Thomas's friend, Eron. I'm here to escort you up to his room. Follow me."

Edison glanced at the others and they followed him through the door and went upstairs.


They stopped at the second floor and Eron led them to the end of the corridor. There were closed doors on either side and they could hear people talking and yelling behind some of them. The whole building was dusty and musty and they switched to their respiratory bypass systems to keep from coughing.

Eron led them around the corner. They sidestepped to avoid a drunken man who was slumped on the floor beside a door. The Doctor glanced at him, at first thinking he was dead but he saw his chest rise and fall and he let out a cough. He shared a glance with his wife who shook her head sadly.

Finally they stopped at a door halfway down the corridor. Eron knocked on it.

"Who is it?"

"It's me, Thomas; I brought Edison Carter and his friends to see you."

They heard the deadbolt turn and Thomas opened the door. He glanced at Edison and the others and grunted while he opened the door wider.

"Remember, keep it brief," Eron said to them.

They nodded and stepped inside the room.

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