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I was in my lab in Peoria, preparing for a long-overdue vacation, when an NSA alert flashed on my Gov-Net monitor. I re-routed it to the vid-phone and answered.
"Weaver Center. Dr. Weaver speaking."
"Good Morning, Eric." NSA Director Jason Hammersmith and I had been on a first name basis since I became a consultant and special agent, seven years ago. "This morning, Chris Wilkes came out of 18 months of stasis at Wright-Patterson Space Center. Then, in a matter of seconds, he'd attacked three members of his team, forcing the others to evacuate the lab. Then, he managed to close the blast door."
A lump formed in my throat. "Who was attacked?"
"Doctors Mike Dekker, Julian Ahern and Carole Markson."
"Any word on their condition?"
"None. I want you to pay them an astral visit and be our eyes and ears. How long will it take you to get there?"
I checked the system monitors. "Seconds. I'll send you the a/v feed."
The screen darkened.
I entered DreamCatcher and closed the lid. Seconds later, I went astral and materialized in the hallway outside the stasis lab, sixty feet beneath the runways of the Space Center. Rescue teams had been laboriously cutting through a six foot thick amalgam of concrete, rebar and girders. The remainder of Chris's team was outside the lab, being de-briefed by the brass.
I passed through the blast door and looked around the lab. The bodies of Chris's colleagues lay on the floor near the open stasis chamber. Chris's inert form was huddled in a corner, breathing shallowly. He couldn't have seen me, but despite the din from the activity outside, I heard him call, "Eric!"
It startled me. I called back, "Chris?"
"Over here." Chris's astral form hovered about six feet to my right.
"Jeez, Eric." He looked at me with the same regard. "How did you...?"
"It's a long story. How long have you been... like that?"
"For the last 18 months. I thought I was dreaming until things went down, this morning. And you?"
"A few minutes. I can go back, though it looks like that's not an option for you."
He looked at the sleeping form, still in a loose fetal position in the corner. "Not so far," he sighed. "There's an energy field of some kind keeping me out. Both of us get knocked for a loop when I try."
Stopping within arm's length, I extended my hand toward the sleeping hulk.
"Careful," he cautioned, "It packs quite a wallop!"
My hand passed through a shoulder, unaffected. "So far, so good. If I'm right, I may have found your way back in."
"It's the stasis field retention grid. As your spirit passed through it on its way out of the chamber, I believe its polarity was reversed. It, and your body, have like charges, which is why you both get knocked for a loop every time you make contact. What we have to do is find a way to change the polarity of your spirit."
"Any ideas?" he asked.
"One, but it's risky."
"I've just killed three of my closest friends, Eric."
"Metaphysically speaking, you didn't kill them.