Bam! Bam! Bam! Came the sound of shotgun blasts followed by breaking glass mixed with screams.

At first I was offended none of the President's bodyguards gave the slightest thought to my safety since WE were obviously target central (like anyone would care about an expendable cyborg like myself). Then it suddenly occurred to me that Laura was also at risk and my own safety became secondary. I could smell smoke.

I exited to the balcony hallway and saw Laura down below, caught in the confusion. Qin Huang and the Mahdi were also there near the entrance, but the Mahdi seemed headed outside on offense, holding an M-4 automatic and shouting orders to buff members of the Presidential Guard, as though he'd long been a figure in command. I headed down the impressive staircase, when there was an explosion outside, powerful enough to shake the building and make me lose my balance.

I'm not quite sure what happened then, only that my surroundings began to swim and I began to feel as though I was drifting through this scene of chaos like a wraith. But I was running, not drifting. I found myself downstairs, but Laura was nowhere to be found.

I saw a flare of light through a window looking on the back acreage, a flare that sizzled towards the house like a rocket.

"Incoming!" An old Global Warming War veteran screamed. It was a damn anti-tank missile, headed right towards us. The crashing of window glass was immediately followed by an explosion that knocked us all to the ground, amid a splattering of body parts, blood and the screams of the innocent. Even as the blast wave reverberated through the house, my last thoughts were of Laura, and how I could save her.

Running, running, running. Faster than light. Faster than my thoughts could contain. I watched myself running across the back yard of the Strickland mansion, a streak of blue light as obvious as a flash bulb, a blue orb, followed by a string of orange flashes from automatic fire that tracked my movement.

In the background, there was the screech of tires as the President's secret service guard attempted to clear him from the grounds in his armored limo. They were obviously afraid the President would be trapped in the house, which was taking small arms fire and RPG rounds. The mansion smoldered from some small flames, now being frantically extinguished. The Secret Service were justifiably afraid the President would be cut off on the house grounds - someone's butt was going to face an inquiry for this lack of security!

Another sizzling rush of light and heat crossed from a clump of trees and headed towards the Presidential limousine and you could see faces flash in recognition that the President was soon be a shish kabob. But the rocket deflected off a marble fountain statuette and veered into the night.

A circling press helicopter covering the escaping Presidential limousine was unfortunately in the deflection path of the rocket and found its rear boom exploding in a flash of sparks. Lacking the counterbalancing rear rotor, this sent the helicopter into a dizzying downward spiral, where it nicked the house and crashed into a greenhouse structure in an explosion of glass and fire.

The Blue Orb became a missile of its own. Picking up an Uzi dropped by a fallen secret service agent, it ran towards the concentration of firepower that represented the center of the attacking forces, firing short bursts and screeching like an unearthly Banshee.

There were screams from every side as the blue being created havoc among the attackers. Despite a barrage of heavy weapons fire, the light orb was moving far too fast for any other human have stopped him. A pod of five guerrillas dressed in black camouflage faced him and he would have killed them all despite their body armour, but the Uzi jammed.

Dead to rights, the light dervish knew even in its battle deranged mind that it was all over, it was still at heart flesh and blood. In half an instant a barrage of bullets would cut him in two. An eerie pause seemed like eternity as the creature found itself faced by five attackers, all pointing guns at him.

"Hold Fire," came a barked command in a female voice, and five hairtriggers balanced on the edge of percussion. "God, you deserve to die," a woman commando nearly spit at the Blue Orb as she stepped from behind some cover. After a frozen moment in eternity it became clear who the woman was. It was Sapphire James, looking remarkable in control of her murderous senses given the current circumstances. Only the moans of two commandos felled by gunfire interrupted the tension. "Perhaps if I let you survive, you'll live long enough to find your soul." Sapphire continued quickly, as more bullets began to ping close by. "Let's get out of here!" she yelled to her followers.

Bullets began to tick-tick-tack off concrete walls as the good guys, the Presidential Guard forces lead by the Mahdi himself, charged the commandos. Quickly, Sapphire and her force slipped back toward the ocean cliff front from which they'd come and rappelled into the darkness.

Shock. Mesmerized by Sapphire's presence, the light-being morphed through a rainbow of hues, confused by the one creature he had feared, but who now appeared to have spared his life. He turned and walked quietly back towards the mansion through a circus of security bodyguards. There was still sporadic gunfire, and then the image of a shell shocked Laura Silvan exiting the mansion. Fifteen minutes had elapsed from the first sounds of gunfire, but as quickly as the attack had begun, it ended.

The last image that formed on the minds of the shellshocked Hollywood gliteratti now scattered about the grounds was of a neon man etched against the drifting smoke of battle, carrying the form of a young woman who clung tightly to him. The affluent crowd could never have imagined such mayhem outside the set of a Hollywood production, but now they had lived through it.

"We must make a movie about this," one gliteratti was heard to say.

I found myself at Mahdi Ahmadi's retreat the next morning, in Laura's cottage. She was asleep at my side, still dressed in the evening gown she'd worn last night to sing at the Alano reception. She was curled up next to me. Her hair was mussed and she had some soot on her face, the aftermath of having been a firsthand witness to a guerrilla battle. But God was she beautiful.

She began to stir in the morning light, mumbling incoherently, and then sounding alarmed, caught in a dream that was no doubt a reliving of the battle of the night before. She woke with a start, with eyes wild with fear, but I held her tight and recognition slowly came to her face.

"You saved my life last night," She whispered.

"I did?"

"You are my hero, Dr. Heller."

"I am?" For the life of me, I could only remember scraps and pieces of what had gone on the night before.

"Of course you are." But then, a colder look came over her face. "You talked with the president before the fighting began, didn't you?" she began to grill me.


"And will you help me? Will you please help me and the others who have this damnable disease?"

"There are some things that bother me about stealing sensitive information," I began. "It's not that I have much good to say about governmental institutions like the CDC, but . . .

"But are you going to do it?" She asked insistently, as if an angel in need could ever be denied by the one she loved.

"You know the answer," I melted. "Of course I will."

Laura uncurled herself from my arms, rose from the bed and let the evening gown slide from her shoulders.

"You'd better get going," she stated coldly, giving me a quick peck on the cheek, though I had other things on my mind. "You have lots to do," she crashed my hopes. So while she showered, I slipped out, still dressed in a tattered tuxedo, a man sent on a mission from a Goddess.