A storm off the Pacific moved like a ghost up the Santa Cruz mountains, and with a rush of wind shook the structures at the Mahdi's retreat. Sheets of rain caressed the night in darkness, broken strangely by the rush of a streak of light, perhaps bolt lighting, perhaps a strobe light against the darkness. The light had an affinity towards darkness, it was attracted to Laura Silvan.

I'm not sure how I made it all the way from the apothecary shop in San Francisco back to the Mahdi's retreat, some of it was done clinging to trucks and other vehicles, some through the exertions of the cyborg being I had now become. I am not at all sure where Steve Heller ends and humanrobot begins. All I know is that whatever I had become was driven by rage.

In the depths of the black night, from the cabin where Laura Silvan stayed, there came a voice, the sounds of a songbird. So sonorous was the singing that it seemed the singer carried no weight on her conscience. A look of contentment on her perfectly turned features, seen through a curtained window, turned to fear as the doorbolt splintered through wood and there standing in the doorway was a raging lunatic, half clothed in rags, half in glowing filaments that radiated his every emotion.

"You tricked me,"screamed the Blue Orb, seething in a multitude of colors. "You were never in danger of dying!"

"You don't understand, Steven," Laura recovered her composure as quickly as a flash of light. "I AM sick and threatened! Gaia is threatened by masses of humanity ready to foul their own nest! Something had to be done!"

"By infecting the human race with a deadly virus?"

"The virus is not deadly! In fact, it will bring humans a sense of inner peace they have never had in a thousand millennia!"

"What kind of twisted logic is that? It will suck the life out of them!"

"And what do you call life, Steven?," Laura bristled. "Existing in a polluted world? Spending each waking moment deciding how to pay the auto loan, so you and the computerized factories your kind build can pollute some more?"

"You seem awfully sure of your monopoly on righteousness! And who gave you the right to determine what is right and wrong for other human beings. What are you, God!?"

"I am a God." Laura's words pierced like a knife through my heart. "Each of us creates our own heaven and hell. I choose to create a world to my liking, one in which we can all survive without choking on the waste of civilization. You can choose to wallow in pity for a polluted world that will soon be gone. But I am helping create a new future!"

"Even if you were right, do you seriously think you are powerful enough to pull this off?"

"With the help of the Mahdi, Qin Huang and the President, yes! We've thought everything through carefully. It has to work, the world is at risk if we don't stop the insane rape of our planet!"

"So Laura, is it morality that is driving you, or just the greed for power?"

"That is unfair Steven, and you know it!"

"I don't know anything," I half admitted. "the things Mae Lin and Sapphire have told me make it clear that I do not know you!"

"And you think Sapphire is telling the truth? And that drug addicted lying Chinese bitch Mae Lin?"

"Laura, what I saw with my eyes and heard with my own ears can't be wrong. In my heart I know Sapphire and Mae Lin are telling the truth."

"But Steven, did you know it was Mae Lin herself who addicted Crystal, to Black Orchid?"

"I don't believe that. You must be mistaken . . ."

"Are you so sure? And who do you think was running the prostitution connection that got me involved in this whole thing?"

"I don't want to hear this."

"It was Mae Lin. She ran an international prostitution ring out of the San Diego hotel in Hong Kong that catered to Chinese bureaucrats. She found my modeling portfolio on the Internet and enticed me to Hong Kong with a modeling contract. She used Black Orchid to hook her girls. She hooked me."

"I don't think you are telling the truth," I hesitated.

"It was only because the Mahdi took pity on me that I survived at all. The religion of peace is the only way I could break the habit."

"So how does that explain your involvement with Ultima Pharmaceuticals?"

"You mean Qin Huang?"

"You know exactly what I mean."

Laura seemed to hesitate, as if she had run out of lies to tell me, or perhaps she was truly perplexed, I couldn't tell. She broke into sobbing tears.

"It wasn't supposed to turn out this way," she cried, and despite logic I began to feel sympathy for her. "I swear the Mahdi and I didn't know we were mixed up with someone so evil."

"You didn't know Huang was part of the Chinese government?"

"Steven, you were fooled yourself. Ahmadi thought Black Orchid could be tamed for the benefit of mankind. It was Huang who warped this into an insane power trip."

"So you just wanted to take America feel good?"

"If only we could isolate the good aspects of Black Orchid from the evil side, we could create a better society. If only you could understand, the drug is a religious experience at first."

"And what the hell comes after that?"

"You would have found out for yourself, if only Deelon hadn't been so foolish."

"Deelon James again, Sapphire's brother, my orderly."

"There was a new version of Black Orchid that we thought might protect you!"

"Protect me? Like a giant dose of Prozac?"

"You don't understand, do you. You forget, you are a military weapon. The Future Warrior."

"That was a funding trick, a way to get the research on the lightsuit past the backward rules of the FDA. Dr. Armstrong explained it all to me."

"Did he explain that you were developed to be a killing machine? That the robotics algorithms that manipulate your arms and legs were written to military specifications? Perhaps you haven't figured it out, but you are a threat not only to humans, but to the entire ecology."

"I don't understand."

"You poor baby, no one bothered to tell you the whole story? Steven, you are so smart that sometimes I forget you are in many ways a naïve child. Sapphire was caught up in Qin Huang's web long ago, he seduced her, she was his mistress."

"So? How does this tie Sapphire to me?"

Huang's been selling military secrets on the international black market for decades. You'd be worth a hundred million dollars on the arms market."

"Sapphire sure doesn't act like she's on Huang's side. She's tried to kill me twice now! That would sure ruin his investment in me."

"Sapphire wasn't trying to kill you. The first time, she was trained to injure you so that you could be changed into this cybermonster. Sapphire is the one who killed Deelon, her own brother. He tried to get you to take the new version of Black Orchid so that your aggressive tendencies could be controlled. Sapphire killed her own brother!"

It was as if the light being were experiencing seizures, incompatible data was inundating and confusing his circuitry.

"Your intent has been to save the world, not to destroy it?" The confused being asked. Moral grey stretched for an infinity in all directions.

"Of course!"

"And you were trying to keep me from being turned into a killing machine, a deadly cyborg, when you asked Jamie to drug me?"

"It was the only way the Mahdi and I could think of to keep you from being made into a monster!"

"Then the first step to ending this purgatory is to stop Qin Huang from completing the inoculation program."

"It's the only way. I will help you in any way that I can"

"And do you love me?" the lightbeing asked.

"Of course I do," Laura answered. "More than you can ever imagine."