Was I man or machine? I really didn't have a clue. I was flashing between human and cyborg-like states faster like a neon sign: on - off - on - off. Psychotic confusion gripped my mind as I tried to fathom who I was, what was right and wrong, and most of all why I still felt a magnetic attraction to Laura Silvan.

The only thing I was sure of was that I couldn't let Ultima continue manufacturing its viral poison.

The next morning, before the sun could break over the mountains, I found myself driving Mahdi Ahmadi's black Maseratti down Skyline Boulevard doing about 120. Stealing the Maseratti a second time was sure to blow the Mahdi's cerebral artery, but I swear I don't remember taking the machine. All I remember was that I'd gone to see Laura and then blacked out.

As I drove up the drivepath to the Ultima headquarters, I knew I was watched by video monitors the entire way. I was a marked man and surely they would know why I had come. I slowed the Maseratti to get another look at the complex, Ultima now looked more like a fortress than a pharmaceutical compay with recently added guard towers. Entering this hornets nest was suicide, but I'm not sure I cared.

A Samoan at the gatehouse, large as a brick wall, stepped into the road to wave me to a stop. This was no time to worry about whether this guard was supporting three kids and a wife, I put the pedal to the medal. This was my chance to see if the Maseratti would really do zero to sixty in 4.5 seconds. The Samoan leveled his M-4 at my head and began to fire, Plink Plink Plink. The windshield shattered and as the Samoan tried to avoid being hit I braked the Maseratti into a slide. I heard a thunk as I caught the Samoan's body on the front end and flipped him over the hood, rolling like a heavy log. Then there was a dizzying swirl of images and a jolting crunch as the Maserati careened into a tree and flattened the passenger side.

I was dazed for a moment, "I hope the Mahdi 's insured," I muttered as I scrambled out of the dented car and stumbled dizzily towards where I imagined the gunman had landed. I picked up his M-4 where it lay on the road just as the wounded hulk got up from his knees began to rush me, limping as he ran but picking up momentum like a wounded walrus. I still wasn't comfortable with killing, but there was little choice. I shot a burst from the hip - brrrap - toward my opponent. He dropped like a felled tree and began gurgling.

There was no time to wait around for a welcoming party. I began running through the brush off the side of the road towards the back of the hill on which the Ultima building was fortressed. There was sporadic gunfire as I ran, I could see Godzilla, my favorite guard pacing a glass hallway three stories above and directing the fire of security guards on the roof with his cellular.

Bullets whizzed past me, but my existence was charmed. Ell's control of my nervous system made me too agile for the marksmen to follow. After all, I had been designed as a lethal assault weapon and now the military pedigree of my robotics software took control. I took involuntary one-handed aim with the M-4 I still found in my hand and dropped a cone-head off the roof. The software code I had written and called Ell still had Department of Defense algorithms embedded in it. I was glad Ell was on my side and hoped I would never have to pick a fight with my virtual reality twin.

Godzilla the guard had come down from his glass tower and was waiting in the spacious front entrance hallway. If I'd ever had the illusion that Godzilla and I could become friends, those illusions were quickly dispelled.

"My argument isn't with you," I began diplomatically.

"No more talk," Godzilla dispensed with the chit chat. "I live, you die."

It was clear he was higher than a kite on drugs. If I was going to survive, Godzilla would have to have his nervous system ripped out.

A burst of gunfire spit from both our guns as we ran crosswise to each other for cover, sending sheets of glass crashing on either side of the hall. Those who live in glass houses should not cast stones! I found myself trying to take the form of an abstract bronze fountain statue for cover as Godzilla hunkered down behind a marble staircase that wound its way to the second floor.

"Damn, I thought you were counting bullets," I talked to myself, to Ell, as I realized the one 32 round clip I had was already expended. I touched my forehead which seemed to sting and found blood, perhaps a nick from a bullet aimed too close. "Can I give up now?" I heard myself asking Godzilla humorously, even as he prepared to charge me. "Can't we all just get along?"

"NO MORE TALK," Godzilla yelled, and made to rush my position.

Kerboom! Kerboom! We were both stunned by the sound of a shotgun from the second floor that scattered more glass and marble chips on the floor below.

"Now Clarence, shooting a man without a gun just wouldn't be fair," we heard a sweet voice from above. "Slide that nasty Uzi of yours away on the floor and play nicely with Dr. Heller."

Clarence? No wonder I'd never heard Godzilla called by his real name. But he slid the Uzi to the middle of the floor as ordered.

"Is that you Laura?" I prayed out loud with all my heart. She must have known I was coming to Ultima to settle scores, she was my salvation after all. I snuck a timid peek from behind the statue, and damn if Laura wasn't standing there, dressed tightly in black leather laced at the sides. I expected her to call off Godzilla, the guard dog, but she just smiled crookedly,then turned and walked away down a hallway above.

Godzilla looked at me, I looked at him, and the race was on to retrieve the Uzi. I was ahead of him, but he caught me with a blow from behind before my outreached arm could grab the firearm. That sent me scrambling over the floor and Godzilla jumped on top of me, thinking he could finish off the little guy with his bare hands. My eyes bugged as two hundred fifty pounds of hardened flesh bore down, but his momentum carried us over far enough that I was able to role out of his clutch.

I scrambled fast and was this time able to grab the Uzi, but as I turned to fire I was rammed in the gut with a metal post from one of the crowd dividers that Godzilla had grabbed, forcing me to drop the gun in a wayward blast of bullets.

Thud, Thud, Thud Godzilla pounded fists to my head, but despite the ringing in my ears, the beating seemed to have the salutary effect of driving me into a berzerker rage for survival.

Now it was my turn. Two punches backed him off, a turning leg kick coldcocked him in the side of the head and sent him sprawling. Hardly knowing my strength, I picked up a decorative stone vase and brought it down on his head, landing with a sound like a watermelon dropped off a truck.

"Oh my God, what have I done," I panted, standing over the man I had killed with my bare hands. "What have I become?"

But there wasn't time to moralize, shouts were coming from the hallways leading to the administrative area and I left on the run.

I found Qin Huang sitting at his desk with his feet up, seeming the relaxed CEO despite the chaos of alarms and bullets. I had left Godzilla's Uzi downstairs in my haste to avoid further confrontation. Now I found myself facing the business end of a chrome plated Colt that Huang held non-chalantly. It was the same pistol Sapphire had tried to assassinate me with so long ago.

A few drops of blood from my nicked forehead dribbled down my nose, onto my shoe and then the white marble floor. I think Godzilla had also broken one of my ribs.

"Do you know how much it costs to develop a new drug?" Huang asked in a bizarre non-sequitor, as if nothing had occurred and we were merely beginning a friendly business conversation. "Billions! ! Billions of dollars, Dr. Heller," he answered his own question.

I listened woozily. "You know in your heart what you are doing is wrong," I psychoanalyzed, correctly it turned out.

"I'd wanted to make a new start in America," Huang confessed in a strange mea culpa. "The only break I ever got in life was when my AIDs vaccine turned out to work. But we were too successful! Soon the AIDs vaccine was no longer profitable and our competitors could make it in bulk everywhere from India to Botswana. My Mafia friends, um, investors, became impatient, Ultima needed a new drug to keep us from going bankrupt."

"So that's what this is all about? Greed?" I asked, contemplating the little pool of blood that was now growing at my feet.

"Not about greed, Steven," Huang seemed annoyed I could be so dense. "I am one of the smartest men in the world when it comes to creating biological molecules and inserting them into human genes. There is no lack of vital drugs I could create, if the American government hadn't stood in the way. It requires a half of a billion dollars to develop a drug! I wanted with all my heart to become legitimate again, but it was impossible to compete with the Third World where development costs were minimal."

"So you became a lobbyist to protect your products?"

"Perhaps you aren't so dull as I thought," Huang smiled. "That's why we needed President William's involvement, to insure our products would have easy progress through the maze of FDA regulations."

"And Mahdi Ahmadi?" I asked.

"He was a gun runner and agent for the Chinese. He needed access to American military technology. He had access to Black Orchid. It was a natural alliance."

"So this is what your life has come to? Defending Ultima's corporate profits to the death? Wallowing in a corrupt political system that has at its head President Clint Williams, a liar of the ultimate magnitude?"

"Not to MY death," Huang grinned. "My soul may long ago have turned to dust, but my will to survive is as strong as ever. You don't think I'd be sitting here talking to you if I thought I was going to die, do you?"

"Steven," I heard a voice behind me. That sound that resonated through me like a tuning fork.

"Laura," I turned around, taking my eye off Huang. "Thanks for saving me . . ."

It was Laura all right, but she wasn't there to flirt. Her eyes were all business, she was holding that nasty-looking sawed off shotgun with the business end aimed at my heart.