est Coast of what had historically been known as the United States of America, Cerberus operator Donald Bry was flipping through computer screen data trying to find a suitable exit point for Grant and his team. Until recently, the Cerberus headquarters had been located in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. However, following the devastating attack by Ullikummis, the redoubt had been evacuated, and the core personnel had taken up temporary residence on the West Coast. For the moment, Cerberus was much diminished while it struggled to recover, many of its surviving staff forced into hiding.
Bry was a slender man with an unruly mop of copper curls and an expression that ranged from worried to fearful. He was a man given to stressing over a given situation, be it the health of his operatives or simply what the best filling would be for his lunchtime sandwich. He was, however, a remarkable computer expert whose dedication to his job made him an irreplaceable asset to the Cerberus organization.
Bry sat amid a bank of laptops, each wired through a mainframe to boost their power and link their attributes. Across the room, Brewster Philboyd worked at his own terminal, scanning information from several satellite feeds and location marker points. Tall with swept-back blond hair, Philboyd was an astrophysicist. He wore the standard white jumpsuit of Cerberus staff along with his usual black-framed spectacles.
As the two worked at their separate tasks, another call came over the Commtact system. This one was from a field operative called Kane, and it caused some excitement in the temporary Cerberus hideout. Kane had located the base of their enemy, Ullikummis, and Philboyd and Bry combined their resources to bring the location up on screen. As they did so, the founder of the Cerberus operation, Mohandas Lakesh Singh, joined them to review the situation and speak directly with Kane.
Thus, by the time Bry got back to the question that Grant had posed, a full twenty-two minutes had passed.
“It seems that the easiest way to evac your team is to use the interphaser,” Bry explained to Grant.
“We don’t have one with us,” was Grant’s patient response.
“I’ll send someone out to meet you, and you can all come home together,” Bry said, eminently logical.
“Makes sense,” Grant agreed. “Where do you need us?”
Bry tapped out a sequence of commands on his computer keyboard, bringing up a map of parallax points, which he combined with the location transponder that Grant had with him at all times. Hidden beneath his flesh, the transponder relayed his location as well as crucial data regarding his state of health. “I’m getting a parallax reading about twelve miles to your west,” Bry explained as he watched the map light up.
“That’s gonna be a trek,” Grant complained. “Nothing closer?”
“Wait,” Bry replied, speaking as much to himself as to the man on the other end of the communication link. Before Bry’s eyes, the on-screen map glowed with the crucial locations of the parallax points. They looked like a grid of stars, sprayed across Iran, Iraq and the rest of the Arab world. As Bry watched, a new point lit up on the map just outside the dragon-shaped settlement, less than a half mile from where Grant’s transponder was showing. It was as if a new parallax point had just come into existence. But, that wasn’t possible, was it?
“Grant, I’m picking up a point close to you....” Bry began warily. “It seems to have just appeared.”
* * *
O N THE OUTSKIRTS of the dragon-shaped structure on the banks of the Euphrates, Grant, Rosalia and Kudo were staring in amazement as a huge rift opened in the air before them. Twin cones of light ebbed up and downward, growing larger as they watched. The multicolored blur within those cones was tinged with darkness as if painted on a black canvas, streaks of lightninglike witchfire playing within its depths. The Cerberus field team watched, incredulous, as