The column had turned down another street, making their way through a more built up portion of the residential district as they came closer to the city center. Single family homes lined the streets on either side, built with inches between them; their cookie cutter staircases traveling only a few feet from the front door to the street below.
Michael almost stopped when he saw it, but knew he needed to keep things together. There, to his right, just on the other side of the street, was his old apartment. He hadn't recognized the city the entire time he'd been here, but now before him was irrefutable proof. Red spalling from the chipped bricks littered the front stoop. The door had been broken down, and as he looked inside he could see a gaping hole in the staircase. He tried hard not to make a scene, but his heart was racing. He felt something of a crackle in his mind and a rush of memories poured into his consciousness. He remembered Cassandra's face, and the last time he'd seen her right there across the street. He also remembered the dark vehicle that picked him up here on a regular basis. He knew now where they were headed as they turned the next corner. They were headed downtown, to a nondescript warehouse he'd visited all too often.
Nearly an hour later, the patrol stopped just one city block shy of what Michael assumed was the intended destination. He looked up as a flock of birds glided by, nestling themselves into a bush that protruded from the second story window of what was once an office building. Bobby hissed at him, and when Michael turned he saw that he was being prompted to move forward; the patrol had set off again.
Moments later they were stopped once more and Michael could see John walking down the line.
John walked only as far as he needed to until he saw Bobby, at which point he patted the top of his head, signaling that Bobby come to his position. He smiled when he noticed Michael tagging along. “Good to see your fire team partner gets the gist of it,” said John.
Bobby looked back as Michael caught up. “Heh, yeah. I guess so.”
John pointed to the building next to them, “Alright, this is where the report says they hit from, so we're going to be particularly careful. I want you two to get up to the second floor and get overwatch on the intersection. Keep an eye out, I'm sure they've been doing the same to us since we got into the city.”
Bobby nodded, then asked the question, “How long are you going to be?”
“We're just getting inside, getting a few samples and then getting out.”
“You're not going to make sure it's all still there?”
“We don't have time, and that's not our objective.”
“What happens if we take all these risks, move up here into Shifty central and then find out the thing's not even here?”
Michael frowned, he couldn't hold it any longer. “You're all idiots if you don't think I know where I am, and what we're here for, and I agree with Bobby. If you're going to move that whole mass of people up here without knowing if the Horizon sphere's still in there, then maybe we should just shoot ourselves in the face now, because it's going to be a shit show if we take that risk for nothing,” he said.
Bobby and John looked at him for a moment, in silence.
Michael continued, “The city might have aged by forty eight years and have twenty four years of growth on it, but I know we passed my apartment six blocks back and I know this shit warehouse is what Smalldridge loved to call the Air Force base.”
“You know, Bobby, he's right. We need to take a look-see.”
“It's too dangerous, the last team barely got out in one piece.”
“That's because Shifty had a bead on them.”
“They could have a bead on us right now Bobby.”
“Besides John, that team was the first to try and get into the lower chambers since Joshua abandoned it in sixty one.”
“Why would he abandon something he spent his life rebuilding?” Michael asked.
John answered, “Sixty one is when the bombs fell. He had no choice. Although they survived the initial blast, the radiation from the fallout would have killed them if they stayed.”
“That's probably why Joshua didn't live to see his forty fifth birthday. He must have gotten pretty highly irradiated while trying to leave this place,” Bobby said.
Michael shook his head. “Wait a second. I'm probably doing the math wrong here. It's eighty five right? So if the bombs fell twenty four years ago, but Joshua never got to see his forty fifth birthday, he was in his twenties when the bombs fell.”
“Yeah, and?” John asked.
“Well, Harvey told me that Joshua rebuilt the Horizon project, and from the way you guys are talking, he rebuilt it here, right where it was when I last used it.”
Bobby nodded, “That's right.”
“How the hell does a twenty something year old rebuild a project that took decades to research and develop?”
They both smiled at Michael.
Bobby patted Michael on the shoulder. “Michael, your grandson was not an ordinary person. If you'd met him, you'd understand how he was capable of rebuilding the project by the time he was twenty five.
“It's not like he didn't have help. Samantha had paved the way for him. Where she lacked the scientific knowledge, she made up for in sheer investigatory mastery and organizational prowess. She practically groomed Joshua to be the missing pieces of the puzzle. She had his fate chosen before he was born. He was going to do what she couldn't. He was going to rebuild Horizon.”
“And he did,” John said. “It took years for the fallout to subside enough for us to be able to get in here safely. We wanted to have a base of operations here before you showed up, but Shifty has made that difficult. It took us a long time just to set up the forward operation base at the school. We've been fighting a stiff resistance in the city for over a year now. Finally, we're this close,” he said looking down the street at the warehouse. “Alright, you've convinced me. I'll put Kevin on overwatch and you two will come with me. We'll take a look-see inside.”
Bobby smiled and pumped his fist. “Hooah!”
John glared at him. “None of that now.”
“Sorry, just excited. Aren't you?” Bobby asked Michael.
“No Rob, I'm terrified. I've only been out of that thing for a few days from my perspective. My mind is just now starting to find some resemblance of normalcy. Looking at this warehouse reminds me of where I'd be this time seventy two years ago if I'd done everything according to Smalldridge's plans.”
“Where would that be?” John asked.
Michael furrowed his brow, as if peering into the past. “In a gurney, stuck like a pin cushion with wires hanging out of me, waiting to be electrocuted into submission.”
“Well, that ain't happening,” Bobby said excitedly. “Instead, you're making history. We're going to be the first people to walk into the Horizon Project chambers since Joshua Rafferty himself locked the door behind him twenty four years ago.”