Daniel and the others made their way out of the room. The corridors were silent save for the low buzz of the survivors thanking whatever powers they believed in for their continued existence. There weren’t many bodies still about--and the ARICs had switched primary directives, to cleaning up the mess they had made.
They weren’t too far down the hall when they spotted the ARIC carrying Carissa’s body. Before Daniel could react, Aaron trotted over and--without disrupting the robot’s movements--slipped something out of Carissa’s pocket.
Daniel frowned at him when he rejoined the group. “What did you take?” he asked.
Aaron shrugged. “Weren’t you wondering how the robots still found us, even after Carissa told us that room would be safe?” he asked. “And why the robots targeted her first? And why she wouldn’t just come out and tell us what department she worked for?” He showed his friends the object in his hand.
It was Carissa’s ID card, the one she’d used to seal the door, the one that held her identifying information and personnel file. Under “DEPARTMENT” it clearly displayed the word “MYSTIC”; her specific division was “DREAM CTR.”
“Well, no wonder she was so scared of the ARICs! And how she knew the inside scoop behind the death threats!” Mike exploded. “She could have been one of the ones responsible!”
“And now she’s paid the ultimate price,” Daniel cut in before his friends could continue venting against the young woman. “Let’s not get carried away in blaming her.”
Harry tilted an eyebrow as they entered their room at the back of the Employee Residence section. “And let’s not suffer the same fate,” he muttered.
Daniel closed the door behind them. “We’re not going to die,” he assured his friends. “We’re going to solve the mystery of the President’s dream.”
Aaron flopped on the bed. All of them felt the slow, heavy drag of adrenaline withdrawals and the lack of sleep. “What makes you so sure?” he grumbled.
Daniel waited till his friend sat up again before tossing the soft-cover Bible at him. “There’s why,” he said. “We don’t have to be afraid because we know The One Who sends dreams, and we know that He will make it known to us if we ask Him.”
Mike rubbed behind his ear as the four of them gathered in a circle on the floor. “Isn’t that presuming a lot from God, though? I mean,” he shrugged, “why would He just tell us the answer? What’s so special about us?”
Daniel shook his head. “You’re asking the wrong question, my friend. If there’s one thing I believe with absolute certainty, it is that God wants to bring Himself glory through those who believe in Him. It’s not about us being special; that’s not why He’ll answer. I believe He’s going to answer because this is an opportunity He’s given us to bring Him glory in a place that has totally rejected Him.” He nudged Aaron sitting next to him. “Don’t you think that might be a reason we, of all people, are still here?”
Aaron shrugged. “Maybe,” he sighed.
Daniel accepted this with a nod. “Let’s pray,” he said.
All four bowed their heads and Daniel began to pray. “Dear God,” he said, “You are the God of dreams. You have given a dream to President King and it has brought about an extreme response. We pray that the dream and its interpretation may be revealed to us now, that we may relieve the terror of Mr. King’s heart, and that You may be glorified…” Daniel let his words trail off. In the silence, he could hear the steady hum of the air conditioning unit Harry had refurbished to cool their apartment in the warm California summer. As he waited, the hum faded into total silence. Daniel felt the floor tilt underneath him as his center of balance slid sideways, and he could hear his friends’ voices calling his name, but when he opened his eyes to answer, he saw only darkness.
Aaron felt Daniel slump beside him, but his friend was usually a bit limp during moments of extreme, silent prayer, so he thought nothing of it till he heard Mike call out, “Dan!” just before the thud of Daniel’s body hitting the floor jerked everybody out of silent introspection. The three friends gathered around the prostrate body, chafing his hands and checking his pulse.
“He’s out of it,” Harry murmured, pulling up an eyelid and checking the pupils.
“Daniel? Can you hear me, Dan?” Aaron felt along the jugular vein. “He has a pulse.” He put his hand over his friend’s lips. “And I can still feel him breathing.”
“What happened?” Mike asked him. “One second he was praying, and the next, I look up and he’s totally passed out. Did he, like squeeze your hand or say anything to you before it happened?”
Aaron shook his head. “Man, I was sitting right next to him, and I had no warning. You know how floppy Dan gets when he prays!”
“Here, let’s get him up on the bed,” Mike suggested.
Together, the three friends hefted their companion onto Aaron’s bed. Harry kept calling his name.
“Daniel! Daniel! Wake up!”
“This is bad,” Aaron muttered. “His skin is really cold. What do we do if he doesn’t wake up?”
“Here,” Harry began tossing blankets from the other bed. “Try wrapping him with these.”
“Come on, Dan,” Mike said loudly, “Snap out of it!” He clapped his hands over Daniel’s face. His friend didn’t respond.
For three hours, the friends kept constant vigil, trying every remedy they could think of: strong smells, loud noises, everything short of administering medical injections, which they did not have access to. Daniel’s skin had gone pale, and his lips were deepening to a bluish-purple tint. Aaron still had his fingers over his wrist, under the blankets. “Guys,” he said quietly. “I can’t feel a pulse.”
The minute the words left his mouth, a rush of color spread over the prostrate body, and Daniel’s eyes popped open and he gave a heaving gasp.
“Daniel!” chorused three relieved voices all at once.
Daniel Princeton sat up and threw the blanket off, eyes roving in bewilderment. “What in the world--” he stopped when he saw the three anxious faces hovering around him. “What’s the matter?” he looked down. His clothes were a little rumpled, but he wasn’t wounded or deformed or anything.
“We thought you were dead!” Mike blurted.
“You passed out while we were praying, and you started going all cold and pale!” Aaron added. “I just lost your pulse right before you came to just now. What happened?”
Daniel smiled and accepted the glass of water offered by Harry. “Guys,” he said, “God answered my prayer. I saw what President King dreamed last night, and I know what it means.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Aaron jumped to his feet. “Let’s go tell him!” He went to the door and pressed the “exit” frequency--and smacked his head on solid holoplast. “Hey!” Aaron rubbed his face and frowned, punching the button again. “What’s the big idea?”
Mike activated his glass tablet and checked the notifications. “Looks like, as a repercussion for the rampage earlier, corporate instituted a building-wide forced lockdown. Apparently, it is scheduled to last,” he turned and looked at Daniel, “for about 24 hours.”
Daniel nodded. “That sounds about right,” he said. “I was going to suggest that we hold off for a while before going straight to Mr. King; I mean, it’s only been about,” he glanced at the clock, “four hours or so since we made the bargain.”
“You mean,” Aaron flopped on his empty bed, “we have to stay cooped up in here for another twenty hours? Are we going to starve?”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “A twenty-four-hour fast never hurt anybody,” he chided his friend.
Aaron jumped to his feet and started pacing. “Look out,” he warned melodramatically, “I’m feeling the cabin fever setting in already! I’m going stir-crazy just thinking about it!”
A pillow sailed through the air, catching him in the face. “Well,” Harry muttered from his bed, “go crazy quietly, because if we aren’t expected to be anywhere, then I’m going to use at least some of this time to catch up on my sleep!”
Aaron collapsed into the armchair and pretended to suffocate himself with the pillow. “Oof!” he cried, dropping the pillow onto his lap. “I shouldn’t have mentioned eating; now I can’t stop thinking about food.”
“Shut up!” Harry barked.
Daniel remained sitting up as Mike took the last available bed. “What are you going to do?” Mike asked.
Daniel shrugged. “I feel like I’ve been sleeping for an entire day,” he admitted with a chuckle. “I don’t need the extra sleep like you all do.” He smiled at the concern on his friend’s face. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
Mike nodded and rolled over. Soon he was snoring peacefully.
Daniel spent the better part of an hour saying a prayer of thanks to God; his heart overflowed with gratefulness that he should get the opportunity afforded to nobody else. After he finished praying, he activated a simple text entry box on his tablet and began writing out the images from the dream, in preparation to present them before President King. He made sure to get all the details recorded, and paid especial attention to the interpretation. He sat and considered the significance for a few minutes. Dark times were coming for Byblos, Inc.--so what did that mean for him and his friends?
The clock on the wall read one in the afternoon when Daniel--amid the snores of his slumbering friends, slipped out toward the door. Activating the videoconferencing screen, he put in a call to the building security. As he expected, an ARIC had been posted in place of a live guard, and it responded. Text scrolled across the screen.
“STATE YOUR NAME AND REQUEST.”
Daniel made sure that the camera could register his face clearly. “Daniel Princeton, requesting an audience with President King.”
“WHAT IS THE NATURE OF YOUR AUDIENCE?”
Daniel smiled grimly. “Tell President King that I have the answers he seeks.”
“PLEASE STAND BY.”
Five minutes later, the holoplast door hummed softly, and Daniel slipped out. Two ARICs awaited him in the hall. “YOU HAVE BEEN GRANTED AN AUDIENCE WITH PRESIDENT KING,” one of them intoned. “PLEASE DEPART IMMEDIATELY. WE WILL ESCORT YOU INTO HIS PRESENCE.”
Daniel nodded and complied with the directions.
The ARICs led him out of the Executive Trainee Residential Block. The bright sunlit afternoon belied the quiet, “ghost town” atmosphere in all the buildings and on the empty streets. Across the main courtyard stood the grand mansion where President King and his closest executive officials lived. The ARICs continued straight inside the grand house, the whirring of their mechanics echoing through the empty halls as their metal feet clanked on the marble floors. They stopped when they reached the massive double-doors that led to President King’s office.
“PLEASE PROCEED,” said an ARIC as the two robots took up their posts on either side of the door. The other ARIC emitted a digital signal, which caused the handles on the doors to turn, and the door hissed open on hydraulic pistons.