CHAPTER THREE

Mark Phillips stood up and looked around. The self-containment unit held little information for him. It had taken him almost four days to locate the unit. The wreaked truck had been found the next morning and the marks in the snow had indicated that the self-containment unit had been thrown into the creek nearby.

But the self-containment unit was hermetically sealed. It was water tight and despite its massive weight, it would have floated. Floated downstream to God knows where.

He had stumble across it by accident. The newly fallen snow had rapidly melted with the surprising summer-like weather that had suddenly covered this part of the country. Even though it was late March, it was still usually pretty cold in this Midwestern state. And late snowstorms weren't unusual.

It had been a stroke of luck that the sun had glinted off the unit. He had stopped and investigated, finding the unit in only a matter of minutes. And had found the unit empty.

Already the tracks had been eradicated by the melting snow. There were four towns nearby that GenCo Unit GC-110-A-293 could have walked to. But they were each in different directions and it might take days to check out each one. There had to be some way to eliminate the towns it would not have gone to.

He looked at the piece of cloth in his hand. Almost a baby blue in color, it was obviously a sleeve to a shirt or coat. On the shoulder portion was a patch. It was the insignia for GenCo. An eight-sided patch trimmed in red. It had a capital "G" and capital "C" that nearly connected forming a circle.

He had found the sleeve stuck to the self-containment unit. And there was blood. Not a great deal of it, but obviously the Unit had injured itself when it had gotten out of the self-containment unit.

Mark stood looking around the countryside. He thought back to when he had first been brought to consciousness. He had not known anything because he had not yet been programmed. But there was something vaguely familiar about most things he had seen for the first time.

There had been the room, all white, that he had lain in. The chemical programming had already been administered, but it took several hours for it to be firmly planted in his conscious mind. Even the people had seemed to be familiar and friendly.

There was no indication that anyone else had been around when the lost unit had left the self-containment unit. The fact that the self-containment unit was still undisturbed in its little hide-away proved that. Even if someone didn't know what it was, it was obviously valuable. So if anyone had found the unit, they would have taken it.

Mark walked back to the car and using the car phone gave the location of the self-containment unit. A squad would be out within a matter of hours to retrieve the unit. He dropped the phone into the seat of the car and stood looking over the countryside.

The sun was just dropping below the horizon. The orange-yellow orb hung just above the horizon like some not quite orange hanging from a tree. Then he remembered when he had seen the sun for the first time.

It was early morning and his chemical programming has just started to take effect. Though he didn't know what the sun was, he knew that it was friendly. And that he needed it if he was going to survive.

Of course, he now knew that it was the sun's effect on the earth that had been the "need" he had experienced. But he had known that the sun was a friend. And he had an almost overwhelming desire to catch the sun.

Maybe Unit GC-110-A-293 had the same feelings. He wouldn't have known what it was, but maybe he would have wanted it as much as Mark had wanted it.

Mark looked around the countryside. He didn't see anything that might have drawn the Unit's attention. And the sun would have slowly risen during the morning then set in the afternoon and evening. It would be moving, drawing the Unit's attention.

Phillips took out a local map and checked it. There were three towns to the west. But only one that was in a direct line between where he had found the self-containment unit and the setting sun.

It was weak, he knew. But it was all he had. It had been almost three-and-a-half days since the Unit had emerged from the self-containment unit. The signal from the monitoring device had stopped broadcasting then. It would only have stopped if the self-containment unit had been prematurely opened. Otherwise, it had enough power in its battery to continue broadcasting for another six days.

He did some quick calculations. Yes, it would have been possible for the Unit to have walked to that town. It would have reached the town just before sunset the day before. What happened once it reached that town was anybody's guess.

It was almost certain to have become aware by now. Its learning would be incredible. As long as it remained in the countryside, it would stumble along following some instinct that told it the sun had to be caught.

But if it entered that town, it would begin to learn. Within hours it might even be able to speak, if it could find some way to listen to speech for long enough. If it was found by the authorities, it would most likely be taken to the local hospital. It would be thought to have been in some kind of accident, and when it didn't speak, the authorities would most likely think it was injured.

A hospital would complicate things. There would be a lot of questions. Questions he wouldn't be able to answer. If he could get into the hospital at night, he could remove the Unit quietly.

But it would most certainly be aware. And that meant he couldn't take it back to the Institute. It would have to be terminated.

But not like you instructed me, Dr. Ambecrombe, thought Mark. No, not like you instructed me. No longer will I be a puppet for you and your superiors. I will finally be free.

But there were arrangements to be made. He should have called the Institute with the information he had. But if he did that, his plan wouldn't work. It would only work if they didn't find the Unit until it was too late. Then the Unit would be accounted for and Mark will have died in his attempt to retrieve the Unit.

Yes, there were arrangements to be made. It would be tricky and a hundred things could go wrong. But it was worth the risk. If he was successful, he would be free and the Institute wouldn't be looking for him.

Confident, he got into his car and began to drive to the town where he suspected the Unit of being.