A fireball racing upward through three million silicon chips makes a unique sound. The crackling of a forest fire, the howling of a tornado, the steaming gush of a geyser . . . all trapped within a reverberant hull. It was the devil’s breath, pouring through a sealed cavern, looking for escape. Strathmore knelt transfixed by the horrific noise rising toward them. The world’s most expensive computer was about to become an eight‑story inferno.
* * *
In slow motion, Strathmore turned back toward Susan. She stood paralyzed beside the Crypto door. Strathmore stared at her tear‑streaked face. She seemed to shimmer in the fluorescent light. She’s an angel, he thought. He searched her eyes for heaven, but all he could see was death. It was the death of trust. Love and honor were gone. The fantasy that had kept him going all these years was dead. He would never have Susan Fletcher. Never. The sudden emptiness that gripped him was overwhelming.
Susan gazed vaguely toward TRANSLTR. She knew that trapped within the ceramic shell, a fireball was racing toward them. She sensed it rising faster and faster, feeding on the oxygen released by the burning chips. In moments the Crypto dome would be a blazing inferno.
Susan’s mind told her to run, but David’s dead weight pressed down all around her. She thought she heard his voice calling to her, telling her to escape, but there was nowhere to go. Crypto was a sealed tomb. It didn’t matter; the thought of death did not frighten her. Death would stop the pain. She would be with David.
The Crypto floor began to tremble, as if below it an angry sea monster were rising out of the depths. David’s voice seemed to be calling. Run, Susan! Run!
Strathmore was moving toward her now, his face a distant memory. His cool gray eyes were lifeless. The patriot who had lived in her mind a hero had died‑a murderer. His arms were suddenly around her again, clutching desperately. He kissed her cheeks. “Forgive me,” he begged. Susan tried to pull away, but Strathmore held on.
TRANSLTR began vibrating like a missile preparing to launch. The Crypto floor began to shake. Strathmore held tighter. “Hold me, Susan. I need you.”
A violent surge of fury filled Susan’s limbs. David’s voice called out again. I love you! Escape! In a sudden burst of energy, Susan tore free. The roar from TRANSLTR became deafening. The fire was at the silo’s peak. TRANSLTR groaned, straining at its seams.
David’s voice seemed to lift Susan, guide her. She dashed across the Crypto floor and started up Strathmore’s catwalk stairs. Behind her, TRANSLTR let out a deafening roar.
As the last of the silicon chips disintegrated, a tremendous updraft of heat tore through the upper casing of the silo and sent shards of ceramic thirty feet into the air. Instantly the oxygen‑rich air of Crypto rushed in to fill the enormous vacuum.
Susan reached the upper landing and grabbed the banister when the tremendous rush of wind ripped at her body. It spun her around in time to see the deputy director of operations, far below, staring up at her from beside TRANSLTR. There was a storm raging all around him, and yet there was peace in his eyes. His lips parted, and he mouthed his final word. “Susan.”
The air rushing into TRANSLTR ignited on contact. In a brilliant flash of light, Commander Trevor Strathmore passed from man, to silhouette, to legend.
When the blast hit Susan, it blew her back fifteen feet into Strathmore’s office. All she remembered was a searing heat.